Slaves in our state: Human trafficking in Oklahoma
Editor’s Note: 18 months ago, Kelly King, BGCO women’s missions and ministries specialist, was invited to attend an informational meeting coordinated by the FBI and Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans (O.A.T.H.) As she was exposed to the horrors of trafficking in our world, she was greatly struck by the issue in regards to Oklahoma. Knowing Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) had selected Human Trafficking and Exploitation as its critical issue for the next few years, it became quickly apparent that one of the first steps was education and awareness. A statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, comprised of 12 key women leaders from across the state, was formed.
The purpose of the BGCO Human Trafficking Task Force is to educate, equip and mobilize churches to confront the problem of human trafficking and exploitation. Its desire is to deliver hope and solutions to those affected by it. For the next four weeks, the Baptist Messenger will publish stories written by members of the task force about the issue in our state and ways churches are bringing hope to those affected.
by Sally Kern
Nobody likes being caught in traffic. It can really ruin your day.
Imagine what being caught in human trafficking would do, not just to your day, but your entire life.
Now imagine that you’re only 12-14 years old. That’s the average age of sexual exploitation of children in the United States. You probably didn’t realize that. And if I were a betting person, you probably don’t know what human trafficking is or that it is a major problem—not just in the United States, but here in the Bible belt—in our own conservative state.
So what is Human Trafficking? According to Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans (OATH), it “is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
One of the most horrendous aspects of trafficking is Sex Trafficking which is the above, but “for the purpose of a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts is under 18 years of age.” Shared Hope International (an organization that leads in combating the issues) estimates 300,000 children become victims of the commercial sex industry every year.
To put it bluntly, victims of human trafficking are people forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Keep in mind the words forced or coerced. This is not what they want for their lives.
In the United States, labor trafficking involves foreign nationals forced into domestic service and farming, large scale operations like sweatshops, construction, landscaping, restaurants and hotels and major multinational corporations. Labor trafficking accounts for about 30 percent of all human trafficking. But sex trafficking is the real monster, because it is the hideous engine that drives all human trafficking.
And why is it that sex trafficking makes up the other 70 percent of human trafficking? In a word, money. Human sex trafficking is the most profitable business dealing with the illegal trade in people, and involves all forms of sexual exploitation including prostitution, pornography, stripping, escort, bride trafficking and the commercial sexual abuse of children. The almighty god of money means more to some than the people God created in His image. I hope this thought makes your blood boil.
But what are you doing about this grotesquely deviant, dehumanizing behavior?
Why is human trafficking taking place within our state? Because we are the crossroads of two major Interstate systems: I-40 and I-35. From the south, human trafficking comes out of Mexico into Houston, Texas, which is one of the main U.S. port cities for human trafficking. In 2010, it was listed as the number one city for child sex trafficking. Human trafficking heads straight north, where victims can easily be transported to all points North, East and West. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is geographically located to be a hub for human trafficking. And most Oklahomans are totally oblivious to this tragic evil happening almost before our very eyes.
So is human trafficking really happening here? Without a doubt.
In 2004, a sting operation called “Stormy Nights” was conducted by the FBI at Oklahoma truck stops, where 23 underage girls were rescued from forced prostitution. One of them was just 13. Oklahoma City has a human trafficking task force that in 2010 reported more than 100 child sex trafficking cases opened in its first year of operation. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit and the Oklahoma City Police Predator Unit, along with the FBI’s Innocent Images and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crime Center have multiple cases in almost every county across the state. Only the most severe cases are handled, because these agencies are understaffed and can’t investigate all the probable cases. In 2003, Oklahoma was listed by the U.S. State Department along with Texas, New York and California, as having the largest number of trafficking survivors receiving federal assistance in our nation.
So human trafficking isn’t something new in Oklahoma. Yet, too few Oklahomans seem to know or even care about this insidious evil that dwells among us. Anything as vile as human trafficking that is destroying the innocence of our children and, surely, causing them to wonder if there is a God who loves and cares about them, should stir up righteous anger within us.
Every 30 seconds, a child is reported missing in America according to The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. Many of these children are forced into human sex trafficking. Their lives become a living hell from which few escape. It’s not a pretty picture and if you ever really explore the horrors of human trafficking, it will literally make you sick. Space does not permit me to delve into all the horrid and shocking details that human sex trafficking involves.
Jesus said, “Suffer the children to come unto Me.” By that, I think He meant “allow” them to come unto me. We don’t allow children to come to Jesus only by going to church, sitting in our pews and Sunday School classes and talking about sharing the Lord with them. We all know talk is cheap. What about those who are enslaved in human trafficking who desperately need someone to take up the burden of rescuing them? To allow children to come to Jesus, we have to remove the obstacles that hinder their coming. Are you willing, by God’s grace, to help remove the barriers? Let’s make this personal. Imagine your child or grandchild being forced to “service” from 20-30 men a day with no hope of anything different day after day after day. I’ve heard it said that to be silent about evil is the same as agreeing with it.
God have mercy upon us for ignoring this scourge in our state and nation.
Next week: A Human Trafficking victim shares her personal story and freedom found through Christ.
Sally Kern is a member of Oklahoma City, Olivet and Oklahoma State Representative, District 84