On Saturday, January 10, 2015 the Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church & Society Human Trafficking Subgroup and United Methodist Women organized a rally of religious leaders and supporters from the Phoenix area to raise awareness about the human trafficking epidemic.
Why should churches address the issue of Human Trafficking?
“What we hope to do is more than come meet on a corner on a street in Phoenix, Arizona. What we want to do, is to try to impact those who have yet to know about the damage that human trafficking does, so that we can make a difference. Human Trafficking continues because of our own ignorance about what it is, where it is happening, right under our noses perhaps. We are also part of the continuation of Human Trafficking because we ignore it. We don’t address it. And so today is our opportunity to address it.”-Bishop Bob Hoshibata
What makes this issue so urgent and important?
The rally took place at the corner at 95th Ave and Glendale near the University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, 2015. The backdrop of the stadium served as a reminder that traffickers seek to exploit an increased concentration of people in a relatively limited geographic area with an increase in discretionary income, recreation, and self-satisfaction (ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research Study, 2014).
Trafficking manages to remain hidden even thought many of the exploited are moved about like property to areas like Phoenix during large sporting events.
At the rally, Bishop Nevares of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix said,
“Our voice needs to be as resounding as their voices rooting for their teams. Our voice needs to be continually heard, throughout the noise that the Super Bowl is going to bring to Phoenix. We need to commit today and every day, to stand up and continually speak for the vulnerable, to continue to speak for those that have no voice, to stand up and continue to witness to Jesus Christ and to God almighty, and to the dignity of every single person.”
How is the surrounding community getting involved?
Another speaker, Attorney Sonia Martinez, informed rally attendees of the legal work being done on behalf of victims, who are often treated as criminals.
“Currently there are a variety of legal programs at the national, state, county, and local level. There are a variety of private attorneys, community legal service attorneys, and nonprofit agencies like Willow Way and Streetlight. I’m sure in the very near future, they’ll have a whole variety of attorneys assisting on a volunteer basis, assisting individuals with family issues, juvenile issues, civil remedies, and immigration issues.”
This was echoed by survivor Beth Jacobs of the Willow Way Agency, who explained how she was abused, then healed from the trauma of sex trafficking. She had earned her degree and found a new job, only to be fired after 30-year old prostitution charges were discovered in a routine background check. She was adamant that victims should be given a fresh start.
What is the best way for Desert Southwest Conference churches to help?
Lynn Wallasky, an organizer of the Forum on Modern Day Slavery, which took place in Green Valley, AZ on January 17, 2015, stated that raising awareness is the best way for DSC churches to help.
“We have to know what we do not know or want to know. Thirty years ago, seat belts were not important. Now, after education and awareness, seat belts are in all cars and expectations that all wear them. With education, awareness and action, we can change the perceptions and the cruelties of the world. The church can and must shout loudly that this form of child abuse must not continue.”
Lynn also pointed out the critical need for more churches to get involved.
“Our children are being raped, killed for no other reason but greed, power, and sex. All are precious and need protection. It’s not the Super Bowl—it’s the mentality that people who perceive themselves above the law, above God’s law must be told NO. When 10,000 children (under 18) are taken to Miami in 2010 for the Super Bowl event specifically for sexual encounters, we the church must say NO. If our children are hurt we must provide a way out, a safe place and we must recognize that this will be a life time journey of healing.”
Churches can target their efforts in stopping human trafficking by involvement in one or more of the following areas that were highlighted at the forum: Public Policy, Direct Service Needs for the victims, Prevention, and Education Awareness. For support and direction, feel free to contact Lynn at .
This is just the beginning, and now is the time to join together and say Stop Human Trafficking!
More information is available at: