In recent weeks, the movie Sound of Freedom has brought awareness of exploitation to audiences around the world. The film has also sparked lively conversations and even controversy, as various voices offer thoughts on the movie’s messages. Regardless of where we land on the movie itself, Sound of Freedom’s widespread exposure opens the door to a greater conversation about the realities of trafficking that are far more complex than can be portrayed in a two-hour film.
TEAM has long been engaged in anti-trafficking initiatives in multiple countries around the world. We reached out to some of TEAM’s global workers and practitioners in the anti-trafficking field to get their helpful perspective on how we as the body of Christ can better understand what trafficking is and the best practices to counter it.
The following was written and contributed by Erika Tello, Joyce Zick, Rachel Zuch, and others unnamed for security reasons. We thank them for their invaluable insight and for their tireless work empowering survivors every day.
The classic storyline of Sound of Freedom is compelling: good guy defeats bad guy. Sadly, in the real world, the story of trafficking is rarely so simple. It is important to go beyond the script and take time to learn about the realities of human trafficking. Education is critical to having a well-informed perspective. Aspects to learn about include:
- The roots of trafficking and reasons that trafficking happens, which need to be addressed within each of our communities
- The numerous ways that exploitation occurs in the world today (Child sex trafficking, such as the movie shows, is only one horrific type of trafficking of the many horrendous forms of exploitation that happen on a daily basis to both children and adults in their homes, at their places of work, on the streets, etc.)
- The array of effective real-life methods being used locally and globally to combat trafficking and to walk alongside those who have survived exploitation
- The multiple ways that every human can play a role in standing up against trafficking
Connecting with Those “In the Trenches”
A great first step is to connect with grassroots organizations that uniquely address counter-trafficking. These organizations may provide community development, prevention education, trauma-informed survivor care, advocacy in government systems, or other types of assistance.
These organizations’ diversity speaks to the multiplicity of trafficking stories and survivors’ needs. For instance, rescue operations, such as those seen in Sound of Freedom, account for less than 1% of cases of survivor freedom. In the vast majority of cases, survivors take brave steps to speak up about their exploitation and reach out for help in order to leave the situation. As practitioners, we recognize this and realize the importance of empowering survivors to inform and lead us in our efforts.
Global Efforts to Meet a Global Need
We have had the honor and privilege to have a hand in starting and operating some such grassroots organizations. This list is not exhaustive of TEAM’s touchpoints on this issue, but it represents a good cross-section of the work being done. Each of the ministries highlighted here is different, though they all exist to end exploitation in the name of Christ and in partnership with the global Church. Our service is Gospel-motivated and encourages each individual who encounters our ministries to come to know Jesus as the true liberator and Savior.
TEAM Austria global worker Rachel Zuch was compelled to found Herzwerk (Heart Works) in 2007 after being impacted by the number of brothels and nightclubs that seemed to be on almost every corner. Since then, Herzwerk has grown into a multifaceted organization. There are weekly street outreaches and visits to some of the approximately 350 brothels throughout the city. Social workers meet with clients to answer questions, translate official letters and documents, arrange doctor’s appointments, and walk alongside women (and sometimes men) when they make the difficult decision to leave sexual exploitation and begin a new life. Currently, the latter work includes several Chinese women who are new to faith being part of a Bible study led by two Mandarin-speaking workers.
In South Asia…
A TEAM worker in south Asia has founded and is overseeing a locally led effort to provide income and educational opportunities for girls and women while assisting other vulnerable people groups. Efforts include a scholarship program for 90 children who are at risk of exploitation and a women’s sewing center that employs eleven women. They sew washable, reusable sanitary pad kits that are donated to the girls in the village schools, allowing the girls to continue their education once they’ve reached puberty. The women also create handicrafts that are sold nationally and internationally to assist in making the program sustainable. Overall, the ministry provides opportunities for vulnerable groups to live and work in their communities, free of marginalization and exploitation.
In the Middle East…
In a country closed to traditional counter-trafficking methods, a TEAM worker is networking so that individuals and communities can experience God’s Kingdom. This is accomplished by connecting Christians with the resources necessary to meet the holistic needs of people at risk of exploitation or who are being exploited through sex and labor trafficking. The program has impacted people from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Oceania and has resulted in everything from translating trauma resources for earthquake survivors to repatriating survivors of sex trafficking. This ministry also includes volunteering for the European Freedom Network (EFN), a network of Christian practitioners in Europe and globally, including many TEAM workers.
TEAM Italy global workers serve in multiple ways. Erika Tello’s counter-trafficking work began with outreach to victims of trafficking in northern Italy but soon expanded to a national scale. With the support of her husband Jon and others (including former TEAM worker Ruth Brucato and current TEAM worker Joyce Zick), Erika founded Alleanza Tesori Raggianti (ATR), a national alliance of Christian counter-trafficking practitioners and advocates. Jon piloted a work program for a survivor of trafficking, and both Erika and Jon were instrumental in the establishment of the Alba Safe House & Recovery Program, which offers long-term, trauma-informed care to survivors of sex trafficking in Italy and beyond.
Joyce and Herb Zick began their work in street outreach alongside Ruth Brucato, whom Joyce remembers as “a dynamic and passionate worker in the fight against human trafficking.” The Zicks have continued street outreach as well as starting a school program for awareness and prevention called Dalla Vulnerabilità alla Vittoria (Vulnerable to Victorious). They also founded a global, virtual fundraiser for the Alba Safe House called the Alba Run For Recovery.
So what’s next?
Just like one movie can’t encapsulate the stories of 40 million trafficked individuals, reading one blogpost is just the beginning of educating yourself on the realities of trafficking and exploitation. We encourage you to check out the organizations linked above and others like them. Together, we can support efforts to bring counter-trafficking into focus and empower more survivors in their journey to freedom.
Do you have a heart to empower those affected by trafficking and exploitation? Talk to a missions coach today about how God may be calling you to serve.