[Episcopal Public Policy Network] This Lent, we are committed to reflecting upon and transforming our culture of violence toward one in which we may all live safely and freely into the fullness of whom God uniquely created us to be. The violence of slavery, manifested in human trafficking, tragically stifles that safety and freedom for millions around the world and in each of our communities.
Human trafficking refers to the use of force, fraud, or coercion to enslave one human being for another’s profit. This modern slavery holds an estimated 27 million of God’s people captive, trapped by the bonds of violence that denigrate the dignity of those who are, like all of us, made in the image of God.
Human trafficking pervades every country in the world and every state in the United States. It is a problem in every single diocese, every single region, and every single country of the Episcopal Church. In the United States alone, an estimated 15,000 persons are trafficked into our borders each year and an additional 240,000 American children have been trafficked for sexual exploitation.
This season of Lent offers us the opportunity to confront human trafficking and the ways in which each of us-through our consumer choices, our public attitudes, and our lack of engagement-are complicit in this pernicious violence.
Yesterday, the Presiding Bishop hosted a church-wide conversation on human trafficking. She reminded us that God has commissioned each of us to live according to the ways in which our Redeemer and Lord taught us. Just as it was with Jesus, so too may it be for us:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
How might we all proclaim release for the captives in our midst and let the oppressed go free, in the honor and glory of God?
The Presiding Bishop commissioned us to reduce demand for the products of slave labor, including coffee, smart phones, and cotton clothing, and Rev. Brian McVey of the Diocese of Iowa commanded that we also reduce demand for commercial sex and pornography.
In addition to reducing our demand for the products of slavery, we must also advocate for stronger federal and state laws that prevent trafficking, protect survivors and those at risk of being trafficked, and prosecute traffickers. Thank the U.S. Congress for reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization last week, and research the ways in which your own state laws must be strengthened to curb trafficking.
But we must also dedicate our attention to the patterns of behavior that indicate human trafficking (particularly sexual exploitation), be they in red light districts or masquerading as legitimate businesses in your communities.
The Presiding Bishop has encouraged our church to respond with vigilance to the violence of human trafficking with an openness to receive and encounter God’s enslaved children, just as Christ received and freed each of us:
Can we befriend, welcome, and accompany a person who has been so abused, in the same way we would welcome the Crucified One or the Suffering Servant? Trafficked persons are often imprisoned by shame and rejected by the wider community. They are also traumatized by their dehumanization. Building relationships is the first step in healing the outcast and caring for someone who has been treated as less than human. When Jesus charged his followers to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46), he certainly included the trafficked.