15 December 2017


The first conviction of human trafficking took place in Northern Ireland only a few weeks ago. Despite a disappointing sentence, this was a victory for campaigners and counter trafficking units in the country as finally, the message was being sent out: Human trafficking is a crime with consequences; Northern Ireland is not a safe or accepting place for traffickers.

We so often take the line when discussing the issue – our country should be safe for victims, and unsafe for traffickers. Human trafficking is a violation of human worth and dignity and should be punished. It is injustice personified and cannot be accepted.

We enjoy stories of hope and redemption when their subject is a survivor of human trafficking. “Stories of hope” has become a bit of a key phrase in circles dealing with the issue. We look for them, cling to them, and share them. These have warmed my heart in the past few months: Kutty, a former victim of forced labour in South East Asia becomes a government official, or Sophie, a former victim of sex trafficking writes a book and brings the issue to Parliament in the UK. Consider then someone who has robbed people of their freedom and abused them in unimaginable ways… do they ever get to be a ‘success story’?

When Christians talk about human trafficking, they talk about hope. They talk about redemption. They talk about the fact that Jesus loved the world so much He came to save it. They talk of the purpose and plan for each victim of trafficking. And they – we – must also talk about the purpose and plan for traffickers; for the redemption of their souls, and of their lives. The well of hope is theirs too.

Let me introduce you to Jacob. A human trafficker in South Africa who got involved with the wrong crowd – a crowd that dipped into the top three forms of illegal trade: drugs, weapon smuggling and the selling of human beings. The last one, human trafficking, was the “best money” as girls could be sold over and over again. Indeed, where a bag of cocaine can be used once – a girl can be sold for sex 30 times a day, day after day. Jacob’s gang dealt with mostly Thai girls. At the outset, somewhat naively, Jacob thought they were there on their own accord but soon realised they had been tricked by ‘recruiters’ pretending to hire them for ordinary jobs. The girls were 15, 16 years old – still children needing to be “broken in” by the traffickers when they started ‘work’. They would be tied up, drugged, starved and raped. The men who bought sex with them included members of the police so they could trust no one and were quickly taught that they had no way out. Their reality was a nightmare, and Jacob was making it happen.

Jacob now admits, “traffickers don’t care about people but simply about money.” In his story, he speaks of how the traffickers he worked with invested the money they made from the sexual exploitation of young girls into the pornography industry as a means of fueling the demand for the ‘services’ they offered.

Jacob’s story continues, “BUT I started realising that things weren’t right… that there was a lot of evil involved.” The moving of the Holy Spirit, a conviction inside him…a whisper of justice.

He started seeing the girls not as cattle, or as commodities, but as victims of atrocious abuse. He started speaking with them as human beings. He got a glimpse of what life was like for them. And so, with what God had planted in him, he began to seek a way out – for himself, but at the top of his list, for the girls. Thus began his journey out of trafficking and into redemption. A difficult journey: at first threatened by the people he worked with, a hit man was then paid to harm him. Saved from danger, he was subsequently ‘fired’. He calls this a “blessing from God”.

He brought a girl to the Thai embassy. He was told that he would be exposed by the media who doubted his genuine interest in helping the girls. Despite this, he became an informer and acted as a catalyst for a major raid – for which his statement was leaked and his safety threatened yet again. “It got quite scary,” he says. “We didn’t have food: it was a tough time. We were really alone at that stage. There was a big change. I gave my life to Jesus, but it took time. I’m still working on it. I think, if you come out of bad crime, you’ve got a lot of scars. They need healing. It’s not something that we, as individuals can heal; not any doctor, they can’t help you. It’s only God that can help you. It’s a process and I wish some days, it could just be done. Much of the time I live with my thoughts, the dreams. It’s a progressive thing that I’m going through. I’m taking step by step with God. He’s teaching me His Son’s way. I’m far from being the model Christian, but I’m working on it. I love God. I love what He’s doing for us (Jacob is now married). I love what he took me out of, I love him for that.”

Jacob has given his life to saving those he used to exploit. He became part of the solution to a problem many call the worst crime in existence, the violation of all that is human. The Gospel changed his heart, and his life. An abuser became a protector. A trafficker became a rescuer. How? The grace of God: His boundless forgiveness and mercy.

In the end, the hope that moves us to action is two-pronged: We believe that victims can be rescued and restored; and we believe that traffickers and those who buy others can be changed and redeemed. These two things go hand in hand. They stem from the plan of redemption for all of creation. Jesus’ death and resurrection bring forgiveness and grace. Forgiveness and grace bring about change, which in turn breathes life into hopeless situations.

Gemma Wilson