VULNERABILITY: POVERTY

When you think of vulnerability, poverty probably comes to mind. However, we often limit our understanding of poverty by only seeing the physical needs. In reality, poverty encompasses the unmet needs of the whole person.

While the lack of basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are the most obvious and create desperation, there’s also a lack of access to certain things that most of us take for granted. Lack of access to proper education, medical care, and employment opportunities create huge disadvantages, but even this is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Whether they live on the street, in slums, or low-income housing, there are often stigmas attached to these individuals as well. This creates a lack of acceptance, which can also result in a lack of healthy relationships. These individuals are usually pushed to the fringes of society, with little to no support from their peers. They’re often not accepted into certain situations or places and are isolated from opportunity in so many ways. Their place in society often robs them of their dignity so when someone mistreats or exploits them, they’re not surprised. They tend to be easily manipulated because of their desperation. For example, they might be willing to send their children off with strangers in hopes of a better life for not only the child, but for the rest of the family that’s left behind. Combine these realities with the physical lack and you have a very vulnerable person. 

The downfall of most of the aid that’s given to those living in poverty is the lack of understanding that the psychological and emotional needs are just as important as the physical ones (if not more). People need their dignity restored, wounds healed, and hope revived - without these things, there’s poverty of the spirit. 

You can see in a quick assessment around the world that the great majority of those who are living in orphanages and that are victims of human trafficking come from impoverished, marginalized people groups. We must address poverty in a holistic way. It doesn’t only present us with physical needs to be met, but psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual ones as well. Living in poverty often creates a poverty mindset that’s rooted in hopelessness. We must step in, meet the needs of the whole person, and help them overcome the obstacles they face -  whether it’s a lack of provision or believing they’re worthless. Loving our neighbors holistically, no matter their economic status or messy situations, is the only way to address their inner and outer vulnerabilities. 

VULNERABILITY: THE REFUGEE CRISIS

When the refugee crisis began to unfold and take precedence in the media, the first thing that came to my mind was that this is a group of extremely vulnerable people to be trafficked, whether for sex or labor. According to UNHCR, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. And nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.

The trauma that results from war, persecution, fleeing, and the tragedies that happen along the way are leaving people wounded with deep pain and little means for help. And the instability that displacement brings often leads to desperation. These things combined make these individuals extremely vulnerable. They are simply trying to survive, but what we’re seeing instead are thousands of missing children, women who are being sold into sexual slavery, and men that are being forced into hard labor. 

Those on the front lines of this crisis can only offer so many services or a certain level of care before a person is moved to the next step in the resettlement process. The need for deep care and healing  is ever-present, but the transient nature of their lives makes it very difficult to receive it. 

While the world has fought over whether or not to allow these individuals into their countries, it’s left them exposed with no real security or covering. As things continue to progress and the numbers continue to rise, we must find permanent solutions for these individuals. They need a wide variety of services, but more than anything, their value and dignity needs to be reinstated. They need people who are committed to their healing and will walk with them as they recount the traumas and horrors they’ve faced. If a permanent placement is not found, they will continue to be an easy target for exploitation. With human trafficking being the fastest growing crime in the world, we cannot afford to make it easy for these criminal syndicates to source human beings. We must fight to protect the innocent lives of millions - who have already faced great adversity - from becoming another life swept away in the name of exploitation for commercial gain. 

VULNERABILITY: CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE

It is with heaviness in my heart that I write on both the subject of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. It is also with great hope for victims that I write on these subjects. As a licensed professional counselor who counseled children who have been severely abused as well as adult victims of child sexual abuse for 10+ years, I have seen the severe wound of abuse and the radical redemption of the lives of victims. Holding the tension between grief and hope will be necessary as we tackle these subjects.

Sexual abuse of a child includes touching offenses like fondling, making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs, and penetrating a child’s vagina or anus. Sexual abuse also includes non-touching offenses like engaging in indecent exposure, exposing children to pornography, deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse, and masturbating in front of a child.

In order to understand the impact of sexual abuse on a child, it is important to know how we are created - our personhood. First, we are created to have a voice; second, we are created for relationship; third, we are created with power. Our full personhood is to hear and speak (voice), to know and be known (relationship), to love and be loved (power).  

Chronic abuse in children is profound because it is takes away a child’s voice, relationship, and power. Abusers silence children by threatening to kill their loved ones if they speak about their abuse. Children also carry shame and guilt as abusers make them feel responsible for the abuse. Abusers isolate children so they can secretly violate and hurt them, taking away a child’s security and need to be loved. Lastly, abusers oppress children causing them to feel powerless to change their circumstances.  

Since a child’s personhood is violated, most do not realize they are victims of abuse. This is the reason why victims of child sex abuse are at high risk of sex trafficking: the illegal business of recruiting and harboring a person, especially a minor, for sex.  

If a child grows up in isolation with abusive authorities, this becomes their norm. They have not experienced any other type of relationship. Therefore, they may not believe a trafficker who is abusing and isolating them from the outside world is doing anything wrong.  

Furthermore, victims suffer from shame, guilt, and low self-worth. This is sometimes the hardest to break through as they have lived a life feeling responsible for their abuse. It devastatingly keeps victims from placing appropriate responsibility on the abuser, allowing traffickers to get away from prosecution.  

Lastly, shame keeps victims from seeking mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual freedom. Since their voice is silenced, security is destroyed, and power is removed, victims often live a life of abuse.

Words cannot express the atrocity of abusers who take advantage of the innocence and vulnerability of children who know nothing more than to trust…just to trust. I have seen children who have been safely removed from their abusers cry and long for their abusers. Through treatment, I have worked with adult victims of child sex abuse who learn to speak again, learn how to relate, and reclaim their power to be used for good in this very broken world.

In my years of counseling, I have learned one of the greatest impacts does not require training…a constant presence. Victims need someone who will listen to their story over and over again, love them unconditionally, and hope for them. I am grateful for those who are a voice to the voiceless, a presence to the unknown, and a fortress for the weak. 

 

Edna Lee, MA, LPC-S

Reference: Langberg, Diane M., Ph.D.  Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse.  Florida: Xulon Press, 2003.

VULNERABILITY: THE FATHERLESS

The connection between the orphan crisis and human trafficking cannot be denied. Whether a child is living in an institution or in a foster home, the likelihood of them being exploited or trafficked is incredibly high. For example, the head of Florida’s trafficking task force estimates that 70 percent of child trafficking victims are foster youth. A study in New York found that 75 percent of children who were sexually exploited for commercial purposes had spent time in foster care. With having personally heard from some of the exploited youth in New York City myself, I can assure you that this is true. I’ll never forget the story of a young girl who had been living on the streets. She shared with us that the first time she had ever received a hug from a man was from her pimp. You can imagine the emotional bond that was forged in that moment. For the first time in her life she felt loved, safe, and secure. Unfortunately, it was in the arms of the man who later exploited her.

Related to the orphan crisis is what’s often referred to as ‘the fatherless generation.’ The amount of single parent households or children being raised without their father is truly astounding. It is also one of the recurring themes in victims of sex trafficking in the west. Growing up without a father often leads to many emotional and relational issues. The pain that exists as a result of this can be a catalyst for that child to then attempt to fill those voids in someone else.

All humans possess basic emotional needs. We all have them; we can’t get around them. These needs have to be met so if we, the caregivers, don’t step in and meet those needs in a healthy way, someone else with ill intentions will. The thread of unmet emotional needs is one that is too often woven into the lives of these children and is usually the thread that is used by traffickers to lure them into captivity. Playing on emotional and psychological wounds, their exploiters often become everything to them. The psychological chains that are developed while being exploited can be extremely difficult to break as they are dependent on the man or woman who is abusing them. 

Traffickers, or those who set out to harm and exploit, are truly some of the greatest psychologists that exist because of their ability to manipulate. They know exactly what to say and how to act in order to wiggle their way into the lives of the girls and boys they intend to exploit. They are so committed to their craft that it has become a science to them. For those of us on the opposing team, we must be even more committed and work to prevent this from happening in the first place.  And, we must be ready to receive the shattered hearts who have faced great pain and fulfill the promises their exploiters could not: to be a safe place to mend, heal, and find freedom.  

We cannot tackle an issue like human trafficking without addressing the vulnerabilities that put people at risk for exploitation. While this issue may seem bleak, there is always hope. We have the ability to love children near and far who are growing up in these situations. And a loving presence is not only what these children need, but what they desire. Loving the vulnerable is how we can end exploitation so I challenge you to take up the cause of the fatherless and transform their lives. We must extend our hearts and be willing to embrace these children and their vulnerabilities before they fall into the traps of injustice.  

 

THE FACTS: THE ORPHAN CRISIS

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF ORPHAN? 

There has been a lot of confusion created by the way orphans are defined. International agencies recognize orphans in two categories: single orphan and double orphan. A single orphan is a child who has lost one parent, and often reside with the living parent or other family members. Double orphans are children who have lost both parents. 

Organizations adopted the broader definition of orphan in the mid-1990s as the AIDS pandemic began leading to the death of millions of parents worldwide, leaving an ever increasing number of children growing up without one or more parents. The terminology of a ‘single orphan’ and a ‘double orphan’ was born to convey this growing crisis. 1

"Many of these children who live in orphanages or on the streets are known as “social orphans.” Although one or even both of their parents may be alive, social orphans rarely see their parents or experience life in a family. Some never do. Global orphan statistics shed virtually no light on the reality of the vast number of social orphans who have one or more living parents, yet experience life as if they did not." 2

STATISTICS

  • 153 million orphans worldwide (single and double orphans) 3
  • 17.8 million double orphans 4
  • 95% of orphans are over the age of five 5
  • 2 to 8 million children are currently living in institutions 6

*overallestimates don't include children living on the streets, those in institutions, or those who have fallen victim to human trafficking 7

Sources: (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)

WHAT'S THE RESPONSE?

  • Reunification or Preservation of Families - If we can work to keep families of origin together, it's almost always the best option. Unless there's an environment of abuse, neglect, or some other extenuating circumstances that put the child at-risk or in danger.
  • Foster Care - In the US, there is a huge need for foster families. Children who have been displaced from their homes are extremely vulnerable and usually face more instability and safety concerns once they are placed into the system. The need for loving, stable, safe families to care for these children is huge. 
  • Adoption - Adoption is a wonderful option, but we must recognize that it's not the only nor is it always the best option to care for orphans. Those interested in adoption must do their due diligence to ensure that it's ethical. There are too many children who are being adopted for the wrong reasons or even worse, are being victimized by a criminal network.