Human trafficking: Faith groups mobilize

Human trafficking is on the rise around the globe and in the United States, with children increasingly among the victims.

Recent attention has been drawn to the U.S.-Mexican border, where thousands of children, led by traffickers called “coyotes,” are streaming across in search of a better life, and to Nigeria, where more than 200 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, and threatened with slavery and forced marriage.

Other victims — mainly women and children — are trafficked into the sex trade, both here and abroad, while still others find themselves held against their will and forced to work as slaves to “pay back” their traffickers. The U.S. government, state governments and religious organizations have put energy and money into fighting trafficking with new strategies. 

The State Department releases an annual report on human trafficking spotlighting the global trade in enforced labor and the selling or prostitution of people – as many as 27 million worldwide, mostly women and children – without their consent or benefit. The issue is increasingly mobilizing religious groups. 

Many of those religious groups are based in the United States, spurred by the fact the U.S. itself has come under scrutiny for the level of human trafficking within its borders. Experts say there are forced laborers and sex workers in every U.S. state, and modern bondage generates an estimated $150 billion annually worldwide. Still, the State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons report gave the U.S. “Tier 1” status, ranking it among the top enforcers of human trafficking laws and prosecutors of those who engage in it.

Nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits have enlisted international, national and local religious groups in the fight against trafficking.  Christian and Jewish groups in particular have brought the issue and its victims into their congregations, exploring sacred texts for direction and solutions. Religious groups — especially evangelical Christians — were instrumental in the 2008 passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which prevents the quick deportation of many migrant children. In July 2014, more than 3,800 religious leaders petitioned President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of thousands of children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. There are cross-denominational Freedom Sundays and Freedom Shabbats and interfaith conferences dedicated to the issue of human trafficking.

This edition of ReligionLink focuses on the human trafficking pipeline that crosses into U.S. borders from abroad.

Why it matters

As human trafficking has spread, and as more children have become involved, more people are recognizing those involved in trafficking as victims forced into low-paid labor, bondage or the sex trade directly or through desperate circumstances over which they had little control. Their rescue and rehabilitation have become top priorities. Prostitution and slavery are addressed in Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures, and many people of faith believe that fighting human trafficking is a moral and religious imperative.


News reports and blog posts


National sources


  • Jeanette Bradley

    Jeanette Bradley is the founder of 2nd Chance Ministries, an Ohio-based Christian street ministry that helps people who want to escape a bad situation and make a new life. She overcame a history of drug addiction and prostitution, a past she recounts in her book I’m Still Standing.

  • Theresa Flores

    Theresa Flores is the author of The Slave Across the Street, a memoir of her time as a child prostitute. She is the founder of Gracehaven, a home for rescued or escaped child prostitutes. She launched Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, an awareness program aimed at hotel and motel workers, at the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas. She lives in Worthington, Ohio.

  • Holly Austin Smith

    Holly Austin Smith is a human trafficking survivor and advocate against all forms of forced labor. She has made appearances nationwide to raise awareness about the issue and to endorse programs aimed at saving victims. Smith is the author of Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery. She lives in Richmond, Va.

Faith-based activists and organizations

  • Kevin Austin

    Kevin Austin is a Free Methodist missionary who has been involved for years in programs aimed at abolishing slavery and helping its victims create new lives. He says there is growing support among faith communities to combat all forms of human trafficking and that interest in Freedom Sundays and Freedom Shabbats continues to grow. Austin is based in the greater Seattle area.

  • Minerva G. Carcano

    Minerva G. Carcano is bishop of the Phoenix Episcopal Area, Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is based in Pasadena, Calif. She is spokeswoman for the Council of Bishops on the issue of immigration.

    In July 2014, she headed an effort of more than 3,800 religious leaders to petition Obama to intervene in the crisis of thousands of children streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Katie Conway

    Katie Conway is an immigration and refugee policy analyst for the Episcopal Church in its Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. She can discuss the church’s work in the crisis involving unaccompanied children migrants.

    Contact: 202-547-7300.
  • Janice Crouse

    Janice Crouse is executive director and senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank of Concerned Women for America. She has long been involved in the fight against sex trafficking and received an award from the U.S. State Department for her work on that issue.

    CWA posts articles on sexual exploitation and trafficking.

    Contact: 202-488-7000.
  • Chab Dai

    Chab Dai is an international organization that combats human trafficking so its victims “can be all that God created them to be.” Its U.S. office is in Sacramento, Calif. Chab Dai also operates in Cambodia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Helen Sworn is the founder and international director.

  • Evangelical Covenant Church

    This Chicago-based denomination works to fight against human trafficking with its ”Break the Chains” project. The church also has prepared a 40-page booklet to help congregations combat the problem at the local level.

  • Linda Hartke

    Linda Hartke is the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an organization that serves both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It helps resettle refugees, protect unaccompanied refugee children, advocate for the just treatment of asylum seekers and seek alternatives to detention for those incarcerated during immigration proceedings.

  • Gary Haugen

    Gary Haugen is the founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights agency that works with congregations to combat sex trafficking and forced prostitution.

  • Susie Johnson

    Susie Johnson is on the human trafficking team of the United Methodist Women. She is also executive director for public policy with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

  • Rachel Kahn-Troster

    Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is director of North American programs for T’ruah, formerly known as Rabbis for Human Rights — North America. She has spoken internationally on behalf of the U.S. State Department about human trafficking. She lives in Teaneck, N.J.


  • Nancy K. Kaufman

    Nancy K. Kaufman is chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women. She has written about the group’s work, with others, in combating human trafficking in the U.S. since the early 1900s. Contact through the council’s New York headquarters.

    Contact: 212-645-4048.
  • Richard Land

    Richard Land is president of the nondenominational Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and previously served for 25 years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

    Land has addressed the issue of sex trafficking and was a supporter of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

  • David Saperstein

    David Saperstein is an American rabbi, lawyer, and Jewish community leader who served as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2015 – 2017. He previously served as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism‘s Religious Action Center for more than 40 years and as a Commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  He Is one of the founders of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network. The network seeks to build mutual trust and respect among faith leaders through civic engagement, authentic relationships, and honest dialogue leading to resilient, compassionate, and flourishing communities.

    The center has made human trafficking one of its focuses.

  • Deborah Stein

    Deborah Stein is the director of the Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement program of the Episcopal Church.

Other activists

  • Kay Buck

    Kay Buck is executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, a nonprofit that seeks to serve victims of trafficking. It is based in Los Angeles.

    She says work with houses of worship is picking up as more become aware of the problem of trafficking, even in their own communities, and want to help.

  • Claude d’Estrée

    Claude d’Estrée is director of the Human Trafficking Center, the Center on Rights Development and the international human rights degree program at the University of Denver, where he is also a Buddhist chaplain.

    He says there is a definite increase in the number of religious organizations and faith-based communities involved in the anti-human trafficking campaign and there are two major concerns about these organizations. First, many have little to no training in the issues of human trafficking, and second, there is concern that faith-based groups will proselytize trafficking victims.

  • Melissa Farley

    Melissa Farley is a clinical and research psychologist and directs the San Francisco-based Prostitution Research and Education project, which works to abolish prostitution and help prostitutes. She edited Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress.

  • Amanda Finger

    Amanda Finger is executive director of the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking in Denver.

  • Mohamed Mattar

    Mohamed Mattar is executive director of the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University, which approaches human trafficking as a human rights issue. He helped draft the U.N. model law on human trafficking and has worked to fight against it in more than 50 countries.

    Contact: 202-663-5896.
  • Kate Mogulescu

    Kate Mogulescu is the founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. The project has won praise from the American Bar Association, and Mogulescu has trained public defenders and prosecutors throughout the nation, as well as locally, on how to identify victims of sex trafficking and avoid criminalizing them. Contact through Pat Bath in the public information office.


    Contact: 212-577-3346.
  • Bradley Myles

    Bradley Myles is executive director and CEO of the Polaris Project, which fights sex trafficking and helps survivors. It is based in Washington, D.C., and Japan.

  • Linda Smith

    Linda Smith is a former U.S. congresswoman and the founder and director of Shared Hope International, which works to rescue and restore women and children in crisis. It is based in Vancouver, Wash. Smith is co-author of The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and the DEMAND Report. Contact through Taryn Offenbacher.

  • Marisa Ugarte

    Marisa Ugarte is founder and executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, an alliance of governments and agencies that combat slavery and human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Contact: 619-336-0770.
  • Greg Wark

    Greg Wark is the co-founder of Stop Child Trafficking Now, a countertrafficking organization that has teamed up with retired Navy SEALS to collect evidence against traffickers and to raise awareness about child sex trafficking. The organization works with churches around the country.

Government officials

  • Luis CdeBaca

    Luis CdeBaca is ambassador-at-large for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He is a former prosecutor and received an award for his work as lead trial counsel in the largest slavery prosecution in U.S. history, in a case involving a garment factory in American Samoa.

    Contact: 202-647-6575.


  • Claire Renzetti

    Claire Renzetti is professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Kentucky, where she studies human trafficking and is an expert on the faith-based response to the issue. She can also address the evangelical response to the issue.

  • Mark Rodgers

    Mark Rodgers is dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Marywood University, a Catholic university in Scranton, Pa. His research interests include the prevention of human trafficking, and he has helped train officials in Latvia, Bangladesh, Ecuador and South Africa on how to recognize and combat the problem.

International sources

  • Chab Dai

    Chab Dai is an international organization that combats human trafficking so its victims “can be all that God created them to be.” Its U.S. office is in Sacramento, Calif. Chab Dai also operates in Cambodia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Helen Sworn is the founder and international director.

  • Christine Caine

    Christine Caine and her husband, Nick, are Christian evangelists and founders of the global anti-trafficking organization known as the A21 Campaign. She has written several books and speaks passionately on the subject of human trafficking. The Caines live in Sydney, Australia.

    Contact: 61 (0)2 9680 2121.
  • Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

    The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is an international network of nongovernmental organizations. Its website includes FAQs on trafficking and on victim assistance and prevention, as well as numerous reports and working papers on the issue. The alliance’s secretariat is based in Bangkok. Email through the website.

    Contact: 66-2-864-1427/8.
  • Love 146

    Love 146 is a global anti-trafficking organization that works in prevention and aftercare for victims. The group works closely with organizations that rescue children. Offices are in New Haven, Conn.; Houston; and London.

  • NightLight International

    NightLight International works to prevent commercial sexual exploitation and help its victims escape from it by providing alternative employment and other assistance. CEO Annie Dieselberg founded the organization in 2005 after years of missionary work in Thailand with her husband, an evangelical pastor. In Bangkok, NightLight operates as a business and as a nonprofit; in the U.S., NightLight has branches in Branson, Mo.; Atlanta; and Los Angeles.

  • Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking

    The Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking was launched in 2005 by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount, Quebec, and believes it is the only synagogue-based organization working full time against human trafficking and prostitution. The committee works with abolitionist organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Israel.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Christina Bain

    Christina Bain runs the Initiative on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Babson Social Innovation Lab at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass.

  • Melissa Broudo

    Melissa Broudo is a staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York, where she focuses on the legal concerns, safety and rights of sex workers.

    Contact: 646-602-5617.
  • Susan Copley

    The Rev. Susan Copley is the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Tarrytown, N.Y. She and members of her congregation visit unaccompanied migrant minors in U.S. custody at a nearby transitional home.

    Contact: 914-631-2074.
  • Bernard K. Freamon

    Bernard K. Freamon is a law professor at Seton Hall University in Newark, N.J., where his teaching load includes courses on Islamic jurisprudence; law in the modern Middle East; and slavery, human trafficking and the law.

  • Alice Marie Giordano

    Alice Marie Giordano is director of the Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Eastern Province in New Rochelle, N.Y. Among its ministries is advocacy for victims of human trafficking.

    Contact: 914-712-0060.
  • Donna M. Hughes

    Donna M. Hughes is a professor at the University of Rhode Island, where she holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in the women’s studies program. She has expertise in violence, slavery and sexual exploitation. She focuses on domestic sex trafficking in the U.S., anti-trafficking policy and prostitution and teaches courses on sex trafficking.

    Read her articles about sexual exploitation and trafficking.

In the South

  • Austin New Church

    Austin New Church of Austin, Texas, is involved in the fight against human trafficking.


    Contact: 512-618-1144.
  • Kathy Manis Findley

    Kathy Manis Findley is executive director of Safe Places, a group that shelters and advocates for victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking in Little Rock, Ark. She routinely works with clergy on the issue.

  • Tom Gillan

    Tom Gillan is with the Office of Criminal Justice for Catholic Charities of Central Florida. He is part of a three-person team that conducts workshops on recognizing and combating human trafficking for NGOs and nonprofits in Central Florida. The local diocese operates a juvenile justice program through the office.

  • Katie Pedigo

    Katie Pedigo is executive director of New Friends New Life, a Dallas nonprofit that helps women working in sexually oriented businesses create new lives for themselves and their children. Preston Road Church of Christ hosts weekly meals and Bible classes for the women’s children.

  • Lisa Williams

    Lisa Williams overcame years of childhood sexual abuse and other trauma and is now executive director of Living Water for Girls, a residential haven she founded in 2007 that provides education and therapeutic assistance to girls escaping prostitution and the street life. She lives in Georgia.


    Contact: 404-990-3966.

In the Midwest

  • Jenny Almquist

    Jenny Almquist is director of Fierce Freedom, a nonprofit that she launched in 2012 to educate the people of west-central Wisconsin about human trafficking and work to stop it. Almquist makes presentations to churches and civic groups, talks with lawmakers about the need for stronger laws and works with local law enforcement to combat the problem. The organization is based in Eau Claire.

    Contact: 715-514-2890.
  • Ralph Galloway

    The Rev. Ralph Galloway is co-pastor with his wife, the Rev. Alika Galloway, at Kwanzaa Community Church in Minneapolis, which runs a drop-in center for local sex workers.

    Contact: 612-287-8152.
  • Becky McDonald

    Becky McDonald founded Women at Risk International, a Christian organization that works with trafficked women and is based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Contact: 616-855-0796.
  • Brian Tome

    Brian Tome is senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati. Crossroads has made a major commitment of finances and resources to International Justice Mission and works with the organization to end human trafficking overseas.

    Contact: 513-731-7400 ext. 1304.

In the West

  • Dianne Amato

    Dianne Amato is program director of the Mary Magdalene Project, a Los Angeles-based outreach to sex workers.

    Contact: 818-988-4970.
  • Betty Ann Boeving

    Betty Ann Boeving is founder and executive director of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition. Email her through the organization’s website.

  • Mike Howerton

    Mike Howerton is the lead pastor at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Wash., which has been involved locally and internationally in the fight against trafficking.

  • Chanchanit Martorell

    Chanchanit Martorell is executive director of Los Angeles’ Thai Community Development Center‘s Slavery Eradication and Rights Initiative. She advocates on behalf of Thai men, women and children trafficked to the U.S.

    Contact: 323-468-2555.
  • Brad Pellish

    Brad Pellish is the outreach pastor at Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix, Ariz., which performs outreach to local sex workers, including teenage prostitutes. Read an article about the church’s work.

  • Nancy Springer

    Nancy Springer is the assistant rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Day School, and is the former assistant rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, Texas. In her former position, she and her congregation worked with other border churches and government agencies to help unaccompanied children and other migrants in U.S. custody.

    Contact: 956-428-2326.