BRIDGETON — In December the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH) will open a house at its Bridgeton campus to shelter and aid young female victims of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is one aspect of human trafficking, or modern day slavery. Victims of sex trafficking are coerced or forced into sex acts by threats, fear, debt, or lack of resources.
Russell Martin, President of MBCH Children’s and Family Ministries, understands that some Missouri Baptists may not realize how prevalent human trafficking is in the state. He said sex trafficking is “a rampant problem in our society” and “it demands that we respond to it.”
“It’s a hidden crime,” said Warrine Bazow, a representative of International Crisis Aid (ICA). “It’s very difficult to quantify.”
St. Louis-based ICA is a faith-based organization that is partnering with MBCH. ICA operates overseas safe houses for sex trafficking victims. This new work with MBCH is its first United States presence.
However, both Bazow and Martin agree that urban areas with access across state lines create centers for human trafficking,and Missouri has major urban areas like that on either side of the state.
Children and teenagers are often victims of sexual exploitation, Martin said, because of their vulnerability.
“They are trapped in this lifestyle because they don’t have the resources they need to get out of it,” he said.
To help some who have been rescued from sexual exploitation MBCH will house and provide services for eight women, about18-21 years old. This is a new role for the children and family ministry, Martin says, and MBCH will have a better idea how to minister to these victims after their needs are assessed
However, because of the extended abuse these women have suffered he expects MBCH will see a variety of physical, psychological, nutritional, emotional, drug and disease issues.
“We have a lot to learn,” he said. “We’re not sure what we’re going to be involved with. Every victim is going to have different needs.”
As with all those it tries to help, Martin said MBCH has several goals for each person, including “trying to restore back in [the women] a trust in society, to give them job skills, education, and training. But through it all we’ll try to introduce them to the gospel. No matter what they’ve been through there’s a God that loves them, who created them, who has a plan for them. We want to introduce them to the love of Christ.”
Martin said MBCH leaders have “done a lot of visiting with other people around the country who provide a similar service” to prepare for this new service.
It will also get aid and guidance from its partner. ICA provides rescue, shelter, and renewal help for exploited sex victims. Martin said MBCH and ICA have collaborated on projects over several years, and that the two organizations share common ministry visions.
“We are like-minded—a lot of fundamental beliefs are the same,” she said.
Though ICA isn’t aligned with a particular denomination, she said, it does seek to guide people to Christ.
Those who work to rescue and restore the sexually exploited know that boys are also sexually abused. But, “the vast majority of these victims are girls,” she said.
Martin wishes MBCH were able to shelter male victims because “there’s a real need.” However, the available house is set up for only one gender.