On Wednesday evening, November 19, Justin Holcomb, Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida and co-founder of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) was a guest of the Theopolis Institute for a lecture on sex trafficking, given at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Birmingham.
Dr. Holcomb’s lecture began with a harrowing description of the extent and evils of commercial sex trafficking. Worldwide, it involves hundreds of thousands of girls and women, many very young, all very vulnerable. Runaways, many of whom are abused at home, are moved from their hometowns to distant cities, moved regularly from city to city, to provide sexual services in strip clubs and brothels. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry and is backed by the violent force of organized crime. For the girls themselves, it’s a shop of horrors – beatings, rapes, abuse, sometimes a dozen times a day. Sex trafficking, Holcomb emphasized, is the devil’s work, and it’s all around us. And through it all, shame and loneliness and hopelessness.
Holcomb had wise practical advice for churches and individuals. Many of his practical suggestions were cautionary: Assess the church culture; is it the sort of church where former prostitute would feel welcome, or would they always feel marginal? Does the church have the resources to engage with women for the long run? Have volunteers been trained? Holcomb said that ministry to women from the sex trade can be frustrating, as women regularly revert to the evils they know.
In the closing section of his talk, Holcomb laid out a theological perspective on sex-trafficking, starting with the role of sex and reproduction in the dominion mandate and showing how that gets spoiled by sin. To call sex-trafficking the work of the devil, he insisted, was not rhetorical; it was a strictly accurate theological claim. Jesus came to rescue from oppression, and in His ministry to women and prostitutes set a pattern for the church’s ministry to victims of sex-trafficking.
A video of Dr. Holcomb’s entire lecture will be available soon on the Theopolis web site.