Human trafficking. Dehumanization and abuse of women and girls. Intertwined roots in execrable theology.

That, dear reader, is a hat trick of blog post subjects for me if ever there was one. I determined I would write a post on the 270 kidnapped Nigerian school girls and the global response, hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. I had the lede written in my head by the time I finished walking our kids to school. A concluding call to action was simply a given.

But before I could actually write it, a few links about this story came across my feeds. I clicked on one. That link led to other links. Instead of writing, I read.

Finally something occurred to me. Something as important as it is obvious.

I don’t know a damn thing about Nigeria.

To paraphrase Col. Nathan R. Jessup, I’m an educated man, but I don’t know the first thing about the socio-economic, religious or political realities of Nigeria. I have no business suggesting a course of action.

Instead, how about we let Nigerians speak for themselves? How about we listen to those who are actually there? Some of these stories are a little longer than the typical internet post. They may take some investment on your part to get through them. They are difficult reads about horrific – though all too real – actions. Yet, we live in the world that is even as we strive to let God’s Holy Spirit work in and through us to create the world as God intends. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear – or an ignorant tongue – to the suffering of our Nigerian sisters and brothers.

Here then, are a few articles I’ve happened upon. Please share others in the comments.

From where were the girls taken?

#bringbackourgirls map


A survivor’s story.

I thought it was the end of my life,” Deborah Sanya told me by phone on Monday from Chibok, a tiny town of farmers in northeastern Nigeria. “There were many, many of them.” Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped Sanya and at least two hundred of her classmates from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok more than two weeks ago.


Nigerian-American author, Teju Cole on #BringBackOurGirls.

Much as we might wish this to be a singular issue with a clear solution, it isn’t and cannot be. It never was.


This kidnapping isn’t the first act of terror by Boko Haram. Or the Nigerian government.

An increase in attacks by Boko Haram and uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in North East Nigeria rise to at least 1,500 people, more than half of whom are civilians, in the first three months of 2014.


The kidnapping wasn’t the last act of terror by Boko Haram.

Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there.


Nigeria is an incredibly complex place.

This is twisted but true: attention itself can be the reward Boko Haram seeks, as it too often the case with groups like that which terrorize their own region. Rewarding their thirst for attention can lead them to repeat the same act that worked so well before. Kidnap girls, which perhaps unexpectedly generates global outrage this time, but now the Great Satan is involved: rinse, repeat.


The latest: Nigerian officials know the attack was coming and couldn’t stop it.

After independently verifying information based on multiple interviews with credible sources, the organization today revealed that the Nigerian security forces had more than four hours of advance warning about the attack but did not do enough to stop it.

So what can we do? Read, learn, listen, speak, pray.

May the God of the universe, who yearns for peace with justice for all humanity be served by me, by you, by the people of Nigeria, by governments near and far, by all.






Victory! What’s next?

Thursday was a really good day.

After months and even years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives FINALLY passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – and with it the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA)!

The General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church reminded us what The United Methodist Church says about Family Violence and Abuse:

We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. – UMC Social Principles 161.G

The bill had already passed the Senate and President Obama has said he will sign it right away. Most of the news I saw about this focused on how the main bill protects all women, including native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT women. As Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), herself a rape victim, sharply put it with a paraphrase of 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate, Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t they women?”

Yes. Yes, they are.

But the VAWA also included the TVPRA as an amendment. TVPA expired over two years ago; we finally have it back! What’s that mean? I’ll let two of our best anti-trafficking partners – Polaris Project and International Justice Mission – tell you.

From Polaris Project:

This bill sets important funding benchmarks, encourages distribution of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number by federal agencies, establishes grant programs for state agencies to assist child victims of sex trafficking, strengthens the ability to prosecute those who fraudulently hire individuals in foreign labor contracts, and more. [read the rest]

IJM adds that the 2013 version of the TVPRA has new provisions as well:

  • Gives the State Department authority to partner with overseas governments to stop child trafficking in targeted areas. It’s much more specific and measurable than previous programs
  • An emergency response provision helps the State Department quickly deploy teams of experts into crisis areas—like the situation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake—where disorder and poverty can leave children or other vulnerable poor especially susceptible to trafficking.
  • New tools to help prosecute traffickers and people who exploit the poor.
  • Continued support for existing programs that support survivors of trafficking both in the U.S. and overseas. [read the rest]

After this victory, as President Bartlett used to ask, What’s next?
Time to talk hunger again, that’s what.

Our friends at Bread for the World ask, How is it possible that people in this country continue to go hungry, despite our abundance of food?

As an answer to that question, they are partners with a new film from Magnolia Pictures and its accompanying social action campaign. “March 1st marks the premiere of A Place at the Table, a new eye-opening documentary that answers the question through the lives of three people. Their stories reveal the depth of the hunger crisis in America and the factors that drive it.

Watch the trailer. But be careful, the trailer does its job – you will want to see the whole movie. Good thing then A Place at the Table is available right now On Demand and through iTunes. Find A Place at the Table on Facebook and Twitter.

I’d love to hear your reactions to the film in the comments.

‘Break the Chains…Women Are Not Possessions’

It’s noon on Valentine’s Day. It’s time to dance and break the chains!

If I could be, I would be downtown dancing with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) or War Chest Boutique: Naperville to join in with 1 Billion Rising.

UPDATE: Check out pictures from CAASE’s rising in Daley Plaza. A friend who works downtown declared, “They made quite the ruckus today!”

CAASE 1B rising

Since I can’t be with them, I contemplated recording a little dance on my own…but thought better of it. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot (which I would), I’ve been in youth ministry for two decades now. Looking like an idiot is part of the job description. No, I thought better of it because I want you to keep reading, not run away in horror never to return. I thought better of it because I don’t want to even give the appearance of making light of this effort.

Where does the 1 billion come from in 1 Billion Rising? 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s 1 billion women.

It is long, long, long past time for all of us to stop treating women as possessions, as nothing more than bodies to be used, abused, and discarded.

It is long, long, long past time for Congress to reauthorize both the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The delay in these actions is unconscionable and shameful.

I urge you to contact your Congress persons right now, today about these acts. Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our grandmothers, our friends are fully human and must be treated as such.

UPDATE 2: As I prepared a version of this post for my church blog I thought about how complicit the church is in perpetuating the mistreatment of women. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Yes, it’s true, the culture in which the bible was written treated women as property, as little more than baby-making machines (more sons, please). But that was two and three and four thousand years ago. Don’t we know better by now?

The church as far too often led the way in treating women terribly. We’re not just talking ancient history here either. Still today, far too many churches tell women their only place is in the home completing domestic chores. Far too many churches still tell women their only important role the only role allowed is that of wife and mother. Still today, far too many churches tell women it is sinful to leave their abusive husband. All of that must stop!

Instead of me being goofy, I offer you this incredible video. Watch it then do a little dance and make a little noise to end violence against women and human trafficking.

‘a people robbed and plundered…trapped in holes and hidden’

I must admit that the list of national observance days and months is overwhelming and often tedious if not down right ridiculous. For instance, January sports National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week and National Handwriting Analysis Week. This month is National Get Organized Month, Oatmeal Month, and National Polka Music Month, among many others. (Ok, my father-in-law would have loved that last one!)

I sincerely hope that today is not one of those days. Today, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Through my church, with my family, and as an individual, I’ve been talking about human trafficking – and working to end it – for several years. We’ve partnered with organizations both international and local (see my list of Abolitionists on the right-hand sidebar). We’ve looked at both sex slavery and labor slavery. We’ve hosted speakers, founded projects, screened films, and shared many inspiring, informative links. But in all this time I’ve been disappointed by the small number of projects and stories regarding modern-day slavery by the United Methodist Church.

The main exception to that lack has come from the United Methodist Women. And they didn’t disappoint today either. Check this out from their website:

A major myth about human trafficking is that most trafficked persons are taken against their will…snatched off the street, thrown into a van. Or that they are runaways or drug users, exhausted of options, of money, and of hope.

Most, at the beginning, are leaving home to pursue a good job abroad. Then they find they have been sold, they owe tens of thousands of dollars and will have to buy themselves back.

Remember that for every victim of sex trafficking worldwide there are nine forced labor and/or domestic servitude cases.

Then UMW offered words of trafficked women, imploring readers to “imagine what that journey must be like.” Take a moment to read their stories.

UMW also shares good information. Here’s a taste:

Why does human trafficking happen?
Our current global economic system continues to reward wealth and exploit the poor. Sexual trafficking is connected to the feminization of poverty. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls, most of whom live in developing countries with limited options available to them. Women comprise 56 percent of the 12.3 million trafficked adults and children according to the Trafficking in Persons Report.

Trafficking of women, children and men
Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we care so much about this? Here’s one reason… In his first public declaration, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He sent me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free… He sent me to liberate those held down by oppression.” (Luke 4:18)

Clearly, the victims of modern-day slavery/human trafficking need to hear the good news that God is with them. They need to hear the good news that God’s dream for their lives is for them to be free.

There is always more to learn and more ways to engage this issue. Two of the best anti-trafficking efforts locally are the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Salvation Army PROMISE program’s Anne’s House.

Anne’s House is still the only local long-term trauma based residential program for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Today, CAASE released their latest research into those who buy sex in Illinois. It is a disturbing read. But important. Here’s why:

CAASE believes that this research can inform more effective ways for law enforcement and communities to address the demand for prostitution. “If we want to adequately and effectively reduce the demand for paid sex, and thus reduce violence against prostituted people, we need to first understand what motivates men to purchase sex,” said Rachel Durchslag, Executive Director of CAASE. “Lara Janson’s report highlights, through johns’ own words, how specific law enforcement responses to prostitution do deter men from purchasing sex.”

The words of Isaiah often inspire work for justice. The title of this post comes from some of those words:

But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!” Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come? —Isaiah 42:22-23

I hope you’ll join us as we continue on this journey. I hope you’ll join us in this modern-day abolitionist movement.

My list of abolitionists is pretty good, I think. But I know there are many more organizations engaged in this work. Who am I missing? What are your stories of fighting modern-day slavery?

Trafficking jam

It has been a very busy day in the anti-human trafficking world!

Most notably, President Obama used his time at the Clinton Global Initiative to deliver remarks about human trafficking, including new initiatives to engage the fight. As the President rightly stated, this issue is important to all of us:

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery. []

It’s a really good speech, worth your time to read in full. The President includes many stories of modern-day slavery and introduced a few survivors present at CGI today. UPDATE: I haven’t yet found a video of the full remarks, but here’s a snippet finally found video of the whole thing (h/t Holly Boardman):

Our friends at IJM responded with pleasure…and a reminder that our work continues.

Then I got a message from the good folks at CAASE. An opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times by Noy Thrupkaew called into question the validity of the end demand movements. So CAASE responded:

Last year, Ms. Thrupakew [sic] spent time with us, and we shared with her End Demand Illinois’ multi-dimensional, survivor-informed approach to the issue. By omitting this information from her piece, Ms. Thrupakew [sic] has left readers with a distorted view of demand-suppression efforts. […]

As you may know, CAASE does great work here in IL and I’m proud to support them.

As if all that weren’t enough for one day, I’ve also discovered some push back against the anti-trafficking movement. Over at her blog, Rogue Reverend, I’ve had some enlightening conversation with Lia Scholl. I encourage you to read her stuff too. I look forward to learning more from her as our dialogue continues.

Learn more about human trafficking (aka modern-day slavery) through any of my Abolitionists links.

Celebrating Freedom

Happy Independence Day to all my USAmerican readers!

It’s been a while since my last post on human trafficking, so what better day to rectify that than today, the national holiday celebrating freedom? Ok, sure, most of us just use today as an excuse to blow stuff up. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to redeem ourselves a little, right?

English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading aw...
English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading away an adult suspect arrested in the “Operation Cross Country II”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most exciting developments in the fight against modern-day slavery came on June 25 when the story of Operation Cross Country broke. The nationwide FBI sting netted two results worth celebrating: 104 pimps arrested and 79 children rescued from sex slavery. Though my friends at CAASE rightly point out that both of those stories I linked to (MSNBC and Chicago Tribune/Reuters) have a language problem: There is no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute.

There are only prostituted children, victims of sex trafficking. Legally that’s the case here in Illinois. But even in states whose laws haven’t yet caught up with reality, it’s still clear morally. Consider this from the Tribune article:

The teenagers, aged from 13 to 17 years old, were being held in custody until they could be placed with child welfare organizations. They were all U.S. citizens and included 77 girls and two boys, the FBI said. One of the minors recovered in the sweep reported being involved in prostitution from the age of 11, according to Kevin Perkins, acting executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch.

Or this from the MSNBC article:

The average age of a child targeted for prostitution in the United States is between 11 and 14 years old, FBI assistant director Kevin L. Perkins told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

If an adult were found having sex with an 11 or 13 year old, would you arrest the child?? Of course not! Because we know that, legally and morally, children can’t consent to sex. So why in the hell would we treat that same child differently just because some pimp is making money off of her?? Clearly our country is still in need of a lot of education about this.

“We asked men in our survey, ‘What would you tell men under 18?'” Durchslag said. “They said, ‘That (buying sex) will change forever how you relate to women. You will never look at a woman as a full human being again.'”

My town of Naperville make for a good example. It seems Naperville was involved in Operation Cross Country, but here it only resulted in the arrest of four prostituted women. No children rescued, no pimps arrested. I hope that means there just weren’t any children here to find. But it seems highly unlikely that there were no pimps involved with those four women. Why were there no arrests of pimps here? Why were there no johns, no customers arrested here? I wish I knew, but nobody seems to be saying.

How about a little good news? Some education is happening. And it is working. I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when the Tribune’s Barbara Brotman wrote a column on CAASE’s prevention curriculum. Last year I participated in a training Caleb led on this curriculum. He is an engaging teacher and it is terrific material. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to share this curriculum in schools out here in the western suburbs, but I still hope to do so. But I have taught it to the teenage boys at my church. Why start that young?

The program arose from its 2008 study of men who had purchased sex in Chicago. More than half of them had started doing so between the ages of 18 and 23.

“So if most of them were purchasing sex in their college years, we couldn’t do a prevention curriculum in college; it would be too late,” Durchslag said. “We had to reach them in high school.”

I don’t have data for the impact on my church kids, but in the schools where CAASE has taught, boys are changing their attitudes.

Probst hears from teachers. After he spoke at one school, a social worker there told him she overheard a boy saying he was planning to wear a “wife-beater” to an upcoming social engagement.

Another boy stopped him. “You mean a tank top, man,” he said.

“It makes you think about those young girls and how bad they have it,” Alejandro Barragan, one of the Rauner Prep students, said after the last session. “I don’t even like joking around anymore. I don’t even think it’s funny.”

How about one more piece of good news? Nestlé did something right.

“Our investigation of Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain represents the first time a multinational chocolate producer has allowed its procurement system to be completely traced and assessed. For too long child labor in cocoa production has been everybody’s problem and therefore nobody’s responsibility,” said Fair Labor Association President Auret van Heerden.

It means Nestlé is the first chocolate-maker to comprehensively map its cocoa supply chain – and can work on identifying problems areas, training and educating workers and taking action against child labor violations.

Read the rest on CNN’s excellent Freedom Project blog.

Good Tribune article on human trafficking

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune had one of the better articles I’ve read on local efforts to fight human trafficking. Our friends at CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation) even get a shout out!

Annie Sweeny: New task force targets traffickers who force children into sex trade

Inside the Harrison Police District station, the officers sat in a semicircle to be briefed about the shift ahead in one of Chicago’s most beleaguered areas.

But on this recent day, the topic was not the shootings and murders on these West Side streets, but a crime often pushed far back into the shadows — the thousands of young girls and women who are prostituted, pushed into the violence of Chicago’s sex trade.

FBI Special Agent Jonathan Williamson and Chicago police Sgt. Traci Walker were there to announce a new joint effort by the FBI and Chicago police to target child traffickers in the city.

“Our main goal here is to go after guys pimping out juvenile girls or putting any underage juveniles into the sex trade,” Williamson said. “Certainly, most, if not all, (investigations) are going to start with you guys on the street.” Read the rest.

Crazy cool video!

This video is amazing!

Not sure how long it has been around, but a friend sent it to me today and I had to share. Be sure to watch it all the way to the end.


Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Stop the Traffik, but they seem to be doing good work in Europe. Here’s something all of us can do to stop human trafficking: help end the demand. Stop buying sex. Stop going to strip clubs. Stop listening to radio stations that accept ads from strip clubs.

Stop treating women as commodities to be bought and sold and owned and discarded.

Teach our young people – especially our young men – to treat women well, with respect and dignity.

Every person is of sacred worth. Every person is a beloved child of God.

Let’s act like it.

Nothing says “I love you, Mom” like freedom.

This week I had the privilege of meeting Ashley, the store manager at WAR Chest Boutique in downtown Naperville.

I know. At first glance, it’s a really odd name. “WAR Chest? What kind of horrible stuff do they sell?!?”

But step inside and you quickly discover – not a dark place with skulls or guns – but a very attractive shop filled with terrific looking jewelery, scarves, art work, and all kinds of goods. No need to take my word for it, though. See for yourself:

As nice as the store looks, so what? No body wants shopping advice from me – why bother writing this? Because learning their story and mission makes WAR Chest Boutique a truly beautiful place.

It turns out, WAR stands for Women at Risk and the store is part of Women at Risk, International. They are a non-profit organization that operates safe houses around the world for women and children rescued from abuse, especially human trafficking.

The goods sold in the store are made by these trafficking survivors and 90% of the proceeds go to supporting the women and the safe houses for them. The founders of the organization are Christians and their work is motivated by their faith. I love how they describe their purpose:

WAR was established to place circles of protection around women at risk. The purpose and passion of this organization is to wrap arms of love around women and children, whispering the message that they were created for purpose and dignity.

To their credit, their passionate faith moves them to be non-sectarian in whom they help. As you can tell, I’m highly impressed with this organization and its store. In fact, I hope to schedule a time for the Boutique to bring some of their goods to sell on a Sunday morning at Woodridge UMC.

In the meantime, check them out on Facebook, Twitter, or their website.

And if you need to buy gifts for Mother’s Day, I highly recommend going to downtown Naperville – or online – to “shop with a purpose.”

I know I will. For my money, nothing says “I love you” like freedom.

It’s still about supply and demand. #EndDemand #EndSlavery

You’ve heard the River Story, right? I first heard it from Jim Wallis, but it seems to be a popular parable. I heard it invoked again at the meeting of Bread for the World activists last week.

It occurs to me that is the context within which I have heard it used: ending poverty.

But ever since we screened Call + Response, I’ve been thinking about something Kevin Bales says in it:

This is an economic crime. People do not enslave people to be mean to them. They do it to make a profit.

They do it to make a profit.
In other words, human trafficking/modern-day slavery follows that most basic of economic principles: supply and demand. Traffickers make money because people are willing to pay for the supply they offer. In this case, people. People sold for labor or for sex.

Rescuing trafficking victims and supplying them with much-needed care is, obviously, vital work. Work that requires a dedicated long-term, interdisciplinary approach. The best example of which I am aware is Anne’s House.

But, as the River Story reminds us, while that good, vital work of providing care for victims happens, we must simultaneously send people up the river to find out who and/or what is pushing them into the river – and stop it!

International Justice Mission does a good job of this by prosecuting traffickers.

But even that isn’t quite all the way up the river, is it? It seems to me that source problem is people who seek to buy people. If we end the demand for people (for sex and for labor) we will end slavery.

End. Slavery. That’s really what this is all about.

Those best doing that work, at least here in the Chicago area, are CAASE and their companion effort, End Demand IL. I hope you’ll check out their work and support them.

CAASE Executive Director, Rachel Durchslag, was featured in Huffington Post last week. Here’s a taste:

Most johns (men who buy sex) know that they cause harm when they support the sex trade, but they continue to buy sex because they face very few consequences. I know this because I conducted a study that interviewed 113 johns in Chicago, and only 7 percent of those interviewed had ever been arrested for buying sex. When men are targeted by law enforcement it’s called a “reverse sting.” Why is it a reversal to arrest purchasers?

It’s a reversal for our culture because purchasers are men, and as a society we have always blamed women for prostitution. This needs to change. If there were no demand, there would be no prostitution.

Their work is producing good results, making a real difference. Here’s more from Huff Post:

One Chicago study revealed that, on average, women entered prostitution at the age of 16. Girls are often recruited by someone they have come to trust, even by a boyfriend or family member. Until our Illinois Safe Children Act passed in 2010, minors in prostitution were treated as criminals. Now, no minors in Illinois can be prosecuted for prostitution, the term “juvenile prostitute” has been removed from the books, and there are increased penalties in Illinois for pimps and johns.

Our law enforcement partners are also stepping up. Just this summer, we saw a huge bust in Cook County that brought down nine traffickers who were selling women and girls. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Sheriff Tom Dart said that new wiretapping capabilities from the Illinois Safe Children Act were crucial to building the case. It wasn’t largely publicized as part of the sting, but more than 50 johns were also arrested.

One way Woodridge UMC is attempting to end demand is by talking honestly with our young men about how our culture objectifies women and how that objectification denies their basic humanity. We hope our young men will be part of the generation that changes that!

How about you? What are some ways you are ending demand for slavery?