#ShesNotForSale: Shining a light on human trafficking
An interview with Stephanie Jackson
On March 28, 2017, Springvale Church in Stouffville, Ontario, hosted #ShesNotForSale: a Human Trafficking Educational and Call to Action Event. 300 people from the greater York Region area attended. Christian Courier interviewed Stephanie Jackson, a member of Springvale Church and an organizer of the conference, to learn more.
Christian Courier: How did God lead you and your church community to host this event?
Stephanie Jackson: This event is part two of last year’s initiative. In 2016, we focused on creating awareness that human trafficking is an issue in the York Region. It’s not just an “over there” problem; it affects developed areas like Canada, Ontario, and our own backyard. Just because we live in a fairly “safe” environment, we can’t turn a blind eye to this heinous and subversive issue. Especially as the church! It’s an area of darkness that we felt really needed to be illuminated so justice could be done.
We, the women’s ministry of Springvale, became increasingly aware of human trafficking incidents, especially those that included sexual exploitation of young girls who were the ages of our daughters and youth group girls. Our desire was to help the community, parents, grandparents, youth leaders and educators to become aware of the need for more education, prevention and action. We feel God calling us to also be a redemptive presence for those who have endured sexual exploitation –that they would know we are available to offer support and love.
As you mentioned, human trafficking can mistakenly be perceived as a problem prevalent only in other parts of the world and not here in Canada. How widespread is human trafficking in the York Region and in the rest of Canada?
Human trafficking is an issue everywhere, even in developed and industrialized nations. All you need to do is check the internet for news stories regarding human trafficking and sexual exploitation to see the impact it has on humanity. Ninety-four percent of the cases are local, reported by RCMP in February 2016. That’s scary! Also, according to research initiatives on the incidence of human trafficking in the province, Ontarians are in dire need of awareness. Here are some of the findings: 63 percent of victims trafficked in Ontario are Canadian citizens; 90 percent are female; 63 percent are between the ages of 15-24; approximately 34 percent entered exploitative trafficking via boyfriends acting as pimps; and 96 percent of victims experienced multiple forms of violence.
What circumstances lead people to become vulnerable to being trafficked for labor and sex?
Poverty still remains the biggest factor regarding human trafficking, as well as broken and dysfunctional homes where children feel abandoned and are looking to be loved and valued. When you are a 12-17 year old and you are looking to feel wanted, appreciated, known and loved (outside your family or even at all), you are vulnerable for the tactics and persuasion of a trafficker (pimp).
The perpetrator knows how to prey on this demographic. It’s almost too easy to convince a young girl who hasn’t determined her own self worth that she is beautiful, attractive, desired and wanted. This is the tactic of 20-something-year-old pimps. They target the girl(s), follow her patterns/habits, and know which coffee shops, schools and malls she frequents. The pimp will accidentally “bump into” her at a common hang out and start the conversation, perhaps even offer to pay for her coffee. Then he’ll strategically bump into her again at the mall, maybe this time inviting her and her friends to a party.
Once trust is established and they are “dating,” he proceeds to ask her to do this “one favour, this one time” and brings her to a hotel where a “john” is waiting. Once in “the game,” the trafficker will diminish the girl’s worth by telling her she deserves this treatment, it’s her fault, and lay the blame on her. He will threaten to expose her, which causes shame. Also, he’ll get her addicted to drugs. He might even threaten her life, as well as her family’s.
Have you seen people helped because of your efforts?
Not directly, but certainly indirectly. We have had teams go out on prayer walks with Rahab Ministries (rahab-ministries.org). We have been notified by agencies of girls who have been rescued who have required prayer while waiting to give their testimony in court. Also, we provide funds for partner organizations we support so they can do their work. We have also heard from a parent who attended the event with her daughter that, shortly after, her daughter’s friend was approached by men who were aggressively pursuing to capture her. Because she had just attended #ShesNotForSale, she recognized what was happening. The friend was informed and was able to flee immediately.
What influence has this social justice initiative had on you personally and on your church community?
For me personally, it has utterly broken my heart. I am deeply saddened that human lives, especially the vulnerable (women and children), can be taken for granted and used as commodities. It is despicable that a girl represents nothing more than approximately $125,000 to a pimp. That her life and innocence can be cut short and violated so severely because of sexual sin, lust and greed! Incomprehensible. This must be abolished. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a severe distortion and abomination of God’s intention and design for our lives. He created us from love and to be loving. Clearly, this disregard for humanity goes against this very essence.
Springvale Church is passionate about being a light in a dark world. We strive to be a redemptive presence in the community. It’s our intention to let those who are vulnerable or who feel unworthy come and feel welcomed and loved without judgement.
What advice would you give to churches or other groups of people who are interested in hosting an event such as yours?
We are very open and willing to meet with churches, organizations and schools and show them how to bring the #ShesNotForSale event to their community. Please contact us through shesnotforsale.com or gro.elavgnirps@nemow.
|Stephanie Jackson attends Springvale Church in Stouffville, Ontario and is a life coach who specializes in helping women and youth discover their identity and purpose in life. As well, she is a media representative for a Christian radio station in central Ontario.|