Sexual exploitation: how Church can defend the defenceless — Debbie Hemmens

Lockdown conditions have provided the perfect opportunity for many free webinars, Zoom meetings and summits to learn from. My heart will always be drawn towards child protection and helping people who are being exploited and harmed in various ways.

I believe I have a strong calling on my life to reach out to the vulnerable and marginalised in society (See my resource page — Facebook: pilotmyfuture). The church has this as a mandate from God. Psalm 82:3-4 TPT  — “Defend the defenseless, the fatherless and the forgotten, the disenfranchised and the destitute. Your duty is to deliver the poor and the powerless; liberate them from the grasp of the wicked.”

I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my recent learnings on the defenceless, fatherless, disenfranchised, destitute and the forgotten and how I believe the Church can step in and help.

It is becoming very clear that there is huge intersectionality between so many of our major social ills. “Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualising a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities (personal, social and political) and experiences in order to understand the complexity or prejudices they face.” (Oxford Dictionary) These different factors combine to create unique modes of discrimination.

Intersecting factors
In the latest summit I attended on ending sexual exploitation (hosted by National Center on Sexual Exploitation — Facebook: centeronexploitation) in our world I saw how the following factors combine and intersect in different ways for so many people: human trafficking, sex industry, exploitation, pornography, sexuality, child sexual abuse, grooming, racism, gender-based violence, disability, age, gender, poverty and I am sure people could add more.

Sex is being misused and twisted by the evil one to kill, steal and destroy and it is so insidious that we sometimes do not notice it until too late. A comment made by someone was “sex slavery is killing our generation!”

So, if we acknowledge that this is not part of God’s perfect plan, but the work of the evil one, then what are we doing to combat it? God has been absolutely clear in the Bible about liberating the exploited from the grasp of the wicked. We have a job to do and we cannot shrink away from it.

It was uncomfortable to hear some statements from some ladies presenting at a recent gender-based violence webinar in South Africa; they commented how the Church has often remained silent and not addressed topics of patriarchy, sexism, gender roles, racism, sexuality and pornography which has in many cases exacerbated our current problems.

This is one of those times to take a few moments in silence and listen to what has been said, find out if it’s true and how it has impacted our world negatively and then have some more uncomfortable conversations as to how things can change to have a positive impact on the world around us with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we know can bring about the desired transformation.

We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. Do we get to choose who our neighbour is? If they are poor, dirty, homeless, smelly, have multiple diseases from many sexual partners and are of another race to us, does this make them not our neighbour who we are called to love as ourselves? Do we really sit with that statement “love as ourselves” and meditate on what that means as to how we should be treating those around us and how we should be making every effort to rescue them from their oppressors? Do we realise that in some cases we ourselves could be the very ones oppressing them by our inaction and by our attitudes?

Recently in South Africa we have had many discussions about sex education being taught in our schools. Many parents expressed their need and right to be able to teach it at home and lockdown has given such a great opportunity for this. The disheartening part of this is I have been speaking to kids in schools for over 7 years and it is very clear that many parents are not educating their kids at home.

Start conversations early
The summit on ending sexual exploitation reiterated the need for these conversations to be happening way younger than parents originally thought was acceptable to them. There were stories of accidental exposure to pornography of 3 and 6-year-olds, and not just naked pictures, but violent sexual acts. Children under 10 account for 22% of the online porn consumption of those U18.

Christian parents should be leading the way in fighting back against the evil onslaught against their children. This is no joke. God created us in His image and we should celebrate that fact. He created us to procreate and be thrilled with it all within marriage. By not sharing that story we are telling our kids a different story, one that involves secrecy and shame. You are preserving their innocence and bringing honour to God by sharing the truth of our bodies and how sex is enjoyed in marriage and how babies are made.

A note on pornography — there are some great Christian resources in addressing the addiction of pornography and many churches have had great success and great relief from those caught up in porn to finally have the subject addressed and help offered. 43% of senior pastors and youth pastors say they have struggled with porn at some point in their lives. 64% of men and 15% of Christian women watch porn at least once a month.

However, we only have about 7% of churches engaging actively in the fight against porn usage and addiction. (Covenant Eyes stats — Facebook: CovenantEyes/) It is such a driving factor in keeping the sex industry/human trafficking going, so we have to continually offer help and support to help people step away and therefore also reducing the online demand for it.

In 2019, on Pornhub alone, there were 115 million visits per day. Pornography is destroying the chance of people having normal relationships. It messes with the brain and causes lack of ability to connect with a romantic partner. That’s because God never intended for us to form relationships with pieces of paper or a screen.

We don’t want our children and teens caught unawares in this world. We need to prepare them in order to protect them. From another webinar I was on the statement was made – “wherever there are kids online, there are predators lurking.” If we don’t educate them according to God’s standards and values, the internet, the media and the world out there will do it for us.

Body autonomy
Our children need to know what’s out there, otherwise they will not know how to protect themselves. Protective Behaviours (Facebook ProtectiveBsa/ ) is such a brilliant resource available to all children in South Africa — it teaches concepts of body autonomy, what’s private, consent, inappropriate touch, the danger of keeping secrets and finding safe people to speak to. Human trafficking is rife, alive and very active. Vulnerable children are sought out to be exploited in the vilest of ways.

So what can we do in this war of sexual exploitation against the vulnerable amongst us? I believe honest and consistent education in age-appropriate ways is our answer. Having the same safety language in our homes and churches would be brilliant. Teach them from young what God expects of them in how they live, how they treat others, how to have wonderful relationships with friends and their future marriage partner. Stand in the gap and be Dad or Mom to those you come across who don’t have parents but would benefit from mentorship from you.

Teach our children, teens and young adults the value of their bodies made in God’s image. They don’t need to send naked pictures of themselves in order to get someone’s attention. Our youth groups provide the perfect opportunity for these talks. The pressure to send naked selfies is great and many give in. Our young people are also dating people online, some they never meet, some they do meet and some have been murdered as a result. They think they are meeting someone their own age on the other side of the screen, meantime it’s someone in their 40’s or 50’s, someone with the ability to do great harm to them.

What else can the Church do? When it comes to reaching out to those in the sex industry who have so often been trafficked too, I have seen a few churches get involved in Johannesburg in a fantastic ministry of going to brothels and nightclubs and showing love and care to the ladies in the industry. They give them gifts and cupcakes and the opportunity to join a support group, so that they have some friendship community to love and support them in an industry that is only interested in their bodies as commodities and making money.

It is amazing when these ladies learn the truth about God’s love for them and that they have value and purpose in life. There is no choice in this industry. The person who has control is the person paying for sex and if someone steps into this industry out of starvation, what kind of choice is that? We need to speak the truth and reality into this space and never glamourise prostitution.

Time for Church to speak out
Churches can also be active in addressing the topics that they have so often been silent on. When things are out in the light, when awareness is created, when powerful prayers are offered up to God, I believe we will start to see change because we will have an army involved in the fight.

Micah 6:8 AMP says “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you. Except to be just, and to love (and to diligently practice) kindness, (compassion), And to walk humbly with your God. (setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness.)”

I recently saw a great article written by Tim Keller on biblical justice compared with worldly justice. It was very long but I recommend you read the whole article when you have some time. I have summarised one section because it speaks into this subject of ending sexual exploitation, along with all social ills.

Biblical justice is well grounded because it is based on God’s character, a moral absolute that doesn’t change.

Live in a way that community is strengthened, even to the point of disadvantaging yourself to advantage the community. Be radically generous.

Equity – all treated equally and with dignity. Leviticus 24:22 – no bribery, corruption, no inferior products to make more money or unfair business practice which includes unfair wages.

Corporate responsibility – sometimes God holds families, groups and nations corporately responsible for sins of individuals. When we sin we affect those around us and can reproduce sinful patterns over generations. Usually a later generation will participate in one form or another in the same sin. Socially institutional ways of life become weighted in favour of the powerful and oppressive over those with less power. (Includes criminal justice system, commercial practices like high interest loans, etc) Once in place they do more evil than any one individual in a system may intend or be aware of.

Individual responsibility – I am fully responsible for all my sins, but not always the outcomes. Poverty can come from personal choices and failures but also environmental factors. With sin we must be held responsible for our own individual sin. The Bible balances individual freedom with community obligation.

Advocacy – there is always a special concern expressed towards the powerless. Speak up for those who cannot. Defend the rights of the poor and the needy. We always need to advocate for equality – for more social, financial and cultural power to those with less. When God came to earth in Jesus Christ he was a poor man, at the bottom of the social order. He experienced torture and death from power used unjustly to oppress. He laid aside his power and privilege in order to identify with the helpless and the weak. We had divine justice on the cross – it was love in action. Jesus takes his authority, but only after losing it in service to the weak and helpless.

Too often the church defines itself by what it is afraid of, or against or what it is avoiding, instead of what Christ calls us to do. (Shaun Marshall)

There is much to do in bringing justice back into the arena of sexual exploitation. The Good Samaritan didn’t question anything, he acted out of mercy and showing value to human life. May we follow the example of Jesus and strive to love those around us like He did.

We are called to bring good news to the poor, comfort the brokenhearted, proclaim the captives released and prisoners freed. To announce that the Lord’s favour has come. He will give beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. (Isaiah 61:1-3 summarized)

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