Question: "What does the Bible have to say to victims of human trafficking?"
Answer: Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a person by the threat or use of force, fraud, deception, or coercion, or the giving or receiving of unlawful payments for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. A trafficking victim, then, is someone who is being threatened, deceived, and/or coerced for the benefit of another. There are other articles outlining exactly what the Bible teaches about human trafficking. But what does it say about the victims?
God sees them as victims of a crime. Slavery is illegal in every country of the world, although some countries enforce the law more than others. In many cases, trafficking involves some kind of kidnapping, which was punishable by death in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 24:7) and identified as lawless, rebellious, and ungodly in the New Testament (1 Timothy 1:9–10). Slavery was allowed and supported by the civil authorities in the time of the New Testament, and Paul did encourage slaves to submit to their masters and the system (Ephesians 6:5–8; Colossians 3:22–24), knowing that, if they didn’t, they faced branding or execution. But since slave owners no longer have the legal right to own slaves, these exhortations become largely moot.
God sees them as images of Himself. Every trafficking victim is precious. In Luke 15:1–10, Jesus illustrates how valuable each individual is to Him. He gave up everything “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), no matter where they are or how they got lost. Every single trafficking victim was made in the image of God, and nothing that happens to them can change that.
God sees them as responsible for their own choices. This is a tough one because of the violence, psychological manipulation, and threats so common in the human trafficking environment. In 1 Peter 2:19–20, slaves are responsible for doing right, even if they will be punished for it. It is estimated that 70 percent of modern traffickers were originally trafficking victims. It’s not uncommon for a trafficking victim to escape the violence by working her way up the ranks to recruit and exploit new victims. But sinning to escape a horrible, dangerous situation is still sin.
But God also understands how they were forced or led into sin. In fact, He says it would be better if the traffickers were “drowned in the depths of the sea” than that they should cause one more victim to sin (Matthew 18:6).
God sees their condition as temporary. In 1 Corinthians 7:21, victims are told, “If you can gain your freedom, do so.” In some cases, this may mean gathering money to buy freedom, and in others it may mean running away. Even in the strongly regulated Jewish Law, it was allowable for a slave or indentured servant to run away from his master if he was being mistreated (Deuteronomy 23:15–16). The biblical ideal for slavery is the eradication of slavery.
God says that the care of trafficking victims is the responsibility of the church. Jesus is clear that caring for the naked, the sick (trafficking victims suffer from a wide array of illness and injury), and the imprisoned is the equivalent of caring for Him (Matthew 25:35–40). And to reject those in need is to reject Christ (Matthew 25:41–46). Even more than care for physical needs, the church has been given the mission of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16–20). It is our job to show the love of Christ and to speak Christ’s love to trafficking victims.
God loves trafficking victims. God so loved those caught in sex trafficking and labor trafficking that He sent His Son to die for their sins and reconcile them to a loving relationship with Him. There is nothing that needs to change in the life of a trafficking victim before she can accept that love (John 3:36; Romans 5:8). It doesn’t matter what has happened to her or what she has done (Romans 6:23). God is ready to accept her and start the healing process.
In some ways, God sees human trafficking victims the same way He sees everyone else—lost people caught in a fallen world in need of love, hope, and forgiveness. In other ways, God hears their cries a little louder. He is protective of the laborer who is cheated from his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). And in the Old Testament Law, the only transgression punishable by death through the witness of a single female witness was rape when no one could hear her screams (Deuteronomy 22:25–27).
If you are a victim of human trafficking—sex or labor—there is hope. In the U.S., call 911 or 1-888-3737-888. In Asia, contact Liberty Asia, and in Europe, LaStrada International.
But, most importantly, know that the God of the universe cares for you. No matter what your circumstances, no matter what has happened to you or what you’ve done, He sent His Son so that you could experience His love. Reach out to Him today.