Slavery? Surely that ended about 150 years ago? I’m afraid not. It may look different in the twenty-first century, but the problem is actually greater today than it has ever been.

Human trafficking and modern slavery are the current terms used to describe both sex trafficking and compelled labor. Human trafficking has been defined as “the act of recruiting or transferring a person by means of coercion, abduction or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The Global Slavery Index defines it as “people subject to forced labor, debt bondage, trafficking, sexual exploitation for money and forced or servile marriage.” That definition results in an estimated forty-one million slaves in the world right now. That’s more than at any point in human history and more than the total number taken from Africa in the four hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade. Human trafficking is now the third-biggest criminal industry in the world (after illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with estimated profits of $150 billion a year.

Seventy-one percent of the victims are women and children, with children making up 25 percent of that number. Forced labor is the most common reason for trafficking people, involving twenty-five million people worldwide, with sex trafficking ensnaring a further 4.5 million people worldwide. The average entry age for children into the sex industry is twelve years old, and there are an estimated two hundred thousand prostituted children in the United States alone. Sex slaves earn their pimps about $250,000 a year and see an average of ten to fifteen “clients” a night.

The statistics are horrendous, but the stories of victims are even worse and barely repeatable. The physical and psychological suffering of modern slavery is indescribable and unimaginable. I could write page after page with story after story that would move you to tears. But what can we do?

Encourage Government Action

Over recent years, a number of helpful pieces of legislation have been passed in various national parliaments, with the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom leading the way. The United States, for example, passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which has protected potential victims not just in the United States but worldwide. The U.S. Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons uses prevention, protection, and prosecution to combat worldwide human trafficking. Recently, both the U.S. House and Senate passed laws that have made it harder to use the internet for sex trafficking by enabling prosecution not just of the traffickers but of anyone who operates any website that they use. We can encourage our political representatives to continue legislative action on these issues.

Raise Awareness

We can get informed and inform others. The U.S. State Department publishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report. For all the criticisms that are levelled against the United Nations, it has done well in this area, especially through its Office on Drugs and Crime and its Blue Heart Campaign. The Blue Heart is increasingly recognized as the international symbol against human trafficking, representing the sadness of those who are trafficked and the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell fellow human beings. There are numerous online organizations, such as the Global Slavery Index, that provide updated information on their websites. Just be aware that some of these organizations have a political bias.

Remember that God’s heart is also a holy heart.
Support Christian Charities and Missions

Exodus Cry, a Christian organization defines its action areas as shifting culture, changing laws, and reaching out to victims of sex slavery. It offers expert practical and spiritual support to those trying to escape and restart their lives. International Justice Mission does the same on a bigger scale. World Vision is a Christian mission that focuses especially on child exploitation throughout the world, but especially in the third world. There are a number of other organizations I haven’t listed here that do this work. Consider finding one that you would feel comfortable supporting.

God’s Heart

For all the commendable political and practical solutions, the ultimate and longest-lasting solutions are spiritual, and begin with sharing in God’s heart for the oppressed. Throughout the Bible, He is revealed as a God of justice (Isa. 30:18) who loves justice (61:8). For God, justice does not just mean punishing evildoers but also protecting and delivering the oppressed. Time and again we see God’s heart for victims of oppression and cruelty. He is the “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Ps. 68:5; Ex. 22:21–24; Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:19; 26:12). Jesus’ ministry enfleshed God’s heart and one of His most solemn warnings was reserved for those who took no action to help the helpless (Matt. 25:21–46). Pray that God would shape your heart like His and give you a similar love for holy justice. Exodus Cry says there is “no greater weapon against human trafficking than prayer.” It encourages people to pray for the ending of red light districts every time we stop at a red light.

But remember that God’s heart is also a holy heart. He therefore hates pornography, the greatest driver of sex trafficking today. That means if you are looking at porn, you are involved in the modern slave trade. God’s holy heart is utterly opposed to your cruel proxy punishment of others for your own pleasure.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is our greatest hope in all of this. It was the gospel of amazing grace that drove John Newton out of the slave trade. It was the gospel that impelled William Wilberforce to campaign for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. It’s the gospel that drives well-trained Christian workers on to the streets of our major cities every night trying to find and help runaway and homeless children before the traffickers get to them. It’s the gospel that has healed so many victims of human trafficking, rebuilding their sense of identity and cleansing them from shame and guilt. It’s the gospel that can liberate us from the chains of sin that we may still be choosing to put on every day (John 8:34–36).


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 9, 2021.

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