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?

The last part of the CT story answers these questions. Ken Weigel, a friend of mine and Pastor at Imago Dei says,

“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.”


9 Responses to “Fatherlessness: the story behind sex trafficking”

  1. Ryan Ash November 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    Wow! Yet another example of how critical of a role we, as dads, play in raising our children. If we can just motivate more dads to step into their proper role it’d make a HUGE impact in the world. Too many dads don’t understand the amazingly important place they should hold in their children’s lives!

  2. Peggi Billman November 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    My two oldest sons are living in Brazil, rescuing adult prostitutes from the streets. They have realized the same thing – we need to reach the children. The best way they’ve found is to open a rescue home to rescue children off the streets before they become adults “in the business” (and it’s a BIG business in Brazil). They are one part of the battle to kill the giant of prostitution in Brazil and elsewhere. They, too agree it is an issue of fatherlessness. Read more at their site.

  3. Jacob Titus November 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I often forget about the wounds women carry because of the lack of a father. I usually think men are the ones who carry the majority of the effects.

    • Ms Non July 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Thank you.

      From my heart.

      • johnsowers January 6, 2013 at 1:16 am #

        Wow. Blown away by the feedback from this blog. To clarify a couple of things:

        1.) This blog was written based on the conversation I had with several experts in the field. They were: Three pastors working very close to the issue and the Mayor, as well as an Executive Director of a local non-profit that combats trafficking and the President of another International Non-Profit that works all over the world to fight trafficking. Because of the sensitive nature of trafficking and out of respect for the victims, large-scale, public, empirical data is nearly impossible to find and it should be. I am basing these statements on about seven expert witnesses, including one former “groomer.” The groomer was very remorseful – but also very honest.

        2.) I am arguing that fatherlessness is a key “risk factor,” not the only risk factor. As with all social problems, such as: gangs, youth violence, teenage pregnancy, homeless youth, high-school dropouts, drug abuse and suicide – there are multiple risk factors. Poverty. Illiteracy. Fatherlessness. According to DHS, OJJDP, and countless other studies, fatherlessness / single family homes is a massive risk factor for all of these things. I write so strongly about fatherlessness because it seems to be the risk factor that is perpetually overlooked or ignored.

  4. robbie November 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    What do you say to the guys who don’t think they have what it takes to be a mentor of a young kid because of problems they still deal with in their own life?

    • johnsowers November 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks everyone for the comments. Yeah Robbie – that is what we do at The Mentoring Project, equip men and women with the tools to enter into mentoring relationship with confidence.

    • johnsowers December 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      Honestly, some guys aren’t ready for one-to-one mentoring. We put the safety of a child first – so there is a rigorous background, DMV, personality, and reference checks. Most of us feel a little overwhelmed. And that is what the training is for.

    • His Beloved January 11, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      It’s never too late to allow God in.
      I’ve had to get extesnive counseling due to my past woundings so that I could be the father & husband I was called to be. Am i per fect now? No, but I have a healthier outlook on life than I did before counseling.
      The very best counseling that I would recommend would be Elijah House Prayer Ministry or Cleansing Streams.

      A key to your freedom is taking the first step and taking action.
      Next, once in your sessions the more honest you are and open you are the more healing comes.

      Search the two ministries above, get your “ish” taken care of and watch how God uses you.

      It’s in your hands now! :O)


      His Beloved

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