One of the highlights this week was the trafficking training session put on by the Coalition Against Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) LA, which took place on Wednesday. The focus of the training was ministering to survivors of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking. As a result, many of the other attendees were workers at shelters, and much of the material that we went through that day wasn’t directly relevant to the work that Oasis is doing as an advocacy organization, and especially as a relatively young organization.
Having said that, it was very helpful to see not just all that is involved ministering to survivors of human trafficking, but also to see all the other people and organizations who are also seeking to combat human trafficking. It seems analogous to the work of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12)—many parts are necessary to accomplish the goal, and they must be coordinated and working in tandem. In this case, non-governmental organizations and shelters must work with government agencies, police forces and health organizations.
Moreover, starting out at Oasis, a smaller organization (at least here in the US), working with only a few staff and a few interns, it was particularly helpful to get a sense of the movement that is rising. The coalition to combat human trafficking is a movement that is only recently gaining momentum, not just in terms of the legislation that is being enacted in the US and around the world, but also in terms of the awareness that we as anti-trafficking campaigners need to bring to the public view. There is a certain excitement that plays into being at the start of a movement, and a movement which we know is in line with what God is calling us to do: to seek justice for those who do not have it.
I finished the first draft of the bible study resource this week (finally!). As a student, I’m used to working non-stop on something until it’s done, a tactic which I didn’t take with this internship; for this project, I worked full-time on it (when I could) Tuesday through Thursday, and then left it alone over the weekend. It’s a different way of doing things, perhaps a healthier way (since I also had plenty of other things to do apart from the internship), but the pace of work was definitely slower than I was used to and I got done later than I would have liked.
Still, it’s done; and it was an interesting exercise for me. I’ve been in higher education for nine years now, the last six of which have been in the field of theology. So I suppose I’m used to operating at a more theoretical and less basic level—I’m certainly engaging at a different level than I was before I started studying theology. The biggest challenge for me was the feeling I had that what was needed was a biblical worldview—a broader perspective—and not simply a bunch of verses that supported what I wanted to see happen. I do believe that God is a God of justice, that he is on the side of the poor and the oppressed, the orphan, the widow and the foreigner, and that if we are to be his people, we are to care for these as much as he does. I could build a case for combating human trafficking on a couple of verses if I chose, but I think that it’s important to remember the broader context, to see the person of Christ as a central figure in the story, and to highlight the consistencies and congruities in the story.
So that’s what I tried to do with this resource. I tried to establish a biblical framework for Christian involvement in human trafficking and in justice in general. In six sessions. I think it turned out okay …
This week I went out into the Arcadia and San Gabriel area with Daniel, Oasis’ outreach worker, and Monica, who oversees the coalition of which Oasis is a part. Over about an hour and a half, we stopped by several massage parlors in order to hand out fliers advertising a community health clinic, but also to casually check the places out. It was a fascinating experience, as not one of the locations we stopped into was above reproach: one place had an inordinate number of video cameras (5) on a space which certainly didn’t seem to need it (approx. 30’ by 30’); a couple of other parlors did not advertise full body massages but said that they were available in a backroom upon request. Now, neither of these situations is a surefire sign that trafficking is taking place, but they do make one wonder.
Because of the newness of the field, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there aren’t very many established protocols in terms of how to proceed in this area. While it’s definitely desirable that more people are mobilized to combat human trafficking, one of the things which people must be aware of is the uncertainty and risk involved. The trafficker(s) may well be just one person trafficking another person; or organized crime could be involved; or even larger crime syndicates may be in control. One of the central things for organizations like Oasis is safety—we are not equipped to engage in combating crime (which human trafficking is) in the way that police forces are. Indeed, if a police department is already actively involved in staking out or investigating a site, the involvement of civilians may interfere with an ongoing operation or tip off the traffickers, who will then quickly shift the victims to another location.
On the other hand, because of the newness of the field, many police departments have not yet had training in identifying and targeting human trafficking. Oasis has worked closely with the Arcadia Police Department and created a good, cohesive relationship, by which the police’s work is not interfered with or obstructed, but allows Oasis to do as much as it can. It’s hoped that this cooperation will form a template for other police departments and government agencies to work closely and effectively with non-governmental agencies, non-profits and other organizations to implement and establish a good model for combating trafficking.