Check out the new batch of Stop the Traffik hoodies and t-shirts at the Oasis USA store!
One of the things I’ve begun to do through this internship is to make connections with like-minded people, not only through events—such as the anti-trafficking training or a charity fundraiser for a social justice non-profit—but through the phenomenon of social media, something which even ten years ago would not have been possible. Finding contacts online through outlets such as Facebook or Twitter has allowed me to plug into what others are doing and seeing in the field of human trafficking or fighting poverty or health care reform. This is part of what it looks like to build a movement.
When much of this initial stage in the struggle against trafficking is to raise awareness of the issue, it helps to know what is going on, to be able to draw upon other contacts’ connections, for example, with finding and reposting news articles on trafficking in the hope that readers will come to realize the breadth and scope of the problem. On the other hand, there remains a sense of inadequacy, particularly since there is the feeling that there should be something more effective or more tangible that we can do. At times, it feels like “raising awareness” is becoming an excuse for not doing something more—as important as advocacy and awareness are.
I suppose this is the challenge of holding things in tension and realizing that each part is a vital piece of the puzzle. Raising awareness of the issue, which remains my task for the present moment, will contribute to raising public ire at the situation and through this will influence policy-makers and law-enforcers, as well as informing all parties of what is really going on, how to minister to survivors, etc. Every little helps.
Coming to the end of my practicum, I took a little time to reflect on what the last eight weeks have meant to me and on what I’ve learned. In the days that have followed, several people have asked how it went—and this has also lent itself to evaluation.
One of the areas of the practicum which I was most grateful for was the process of learning more and becoming more knowledgeable about the topic of human trafficking, through reading books and articles, through interactions with Oasis staff and others involved in combating trafficking, and even just in working within the subject for eight weeks: looking up news articles, connecting with like-minded individuals and organizations on Twitter and at events. While I came into the practicum with a general understanding of human trafficking as an injustice that needed to be corrected, I came out with a better understanding of what human trafficking is, how it’s defined, how pervasive and subtle it is, how it might be remedied, and the problems that face any attempt to do so.
I would describe myself as a generalist, and so to be able to focus on and hone my skills in one particular area—that of human trafficking—was a welcome departure from the norm. To be able to speak with some authority on this topic, which has also insinuated its way into my heart as an issue I care deeply about, will also no doubt play a part in whatever I go onto in the future, whether in the church, in the public sector or non-profit work, or in music.
The value of human life under threat from this modern day slavery. As Christians who believe that all humanity is made in the image of God, as followers of the Christ who calls us to seek the kingdom of God on earth, any injustice as monstrous as human trafficking and the presence of even one victim of trafficking should stir in us a righteous anger and compel us to action on his or her behalf.
Read A Crime So Monstrous by Ben Skinner, as an exercise in information gathering. It’s one of the best books I’ve read on human trafficking, as he documents his journey to learn more about the new slave trade. It began as a journalistic endeavor: “Before I met those slaves and those traffickers, I told myself that I would observe, not engage. When I began the five-year process of investigation and writing, I intended to make a work of journalism, not of advocacy” (288). But it became a campaign to bring freedom.
As Skinner writes his narrative, he tells the stories of individuals he meets—victims, survivors and perpetrators. In one piercing encounter, he recalls a conversation with Muong, a survivor of slavery in Sudan, who says: “I assume you come from a place where there is an idea that humans have rights. Why does no one care about our slavery here?” (103). It is a question that cuts to the core for all of us who live in a place of privilege—do we care? And what are we doing about it?
What set Skinner’s book apart for me is the way he also brings elements of history and politics to bear, showing how human trafficking fits into the bigger picture—after all, I lean macro. Thus, for example, he observes how over the last two decades, “beginning in the 1990s, human trafficking metastasized faster than any other form of slave-trading in history. As many as 2 million people left their homes and entered bondage every year. Some crossed international borders; many did not. Human beings surpassed guns as the second most lucrative commodity for crime syndicates of all sizes, netting around $10 billion annually” (132). Moreover, he pulls back the covers on the politics involved: the government wrangling and foot-dragging, the pressure to appease other governments, the failure to see poverty as a contributing factor, the lack of value placed on ending slavery—“On average, the Bush administration spent as much money in two days to free Iraqis as it did in six years to free slaves” (260).
One of the main purposes for the book was to define slavery—Skinner doesn’t shy away from applying this term, not to devalue the enslavement that took place in America’s history, but to highlight the extent of the atrocity and inhumanity of the modern phenomenon. “What is a slave? In this book, a slave is someone who is forced to work, through fraud or threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. I did not meet one Washington policymaker—out of two dozen that I interviewed—who could give me so concise a definition” (289). I suppose, as someone who is considering Washington policymaker as a potential vocation, this is another good challenge.
Skinner ends the book with yet another challenge: “Slavery today is much less visible than it [once was], so it isn’t hard to pretend that it is long dead. In your mind, if you like, you can imagine it consigned to history books. I wish I could do the same” (295).
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.