People ask me frequently how we as Christians can fight human trafficking. Primarily, they ask how can Christians in South Carolina stop sexual exploitation. I’ve written before on the reality of human trafficking in South Carolina, focusing on what is called the “I-85 Corridor," the portion of Interstate 85 that travels through South Carolina between Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina. Atlanta and Charlotte are part of the top ten worst cities in America for human trafficking with Atlanta being number one. Without rewriting that entire article, I will briefly say that the sex industry is creeping into South Carolina from these cities along the “I-85 Corridor."
At this time, I want to address how the church specifically can help those at risk of being sexually exploited other than, of course, the obvious refusal to purchase sex or pornography and the support of human trafficking legislation. If demand goes down, supply goes down - a simple economic principle.
Christians must also know who is at risk of becoming a victim of the commercial sex industry in order to help them. Did you know that 60% of child sex trafficking victims have a history of being in the child welfare system? That’s right - foster care. Unfortunately, the foster care system can be a pipeline to prostitution. One reason is because many foster children see themselves as just a paycheck for foster and adoptive parents, a belief perpetuated by foster and adoptive parents. A client at the Children’s Law Center, Nina, recounted her adoptive mother telling her biological children, “Don’t hurt her [Nina] too bad. I need that check.” This is not a single occurrence either. In 2013, one young woman, Withelma “T” Pettigrew, testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means, told her story of foster care and being trafficked.
These caregivers will make statements like “You’re not my child. I don’t care what’s going on with you. As long as you’re not dead, I’ll continue to get my paycheck.” This “nothing but a paycheck” theory objectifies the youth and the youth begin to normalize the perception that their presence is to be used for financial gain. This creates a mind frame for the youth that their purpose is to bring income into a household.
Instead of the traffickers having to train the thinking of children, the caregivers are doing the job for them by reducing foster children to a paycheck, causing these children to view their worth and value as not being intrinsic, but rather, as whatever amount of money they bring in. Now, I know a number of excellent foster families, but there simply isn’t enough of them. As Christians, we know that children have intrinsic value; thus, more of us must help to break this pipeline to prostitution by opening our homes, our arms, and our hearts and by providing these children with a healthy home life.
As of February of this year, the number of children in foster care in South Carolina was 4,619 with 1,824 still needing homes. Additionally, the South Carolina foster care system is considered in crisis because of too few social workers, an increase in foster children, and too few foster homes.
There are approximately 2,149 Baptist Churches in South Carolina with a total number of 619,525 church members. If one family from each church would become licensed to foster and provided a healthy home, both the foster care crisis and the human trafficking crisis could be almost completely averted. Just Baptist churches! That is not even including the other denominations present in South Carolina.
The key word I’ve mentioned here though is “healthy home." Far be it from us that we Christians would bring these children into our homes and perpetuate this pipeline. We must provide a home environment overflowing with the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Not only is a history in foster care a risk factor for exploitation, but also being a runaway, having a broken home, a history of teenage insecurity, abuse, or neglect, and the hope of a "better life." How many of these are circumvented if a child’s home life is healthy? All of them. You hear that? Yes, children make their own choices, and we can raise children in a home “built upon The Rock” and they may still leave, but the likelihood is much smaller. Homes full of the Holy Spirit and built on biblical principles raise children - biological, foster, or adopted - who understand their intrinsic value and who generally do not fall into any of these risk factor categories. Make your home a safe haven for your children. Pray every day that God would place a hedge of protection around it and all who enter into it, so that children and adults will run to it and find the peace of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, older church members, please don’t leave this work to the young folks of your church. Did you know that a large number of children in foster care are ineligible for adoption into homes with either young children or even other children at all? This means almost every young family in your local church cannot adopt or foster until their biological children are older or unless they have no children. I know you are tired. I know it seems emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting to contemplate opening your home to a child in need, but please, “do not grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). Your wisdom and secure homes are desperately needed by young people.
Think about this - children who age out of foster care did not have a mom to call this past Mother’s Day. They will not have a family to eat Thanksgiving dinner with. They will not celebrate Christmas with brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. They don’t have someone to run to when their hearts are broken or someone to celebrate with them when they land their dream job. They don’t have anyone to call when their car breaks down or when they need advice. When these children become adults, they may be able to financially provide for themselves, but where are their families? None of us are too old for family.
God designed the family unit for a reason - a healthy family produces healthy adults and healthy adults form a healthy society. I had a college professor who liked to say, “As the city goes, so goes the country," but I like to say, “As the family goes, so goes the church, the community, and the country.” Rise up, Christian families, rise up.
Hannah R. Miller
Co-Host Christian Worldview with Tony and Hannah
660 AM & 92.9 FM