I remember learning about slavery as a child – sitting in a classroom full of middle-class children and listening to our teacher describe 18th-century slavery in America. Horrified by the stories of such inhumane treatment, I couldn’t understand why so few people had stood up for justice. Nor could I wrap my head around a movement where money and greed had so gruesomely caused people to regard God’s most precious creations as nothing more than mere possessions. Obviously, I was appalled by those buying, selling, and mistreating slaves – but I was equally disturbed by those who were against the slave trade but didn’t do anything about it. In their choice to remain inactive, motionless and apathetic, these people sinned - not by what they did do but by what they didn’t do.
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.” –James 4:17, NIV
As a little girl sitting in class, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “If slavery still existed today, I would be different than those people. If I were free, I would stand up for those who weren’t.” What I didn’t know as an elementary school student was that slavery did still exist. While I sat in my little classroom listening to my teacher speak about a topic said to be in the past, I hadn’t the faintest clue that slavery was actually happening all around the globe. And it’s still happening today, at an even more disturbing level. Over the years, slavery has simply adopted a different exterior, but the interior remains unchanged – pure, horrific human bondage. I was once a little girl who vowed I would have stood up for the slaves, and now as an adult, I have a real opportunity to stand up for their justice – and so do you.
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I’ve been a CSM City Host in the Bay Area since February. Every week during our prayer tour, we drive through an area of downtown San Francisco littered with X-rated bars, strip clubs, and other establishments selling sex. Every time I drive by these businesses, I know that the women do not want to be there. It’s modern-day slavery, and far too many people are oblivious to what is happening. When slaves were kidnapped from Africa and violently thrown onto boats in the 1700s, the mistreatment was blatant and undeniable. Nowadays, slavery operates under a more underhanded guise, but it’s just as gruesome beneath the surface. Emotional manipulation, looming threats, subtle brainwashing – these are the weapons coercing people to become slaves today.
Tragically, sex slavery is booming throughout the world, generating roughly $32 billion globally (SFgate.com). No countries are exempt from the corruption; first world and developing countries alike are buying and selling women (and sometimes men as well). In America, a country that identifies itself as the “Land of the Free”, victims are both trafficked locally and brought in from other nations.
According to an article published by SFgate.com, San Francisco is one of the top cities in the United States for child sex trafficking. Various factors contribute to this misfortune.
“The Bay Area has become a magnet for such exploitation. It's a diverse, affluent area that has been an early adopter when it comes to technology and globalization. It's a global hub for travel - both business and leisure - and well-connected to communities all over the world, thanks to the large number of immigrants who live here.
Our freewheeling culture may be one of the factors in why such exploitation goes undetected. There is general laissez-faire attitude toward the activities in massage parlors and other adult-oriented establishments that human traffickers can use to their advantage. And it's not just about sex. Cheap labor for everything from construction to pedicures to landscaping is sought and received with few questions asked”.ˡ
It is possible that the general population does not realize that many women working in strip clubs, massage parlors with “happy endings,” and other similar establishments are not there by choice. Many have been manipulated and coerced by pimps to work in these places and are threatened if they try to leave. Often, traffickers will threaten to kill a woman’s family if she attempts to get out. Men are also tricked into working without pay, being offered seemingly good jobs that turn out to actually be slave labor. When they try to stop laboring, they receive the same threats. Fear and manipulation keep the victims in bondage.
Though the facts about trafficking may seem daunting, the end result is not hopeless. The first step we must take in the fight against human slavery is awareness. We cannot win a battle if people do not recognize that we are in a war; therefore, we must start by educating people about what is happening. Fortunately, there are countless organizations working against human trafficking, specifically in the Bay Area (such as Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, The Sage Project, and San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking). In May 2015, Freedom Summit will take place at Levi’s Stadium, the new location for the San Francisco 49ers. The summit will educate people on how to work towards ending human trafficking. The theme of the event is “NOT IN OUR TOWN!”, a slogan that makes me proud to be serving in the Bay Area.
Obviously, there is not a quick fix to end trafficking, but I believe organizations and events that promote awareness are a good place to start. Making gradual moves towards justice is far better than bowing down to hopelessness. I know I can’t save the world, but I can be the person I said I would be when I was a little girl – someone who stood up and did something instead of turning a blind eye to the issue. Being a part of CSM Bay Area provides a great platform to let people know that the sex trade is a very real problem in America. Though our prayer tour provides only a brief glimpse of the red-light district in San Francisco, it still introduces every group to the fact that sex trafficking is actually happening in our own backyard. I’ll never forget one of my group leaders commenting, “I just had no idea…no idea about the amount of establishments selling sex in the U.S. I can’t believe it.” I pray that the eye-opening truth will spur our visitors to learn more about the sex trade and eventually take action within their own communities.
As I conclude, allow me to direct you to avideo. It’s perhaps the most poignant demonstration against the human trafficking issue I’ve seen. Bay Area local, Mickey Cho (along with vocal assistance from Hanna Baek), created the song entitled “Not for Sale”² to promote awareness about trafficking around the globe. Its haunting lyrics will undoubtedly leave you wanting to get more involved in the movement against slavery. Let’s spread the word and fight for freedom.
- Caitlin Scudder, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Spring 2015 City Host
- Caitlin Scudder, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Spring 2015 City Host
¹“Human trafficking a blight in progressive Bay Area.” SFgate.com. SF Gate, 31 May 2014. Web. 27 March 2015.
**Take a look at the whole article here: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/editorials/article/Human-trafficking-a-blight-in-progressive-Bay-Area-5517754.php
²Cho, M. and Hanna Baek. (2014, July 14). Abolition Summit 2013: Not for Sale by Mickey Cho. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxUErxE1pak.