VANCOUVER, Wash. For 12 months, Shared Hope International investigators went undercover in Jamaica, the Netherlands, America and Japan to shine light on the dark world of sex trafficking.
"The market for sex trafficking and sex tourism is just like a shopping mall," Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope, said at a news conference announcing the report in September. "Buyers continue to purchase this human product of various ages and colors As long as buyers continue to purchase this human product and facilitators support the market, the shopping mall stays open."
In 1998, Smith founded Shared Hope, a nonprofit organization with the mission of rescuing and restoring victims of sex trafficking. It is active in 14 countries.
In America, the investigation covered Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Smith, a former congresswoman, said the most shocking discovery was the number of American girls being sold for sex to American men.
"For years, I was mad at the traffickers, at the enslavers, and then my eyes opened up," Smith said. "If there weren't a buyer … there wouldn't be someone abducting and violating these girls around the world.
"The largest number of trafficked girls in America were the domestic minor. And the largest segment of buyers were pretty ordinary American men. It is not the trafficker, even though he is a bad guy … it's not the pimp, even though they're doing something horrible, but the buyer who is driving the market. As long as they will buy sex by the picture, by the minute, by the video, by the hour or by the life, then there will be someone there to abduct and viciously violate these girls."
She said the typical American victim is in her young teens and is being sold for sex about 15 times a day. The government-funded study found about 100,000 children in prostitution in America today.
"If you take 100,000 and multiply it by 15 times a day for these little girls, you start realizing the huge numbers of men buying sex and pornography," she said.
So what's the solution?
"Shining light on it. There are people who will make a difference," Smith said. "When they know what's happening, they can stop calling this 13-year-old a prostitute. We didn't find one juvenile who is prostituting themselves. They are all controlled."
As Christians, "it should start with us. I think that when we tell the American people, I believe a certain number will start taking action. Talk to one more person and tell them what you've heard."
Americans need to stop tolerating and even accepting the sex-saturated culture, Smith said.
"There's a vast acceptance of pornography on the Internet. … One out of five images is of a child," she said.
"Speak the truth. Change that culture, starting with you. We can take action. If we don't take action, the consequences are, both for our sons and daughters, huge."
Christian men also are taking a stand, including Defenders USA, a group of men committed to putting an end to sex trafficking.
"It was so exciting to have them come back to the simple truth that God created men to protect and defend women and children as the core of the family," Smith said. "Now they believe they are strong enough to take on the world. They are starting very aggressive action into the communities. These men make me proud."