The Susquehanna Conference Mission and Outreach Team sent a delegation to the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) on February 9-11 for a targeted seminar on human trafficking.
Over the two and a half days, Aimee Hong (Director of UM Seminar Program) and her colleague Dave Johnson (UM Seminar Designer/US-2 intern) led us expertly through nine sessions teaching us to connect God’s Word and the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles with human trafficking. We listened, wrestled, engaged, and were equipped to advocate.
Human trafficking is now considered the second largest and fastest growing illegal criminal activity in the world, with an estimated total market value of $32+B (U.N. 2008), and impacts at least 27 million people globally. In addition to sex trafficking, human trafficking (or modern day slavery) includes labor trafficking (i.e. agriculture, domestic, hospitality) as well as land grabbing and child soldiers. The number of children versus adults being trafficked is on the rise (1 in 3) and overall 75-80% of all trafficked victims are female.
We learned there are many causes including, poverty, power, greed, and our prevailing rape culture (pornography, abuse, and exploitation). Rev. Neal Christie (Assistant Gen. Sec. for Ed. & Leadership Form.) challenged us to live out our principles. Taking us through the Social Principles, we saw how human trafficking resulted from sin against the natural world and the breakdown of community (nurturing, social, economic, political, and world).
Susan Burton (Dir. Of Women’s and Children’s Advocacy) and Abby McGill (Int’l. Labor Rights Forum) expanded our view beyond sex trafficking to labor trafficking. We were given homework to determine how many slaves we each individually had working for us (www.slaveryfootprint.org). After our astonishment, the reality that we can’t even reduce our numbers due to a lack of transparency about sourcing gave us pause as to the scope of the problem.
And if counting our slaves were not enough, a photo on the screen became a person in our classroom. The documentary (now available via Amazon) “Not My Life” is a thorough overview of the breadth of human trafficking, and its desperate depths of despair by women and men, girls and boys, all over the world who are voiceless. And while up on the screen one might be able to feel distance, when we came face to face with Barbara Amaya, an adult ‘thriver’ (not mere survivor) of sex-trafficking (leaving her abusive upper middle class home at age 12) all bets were off.
On our final morning in DC on Capitol Hill we met with staff from Senator Casey’s office. We had received training and we had practiced our plan. Then our small delegation met with two (foreign and domestic) staff that led us into a conference room. We shared from the heart four stories and made four requests for action.
We left the Seminar program with a better understanding of human trafficking. The presentations and stories challenged us to work for justice in the areas of sex and labor trafficking. Advocating for: better law enforcement training so victims are not treated as criminals, stronger support systems for victims, a national transparency act so we can combat slave labor for the goods we buy, advocating for a “safe harbor law” for victims in PA, and encouraging our legislators to support existing proposed laws are all things we can do as individuals and as congregations. The delegation left challenged, but inspired to tackle the problem of human trafficking as a witness to our love for God and the challenge to love our neighbor.