Fighting Human Trafficking

By Rebecca Ridings
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Roebuck India

Laura Roebuck '01

Parish '98 and Kelli (Brockman) Wessels '98

Amy (Russell) Karum '97

Matthew Aspegren '07

"Spiritually, wow, this is the darkest place I've ever been. There are a lot of lies that hold the people here captive." - Laura Roebuck

Kolkata (Calcutta), India, is sweltering. The temperature is tipping 37 °C (98.6 °F), and sweat hangs on the foreheads of those pressing through the crowded marketplace. Voices blend together in a hum of activity sounding similar to a hyperactive beehive. A bicycle carrying three young boys zips through the streets with a large load of goods precariously strapped to the back frame.


Young women from poor families, who were promised jobs, wait, faces obscured, heads covered. Locked in cells and trapped from the teeming world around them, these women are not only captured, but enslaved: bought and sold to do their owners’ bidding.
A man with white hair is shown to the cell of a girl recently captured, 12 years of age. The owners beat her with belts, sticks, and iron rods. She eventually gives in and accepts her fate as a possession. 


This girl has been inducted into the ranks of millions of children prostituted around the world. These 12.3 million people (U.S. Department of State) are the victims of the fastest growing illegal business in the world today, second in size only to the trade of illegal drugs.


From India to Thailand to the Philippines, several JBU graduates have been called to fight the various forms of sex trafficking, often with victims trapped by force, fraud, or coercion.



International Princess Project


In the vibrant cities and lush countryside of India, JBU graduate Laura (Hartman) Roebuck ’01, executive director of the International Princess Project, is working to help rescue women forced into prostitution. One focus of IPP is the Punjammies initiative.


Punjammies are pajama pants handmade by women rescued from forced prostitution in India living in aftercare homes where they receive emotional, spiritual and physical care. IPP has partnered with two organizations in India to create three sewing centers where 85 women are now working with hope and dignity. In addition, IPP helps bring these Punjammies to market, providing resources for these women.


On one of Roebuck’s trips to India, she found herself trapped in the middle of an altercation between a female “Madam” or “pimp” and Christina, one of the Indian Christian females partnering with IPP. 


“It was like the Madam was saying, ‘I know who you are and what you are doing. I know that this is where my girls are disappearing to, you can’t do this,’” she said.


Roebuck said she didn’t fear being attacked physically, “but spiritually, wow, this is the darkest place I’ve ever been. There are a lot of lies that hold the people here captive.”


While some parents are selling their daughters into forced prostitution for money to feed their families, the human trafficking industry is much more than desperation, with an estimated $32 billion exchanging hands each year.


“We can learn a lot about trafficking through books and videos, but there is nothing like actually seeing it — the faces of the girls sold by their families, orphans taken from the streets by pimps, even young mothers just trying to feed their children,” she said.



Ezekiel Rain in Thailand


JBU alumni Parrish ’98 and Kelli (Brockman) Wessels ’98, and Amy (Russell) Karum ’97 are working in northern Thailand to help provide safe homes for girls coming out of the sex trade.


The Wessels and Karums moved to Thailand in February 2010 and are working to establish their ministry, Ezekiel Rain, in the hopes to provide refuge in “restoration homes” for girls who have been rescued out of sex slavery. Ezekiel Rain’s vision is to “see a generation of formerly enslaved children wholly released as intercessors, revivalists and worshipping warriors who partner with God to transform nations.”


Ezekiel Rain gets its name from Ezekiel 34:25-30, “They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslave them,” said Mrs. Wessels.


Amy’s husband, Joel, was born in Thailand.


The ugliness of trafficking is a stark contrast to the natural beauty of Thailand. A mountainous beach scene unfolds with dew gracing the tips of palm trees: everything lush, green and thriving. The amber setting sun leaves streaks across the sky that reflect off the ocean waters.


“This place is so beautiful ... but there is a darkness that hangs over the land.” Kelli said, “I believe we battle not against flesh and blood. The enemy knows why we are here. We are in the midst of a battle who exists to destroy. The enemy doesn’t want the Lord to deliver these people. But our hope is in Jesus.”



Justice in the Philippines


In Cebu, Philippines, Matthew Aspegren ’07 is working to bring light into the darkness of human trafficking.


Aspegren is the Executive Director of Paglaum Training International, affiliated with International Justice Mission. The organization works to “facilitate a process of economic, social and spiritual reconciliation for abused, exploited and vulnerable people in Metro Cebu.”
“We are currently working with 65 beneficiaries, many of whom are survivors of trafficking,” he said.


An estimated 400,000 women are trafficked through the Philippines annually. Women who are rescued without adequate aftercare programs are likely to be re-trafficked. PTI to hopes to reduce the rate of re-trafficking by improving aftercare programs.


Aspegren became aware of human trafficking during his senior year at JBU when he co-founded a campus chapter of the International Justice Mission. The scariest part of his job, said Aspegren, is that the enemy is real.


“There are people in my community working to do the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do....and they are people who aren’t afraid to break the law,” Matthew said.


Aspegren said he has been threatened by wealthy johns in a society where hit-men can cost as little as $16, and has drawn crooked looks from establishment owners who are known to pimp children. Traffickers are willing to take serious measures to stay in business.



Get Involved


Those interested in supporting the International Princess Project can purchase Punjammies at punjammies.com. More information on supporting Ezekiel Rain can be found at EzekielRain.com. Information about the broader work of International Justice Mission, visit their website at ijm.org. n

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