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.

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?

Anne’s House and shocking proximity

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began his public ministry with a reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” Then Jesus declared that He fulfilled those words!

According to our membership vows, all United Methodists promise to “do all in our power to fight evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.”

These are just two reasons I continue to push for my congregation (and all Christians) to be advocates with and for oppressed and marginalized people. Maybe your vision of oppressed people starts in some far away land. While you may not be wrong, that is not the whole truth.

Some oppressed people are living right in our midst. Even some enslaved people.

Hopefully by now you have read or heard that Anne’s House opened this month in Chicago. Why should you care about that? Anne’s House is the long-term, residential, therapeutic care home for girls rescued from commercial sexual exploitation. This house provides the emotional, educational and vocational support the girls need as they recover from the horrific nightmare of sex slavery. And the people of Woodridge United Methodist Church helped make this house possible!

Way back last Christmas we took an offering in support of a dream. The Salvation Army wanted to open this home. They had a location, what they lacked was funding. So we helped provide them with some. And eleven months later, that dream became a reality. The faithfulness and generosity of our people helped make that happen. In a small way, sure. But we did help.

I’m reminded of something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And of something Dr. Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Now you might be wondering, where will the girls who live in Anne’s House come from? From Cambodia or India or Mexico?

Try a little closer to home.

Oh, you mean like Seattle or Cleveland or Chicago.

Well, yes, in a nationally coordinated FBI operation conducted earlier this month, more girls were rescued from sex slavery in Seattle than anywhere else in the country. And Cleveland had a few too, as did Chicago. But you need to think even closer to us. By the way, the use of “girls” here is not a euphemism. We’re talking about children aged 12-17.

I think I might have heard something about South Holland, IL. (But I don’t know where that is.)

You’re right; girls are forced into sex slavery in South Holland too. (It’s about 40 miles southeast of Woodridge. I had to look it up.) But that’s still too far away.

Just tell us already! You’re obviously trying to shock us with the revelation of a spot near to us, a spot we’d rather not think child prostitutes could exist…where is it?!?

Downers Grove.

The heart-breaking, impossible-sounding, makes-me-want-to-retch truth is that of the 69 underage girls nationwide who were found in this operation, 1 of them was in Downers Grove.

Call it what you will – human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, sex slavery, child prostitutes, modern-day slavery – but we can never again call it a problem over there somewhere. It is very literally right here in our midst.

The operation was a success nationally: 884 arrests including 99 pimps from 40 cities across 30 states and the District of Columbia. Locally, 39 arrests included 3 pimps. Kudos to the FBI and local police and sheriff’s departments.

And thanks to the new Illinois law, minors found in the sex trade here are treated as the victims they are and not as criminals. So the good news is that the 3 underage girls in the Chicago area are now receiving treatment. Maybe they’ll eventually end up in Anne’s House.

Maybe even the girl from Downers Grove.


May God give us the courage to unflinchingly look evil in the eye, the wisdom to respond with actions of faith, hope and love, and the strength to never give up even if we grow weary.