Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and shalom was violated. This was a moment of cosmic treason, when Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against His command and fell into the severe ignobility we all experience. The entrance of sin wrecked the order and goodness of God's world; it was the disintegration of peace. Sin inverted love for God, which in turn became idolatry, and inverted love for neighbor, which became exploitation of others.
One clear way this exploitation of others takes place is human trafficking. Trafficking is modern-day slavery and is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are trafficked annually. It deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, it is a global health risk, and it fuels organized crime.
Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor operations to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children.
The United States is a destination country for international trafficking: foreign women and children are transported into the United States for purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. The State Department estimates that approximately eighteen thousand foreign nationals are trafficked annually into the United States. Victims are brought to the United States from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Most women and children brought to the United States find themselves forced to work in massage parlors, commercial or residential brothels, escort services, and strip clubs.
Sex trafficking also happens to United States citizens residing within United States borders. An estimated three hundred thousand American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry annually. Traffickers coerce women and children to enter the commercial sex industry through a variety of recruitment techniques in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services.
Domestic sex traffickers particularly target vulnerable young girls, such as runaway, homeless, and fostercare children. In the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen. One reason many girls working in prostitution enter the trade in their early teens has to do with the age at which many were victims of incest. The average age of incest is twelve. Incest and other forms of abuse often drive children to run away from home, making them vulnerable to the slick tactics of sex traffickers.
The pimp seduces a recruit with the lure of love, protection, wealth, designer clothes, fancy cars, and exclusive nightclubs. Pimps move from city to city looking for children and young women who are easy prey: alone, desperate, and alienated. Once a pimp moves a victim from her hometown into a strange city, the pimp can easily force her to work as a prostitute. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way every year.
Human trafficking is a sin against the victim and a sin against God. Evil is anti-creation, anti-life, and the force that seeks to oppose, deface, and destroy God, His good world, and His image bearers. Simply put, when someone defaces a human being — God's image bearer — it is ultimately an attack against God Himself.
Sexual violence is one of the most frequent and disturbing symbols of sin in the Bible. It is a complete distortion of relationship, a mockery and devastation of God's intent in making us for relationships with Himself and others. By referring to sexual violence, God, through the biblical authors, communicates that sin has progressed so far that sex, an expression of union, peace, and love, is now used as a tool for violence.
Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, exploitation is mentioned frequently throughout Scripture, is depicted as sin against God and neighbor, and symbolizes how badly sin has corrupted God's good creation. The victim's experience of trafficking is not ignored by God or minimized by the Bible, and it is not outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God's response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and re-creation because of the gospel of Christ. And that should be the church's response.
Evil and violence are not the final word. They are not capable of creating or ultimately defining reality. That is only God's prerogative. However, evil and violence can pervert, distort, and destroy. They are parasitic on the original good of God's creation. In this way, evil serves as the backdrop on the stage where God's redemption shines with greater brilliance and pronounced drama. What evil uses to destroy, God uses to expose, excise, and then heal.
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.
This article first appeared at Ligonier Ministries' Table Talk Magazine, May 2011. Used by permission.