Human trafficking is one of those realities in which the more you scratch the surface, the more you learn things that make you feel overwhelmed. We want to help, to do something—but where do we start? Will anything we do make any difference, anyway?
With these problems in mind, one day in my Bible reading I was struck by Jesus’ use of powerlessness as he was crucified. Meditating on the cross of Jesus Christ calmed my heart. Although I still have questions, I found hope that his redemptive work can still be carried out, even in the dark world of human and sex trafficking. But perhaps I should explain more.
My husband and I and a team of friends spent one year in India doing research into the sex trafficking scene. What we learned overwhelmed and horrified us:
- Depending on who you listen to, there are between 2.5 million and 15 million prostituted people in India.1
- 50% of women in Mumbai’s brothels are believed to be HIV positive.2
- 200 women and girls enter the sex trade in India every day, 160 of whom do so under coercion.3
- In a recent study in Mumbai, 90% of adult women currently being prostituted said they had begun sex work prior to age 18. This suggests that most were either born into brothels or sold into sex slavery.4
- With customers demanding younger girls, the average age of girls in the brothels continues to go down—currently it is at 14, with girls as young as eight being trafficked for sex.
Behind each statistic are actual people going through hellish stories of kidnapping, betrayal, violent initiation into prostitution, and nightly exploitation.
Shift your focus from the individual to the system as a whole and it’s just as overwhelming. Greed and lust fuel the system—greed on the part of pimps, madams, middlemen, and crime lords; lust of the millions of men who seek to buy sex. Truly, powerful forces are at work. Most of the sex trade is operated by organized crime. Human trafficking is the second largest—but fastest growing—criminal industry in the world, making it as difficult to combat as the sale of illicit weapons and drugs.
One lawyer who has worked hard to prosecute arrested traffickers summed up the frustration one feels in the face of such a vast network of evil: “The criminals have so much power, so many connections to government officials and local police, and a seemingly unlimited source of money so that they can escape the justice system very easily.”
Looking at such a huge and powerful problem, it’s easy to feel intimidated. How can I even start to help the exploited, let alone work against the traffickers? Compared to such large numbers of victims, the help I offer may seem insignificant. Indeed, when I feel overwhelmed and powerless, I start contemplating Jesus’ cross.
Most of us would agree that the plan of redemption was one of God’s biggest designs for humanity. Yet during Passion Week, how did it actually unfold? From a human point of view, Jesus did not exert a lot of personal action or initiative in order to be crucified (although it was true that days and months earlier, he had “set his face toward the cross,” indicating his will to follow God’s plan). In the end, he was led away by sinful men, like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53).
Jesus did not make it happen. We are surprised by the apparent passivity of it all. Redemption came about by Jesus letting things happen to him. It wasn’t that he acted, so much as others acted upon him. His was injustice caused by others’ anger and jealousy. His execution served their ego and pride.
Jesus did not fight. Jesus did not close himself up. He opened his hands to be nailed. With an open heart, he poured out his life. His was the role of victim, seemingly out of control. Redemption, this most powerful miracle of Jesus, came about by being powerless, by being abused, by being shamed at the hands of others.
In the midst of injustice, in the midst of the powerful abusing the powerless, right there in the center at the cross of Christ stands God’s biggest plan of redemption.
I can’t help continually thinking about sex slaves, trafficked children, and others who suffer because of injustice at the hands of the powerful. They are led away and abused by people serving their own ego, greed, and lust. They do not have any control over their situation. They feel helpless and powerless.
A Pathway for Redemption
When we get a glimpse of such horrific, helpless experiences of those trafficked, it becomes even more amazing to see that Jesus chose the way of the cross, which put him in such a vulnerable situation. With all his power he chose the way of powerlessness—for us. In doing so, he opened up a pathway for redemption that speaks directly to problems as evil as human trafficking.
Thus, it is now possible for those suffering women and girls to place all of their powerlessness and hopelessness on the cross, and experience redemptive transformation. They just need people who will care enough to rescue them from their slavery and walk with them through the healing journey—and who, in the process, will introduce them to the Redeemer.
We who work against trafficking can also bring our feelings of helplessness and intimidation to the cross, so that in overwhelming situations we can find strength to press on with the Redeemer in the mysterious mix of both his vulnerability and the power of resurrection.
I still often feel overwhelmed when confronted with the deep abuses of trafficking. But when I contemplate Jesus’ cross, I feel peace—even excitement—to wonder what God could do in that very place where I feel powerless.
True, many today look with grief and helplessness at the problems of trafficking and the deep wounds borne by the trafficked—the same grief and hopeless the disciples must have felt as they gazed upon the cross where Jesus was dying. Yet is it possible that somehow, even in the center of these most inhuman abuses and violent acts by the world’s powers, that God’s bigger (albeit hidden) plan of redemption is being carried out?
1. A report by the Ministry for Women and Child Development, Government of India, lists the number of prostitutes as 2.5 million; while Human Rights Watch estimates it to be 15 million. http://www.merinews.com/article/prostitution-a-burning-issue-in-india-today/131963.shtml.
2. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/wpro/2001/9290611588.pdf; World Health Organization 2001.
3. United Nations Centre for Development and Population Activities, as cited in “The Nowhere Children” by Neha Dixit, Tehelka Magazine, 1 November 2008.
4. Justice & Care, 2009