Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Awareness and Advocacy: Learning to Fight Sex Trafficking with Route One, Bags of Hope, and The Abolitionist Network

Infographic from the University of New England

How do we grow in our fight against human trafficking in Worcester, Massachusetts?

October 2018 Worcester Magazine Update: Sex Trafficking: Youth a Disturbing Target

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime describes human trafficking as "the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.” This doesn't require a movement from one place to another. A person merely needs to be exploited through force, manipulation, or coercion to be considered trafficked.

This type of abuse does not happen for those just overseas. It happens right here in our beloved city of Worcester. To continue to learn more, Emmaus City hosted a sex trafficking seminar with Route One on Thursday, May 5, 2016 with Jasmine Grace Marino, founder of Bags of Hope, and then on Saturday, September 24, 2016, we hosted another seminar with Sarah Durfey Dunham, founder of The Abolitionist Network. And now we look forward to welcoming Cara Garrity from Route One this Saturday, September 23, 2017 during the International Justice Mission Freedom Weekend

I was introduced to more of these details and this fight back in May 2016, when another person from Emmaus City and I were generously invited to come to Boston and hear about how sex trafficking is being recognized and confronted by humble and courageous people in the greater Boston area. Bonnie Gatchell, co-founder of Route One, helped lead the discussion. You can also hear more from Bonnie through the Tedx she gave at Wellesley College.

Then, I learned that 83% of those who are being exploited in the U.S. are American citizens. And out of all being exploited, 40% are children. Nearly 90% of those in the commercial sex traded were sexually abused as children. For example, 90% of women who work in strip clubs were abused before 18 years old, and nearly 80% of these women who are working in the clubs experience shame and low value. And 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. has a whole have been abused in some capacity. The average age of women in the sex industry is 14-62 years old. Many of these statistics are provided by the U.S. Justice Department in their focuses on labor and sex trafficking.

In Boston proper alone, there are 250+ pimps. Pimping or street hustling tends to be a family affair that is passed down from a relative. It's less risky and more profitable to sell women than it is to sell drugs. If the world's oldest profession is prostitution, then the world's oldest oppression is being trafficked. 

Jasmine Marino, Survivor and Advocate in Anti-Trafficking Movement and Founder of Bags of Hope 

Along with learning the statistics and information above, I also had the privilege of hearing from Jasmine Grace Marino in Boston that day, and on Saturday, September 24, 2016 when she came to Worcester. Jasmine generously told her story of being trafficked, while also sharing how she now lives and works to give other girls hope because she has a living hope. She made it off the streets, and she believes other can, too.

Jasmine put another face on the issue of sex trafficking in Massachusetts. She told us her story to help educate us about the complex trauma trafficking victims experience and the difficult, often messy work of recovery. 

The darkness and damage is real. Jasmine grew up in Revere. She met a boy who promised her more love and more possessions than she had received before only to be persuaded over time to be trafficked by him from a nice house in Chestnut Hill that was called a "stable home" with other "wife-in-laws." 

Infographic from the University of New England

How did she deal? She disassociated and unplugged. The fast amount of money became addictive. But the prostitution wasn't victimless. It wounded her mind, body, and soul. It often involved physical violence (ex. slaps and a forced abortion), control, and manipulation to keep her and other girls enslaved even when they want to get out. It was like domestic abuse on steroids.

On her website, jasminegrace.org, she shares more of the details of her story through blog posts that include her journal entries from when she was held captive mentally and emotionally for eight years. She has also released her book at the end of 2016, The Diary of Jasmine Grace: Trafficked. Recovered. Redeemed.

In reading her story, you can begin to revel at the miraculously grace of God that Jesus found her in the backseat of a car, the very place where she had done so many transactions. She shared how the faithful love of Jesus and the local church God connected her with helped provide her with a glimpse of what she was always searching for: the unconditional love of Christ. The journey was never straightforward, and she continues to need healing, but God has pursued her every step of the way.

Sarah Durfey Dunham and The Abolitionist Network Sex Trafficking Systems Diagram

I also had the privilege to hear from Sarah Durfey Dunham, who not only helped Bonnie envision Route One, but also founded The Abolitionist Network. From their website, the The Abolitionist Network connected with the Emmanuel Gospel Center in Boston states that they "equip leaders to understand and abolish systems of human trafficking."

They are a community of leaders seeking to understand the systems driving human trafficking in Boston and beyond, and pursuing effective Church engagement. They ask: "What does it look like for our local congregations to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our neighborhoods; preventing, identifying and ultimately ending abuse and exploitation?"

Below is a very helpful diagram they created to reveal how one steps into the world of sex trafficking in Massachusetts.

As you can see, there is a way out through intervention and restoration. Can we begin to hope and pray that Emmaus City and other churches in Worcester would join in this work of Jesus to bring advocacy to the young women and men in our city who are caught in a vicious cycle with seemingly no way out?

What might a first step look like? Anna McCarthy shares her story in "I went to a strip club." I pray that these types of introductions and longterm commitments will begin to flourish with churches loving strippers in Worcester through faithful care and compassion.

You can also check out The Abolitionist Network's "Exploitation Response Resource Sheet" to begin to understand what advocacy looks like. Other informative and helpful resources include the My Life My Choice and the WBGH Boston articles: Human Trafficking in New England: The Role of Nail Salons, Sexual and Human Trafficking in the Boston Area, and Human Trafficking: Child Exploitation.

Also, for a heartbreaking story about how trafficking is often in plain sight, carefully read Fight the New Drug's article, "Florida Girl in Bathroom Sex Scandal Revealed as Former Sex Trafficking Victim."

And here is one of the most emotional videos I've watched from a survivor: I am Second - Annie Lobert.

Book resources include: 

+ Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale: A Memoir by Rachel Lloyd
+ The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation by Jim Martin 

Those who are being trafficked in our city need a safe person to be a reference because it takes advocacy, money, and counseling for those involved to get clean and sober. Jasmine shared that the deprogramming is very similar to those who have left cults. There is a bond that occurs between victim and abuser. They need help. It takes time to learn how to live life.

And my hope is that we will soon see a City Group raised up in Emmaus City who focuses their mission on a club within the next year. Will you pray with me for the same?

Infographic from the University of New England

P.S. For a helpful infographic that pulls together all the images above, check out Fight the New Drug's post entitled "The Inseparable Link Between Porn and Sex Trafficking" featuring a powerful infographic created by the University of New England.

+ Sully

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