Introduction to February 2010: Human Trafficking

[1] The latest atrocious news from Haiti, thanks to a mesmerized CNN (view Child Trafficking in Haiti) seems to be that fears that the countless children orphaned or lost before and during the earthquake are not only at risk from their physical circumstances. They are also at an even greater risk than previously of being trafficking for sex, labor, or organs. Our sudden alarm overlooks the reality that nearly a quarter of a million of Haitian children are estimated to be trafficked yearly already. (See “Island of Lost Children” The Atlantic, January 18, 2010.)

[2] In many ways, the threat of trafficking in Haiti is a textbook example of how trafficking works — it gains entry through physical and social vulnerability and magnifies the misery that is already present. We are shocked by what we encounter, outraged that someone would take advantage of a child orphaned by a natural disaster, but what our rightly horrified reaction overlooks is that the disasters of social and economic inequity and injustice have already been taking place.

[3] When JLE’s editors made the decision to focus on trafficking in its February issue, trafficking had been receiving some institutional focus from the ELCA already. Through the work of the ELCA’s Justice for Women program, through the Women of the ELCA, and through the work of the Lutheran World Federation many religiously-based resources are available. This month in JLE Emily Davila writes to give us a sense of what trafficking is and what some of the responses have been from religious and secular organizations.

[4] We have resources to address the harm, injustice, and systemic support of trafficking through our social teaching. The ELCA has addressed commercial sexual exploitation in detail in its “Message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation”. The ELCA’s recent statement on human sexuality also addressed commodification of the body and naming the global sex trafficking system. Two of our authors, Kate Lawler and Alison Killeen, supplement our social teaching with reflections on Ruth and patriarchy and theology of the body. Knowing what trafficking is reveals that it happens under our noses. Understanding the values it relies on reveals how each of us is affected.

[5] Whether we ponder trafficking through the lens of economic justice, misuse of God’s gifts, or violation of dignity and integrity, we are always led in the same direction — understanding, and action to fight this horror and address its systemic entry points.

Kaari Reierson

Kaari Reierson is the founding editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and is the Chair of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Advisory Council.