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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Sad Reality of Human Trafficking

I went to a seminar today on human trafficking and Sweden.  It was a good day, filled with much to think about.  It's easy to think that a country like Sweden isn't so involved in this heinous crime, but sadly, that is not true.  In fact, Sweden is quite the outlet for Russian women/girls in particular and it's so disheartening to think about how to put an end to this horrible crime.
I learned a lot today.  I learned that 66% of the world's work is done by women, 50% of the world's food is produced by women, 10% of the wages earned in this world are earned by women and 1% of the world's property is owned by women.  It's easy to see why women jump at the chance for a better life when offered dreams in Europe and America.  Unfortunately, those dreams turn into their worst nightmare.
I learned that most women who get involved in human trafficking have a very hard time getting free from this intricate web of deception and abuse.  They are shipped to foreign countries, kept in sub-humane conditions, stripped of all sense of well-being, selfhood, and identity, and subjected to horrible sexual abuse.  They earn very little and are given no voice.  We wonder why they don't reach out for help.  They cannot speak the language of the country they are in, they have no knowledge of what is normal, they are fearful for their very lives.  How do you ask for help when you don't even know how to say hello?
There are safe houses here in Stockholm and this is one of the ways that we as a church might be able to get involved.  It's difficult because the women involved do not speak Swedish or English and are often so deeply injured that trusting strangers is almost impossible.  But perhaps we could plant flowers and paint rooms and make their living situations a bit more lovely and easy.  We'll see.
I learned that when rescued, rather than build what could be a better life in a foreign country, most women want to return to their homeland.  They have family there, often children of their own.  Even if it's bad, it's familiar.  It's hard to know how to truly help these women emancipate out of such an oppressed situation.
I learned today that 98% of the agencies that work with human trafficking are run by women.  At the seminar today, 99.9% of the participants were women.  How can we engage more men in this issue?  I thought a lot about the men who use these women.  How can we come to a greater understanding of why men want to use sex slaves?  What drives that desire?  The profile of men who most often use women like this is startling...well-established, good economy, often happily married.  What's going on here?  How are we as a society promoting the titillating desire for men to want to use a prostitute?  If we work hard at reducing demand, that will also reduce the profitability of the human trafficking issue.
Sadly, it is very hard to prosecute these crimes and the jail sentences are not long anyway.  Providing real hope, real change, real opportunities for a better life are a goal but are laced with challenges.  We have to keep up the fight however.  It is estimated that there are approximately 700,000 sex slaves in the world today.  400-600 come to Sweden annually.  That's quite a high percentage.
So what can we do?  Seek to understand the complex issues associated with poverty and why becoming a sex slave might even represent a better option than one's current reality.  Seek to better understand why men are driven to use sex slaves and provide redeeming, healing ministries for them as well.  Make use of sex slaves illegal under no certain terms and raise the punishments for such use.  Befriend foreigners, especially women seeking to help them find their place in society through humane means.  Above all, remember the worth of every human being and seek to be a healing presence wherever you are.
Today was a good experience.  I'm glad I went.