Twenty miles from Wheaton College’s campus, people are enslaved.
On Monday, Nov. 19, students were given a glimpse of this reality.
The Justice Coalition assembled a panel of members to discuss the topic from three different pockets of the world: Asia, Eastern Europe and Chicago.
The situation closest to the Wheaton community is that of Rachel Ostergaard, who helps girls in Chicago who have been manipulated into prostitution.
In Europe, women are drugged to be kept in captivity; in India, workers are threatened with violence; but in Chicago it is an emotional addiction that keeps them in the industry. Girls are pulled into trafficking by their boyfriends.
Taken under the wing of men who seemingly want to protect them, the girls are eventually persuaded to submit themselves to the commerce of sex.
Enslaved by their “boyfriends,” the girls are convinced they are only doing their duties as girlfriends.
Ostergaard described situations in which girls were freed from slavery only to return to it months later.
Recalling times of security, victims missed their masters after periods of separation and returned to them. Most girls, having come from broken and abusive homes, found comfort in the kindness originally shown from their captors, which caused them to become emotionally bonded.
Michael Watkins, a missionary in Ukraine, faces a different situation. Watkins explained that the vast networking of sex trafficking takes place in Eastern Europe. Much like a terrorist organization, the sex trafficking industry is cellular, making it difficult to track and hard to combat.
According to Watkins, professional programmers are often used to break through the firewalls of the industry’s digital system and trace various sources, including gang leaders and victims.
His team also works directly with victims. Watkins described situations in which team members posed as a potential customer over the phone or on Skype in order to connect and find the whereabouts of those being exploited.
Watkins said he is unable to involve the local church because of the danger the team faces with the mafia and the various gang leaders who are directly behind many of the trafficking situations.
In the past, victimized girls came to the church, posing as if in need of help. Eventually, it was discovered that these girls were in fact networking in order to give information back to their ringleaders. As a result, the church has no role apart from prayer.
Jeffrey Pankratz, a lawyer who works in India, discussed the labor-based slavery he combats. More than just sex trafficking, Pankratz said he deals with the exploitation of workers.
After borrowing money, many people are tricked into debt bondage and faced with indefinite sentences. Workers are often threatened by their lenders with death if they attempt to escape their slavery.
Pankratz works alongside large organizations that get local lawyers involved in specific cases and also get local churches involved in raising awareness of the injustice.
The event closed with Ostergaard encouraging students to volunteer in Chicago.
Abigail Watkins, a junior involved in Justice Coalition, said that the event exceeded her expectations in terms of the number of those who showed up — approximately 40-50 students.
“It is a very trendy issue that a lot of people claim to be interested in,” she said. “It was great to see a lot of people there who were genuinely concerned about what is going on in these situations.”
Banner Credit: Brooke Greene
Photo Courtesy sa-stopit.org
Printed in the November 30, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.