Dr. Diane Langberg was stunned.
A psychologist who's spent much of her career working with middle-class abuse victims in the U.S., Diane was in Brazil in 2002 to train local Christian leaders on how to help victims of violence and sexual abuse. That's when a Brazilian pastor approached her and put the predicament of so many of his countrywomen in stark relief. In the small fishing village where he and his wife served, he told her, all the men were alcoholics, battered their wives, and sexually abused their daughters. "Can you tell me how to help my people?" the pastor asked.
"Never had I been confronted with such extensive abuse and a lack of resources," remembers Diane. She soon learned Brazil isn't unique. Across the world women are abused and sold into slavery in record numbers.
Confronted by the enormity of the problem, Diane started working with organizations including World Vision and International Justice Mission (IJM). Today she provides training and counseling to those on the front lines of the effort to rescue exploited girls and women in places like the Dominican Republic, Myanmar, and South Africa. TCW recently sat down with Diane to learn more about this global problem and how American Christian women can make a difference.
What did you say to that pastor in Brazil who asked you how to help his people?
After my stunned silence, I told him, "Your very presence in the village brings hope." He and his family demonstrate in the flesh that a different way of life is possible. Change will grow out of his very existence because no one can now say all the men are abusers and all the women are abused.
Despite these glimmers of hope, the problem is still very real. The global sex trade is a 12-billion-dollar-a-year industry. On the world's black market, human flesh is one of the top three commodities. It's modern slavery in epidemic proportions.
I recently read a profoundly disturbing book, The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade by Victor Malarek, which tells the story of thousands of women and girls from all over Eastern Europe who are lured by the promise of jobs and then sold for sex by organized crime.
How did the situation get so awful?
In many places, violence and incest are part of the culture. Since abuse is so rampant at home, thousands of girls run away to the streets to "escape." Sex trafficking in Brazil is second only to Thailand. Girls are sold off the streets and into the international slave trade, with many exported to Asia at eight or ten years old.
Why isn't this evil stopped?
In his book, Malarek contends that sex slavery is the most important human-rights issue of the twenty-first century. The U.S. has a human-trafficking initiative that seeks to shed light on the problem, but politics keep us from holding other nations, especially allies such as Germany, accountable. Meanwhile, a female is sold every ten minutes in the developing world. Many nonprofit organizations work tirelessly in this area, but the problem's scope is so vast that a coordinated worldwide effort is necessary to aid these women and girls.
How do you help?
I train social workers so they understand what trauma is and how healing occurs. I also help them care for themselves so they can endure for the long haul. The need is overwhelming; the evil is hideous and frightening. It's easy to begin with good intentions and burn out because you don't understand the emotional, relational, and spiritual work that's necessary to endure.
In the future, I'd love to take in teams of psychologists and social workers to teach and train these helpers. I've started The Place of Refuge, a trauma and training center in inner-city Philadelphia, which I hope will be replicated in urban centers around the world.
Although you work with the caregivers, have you met any of the victims?
Yes. In Myanmar I met six young mothers with small children. I was not unlike them some years ago. They had babies, they loved them, and they wanted them to grow up strong and healthy. They lived in a project outside the capital city with no running water, little to no sanitation, and rampant disease. Their access to education and job skills is very limited. With tears they told their stories. All of the women had been infected with HIV/AIDS by their husbands and then abandoned.
One of them had her niece with her. Her name was Zin Mar and she was about nine. She was too sick to go to school. Her aunt cared for her as both her parents had died from AIDS. I worked hard to get her to smile, but she wouldn't. She broke my heart with her sad eyes and sick body. As I left, I gave Zin Mar a rose, and then she smiled. For me, she represents the girls and women of the world whose lives are being destroyed by evil. That motivates me to do all I can to help.
Most women can't offer the kind of assistance you provide. How can we help?
You can educate yourself about sex trafficking by reading books or inviting representatives from organizations as such IJM to speak at your church. You can write your legislators, urging them to support strong measures against trafficking. I also encourage short-term mission trips to see some of the work abroad and help build homes for aftercare for rescued victims. Christians can provide money for resources and to help caregivers attend conferences in the U.S.
Prayer is also important. Christian women can intercede for those involved in this horrible situation and for their caregivers. The church has a long history of confronting societal plagues and freeing captives. What if, in one of the darkest hours on this planet, the church rose up united and became known for her work with those who are being sold?
Can you give an example of what can happen when Christians get involved?
There was a 14-year-old girl, "Manna," from south Asia, who ran away from home to escape a physically abusive brother. She met a young woman who befriended her and promised her a job. Instead, she forced Manna to become a prostitute. When Manna resisted customers, she was beaten. She endured two nightmarish years as a prostitute.
A few years earlier, IJM had saved a young woman from that brothel, and now she led the Christians back. They rescued Manna and three other girls from a soundproof dungeon. Now Manna is safe in an IJM aftercare home and is going to school to become a social worker. IJM also helped bring the brothel keepers to justice; they're currently in prison.
Manna says, "God took me from that place to be here. I'm requesting God to let IJM save even more like me. What is impossible for men is possible for God." There are so many girls out there like Manna; we can ask God how he would use us to help them and their caregivers.
How have you coped with the intense levels of suffering you've witnessed in your work with traumatized people?
Working with evil takes its toll, and my endurance is in direct proportion to my personal relationship with God. He's taught me something about who he is and how to worship him even in the midst of confronting gross sin. I'm slowly delving into the depths of the Cross and all that it means. Christ has shown me his great love for this world and given me a piece of that love for people of every tribe and nation and tongue.
I rise early every morning to read and pray. God has given me faithful friends with whom I pray weekly. He's given me supportive pastors and a church community that intercedes as I travel. I love Jesus Christ more than words can ever tell and know that the debt I owe is incomprehensible. The privilege of sharing in his burden and the fellowship of his sufferings is an honor.
Rebecca Price Janney, PhD lives with her family in Pennsylvania.
The Place of Refuge, 215-885-1835, www.placeofrefuge.net
1-888-373-7888; this trafficking information and referral hotline is staffed 24 hours a day and can help someone determine if she's encountered a victim of trafficking and can connect victims to assistance organizations.
On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Hope and Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Dr. Diane Langberg
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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November/December 2006, Vol. 28,No. 6, Page 58