Jesus treated women with dignity and respect. He shared living water with the woman at the well. He saved the physical life of the woman caught in adultery. After his resurrection, he appeared first to the women.

His followers must do no less.

While most of us think of slavery as a relic of the “bad old days,” human trafficking is alive and well in today’s world. Women and children are trafficked for sexual purposes and as unpaid labor in every corner of the globe, including the United States.

Violence against women is widely tolerated. Sex tourism flourishes in Bangkok – and in several large cities in the United States. As Christians, we have an obligation to educate ourselves and to fight this abuse.

Consider these statistics:

· 31 percent of women in the United States say they have experienced physical abuse by a husband or male significant other.

· The World Health Organization estimates that 100 million to 140 million women and girls globally are living with the effects of female genital cutting, a cultural practice in several countries and in some immigrant communities.

· An estimated 5 percent of women on college campuses report a rape or attempted rape in a given year.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries is working to address some of these needs.

From 2007 to 2010, “Break the Chains: Slavery in the 21st Century” raised more than $480,000 for ministries engaged in work with survivors of trafficking, preventative outreach or advocacy; it exceeded its original goal by a considerable amount.

These funds are now being used to make a difference.

· In Peoria, Ill., the Matthew 25 jewelry cooperative is offering a group of largely Hispanic women a way out of prostitution by developing an alternative source of income. In addition to jewelry making, the program helps the women increase their fluency in English and enhances their self-esteem.

· In Italy, American Baptist International Ministries missionary Debbie Kelsey is actively educating women in the churches about Italy’s program for helping trafficking victims. She is also working directly with such victims, assisting in finding legal employment.

· In South Dakota, Be Free Isaiah 58 Ministries works to battle the trafficking that occurs especially during hunting season and during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. By educating social service and government agencies as well as church members, they are forming a team to protect the vulnerable.

· In Lebanon, many households import maids from other countries. Once in Lebanon, these women have little or no recourse if their employers abuse them. Sometimes their passports are taken, they are not paid or they are the victims of physical abuse. Sarah Chetti, American Baptist International Ministries missionary, is traveling to prisons where some of these women are kept, through no fault of their own, for not having proper papers.

· In Los Angeles, NightLight USA was created to support the work of NightLight in Bangkok, Thailand, an international faith-based organization directed by Annie Deiselberg, an American Baptist International Ministries missionary. They are committed to giving women and children an escape from sexual exploitation, to enable them to discover their dignity and to provide a program of holistic transformation, empowering them to live and work in their community. The NightLight USA group soon found plenty of work to do right in Los Angeles to combat sexual trafficking. They do direct street outreach, raise awareness through training, participate in events and build relationships with other organizations combating the issue locally.

Beginning this year, American Baptist Women’s Ministries will expand its “Break the Chains” initiative.

The new “Break the Chains and Stop the Pain” initiative is dedicated to ending oppression of women and girls worldwide. A different facet of oppression will be highlighted each year. This year, the focus is on violence.

Regardless of where you live, sexual trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people is occurring near your neighborhood. What will we do to help break the chains?

Beth Fogg serves on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics and works for American Baptist Churches USA.

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