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Slaves in your Neighbourhood


What images come to your mind when you think of the words “slavery” or “abolitionist”? Chains? William Wilberforce? Amazing Grace? The Underground Railroad?

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1800s, the abolitionist movement was comprised of many passionate Christians who advocated for human rights. But slavery is not just a historical notion; the commercial exploitation of human beings is still a reality today. Estimates suggest that there are approximately 27 million modern-day slaves in the world. To put this number in perspective, the combined populations of Toronto, Montreal, New York City, Los Angeles, London (Great Britain) and Paris (France) are just shy of approximately 27 million people. How is it that so many people can be suffering injustice and yet remain a population often hidden from the public eye? Human beings are enslaved today in debt bondage, forced marriage, forced labour, and sex trafficking. Many individuals are surprised to learn that slavery still exists in our world today, and many more are shocked to discover that it happens right here in Canada.

“I looked again and saw people being ill-treated everywhere on earth. They were crying, but no one was there to offer comfort,

and those who ill-treated them were powerful.”

Ecclesiastes 4:1 (Contemporary English Version)

“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”

Psalm 140:12

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world, and it is a growing concern in our country. Sex trafficking includes forced prostitution or work in other sex trades like escort agencies, massage parlours, residential brothels, and exotic dance clubs. Sex trafficking victims are mostly women and children, and their stories of pain and suffering are heart wrenching – stories of fear and isolation, as they speak of being exploited by multiple men a day, seven days a week. But human trafficking is not just limited to sex trafficking. Trafficking for the purpose of forced labour is evident around the world including Canada. In 2009, over twenty Hungarian men were found to be victims of labour trafficking in Hamilton, Ontario. Just this past June, a British Columbian man was found guilty of human trafficking in a case that involved a Filipina woman being trafficked for the purpose of domestic servitude.

In Canada, the majority of human trafficking victims are Canadians girls exploited for sexual purposes. This challenges many preconceived notions that trafficking victims only come from developing countries in places like Asia and Europe. Human trafficking is not something that happens in faraway, impoverished countries; it happens right here in our neighbourhoods and can involve girls of various races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses and religious backgrounds. Vulnerable populations are most susceptible to human trafficking and can include migrant workers and new immigrants, at-risk youth and socially or economically disadvantaged individuals. In fact, Aboriginal girls are largely targeted by pimps and traffickers in Canada.

Unfortunately, some individuals place blame on the victims by implying that they have put themselves in a position where they would be vulnerable to traffickers and pimps (i.e. suggesting that drug use, partying, promiscuity, etc. has led them to become trafficked). Shifting the blame onto victims only minimizes the physical, social,S and emotional power and influence that many traffickers and pimps have on vulnerable people regardless of age, background, or faith. My thesis research suggests that pimps strategically and methodologically target, recruit, condition, and coerce victims into sex trafficking. Because human trafficking victims often include at-risk – or “troubled” – youth, there is an illusion that the youth of our church are unaffected by this horrendous crime. Please believe me when I say this is not the case….Please also believe me when I say your neighbourhood is not immune. I have worked with victims who worked or lived in buildings down the road from my own family members, in houses blocks away from my church, and in hotel chains that have often frequented for family vacations and business travel.

Raising awareness about human trafficking issues is extremely important, especially since many Canadians are unaware of the prevalence of it within our country. However, as important as awareness is, I believe God calls us to action after we learn about injustice. Social justice issues are often so daunting because it seems that no matter how much we act, we will never rid the world of exploitation, oppression, and corruption. While God does not require us to solve all of the world’s problems, he does call us to act on behalf of the oppressed. Jeremiah 22:3 (The Message) says “This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!”

How can we “rescue victims from their exploiters?” Keep an eye out for Jennifer’s follow-up post next week.

[Image: Flickr user Son of Groucho]

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