Human trafficking is not an isolated issue. There are complex connections to economy, gender issue, social dynamics, law and foreign relations. Therefore, it is vital that the Church keeps in mind that the issues of trafficking need to be approached holistically through careful global networking. We ought to pray for and work towards the sharing of vital information among organizations and faith communities. This will inspire, refresh, and encourage those who work so hard for this cause.
Admittedly the sincere involvement in such a cause is emotionally taxing. The presence of tears and the sense of being overwhelmed by the task are common realities for those who partner in this endeavor. Our perseverance is rooted in God’s promise of hope. Our presupposition is that God is already with those who experience the horrors of human trafficking. Our responsibility is not to bring God to them, but rather, to partner creatively with God who is already there.
As a Church community we have to take the issue of human trafficking very seriously. If we do nothing, the consequences will be the very real possibility of Jamaica becoming another major area of sex tourism.
We know that human trafficking is modern day slavery and as Christians we need to be proactive in tackling the problem. As part of the Theodora strategy in developing a sustainable developmental approach to human trafficking, the Church must be at the center of the overall ethos of the project to combat the problem.
How can this happen? Simply by being the Church. By following seven simple steps the Church can truly reach out and begin to make a difference and offer that second chance just as Jesus offers over and over again. We begin the process by embracing seven simple steps.
- Engage in Prayer: Pray for the heart that is broken by the plight of trafficked people, for organizations working to free them. Pray for the healing and rescue of all victims. Pray for the girls that are exploited in our own community.
- Engage the Mind: Study God’s word regarding injustice. View a movie from the recommended movie list (see Appendix 1). Read the relevant trafficking report on Jamaica.
- Engage the Voice: Invite a speaker to address the congregation on human trafficking. Organize a fundraiser to assist the financial challenges. Hold a “Slavery Still Exists” awareness event to raise awareness.
- Engage the Hands: Explore the work of the Jamaica taskforce on trafficking, share your knowledge with the wider community, and volunteer to help maintain the Project building.
- Engage the Time: Join others interested in stopping human trafficking in Jamaica. Volunteer to work with the Theodora Project or assist with the fundraising activities for the safe houses.
- Engage the Relationships: Be a mentor to a young person in your community. Talk to the young people in your church about sexual exploitation.
- Engage the Resources: Consider supporting one of the anti-trafficking organizations listed (see Appendix 2). Make a strategic and intentional choice to financially support organizations that work so hard to combat the problem. Work to be a powerful, prayerful, outward looking church community; a community that will heal, transform and renew.
We strive to live as people of God looking for guidance- for that living from interaction between the Bible and our experience. When we look into the mirror what do we see? We see that we are a people who care, who are called to redeem the captive, to liberate the oppressed, to visit those in prison and to go the extra mile. We are called to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are commanded to love as we have been loved.
Today the Church cannot be silent. Statistics, as just numbers; tell us where, and when and how many. They tell us where they come from and where they go, their ages and nationalities. But each one represents one life — a life that has become violated both spiritually and physically. When any person is treated as a commodity, all humanity is gone. We are called to care for God’s creation.
Human trafficking is criminality on a large scale comparable with the drug and arms trade. It is estimated that human trafficking generates in excess of $8 billion annually. The United Nations has estimated that 700,000 people are trafficked each year for sexual exploitation. In Jamaica we are only a small part of a multibillion-dollar scheme.
Although human trafficking takes many forms, such as demand for cheap labor, research suggests that at least two thirds of trafficking is for sexual purposes. In Negril the vulnerability of young women is a paramount concern. Many of these young girls have limited education and as a result are at greater risk to be involved with sex work.
As a Church community we must decide how best we can reach out to those who are on the fringe of society. We cannot tackle the perpetrators of these crimes because our responsibility remains with the victims. We cannot deal with all the economic issues related to poverty or even change some of the laws on the statute books. To remain silent spectators to the plight of the young people in our community, especially the young women, is not an option for the Church. We are called to care for all God’s people. We are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Every man, woman and child.
The frightening aspect of human trafficking in Jamaica is that no one wanted to say anything, all wanted to keep silent. Silence is the easy option. To ignore the stories and the statistics and to pretend that these things are only happening in some dark and distant land is not an option. Soon, the silence must give way to loud alarm and horror. The thought of young women being bought and sold is a harsh reminder of the dark days of slavery in Jamaica. It is terrible to think that all this was going on in a community that values its tourist industry and strives for the highest standards.
The Theodora Project has provided a catalyst for engagement in the community on the human trafficking issue. We cannot sit on our laurels and bask in the glory of our success stories. Action must continue to be taken. Every day we receive new information about young women being exploited by tourists and locals. Sometimes the police intervene or there might be a small article in the newspaper, but we seem to be immune to the feeling of horror about such vile actions in Jamaica.
We are called to live as the people of God, and we are called to respond. It is hoped that through a project such as Theodora we can begin to enrich the lives of our young people. We are called to make life possible and even wonderful by our faithfulness to our calling.
The reality of this can be seen in a quotation from one of the present students “When I came to the Theodora Project I was imperfect, now I am glorious.” To remain silent is to forget, education alone is not enough – relevant action is also necessary. We MUST be reminded that we cannot pass by on the other side. The Church must establish new methodology for exercising its mission despite the challenges and criticism from the secular world. The care we offer will also mean working to change attitudes. Sooner or later the church will be involved in the whole debate about legalizing prostitution. Other faith communities are leading the way by providing web site information; rescue projects and safe houses. These are only a small example of what is being done. In the United Kingdom the Salvation Army through its community initiative has started three new safe houses – a tremendous achievement! Save the Children UK has highlighted human trafficking in its publication “A Hidden Trade”. There are numerous projects through Europe especially the Baltic States that are reaching out to victims of human trafficking. We must not forget that the preventative work continues through the schools, community clubs and the health centers, providing a warning message to the dangers of becoming involved in the sex industry.
Lord Speak to me that I May Speak
In conclusion, the Theodora Project seeks to offer a creative solution to a global problem, that from small beginnings change can happen. The Project will continue to lead the way in providing educational and personal development opportunities for young people in Negril and the surrounding communities. Keeping faith to our calling as people of God, the Church has taken up a challenge, which for a small church could be viewed as “absolute madness.” However, transformation and change must happen some way and through the creativity of this small development project there is change in progress.
How can we go forward by reminding ourselves of who we are as God’s people and what our calling requires us to do? The words of Jesus Christ say it all:
“I say to you, as you did for the least of these, you did it for me”
God stands beside us, is with us in Jesus and, in that standing beside, He calls us to stand beside each other. This is what our prayer and action should be as the people of God: to stand beside, to listen, to share, and to hold a hand.
To speak up and to speak out is what we are called to do.
To be faithful, is not to keep silent.
This short paper seeks to outline the strategy that one Congregation used to address the problem of the Commercial Sex Trade also known as Human Trafficking.
The Negril United Church, a Congregation of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands developed in 2005 the Theodora Project offering educational opportunities for young women and men that dropped out of the regular school system as well as offering the basic English and Mathematics. The Project was able to provide counseling and self development skills. These young people were vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their lack of employability skills. The Theodora Project is about transforming lives from a Christian perspective offering a safe place for young people to come to terms with their stories. The Project also offers a small residential unit for up to four (4) girls in a safe environment.
Although this Project focuses on Negril, Jamaica – you can simply use your own context – find out what is happening in your area and see how your Church community can become involved. I have added a Bibliography for information. Remember it’s about giving the victims an opportunity to break the silence.
For further information please contact the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
APPENDIX 1 Movies dealing with issues on Human Trafficking.
Children For Sale – Uncovering Sex Trafficking in Cambodia
Promised Land – Shown at the 2004 Venice International film festival, covers human trafficking from Eastern Europe to Israel.
Sisters and Daughters Betrayed – Looks at the relation between trafficking and prostitution.
Trading Women – Narrated by Angelina Jolie, investigates the trade of minority girls and women in Burma, Yunnan and Laos into Thailand.
Human Trafficking (2005) – Investigates the disturbing phenomenon of human trafficking in the United States
APPENDIX 2 A Sample of Organizations working to combat human trafficking:
Amnesty for Women – www.amnestyforwomen.de
Anti-Slavery International – www.antislavery.org
CAST – Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking – www.costla.org
Global Rights Human Trafficking Initiative – www.globalrights.org
U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking in Persons – www.state.gov/g/tip
2005 Understanding Global Slavery; Los Angeles, University of California Press.
Barker, Gary; Knaul, Felicia; Cassaniga, Neide; and Schrader, Anita
2000 Urban Girls, Empowerment in Especially Difficult Circumstances; London, Intermediate Technology Publications.
Campbell, M. Penelope; Campbell, E. Marie Ann
2001 “HIV/AIDS Prevention for Commercial Sex Workers in Jamaica;” National HIV/AIDS Prevention and control programs, Health promotion and protection division; Kingston, Ministry of Health, May.
Cox, Baroness Caroline; and Marks, John
2006 Slavery in the 21st Century; London, Monarch Books.
Church Action Negril
2003 “Trafficking In Persons. A Research Study by Church Action Negril on Behalf of People’s Action for Community Transformation”; Kingston, Funded by US AID.
Delacoste, Frederique; Alexander, Priscilla; Ed.
1987 Sex Work, Writings by Women in the Sex Industry; San Francisco, 2nd ed., Cleis Press.
2000 “Child Prostitution in Jamaica;” Kingston, International Labour Organization.
Ehrenreich, Barbara; Hochschild, Arlie Russell; Ed.
2002 Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy; London, Granta Books.
Fortune, Marie M.
2005 Sexual Violence, the Sin Revisited; Cleveland, The Pilgrim Press.
2005 Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children; New York, Worth Publishers.
1999 The Good News About Injustice; Westmont, Inter Varsity Press.
2000 “Draft Preliminary Assessment Report of Trafficking in Persons in Jamaica;” Kingston, International Labour Organization.
2004 “Understanding and Counteracting Trafficking in Persons, The Acts of the Seminar for Women Religious;” Geneva, International Organization for Migration.
Kempadoo, Kamala; Ed.
2005 Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered, New Perspectives on Sex Work and Human Rights; Boulder, Paradigm Publishers.
Kempadoo, Kamala; Doezema, Joe; Ed
1998 Global Sex Workers, Rights, Resistance and Redefinition; New York, Routledge.
2004 The Natashas, The New Global Sex Trade; Toronto, Viking.
Parsons, Jeffrey T.; Ed
2005 Contemporary Research on Sex Work; New York, The Hanworth Press, Inc.
1966 Secret History; London, Penguin Books.
2005 Sex Work: A Risky Business; Portland, William Publishing.
U.S. State Department
2005 “Trafficking in Persons Report;” Washington DC, U.S. State Department
2000 “The UN Trafficking Protocol;” Geneva, United Nations.
 “A Hidden Trade” Report presented by Save the Children which looks at issues of child trafficking in Scotland published by Save the Children 2006
 Matthew 25: 40 New Revised Standard Version.
Rev. Dr. Margaret Fowler is currently Minister of the Hope United Church, 221 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6 and Executive Director of the Theodora Project, Negril, pursuing a PhD in issues related to Human Trafficking.