By Jeannie Ortega Law, Christian Post Reporter | Monday, September 20, 2021
FLORIDA — Human Trafficking is happening in our own backyard, and that knowledge should make anyone with a conscience “outraged,” said Kevin Malone, the president and co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, whose organization runs the nation’s sole accredited safe house for trafficked boys.
“People need to be outraged that this is happening to our boys and girls all over the country — that it is our own boys and girls,” Malone, a former general manager of the LA Dodgers turned activist, told The Christian Post during a candid interview about the horrors of child trafficking. “It’s happening internationally, too, but it’s in our own backyards. It’s our own kids. They are one or two or three degrees of separation away from being somehow connected to this.”
According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the definition of human trafficking is any situation in which someone experiences “force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control.”
Micah Washinski, the chief operating officer for the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, told CP: “We often think of the force, we think of the kidnapping, we think of the movie ‘Taken’ where the girl is kidnapped. I think most of America thinks human trafficking is happening that way. But that is not primarily where we see our kids being trafficked. It’s mostly through the use of fraud or coercion that comes into play, oftentimes with people that are known to them. So families are victimizing their own children, their own grandchildren through coercion.”
“Even adults [who are trafficked] don’t think that they’re useful in any other regard because they’ve been programmed to be used for their bodies as long as they can remember,” she added. “So now they’re at a place where they’re just resigned to it. They become objectified. So they’re an object, they’re not made in the image of God, they’re viewed as just objects to be used for whatever pleasures or reasons that these manipulators are using.”
As this CP reporter was being driven to the safe house in a remote location to meet some of the boys in the organization’s care, a team member of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking shared several stories of the horrors the boys experienced as children and young teens. Sadly, most of the boys have been raped multiple times before the age of 15. One boy was abused so badly he was hospitalized for weeks before being transferred to the safe house.
According to the International Labour Organization, Human trafficking is a $150 billion a year industry worldwide, and Washinski said the U.S. is leading the demand.
Multiple reports have shown that hundreds of thousands of Americans younger than 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year. Statistics shared by the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking show that up to 36% of sex-trafficked children in the U.S. are males, with some studies showing that it’s as much as 50%.
“The U.S. is the number one consumer of trafficking victims worldwide,” Washinski said. “So we’re the buyers. We’re the ones that are buying goods and services that are being produced by trafficking victims, by labor trafficking victims, and we’re also buying sex at a rapid rate.”
Social media platforms have contributed significantly to the problem as many young people today use these tools to seek attention.
“I think of the social media epidemic as this facade,” Washinski explained. “It’s not truly who you are, but I’m going to put out there what people want me to be. So we’ve put on this mask, and our kids have learned to put on this mask to make other people like us. That opens us up to vulnerabilities because now we’re so worried about what somebody else thinks versus what God thinks.”
The COO of the faith-based nonprofit stressed that God doesn’t desire for His people to look to others for approval.
“Our kids are exploiting themselves through social media. So they’re putting themselves out there sexually — whether they want to make money, whether they want to be popular, whether they want to be a professional singer or a model. Then you have traffickers watching and lurking around and identifying the needs,” Washinski continued.
“They’re looking to fill a need. So they see a child that needs attention, that isn’t getting attention at home, that isn’t getting positive attention from either their family or their friends. So they swoop in and they play that role.”
Experts say that often, young girls who are trafficked are approached by a good-looking younger man who preys on her vulnerabilities. Then when he has her in his grasp, he coerces her to “do something for him” which turns into trafficking.
According to Exodus Road, another ministry that’s fighting to end sex trafficking, their Operation SCOPE mission has provided police with evidence of traffickers exploiting children by using “pornographic photos of victims as a means of control, threatening to shame them by exposing the photos to their families.” The photos are then sold to porn sites while also being used to exploit the victims who are coerced into prostitution.
“Our society is becoming more and more sexualized every day, and it’s going younger and younger,” Malone told CP. “Especially girls — the way to get attention, the way to be remembered, the way to make your mark, the way to get what you want is to promote your sexuality. Society embraces that, it encourages that, it wants that.”
Malone, who retired from professional baseball in 2001 after three years as executive vice president and general manager of the LA Dodgers, insists that social media creates the platform for people to be that “sexual creature that will be attractive to other people.”
“I think there’s such an emphasis, in America in particular, on who you are sexually,” he said. “We talk about sexual identity. We’ve got boys and girls, but now there’s all these other identities out there, transgender, all the pronouns.
“The most important thing, I think, is our identity in Christ. Who are we in Jesus? What does that mean? We know that we’re sons and daughters of the King, but do we truly know what it means? What the promises of God are? Who we are, who our identity is in Jesus? The world out there is saying, ‘Your identity is not so much who you are, definitely not in God, your identity is who you are sexually. What can you do with your sexuality?’”
Trafficking, porn and silence in America’s churches
While some churches have come alongside the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking — which has locations in four states and Washington, D.C. — to help their efforts to save young boys from trafficking, Malone said many others have turned a blind eye.
“I think it’s an obedience issue, to be honest with you,” he explained. “Many people that say they’re Christians don’t read the Bible, so they don’t know what God says. But it’s clearly mandated and commanded in the Bible to take care of orphans. These are modern-day orphans because they’re on the streets, they’re being sold, a lot of the boys are runaways that were trafficked, they may be trafficking themselves.”
“The definition, to me, of an orphan, trafficked children fit in the biblical terms under orphan, and there’s a lot of Scripture that commands us to take care of orphans,” Malone added. “So these are the modern-day orphans, a segment of them. It’s not a choice; it’s obedience. We, as believers, can we pick and choose what scripture we’re going to obey? No! We obey all of it as best we can. We all fall short, we know that, but I think it’s a mandate to the Body of Christ, to believers, to help orphans, and these trafficked kids are orphaned.”
The father of two said that sadly, he’s had a difficult time getting churches to get on board because it can be viewed as a foreign issue that has nothing to do with the U.S. Many people in churches, he said, are even unknowingly complicit.
“Dealing with churches across the country, there are some issues that they’re dealing with. First of all, they don’t believe it’s happening in their backyard or in their community, and they’re wrong! We can prove it’s happening in almost every community,” Malone declared. “Secondly, it’s sexual in nature, so they don’t think that they can touch that because it’s just icky or whatever they want to say.”
“There are direct connections in many instances to pornography. We know that sitting in the church pews, anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent of the men have some kind of sexual intimacy issues, and they’re looking at porn, either regularly or they’re addicted to it. We know the numbers are fairly close for pastors, too, and there’s no accountability.”
“So this is a direct message, I believe, to believers and to the churches that the pastors have to stand up and be courageous and be bold about what they talk about from the pulpit,” he maintained. “This is an issue: pornography, sexual issues and sex trafficking of children.
“I’m sorry, but that’s what the world is dealing with, and that’s what pastors need to explain or to preach about to their congregations.”
Washinski interjected, adding: “Along those lines [churches can] offer solutions to men and women with sex and porn addictions, with sexual trauma in their own background, which leads them to victimize. It leads to their own addiction to pornography.”
Pornography’s direct connection to human trafficking
“We like to think that that’s separate, but the problem is that human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world today. Why is that?” Washinski posited. “That’s because the sex industry, the pornography industry, is thriving like never before. There are not enough willing participants to meet the demand. That’s where the victimization of human trafficking comes in. Where traffickers are exploiting vulnerable women and children to participate in the pornography that our churchgoing men and women are engaged in.”
In August, after more than 100 members of Congress urged the Department of Justice to investigate the porn site OnlyFans over its content involving the sexual abuse of children, the site announced that starting Oct. 1, it would be shutting down all pornography accounts. Soon after that announcement, however, the site, which has 120 million users worldwide and generated over $2 billion in 2020, reversed its decision.
The news came after global headlines exposed the pornography giant Pornhub for monetizing child sexual abuse, rape and sex trafficking on its platform. The uproar led payment processors to stop doing business with the site.
Data compiled by Webroot Cybersecurity found that over 28,200 users are watching porn every second, and 35% “of all internet downloads are related to pornography.”
Although some might argue that porn is predominantly an adult industry, Webroot Cybersecurity reported that data collected from 400 million web searches showed that “youth” was the most popular term related to sexual searches online. The word teen is one of the most searched terms on Pornhub and has been in the top 10 searches for several years.
Malone believes that few churches are tackling these issues and many others avoid discussing them because of the enemy’s spiritual hold.
“It’s spiritual warfare,” he asserted. “We know that he comes to divide and conquer; he comes to bring confusion and chaos. ‘He comes to kill, steal and destroy,’ as Jesus said. One of the main ways he’s doing it is through teaching young men and women the sexual template that they should use is what they see in this hardcore, violent, child abuse type of pornography.”
“It happens all over the world, but in American, Western civilization, boys and young men, in general, are looking at stuff that’s establishing, in their brains, a perspective, a mindset as to what healthy sexual relationships look like. It’s definitely not according to the Bible or according to any kind of what a healthy God-fearing relationship would look like,” Malone stressed.
Even in non-Christian circles, Washinski’s said, “it’s unhealthy.”
“In America, erectile dysfunction is off the charts and why is that? It’s because people can’t have sex with their partners because they’ve engaged in so much pornography that they can’t relate or get aroused by their partner,” she added.
“What we’ve also learned,” Malone said, “is that when boys and young men start looking at this stuff, eventually it gets to a place where they can’t be satisfied by what they see on the screen. So they have to go and actualize and do it. Instead of watching it, visualizing it, they have to go act on it. They can’t be satisfied, so they have to go looking for it elsewhere, and that’s why we see a supply and demand.
“There’s a demand for this, for men to be gratified or satisfied sexually, and they can’t get it either at home or by watching it anymore, so now they’re out buying for certain sort of acts and behavior.”
Gabriel Pagan, an associate pastor at Love Revolution Church in Columbus, Georgia, shared his own experience with porn and a trafficking scare he experienced as a teenager. The outspoken Christian who denounces his old lifestyle and regularly speaks out against pornography said he can see how “porn plays into sex trafficking in my own life.”
“When I was first introduced to sexual abuse and porn, I had no understanding of what happened to me. I just know whatever I was doing felt good in the moment,” he revealed. “As porn became accessible in faster mediums, I thought it was normal to emulate what I saw in the community upload section on websites such as Pornhub and Xtube. I didn’t talk to my parents about my sexual experiences and all I had was porn to look to.”
“This led to me being 15 years old and looking for ‘daddies’ in public bathrooms and welcome centers,” he admitted.
Pagan explained that one day while he was fishing for men in the bathroom and “lingering at this site for some time, an older man saw” his behavior and “tried to follow” him.
“A voice spoke inside me clear as day: ‘If you don’t get out now, you are going to get kidnapped.’ After I walked out of the bathroom after avoiding the man, I talked to the lady at the front desk of the welcome center. She said she would call the cops and then she drove me home.”
Pagan, who now ministers to people across the country at Freedom Marches, boldly declared that Jesus set him free from being gay, but acknowledged that the bathroom incident did not “satiate” his appetite.
“I desired to be raped and was able to feed this fantasy through porn,” Pagan added. “I struggled with a sex addiction that drove me to suicidal idealization, and then I met Jesus Christ in 2012. He filled the void I was looking for in porn.”
Pagan is now married with a son and twins on the way.
Homosexuality and identity confusion are regularly seen in boys who have been trafficked, and the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking safe house works to provide stability for the boys in their program. During this reporter’s visit to the safe house, one of the young boys asked for prayer against same-sex attractions because he wanted to be free from that lifestyle.
The U.K.-based nonprofit Internet Watch Foundation, whose aim is to remove child porn from the internet, noted that in 2019 over 100,000 URLs offered access to child sexual abuse imagery. In the U.S., 1 million reports are received each month, according to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Not just a global problem
The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking is coming up on its fifth anniversary and Malone said this all became a reality to him after attending the Super Bowl in 2016 with Jeff Rogers, who co-founded the institute with Malone.
“I was in Phoenix for the Super Bowl six years ago. While I was there working with the Phoenix Dream Center, there were little boys being trafficked there. I had never really heard much about boys being trafficked,” Malone recounted.
“What I was told, in the midst of these boys being trafficked, they were dressed up as little girls. There was a lot of weirdness going on around the Super Bowl. I told Jeff about it and Jeff had three little boys of his own, so he had felt like God had told him that because he had boys that he needed to think about what is going on in the trafficking world regarding boys.
“Jeff and I believed at the time that God was calling us. He was opening our eyes to the reality that boys were being trafficked, and no one was talking about it or doing anything about it,” Malone added. “The more we looked into it, the more research we did, the more we felt God was calling us to open this boy’s safe home.”
The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking has had over 30 boys go through its program since its inception. The length of stay varies from boy to boy, depending on circumstances and their personal situation.
“This trauma, what they’ve experienced, really takes a lifetime to recover from,” Malone emphasized, noting that even adult women and men who were trafficked as kids continue to suffer from trauma.
“A lot of them have been freed up in Christ and have come to be healed through faith in Jesus. With that being said, there’s still consequences of what they endured as children or as traffic victims, so we know it takes a lifetime as well,” Malone stressed.
Washinski said they have seen all kinds of success stories, however. This CP reporter met one of the boys who had just graduated high school and was heading into a trade school despite all he had been through.
“It might be different for different kids. So success for one might be getting his GED and having a chance at a job. It might be getting a driver’s license; it might be being able to get into a program to learn a trade, or being reunited with their family, or being adopted. We’ve had kids be adopted. Those are success stories,” Washinski testified.
Malone added: “I think success for us, in general terms, would be positioning these boys on a path that leads to health, being happy, being healthy, being productive, being safe. We do what we can to position them to go forward in life and make the best of their life that they can, and we try to equip them and help them get on that path and to stay on that path.”
“We don’t believe in conversion therapy because a lot of these boys identify as gay or transgender,” he explained. “We don’t come in and try to say we got to convert them and switch on them — that’s up to God. We love on them wherever they identify on the spectrum of their sexual identity. We love on them, and we show them the love of Christ. We live our lives and they see the way we live, what we believe.”
Those who run the house are well-vetted, and along with helping these boys, their aim is to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
“You can’t make somebody believe in Jesus or be converted or transformed,” Malone stressed. “We just show them the love. We take care of them; we show them compassion. Oftentimes these boys will ask us, ‘My parents kicked me out. Everybody hates me. Every time I’ve come across Christians, they despise me, they think I am the devil. But you guys, why do you guys treat me good? Why do you love me and show me love?’”
Unfortunately, Malone said their ministry has also been attacked by some people in the faith community who have criticized them for taking in boys who are confused about their sexuality or gender.
“That’s when the Holy Spirit works is when we submit, not when we try to change people,” Washinski said. “But we love on them like Jesus loved us, and we just love them unconditionally. [When] they run away or they fight with each other, or they do something rebellious, we forgive them and that’s when they say, ‘There’s something different about these Christians, because other Christians that I’ve run in to do not treat me this way. They shun me; they despise me.’ But we know that that is not the character of Jesus.”
“We have story after story of gay and transgender kids wanting to know more about this Jesus because they see His love for them,” Washinski said.
Malone added: “We don’t compromise the Word of God; we don’t compromise our beliefs. We love on them like Jesus would love on them. If you look at Jesus, who He spent His time with, and who He loved on, He was treated the same way we were treated at different times because of our approach. I think many churches in America have become too politically correct, too focused on things that aren’t of the Spirit of God and they don’t address, for different reasons, what God wants them to address.”
“I think God is calling the churches to open your eyes and do something about children that are being sexually exploited in America,” he continued. “That doesn’t just mean trafficked boys and girls, that means there are kids being sexually exploited in different ways in church homes, through porn. I think it’s a direct calling from God, a mandate from God, for churches to step up to the plate and do what they can do because this is going to honor and glorify God, and there are ways to do it.”
In July, a massive human trafficking law enforcement operation resulted in the rescue of 47 people who were trafficked, and 102 individuals were arrested across 12 states. Two of the victims rescued were minors.
How can the church help?
The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking provides various resources and opportunities to help churches get involved in the local fight against Human Trafficking. Many of the items in the safe house were donated by supporters and the house was set up with the help of volunteers.
“Churches can make it available for their members to get involved in anti-human trafficking efforts,” Washinski said. “A church has exposure to so many more people than just an individual. So if a church can just come alongside us and partner with us — it’s not that every member of the church is going to get involved with our organization — but they can just introduce their members to the issue and to the need, and God is going to move the people within that congregation that are called to human trafficking.”
Both Malone and Washinski believe trafficking is too important of an issue not to be involved in as people of God. They warned that the problem is already “spiraling out of control.”
“The church has got to engage, and allow their church members to understand what’s going on in America today and give them the opportunity to connect with a ministry like ours so that they can pray, and not just say a prayer, but be committed prayer warriors for our organization,” Washinski added. “We have a prayer meeting every other Monday, where it’s an organized prayer meeting, and we would love for more churches to engage with us.”
With their seven partner churches right now, the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking said ministries come alongside them in three different ways — through prayer, financial support and volunteers.
“So we reach out to these partner churches on a regular basis, letting them know what our volunteer needs are. We pray that they would come alongside us from a financial perspective, at the corporate church level, as well as members of the church individuals coming alongside us when they learn about our organization, and they feel the Holy Spirit leading them to financially support us as well because we cannot do this without financial support,” Washinski added.
For individual members of a church looking to link arms with them, Malone suggested “they might own a business where they could employ a victim.”
“There are members sitting in the pews, in the churches that have different ways that they can help our ministry. In the midst of financial support, part of that equation would be people have different types of businesses that could be a blessing to our ministry.”
He also noted other components of supports that could help: “If when the boys who are at the home, if we could have maybe a healthy church family take our boys out for a day of going to a sporting event or to Disneyland or a church family just loving on our boys, spending a day with them.”
“A lot of times, I think, Christians, in particular, are afraid to get involved with something that’s a little uncomfortable or a little messy,” he said. “These boys and girls, they’re not going to be the choir boys or choir girls, they’ve lived on the streets and they’ve been through some stuff that is unimaginable, but there are so many different ways that the churches and members of churches can get involved.”
Although some might feel that fighting human trafficking is an impossible battle because reports indicate that number of people being trafficked is increasing, Washinski said it’s imperative that laws are put in place to enforce that this great evil comes to an end on the local level in communities throughout the U.S., not just overseas. She advised churches to contact their state and local politicians to make sure they’re looking at laws and policies in the state that will protect kids or provide services.
“We have a whole volunteer program where we engage our volunteers to come alongside us with a lot of the legislative efforts that we have,” Washinski urges leaders to connect through their website USIAHT.org.
On Oct. 8, the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking will be hosting a major event where people can learn all that’s going on within the organization. Attendees will also learn about what God has accomplished over the last five years through the ministry and their vision going forward.
Malone told CP that the organization provides different curriculums and training such as abolitionists programs and trafficking-free zone for any city, county or state in the U.S.
“The only way that we are going to be able to cut this off is through awareness and prevention,” Washinski added.
According to UNICEF, more than a million children are trafficked each year, with most of the planning happening online and the dark corners of the internet.