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Mikhail BellMay 15, 2012
The following article is the second of two reports on the Center for Global Justice Symposium. Read the first piece about religious freedom here.
Regent University in Virginia Beach is best known for founder Pat Robertson. But the school is often in the forefront of evangelical social advocacy, and a recent conference there targeted global sex trafficking.
The first annual Center for Global Justice Symposium at Regent in late March drew anti-trafficking, religious freedom and child protection advocates. A session entitled "Human Trafficking: Creative Solutions" was the most popular, filling a spacious ballroom with scores of attentive and concerned Christians. Speakers recalled individual successes, but partnership is the central theme in 2012 for anti-trafficking groups.
Annie Dollarhide, Communications Manager at the A21 Campaign, set the tone early. A21, which stands for the campaign to abolish slavery in the 21st century, operates offices in Greece, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. In 2008, Dollarhide joined A21 from Joyce Meyer's ministries to strengthen the organization's rapidly growing programs.
Of the six sites, Greece is perhaps the most difficult battleground for anti-trafficking efforts, mainly because of proximity. According to the U.S. State Department, "Ninety percent of all illegal migrants entering the EU currently enter through Greece." Additionally, the Mediterranean nation is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for uninhibited travel among member countries. A21’s greatest legal achievement to date came last year when the organization successfully prosecuted two traffickers in a case that lead to a record human trafficking sentence in a nation where there is sometimes judicial corruption. In addition to unprecedented jail time, each perpetrator was fined 500,000 euros.
"Wearing a wristband is not a [solution] to human trafficking," Dollarhide said, warning against merely symbolic activism. Substantive action, she emphasized, is required. A U.K. team of female rowers exemplify this mindset as the group traversed the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness about human trafficking. They were not only dedicated but fast. The rowers smashed the previous record held for rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
The work of A21 is a microcosm of efforts by Christian-led organizations to combat human trafficking. International Justice Mission (IJM) in February hosted the Passion Movement, an annual evangelical gathering of Christian college students and seminarians that this year launched 72 Days for Freedom. This initiative leveraged prayer, volunteerism and petitions.
In addition, supporters were asked to sign an online appeal for increased federal assistance to counter human trafficking at home and abroad. Organizers set a campaign target of 72,000 signatures. By April 27, 11 days before the crusade concluded, IJM announced that 73,062 people affirmed the call.
In other evidence of the swelling anti-trafficking movement, Freedom Climb founder Cathey Anderson at the Regents event told of having organized in January an expedition to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya with nearly 50 other women in hopes of raising awareness about human trafficking.
"Even if we change the life of one woman, seven women, eight women, we made a difference," Anderson noted. What started off as a dream soon became a journey toward healing in a manner that was deeply personal to all involved.
Anderson's journey up the mountain allowed backpackers to overcome their emotional traumas as each woman revealed during the climb how she had survived sexual violence. To their surprise the trip received international media attention and raised $50,000 for anti-trafficking programs around the world. Freedom Climb is a project of Operation Moblisation, a ministry that works in over 110 countries.
Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, or S.O.A.P., is another campaign dedicated to mitigating demand for commercial sex. Leading up to the Super Bowl, S.O.A.P. coordinated a simple outreach initiative that received media attention around the United States. TraffickFree founder Theresa Flores, who was not at the Regent University symposium, creatively leveraged the resources around her as she sought to help sexually exploited women and girls escape cyclical abuse from pimps and purchasers of sex.
Herself a sex trafficking survivor turned Christian, Flores and volunteers distributed cases of soap to hoteliers. This program educated motel owners and staff on human trafficking and armed victims with a tool to abandon their tormenters. Each bar has inscribed on it the number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, (1-888-373-7888), which can connect prostituted persons with emergency services immediately.
Such pragmatic outreach to trafficked victims, Dollarhide asserted, reflects how some Christians are called to seek out the lost, broken and hidden. As they are called, each person "must be willing to go out into the dark place" to reach the same group whose brokenness allows human trafficking to thrive unabated.
Although most anti-trafficking programs don't make headlines, continued efforts to combat demand and protect victims seem to be the only durable way to stem the tidal wave of demand for human exploitation.
But most anti-trafficking experts at the Regents event were circumspect about any rapid change in the near future. One panelist underscored this point with a Greek proverb, "Siga, siga," meaning "slowly, slowly."
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