Modern-day slavery: A real and present danger

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YORBA LINDA — Orange. "It's the color of freedom," said Leo Jacques.

That's why he wore an orange bracelet to the recent Global Forum on Human Trafficking in Yorba Linda, Calif. According to conference organizers from the Not for Sale campaign, "wearing orange shows you're a part of the movement to stop slavery. Whether it's a string, a bandana, a patch or something else—how is up to the individual."

Determination to free the slaves turned the Oct. 14 and 15 forum into an abolitionist think tank. Jacques said he and his wife, Ruby, came "because of a young Southeast Asian girl named Elisabeth. While being held in captivity as a sex slave, she carved Psalm 27 in the wall of her cell."

Verses 1-2 described Elisabeth's hope. "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? ... When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh ... they will stumble and fall."

And, fall they did, explained Ruby.

"After escaping, Elisabeth led the authorities to where slave-traders kept the girls hidden," she said. "As a result, they were rescued."

Such courage touched the Jacques' hearts and introduced them to a cause for which to fight.

David Batstone, president and cofounder of the modern-day abolitionist movement, Not For Sale, was also inspired by someone's courage. Batstone described how, after discovering that one of "my favorite Indian restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area had been trafficking women to wash dishes, cook meals and other tasks, my shock turned into a consuming passion that took me around the world to learn more about how slavery flourishes."

In northern Thailand, Batstone said he "bumped" into Kru Nam. This young Thai abolitionist was so appalled at seeing 8-to-12-year-olds trafficked to foreign tourists that she had begun rescuing the kids out of karaoke bars, brothels and drug rings. At the time Batstone met her, Kru Nam was caring for 40 children in an empty field.

He promised to write a book and use the proceeds to build her a house. But Batstone said that before he finished "Not for Sale," the book, Kru Nam had 88 children. She needed two homes, medical supplies and access to education. Batstone promised her a village.


Perhaps eating chocolate is a sin
Federal law defines human trafficking as "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, sex, debt bondage or slavery."

Batstone and other experts estimate that more than 27 million men, women, and children are currently held in bondage. 

A trip to Ghana convinced the Rev. Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, that we all contribute to the problem. 

"What I saw still haunts me every time I unwrap a chocolate bar," he said. "Trafficked children wielding sharp machetes; cutting off white, yellow, and red pods which contain the beans; losing fingers, being burned by pesticides."

According to Costello, prominent companies continue doing business with those involved, despite knowing the despicable conditions.

The sex trade also torments children. Pimps introduce them—at the average age of 13—to prostitution. In Los Angeles County alone, immigration agents estimate that more than 10,000 victims are held in underground brothels. "Not for Sale" delegates from Arkansas and Kansas said slavery can be found in their states as well.

But, not all domestic slaves are children from other countries. The Jacques described how the dangers of partying led their friend, Jill Ranes, into captivity. Raised in the San Francisco Bay area, this beautiful blonde was forced into sexual slavery at age 22 by so-called friends. For almost 10 years, traffickers drugged Raines and used her to produce pornography.

In a podcast, Ranes described how she was "moved from place to place" so she couldn't form relationships. Without a support system, Ranes had no place to turn, but God."

After seeing her pray, the traffickers told her, "Your God can't save you now." 

Her response? 

"Yes, He can."

And, he did. With the aid of Christians, Ranes escaped. Ruby said that Ranes has recently started the "Out of Egypt Network" and become a spokeswoman against trafficking.


Creativity and collaboration turn freedom's key
According to Batstone, "the best and the brightest need to be involved in changing the world." Some of the global forum's 800 attendees, many of them students, have already begun.

Saskia Wishart, a 21-year-old Canadian, applied what she learned from last year's forum during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. She recruited volunteers from churches in South Africa to help distribute thousands of "red cards" listing slavery facts.

"People came together and prayed throughout the city of Cape Town," Wishart said. "We saw direct answers to prayer as individuals who had been in slavery were set free because of the work being done. Through our awareness-raising campaign, we were able to inform people from all around the world on what modern day slavery looks like!"

An artist, Kru Nam, the Thai woman Batstone's ministry assisted, said she distributed blank canvases to street kids who were too traumatized to talk. After escaping from traffickers, they drew horrible pictures of abuse that helped Kru Nam learn about their needs. She put together a team that offers love and shelter to more than 100 children in two homes. Each cost $180,000 to build. The second day of the conference, Not for Sale representatives handed Kru Nam a check for $155,000. After it was written, a donor added the remaining $25,000 necessary to complete the third home.


Fighting back
Beyond financial partners, a law enforcement panel described how the abolitionist movement needs people from all vocations. According to moderator John Vanek of the San Jose Police Human Trafficking Task Force, the U.S. Justice Department has taken steps in that direction by funding 40 county task forces, including three Southern California branches in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles. They are "dedicated to identifying and rescuing trafficking victims, training law enforcement, and raising public awareness using a multidisciplinary approach." 

Fellow panelists explained how churches have all the networks necessary to work with victims. Pastors, counselors and educators can help integrate former slaves into society. Lay volunteers can teach skills like driving, managing a checking account and how to enroll in school.

At the end of the forum, Batstone encouraged attendees to take action. The Jacques already know their next step. Leo and Ruby are members of the planning/prayer team for a Freedom Summit at Harbor Light Church in Fremont, Calif. The event, set for Jan. 21 and 22, will focus on domestic slavery. Speakers include Dr. Condoleezza Rice, David Batstone, Lt. John Vanek, and Bradley Myles of the Polaris Project.

In the meantime, Leo Jacques will continue wearing his orange bracelet.


What can you do?
• Pray for women and children around the world who are harmed by trafficking practices.
• Speak out.
• Report a tip, get local assistance, or for training—memorize the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.
• Host a screening of "The Dark Side of Chocolate" documentary.  For information, contact http://www.oasisusa.org
• Read Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone.
• Read 10 Things you need to know about human trafficking by World Vision (pdf download).
• Join a task force in your community.



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