Human Trafficking is a huge global, national, and local crisis. It’s the second largest criminal enterprise in the world with an estimated 25 million individuals trafficked worldwide. It’s even estimated to be a $110 million annual industry in the greater Birmingham area. Last year, there were thousands of documented trafficking victims in Alabama including hundreds of minors in in and around our city. In fact, a recent study showed that over half of all trafficking victims in our area are minors.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human Trafficking is a modern form of slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims in order to exploit them for services against their will. All sexual exploitation involving minors is considered against their will and is legally classified as trafficking.
How Does it Happen?
Julie* was only 12 when her mother was short on rent due to her drug addiction. Her mother exchanged her daughter for the balance of the rent and then eventually for her drugs as well. This happened so many times that, in her teens, Julie began to self-medicate with the same drugs her mother used. She eventually began to traffick herself to support her own addiction. She ended up pregnant, dropped out of school, and entered a life of crime to support her addictions, which eventually led her to prison.
Amanda* was 13 when both her parents went to jail on charges related to their addictions. She went to live with her grandmother and uncle. Her uncle soon started bringing in men to be with her at night to support his addictions. He threatened to kill her if she told her grandmother. It wasn’t until years later when she was in another foster care home that she opened up about the crimes perpetrated upon her by her uncle.
Cassandra* and her family illegally crossed the border into the U.S. in search of a better life. They moved into a trailer park in Shelby County where relatives were living. An older man befriended them and gained her parent’s trust. He began to exploit her at the age of 10 and threatened to expose their family to the authorities if she told anyone. Fortunately, she eventually told someone and testified against him. Her family now has legal status in the U.S. thanks to her bravery.
All three of these stories happened in the Birmingham area, and thankfully all three individuals have received counseling and are in recovery. These stories are typical of hundreds more. Some minors are exploited by family members or friends of the family. Some are groomed online, and others by those in their relationship circles for years. Others are exploited by complete strangers. All are victims and all need the grace of Jesus and the love of His Church.
What Can I Do?
1. Become Educated About the Facts
BH City Ministries is sponsoring a Human Trafficking Awareness Night this Wednesday, January 29, at 6:30pm in our worship center. As part of the Blue Campaign (a national month-long emphasis about human trafficking leading up to the Super Bowl), we have invited Blanket Fort Hope and a team of community leaders to come educate us about what is occurring in Shelby County and surrounding counties related to minors. They will help us to know how traffickers are working in our area, what signs to look for among minors that could be signs of trafficking, how to protect your children and those under your influence, and how you can help serve minors who have been trafficked. More information at brookhills.org/trafficking.
Note: Due to the mature subject matter of this event, we are asking that children attend their appropriate age group programs and not attend this event. Parents, grandparents, foster parents, professionals, and volunteers who work with minors are all encouraged to attend.
2. Pray for the Victims
Pray they will self-identify as a victim. Minors often don't tell anyone about what is happening until after the abuse has stopped. They are afraid, ashamed, or may not have a category yet to understand that what is happening to them is wrong and is abuse until their late teens. Pray they will be rescued. Pray they will find refuge and strength in a personal relationship with Jesus. Pray for their healing. You can find suggested prayer points under the "Pray For Our City" tab at brookhills.org/thisweek.
3. Become an Advocate
The Early Church was known for their orphan care and advocacy against the exploitation of minors (Hurtado, 2017, pp. 144-147, 167-168). They became the conscience of the Roman Empire as they advocated for laws against exploitation and as they cared for those abandoned and exploited. As we seek to “do justice” in the name of Jesus in our culture, let’s be the voice of the oppressed who usually do not self-identify and let’s be the arms of Jesus who care for the victims who have been exploited. You can hear more about ways to become an advocate at the Human Trafficking Awareness Night or at blanketforthope.org.
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Keith Stanley serves as our City Ministries Pastor. He and his wife, Robin, have been members of Brook Hills since 2007. They have two adult children and three grandchildren.