Over the last handful of years, human trafficking has taken center stage on both the national and international level. The conversation is no longer restricted to human rights workers on the frontlines or grassroots activists; more and more churches, communities, and young people, are raising awareness — as well as money — in order to fight the selling and trading of life.
“Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” is a documentary that examines human enslavement and trafficking specifically through the lens of the sex industry. Produced in 2012 by Exodus Cry, a Christian nonprofit organization, the film opens with some powerful words by 19th-century author Victor Hugo: “We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.”
“Nefarious” reveals that this is indeed true, as the relationship between trafficking and prostitution is deeply intertwined: Where there is prostitution, people are being enslaved and trafficked; when women and children are trafficked, they are bound for prostitution.
According to the film, the worldwide sex slave industry is a multi-faceted, multi-layered evil with many faces and no single, root cause contributing to its proliferation. This makes tackling it on a global scale seemingly impossible. Reform efforts often seem futile; history shows that people are involved at all levels of society, both illegally as well as in all legal levels of business, law enforcement, and government. What’s more, statistics prove that education and funding often contribute little to addressing the issue or lessening its abuses and crimes. The film looks at the distinct forms the sex industry takes on in three parts of the world: Europe, Southeast Asia, and right here in the United States.
No other place in the world has a higher rate of kidnappings and international trafficking of woman than Eastern Europe. Young women with no connections and little prospects are easy targets for people running scams that offer good jobs and better lives in other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. But if they cannot be lured, they may be kidnapped. Many are raised as orphans, so their absence goes unnoticed, their disappearance of little consequence.
The problem in Asia takes on a completely different face. Motivated by poverty, many girls travel from remote villages to the biggest cities of the region in hope of finding work and providing extra income for their families. Without an education, skills, or legal paperwork, prostitution is often the only available route left.
As Westerners, it is easy for us to hear this and think, “There is always another option besides choosing to sell yourself.” For these young women who come from cultures with different familial expectations, pressures and views of honor, there truly is no other option. What’s more, in some places female children have come to be seen as an asset that can eventually be sold; a more beautiful daughter who gleans a higher price brings more honor to her family. In Asia, prostitution truly seems to have become endemic, rooted not just in one illegal sector of society, but affecting the mindset and worldview of people at a personal, familial, and national level.
Here in America, the allure of a high-rolling life filled with fast money and easy access to people in powerful positions often seems to initially draw young women into the field of prostitution. However, once enmeshed, they are no less captive than women in other parts of the world, becoming physically controlled and mentally manipulated by pimps, and abused by both their employers and customers.
This physical, emotional, and mental damage caused to women and young girls trapped in prostitution is also addressed in detail in “Nefarious.” The film is filled with interviews from psychologists and other mental health workers and researchers, as well as former prostitutes, pimps, and traffickers. The personal testimonies and studied evidence leave no room for question: Prostitution and sex slavery reduce women and children to a status lower than animals through all forms of abuse, violence, manipulation, and control. The effects are truly ravaging and lifelong. Women live in continual states of fear, under constant shame and guilt, with no sense of personal worth or purpose and, ultimately, no hope.
Hopeless is indeed how the situation appears throughout the film. But as the interviews draw to a close, both women as well as men who formerly worked as pimps and traffickers give testimonies about how nothing and no one gave them hope — until they encountered Jesus. Powerful testimonies are given of Jesus appearing to people in dreams and visions, revealing His deep, transformative, and redemptive love to them. They bear witness: Jesus is the only person who was able to give them hope; Jesus is the only power able to bring full and lasting physical, mental, and emotional restoration. Only Jesus gave them reason and desire to live again. And with Jesus, they have been able to start full and abundant lives — just as He promised is available in Him (John 10:10).
But I will be very transparent: As powerful as these testimonies were, I still felt completely overwhelmed by the make-up and magnitude of the sex slavery industry. My honest prayer at the end: “Oh God . . . how can You not send heads rolling?”
Why do I share this? Certainly not to give any sort of theological insight or display any understanding of the heart of God on this issue. We are created in the image of God, and Jesus came to fully redeem and restore humanity to full relationship with God. There is no greater human rights activist than Christ — this I know is true. God loves us all and desires we all know him. It is because he loves people that he will also judge us all, both for our actions and our belief and surrender to Jesus as the Lord of our lives — this I know is true as well. And I know and believe, along with the people who shared in “Nefarious,” that there is no greater power, love, hope, or salvation than that freely offered by Jesus Christ.
But even knowing all this — more than that, believing it in the core of my being — my overwhelming response was still, “God . . . this is too much . . . this is too dark . . . this is too evil . . . where is the hope in this? Where is the hope You hold?”
I don’t think this is necessarily bad. It is when we don’t know — it is when we don’t have the answer to something — that we are forced to wrestle with God. It is when something bothers us, when something can’t be settled, that we are forced to work it out and deal with it. It is when something won’t leave us alone that we can’t simply walk away.
Human trafficking and enslavement are worth our struggle in the secret place of prayer with God. The millions of women and girls trapped in sex slavery and prostitution are worth the time and energy it takes to face the problem, pray on their behalf, and ask God how He would have us each specifically respond. With that in mind, I highly suggest watching “Nefarious.” Yes, it is unsettling, convicting, overwhelming. But we cannot extend the compassion of Jesus if we aren’t willing to see what He sees, and we cannot share the hope that truly is found in Him if we refuse to look upon the faces of those who need it most.
For more information on “Nefarious,” current national and international response efforts, and updates on related government legislation, visit www.exoduscry.com. Exodus Cry is committed to ending sex slavery through prayer and Christ-centered prevention, intervention, and restoration.
Image copyright Exodus Cry.