By Corrina Sisk-Casson
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (March 7, 2018) -- Most Americans assume that slavery ended in the United States in 1865. Yet, it continues today. It is even in Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia.
But others like Nellie Bragg, an active member of the United Methodist Women (UMW), know all too well about the subject.
“It has been a topic for UMW for a number of years,” said Bragg, a member at Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the last nine years, human trafficking has been the national mission priority for United Methodist Women.
Bragg was among a group of clergy and laity who attended a meeting held by Hope for Justice on Feb. 23 at Cokesbury United Methodist Church. Hope for Justice has offices in Nashville, Tennessee; Manchester, United Kingdom; and Stavanger, Norway. The organization helps people in other countries as well.
Two presenters walked back and forth during the evening session, discussing how people get caught up in modern-day slavery. Richard Schoeberl, a former CIA agent who is now team leader in the U.S. office, explained that 100 minors are sex-trafficked each month. Seventy-seven percent of targeted girls are under the age of 13. He explained that sex-trafficking is a $1 billion industry because it is easy to keep using people over and over again.
Isaac Jones, regional development manager, said traffickers manipulate people who are vulnerable. Youth who are runaways, people who come from abusive homes, people who want to be loved, and those who live in low-income areas are especially targeted.
Schoeberl explained a simple tactic that traffickers use to lure college students. The students are approached to attend a special party. They tell the student that their company is hosting a party, and they need people to fill in the space. They will pay them a couple of hundred to go. Once the student arrives at the party, they are trapped.
People are also made into labor slaves. They are promised a better life in the United States, only to find themselves in debt to those who brought them here. Once a victim is in the U.S., the trafficker uses threats and lies to keep them. Traffickers use schemes such as taking their passports, telling the victim that they have to pay for everything and are in debt to their abuser. They even resort to physical abuse. The victim feels that they don’t have any choices. Often, they don’t know they can get help.
Beth Green from First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingport, Tennessee, said she only thought of human trafficking in the sex trade. “I had no idea it also involved laborers,” she said. “Both presenters knew their topic and conveyed it in a way that helped us understand how great the impact is on these dear souls affected by human trafficking.”
Green plans to share the information from the meeting with the three pastors in her church as well as mission representatives. She hopes they will invite Hope for Justice to speak at the church.
“Our church is very mission-minded and do some wonderful things,” she said. “But I don’t think this topic has been approached in our area. It needs to be.”
Hope for Justice is one of several groups that help people escape human trafficking and then go on to work on restoring the people. Bragg explained how the church can help.
"It is my belief that intervention [should be implemented] in conditions existing before someone is a victim of human trafficking,” Bragg said.
Examples of intervention include: “Availability of health care, parenting and guidance classes, food programs for those who are struggling, housing options for those who are in need, and school employees who are trained in their awareness for those who might become victims of trafficking,” Bragg said. All of these examples provide “a better option as a way out of an already difficult situation, signs for which we should be alert in order to interrupt a trafficking situation."
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a member at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Event on Feb. 23 calls churches to fight human trafficking (The Call, 2.6.18)
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Home Deaconess Missioner based in the Three Rivers District.