Acts 16:16-18 16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
This passage of scripture sums up both the problem and the solution surrounding Domestic Minor Sex trafficking. The sex trafficking of minors is organized crime against youth. It is the commercial sexual exploitation of children through buying, selling, or trading their sexual services through prostitution, pornography, stripping, and other sexual acts.
Much like the slave girl in this passage, teenage girls across America are enslaved and are being exploited in a sex industry that the Justice Department says earns upward of 32 billion dollars a year. Identical to the girl in the passage who is used, exploited, and earns a “great deal of money for her owners,” teen girls today are manipulated, coerced, and forced to perform sexual acts with, more or less, some 20 adult men per day, earning their “owners” as much as $500,000 a year.
It is believed that at least 200,000 teens are trapped in sex trafficking every year. However, is considered to be a low estimate as only 1% of all sex trafficking cases are reported. Girls from every socio-economic background have been victims of sex trafficking; and those who are primarily targeted are ages 12 through 14.
As I learned of these statistics, I was reminded of this passage of scripture in Acts, as it raises two very disturbing problems surrounding child exploitation. There is the obvious problem that vulnerable children are preyed upon and exploited for the financial gain of others; and there is the problem that the cries of exploited children are ignored, by people of faith.
For many days, as this slave girl cries out after the “servants of the Most High God,” her cries fall on deaf ears. Her cries and pleas, for many days, went unanswered. We aren’t given an explanation, but perhaps, as a non-tithe paying demographic, her condition was less of a priority to the servants of the Most High God. Perhaps the servants of God had other more pressing church matters to deal with; after all, they were on their way to the place of prayer.
As I considered how Paul and the servants, for many days, ignored the slave girl on their way to the place of prayer, several questions came to mind. Is it possible that our “places of prayer” are places we go to talk to God about our desires, but not really places we go to hear God’s desires? Surely it was God’s desire that the cries of this girl be addressed. I also questioned whether we, as servants of the Most High God, are so far out of frequency range that we can’t pick up the desperate signals of the most vulnerable? Have we become so comfortable in our places of prayer and so indifferent that we are unmoved by the suffering of children? Are the cries not loud enough? Can we not hear our children sobbing? Or are we just waiting until this crisis gets to the level of the AIDS epidemic before we declare it worthy of addressing?
The passage reminds me of how slow in response the servants of God can be in addressing serious problems. It reminds me that until most issues hit our doorstep and affect us personally, we are unwilling to act. It wasn’t until Paul finally became so frustrated with the girl crying out after him that he addressed her need. I guess it’s better late than never, but each day that Paul refused to respond to her cry, she suffered. And the same is happening with countless young girls in America today.
To Paul’s credit, if servants of God are going to respond late to the atrocity that is happening to our children, we at least need to respond in the way Paul did. With his frustration at a peak, Paul didn’t speak harshly to the girl; he spoke harshly to the “spirit” that was affecting the girl. With the power and authority given him, Paul spoke to and commanded the system that controlled the girl. And this is what we, as servants of the Most High God, must do.
Servants of God must address the issue of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking on all fronts. With the power given to us, we must command laws be changed that criminalize girls who are victims of sex trafficking, as if it were their choice. It is a contradiction that girls, who are not old enough to consent to sex, are found guilty of selling sex. With the power given to us, we must command and hold accountable adults who purchase sex with children as well as those who sell children for sex. Demand is the primary driver of the sex trafficking of minors, and we must relentlessly pursue, prosecute and hold those accountable who commit such crimes against children. And finally, with the power given to us, we must command and make sure financial resources for housing, counseling, and other programs are available to help transition young girls from a life of sexual slavery to a life of wholeness and healing. There are less than 10 transitional houses for those who are victims of sex trafficking in the entire country, and we have to demand more.
This passage of scripture outlines the problem and the solution to the issue of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. Our children are being exploited, sold, and traded in a 32 billion dollar sex industry; and the servants of God must respond and speak immediately to this injustice against children.
Our children are priceless; and we can’t afford to allow their innocence, worth, dignity and freedom to be sold at any rate.
Rev. Dr. Vanetta Rather earned a Doctor of Ministry from the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and is an ordained Baptist preacher. She is the Founder and Executive Director of My Sister My Seed, a non-profit that provides programs, services, and resources to women and youth.