The photos accompanying this article are of The Salvation Army’s projects with ‘sex workers’ in and other impoverished women in Bangladesh – including some who have been trafficked. Education and skills-training are offered to the women in order that they can have an alternative, better and safer way of life.
Sexual Trafficking: Fighting the New Slave Trade
The Salvation Army’s International Conference of Leaders, held in the USA in early 2004, included in its closing declaration the promise to accept the challenge to ‘combat the evil of human trafficking for sexual exploitation’. This article is based on the presentation made by Lieut-Colonel Dawn Sewell to the conference. It explains the scale and causes of the growing phenomenon and challenges The Salvation Army and its supporters that now is the time to act, before millions more of the world’s most vulnerable people are enslaved.
HUMAN trafficking is a simple term – perhaps it even sounds a little innocuous. In reality, human trafficking is modern-day slavery.
It’s different from smuggling, where people pay large amounts to enter a country illegally and, on arrival, are free to do as they wish. Trafficked victims are coerced or deceived by the person arranging their relocation. They are denied their basic human rights and will be forced into exploitation by the trafficker, having no control over their lives.
Trafficking of people, particularly of children under 18, is a growing global problem. It has become a lucrative worldwide business run by criminal groups, with a global turnover exceeding US$10 billion, making it the third-biggest international criminal business after drugs and weapons.
Millions of people are trapped in a wide range of forced labour, most commonly in the sex trade but also in sweatshops, construction sites, commercial farming, petty crime and the drug trade.
The scale of the problem is staggering.
World authorities give estimates as to the numbers of trafficked people but, because of its criminal nature, accurate figures are difficult to obtain and confirm. However, a 2003 US Government report indicated that as many as two million people annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide. This does not include people trafficked within their own country. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent estimates that, in total, up to four million human beings per year are trafficked. That’s equivalent to the entire populations of Berlin, Los Angeles or Sydney.
Dr Laura Lederer, who has been studying the issue of sexual trafficking for 20 years at Harvard University and is now a senior advisor to the US Government, reports, ‘Over the last 10 years, the numbers of women and children [who] have been trafficked have multiplied so that they are now on a par with estimates of the numbers of Africans who were enslaved in the 16th and 17th centuries.’
Trafficking is a truly global problem. Children from Mexico are sold to brothels in the USA. Almost 200,000 Nepali girls, many under 14, are sexual slaves in India. Experts estimate that 10,000 children aged between six and 14 are virtually enslaved in brothels in Sri Lanka. Around 15,000 children were sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia between 1991-97. Asian women are sold to North American brothels for $16,000 each. The Thai Government reports that 60,000 Thai children are sold into prostitution – independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) experts estimate the figure to be closer to 800,000.
Trafficking in persons is complex but there is a common set of circumstances that lead to sexual exploitation. It often boils down to a simple equation where vulnerable people are supplied by traffickers to those who provide the demand.
Victims are generally the members of society who are particularly vulnerable – widows, abandoned wives, orphans, refugees, the poor, street children, runaways, abandoned children and those who have suffered prior sexual abuse.
The demand comes from paedophiles, pederasts, opportunistic exploiters – such as the military, truckers and business travellers – and the vast adult and child sex markets
Traffickers often lure their victims with false promises of jobs and a better life. Once they have trapped them they condition them for further exploitation using methods such as starvation, imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape and gang rape, threats of violence to the victims’ families and forced drug use. The affect of this breaks down physical and mental health, causing the victim to become submissive and to comply.
Governments and other agencies around the world are attempting diverse and often creative ways to combat the problem. Several faith-based organisations, international NGOs and UN agencies are engaged in advocacy and providing information to heighten awareness, as well as lobbying governments to pass laws and implement them. A few organisations assist the victims of trafficking by providing a refuge for those who escape their captors. Mobile street teams, national hotlines and legal assistance for the victims are among their strategies.
There are NGOs which work to take girls off the streets, where they are vulnerable to trafficking, and provide them with counselling and an alternative means of livelihood. The Salvation Army has programmes that work in this way.
Victims need as much support as possible. Communities need to be educated so they can assist and accept trafficked victims back into their homes; counsellors can be trained to identify and talk with likely trafficking victims at airports; safe houses and witness protection can be provided for victims in trials of traffickers.Intelligence gathering – and often simply being aware of the potential problem – will be vital if this modern-day slavery is to be stamped out.
A charity in the UK dedicated to finding missing persons noticed a trend that young girls of West African origin detained at an international airport were regularly going missing from the hostel they were placed in. This was highlighted in a UK TV programme.
Following the programme, several UK lorry drivers gave information about the high numbers of West African girls involved in prostitution in and around the lorry parks of northern Italy. Several drivers reported conversations with the girls who indicated that they had been trafficked through the UK to ‘a better life in Europe’.
The information gathered was shared internationally with the police throughout Europe. Various police forces were able to contribute further information once the connections had been made and, over a period of five years, it was possible to gather the intelligence necessary to uncover a network of traffickers moving girls from West Africa to Italy via the UK and France for the purposes of street prostitution. The names, details, routes and methodology – including the use of voodoo – of the criminal gangs were revealed.
As a result it led to arrests and the closing down of the whole network. An inestimable number of victims will have been saved from their plight as a result of the intelligence provided initially by the charity.
Since its inception in the 19th century, The Salvation Army has sought to fight on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. It follows naturally, then, that the Army should play a part in battling this modern-day slavery.
Lieut-Colonel Dawn Sewell, Director of The Salvation Army’s Anti-Trafficking Desk, says, ‘We have the spiritual motivation, skills, experience, history, programmes and structure that can work with the affected communities to elicit change and combat this social evil.
‘We need to be prepared to speak out either alone or collaboratively in the most influential forums. We have the respect of the public and should use it. We need to wholeheartedly and publicly denounce “sexual trafficking” as slavery and fight it relentlessly.
‘There will be risk as people involved in this human trade are engaged in illicit criminal
activities and have much to lose from disruption to their trade.’
So what is the Army doing?
In 2003, the General of The Salvation Army appointed Dawn to ‘be the lead person to give strategic advice as to how The Salvation Army with its immense reputation and considerable resources might best take a more active role worldwide in tackling this evil, collaborating with government agencies and non-governmental organisations already at work in this field’.
Subsequently, an International Headquarters (IHQ) Anti-Trafficking Desk Support Group was established to advise the desk officer and to share ideas and give guidance. The General has also approved the formation of an International Anti-trafficking Task Force. All are in dialogue and communication through an Anti-Trafficking Task Force database and the IHQ web site provides the public with information.
The Salvation Army in the USA was among a coalition of faith-based and other organisations which worked to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a measure which became law in October 2000. It has also assumed leadership of the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking (IAST), a partnership of faith-based, human rights, child and women’s rights advocacy organisations which is working very closely with the US Government and others attempting to tackle the problem.
Recovery services for survivors of sexual trafficking are being developed. A trafficking survivor service council has been established in the USA and proposals for provision of services at regional level have been submitted to the US Department of Justice.
In India, Tanzania, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, The Netherlands, the UK, Bangladesh, Ghana, Australia, Costa Rica and several other countries the Army is working with women caught up in the commercial sex industry. In these programmes there is likely to be involvement with women and girls who have been trafficked.
Perhaps the greatest influence The Salvation Army is having is in the area of poverty alleviation – especially through micro-credit and income-generation programmes.
The beneficiaries of these programmes become self-sufficient and the Army is offering an alternative to communities vulnerable to the lures of the traffickers.
Lieut-Colonel Jean Burrows, Social Services Secretary and President of Women’s Ministries in Tanzania, sees the modern face of slavery in her country.
‘As I travel around Tanzania,’ she says, ‘I see many reminders of David Livingstone and the efforts he made to abolish slavery. Zanzibar has a church built over the former slave market … but in reality I see evidence of modern slavery every day and its effect upon women and children. We know the situation is a result mainly of poverty.’
Tanzania faces many problems that leave people vulnerable to trafficking, including ‘woman to woman marriages’ where, because of the threat of Aids, a woman who wants a child buys a young girl and chooses a boy under 20 to impregnate the girl. The sale price – usually around £50 – is more than the parents who sold the girl could hope to earn over many months. The baby becomes the property of the older woman and the girl finds herself homeless, helpless and stigmatised.
Domestic work for young girls from eight years old puts them at tremendous risk of sexual and physical abuse. Jean says, ‘We meet them all the time on the streets and through our orphan programmes.’
Inheritance laws can mean that women are thrown out of the family after their husbands have died and, as they have nothing, they are forced into prostitution when they reach the cities.
People like these, who become vulnerable, are most at risk from traffickers.
So how is The Salvation Army in Tanzania approaching the problem?
Kwetu Crisis is an immediate assistance programme which provides community-based care and counselling. Relationships with commercial sex workers through the nine-year programme have opened the way to referrals from them of children who need assistance.
Kwetu Mbagala is a half-way house which provides a safe haven for up to 30 vulnerable girls while individual strategies for repatriation and resocialisation are worked out. Life skills are learnt in the form of agriculture and chicken-rearing as well as cooking and caring for the home.
Mama Mkubwa (Big Mother) programmes work with orphans who live in villages where The Salvation Army has a presence. They live with extended family members or even family friends. Sometimes team members will assist the parents to make such an arrangement before they die. More than 1,000 orphans are registered with this programme.
Jean adds, ‘These activities provide us with access to children whose stories are horrendous. Many of these stories are documented and our links with other government and non-government organisations are about changing attitudes to children and strengthening the community’s sense of responsibility towards its growing orphan problem. Villages are now sometimes selling their maize at a slightly higher price so they can cater for their orphans. Some provide land for them and offer food and clothing. They make themselves available to listen.
‘We feel these methods empower communities and provide a much-needed safety net.’
So what more can The Salvation Army do?
The Salvation Army’s internationalism and its influence in thousands of individual communities mean it already has a great infrastructure in place to be right at the forefront of the fight against trafficking.
Lieut-Colonel Dawn Sewell sees that the Army can make a difference in the major areas of prevention, protection and prosecution.
Prevention can take place firstly through awareness programmes. Vulnerable communities can be identified and entry points into those areas can be established through, for instance, kids’ clubs. Poverty alleviation, striking at the root cause of many victims’ vulnerability, can be approached through skill training, education, micro-credit programmes andliteracy projects. Support programmes can be set up to combat male demand for illicit sex.
Protection is another vital part of the fight against trafficking. The Salvation Army has the ability to provide a coordinated range of programmes. Street kids’ ministries, night patrols, safe houses, rehabilitation and counselling, family support and reintegration programmes are already part of the work of The Salvation Army that can be focused more strongly on dealing with the effects of trafficking.
There is also, perhaps, a role for the Army to campaign as it has done throughout its history, working alongside the authorities and advocating changes in the law to protect the victims.
Dawn Sewell concludes, ‘Trafficking is not a new thing but the scale and extent of it is beyond anything that has gone before. As a result, I believe it is necessary for The Salvation Army to do a new thing and address this problem with courage and strength. I believe Christ expects this of us.
‘The words of Isaiah 42:22, 23 come to mind: “This is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, ‘Send them back.’ Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come?”’
Those words were echoed more than 100 years ago by The Salvation Army’s Founder, William Booth, who – writing about ‘fallen women’ in The War Cry – said, ‘Something must be done and somebody must do it. Thank God The Salvation Army never sees an evil without asking the question, “Can anything be done to remove it?” One of its strong principles is that the straight way to destroy the branches is to go to the root; to deal efficiently with the effect is to do away with the cause. It is good to rescue the poor things out of the gulf when they have got in, but if we can prevent them getting in, it will be better still. What can we do?’
As it faces up to the evils of modern-day slavery, today’s Salvation Army is facing that same question and, thank God, coming up with more and more answers.