Saturday, June 30, 2007


Wow. I came across a powerful documentary on sex trafficking yesterday. From what I can tell, it has been called by two different titles, “Sex Slaves” and “The Real Sex Traffic.” It is about 49 minutes long, and if you are interested in this topic, I would recommend this film.

Of course, the subject matter is intense, and there is some profanity, but I felt that the film was valuable and educational. Writer/Director Ric Esther Bienstock and a small crew gained access to the lives of several former trafficking victims from the former Soviet bloc.

More surprising, they also interviewed a trafficker named Vlad about his trafficking a woman named Katia. Vlad knew Katia and her husband, Viorel, and he offered to go with Katia on a trip to Turkey to buy supplies for her mother's store. He said he was going there anyway and could help Katia find her way. Katia and Viorel trusted him. Then Viorel got a call from Vlad, who told him matter-of-factly, “I sold your wife.”

The documentary follows Viorel from Ukraine to Turkey as he desperately tries to locate and buy Katia back from the pimp who purchased her.

The documentary does a fantastic job of helping us see the devastation of the victims and their families, and Bienstock also includes some great director’s notes on the official Web site (see the link above).

I saw the documentary online at Google videos. I assume it is legal; I hope I’m not sending you to a site that has posted the video in violation of copyright law.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

6 a.m. here—5 p.m. there

At 6 a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States, it is 5 p.m. in Bangkok, Thailand. And for about 35,000 girls in Thailand who are in debt bondage,* another night’s horror is about to begin.

As we are dressing and getting ready for our workday, these girls are dressing and putting on makeup for tonight’s work, which will consist of being assaulted and abused by about 14 men, on average.

For some, this will be their first day, and they will resist. But they will be beaten, raped (probably repeatedly) and threatened. After a few days or weeks, their resistance will fade away, replaced by a numb shock or sullen resignation.

The younger ones will be the most traumatized; they understand so little of what is happening to them. Most will acquire several sexually transmitted diseases. Many will receive contraceptives with no letup so they can work more nights each month. If any manage to escape, they likely will be found by the police, abused for awhile and then sent back to the brothel, which pays the police regularly in order to stay in business. Aside from the physical damage, the psychological damage to the girls is incalculable.

Will you stop right now and pray for these young girls? Will you consider them your sisters, suffering in ways you and I can’t imagine, vaguely hoping that someday their nightmare will end? Pray that God will rescue them. Pray that He will do this through people or through His own mighty hand. Pray that He will do it through you and me.

“He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. … he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:4, 12-14, NIV).

Source: Disposable People, by Kevin Bales

*Debt bondage is when someone has incurred a debt—usually through the fraudulent actions of human traffickers—and now is working as a slave in a futile effort to pay that debt. The slave holders, of course, have no reason to see the debt paid, so they will continue to concoct ridiculous new charges to add to the slave’s bill.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Camels and Needles

I’m still working my way through Kevin Bales’ book “Disposable People.” I’d like to tear through it and digest it all at once, but in addition to a work schedule that has been insane lately, I find that the book too disturbing to take in large sections at a sitting.

Chapter two deals with sex slavery in Thailand, and much of Bales’ description sounds similar to the description of Cambodia an acquaintance recently gave me (see June 8).

Here are some of the points from Bales’ book:

“Within the type of Buddhism followed in Thailand, women are regarded as distinctly inferior to men. A woman cannot, for example, attain enlightenment. … Buddha warns his disciples about the danger of women: they are impure, carnal, and corrupting. Within these Buddhist writings prostitution is sanctioned …”

When a society has this view of women, it is little wonder that forced prostitution flourishes.

“Thai Buddhism also carries a central message of acceptance and resignation in the face of life’s pain and suffering. The terrible things that happen to a person are, after all, of an individual’s own making, recompense for the sins of this life or previous lives.”

So if a girl is sold into slavery and raped day after day, everyone—the slaveholders, the customers, even the girl—pretty much believe that she just needs to put up with it. She deserves it.

“Several recent studies show that between 80 and 87 percent of Thai men have had sex with a prostitute. Up to 90 percent report that their first sexual experience was with a prostitute. … Most Thais, men and women, feel that commercial sex is an acceptable part of an ordinary outing for single men, and about two-thirds of men and one-third of women feel the same about married men.”

So how can we ever hope to stop people from exploiting women if pretty much everyone thinks this industry is OK, or at least tolerable?

“In Europe and North America the police fight organized crime; in Thailand the police are organized crime.”

Feeling hopeless yet?

Humanly, there is little chance that a culture so twisted could ever be straightened out. But Jesus pointed out that what is impossible for humans is possible for God—like a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:23-26). And Eric Metaxas’ book “Amazing Grace” shows vividly how William Wilberforce and his fellow Claphamites not only changed laws about slavery but also brought about fundamental changes in the way people viewed life and society. It can be done—but only God can bring it about.

By the way, the fact that only God can do it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We’re supposed to do His will here on earth.

Finally, I don’t think we should leave this post feeling like Western culture is superior to Thai culture. That is a topic for a different post …

Saturday, June 23, 2007

No longer dormant

I came across this in a book recently:

“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant” —Menno Simons, 1539

It clothes the naked.
It feeds the hungry.
It comforts the sorrowful.
It shelters the destitute.
It serves those that harm it.
It binds up that which is wounded ...

—from “Pilgrim Heart,” by Darryl Tippens, 2006 Leafwood Publishers, p. 63.

I feel like I have been dormant too long--lots of good intentions with little action. Trying to obey God and get moving at last.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Hero

Sorry I haven't posted for a few days; things have been really busy at work. On June 12, the U.S. Department of State release the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report. I haven't read it carefully yet, but one section has short, inspiring descriptions of heroes acting to end modern-day slavery. Here is one such person:

Kailash Satyarthi, Activist: Global March Against Child Labor, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), Rugmark, India
A global leader in the fight against child labor, trafficking and forced labor, Kailash Satyarthi has liberated more than 75,000 bonded and child laborers since 1980.

Mr. Satyarthi has worked relentlessly to free bonded children, to rehabilitate them with vocational training and education and tilted the force of public opinion against child labor. His organizations provide direct legal assistance and advocacy for victims. His efforts have taken many different forms, some of them on massive international scale. For example, in 1998 he organized the Global March Against Child Labor, across 103 countries with the participation of 7.2 million people, and more than 10,000 civil society organizations. It was the largest peoples' campaign on child labor that led to the ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

Mr. Satyarthi is combating the use of child labor by creating domestic and international consumer resistance to products made by children in bonded labor. He started Rugmark, a program in which rugs are labeled and certified to be child-labor-free by factories that agree to be regularly inspected.

Recently, Mr. Satyarthi lead the South Asian March Against Child Trafficking, a month-long physical march across the Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh border to raise awareness on trafficking of children for forced labor, and to demand a South Asian regional protocol to combat trafficking for forced labor.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I’ve begun to read Kevin Bales’ book “Disposable People.” Bales, director of Free the Slaves, is a sociology professor who has thoroughly researched modern-day slavery. When people use the statistic that there are 27 million slaves in the world today, they are using Bales’ figure, one that he says is conservative but that he feels he can trust.

The term “disposable” brings out an aspect of modern slavery that I haven’t seen emphasized in the other literature I’ve read. Bales says that one difference between “old slavery,” the kind practiced in the United States before 1865, and the “new slavery” of today is that slaves used to be a major investment. And although they were often treated horribly, they were still seen as an investment to be protected.

“Slaves of the past were worth stealing and worth chasing down if they escaped,” Bales writes. Today, on the other hand, “There is no reason to invest heavily in their upkeep and indeed little reason to ensure that they survive their enslavement. … And there is no reason to protect slaves from disease or injury—medicine costs money, and it’s cheaper to let them die.”

So it seems that our world has sunk even lower than the world that supported a “legal” slave trade for so many years. Today slavery is illegal everywhere, but more people are enslaved than during the entire African slave trade of the past, and today’s slaves face even more perilous conditions. They are simply tools to be used up and ground under the feet of money-hungry monsters. When a slave is dead or no longer worth keeping, there are plenty of replacements out there.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Mercy, Lord

Today I asked an acquaintance from Cambodia if she and her husband see much human trafficking there. I expected her to say yes, but I wasn’t prepared for the details she provided.

She said that Cambodia has “a culture of prostitution.” Wives are expected to produce children, but for “fun sex” men go to brothels. In fact, if a wife knows “fun sex,” she is thought to be bad. Men often take their sons to a brothel for their first sexual experience. College-aged guys get together to see a violent porn movie and then act out what they’ve seen. If no brothel is handy, they might go and find someone to gang-rape as a male bonding kind of thing. My acquaintance said that even some pastors who have not had much biblical training think that prostitution is OK. That’s how accepted it is. Then there are the foreigners—from Thailand, Korea, Australia and the United States—who come looking for cheap sex, often with young girls.

Can you imagine what Cambodian girls are up against in a culture like that? Huge numbers of girls, often the poorest of the poor, are forced into prostitution within the country or are trafficked across borders to be sex slaves in other countries.

Lord, have mercy, and help us to rescue them.

The victimizers themselves are also destroyed. My acquaintance told me of a high-ranking police officer from California who came to Cambodia for a sex vacation but was caught and arrested. He committed suicide in jail. As much as traffickers and brothel owners try to convince men that this kind of lifestyle is normal and acceptable, the guilt and shame remain, and deep down, people recognize the lie. But some recognize it too late.

Lord, have mercy, and help us to rescue them.

Our culture is not much better, I think. Our laws may protect the vast majority from such horrendous acts, but people’s hearts are just as dark. We’re all sinners. Lord, have mercy. Come and rescue us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A bit disappointed

I watched the Not For Sale documentary last night, and I'd say it is OK. I was a bit disappointed, though, by a couple of things.

First, while the excellent book of the same title by David Batstone covers several organizations that are fighting against slavery, and the documentary covers the same organizations, in some cases the documentary hardly mentions slavery. If you were to watch the video without reading the book, you could get the idea some of the organizations help poor people but not necessarily people who have been enslaved. Obviously it is great if they are helping poor-but-free people, but when the documentary is all about fighting slavery, I would think that the people making the documentary would establish that point more clearly.

Second, the documentary is set up as eight separate segments, each focusing on a different organization and most being interviews with the heads of those organizations. But sometimes the people ramble a bit, and tighter editing might have helped. What would have helped most, though, would have been for a narrator to carry us through the documentary instead of just having eight talking heads take a section each. I'm a journalist, and I think that one mark of an amateurish article is when the writer simply strings together a bunch of quotes separated only by attributions. As I watched this video, I felt like I do when I read one of those articles.

But the information is good and helpful, and when we hold the first meeting of the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County, I think I could show one or two segments without losing people's attention. Other organizations also have videos, however, and I may see about using one of those in addition to, or in place of, this one.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Help former slaves

The Emancipation Network (TEN) sells clothing and other items made by former slaves living in Nepal, India, Cambodia and other countries. That brings income to the former slaves and helps them to move toward self-sufficiency and a new life. It’s cool that TEN sells many of the items at house parties, which allows them to educate people about the problem.

I received my copy of the “Not For Sale” documentary today, and I can’t wait to watch it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

What about my chocolate???

When William Wilberforce was working to abolish the African slave trade, he had to deal with the insatiable appetite of the British people for sugar, which came from plantations in the West Indies that used slaves to grow and harvest sugar cane. Abolishing the slave trade could threaten the sugar supply!

Today there is widespread agreement that child slaves are being used in the cocoa industry (though no one seems to know how many). Could our fight against modern slavery threaten our chocolate supply?

Stop Chocolate Slavery provides background info on the issue (although much of it seems a bit dated, coming from 2001-2002) and provides a listing of chocolate brands that appear most likely to be slave-free.

In response to the reports about slave labor in the cocoa industry, the International Cocoa Initiative was formed, including industry members and others. The ICI has a fairly extensive site that admits the problem, tells how the initiative came to be and describes what steps are being taken.

Global March Against Child Labour is one of the organizations taking part in the ICI, but I didn’t see any good info on their site specifically about cocoa.

Free the Slaves is also listed as participating in the ICI, but once again I didn’t find a lot of current info at their site. I have written to them, asking if they can assess the progress up to now and the prospects for assuring that slavery will no longer be a part of cocoa production.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has been working to end child and adult slavery for years, and his Web site also has some recent updates about the cocoa issue (written by his staff, of course, but one could check Senate records to verify his statements).

As far as I can tell, progress is being made, but not as much progress as one would like. It sounds as if child slavery still exists in the cocoa industry.

And I’m disappointed to see the paltry budget the ICI has to work with. Its site says,

The ICI is capitalised through its board members contribution. The annual budget is provided by industry members of the board made in the form of a grant against an approved budget.

In 2004 the total budget available to the foundation was Swiss Francs 1,523,055 (about 1,228,350 US Dollars). This was the first full operating year of the foundation.

So the information is now rather old, but think about this: the 2004 budget was about $1.2 million, provided by the ICI board members:

Mars Incorporated
Hershey Foods
Cadbury Schweppes
Kraft Foods

OK, stop right there. Those are six of the ICI’s 14 board members (other members include the European Cocoa Association; the International Confectionery Association; the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations; the International Trade Union Confederation; the US National Consumers League; Free the Slaves; and Global March).

But let’s look at those first six board members:

Mars Incorporated: The Mars Web site claims that Mars is an $18 billion-dollar company.

Hershey Foods: 2003 annual income was $457,584,000 (from their 2003 annual report, page 74).

Cadbury Schweppes: Their 2006 annual report, page 28, claims 2005 net profits of 700 million pounds (I don’t know what the exchange rate was back then, but today this would be U.S. $1.38 billion).

Nestlé: Their 2006 annual report, page 94, lists profits in 2005 of 4,438,000,000 Swiss Francs, which today equals U.S. $3.6 billion.

Kraft Foods: Their 2006 annual report, page 95, lists net earnings of $2.63 billion (they break it down by quarters).

Ferrero: I couldn’t find any financial info on their Web site, but their homepage says, “With global sales growing in country after country, Ferrero is today one of the largest confectionery companies in the world.”

The point is that it seems like these really, really huge companies could together pony up a bit more than $1.2 million (in 2004) to make sure that their products are not being produced by slaves.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I Just Showed Up

Sara Groves has a song that says “And I just showed up for my own life, And I'm standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright.”

That’s kind of how I feel about all this. Again, I don’t feel as if I’ve wasted my life up to now, but I feel like I am moving into a new phase of life. And even though I have no idea what’s in store, I’m excited to see where God will lead.

In the meantime, I’m still praying, reading and corresponding. I’ve had some encouraging e-mail exchanges with people who are fighting human trafficking, and I’m continuing to read through lengthy reports that various NGOs and government agencies have posted online. Currently I’m in the middle of the Transitional Housing Toolkit for Anti-Trafficking Service Providers. I think the information could be crucial if we start some kind of shelter for survivors of trafficking.

I’m overwhelmed by the amount of helpful information at

And I am aiming to hold the first meeting of the Clapham Circle of Lancaster County in August or September. Between now and then, I’ll try to meet and correspond with key people in this area to explain the issue to them and see if they will agree to attend that meeting. I’m thinking that we’ll probably watch a film such as the “Not For Sale” documentary, which I’ve ordered.