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Mikhail BellMarch 21, 2012
Using $3 million raised by 40,000 students, the evangelical-led Passion Conferences has launched a campaign to make human trafficking a national priority again. 72 Days for Freedom is the latest in several national grassroots campaigns against sexual exploitation. But it is different by its multipronged approach and length. From February 27 to May 8, 72 Days for Freedom offers website visitors a prayer guide, opportunities to build shelters for survivors, and a petition asking President Obama for decisive action on human trafficking.
The protracted prayer, advocacy, and awareness effort comes on the heels of Freedom Sunday, a February 26 event that called on churches across the nation to help raise awareness about human trafficking. The effort went international as approximately 4,600 churches around the world participated in this year’s rally.
“The Church has a key role in the restoration of trafficked victims,” Ashley Chapman of Regent University’s Center for Global Justice said in a February interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.
During a recent interview with OneNewsNow , Passion spokesman Bryson Vogeltanz was unapologetic, saying: “we believe that the Church -- the capital 'C' Church -- should be leading the way in the movement to provide freedom for people all around the world."
“We need to stop listening to statistics and start changing them,” the 72 Days for Freedom website video implores. An accompanying documentary, “Freedom: Indifference Is Not An Option,” portrays three stories of trafficked persons whose lives began the journey toward restoration after coming in contact with Christian aid and counter-trafficking organizations.
A slave at birth
The face of human trafficking in South Asia varies not only in its complexion, but also in its substance. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have traditions of debt bondage that are manifested in modern labor practices. For instance, two generation ago, a brick factory worker may have requested an emergency loan from his employer to pay for a family member’s medical expenses, agreeing to pay the debt back with interest. Ostensibly, the verbal agreement is a simple transaction between two consenting adults and even suggests an underlying compassionate motivation. However landowners and factory supervisors abuse such covenants by adding fictitious debts to the original advance. Other family members may join or be forced to work at the factory to pay down the ballooning principal. When a family member dies, the amount owed is heaped upon the next generation.
Raman, a bonded laborer in India, is emblematic of such deceit. Before his thirteenth birthday, started working at a Chennai rice mill. His grandfather had incurred a debt, passed away, and the obligation fell on his father. Once he was 12, Raman began to working alongside his family to lessen the financial burden. Now a father, all he hopes for is a better life for his son, which seems unlikely. “I thought my son would have a better job than this. But this isn’t possible because I am a slave,” Raman lamented.
Physical abuse is a common tactic to maintain control. “The mill owner tortured me and my family,” the rice mill worker said. International Justice Mission, a U.S. based Christian non-governmental organization, later raided his rice mill and prosecuted the owner after reports of abuse surfaced.
Pain and sorrow
This pattern of exploitation is even more dramatically true for survivors of sex trafficking whose vulnerable families are enticed by promises of higher wages. Typically the traffickers disguise their employment as a part-time domestic servant that works only a few hours each day on chores and childcare. The family then relinquishes their child, usually a girl, in exchange for the promise of education. The claim is specious. Instead little is offered to victims, beyond subsistence. “My only food was tea in the morning and a piece of bread at four in the afternoon,” Meena, a survivor of sex trafficking shared.
In some cases a domestic servant is commercially exploited for sex or sexually abused by the homeowner. “She forced me to have sex with men… There was no way to escape… Everyday I wanted to die,” Meena recalled of her employer. During her ordeal she nearly committed suicide but instead decided to escape from her captor. “I don’t have to die in a foreign country. I have hope for a new life,” she realized.
Tiny Hands International (TNI), a Nebraska based Christian organization that works in Nepal, changed more than Meena’s physical surroundings. “I was in pain and sorrow, but God filled my heart with joy,” she recalled. Through TNI, Meena became a Christian and discovered how to process her lingering emotional trauma.
“To leave, I would have to pay him”
Katya came to Greece expecting to work as a waitress. She responded to a job advertisement, hoping to help her grandmother and mother the family’s monthly expenses in Russia. Upon arriving in Greece, she found out that a different job awaited her. “We had to strip for men. Afterwards, the customers would pay us for sex,” she recalled.
When she protested about her contract, which promised restaurant employment, the trafficker ripped up the agreement. In Greece without a passport and unfamiliar with the language, Katya was left with few options. “Our pimp would make €145 (id="mce_marker"90) a day from each girl that works,” she said. “He has 30 girls working at a time… To leave him…[I would have to] pay him €10,000 (id="mce_marker"3,185). I made €20 ($26) a day. If you have to pay him a fine, you would work three or four months to pay it off. Because of this, there was no way I could escape.”
After “working” until six in the morning, Katya’s pimp would force her and the other girls to dance on just a few hours of sleep. This demanding schedule continued even after she broke her leg. Her pimp gave her two choices: work to pay off her spiraling debt or rest for a month as the doctor ordered. Katya decided to work.
Despite eventually escaping from her trafficker, Katya still felt caged. The A21 Campaign, a Christian counter-trafficking organization in Greece, provided emotional and spiritual aftercare to meet her needs. “[Knowing] God has changed the way I feel and the way I view things. It’s all changed. I feel like I have two wings on my back. I am free and I love it,” she reflected.
Vogeltanz put the mission into focus: “[we believe] as people who've experienced freedom in Jesus Christ, that we can offer freedom both spiritually and physically to people around the world." If the transformations in the lives of Raman, Meena, Katya are any indication, something good is bound to happen.
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