A clock at the entrance of Bush Intercontinental Airport counts down the days to the arrival of Super Bowl LI in Houston.
The last time the Super Bowl came to our city, our children were small. I remember seeing famous people driving through the city with their names written in large bright letters on the sides of their Hummers. The city buzzed with excitement.
We now know that more than just football comes to town with the Super Bowl. In addition to the thousands of visitors in town for the game, there is an increased demand for commercial sex.
According to a 2015 study at Arizona State University through The McCain Institute, this is evident in the increased volume of sex ads around Super Bowl time. This uptick in demand for commercial sex may lead to an increase in human trafficking.
“The Super Bowl itself does not create the condition in which sex trafficking flourishes,” The McCain Institute explained, “but rather traffickers will bring their victims wherever there is demand and money is to be made.”
Houston is already recognized as a giant hub for human trafficking in the United States. Interstate 10, Houston’s major thoroughfare, is the largest highway for transporting human trafficking victims in the United States.
Not just when we host the Super Bowl, but all year long we must continue the fight against this nefarious activity.
Some years ago, a faithful group of leaders in our church launched a monthly prayer meeting focused on human trafficking, called “10-10-10.” This meeting takes place at 10 a.m. on the 10th day of the month at a spot located right next to I-10.
One time after our prayer meeting, the local police busted a trafficking ring and arrested several traffickers. Beverly, one of our leaders, couldn’t wait to tell me the good news.
This commitment to prayer mobilizes the church for greater activity.
Another one of our leaders, Lore, who is missional to her core, worked with local authorities to meet with victims rescued from trafficking. She once met a young female victim who had been rescued from a truck stop.
Lore said of the victim, “When I looked in her eyes, they were empty.” Her suffering had changed her forever.
What happens to these women when they age out of the demand for young prostitutes?
The recidivism rate to the lifestyle of the sex trade is painfully high. Stealing their dignity and self-worth, the traffickers set them up for a lifestyle that is difficult to escape over the long term.
Many move onto sexually oriented businesses as dancers or strippers. These women, herded from one miserable existence to the next, need to know about the loving Shepherd who seeks to save them.
At Thanksgiving, through an organization called Jesus Said Love, our church members baked pies for the women who worked at a local strip club.
The workers wept when they received the pies. Some hurriedly hid them in their lockers. Others took forks and began to eat immediately, fearing their gifts might be taken away.
While it was only a small gesture, those pies sent a taste of the love and care of Christ to a group of women who might not otherwise set foot inside a church.
We must ultimately address the issue of demand. Through the gospel, God can transform the hearts of the customers who keep this business alive.
This makes the work of the church in worship and in witness even more important. We preach the gospel to ourselves, reminding us that we are worse off than we thought and more loved than we ever dreamed.
Our 10-10-10 Prayer Group prays also for the souls of the pimps and dealers of commercial sex. The same good news that calls us away from our sin can also heal the brokenness of those who perpetuate the crime of sex trafficking.
The clock of heaven counts down to the day of redemption. Let us work while there is still time.
Jen Whittenberg is women’s ministry associate at Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on how local churches and nonprofit organizations are working (and can work) to address human trafficking.
Previous articles in the series are: