When the term “sex trafficking” is used, many immediately think of a person being transported across national borders. Sex trafficking does include this scenario, but the term is also more broadly used to describe the process for initiating commercial sex acts: prostitution, pornography, and sexual performance done in exchange for any item of value, such as money, drugs, shelter, food or clothes. The term applies when minors are included or when force, fraud, or coercion is used to bring about a commercial sex act with an adult.
When most of us become aware of a heartrending atrocity, our minds go into protection mode, and we surmise that it’s happening elsewhere – not where we live and breathe.
The reality is striking. Not only is it happening in the U.S., it’s happening in your state and, more than likely, in your local area. It’s everywhere.
For instance, our local sheriff’s office conducted a sting operation by creating ads using innocent photos of 15-year-old girls. Within an hour of the ads being posted, over 70 men had responded. Grown men were arrested in parking lots all over our small all-American city trying to meet these “fictitious girls.”
“Modern-day slavery is the fastest-growing organized crime in the world,” said Steve Tybor president of Eight Days of Hope (EDOH). The nonprofit takes large teams of volunteers into storm-ravaged areas in the name of Christ to rebuild homes and hope in the hearts of those devastated by circumstances beyond their control.
Currently, only 600 beds exist in the U.S. for trafficking victims to recover from the trauma of commercial sexual exploitation – a severe shortage. Because of this lack of space, as well as training on what to look for, most victims go unidentified or misidentified. Victims are silenced by fear and control of the trafficker or treated for surface concerns that should be alerting responsible parties to the real issue.
EDOH has created a new arm of ministry, partnering with ministries that rescue and restore victims of human trafficking. You may be asking how a disaster relief organization can possibly help on this front.
“By using the skills God has given us, we offer construction expertise from start to finish to help build and renovate homes where survivors can be safe and free to start a new life,” said Tybor. “At EDOH, we want to do our part to help set people free.”
“The goal originally was to complete a project once a quarter, but we have seen the church rally behind this new ministry,” Tybor continued. “And we expect that sometime in 2020, we will be partnering with a ministry every month in America! The goal is simple – build or renovate a home every month until the need for safe houses is met.”
Several years ago, Tybor and his wife adopted two girls from Taiwan to keep them from “aging out” of the orphanage and then being groomed by traffickers. But, to some degree, they were still blind concerning the prevalence of trafficking at home, in the U.S.
One day a woman by the name of Julie Palmer, Executive Director of People Against Trafficking Humans (PATH), boldly approached Tybor about the potential for the EDOH volunteer base to help trafficked victims.
“And that’s how God connected the dots,” Tybor explained. “She educated me, and we spent time with her.”
Tybor’s blinders were removed. And he decided to do something with the platform God had given him.
“We are going to continue to do natural disasters,” Tybor announced at a community event titled “A Day of Awareness: Sex Trafficking and the Church” near Tupelo, Mississippi. “We’re not changing who we help and what we do, but we are adding to the plate. We have 150 volunteer leaders who are passionate about taking their blinders off and making a difference.”
The first ministry to partner with EDOH on a building project for trafficked victims will be in Houston, Texas; followed by Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Buffalo, New York.
Closer to home, near the national headquarters of AFA and EDOH, Grace and Mercy Ministries is partnering with EDOH to exponentially grow its existing ministry, Transformation Garden, next year. Plans are being drawn up for a 20-bed safe home where a two-year program will be offered to help trafficking victims heal.
The home will offer Christ-centered counseling, Bible study, equine therapy, creative arts, life skills, mentoring, and tutoring. It will be accomplished through the combined God-given passions, gifts, and skills of committed and trained volunteers from local churches throughout the community.
“The need is huge, and now we, the church, need to respond,” said Tybor. “If a church says, ‘We want to be on the front lines, we’re ready to take off our blinders,’ we can support that church in its efforts. Any ministry in the country that needs assistance building or rebuilding a facility, updating their kitchen, adding something, or building brand new, we will provide 35 skilled professionals for 14 days at no charge.”
Applications for safe house ministries are available here.