Restoring Victims of Sexual Trafficking
By: Molly Wyer|Published: December 11, 2009 4:48 PM
Topics: Human Rights & Persecution
They sell necklaces with a story. But the story this jewelry tells isn’t about blood diamonds; it represents freedom from a far more subtle, but equally destructive, practice.
It’s a practice that entraps women and children in a hell from which they can’t get away. Kelly Besedick and Ginnie Wagner started Wonderfully Made Jewelry about four years ago to address one of the great injustices—heinous crimes, in fact—of this era: the sex trade.
According to UNICEF, “More than one million children...are trafficked, sold, or forced into prostitution or pornography each year.” The U.S. State Department presents a more modest estimate, extrapolating from their data that between 600,000 and 800,000 persons (men, women, and children) are trafficked every year. This number includes, but is not limited to, sexual trafficking. At the same time, this estimate considers only those individuals who are being trafficked across national boundaries, leaving unaddressed the question of how many people are trafficked within nations.
And trafficking within nations is a huge problem as well. This includes America. The Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking (IAST) reports: “With low risk and high profit potential, human trafficking may well become the new crime of choice. Police arrest records show that young women can be sold to brothel owners in North America for as much as US$16,000 each.”
But while such sexual exploitation is illegal in the U.S. and many other nations, some like Thailand have the added complication of corrupt officials. According to a 2008 human rights report provided by the U.S. State Department, “Local officials with commercial interests in prostitution often protected the practice. Trafficking in women and children for prostitution was a serious problem...NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes.”
This business is indeed as lucrative as it is revolting. The International Labor Organization estimates that 14 to 16 percent of Thailand’s GDP is made up of the child sex trade alone. It is hardly surprising then that sexual trafficking has not been more effectively discouraged.
But numerous organizations are fighting to spread the word about this diabolical form of slavery, such as IAST (a branch of the Salvation Army that works to raise awareness on sex trafficking). Other groups, such as the Polaris Project, both spread the word and actively reach out to sex trade victims. Many Christian organizations are involved in rescuing and rehabilitating victims.
NightLight is a ministry involved in both Thailand and the United States. Its goal is to work on the intervention and the healing level, as well as to assist victims in getting back on their feet economically after they escape from trafficking.
The effects of sexual trafficking are severe. One study has compared the damage inflicted through this form of exploitation as equivalent to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). IAST relates: “The severity of PTSD symptoms of participants in this study were in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans, battered women seeking shelter, rape survivors, and refugees from state-organized torture.”
Kelly (a co-founder of Wonderfully Made) remembers hearing about sexual trafficking while working on the Hill for Senator Brownback. A member of International Justice Mission came and spoke about this issue. Kelly notes, “All those stories just stuck in my head and I couldn’t quit thinking about it for months.”
Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle began to click into place. Kelly already had her own jewelry business, and, she says, “there was this moment where I realized that all the materials we were using [for the jewelry] were coming from the countries...where these girls were being trafficked.” In 2004, Kelly met Ginnie, who felt God calling her to a ministry that was also a real business.
One doesn’t have to talk to Kelly and Ginnie long to see their heart for spreading the Gospel in practical ways, and the burden God has placed on their hearts for the women who are hurting in the sex trade.
Ginnie recalls the first time she and Kelly visited Thailand and India when considering partners for their business. She remembers walking through the red light districts. “What really struck me and (I think) really tugged at my heart a lot was when I got to talk with some of them and see that...these girls are the age of the high school girls I got to work with through Young Life and their lives were so vastly different. I mean, if they were pregnant and they were fourteen, most of the time it wasn’t because of their choice.”
“It’s just so horrific when you put a face and a name and talk to somebody—I mean, we can’t not do something about it.”
So Ginnie and Kelly started Wonderfully Made to partner with rescue organizations and help provide sustainable jobs for former victims. Wonderfully Made currently partners with a center in Thailand that rescues women from the karaokes (a sort of bar/nightclub where girls are available to patrons for a fee) and offers them skills training, counseling, spiritual development, and English classes. Among the employment opportunities the center offers is the chance to create jewelry. This is where Wonderfully Made comes in.
Kelly, as the jewelry designer, has spent a great deal of time over in Thailand training some of the women in jewelry making. The women make the jewelry that Kelly has designed and Wonderfully Made then purchases it and markets it. Therein lies a challenge. “As Americans we’re used to getting everything for really cheap,” Kelly explains. “But a lot of the reasons we’re able to get things for really cheap is because of exploitable labor practices overseas.”
Wonderfully Made is committed to maintaining integrity in business practices. As a result, the jewelry pieces can be a bit pricy. However, the money is going towards rehabilitating women who have been devalued and mistreated—surely that’s a worthier cause to spend money on than a necklace at the local department store.
But the vision of Wonderfully Made is to help women create a commodity that fulfills a market demand. This is why Kelly works closely to ensure that the designs for the jewelry are in keeping with Western fashion trends. Kelly observes, “I think that does restore dignity a lot...[for the women to] know that somebody isn’t just paying for them out of pity, but that it’s quality work.”
How exactly does providing jobs for victims of sexual trafficking spread the Gospel? Ginnie says, “When you meet people’s needs and you earn the right to be heard with them, [then] it makes it really easy to talk about why you do this and how much Jesus loves you and loves them.” Showing Christ’s love can be as tangible as helping women reintegrate economically into society after the stigma of prostitution.
Eventually the women employed at the Thai center are able to move on to other jobs. Ideally, Ginnie and Kelly see their ministry performing a similar enabling function on a grander scale.
So what can you do to stop sexual trafficking? Kelly requests that people pray. “Really pray....It’s a really evil spiritual battle...Ask God for guidance on how He would want [you] to be involved.”
Ginnie adds, “The only way you can really fix it is by people knowing Jesus. It’s changed hearts...that will change actions. There’s not a silver bullet besides that.”
In addition, awareness about the issue is crucial. IAST provides a vast number of links on its website providing everything from informational articles to government testimony to websites of organizations that are involved in every step of the rescue and rehabilitation of sexually trafficked people.
If you feel God is calling you to give, there are numerous financial needs. The great thing about Wonderfully Made is that you can buy a piece of jewelry for yourself or a friend while supporting the restoration of victims of the sex trade. Even better, that pair of earrings or that bracelet can become a conversation piece, providing the opportunity to make more people aware of the victims of sexual trafficking. What better way, at this Christmas season, to show our love for the Master than by speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves?
Our love for God is shown through our actions. Ginnie and Kelly provide us with a perfect example of what it looks like to put our Christian beliefs to work. To begin making a difference like that, we have to be aware of what’s going on in the world beyond our doorstep. We may even have to read, see, or hear some uncomfortable or disturbing aspects of this fallen world.
But beyond mere awareness, we must also truly care about the issue we choose to pursue. This means sympathizing with the sufferings of others, and being willing to make sacrifices in our own lives so that we can really reach those we’ve set out to help. And once our eyes have been opened and our hearts moved, we have to listen to God’s call on our lives. Every Christian’s life work will not be to stop the sex trade. Some are called to fight abortion, others to defend marriage and the family, and still others to minister to those in prison. But God has gifted each of us uniquely. Our job is to find out that gifting, and not let that talent go to waste.
In Zechariah 9, God tells His people: “As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit....The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” While not all victims of the sex trade are literally imprisoned, many are drawn into to the practices which enslave and dehumanize them by poverty or ignorance, and often remain there through fear. Yet God can save them from this slavery and make them a testament to His goodness—like bright jewels in His crown.
Molly Wyer is a senior at Patrick Henry College.
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