The realities of sex traffickers targeting young people shock and overwhelm.
Hundreds who attended Protecting Vulnerable Youth presentations at Southeast Christian Church campuses Jan. 13-15 learned that sexual exploitation is pervasive, triggers lifelong wounds and is happening in our schools, shopping centers and neighborhoods.
Jeanne Allert, founder and director of The Samaritan Women, an organization providing restorative care to survivors of domestic sex trafficking, made it clear that the church can have a critical role in providing shelter and restoration for victims. Many more can be part of prevention.
If that sounds difficult, think of protecting your own children from predators, mentoring a child, getting involved with foster children, easing burdens of single moms or putting boundaries around social media.
“Protecting children is the job of families and the church,” Allert said. “We can make a difference in these children’s lives. Children who are most vulnerable to predators live in poverty (223,000 in Kentucky), experience homelessness (24,209 in Kentucky), are not working or in school (18,000 in Kentucky), do not live with their father (328,000 in Kentucky), are in foster care (12,700 in Kentucky). Many are dealing with disrupted childhoods due to divorce or trauma.”
There are simple ways to intervene before children are in crisis.
Jay Schroder, Southeast Missions Local Partner team leader, works with mission partners in the community and has heard hard stories of exploitation and seen the statistics, but he saw hope in Allert’s presentation.
“What I heard, over and over again, was that addressing this doesn’t require knocking down doors and shooting up bad guys, but just showing up,” said Schroder, who has four children. “To serve vulnerable youth doesn’t require being Superman, Super Mom or any other perfect picture. Kids just need the regular presence of a loving adult. That could be your children, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and neighbors, their friends, and many others throughout our community.”
The last 12 years, staff and volunteers at The Samaritan Women have seen the darkest side of exploitation as they rescue and walk alongside victims of sex trafficking. They have embarked on a national initiative to make sure there are Christ-centered services available to survivors everywhere. And this year, Allert’s team began equipping churches throughout the U.S. to protect children and respond to abuse.
Radical changes in technology make children vulnerable and accessible. It’s easy to access pornography on computers, phones and tablets. In our culture, a child’s first, often accidental, introduction to pornography is around age 7 for a boy and 11 for girls. Predators are savvy surveyors of sites that target children looking for attention, love, information and relationships.
People can make a difference.
>Talk to your kids. It may be awkward, and you may have to admit that you don’t fully know their world, but they have to know they can come to you with anything. Listen well and create safe spaces. It could save a child’s life.
>Demand government action. Though change may seem elusive, three moms took down Backpage, an Internet site that connected perpetrators with victims.
>Volunteer to mentor youth in single-parent homes, in foster care, in schools and at church. Hope Collaborative is active in public schools and matches volunteers with students.
>Protest against obscenity on television, retail outlets and the Internet.
>Confront retailers who offer products and services that are offensive.
>Speak with your wallet: Boycott retailers who contribute to exploitation.
>Make your values known to elected officials. If we say nothing, guess who will prevail?
>Volunteer at one of the 12 ministries supported by Southeast that deal with at-risk youth, troubled families, impoverished neighborhoods or exploited persons.
For help finding a place to get involved in the life of a vulnerable youth in the community, visit secc.org/missions and click on “mission partners” to find trusted organizations that need volunteers.
To learn more about exploitation, visit www.thesamaritanwomen.org.