This is something I feel like God continues to lay on my heart and mind; he continues to encircle us with it. I want to attempt to put some of it into words, but per usual: I lack conclusions. I always do. Instead of establishing a side, I want to start conversations that I feel need to be started.
Human trafficking has become a buzz word, and one we often feel is misused and overused. For this conversation, I’d rather consider the sex industry on the whole–by choice, by force, by necessity, by culture, by situation. On the whole, there is a sex industry that has permeated the world.
For us, it looks like brothels open at night in our town. It looks like girls and women being “trafficked” or transported through our border town; an estimate of 10,000 per year, as I last read. Who really knows? Who is counting?
For us, sometimes it looks like conversations with parents about not sending their teenage girls to jobs in Bangkok, attempting to tell them of our concern for “bad men who want to buy girls” and offering other options–any options we can think of. Sometimes it means we pay for a girls’ schooling in a desperate attempt to keep her there; sometimes it means we offer jobs to thirteen and fourteen year olds in last-ditch efforts to help them earn money for the family while keeping them in the family.
For us, it sometimes looks like the red-light district in Chiang Mai, where I hear there more brothels per capita than any place in the world. It also looks like the streets of Bangkok, some of them lined with girls. I used a supermarket bathroom on our last trip that felt more like a dressing room for the local prostitutes than a restroom.
I think the Church is growing in awareness: of trafficking, of prostitution, of the sex industry worldwide. We like the word “trafficking,” but I think we are learning more about the industry on the whole. We are learning that it is sometimes forced by a stranger, sometimes by a parent; sometimes by a situation. We are learning it is sometimes a choice; and we are learning that sometimes the line between a choice and an imperative is very, very thin.
But over many conversations, Stephen and I are coming to this: perhaps we, as the Church, are looking too much to the supply. We are focused on the girls: how do we get them out? How do we prevent trafficking? How did they get here? How do we get them out?
Perhaps we need to turn the other direction. If there is a supply, there is a demand. There is a reason the girls are standing on the street: it’s because there is a market at hand. If it wasn’t successful, they would go inside. If there weren’t opportunities, girls wouldn’t be commodities. There has to be a buyer. There has to be a demand.
And with this demand so present, no matter how many girls we rescue–by education, prevention, or what not–more will take their place. Because in removing the supply, the demand remains.
So if the supply is this epic–10,000 coming through my border town that you’ve never heard of? Countless streets lined with women, day after day after day?–so is the demand. And if the demand is this epic, it isn’t strangers to us.
If the supply is in my little border town, so is the demand. If the supply is on the street with me, so is the demand. If the supply is on the subway with me, so is the demand.
Perhaps we need to look there instead. How can we, as the Church, address this demand?
To be honest, I’m not sure how we do that. I just think we might be looking toward the wrong side of the economic equation.
I think it’s easier for us to think about the supply: it is easier to send money for the victim–to help them go to school, to help them get jobs, to give them a future. But I think we need to take the harder road. It is not just the supply that needs rescuing. It is not just the supply that has been given a hope and a future.
We need to address the issues in our marriages, the issues on our computers, the issues in our own country that legalize sexuality in many twisted forms. We need to talk about the demand; we need to identify it. We need to make it less of a secret. We need to meet them, to put faces on them; we need to learn how to love them and welcome them into our churches.
Personally, I’m not sure how to turn around to see the demand. Right now, it looks like me looking around, in this coffee shop or on that public transit route, and telling myself that the demand is here. And then I pray for them. I pray for their hope and future. And I pray for the church to start talking about all the things we aren’t talking about (and perhaps talk a little less about some of the things they are talking about, but that might just be me).
I guess I’ll leave it at that, in its beautiful conclusion-less form, and ask that we all take a minute to pray for the sex industry from all sides, particularly that of the demand that makes it go ’round.