Churches have a critical role to play in combating human trafficking. But many are actually already incorporating effective practices without even realizing it. Through youth-based programs, adult education and open discussions about the moral struggles that face not just their congregants but people of all faiths, ages and genders, churches have the capacity to change the course of hundreds of thousands of lives across the country.
The reality is that trafficking victims are usually lured into the trade by people they know – and the men who buy sex from them aren’t always aware of the damage they are inflicting on these girls (who often appear much older than they are).
As a Christian community, we have to combat the perception that we are turning away from sexual abuse and other uncomfortable topics. Instead, we should view ourselves as agents of awareness, prevention and support. Most importantly, church leaders can work to create a culture of openness and compassion, instead of judgment. By being more intentional about these efforts, churches can make significant headway in ending human trafficking in the U.S.
Here are four areas in which church leaders can contribute to anti-human trafficking efforts in their congregations and communities:
1. High Schools
Churches can play a vital role in warning teens about the dangers and potentially life-long consequences of pornography. In pornographic films, 88% depict physical aggression, and 49% contain scenes of verbal aggression; watching porn puts one at increased risk of committing sexual offenses. Churches have the responsibility to teach young men to treat women as Christ treated them – and to teach young women of their own self-worth. Human trafficking awareness programs can teach teen boys about the consequences of porn, teach teen girls to be wary of older men who lavish them with attention, and teach parents the warning signs of trafficking relationships.
Churches can also provide safe spaces where students can ask questions about sex, STIs, pregnancy and relationship. By demystifying sex, discussing the reality of temptation, and framing sex as something beautiful to be shared within a marriage, instead of making it a source of shame, churches can be a place of mentorship and nonjudgmental spiritual guidance.
Churches should enlist trained adults to talk to children about what makes someone a “safe person.” How do they know who to trust and who they can talk to about their hurts and struggles? Children should be educated in physical boundaries, what constitutes abuse and how to report it. The Mama Bear Effect is a great resource for churches and parents.
Volunteers and staff working with children should be trained in recognizing and reporting the signs of abuse. Any adult volunteering with children should have a background-check. Because kids often look up to their coaches, consider reserving one practice devotional to discussing abuse.
Families should start talking to their kids at an early age about boundaries, abuse, safe people, and how to protect themselves.
3. Men and Women
Host a Men's event or Bible study about how godly men can change the culture and conversation around porn, hold each other accountable to live out the true definition of marriage and sexual purity, and protect women and children from being victimized by others and themselves. Identify men within the church community who can help others who are struggling with pornography addiction. Provide support for women experiencing marital issues around pornography addiction and also offer platforms for women to share their testimonies. This will facilitate healing and an environment of compassion.
Create an environment that is accepting and open to all members sharing their struggles with sin, and pray that we would come alongside one another to fight the enemy and his temptations together.
4. Stewardship and Leadership
Leaders should set high standards for staff, and HR policies should clearly state that sex-buying activities will not be tolerated. Leaders should continue to embrace financial support of local anti-trafficking ministries. Volunteers and donations of household items, food, clothing and are also often needed. Set up collections or consider hosting fundraisers to support anti-trafficking efforts.
Many of the churches I have encountered are already implementing many of these programs, even if they are not fully aware of how meaningful they are to anti-trafficking efforts. Through these programs, they are leading their communities with a spirit of compassion, mercy and encouragement, and they are challenging church members to hold themselves and their friends and family accountable.
We don’t stop human trafficking with flyers or even with arrests. But we can stop it by being incorporating prevention efforts and by coming together as a community to offering help and resources to those who are struggling.
For more information about proactive measures your church can take to fight sex trafficking in your community, visit TraffickingFreeZone.com.