By Anna Scianna, Special to ASSIST News Service
LENEXA, KANSAS (ANS – August 30, 2016) — It’s not enough to fight sex trafficking: all forms of prostitution and violence against women must be abolished if slavery truly is to be ended. And Christians must lead the fight to change cultural mindsets and laws. That was the charge Benjamin Nolot, founder of Exodus Cry, gave to more than 800 like-minded modern-day abolitionists from around the world who gathered outside Kansas City for the fifth annual Exodus Cry Abolition Summit.
“I have concluded that prostitution is a system of violence against women and a form of gender inequality,” said Nolot. “It is a collision point of male entitlement and female vulnerability. It is the intersection between classicism, racism and sexism. It is a form of social incest that violates the human family and it must be abolished.”
Kansas Governor and former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, opened the August 11-13, 2016, conference, urging the body of Christ to not ignore the evil of sexual exploitation in its midst and to take a stand against injustice.
“Remember, people of faith have long been involved, and have been critical in the ending social maladies around the world throughout the history of mankind,” Brownback said.
The theme of abolishing prostitution might seem off topic for those who know Exodus Cry as an anti-trafficking organization, but Exodus Cry wants to challenge the false cultural narrative about prostitution and help people understand prostituted women are in slavery in the same way trafficked women are. Some have been trafficked into the industry, even if they aren’t living behind physical bars often portrayed in popular culture. Others are forced into the industry by positions of vulnerability. For many the bars that trap them are unseen – poverty, sexism, racism and other unchosen barriers.
“We believe prostitution is something that happens to somebody, not who they are, and so the way we speak about it is really important,” said Exodus Cry Director of Abolition Laila Mickelwait.
Often when approaching issues such as sexual exploitation, people can recoil in fear, but the reality is God has called Christians to go into the dark places, because only then can they truly bear his light, Christian author and trauma and abuse counselor Dan Allender said at the Summit.
“God never refuses to engage in reality,” Allender said, reminding attendees this is a spiritual war they cannot ignore. “If you want to know God, you walk in the darkness. If you want to know the light of God, there’s no better place to go than in the realms of human trafficking, of sexual violation, of sexual wars.”
While abolishing prostitution might seem impossible, there are steps for people to take in their own communities. One of the first is to become educated about the issue, sex trafficking survivor and ministry leader Rebecca Bender said. She urged attendees to read books, watch documentaries, and learn about the work already being done in their communities. Speakers also emphasized that as Christians, a response is also built on a counter-cultural view of humanity – which recognizes every human being as an image-bearer of God.
“Without the Christian worldview, the value of a person is determined by another. But, as Christians, we believe our value comes from the fact we’ve been created in the image of God,” said Naomi Zacharias, director of Wellspring International, a humanitarian arm of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Many people still see trafficking, prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation as separate industries, including government leaders around the world who eagerly take a harsh stance against trafficking, but refuse to take a stance on prostitution and the commercial sex trade. The reality is the two are irrevocably linked, Mickelwait explained.
Not only are they linked, but legal systems in many countries (including the United States) also have much harsher penalties for prostituted women than for those who purchase sex, Mickelwait said. Having more lenient measures for the sex buyers effectively increases demand, while those being exploited become more enslaved with criminal records – further preventing them from finding employment and a pathway to freedom. Exodus Cry cites a number of sobering statistics showing the physical and mental violence inflicted upon women, including prostituted women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at the same level as combat veterans.
Exodus Cry leaders said they would like to see more countries follow the example set by Sweden that has been adopted by a number of other countries around the world, including Canada and France, but not yet by the U.S. Known as the Equality Model, this abolitionist model does not punish prostituted women, but rather provides means for them to escape the sex trade, while providing much harsher penalties for those hiring prostituted women.
“We should not speak about prostitution as if it we are a service or an abstract disassociated commodity separated from one’s being. Rather we should speak about prostitution according to its true nature, as a form of slavery. It’s people buying other people,” Nolot said.
Kansas City-based Exodus Cry was founded in 2008 to combat sex trafficking. It has since grown to become a leading modern-day abolitionist movement. Exodus Cry is best known for creating the movie Nefarious, but has expanded to work with victims, governments and churches around the world. Exodus Cry is built on a foundation of prayer and is committed to abolishing sex slavery through Christ-centered prevention, intervention, and holistic restoration of trafficking victims.
Video streaming of all conference sessions is accessible for a fee at http://exoduscry.com/.
Photo captions: 1) Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. 2) Exodus Cry Founder Benjamin Nolot calls on the Abolition Summit attendees to pray for the elimination of all forms of prostitution. 3) Exodus Cry Abolition Summit attendees respond with passion and commitment, joining the modern day fight against slavery. 4) Anna Scianna. (Photo: Derek Jenkins).
About the writer: Anna Scianna has experience in teaching, journalism & communications, and ministry. Most recently, Anna spent several years in China teaching English at a university. Back in the U.S. now, she will soon begin serving in local church ministry in the Kansas City area. Anna holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She periodically blogs at https://annascianna.com/. Her e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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