I have a scandalous confession: I have a favorite trafficker. You might ask, how someone who passionately fights to rescue victims of human trafficking could like a trafficker let alone have a favorite? Trafficking is a complex situation that employs, exploits, profits, and destroys millions of people – humans, with emotions, people with families, people with dreams and people with bitter disappointments. Some of these people are victims and some are the exploiters. It would be easy to draw the line in the sand to clearly establish the acceptable and the unacceptable; the loveable and the despicable; those worthy of grace and those to condemn. It would be easy – it was easy, until I met Lionel, one of many characters in the drama of human trafficking. Exploitation is wrong – no ifs, ands, or buts about it, but hating an individual simply because of what they do becomes much harder when you know them by name.
Lionel is a nice guy but I hate what Lionel is doing. I hate it that he cooperates and is complicit with the selling of women. I hate it that the women under his supervision are being exploited and destroyed through this heinous crime. But since I know and like Lionel, I can’t just hate him and condemn him because of what he does. I think it is in this tension that the gospel begins to look authentic. The line Jesus drew in the sand was a line that erased our right to judge, to condemn, and to exclude those who sin from grace or salvation.
It would be much easier if I told you he is a despicable character. I could paint a picture of such evil and you would hate him as a trafficker. But it’s not that easy. I have talked to the trafficked women about Lionel. They also like him. Recently I asked Lionel about his job and he said he is tired. The previous week one of the women was sick and needed to see a doctor. The bill was $700 and he paid for it out of his own pocket because she didn’t have the money. Lionel feels sorry for the women. “No one wants to do this job,” Lionel said to me. “This is the last job on earth anyone chooses and it’s what you do when there is nothing left.” I told Lionel thank you for allowing us to visit with the women. “You are welcome,” he said sincerely. “I like your group. You give gifts to the women. You are very welcome here.”
You might wonder why we don’t just call the police to raid the place. We’ve learned though, that hasty raids do further damage and chase the trafficking ring further underground. We know trusted investigators who are doing their part in this drama. It takes time. I have learned the hard way that when you pick fights with the gatekeeper the door slams shut. Right now we have access to victims and the opportunity to speak into the lives of the traffickers and pimps as well. This is where we live and work – in this tension of hating the sin and the evil but of loving those who are trapped in its grip. Lionel is the gatekeeper and Lionel likes us enough to let us through the gate.
Lionel is my favorite trafficker but really no one should have a trafficker. There should be no managers of women in a sex industry. Until this modern day slavery is abolished, however, may there be more caring men like Lionel who do not intentionally abuse the women they manage. “Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” Christ died for Lionel. The day is coming, I pray, when Lionel will request a transfer out of the kingdom of darkness and will be given a position in the kingdom of light as a defender of women.