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.
Thank you for this honesty! I work with an organization in St. Louis called The Covering House which also works with girls who have been exploited in some way. Through the past several months, God has deeply penetrated me with the realization that it is only by his grace that I am not a victim…but also a perpetrator. This harsh reality has put my perpsective in focus and helped me to love out of grace and justice rather than vengeance and hatred.
Thank you for sharing. Whatever we think we know about love is challenged over and over in this type of ministry! We either draw nearer to it’s authenticity or further away. The choice is ours and is made by each “little” choice to love and not hate. It’s a beautiful journey. Glad to know of another that shares the journey!
How do you see justice playing it when you hold this point of view? Trafficking is a crime – do feel Lionel should be punished for this crime? If so, how? Yes, Christians show grace and love, but that does not mean they should not hold people accountable for their actions. We can love somebody but still send them to prison for their behaviour.
Thank you Lynne, for your questions. Very good ones and appropriate. I had originally addressed some of this as I was writing but to keep it from being too long that was part I cut out. In an ideal world there could be a simple arrest and the trafficking would end, victims would go home to a better life and those who do evil would be not simply punished but rehabilitated so that they could contribute to society in a beneficial way as well. The situation is complex, however and there are no easy answers. There are several ways this scenario could play out here where we work: (these are based on experience and eye witness)
1. We could call the men in uniform and report the crime. If we do that:
A. They might write it down, thank us and never do anything.
B. They might send someone to check it out who would warn Lionel or ask for a bribe and then do nothing more.
C. They might go and arrest Lionel and then fine him and let him go.
D. He might be arrested and go to jail. (least likely as this would have to be based on the testimony of a victim. The women like Lionel and find him the least offensive so they would not likely testify against him. They would be too frightened as well)
+If he is fined or goes to jail, the traffickers who have more power than Lionel and the smaller guys are suspicious of all who are not customers.
+ We would get shut out and have no more contact with the women. We might even be threatened (has happened to me before).
+ If a raid is done the trafficking ring moves deeper underground to carry on its activities and our work with them is done. The women are not better off but worse off and less able to access help.
+ If Lionel is arrested, the trafficking ring continues but hires someone else who most likely would be more violent and abusive toward the women.
2. We know that investigators are aware of the situation and monitoring so we trust them to do their job which is to gather enough information to bring down the people who are actually running the ring. We are available to assist with the women who need help in shelter and after care as well as repatriation when a raid actually takes place.
3. Our job is to reach out to the women and offer them hope and assistance. We do care about Lionel and in building a bridge with him we are able to actually have contact with the women. We pray for Lionel and hope that he will decide to change his lifestyle. By having a relationship with him we earn the right to speak into his life. If he is arrested at some point we will have built a relationship so that we can continue to visit him in prison, offer care to his family and pray for his future. My hope is that he begins to realize that he is actually complicit in their exploitation and gets out of it. He thinks he is helping them. They come and need money. They are being prostituted. Lionel watches over them and helps them do what they came to do. A lot of pimps here see it this way. They feel sorry for the women but say that the women have no choice. They don’t actually see themselves as complicit.
We have learned to work in partnership with other groups for a more holistic solution.
There is a lot of corruption here and things are not easy to address. Where Lionel works, there are often men in uniform sitting and watching the entire operations. They get a cut from the deal. Lionel is just a small pawn in the big picture. He is complicit but he is not the one behind it all.
We were involved in a raid in which the trafficker went to jail for 90 days. I received a death threat, the trafficker was let out on bail and fled the country. Two victims were rescued but the rest were lost.The two victims had nervous breakdowns and plagiarized in court. Most of the trafficking ring was unaffected and able to carry on their business. You can watch a show about this raid on You Tube. It’s 21st Century Sex Slaves by National Geographic.
All of this is complicated and requires a lot of work and time. The sex industry is so blatant here that the men in uniform could literally just walk down the street and arrest people every night. They do walk but they don’t arrest the pimps or traffickers. They pick up and fine the victims. We partner with other groups who fill in roles of investigation and prosecution. We have the privilege of being in a position to love and to build bridges so that we can offer assistance and intervention.
Thank you for your explanation. Unfortunately understanding the reality of the situation leaves me feeling as hopeless as before realizing that victims will rarely get justice whether it be victims of trafficking, rape, sexual abuse, or other such crimes.
I appreciate what you are doing and the role that your organizations plays as I realize you are doing what you can amidst the complexities.
It can be discouraging but we see hope. Our hope isn’t in the systems but in God’s power to bring change and breakthrough. When we work with other groups in partnership and each do our part well we will see breakthrough. The system is improving bit by bit. When a raid is done hastily it isn’t very successful. When investigators are given time to really collect sufficient information and are able to work with trustworthy police and human rights lawyers with integrity are included in the process it makes a huge difference. Everything takes time and has to be looked at from many angles. In the meantime, we seek to follow God’s voice and be a voice of truth and of love. We are rescuing victims – got two more yesterday. There is hope – it just isn’t a simple solution. And we seek a more holistic transformation than just punishing the offenders. We want to address the systems and beliefs that groom offenders and make vulnerable the victims. That’s where we all fit in because that starts with loving well in our own families, schools, churches, communities – including on line. Keep the faith that everyone doing their little part will reap great results in the end.