The parents and other relatives of a 13-year-old girl lured into human trafficking would not need much prodding to learn about what is referred to as modern-day slavery. They would do everything possible to rescue their loved one.
Naively, most Americans assume human trafficking is not a problem — or at least not a big problem — in the United States. They acknowledge it might exist in pockets of impoverished and perhaps crime-ridden urban areas but certainly not in smaller cities and towns in mainstream America.
But this social blight is increasing and it is spreading into places most people wish were safe from such things.
A simple definition of human trafficking is that it is the process by which people are transported for a number of illegal activities, including prostitution, drugs and slave labor.
Human traffickers — those who are on the prowl for human fodder for their industry — apparently have little difficulty successfully preying on the vulnerable. What they do is criminal; it is evil; it is abusive; it strips people of human dignity; and very often it results in death.
Research suggests the average life expectancy once a person is subjected to human trafficking is about seven years. The industry devours its victims and remains on the prowl for more of them.
This illegal and perverse industry literally destroys lives and reduces individuals to mere property. It is a form of slavery.
Even people of faith have been known to turn a deaf ear to the realities of human suffering, whether in the form of poverty, domestic abuse, bullying or intimidation.
To know about some of these ills, even in our own communities, suggests acknowledging the problem and trying to do something about it. This week's cover package on pages 1 and 6-9 suggests the depth of the crisis and describe what some churches and individuals are doing to help make a difference.
One source of information already familiar to Baptist women's groups in churches across Missouri is National Woman's Missionary Union.
The missions organization has extended its Project HELP emphasis that includes human trafficking through 2014 and continues to call attention to the problem through the release of books and training materials. Through its WorldCrafts operation, the organization helps artisan groups from around the world in marketing and sales assistance to help free women caught in trafficking and sexual exploitation. Our coverage in the Jan. 26 issue highlights the efforts of churches in Georgia, Texas and Missouri to confront human trafficking, reach out to victims and do their best to help set them free.
Efforts also are underway to provide "safe homes" for victims who come out of human trafficking and need psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical help to recover. Some volunteers are being trained to identify victims of human tracking in their communities, opening the door to help set them free.
Progress has been made globally to combat the trafficking atrocity but efforts require vigilance, according to experts. While slavery has been abolished, it re-emerges in new forms.
One expert, Nadezda Shapkina of Kansas State University notes that the primary difference between traditional forms of slavery and modern-day trafficking is that slavery was legal and visible while trafficking today is illegal and hidden. The potential for it to become more and more pervasive is great.
Across the country, efforts are made to encourage legislators to strengthen laws and harden penalties for human traffickers to combat the illegal trade. Experts say that kind of pressure must continue in addition to law enforcement efforts and ministries and programs that seek to rescue these modern-day slaves to debauchery.
Religious organizations and churches are among those at the forefront of a cause that many are only beginning to acknowledge and understand. They are mobilizing with an urgency to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking and to redeem children and women caught in the industry's web.
People of faith have sufficient resources to learn about a crisis that is destroying someone's daughter, granddaughter, sister or friend. No one even needs to ask whether it is worthwhile or important to throw out a lifeline.
We're already behind.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.