Traffickers and pimps exploit a victim’s lack of community, self-esteem, economic means, and healthy relationships and use force, fraud, and/or coercion to profit from the exploitation of others. People who are already vulnerable or marginalized in some way—whether because they are Indigenous women living with the effects of intergenerational trauma, asylum seekers in a foreign country without a way to support themselves, homeless youth, or dealing with a myriad of other challenges—are targeted for this exploitation. The sad fact is that Indigenous women in Canada account for about half of the victims of human trafficking in Canada, although the Indigenous population makes up just 4 percent of the population. Trafficking is one of many complex factors that contribute to the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"People who are already vulnerable or marginalized in some way are targeted for this exploitation."
Human trafficking and prostitution are closely interconnected. In fact, it’s often easy to confuse a trafficked victim with a prostituted person – they’re often working in the same areas in the same ways, but the trafficking victim has a pimp or trafficker, and prostituted individuals do not. Prostituted individuals are often exploited in the sex trade as a result of their circumstances including poverty, additions, history of abuse, etc.
We’re partnering with the Reformed Church America’s Hope to Freedom to address human trafficking and prostitution—these issues are deeply interconnected and can together be called “commercial sexual exploitation.”
Hope to Freedom summarizes the sex trade with the three C’s: coercion, circumstance, and "choice." Both sex trafficking and prostitution involve the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, whether through coercion or unfortunate circumstances. There are people who argue that they choose to work in the sex trade (this diagram calls that category “sex work”), but they are the minority in the scope of the sex trade. Whether or not some people truly choose to do sex work is a hotly contested question, because there are many external pressures that can lead someone to "choose" this work.
As Cherry Smiley of the Native Women's Association of Canada, writes, "Prostitution is an industry that relies on disparities in power to exist. We can see clearly that women, and especially Aboriginal women and girls, are funnelled into prostitution as a result of systemic inequalities such as their lack of access to housing, loss of land, culture, and languages, poverty, high rates of male violence, involvement with the foster care system, suicide, criminalization, addiction, and disability."
Throughout the pages of the Bible, we see stories of God giving a voice and a place in the story of redemption to women who were marginalized. Some of these marginalized and exploited women even became the ancestors of Jesus: Tamar, who resorted to prostitution for survival; Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho who became a believer in God; and Bathsheba, whose husband was murdered by King David so that he could have her for himself (see Matt. 1). Jesus himself was often criticized for associating with prostitutes.
There are also deeply troubling stories in the Bible about the exploitation of women, such as that of the Levite’s concubine (or sexual slave) in Judges 19. The Bible does not shy away from depicting the deep brokenness of humanity with regard to sexuality and the protection of vulnerable people. Sex trafficking and coerced prostitution distort and exploit the God-given gift of sexuality.
God cares deeply about marginalized people and expects his people to do the same—in fact, he says, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness” (Isa. 58:10).