Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy’s […]

Chad Bird / 1.18.19

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy’s opening lines from Anna Karenina could easily be co-opted as the introduction to countless biblical stories. We barely get our feet wet in Genesis before the pool of family history becomes toxic. Adam blames both God and Eve for the train wreck in Eden. Cain commits fratricide. Ham blabs about his drunk, naked father. Esau bloodlusts against Jacob. And a band of jealous brothers engage in one of the first recorded acts of human trafficking: they sell their brother Joseph into slavery.

Each unhappy family unhappy in its own way — then as now.

Regarding that last example: I happened to be rereading the story of Joseph when I also began reading the astonishing new book by Raleigh Sadler, Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking. In 2013, Sadler began a movement called Let My People Go, which grew into a nonprofit organization that assists local churches in addressing and helping the victims of human trafficking. As Sadler makes abundantly clear in this book, Josephs are still very much among us. And I don’t simply mean victims of human trafficking are still around. They certainly are. And they’re much more numerous than we think.

I mean especially that most of today’s Josephs end up in modern forms of slavery not because of strangers in white vans with tinted windows driving slowly through neighborhoods. Not strangers but people they know trafficked them, just as Joseph’s brothers did him. People like brothers. Parents. Boyfriends. Uncles and cousins. About 93% of victims are trafficked “by someone within their own community.” As Sadler points out, “Our belief that only the mafia and street gangs traffic people in foreign countries does a huge disservice to those who actually have been victimized. Given the data, people are more likely to be trafficked by someone that they know.”

That means we have a fairly accurate idea of the typical profile of a human trafficker. “[T]hey look like you and me. They often conduct themselves as ordinary people. They live in nice apartments or the suburbs. They have neighbors. They mow their lawns. They eat at the restaurants in your neighborhood. They may even go to your church. Believe it or not, they often come across as being friendly or charismatic. But there is a side to them that we do not see — a side that they have hidden from the watching world.”

In other words, traffickers are not sub-human monsters we can easily dismiss by demonizing them as utterly unlike us. “[T]hey look like you and me.” They exemplify humanity. They are Joseph’s brothers. They mirror us.

I confess that’s part of Raleigh’s book that I can’t get past. Indeed, I don’t want to. I need it to sink into my soul. “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” as Solzhenitsyn famously writes in The Gulag Archipelago. To adapt his well-known words: as convenient as it might seem to find evil human traffickers somewhere insidiously committing their evil deeds, separate them from the rest of us, and destroy them, it’s not that easy. Because to do so would mean destroying a piece of our own hearts.

And, in an ironic way, that’s a good thing. I’m glad human traffickers look like you and me, just as I’m glad Nazi guards looked like average Germans. I’m glad they don’t have horns or scales or fanged teeth. That way they stand there, iconic of low anthropology, preaching through their very existence of the almost infinite capacity of humanity — our humanity — for evil. And our need for repentance, mercy, and transformative love.

One of the great insights of this book, indicated in the title itself, is that the confession of our own vulnerability opens us up to help victims of human trafficking. Why? Because the victims themselves are found “anywhere there is vulnerability. It can happen anywhere because there are vulnerable people everywhere. Where you find vulnerable populations, you will find someone willing to exploit them.” The acknowledgment of our own vulnerability and weakness, our own brokenness and frailty, opens our eyes to see the same in others.

The dark side of vulnerability also does the same: when we see just how messed up we are, how addicted we are to whatever our idols might be, when we see that traffickers “look like you and me,” we are more prone to see how we ourselves are just as much a part of the problem as we can be part of the solution of trafficking. We have all, in our own personal and sinister ways, by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone, contributed to our property-worshipping, sexually-saturated culture in which human trafficking not only continues but flourishes.

Fr. Stephen Freeman recently wrote, “National repentance also requires a liturgy, something which has disappeared from the secular consciousness. We are well aware of Thanksgiving Day. However, it was once the case that there were national days of fasting, when the nation expressed sorrow and sought forgiveness.”

We could use a Day of National Repentance. A day to remember who we are. A day to remember how prone we are to using others for our own gains. And a day also to see in the face of the used and abused a reflection of our own humanity. We could use a day of repentance to remember vulnerability, in all its forms. And to beseech the God of mercy to have mercy upon us all.

Take a deep breath, open this book, and read. Its pages will unmask you. Break and mend your heart. Inspire you to change and help and love. More than anything else, Vulnerable helped me realize, in a more profound way, the interconnectedness I have with all humanity: traffickers and their victims. It called me to repentance, to confession, and to embrace my own vulnerability, that through me the grace of Christ might reach out in love to help those who are crying in silence for help.

Excerpted with permission from Vulnerable by Raleigh Sadler. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.


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