Fatherlessness: the story behind sex trafficking
I was thrilled to see Christianity Today spotlight Portland this month… lots of great things happening here, including CJ Speelman’s work, called “Wrench Raiders.” The story focused on sex trafficking and the courageous abolitionists in Portland who are changing it.
I’m deeply grateful that the city of Portland, the Mayor, Police Chief and dozens of churches and organizations are on-board helping these girls find freedom. Some of my friends are leading this charge and I am proud to watch them. I’m also grateful for CT spotlighting the good things that are happening here. This really, really needs to happen.
I have been wondering how to reach these girls before they enter the sex trade. How can we head them off before they are recruited, groomed and trafficked? For the past two years, I’ve done research on the correlation between trafficking and fatherlessness, having conversations with ministry directors, leaders, pastors, public officials, and even a former “recruiter.”
The one theme that comes out loudly in all of these conversations is fatherlessness.
Some girls are recruited by traffickers at strip clubs. There are others that are forced into trafficking in the inner-city by gangs. Fox News did a story about these girls earlier this year. But I learned that some of the young girls are local, white, middle-class and live in the suburbs. This squashed my notion of the girl who had been stolen from somewhere like Thailand or Russia, even though those definitely exist. These girls go to school, leave, turn tricks, then go home.
The Executive Director of a popular non-profit told me that, without fail, nearly every girl that she has worked with to rehabilitate out of the sex trade has been fatherless. She said,
There is obvious and direct correlation between the girls that are being trafficked and fatherlessness. These fatherless girls are often easy prey for the recruiters and ‘groomers.’ The recruiter said,
“I recruited girls at the bus stops and the malls. It was easy to spot them. You could easily tell which ones were insecure and vulnerable. And I had a 100% success rate with them.”
These girls, according to the recruiter, would then be ‘groomed’ from recruit to ‘willing participant.’ They would first be asked if they wanted to model. Then eventually asked to model nude and usually be given drugs. Then, after several months, they would be raped. With their dignity and virginity shattered, and with a newfound drug addiction, they would be threatened with violence. Many times, according to leaders, they become ‘willing participants’ where the threat of violence was no longer necessary. It was a dark strategy of crushing a girl’s spirit and soul so that they could be abused for money.
My initial reaction to all this is anger. Burning anger. But I can’t help thinking what would happen if we reached these fatherless girls before they were recruited and “groomed” for the sex industry? How could we create models where people could step into these stories before the recruiters did? How can we mentor these girls to express value, affirmation? How can we change the destinies of fatherless girls that make up the sex trafficking industry?
“With sex trafficking, unless you are a trained social worker, FBI agent or DA, there’s not much you can do on the front line. I’m creating places where people don’t insist that they have to be on the front line, but still see they are helping.”
People are eager to see churches provide mentors and a sexual ethic that emphasizes their God-given dignity. The anti-trafficking liaison at another church says,
“It’s not just about rescue – it’s also about prevention. Sometimes that’s hard because it’s not exciting or notable. But you’re having a long-term and probably more significant impact investing in a 9-year-old boy who doesn’t have a good role model.”