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The Scourge of Modern-Day Slavery

The Scourge of Modern-Day Slavery

by Julie Ganschow, Ph.D, FSM Senior Advisory Board

Slavery is alive and well in the United States of America.

            This is a shocking statement, and you may be wondering what I am talking about. I am not referring to the disgusting practice of enslaving men and women brought on ships from Africa. We fought a war over that issue and won. Instead, I am referring to the practice of sex trafficking fueled by the massive influx of illegal crossings at our southern border.

What Is Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking occurs when one human being is bought or sold to another human being to engage in commercial sex acts against his or her will. This is the legal definition: "Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion."[1] Researchers Lara B. Gerassi and Andrea J. Nichols indicate the following:

According to the federal legal definition as described in the U. S. TVPA (22 U.S.C.§7102), one's age is an important consideration. Any minor involved in a form of commercial sex, including pornography, stripping, and various exchanges of any sex act for something of value, such as cash, food, shelter, or clothing is legally considered a sex trafficking victim.

On a federal level, "minors" include anyone under the age of 18 (whereas state-level sex trafficking legislation in the age of consent varies). Minors who engage in any active commercial sex, regardless of force, fraud, or coercion, are viewed as victims under this definition.

According to the federal definition, sex trafficking also includes commercial sex involving adults (ages 18 and older) induced by force, fraud, or coercion. Consequently, adults who (a) are defrauded, (b) experience physical violence, and/or (c) experience psychological coercion resulting in commercial sex industry involvement are considered sex trafficking victims by US law.[2]

Sex trafficking is commonly regarded as one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time. "Exploitation is at the heart of human trafficking. In the case of sex trafficking, exploitation implies the forced prostitution or sexual abuses of vulnerable women and children."[3] It is a form of modern-day slavery and a global problem. Sex trafficking is a lucrative business and the second-largest industry in the world! Unfortunately, the United States is the biggest consumer of sex on the planet. Responding to demand, trafficking occurs in every one of our fifty states.

Who Is Trafficked for Sex?

 There is no single profile for sex trafficking victims. Victims come from every race, social class, socio-economic background, and type of community (rural, suburban, and urban). They include both adults and minors. While men are also trafficked for sex, according to the most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, "Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry."[4]

            Of all the groups, minors face the most significant risk factors for trafficking. Unfortunately, under the current administration, our porous southern border creates an opportunity for cartels to traffic minors for sex. The Texas Public Policy Foundation reports that sophisticated transnational syndicates use children to get single males across the border. They also use them in child pornography, child prostitution, and drug trafficking. Sixty percent of Latin American minors who attempt to cross the border without their parents are captured by cartels and used in the sex trade.[5]

Unaccompanied minors who make it into the country enter the foster care system if there is no available information on family members in the U.S. This increases their risk of being sex trafficked. Other risk factors include having been in child welfare systems and the juvenile justice system. The consistently cited risk factors for vulnerability is a child who has been sexually abused, physically abused, and neglected. Risk factors for adults being trafficked include poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, and rape as a child.

            Older victims are recruited by manipulation, threats, coercion, and bait-and-switch tactics by someone in the sex trafficking business and by kidnapping and abduction. Trafficking victims are exploited through prostitution, massage parlors, stripping, pornography, phone sex, cybersex, and escort services and are used to provide ongoing sexual services for gang members.

            Trafficking victims remain captive because their captors lock them up, move them from place to place, instill in them a fear of the authorities, blackmail them into staying captive, create and feed an addiction to drugs and alcohol, convince them there are no other options than to remain captive, and keep them indebted by providing food, drugs, clothing, and shelter. Victims are also held captive through brainwashing, violence, and intimidation. Some trafficking victims develop Stockholm Syndrome or trauma-bond with their captors. These victims are reluctant to leave their trafficking situation because they come to view their captors as their protectors and find safety and security in them despite being abused and prostituted.

The Effects of Sex Trafficking

As awareness of sex trafficking has increased, so have efforts to combat it and address the psychological trauma experienced by the survivors because of their captivity. These women grapple with a plethora of psychological and spiritual issues. The impact of sex trafficking on rescued victims can present with various psychological symptoms and "mental illnesses." These include what is known as complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, panic disorder, suicidal ideation, Stockholm Syndrome, substance abuse, insecurity, fear and trauma, mind/body separation, and disassociation, shame, grief, distrust, and self-hatred.

Treatment for Victims of Sex Trafficking

 Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have been created in both the public and private sectors to address the problems of women who have been rescued from human trafficking situations. These organizations use secular, psychological, and humanistic treatment methods, including various cognitive behavioral therapies and psychoactive medications. Christian integrated counseling also embraces these treatments borrowed from evidence-based interventions developed initially for post-traumatic stress disorder and survivors of domestic violence, slavery, and captivity.

Biblical counselors need a better understanding of biblical concepts they can use when counseling victims of human sex trafficking to address their specific psychological and spiritual problems. Several biblical counselors have written material to help people suffering from sexual abuse, trauma, anxiety, and depression, but nothing explicitly related to the psychological issues experienced by sex-trafficked women.

To truly help these victims and address the issues of the soul they suffer, the approach must begin with a biblical understanding of humanity as the crown of God's creation and as people created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:7, 21–22). Men and women are to reflect God's glory and be like Him (Leviticus 19:2). Pastor John Piper states, "Equality of dignity means they are to be equally honored as humans in the image of God. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:17, 'honor all,' that is all humans. There is an honor to be paid to persons simply because they are humans."[6]

But the sex-trafficked woman is not viewed as a person created in the image and likeness of God or someone deserving of honor or respect. She is considered property and without any rights. Her identity and reason for existence are to please and serve her trafficker and the men who buy her for sex. The girls and women are considered "things"—investments to be bought, sold, and traded. Trafficked women are often renamed or nicknamed to erase their former identity.

In some cases, their identification papers are confiscated, and the women and girls are promoted as being younger or older than they are. Their identity is found in words like whore, hooker, prostitute, slut. The victims are enculturated to believe that these names and others like them are not what they do—it is who they are. Their pimp or captor has trained them to think of themselves as property, body parts, and slaves.

Those who have been victims of sex trafficking crave a new identity that is not connected to their body parts, looks, sexuality, and the derogatory and demeaning names they have been called as prostitutes or in pornography. The counselors at FAAST point out, "There is no sense of identity when one is forced to engage in unwanted sexual encounters with strange men in strange places. Shame becomes part of their identity. They've been treated as property, and their personal dignity is difficult to recover."[7]

Because the sex trafficking victim's identity has been mired in abuse and degradation, as much time as is needed should be taken to help her develop a biblical view of her personhood and, once saved, her position and identity in Christ (Ephesians 1). Those who have suffered abuse since childhood feel as though their experiences are the final word on their identity and may have built their self-perception upon lies. They cannot discount their sexual assault history as being a part of who they are.

Initially, survivors of sex trafficking may not want anything to do with God. The victims have suffered deeply, and their suffering has helped them draw conclusions about God that may not be true. The good news that Jesus Christ came to redeem sinners and to set humanity free from the penalty of sin and death (Romans 5:8–9) is often lost on sex trafficked victims. They do not hear that "Jesus Christ is in the business of bringing freedom for those in bondage."[8]

They may recoil at the thought of following God since He allowed them to be abused and held captive despite their pleas for His help. They may wonder about the existence of God and the justice of God and struggle with doubt and anger. They do not understand love and will struggle intensely with the selfless love of God, seeing Him as the one who allowed them to suffer so profoundly and for so many years of their lives. Be sure to go very slow and patiently answer the survivor's questions about God and His character. Listen well and learn the survivor's story. Learn how she sees her life. Eventually, as a part of presenting the gospel, you can teach her about the essential aspects of God's character, holiness, and goodness, His love, sovereignty, wisdom, and His justice. This teaching will take time and cannot be rushed.

Victims and survivors are stuck in the mire of sin and the resulting guilt, shame, and self-disgust that accompany their lifestyle and will find it difficult to accept the gospel. Justin and Lindsay Holcomb in their book Rid of My Disgrace explain that survivors of sexual assault live with a deep sense of disgrace, which they describe as "a deep sense of filthy defilement encumbered with shame."[9] The Holcombs describe how disgrace is the opposite of grace and identify how disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, wounds, alienates, isolates, makes a person feel worthless, rejected, unwanted, and repulsive.[10] With this belief system in place, it is easy to understand how a survivor struggles to accept and comprehend that the grace of God applies to her. Survivors of sex trafficking have a desperate need to hear that God knows them, loves them, died for them, forgives them, and is willing to call them His own. This can be incomprehensible for women who have only known rejection, loneliness, and unbelievable cruelty, even at the hands of so-called Christians.

It is necessary to answer the hard questions they may have about God. By addressing the question of whether God is the author of the evil committed against them, they will learn that God hates evil even though he allows it to exist (Psalm 5:4–6;11:6; 1 John 4:8). He has a purpose and a plan for all that has befallen them—to bring them to Christ (Romans 8:28–29).

When a person involved in such deep and grievous sin understands and embraces the reality of her new identity and her justification in Christ, she will also experience natural hope. Survivors of sex trafficking will experience hope as they realize that God hears and answers their prayers, that He loves them with an everlasting love, and that He will never leave them (Isaiah 41:10). Second Corinthians 5:17 says that the old has passed away and the new has come. The Holcombs explain, "The gospel changes our identity problem. Once we know how God sees us, we are free in our relationships with God, others, and ourselves."[11] The Christian's identity problem is solved by belonging to God in Christ and acknowledging that God accepts her.

Survivors’ identity in Christ means they do not have to view themselves as victims of past experiences, which may shape them but do not define them. Instead, God uses biblical truth to break down the cycle of destructive thinking and a belief system that defines them by their past. Biblical truth comes through studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word of God. Accepting their true identity will help them cast off the beliefs that lead to discouragement, despair, doubt, and feelings of depression. Even amid pain, hurt, and residual feelings of guilt and shame, they can experience God's provision of comfort, healing, and hope as they begin to think differently, reject lies, and embrace the truth of God's Word.

A new relationship with and identity in Christ are the foundation of the counseling relationship. The biblical approach to helping women and men with the problems they experience from being victims of sex trafficking begins with their new identity in Christ, which is found in the Scriptures. Survivors’ identity in Christ is foundational and among the most crucial recovery components. In Christ, survivors have a new relationship with God. Their justification in Christ means they are no longer under the condemnation and death sentence of sin. Instead, they have been reconciled to God, are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and adopted into the family of God. Embracing their new identity will enable them to understand they are created in God's image and likeness and think rightly about themselves. 

As they progress in sanctification, they will continue to put off sinful thoughts, beliefs, desires, and actions and begin to act and respond according to the Scriptures. A survivor's new belief system will enable her in counseling to face the complex issues of trauma that result from being trafficked—issues such as post-trauma distress, fear, feelings of depression, anger, self-harm, addiction, shame, guilt, grief, and loss. She will find healing through adopting a biblical approach to resolving these problems, hope by immersing herself in God's Word, and freedom by eventually forgiving her abusers. [12]


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                        Merriam-Webster, "Sex Trafficking," accessed10/26/2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/sex trafficking.


                        Lara B. Gerassi, Andrea J. Nichols, "Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Practice" (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2018), 2–3.


                        Exodus International, "What Is Human Trafficking?" Exodus Cry, accessed 10/24/2018, https://exoduscry.com/about/human-trafficking/.


                         U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Protection, Human Trafficking. Retrieved from  https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/human-trafficking. Last modified 4 /4/2022, accessed 4/29/2022.


                         Texas Public Policy Foundation, How Porous Borders Fuel Human Trafficking in the United States. Selene Rodriguez, 1/11/22, https://www.texaspolicy.com/how-porous-borders-fuel-human-trafficking-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 4/29/22.


                        Piper, "Manhood and Womanhood" accessed 3/15/2019. www.desiringGod.org/messages/manhood- and- womanhood- conflict- and- confusion- after- the- fall.


                        Palm, Pool, and Burgmayer, "Unit 8- Understanding the Spiritual Needs of Survivors," In Hands That Heal: International Curriculum to Train Caregivers of Trafficking Survivors. Ed. Beth Grant and Cindy Lopez Hudlin, 219.


                        Bowley, L., "The White Umbrella," Chapter 5


                        Holcomb & Holcomb, "Rid of My Disgrace," 15.


                        Ibid., 15.


                        Holcomb & Holcomb, "Rid of My Disgrace," 83.


                         To refuse to forgive will cause the survivor to be stuck in bitterness and unforgiveness. This will be a journey of many small steps. It is crucial the survivor understand that forgiveness does not mean was done to them was acceptable or excuses the evil committed against them. Forgiveness does not mean they will forget what happened, and forgiveness does not mean they should avoid having those who abused them punished by law.

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