Behind Bars

Human trafficking isn’t only a problem in other parts of the world. Most people tend to think of the problem as “out there” but it is often hidden in our own communities.

Several years ago I was in my first year of graduate school to get my master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice. I was chosen to be the teaching assistant for a class on domestic violence held in the local women’s prison that was half university students and half inmates. I was responsible for all the grading, and we had them writing a lot of papers. These women shared their lives in their writing and were incredibly open about what they had been through. Many were abused by their husbands, their boyfriends, even their mothers. One girl moved in with her boyfriend after she was kicked out of her home by her drug addicted mother, only to have her boyfriend rape her and sell her to all of his friends. One had a pimp who purposefully got her addicted to drugs and alcohol so he could keep a hold over her by also becoming her supplier. Another woman prostituted herself for her boyfriend to help him pay the bills; and of course she got none of the money. One of the saddest stories I heard was of a little girl who experienced so much abuse in her life that she only had a fourth grade level education by the time she came to prison in her mid thirties. She had experienced everything from rape, to addiction, to homelessness, and more.

Sadly, they aren’t the exception; they tend to be the norm for women in prison. Abuse, addiction, poverty, homelessness, and the lack of a good education are not uncommon. Their voices represent many women who are trafficked or are vulnerable to being trafficked. Their history of abuse makes them incredibly vulnerable to further manipulation and abuse by traffickers.

By nature of the class and my job I couldn’t talk about Jesus in class—the only time I saw these women. All I could give them were my prayers, the comments on their papers (where I couldn’t directly reference my faith), and a few encouraging words the last day of class. Through HOPE61 you and I can do so much more for women just like them. They didn’t have anyone to protect them; but with HOPE61’s training, the local church will be so much more able to reach out in meaningful ways to women just like them to prevent people from becoming involved in trafficking.

2 thoughts on “Behind Bars

  1. Mmm, of course, everything women in prison tell you must be honest, their offending and other choices were always someone else’s fault. Similarly, most male inmates are innocent according to them. The connection of this heart-wrenching tale to human trafficking was tenuous to say the least. And how many here know that the vast majority of human trafficking is of men for their labour, resulting in high rates of death or permanent injuries.

    • Yes, certainly true that trafficking of men for labour (and sex) is an enormous issue – it’s one that we have talked about often but are still working toward dealing with. Sex trafficking is, however, often the first thing presented to us. This may be why it has ended up being one of the first things we work on as our ministries grow. As we learn more about vulnerability to organ trafficking, labor trafficking, & child soldiering, we will be able to speak more to that.

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