|Trafficked children in Ghana spend 12 to 17 hours a day working on fishing boats.
|FREE THE SLAVES/ROBIN ROMANO
‘Let my people go!'
Fighting modern-day slavery
By Cecile S. Holmes
Like thousands of other teenage girls lured into the sex trade under false pretenses, Tina Frundt had no idea the man was recruiting her for prostitution. At 14, "finding my own identity and defying my parents were top on my list."
Frundt never worried that the man showering her with attention was 10 years older, manipulating her with compliments and promises. Six months into the relationship, she believed she loved him. So she ran away with him to Cleveland, Ohio, where they were to meet the rest of the family.
|Child sex slaves in the Philippines may disguise themeslves as vendors on the street, selling flowers to tourists and local residents.
|FREE THE SLAVES/PETE PATTISSON
That "family" turned out to be Tina and three other girls. Her dream man put her to work that same night, telling her to turn tricks and bring her earnings home to him. His friends raped her when she refused to have sex with them. Told to bring back $500 a night, she hit the streets. When she returned with only $50, her lover-turned-pimp beat her in front of the other girls as an example and sent her back out until she made the requisite half-grand.
After the second day, he finally bought her a meal. But Frundt was locked in a closet "as a punishment" to teach her never to return without her financial quota.
In one sense, Tina Frundt is one of the lucky ones. She eventually escaped, going on to found Courtney's House, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit helping women and children escape and heal from the horrors of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Named for one of Frundt's two daughters, the organization operates on less than $400,000 annually. Though not faith-based, it receives part of its budget from some 36 congregations – about half of them United Methodist.
|FREE THE SLAVES/ROBIN ROMANO
Frundt's work earned her the 2010 Frederick Douglass Award from Free the Slaves, www.freetheslaves.net. The award honors people who have experienced slavery and are now working to assist others. Her organization joins the United Nations, U.S. government agencies, other nonprofits and religious organizations in the fight.
The Rev. Jalene Chase-Sands, pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., is one of Frundt's supporters. Her church's focus on teens led to its involvement.
"There are lots of situations that draw teens away from church and make them even more vulnerable," says Chase-Sands, the mother of a teenage daughter. "When people come out of human trafficking, we want to be a loving, caring community for them so that they won't be so vulnerable again."
Trafficking persons, from elementary-age children to adults, generates millions annually, putting the industry in competition with the illegal drug and illegal firearms trade in the world of organized crime. Around the world and in the U.S., people are trafficked to be farm and domestic workers, prostitutes and sex slaves, and child soldiers.
The U. S. State Department's "2010 Trafficking in Persons Report" says some 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor, bonded labor and forced prostitution around the world, including 17,000 in the U.S. Fifty-six percent globally are women and girls.
The victims—including an estimated 250,000 children annually—weave into a growing worldwide industry as horrifying to 21st-century Christians as was slavery to many pre-Civil War believers.
Created in the image of God
"All people are created in the image of God," says Susie Johnson, executive director for public policy with the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. "We are compelled to act in response to anything that compromises the dignity of the human person."
That dignity means having a decent place to live, enough to eat, education and, particularly for children and young people, safety from arrest and prosecution when poor judgment, bad luck and manipulative adults lure them into prostitution and other sex crimes. All are concerns for a cross section of religious Americans and organizations.
Determined to combat human trafficking, United Methodists are fighting back using coalitions, partnerships, training and conferences, volunteers and donations.
The fight against human trafficking brings people together, says Linda Bales Todd, director of the Hugh and Louise Moore Population Project for the General Board of Church and Society.
"Many of the (social justice) issues we deal with are very polarizing," she says. "This issue is not. It's a bridge issue. It's one of the issues that evangelical Christians and liberal, progressive Christians can agree on."
A crime worldwide – and at home
Lurid and complex in the United States and abroad, human trafficking is not remote, but may be happening in one's neighborhood, according to church and government leaders.
"We need a huge increase in public awareness of the issue," says Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org, a nonprofit organization working for "a world without slavery."
"We're still in the stage of the movement of trying to educate people. We have to really solidify the perception of how big this is," he says. "That first step is really making it real for people and showing people it is happening here in their own country.
"When you start talking about people being held in slavery in the United States, and that happening to children, this issue flies in the face of the core values of this whole country."
|Children living in urban-poor neighborhoods like this one in Manilla, Philippines, are at high risk of getting trafficked -- lured by false promises of good paying jobs and education.
|FREE THE SLAVES/PETE PATTISSON
A decade ago, the Women's Division financed The Protection Project, one of the first U.S. projects to examine human trafficking. It garnered national attention and advocacy that led to the United States government passing the first Human Trafficking in Persons Act in 2000, says Johnson.
In 2009, the division partnered with World Hope International, an ecumenical organization focusing only on trafficking, to develop training to teach people about it. Next came a 25-member team of United Methodist Women (UMW) leaders that drafted an action plan to prevent human trafficking and to help prosecute people promoting it.
"Over the past year, those 25 United Methodist women have directly or indirectly educated over 4,000 people through workshops, legislative events, Sunday school gatherings and conferences," Johnson says, adding that activity responds to directives to the division from the denomination's 2008 Book of Resolutions.
Many are vulnerable
Team members criss-cross the United States, teaching congregations how widespread human trafficking is and that it stretches across social and economic divides.
Children come into trafficking from all sorts of situations, Frundt says.
"Some of them come out of the foster system. We have children who come out of a two-parent household and children who live in mansions. Children are easy to manipulate because they don't think they're being manipulated."
An estimated 98 percent of the children sex-trafficked were sexually abused before being manipulated by a parent, a pimp, a pornographer or another adult, she says. There are cases of parents selling their children to get money for drugs. Some have been sold for sex at truck stops, in the streets and on the Internet.
This is a problem directly connected to human rights and the dignity of women, Johnson says. "Many people in the United States were not making the connection that trafficking is grounded in money; it is the second largest and highest criminal activity in the world because of the money it generates—after drugs and arms. It's now debatable whether trafficking is No. 2 or arms are No. 2."
Those realities worry many United Methodists, including Judy Jackson, UMW social action coordinator at 1,000-member Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. More than 50 people attended a training program there in November 2010.
"It's a global problem, but it affects us locally, too," Jackson says, adding that faith propels United Methodists into the public square.
"Your concern is for people, for the disadvantaged and for the people who don't know," she says. "You have people who are lured into this from across the border. They don't know what they're getting into until they get to the United States. They were locked into rooms or forced into prostitution or to do labor for free."
Poverty is "one of the biggest drivers of human trafficking," says Bales Todd. She sees ways that U.S. policy could help combat it.
First, foreign assistance must get to where it is needed. Secondly, trade agreements must be fair and just. Thirdly, equality for women— including improved education for young girls worldwide—should be sought, she says.
In commerce, international and domestic hotel chains must help prevent trafficking on their premises. And Americans must support fair-trade organizations and other economic initiatives that do not use child labor.
"Lastly, we need to make sure that the U.S. Congress again funds the Trafficking Victims Protection Act," she said. Last reauthorized in 2008, it must be funded every three years. The Board of Church and Society is advocating the highest level of funding, $180 million, when the measure comes before the U.S. Congress later this year.
The problem of human trafficking stretches as far away as North Korea and Saudi Arabia and as close to home as Kansas and California. The stories of its victims are heart-rending and deeply disturbing, examples of slavery in the 21st century.
Culling from multiple media sources, the Polaris Project publishes "survivor testimonies" on its website. It also helps citizens learn to spot trafficking, to report it and to fight it. So do other anti-human trafficking groups, including the Not For Sale Campaign, The A21 Campaign, Free the Slaves and MadeBySurvivors. Some of those estimate as many as 27 million people worldwide live in slavery. The stories they tell illustrate the depth and scope of the suffering perpetrated by this crime against humanity.
"When most of us Americans hear the world `human trafficking,' we invariably think of women and children overseas who are being forced into the sex trade overseas, or who are brought to the United States for the purpose of sex," says Frundt. "I want you to think about women that you have seen late at night on your way from work or at social events. Maybe you have seen women in the streets in short dresses. You turn your head to look away.
|Tina Frundt works the streets again—this time helping prostitutes escape the horrors of sex-trafficking in Washington, D.C. She hands off to young women she identifies as sex slaves a simple trinket that contains a telephone hotline number. It’s a covert encounter, and it's risky for Frundt.
|FREE THE SLAVES/ROBIN ROMANO
"To understand human trafficking in the United States, you have to open your mind and let go of what you have seen or heard on television and its portrayal of street prostitutes."
Cecile Holmes is a veteran religion journalist and associate professor at the University of South Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Congo child soldiers rebuild
U.S. reports ‘serious problem’ with trafficking
Young adults address slavery, human trafficking
Father’s ministry seeks to save trafficking victims
Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim
Advance #3021031: Assistance to Trafficked Women and Children
Advance #333615: Anti-Human Trafficking
Trafficking in Persons Report
Hear the survivors
The late-night calls began when Theresa Flores was 15. In 1980, the private phone that Flores' parents had installed in her bedroom nearly proved her undoing.
Minutes after getting a call, Flores would silently slip out of the house, cut through the backyard and get in a car waiting at the curb. She would then be whisked away from her home in an affluent Detroit suburb to homes and hotels, anonymous places where she was forced to have sex for hours with strangers.
"I can't describe to you the feeling of terror. No child should ever have to know that kind of fear. I didn't know what I was going to have to endure that night, for how long, or if I was going to come back home."
What started innocently with Flores' infatuation with an older male classmate turned to date rape caught on film by some of the rapist's friends. They used the photos to blackmail the girl into sexual slavery that lasted two years and involved hundreds of men.
The Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org, adapted from The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
At 7, Rani Hong was sold to a child broker in India, subjected to beatings and starvation and eventually sold again to an illegal international adoption network. Her abductors changed her name, her birthdate, her age—"all in the name of profit."
|UMNS/PHILLIP E. JENKS, NCCCUSA
Her life changed when her adoptive American mother, unaware of what had happened, showered her with love.
Hong found her birth mother when she was 28 and learned how child brokers trick parents into giving up their children. "They don't see the good in a person. All they can see is a commodity—something that can be sold over and over and over again."
Hong and her husband Trong established the Tronie Foundation (www.troniefoundation.org) to fight human trafficking.
Adapted from "Human trafficking becomes ecumenical target," Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service, umns.umc.org.
In Peru, Lucy, a woman in her late 50s, established a shelter for young trafficking victims and required those staying there to attend school. A group of seven young teen boys living there found work at a hair salon. When they told Lucy that they cleaned dishes and washed bed sheets and towels, she became suspicious — the tasks did not seem what would be required at a hair salon. Lucy discovered that the hair salon was a front for a brothel.
Adapted from Not For Sale, www.notforsalecampaign.org.
Kyungu Mpelembe was 12 years old when he was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier. He is among 250,000 children worlwide who annually are forced to be fighters, workers or sex slaves.
|Kyungu Mpelembe, a former child soldier, learns to lay bricks in an open-air classroom at Mount Sinai United Methodist Church in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He escaped with two other boys by hiding in the bush for many days. They hopped a train—riding on top, right next to the electrical lines of the train—afraid they would be electrocuted at any moment.
Mpelembe tells his story slowly with the help of one of the teachers at Mount Sinai United Methodist Church, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is learning to be a brick layer. He doesn't like to talk about his days of fighting and fleeing.
After riding on the train, they were discovered and scattered in different directions. He heard one boy died, and he does not know what happened to the other.
"I was just moving around," he said. "A pastor found me, and I discovered this program. It has changed my life."
Adapted from "Congo Child Soldiers Rebuild," by Kathy L. Gilbert, multimedia reporter, United Methodist Communications.
Join the fight!
Firm statistics are almost impossible to obtain, but human trafficking claims an estimated 700,000 to 4 million new people worldwide each year. Its victims do forced labor ranging from farm work to domestic housekeeping to illegal sex to fighting as soldiers.
Step number one in the fight against human trafficking is to become well-informed, say the experts.
They also advise:
Remain vigilant. Know your neighbors. Pay attention to what is going on in your neighborhood, apartment complex or suburb.
Report activities that concern you to police and/or hotlines. Many accept anonymous calls. Hotlines and websites offering basic information include:
The Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, (888) 373-7888, NHTRC@polarisproject.org
Free the Slaves, www.freetheslaves.net
Courtneys' House, www.courtneyshouse.org
Not For Sale Campaign, www.notforsalecampaign.org
Learn to identify trafficking and what to do. Use the UMW human trafficking training, www.gbgm-umc.org/umw. The U.S. State Department provides a wealth of information at www.state.gov. Search "human trafficking."
Donate to organizations combating human trafficking, including The Advance projects #333615, #3021031 and #137380, which assist trafficked women and children. Find details at www.advancinghope.org.
Jan. 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day
Resources to observe Human Trafficking Awareness Day can be found on the websites under "Join the fight!"and are available from the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, www.gbgm-umc.org/umw, the General Board of Church and Society, www.umc-gbcs.org, and the National Council of Churches, www.ncccusa.org.