Following the horrific murder of eight people across three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, an advocacy group for trafficking survivors has stated that the tragedy can be turned into an opportunity for churches to raise awareness and help women exploited in illicit massage businesses across the country.
According to Street Grace, which fights to eradicate the “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC),” trafficking operations fronting as massage parlors and spas are the second-largest reported form of human trafficking in America.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Street Grace President and CEO Bob Rodgers said that his organization “[knows] for a fact” that there is a nationwide trend of offering illegal sexual “services” at such parlors, many of which by exploited women.
“They are really hidden in plain sight,” Rodgers stated. “They look like they are a legitimate business. They provide cover for the people that would visit them with less than pure intentions because it’s two doors down from the grocery store. It’s next to the drugstore and in between the Hallmark card shop and the beauty salon or nail salon. And so, people just don’t pay attention. It gives cover to what in our research is overwhelmingly men who visit these spas, and some, if not a large extent, have less than pure intentions. And they are going there for inappropriate sexual activity.”
Despite the tragedy, Rodgers believes good will come from the situation since more people are now aware of the reality of illicit massage businesses.
“It is a shame, but it is often true that tragedy breeds awareness,” Rodgers said. “… Our attention spans are relatively short. And then something like [the Atlanta shooting] that is obviously a horrific tragedy and lives were lost, it was just completely unnecessary. [And] it does draw attention to [this industry]. … Good will come from it. I hate that it takes a tragedy sometimes, and that was completely unnecessary. But good, I believe, will come from this.”
Rodgers explained to The Christian Post how traffickers attract young Asian women to bring to the U.S. with promises of a career to support their families back home:
“They get here, and they immediately find out they are here on false pretenses. They were misled,” he said.
Traffickers then use a series of physical threats and deception to trap them, he said. The women are often in debt bondage after accumulating high debts during their passage to the U.S., which forces them to engage in illicit activity to earn money.
They are made to believe speaking to law enforcement will lead to deportation, and traffickers sometimes threaten to harm their family members if they come forward.
The exploited women are often placed in a situation where they have no choice but to respond and comply, he added.
“There are people [from all kinds of backgrounds] … [who] may not be held in handcuffs, but they are held in servitude and bondage and psychological bondage in these situations where they are forced to exploit themselves and perform acts that they would not have any interest to do and would not do in any other circumstances,” Rodgers went on. “The most powerful form of bondage is not of ropes and chains. That doesn’t really occur that much in the U.S. It’s the guilt and the shame that come along with all of this that is so powerful with keeping people from coming forward about this.”
There is good news, however, Rodgers declared. Churches can be the hands and feet of Christ in bringing hope and fighting for justice for trafficking victims.
Local churches, he explained, must support law enforcement as it investigates and uncovers illegal and exploitative massage operations.
Christians should also become more involved in the legislative process and even join city councils to help prevent such businesses from setting up shop.
And, of course, the most significant way in which the Church can be salt and light in the lives of trafficking survivors is to give them hope.
“From a Christian perspective, [survivors] are people who are in the most likely of circumstances to be without hope,” Rodgers declared. “We think of all the different things we can do as the Body of Christ. But what we have to bring more than anything else, we have to give hope.”
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