Shining a Light on Human Trafficking

April 25, 2019 - Faith Community Bible Church

By Phil Haslanger

Just as the work of sex trafficking operates in the shadows, so too does much of the work of church communities to counter it. As 16 people gathered on April 25 at Faith Community Bible Church in downtown Madison, they shared stories and pushed back the shadows a bit.

This was a gathering of the human trafficking affinity group of the Collaboration Project, a chance for people from a variety of churches - about 10 of them - to connect and support one another in their efforts to help those caught in the sex-trafficking web and focus on public efforts to untangle that web.

Jon Anderson, executive director of the Collaboration Project, reminded the group that while their efforts are important, “God cares about these traffic victims - and perpetrators - more than any of us do.”

But what people and their congregations are doing is making a difference.

Paula Doty from Faith Community Bible Church described the work of Every Daughter, a Madison church-based effort “to contact and offer assistance to women who are sexually exploited & trafficked” here.  

This involves a wider network of people from a dozen churches who pledge to pray as individuals and as a group for those being trafficked. There is a smaller group that calls women who are being advertised for sex to see if they would like help in escaping that life. They offer emergency respite care, Doty explained, as well as personal support.

They also work with Project Respect, a local organization that defines its work as “a women’s center that provides advocacy, case management, counseling, crisis intervention, transitional housing and peer support group services for women with prostitution histories that have changed or want to change their lives.” When Project Respect is working with a woman who has a faith background, they will connect her to Every Daughter for support.

One Every Daughter volunteer described her connections with a women who had been trafficked. When she first called the woman at the number in her ad, the woman said that she needed help. The volunteer was able to walk with the woman on her way out of that lifestyle. She said the woman is now 100 days sober after doing through detox as an inpatient.

The volunteer, reflecting on her own status, said, “I thought I would never be able to relate to these women but God has given me favor with lots of these women.”

While Every Daughter focuses on the women, another group known  as The Epik Project is focusing on men. Abbie from Blackhawk Church and Emma from Damascus Church are organizing people in the Madison area in this effort to run what they call cyberpatrols. They run “fake ads” for prostitution, then talk to the men who call about the realities of human trafficking in an effort to depress the demand.

There was talk about other efforts around the state and then a description about the hope for creating a Zeteo Community here, a faith-based residential community for trafficked women and their children.

Jon Anderson told the group that he hoped that they would go back to their home congregations, share some of these stories and says “let’s get in the game.”  He envisions the Collaboration Project continuing to organize through the summer, then reconvening the affinity groups in the fall.

There are at least two other faith-based efforts focused on human trafficking in our area:

The SlaveFree Madison Faith Response Committee and the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, which has made addressing the crisis of human trafficking one of its priorities.  A related effort is the Backyard Mosaic Women’s Project, led by Rev. Julia Weaver, that works with formerly incarcerated women, many of whom had been trafficked.

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