There are 40.3 million people around the globe who have been stripped of their names, addresses, driver’s licenses and identities. When these statistics thud against the reality of our everyday —winding rural streets, bustling restaurants, humming campuses— they feel impossible.
I think about the people I love. I think about the way they look first thing in the morning, padding across the kitchen floor with their hair in tangles —reaching for a mug, the Keurig, more creamer. I think about the sound of my mom’s laughter —how it fills a room, makes it warmer. I think about how it brings other people into her captivating joy. Or the way my sister drives when we’re on our way to lunch downtown, blaring her favorite song through our rattling speakers for the thousandth time that day. I think about my roommates, sprawled on our living room couch, all spilling about our day over plates of leftover dinner.
When I think about those I love, and then think about the 40.3 million men, women and children that might be tethered together in the back of some busted up SUV or hollowed and emptied of everything they once knew, it cripples me.
According to Polaris, of the 40.3 million people trapped in human trafficking, 81 percent are being trafficked through forced labor, 25 percent are children and 75 percent are women and girls. The industry they are brought into is estimated to be a $150 billion global industry, and it continues to grow.
The statistics regarding human trafficking are vast, overwhelming and incomprehensible, and our scholarly words cannot begin to encompass all that this evil is. However, while the issue of human trafficking is wide-reaching and unimaginably large, its locality in our own communities actually offers accessible confrontation and prevention opportunities to each of us. Simply put, since human trafficking happens near us, we are able to fight it. Through research, rescue and refuge —one by one, hand-in-hand— we can abolish slavery together.
First, research. We need to dig in deep and learn the warning signs: We discover what flashes of fear to look for —what oddities will give way to a bigger story— and we call or report if we have even only an inkling of suspicion. We learn that human-trafficking doesn’t always look the way we anticipate it to. If we see something, we say something —this is the first step to rescuing anyone trapped in trafficking.
We rescue by allowing law enforcement to do their job. We come alongside them by calling 911 and then the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Then, we let law enforcement officers go into the tangled darkness with flashlights in hand, working diligently to bring slavery to an end.
The baton is passed back to us when we, as the church, offer a place for survivors to run to —a place to find refuge. Currently, there are seven survivor safe-houses listed on the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery website, including Garden Gate Ranch. Garden Gate Ranch and these six other safe-houses extend themselves as places of refuge and restoration for the exploited. And more specifically, Garden Gate Ranch reaches to those who have children —something unique and often unseen amid neighboring rescue homes.
Rallying together to reach into the darkest corners, to lean in, listen and ultimately act out of love weaves together an anthem of hope that heaven heeds. We may not be among those bursting through doors and breaking off chains, but we are —should we choose to be— among those who house, feed, clothe, and care for survivors in need of restoration. To be this help is our conscious choice —to choose empathy in the trauma, patience in the relapse, and dedication to the healing. Whether we have necessary skills or means for monetary support, we are already fully equipped to make a difference in the lives of those affected by trafficking in our own communities; we need only choose to apply what God has already given. When we choose to call out suspicious behavior and do our part to care for the hurting, we make the difference. Individually, we are helpless. But together, we can.