Give REST: How the Church Can Engage the Fight Against Sex Trafficking
In 2008, a study commissioned and funded by the City of Seattle and researched by Dr. Debra Boyer called “Who Pays the Price? Assessment of Youth Involvement in Prostitution in Seattle” found that 300-500 underage girls are sold for sex each night in King County. This study’s findings were a catalyst for REST’s (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) founders who had backgrounds and experience serving at-risk youth, sexual abuse and a desire to start wraparound services through relationships.
REST’s commitment to sexually exploited people and consistent presence on the streets through direct outreach, the team confirmed relationships were, in fact, the key intervention. Through this unwavering commitment to building relationships, REST has built trust and credibility, and rapport, listening to the needs of the women being served rather than assuming what their actual needs are. When trust, credibility, and understanding of complex trauma is established, compassion is easier to maintain with women who go back and forth in their decision making. Finally, in relationships, REST can offer a lifeline of hope to young women being commercially exploited in the sex trade.
After assessing and addressing existing gaps in services, REST discerned that it could best serve the 1,000 young women and girls sold nightly in King County by providing direct outreach (on the street, online, and at bikini barista stands), community advocacy (where a committed case worker works with 15-20 individuals as they wrestle through the challenges of exiting the sex trade), restorative housing (which can serve up to six individuals for two years), and in 2016 they will open an Emergency Receiving Center providing crisis intervention and stabilization services including emergency shelter for up to 60 days.
There are difficulties and challenges for churches when they consider entering into this kind of work. While the motivation to assist those in need might be well-intentioned, the outcomes could harm the volunteer or client. I had the pleasure to sit down with REST’s Director of Development, Edward Sumner, and ask how the Church can help assist those who are experiencing commercial sexual exploitation in Seattle and throughout King County. He mentioned several opportunities for those in the church to engage in sex trafficking:
PRAY– It might sound cliché and very generalized, but prayers are coveted by those working at REST. With the alarming stats of those trafficked in King County nightly, which Sumner lists as close to 1000, and with the number of sex buyers in our community estimated at around 25,000, and with 50% of runaway teens are engaged within 72 hours by a trafficker, and the national average age of entry into prostitution estimated to between 12-14 years old (80-90% of which have a history of sexual abuse), there is a LOT to pray for.
Pray for those being exploited – that they might see the light and know they are loved and have value as a child of God. Sumner mentions that many victims are psychologically abused and come to the belief that commercial sexual exploitation is all they were created to be and do.
Pray for REST staff and volunteers. Pray for the safety, emotions and energy of those who have been called to serve these victims. Many nights they are entering into the dark places where victims are bought and sold.
Pray for the traffickers and solicitors. Pray that they might find the light and realize the de-valuing, de-moralizing and damaging nature of this business.
To learn more about our Community of Prayer, please email email@example.com
Financial Assistance– Operating REST’s continuum of care that provides a holistic approach to helping women escape the sex trade takes a lot of resources. Financially assisting those who are professionally trained to do this work is a huge help. REST is looking to expand their service with the Emergency Receiving Center. They want it to be located in Seattle and to be a facility that can accommodate young women the diversified different phases of their recovery. To do this, financial assistance on any level is helpful. To give a financial gift, click right here and to learn more about more opportunities to give, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteer- Some people are equipped to love and serve these victims. Sumner says, “The heart’s of God’s people are breaking for this work, because [trafficking] breaks His heart.” If you are interested in becoming a volunteer- you can attend a REST Training Day.
Advocacy and Awareness- Churches have the unique ability to advocate care for victims transitioning out of trafficking. Community and relationships are what matter most in a person’s life. There are many different nuances to helping and walking alongside someone, but congregations have an opportunity to truly transform lives through the love of Jesus Christ.
Also, alongside advocacy- awareness of what Sumner calls the “Porn Progression” and how it is feeding into trafficking is important for churches to understand. Addiction to pornography can physiologically leads someone into deeper levels of commercial sexual exploitation including venturing out to bikini barista stands, strip clubs and then on to purchasing sex. Sumner says, “Men in churches are dying on the vine, because they are shamed and are being deceived into thinking that they are alone. The Church needs men who have experienced transformation and can lead others into help out of it.” We have to allow space for grace and accountability to assist men who are struggling with addiction to porn.
Finally, we need to begin talking to our children. Sumner states that statistics estimate the average exposure to pornography is the age of 11. He believes the church has a tremendous opportunity in cultivating a generation of children who grow up are anti-porn, anti-exploitation and anti-objectification. This can be accomplished by bringing the situation to the light, and not being afraid to talk about the consequences of pornography.
Sex Trafficking can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but it is a growing problem in Seattle, King County, the United States and the world. It seems a daunting task to enter into, but we are called to action by a loving, compassionate and just God who promises, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
-Nathan A. Ryan