Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sex Slaves: Parlor Games

Have you seen the MSNBC Series Sex Slaves?  The documentary is narrated by Natalie Morales and takes viewers to the front lines of law enforcement's fight to stop human trafficking.  Each episode features a different city or aspect of human trafficking.
Recently, I watched Sex Slaves: Parlor Games which focused on San Francisco and highlights the debt and sexual servitude found in massage parlors.  San Francisco is home to some 300 massage parlors and spas.  While a few may be legit, others are just a fa├žade for prostitution and forced labor.

The show follows San Francisco's human trafficking task force which has closed 116 spas in recent years that were operating as brothels.  The spas are checked again the online ads where illegal spas advertise.  The task force visits the spas to give regular inspections from the health department and look for those operating or working without a massage permit.
I found this episode to be very informative.  Here, in Chicago and it's surrounding suburbs there are well over 300 of these spas.  Here are some of the highlights that give us a view into this type of activity. 
Questions to ask the women working there:
Are you happy working here?
What kind of massage do you do?
Is anyone forcing you to work here?
Do they ask you to do things you don’t want to?
Are you free to come and go?
Is someone feeding you?
Did they loan you any money that has to be paid back?
Why don’t the women just leave?
“You can see in their eyes that they want to get out, but they don’t know how.” 
They can be reluctant because they’ve been told police are corrupt and they will be deported. Sometimes they owe someone a lot of money and this is the only way they can pay it back and that compels them to stay. It can be that their family back home has been threatened so they stay out of fear of retaliation.   Often times they work so they can send money back home to support their family.  One woman stated, “I carry my whole family in Thailand.”  They feel obligated to stay.
Red Flags for trafficking:
Signs of living there at the spa often signals that they are housing illegal immigrants.
Cramped living quarters cluttered with food and clothing.
Improper attire can be a sign that more than a massage is being offered.
Owners have possession of their passports and all legal papers.
The women feel pressured to increase business by “any means necessary”
A spa will get shut down, but then just pop up somewhere else in the name of a family member trying to skirt the law.  Many are now calling themselves "relaxation spas" to avoid the regulations that go with massage parlors.  The women are told by the owner not to bring their massage ID because they “don’t do massage.”  Then when the spa is inspected, the women get cited for not having a massage license.  The woman gets fined, but she has no money so she is forced to continue working in order to pay her fine.  When one of the workers receiving citations on the show was asked to sign the report she calls someone with a male voice to get the ok. Clearly, there is someone else in charge. 

Unfortunately, the rules of this game favor the business at the expense of the women who do the work.

Often, the women are licensed by the city, but the business itself is not.  The business must be licensed or apply for a license exemption and have a health permit.
Common responses:
The woman will say "I just started yesterday."
The owner pleads ignorance and blames the workers
The manager on duty says that her sister (or other family member) is the owner and she’s on vacation in Las Vegas.  Most likely they are just working at another spa in the network. 
They stated in the show that they need to find just one who is willing to cooperate.  Once someone comes forward you have more power to prosecute. 
This highlights the great need out there for spa outreach.  The work can be difficult.  Most of the women do not speak English so communication with them is hard. We can be the hands and feet of Christ by going into the darkest of places and shining God's light.  By building a relationship with the women maybe just one will come forward. 
You can read more about this series at MSNBC Documentaries.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Changing Terminology - She Is Not A Prostitute

Labels.  They can stick with us. 
As parents we are told not to label our children. If a child hears you call him something repeatedly he begins to own that name. If my child hears me introduce him as my "wild one" over and over to my friends he may finally say to himself, “Well, I guess that’s who I am” and proceed to act that way because I have already defined him that way.  If we call someone a loser over and over they will begin to feel as though they have no potential and begin to act like a loser.

Labels.  They shape how we see ourselves, how we see others and how others see us.

I was speaking with a friend one day and she told me she never refers to someone as a drug addict, but rather a person who has a drug problem.  Calling them a drug addict defines them and says that is all they will ever be.  Saying someone has a drug problem allows for the potential of change.  It says that person can overcome what they are struggling with.  It says they are more than their circumstances or what is happening to them.
Labels.  They matter in the world of human trafficking too.
We need to stop referring to the victims as prostitutes, but rather as prostituted women.   It's a matter of defining who she is verses what is being done to her.  Service providers and law enforcement are beginning to change their terminology and society needs to change it as well.  These women have been manipulated and coerced into what they are doing and should not be defined by what someone else is forcing upon them.  Referring to them as a prostitute robs them of their dignity and leaves no room for their story.  A story of abuse.  A story of hurt.   Referring to them as a prostituted woman says I see you.  I care about your story.  And your story doesn't end here.  A change in the terminology will help us all to see her as God sees her.
Labels.  God's labels are the only one's that count.
In our outreach efforts, our goal is to let these women know that God loves them.  That they have worth and value.  We are reaching out them in a place of vulnerability.  They are living in a world that tells them they are worthless, a failure, unlovable, inadequate. Something in their life has caused them not to see themselves as valuable.  
Our desire is to replace those lies and tell them how God sees them.  Proverbs 31:10 gives us a picture of their worth in the Father's eyes.


"She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies or pearls."

God is our creator.  He is the one who defines us. And he defines us as loved, precious and redeemed.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Local Event: Human Trafficking Awareness Concert

We Need Your Light Concert & Drama Presentation
Willow Creek Church
67 East Algonquin Road
South Barrington, IL 

December 10th
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
In the Chapel

Willow vocal and drama artists come together to shine their creative light on raising awareness and understanding on the plight of trafficked adult women.  Join us for an intimate concert and dramatic portrayal of the emotional cost of a life of prostitution. 

Attenders will have the opportunity to purchase artist cds and dvds after the performance.  All proceeds benefit local organizations working toward the abolition of human trafficking.
For more information on the We Need Your Light Project you can visit them Here

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Does the Bible Teach About Human Trafficking?

While researching some bible verses for an upcoming prayer night for Human Trafficking I came across this.  I thought it was really good so I wanted to share.

Question: "What does the Bible teach about human trafficking?"

Simply put, human trafficking is a modern term for slavery. Anytime a person is held in a forced labor situation, regardless of the reason, it is defined as human trafficking.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Experts have noted that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world and one of the most lucrative. Overall, the International Labor Organization estimated the human trafficking industry at over $31 billion per year in 2005. Some estimate that as many as 29 million people exist in slavery worldwide, more than twice the number of slaves transported during the entire Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The problem is clearly large and growing. What does the Bible teach about human trafficking? This question cannot adequately be answered without a clear understanding of God’s value of human life. The Bible records that, when God created humans, He created them in His image (Genesis 1:26). Every life is of great value, and God loves all individuals.

As a result, God teaches love for our neighbor (Matthew 19:19) as well as love for those in need (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus was the one who taught the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Further, Proverbs 31:8-9 teaches us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” These principles certainly all apply to those hurt through the illegal practice of human trafficking.

How can people today practice these biblical principles of helping those in the bondage of slavery?

First, we must pray for those in bondage. As James 5:16 notes, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Human trafficking is a clear need that requires God’s power for any adequate change to occur.

Second, we must speak out on behalf of those in need (Proverbs 31:8-9). Those in our schools, businesses, churches, and community often are unaware of the problem of human trafficking and how to help. Perhaps God is calling you to be one of the people who would speak out and help provide justice to those without a voice in this area.

Third, we must act to help those in bondage. These actions can involve a variety of means, ranging from volunteering in an anti-trafficking organization to financial giving to teaching about the topic where you live. A growing number of organizations have emerged in recent years that provide new opportunities for Christians to serve in this area. International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) provides many international opportunities, while others, such at Mercy Movement (www.mercymovement.com) concentrate on addressing the issue in the United States.

One additional way to provide practical assistance is through supporting fair trade and survivor-made products. Fair trade products include items sold by those who adhere to practices that remove any unfair labor practices, especially slavery. Coffee, teas, chocolate, and fresh flowers are common products that offer fair trade alternatives to help keep slavery out of the supply chain.

The retail chain Ten Thousand Gifts is an example of this practice applied to an entire store, while the Christian organization Worldcrafts (www.worldcrafts.org) offers the opportunity to buy international gifts from artisans who have escaped slave situations and other poverty-related conditions.

In summary, human trafficking is a gross indignity against men, women, and children who have been created in God’s image. As followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to pray, to speak out against human trafficking and modern slavery, and to live in ways that help create change in the lives of those impacted by this tragic crime.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Shop With Purpose!

With Christmas just around the corner most of us will be doing lots of shopping for our friends and family.   Why not shop for something that goes beyond just the gift itself?  There are many organizations and shops whose proceeds go towards helping those in need.  I wanted to highlight some of my favorites that help women and children who have been or are at risk of being trafficked.

WAR Chest Boutique is an arm of Women at Risk International.  Traffic victims are given shelter and care in one of their 5 safe houses and trained with a skill to help them go forward in life.  The items are sold online at their website or one of 3 store front locations in Naperville, IL;  Wyoming;  and Michigan.  The website allows you to shop by the country where the product was made. During the month of December a portion of proceeds will benefit New Name when you mention New Name at checkout.  New Name is a ministry in Chicago that reaches out to women in the sex industry   This beautiful journal sells for $10

The A21 Campaign  is a non-profit organization who believes that together, we can end human trafficking in the 21st century.  They seek to abolish injustice through prevention, protection,  prosecution and partnership.  A21 has administration offices, field offices and restoration facilities in ten different countries.  This classic "because" band sells for just $5 and is a great conversation starter.  When someone asks you about the bracelet you have an opportunity to tell them that slavery still exists. 

Hearts For Hearts Dolls are an alternative to the popular American Girl Dolls and a great opportunity to teach your child about those less fortunate. The Hearts For Hearts Girls mission is to empower girls to become agents of change in their communities, their countries, and around the world. We want to change the world one heart at a time, and you can be a part of that dream! There are ten multi-cultural Hearts For Hearts Girls dolls and each of them has an important story to tell about life in her country.  They are inspired by stories of real girls who are strong, smart, courageous, and determined to rise above challenging circumstances.  When you buy a doll, Hearts For Hearts Girls donates part of the purchase price through our charitable partner, World Vision, to programs that support girls in that country. Whether it’s malaria nets in Africa, ducks in India, education in Mexico or food supplies in the US, these programs help children to thrive and succeed.   The dolls are considerably less than American Girls dolls and sell for just  $27.99


IJM (International Justice Mission) is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. When you shop their Gift Catalog you can give directly to a specific mission of IJM.  Choose from things like fund a sex trafficking rescue operation or help a widow start a small business.
Consider purchasing something from their catalog as a family.   
For the person who has everything how about Donating to a Cause in their name?  There are many great organizations out there.  I recently highlighted a few of my favorites in yesterday's post. These organization are doing amazing work to help victims of human trafficking.

Or simply shop from a Fair Trade retailer.  Fair Trade retailers adhere to standards such as those banning child and slave labor and guaranteeing a safe workplace.

Happy Shopping...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Giving Tuesday December 2nd

We are entering in to a season that gives us Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Two days that have us tracking the sales flyers and online deals in hopes to find the best deal.  Black Friday deals have been arriving earlier and earlier each year are now available on Thursday.  It's a season that has us focused on shopping and buying and what can we GET.

Have you heard about Giving Tuesday? It's the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and it's a global day dedicated to giving back and celebrating generosity. It's a time to help us refocus our holiday season and to support a cause you believe in.  It's a day to focus on what we can GIVE rather than what we can GET.

Giving Tuesday is a chance to take part in a day of action and to give hope to those who need it most.

There is no shortage of organizations to choose from and it can be overwhelming to determine where you'd like your money to go.

Want to show you support the fight against sexual exploitation?

Here are a few of my favorite choices:

Refuge For Women Chicago is a twelve-month holistic journey for women who wish to leave the sex industry. There is no charge to ...guests (women and their children) as they live and work together as a family towards healing. During their time at The Refuge, women will develop and work on a "Life Plan" - focusing on physical and emotional health, spiritual growth, education, and life skills necessary for a stable and productive life. As women complete their time with us, they will have the opportunity to serve other women in the industry through ministry internships, or may choose to pursue resources towards further education and stable employment. Why I like them:  They are opening a home in the Chicago area in 2015.  Open beds for women to heal are desperately needed in our city.
Shared Hope International strives to prevent the conditions that foster sex trafficking, restore victims of sex slavery, and bring justice to vulnerable women and children. We envision a world passionately opposed to sex trafficking and a committed community restoring survivors to lives of purpose, value and choice – one life at a time.  Why I like them:  Every year their Protected Innocence Challenge grades states on how they are doing legislatively to combat human trafficking.  Shared Hope also has The Defenders - an initiative that challenges men to  honor, and respect to women as well as pledge not to purchase or participate in pornography, prostitution or any form of the commercial sex industry.
Polaris Project: From working with government leaders to protect victims’ rights, to building partnerships with the world’s leading technology corporations, we spark long-term change that focuses communities on identifying, reporting and eliminating trafficking networks. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of all that we do -- helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and gathering the data to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Why I like them:  Polaris operates the National Human Trafficking hotline # where those in need of help can call or anonymous tips can be reported.  Polaris also tracks current legislation and is a great resource for those who want to contact government officials to make a difference. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons From a Rope

Lesson 1:  Pass on a Blessing

I recently read a children's book called The Bright Yellow Rope.  It was such a simple story, but it really had a wonderful message. 
In the story, Sylvester finds a bright yellow rope.  He then gives to a boy whose goat has come unhitched from his wagon, who in turn gives it to the next person who needs it.  Each person to receive the rope repeats this phrase when he passes it on to the next person:
"Hi there, friend.  You sure have trouble. I'll help you quick as a bubble. Take my rope. Yes, you can keep it.  Pass it on when others need it."
Each friend passes the rope along to the next person in need.  Until it eventually comes back to Sylvester at just the time when he needs it. 
"I'm so glad.  Glad that I gave it.  It came back because I gave it,"  says Sylvester.
What a powerful message! 
Sylvester sees a friend in need. 
He offers what he has. 
The blessings multiply. 
He in return is blessed. 
If we hold too tightly to the things God gives, then our fists are closed and unable to accept the next thing God wants to give us.  If we share, then our hands are open and ready to receive.


Lesson 2: Stay connected to the one who love us.

I recently heard that when a heavy storm was predicted in the Old West , that the homesteaders would do many things do prepare for the upcoming storm.  One of them was to string a rope from their barn to their house so they could find their way home.  Remember the Little House on the Prairie episode where the children were caught in a blizzard on the way home from school?  The snow was so coming down so heavy and fast the children could not see their way home. These homesteaders would connect their barn to the house and use it to guide their way home.
As Christians we too are finding our way home.  We must be careful what we are connected to for that is the path we will follow.  We must stay connected to the one who love us. The one who guides us.  The one who directs our steps.

How do we stay connected to God?  Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that as we seek Him and acknowledge Him, He promises do direct our paths.

If we seek Him and allow Him to direct our path, our hearts will be aligned with His and we will follow His plan for our lives rather than the path the world seeks for us to follow.