FIRST-PERSON: Child sexual abuse, a worldwide epidemic
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- The headlines stunned the nation. The accusations of child sexual abuse by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky have outraged an entire country. We were shocked by the alleged evil of a seemingly respectable man, sickened by the unthinkable abuse of his victims, and incensed by the moral cowardice of those who didn't do enough to stop it.
Like Israel in the time of the Judges -- in the dregs of their moral bankruptcy -- we too have asked, "What is this wickedness that has occurred among you?" (Judges 20:12). As reprehensible as the allegations of abuse are, what is perhaps even more incredulous is the ever-increasing number of people who, though they did what was legal, failed to do what was right. Where was their courage to intervene on behalf of the powerless? Where were the valiant?
Tragically, this same injustice is a life-long reality for millions of children across the world. They are children like Prema, who, according to YWAM's booklet "30 Days of Prayer for the Voiceless," was just 11 years old when she joined the other girls in a Mumbai brothel. For the past two and a half years, she has been forced to degradingly dance for and "service" the international customers. Her family needed the money and promised to buy her back when they could. I knew of the global evil that is child prostitution and heard about the staggering enormity of the human trafficking industry. I knew of the grieving reality that children worldwide have been victimized, traumatized and enslaved. But it wasn't until reading about little girls like Prema that the statistics had a name.
Human trafficking is the largest slave trade in world history and is on the verge of outgrowing the illegal drug business. Each year, according to UNICEF, 1.2 million children are either kidnapped, coerced by a family member, or lured by a man that seems romantically interested, only to be sold into prostitution. Approximately 10 million children have been forced into some aspect of the sex trade, becoming among the nameless, unaccounted-for commodities in a crowded brothel, city street corner or tourist "massage parlor." In the time it takes you to read this article, at least two children will have been exploited. Today, in Thailand alone, thousands of young girls between the ages of 10-12 will be forced to have sex at least ten times, some as many as 30 times each day. Eighty percent of human trafficking victims worldwide are females and up to half of them are under 18 years old.
Poverty is a significant factor in a child's vulnerability to sexual exploitation, which is perhaps why it is so prevalent in countries like India where Prema lives. Their fathers aren't able to come after and rescue them like Liam Neeson did in the movie, "Taken." In fact, for many of them, their fathers sold them into sex slavery to pay for food. Their hopes for a hero were squelched and stolen -- along with their dignity.
Human trafficking isn't just a problem in the crowded streets of Bangkok or the war-torn nations of Africa. It's happening within your city. Christianity Today reported that anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are trafficked and exploited each year. While some of our government leaders have been working to end child prostitution in the U.S., one advocate told Christianity Today, "Maybe it's not [God's] plan that the government do more; maybe it's his plan that his church do more."
God's Word contains numerous commands about the responsibility of His people to exact justice and provision for the widow and the fatherless -- women and children that are unprotected and vulnerable to oppression (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 27:19, Isaiah 1:17). In Deuteronomy 24, God charges His people to care for the fatherless as His representatives on earth, reminding Israel that they used to be slaves themselves but were bought out of bondage. Because He redeemed them out of slavery, they were to take up the cause of the oppressed and administer justice on the behalf of those who would likely fall through the cracks of society. This same responsibility is given to God's people today, His Church (James 1:27). We, too, were once slaves (John 8:34). But because Christ redeemed us and bought us back with His sacrifice on the cross, we are no longer in bondage, but heirs of God and charged to be His representatives on earth. Micah 6:8 says that the Lord requires us to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." Jeremiah 22:3 commands us to do justice and deliver others from the hand of the oppressor. In a world where 10 million children are trapped in sexual slavery -- both across an ocean and across a highway -- will we have the courage to intervene on behalf of the powerless? Will we be among the valiant?
After hearing of children like Prema, the daily concerns of my all too-comfortable life suddenly seem trivial and embarrassingly small. Few issues are as desperate as this one little girl, an image-bearer of God, buried in a brothel, perhaps never to be rescued -- much less ever hear of the Jesus that could rescue her soul. We may never get to snatch Prema or any of the other millions of children out of their bondage, but we can do something to fight against it. We can pray that God will raise up Christian men and women in our generation that can reach these children by working in international safe-houses -- the more rescuers there are, the more that can be rescued. Maybe it will be you. Maybe it will be me. We can give to organizations that are dedicated to rescuing victims of sex trafficking and introducing them to the restoring hope of Jesus Christ. And, we can pray that the men who are funding the demand for child prostitutes will be redeemed out of their own bondages, crippling and eliminating the entire trafficking industry.
May we remember that, because we have been rescued (Colossians 1:13), we have been charged to do justice for the enslaved and oppressed -- not just for their physical life, but, ultimately, for their spiritual rescue. May our daily lives be altered by the urgency that we have been redeemed, in part, to carry out a gritty command: to deliver others from the hand of the Oppressor, Satan, the author of exploitation; and bring the presence of the Deliverer against humanity's bondage to sin, the ultimate slavery. May we take up the church's mandate to be the agent of redemptive change and intervene on behalf of the powerless. May we be among the valiant!
Katie McCoy is a PhD student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and content manager for BiblicalWoman.org, a ministry of the seminary's Women's Programs. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org.