Keeping the Captives Free:

How Business for Transformation Can Create Sustainable Jobs for Survivors of Human Trafficking and Prostitution

Christa Foster Crawford

Journal of Asia Missions Paper: 13:1 (2012): 37–55 

Human trafficking is a growing global phenomenon that enslaves millions of children, women and men each year in sexual and labor exploitation. Hundreds of thousands more are exploited in “voluntary” prostitution. While there are many complex and intertwined root causes underlying these problems, the issue of money cuts right through the heart. What does this mean for the Church? How are we supposed to respond? In what ways can business be used to help bring an end to trafficking and prostitution and to bring freedom and transformation to their victims?

For the past ten years I have been in Thailand working against prostitution and human trafficking in a variety of capacities. While I do not have definitive answers to these questions, I have learned that addressing them is essential. This article seeks to demonstrate why these questions are so important, and to explore how business as mission can be an important part of the answer.

When I first became involved in working against human trafficking, it was as a lawyer for the International Justice Mission (IJM) helping rescue victims of brothel prostitution. Imprisoned by real bars and bad guys, children and women were forced to have sex with multiple men a day. They were often kept in substandard conditions, deprived and abused, waiting to be set free. But set free from what? And set free how? These are questions that I was soon to learn did not always have easy answers.

“Dee” was 14 years old when she was sold into prostitution. She cried out for rescue, and with the help of the IJM God answered her prayers. The physical chains that had bound her were the easiest to recognize and remove. But rescue was only the beginning. Physical freedom was not enough. Harder to address were the emotional and spiritual bondages that were a result of her exploitation; being in the loving care of a Christian aftercare program helped her along that long and arduous path. But economic and cultural pressures remained a constant and persistent snare, returning her to “voluntary” prostitution whenever financial difficulties overwhelmed her family who lived in Burma, one of the poorest countries on earth. The economic chains that bound her could not be ignored, even though they could not be seen. Dee opened my eyes to the sad reality that victims of human trafficking may need rescue to get free, but they need sustainable jobs in order to remain free.