In the last decade, the plight of human trafficking has caught the national media’s attention. Without a doubt, you have probably heard of this tragedy. It is now commonplace to learn about organizations solely devoted to snuff out trafficking efforts or pray them out of existence. Established organizations are also highlighting their efforts to combat modern day slavery. Every day new ministries are springing up all across the globe to help women leave the sex industry. Sexual exploitation has taken center stage. Much of our attention has been drawn to what is happening abroad, but the problem is here as well.
As we seek to understand what this looks like in our own nation, it is important to do a “heart check.” Ultimately every battle is won or lost in the heart. Jesus repeatedly called us to look at our heart – not merely our actions. How do you decide to get involved with a ministry? Who do you spend your time helping? Where do you invest for Kingdom purposes? How can your gifts be used to help a cause close to God’s heart? Since we are constrained and guided by time, finances and gifting, how do you make these decisions?
Consider the following three vignettes and decide who you would help and why?
1. Jenny was 5 years old when her uncle began to groom her for his own twisted pleasure. At first, she loved the attention and the special outings they would take. Over time, he began to break her down and desensitize her to what was inevitable. Jenny had no language for what her uncle did to her. She only knew that it made her feel icky and very dirty.
2. Samantha at age 16 was learning about her sexuality and the power she seemed to have over boys. At a party at her house at 1am, her drunken father coaxed her to take care of one of his friends. Samantha obliged and reasoned he was just another male. She felt she could be in control of this situation. This reckless behavior continued and she eventually ran away to escape her own dysfunctional family. Couch surfing and continuing to befriend the wrong crowd, she eventually got hooked on meth to anesthetize the pain and loneliness.
3. Josie was able to make ends meet most of the time but had experienced homelessness, drug addiction and had been brutally beaten on numerous occasions. She started stripping in the clubs just to be able to eat. Her heart was hard as a rock, and she was a fighter. When her boyfriend/pimp convinced her they could make some real money, she acquiesced. Eventually Josie would service 30 men a day. Several months later her boyfriend asked her to go get another recruit. Josie didn’t hesitate because she longed for some relief. She gladly lured a young 14 year old runaway into their underworld. She tricked the next slave.
As you read the three stories, did your heart break for anyone in particular? Did your level of disgust grow as you read each story? Who is the victim? Jenny is clearly the victim, right? Sexual abuse at 5 years old…not many people would argue that Jenny was purely a victim. Jesus warned that it would be better to drown with a large millstone around your neck than to make a small child stumble (Matthew 18:6-7) Perhaps you started to blame Samantha for making some bad choices. Should she have known better at her age? Why didn’t she just refuse and seek help? Did you still have a heart of compassion for her? Now Josie, this is where it may get more difficult for you. Is she simply a predator? Clearly, Josie should be prosecuted for her actions. Most wouldn’t argue that Josie is a predator who needs to be stopped. Did you have any compassion for her or only disdain? Would you want to help her if you found a ministry that wanted to reach her?
As I have spoken with numerous groups that fight human trafficking and help women leave the sex industry, I have been shocked to hear some people in the church say, “I want to help those sex trafficked, but not the prostitute. I just can’t do that.” Some estimate that over 95% of women working in the sex industry were sexually abused as children. Most of them start as the “five-year-old Jenny” who were innocent and did nothing to welcome the eventual soul damage they would suffer. Do we draw lines and lose all compassion sitting back with possibly anger, disgust or judgment if the offense gets too intense?
Did Jesus only help victims? Were you purely a victim when God drew you to himself? What if I told you these three stories were all the same girl, Leticia. Each story was a different time in her life. Was there a point where you gave up on Leticia and wished only judgment and punishment on her? Did you do it in the name of justice? Was your heart cold and hardened? Perhaps you felt deep sorrow and compassion for her at each stage.
Today’s sexually abused child is tomorrow’s prostitute and next week’s trafficker. While this isn’t always the progression, we must realize that nothing begins in a vacuum.
I believe our challenge is to fight for justice while keeping our hearts full of love and compassion for the victims/predators. Jesus loved the thief on the cross and offered him a new life. (Luke 23:39-43) God offered compassion and forgiveness for the prostitute (Luke 7:36-50). James 2:24-26 teaches that even a prostitute could be called righteous. Are you helping today’s prostitute on her journey to be called righteous?
May we continually pray, “God break my heart for the things that break your heart.” Let us listen closely to the Holy Spirit and not judge simply on the basis of whether a person is purely a victim.
Alisa Schmitz is the board chair for Mending the Soul Ministries. She holds a Masters of Divinity and more than 15 years experience equipping people to advocate for the vulnerable. She lives in Dallas, Texas.Image courtesy of Mathew Knott / Flickr.com