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The Solution(s): Ending Sex Trafficking Through Christ and the Rule of Law

The following is a summer intern update from Joe Kohm.  Joe is interning at Universitas Pelita Harapan, a Christian law school in Indonesia that focuses on fighting sex and labor trafficking, protecting believers from persecution, and other Rule of Law issues.
Read part one of this post here >
I write this last update as I prepare to leave beautiful Indonesia. God definitely ordained my time here and blessed me in every way I could and could not have imagined. My cup has definitely run over here, and I believe God has opened my eyes to many things during my stay. For the purposes of this post, I will confine those revelations to the immediate and urgent matter of sex trafficking.


I will pick up here where I left off last time and indulge in my preaching nature briefly. As I said, all sexual immorality is a heart problem resulting from when sin entered the world after the fall of man. Sex trafficking and the 99.999% of the prostitution market that results from it are no exception to that sin. This is why Christ is the foremost solution that we can seek for repressing sex trafficking. No sin is beyond our Lord’s redemption, and nothing we have corrupted (in this case, His beautiful creation of sex) is beyond His ability to restore and renew.

If we begin our quest with this critical knowledge, it frees us to work tirelessly against this evil and assures us even when things seem hopeless that someday soon our Lord will make all things new and bring about His perfect justice. We will never be able to fully eliminate sex trafficking or prostitution, just like we will never fully repress sin until Christ returns. But as Christians who are fortunate enough to write and read things like this, it is our duty to speak out against sin and work tirelessly to repress it and bring wholeness through Christ to all of its victims.

That being said, there’s not a single person who cannot get involved in the life-and-death fight to end sex trafficking, slavery, and prostitution. For church leaders and attenders, I recommend Pastor Eddie Byun’s book, Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End HumanTrafficking. For everyone, there is no shortage of non-government organizations and recovery houses that either work to end sex trafficking or help its victims get back on their feet, and they all need support in one way or another. Work also to keep others informed about this great evil and its prevalence, as well as the truth behind the involuntary nature of prostitution. Finally, “pray without ceasing” that God would imbue governments around the world with integrity so that the rule of law would be strengthened everywhere, resulting in the poor and vulnerable (who comprise most victims) being better protected and secured in the justice they deserve.

Rule of Law

Speaking of the rule of law, on to my second key to suppressing and repressing this great evil. The biggest obstacle to justice and restoration in Indonesia (and I would argue for most of the world) is corruption, which basically equates to a lack of integrity in governments and a lack of trust from the people under that government, which fuels said lack of integrity in a vicious cycle. The most vulnerable of the population (those with the least amount of capital) are then trampled under the gears of this corrupt beast.

This is where my project comes in. While here, I’ve been assisting Professor Talbot as well as current and former UPH law students in the development of what we call a “legal toolkit” for human trafficking. The idea behind this toolkit is to simplify and distill Indonesia’s law into an easy-to-use resource to keep judges, attorneys, lawmakers, government and immigration officials, and police informed about the realities of human trafficking as well as the laws they are bound to uphold. The ultimate effect of the toolkit’s future implementation will be the eroding of Indonesia’s corruption in this area of the law. We made good progress while I’ve been here, but the toolkit will likely be a continuing work in progress hopefully to be finished within the next year or so. During that time, there is still much to be done here and worldwide to conquer this evil, so I will expound briefly on what I think all governments should do to repress sex trafficking.
The best way to think about ending human trafficking and prostitution is in economic terms. In the sickest, most perverted way, human trafficking, and especially prostitution, is a market. Several basic things drive markets, but here I will only discuss supply, demand, utility, and incentive.

How does one kill a market? The market must be disincentivized. To do this, we must look to the Swedes, as their laws regarding this subject truly are the gold standard for ending prostitution and consequently sex trafficking. Sweden has put fear into the potential buyers of sex by strictly enforcing harsh penalties for sex’s purchase. In short, they harshly punish the “John” (the buyer) as well as the pimp, and they treat the prostitutes themselves as victims who need help and rehabilitation. By implementing these penalties, they have disincentivized the prostitution market in Sweden and the market for sex there has shriveled up.
A basic economic principle is that individuals will always attempt to maximize their utility. In Sweden, men who would have gotten more utility from purchasing sex now get more utility from avoiding prostitution, thanks to these laws and their enforcement. The demand for market sex has dried up, thus dramatically reducing the supply – the trafficking of people for prostitution. It’s a wonderful chain of events that all but ends sex trafficking. Unfortunately, in Indonesia, many people still get more utility from purchasing sex instead of avoiding the market, which has the adverse effect of increasing the supply (the trafficking). This is why rule of law is so important: Indonesia has some laws on the books for punishing Johns, but because of corruption, there is no force behind these laws. Once the rule of law is established, all governments should look to Sweden’s laws for a perfect example of how to end prostitution and consequently human trafficking.

Finally, another goal of all nations seeking to end human trafficking should be to increase global trade. Without getting into the massive and foolish debate over global trade, the bottom line is that the campaign against Asian sweatshops greatly harms the very people it seeks to help. Remember what we learned above: individuals always seek to maximize their utility. This means that people willingly accept employment in sweatshops because it is the best option they have, in every way – if it weren’t, no one would work there. This relates to sex trafficking through a case that Charles Wheelan describes in chapter 12 of his outstanding book, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. In a sad but typical example of uneducated good intentions gone awry, a Wal-Mart factory in Bangladesh was closed through legislation in 1993 after it was discovered that the factory employed children. The legislation banned imports from countries employing underage workers and as a result, the factories stopped employing children. But Oxfam found that a significant number of the now-displaced child workers were forced into prostitution, instead of going to (non-existent) better jobs or back to school. Great job, Senators.


Last week I visited Singapore for a discussion on a new anti-trafficking law and managed to hitch a ride through the red light district in daytime. You can see from the pictures that it looks unassuming, but my guide told me that behind every storefront and in every alley and side street, the criminal cartels viciously supervise and guard their capital – the victims of sex trafficking; and at night, these streets come alive and swarm with sex customers and prostitutes.

Often great evil comes disguised in unassuming forms, like the picture of me after going through immigration in Singapore (where most of said capital comes through – you can see it in the background). Let us no longer ignore this great evil in its unassuming forms in Indonesia, Singapore, or on our own shores. I end with excerpted lyrics by Garrett Russell from the perspective of a woman held captive in the sex industry. I pray that God uses my brief insight and these lyrics to stir your heart into action against this great modern evil…

This injustice renders my thoughts ineffectual.
Privilege brings us to this place of human currencies.
(We) buried our sisters in a glass display, only to evaporate to a toxic skyline – underneath we sell off the bodies.

My body became a graveyard where they buried thirsty souls.
Show me your righteous leader; I’ll show you the bullet holes.

I’ll climb through your screen and bleed out the image you left in me.[ii]

But God, are you man? Then how do you see me
From where you sit up in heaven[iii], looking down on my hell?
My body chokes back.
“I have nothing to draw with and the well is deep – where can I get living water?”[iv]

Enslaved in the “Land of the Free”[v] – my prison is our wedding bed where you left me for dead.
You’ll leave us for dead.
Apathy was our anchor to a digital sea[vi] where you drown in the comfort of our complicity.

Can Love save me? Will Your wrath avenge us?[vii]

Russell’s notes:

[ii] Sex slaves forced into pornography, speaking back to our collective male gaze.
[iii] Psalm 115:3; 139:8
[iv] John 4:11
[v] America
[vi] Thrice, 2007
[vii] Deuteronomy 32:35