By Jennifer Grant
[This post is part of a conversation about the new book God in a Brothel, featured at the Patheos Book club here.]
Unlock your front door, swing it open wide. Look out from the porch, the stoop, or the doorway. Look back and forth down the block or up and down the hall. List the names of all the children whose homes you can see from where you stand.
Next door, to my right, is Lexie’s house. My children are Mia, Isabel, Ian, and Theo. Just down the block and across the street are Ari, Adam, Luke, Madison, and Allie. Further along are more; I know many of their names: Aerin, Cara, Ella, Jonah, Hudson, and Anna. Some of them I seldom and only fleetingly see as I drive past. Others are often framed in my front windows as they rake the leaves or ride bikes up and down the sidewalk.
That Daniel Walker, the author of God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue, includes the names of several of the children he has met in his work is one of many reasons his book is an agonizing – but important – read. Walker is a New Zealand police officer who has devoted his life to disrupting human trafficking. Throughout God in a Brothel, he presents the names of some of the children – truly modern-day slaves – he has met in locked cells and brothels all over the world, including in the U.S. Her name is Daya, Walker writes. Her name is Maria. Jeni. Mahal. Emily. Phi. Tan. Sua. The list goes on.
In Southeast Asia, where Walker meets two girls named Lan and Milan, he observes that by the time children who have been sold into sexual slavery as young girls reach the age of eleven or twelve, all the life has gone from their eyes.
“They appeared to be in a trance or under some dark magician’s spell,” Walker writes. “They moved with a slow resignation; no amount of smiling, warmth or kindness on my part could draw them out. The systematic and prolonger sexual abuse of children and young people is perhaps the very worst crime against humanity because, as I saw day after day, it strips them of their heart and soul.”
God in a Brothel isn’t about nameless, faceless children. It’s about real children – children with names, personalities, and potential as specific and precious as those belonging to the children you and I know. But, unlike the kids in our lives, these children have been kidnapped or sold into slavery by adults who should be their protectors.
In some cases, traffickers visit poor, rural settings in their own countries and convince parents to allow their daughters to accompany them back to a city where, the parents are told, the girls will be given well-paying and respectable jobs. The girls are then kidnapped, often across national borders, and sold into slavery.
Other parents deliberately choose to sacrifice one or more of their children and sell them into slavery in order to provide for other children at home.
Still others function as their own children’s pimps.
Crushing poverty has shaped the perspectives and circumstances of their lives. Addressing the causes of poverty, Walker acknowledges, is a vital piece of ending sexual slavery. Investing in long-term development work is critical, as is the need to end the sex trade and rescue the children and young people who are abused and imprisoned today.
“I imagined that if I were ever a father, I would rather die than sell my own child. Indeed I think I would rather see my own children die of starvation than see them ripped apart by the predatory lust of other men,” Walker writes. “But this is just what I think because, thankfully, I have never had to watch a child I know go hungry. I have never had to look my hungry children in the eye and tell them as their father that I could not provide or protect them from wasting hunger pains and preventable disease.”
The statistics Walker includes in his book are staggering. He reports that there are more than 2 million children enslaved in the multi-billion dollar global sex trade. These children experience “long-lasting physical and psychological trauma” such as HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and death.
Walker wants to change the way the people of faith approach human trafficking. It is a problem many of us have been unaware of or have found too upsetting or complicated to address. He implores the church to stop such neglect.
“The worship lyrics of most modern churches are often inserted into a PowerPoint image depicting the beauty of nature,” Walker writes. “How would our worship change if we used images of imprisoned slaves instead? What would happen if we stopped asking to see God in heaven and instead asked to see him in the eyes of prostituted children?”
Walker’s call that we see God in the faces of prostituted children brings Matthew 25 to my mind. Jesus said, “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
What if we protected and cherished the dignity of each and every person, regardless of the situation into which they were born?
What if we forced ourselves to see them, meet them, and to learn to say their names?
What are we doing – and not doing – as the light is being robbed from the eyes of so many children today?
To learn more or to support Daniel Walker’s work, read God in a Brothel and visit http://www.nvader.org.
Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter. (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Find her work online at jennifergrant.com