Aug. 6 conference will draw pastors, volunteers, legislators and law enforcement from around the world
By Dwight Widaman |
Outside the seedy motel turned brothel, pimps bark orders to the women who will sell their bodies that night, while the “johns” â€” men looking to purchase sex â€” hover nearby with cash in hand. Many of these young sex workers, both male and female, are caught in a worldwide web of sex trafficking and find themselves too scared to run, too ashamed to run home or, more likely, have nowhere to run at all.
Inside a nearby motel room, members of Exodus Cry, an international anti-trafficking organization, have gathered. They’ve been there all day, singing and praying that God would open doors for them to earn the trust of these sex-trade victims and, eventually, lead them to freedom. The team finishes their vital pre-mission preparation and one-by-one, quietly slip from the room to walk these dangerous streets.
This isn’t a Third World country. This is Kansas City and here is an unprecedented slavery crisis encompassing the globe.
Every eight seconds another person is sold. The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Approximately 4.5 million of those victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Kansas City residents are often surprised to learn that their mid-sized Midwestern community is an epicenter of this sex business, with predators roaming the area’s malls and mega-movie complexes looking primarily for shy young men and women who, for whatever reason, have little self-esteem, weak connections to family life or wish to escape an abusive situation.
In gaining the trust of these vulnerable young people, predators play the role of strong and caring father figures offering encouragement, resources and a way out of whatever situation the young people face. Over time, perhaps through social media like Facebook, texts or meetings around town, these teenagers and young adults are lured into a trap for which there is often little chance for escape.
Kansas City is at the crossroads both figuratively and literally. At the intersection of two of the nation’s most-traveled interstates, these local highways are exactly why the FBI has identified the metropolitan area as a hub for human trafficking, prompting local, state and federal law enforcement to collaborate in fighting trafficking.
Among them is the Kansas City-based Exodus Cry, which was founded by Benjamin Nolot and is built on a foundation of prayer, It is committed to abolishing sex slavery through Christ-centered prevention, intervention and holistic restoration of trafficking victims.
Terry Mosteller, director of prevention at Exodus Cry, says the organization isn’t a “smash-and-grab” effort like those that Hollywood portrays when someone is rescued from sex slavery.
“The reality is that when that smash and grab happens, the victims end up back in slavery,” Mosteller says. “The decision to leave, like all decisions for a slave, was made for them â€” they did not decide themselves. Our goal, week after week after week is to cultivate a relationship with these individuals, which empowers them to make the decision themselves.”
Since late June Exodus Cry has had members at the World Cup in Brazil. They are using every technique they know â€” and have taught to others, including law enforcement and government leaders â€” to reach the thousands of children and teens who are being sold for sex to the massive crowds visiting for the games.
This August, the organization will call a new generation to take a stand against modern-day slavery. Through its three-day Abolition Summit, Exodus Cry will provide abolitionists from all over the world the training and tools to effectively combat sex trafficking â€” both around the world and here at home.
Mosteller says that people don’t realize that there are more slaves today than at any time in human history. It’s a quiet scourge that often goes under reported and Exodus Cry is hoping to increase awareness among young and the old by using the term “abolition.” They want to evoke the same power the word had when used by William Wilburforce â€” the 18th century British legislator who led the way in ending that nation’s slave trade.
Linking human trafficking to modern-day slavery is important, says Mosteller, because most of these victims have not been given a choice to make decision for themselves â€” decisions have been stolen from them. Exodus Cry believes relationship building empowers them to make their own decision to leave.
While Hollywood may not accurately portray how difficult it is to escape human trafficking, they are more successful in showing that children don’t find prostitution. Prostitution finds them. In recent years, state legislators, including those in Kansas, have been moving to change the way underage sex workers are treated.
“They are not criminals,” says Mosteller, “They’re victims. And the sooner we realize that and treat them as such, the sooner we can end the practice of sex slavery.”
To do that effectively, Exodus Cry focuses on four pillars: prevention, intervention, restoration and media through its ground-breaking documentary “Nefarious,” which has been screened for foreign leaders and a standing-room-only crowd of members of the U.S. Senate and Congress.
The upcoming summit aims to share this strategy with attendees and organizers hope to rally the church, non-profit organizations and government representatives to tackle sex slavery head on in their communities. A bill will soon be introduced in Congress that will tackle domestic and foreign trafficking.
Until then it will take educating the church and the public about the scale and danger of sex trafficking and what it means to our communities. The summit will do its part by bringing together people from around the world who want to end the sexual abuse.
The summit will take place in Grandview, August 6â€”8. The event will feature interviewees and experts from the award-winning documentary, “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” including Nolot, the film’s producer, as well as Annie Lobert and Don Brewster. The speakers will share compelling personal stories about their experiences working in the field and establishing avenues of escape.
Nolot is also the co-author of â€˜Babylon, The Resurgence of History’s Most Infamous City,’ which discusses emerging global trends.
Lobert, who founded Hookers for Jesus in 2005 after surviving more than a decade of sex trafficking, reaches out to women who have been abused. She has been featured on “The Today Show,” “Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers,” the “700 Club” and “Nightline.”
Brewster is CEO and founder of Agape International Missions. In 2005, he and his wife moved to Cambodia to fight against the evils of child sex trafficking there. Together, they have spearheaded the effort to open and operate homes for rescued victims. Agape International Missions currently impacts more than 10,000 people a year and was recently featured on “The CNN Freedom Project.”
In addition, guests will have the opportunity to attend breakout sessions designed to provide practical, realistic tools that will allow abolitionists to pursue their own advocacy efforts with confidence. Topics include policy advocacy and legal reform, and the importance of demand reduction. Networking opportunities will allow attendees to meet and collaborate with others in the field.
The event will also spotlight musical artists who have been inspired to use creativity to fight for justice. Worship leaders will include Jason Upton and acclaimed singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan.
In the end, Mosteller says, it is about empowerment and restoration.
“Empowering the church to help, empowering the victims and empowering legislators to do something,” Mosteller says.
“And the key to success is restoration. We give them hope found in Christ.”
To learn more about Exodus Cry’s mission and its commitment to abolishing sex slavery, visit: http://exoduscry.com.
To learn more about the third annual Exodus Cry Abolition Summit or to register for the event, go to: exoduscry.com/abolitionsummit/.