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Ministry to Victims of Prostitution (81377-GM-R9999)

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Ministry to Victims of Prostitution

Background of the Problem
    Prostitution is a widespread, serious problem throughout the world.  
Many experts believe that prostitution has an inherently exacerbating effect on the modern-day slave trade, as it provokes demand for commercial sex and, when legalized or tolerated, helps provide “cover” for sexual exploitation.  In the U.S. State Department’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, it is estimated that each year some 800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders, “which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries.”  Of those trafficked between countries, four-fifths are female, up to half are children, and the majority are trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.  A recent report by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime ranks the United States as “very high” in its list of destination countries for such international trafficking.
There are significant reasons to be cautious about drawing too sharp of a distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” prostitution. It should first of all be kept in mind that according to some estimates, the average global age for beginning prostitution is just thirteen.  Therefore, a great portion of people in prostitution are in reality victims of ongoing childhood sexual abuse, and many more began their prostitution through such abuse.  Prostituting persons of all ages are commonly subjected to being psychologically broken down in order to submit to the will and whims of their trafficker or pimp.  In a 2003 study published in the scientific Journal of Trauma Practice, 89 percent of interviewed prostitutes wanted to leave prostitution, but saw no other options available to provide for themselves.  The needs of women, children, and men seeking to leave prostitution are tremendous, often including, but by no means limited to, treatment for serious physical and mental health problems, substance abuse recovery, transitional housing, protection from those who wish to continue exploiting them, legal assistance, literacy and vocational training, the re-establishment of familial and other support networks, mainstream employment opportunities, regaining self-esteem, and spiritual renewal.  The lack of readily accessible means for meeting any such needs can have an extremely coercive effect on those who wish to escape prostitution.

Relevant Biblical Principles
    All people, regardless of age, gender, or any other condition or circumstance, are created in the image of God and therefore of sacred worth (Genesis 1:26-31).  So to violate the dignity of any human being is to profane the Creator.  
While sexuality is to be celebrated as a good gift from the Creator, any sexual activity outside the bounds of God’s design of one man and one woman in a faithful and loving marriage is inherently damaging and degrading to all involved, even if they may not immediately acknowledge this fact.  
   Jesus Christ’s characterizing a man’s lusting after a woman with having sinfully “committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28) and warning that “with the judgment you make you will be judged” (Matthew 7:2, 1-5; Cf. Luke 6:37-42) should give all of us pause before casting the first stone of unloving condemnation.  Indeed, we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and our hope is properly placed not in our own righteousness but in Christ’s sacrifice for our sake on the cross.  God worked miracles in the lives of individuals in biblical times and continues to do so today.  Particularly noteworthy stories include that of Rahab, who moved from prostitution to being listed among the Israelite heroes “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:31, 39), and of Saul of Tarsus, a leading persecutor of the nascent first-century church who became one its greatest missionaries (Acts 9:15).  Therefore, we emphatically reject the implicit or explicit condemnations of prostitutes and other similarly marginalized groups of people as beyond hope of redemption.  We likewise decry any arguments that there must permanently exist such a class of people segregated for being used as objects, stripped of their most basic dignity, subjected to severe physical and emotional trauma, and ultimately considered expendable.  
    Especially in light of the evidence that in many, if not most cases, prostitution is not completely voluntary, it would be terrible for harsh condemnation to be the first message of the Church heard by victims of prostitution, who have already had their persons and their dignity more painfully and thoroughly violated than many of us would care to imagine.  
   Our Lord Himself set an example for us in His treatment of women with reputations for immorality.  Rather than join His contemporaries in simply condemning these women, he instead offered them mercy, forgiveness, respect, and transformation (e.g., Luke 7:36-50, John 4:1-30, 8:2-11).  
    The triune God is patient, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  In the new life offered through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, our bodies are to be honored and cared for as temples of the Holy Spirit, who lives within Christians (1 Corinthians 6:19).  

The Church’s Response
    In his Sermon #52, “The Reformation of Manners,” John Wesley commended those efforts through which “some of the poor desolate women” in prostitution were rehabilitated, thanks to God’s loving grace.  
The United Methodist Church has addressed a number of related issues in the last few years.  Resolution #42 in the 2004 Book of Resolutions (“Pornography and Sexual Violence”) notes that pornography “is inextricably linked to the oppression of women,” treats female bodies “as objects and commodities,” and really “is not about sexuality” but rather “violence, degradation, exploitation, and coercion.”  The 2000 General Conference adopted what is currently listed as Resolution # 283 (“Church Supports Global Efforts to End Slavery”), which broadly condemned modern-day slavery but did not specifically address sexual slavery.  The 2000 General Conference also adopted Resolution #287 (“Responsible Travel”), which briefly addressed the problem of sex trafficking.  The 2004 General Conference adopted Resolution #285 (“Abolition of Sex Trafficking”), which described its role as, in light of recent discoveries, “address[ing] a gaping hole that exist[ed] in The United Methodist Church’s advocacy concerning sexual violence—sex trafficking.”  In the Social Principles, ¶161G broadly “deplore[s] all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality” and calls for strong specific action to protect children from sexual exploitation.  
   Yet there remain significant gaps in our Church’s witness in this area that still need to be filled.  It is good and important to broadly decry commercial sexual exploitation and its effect on all involved, as the above statements do.  However, specifically addressing the Church’s responsibility to the most direct victims of such exploitation is another matter.  While Resolution #285 does this for victims of sexual trafficking and ¶161G of the Social Principles does this for sexually exploited children, our church should have a statement more comprehensively calling for ministry to all people involved in prostitution or any other form of commercial sexual exploitation.  
    Other church-related groups have been actively involved in establishing and supporting good ministries of helping people transition out of sexually exploitative work.  Largely supported by Roman Catholic philanthropies, Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City “offer[s] compassionate and non-judgmental counseling and services” in order to provide “individuals who are sexually exploited an opportunity to be educated and empowered to take back their lives.”  The Catholic Charities affiliate for central and northern Arizona maintains a ministry called DIGNITY (Developing Individual Growth and New Independence Through Yourself) dedicated to helping women transition out of prostitution.  DIGNITY also runs “a weekend program for johns arrested for prostitution to help them understand and appreciate the harm to women that they cause.”  In India and Nepal, the Christian ministry of Project Rescue, started by Bombay Teen Challenge (associated with Ravi Zacharias Ministries International) and Assemblies of God-Southern Asia, has helped over 1,000 women and girls leave prostitution.  A Christian ministry in Bangkok called NightLight is devoted to “meet[ing] the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of women in prostitution, their children, and those children bought illegally in Thailand to financially support their families by selling items in the bars and often through sexual exploitation.”   Many other examples could be listed here.  
   But the need in the United States, Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and throughout the world for more support for such rehabilitative ministries remains great.  It would be wonderful if our ministry in this field became so well-established that women, children, and men throughout the world seeking escape from prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation knew that the United Methodist congregation in their local community was a good place to go to at least be directed to sufficient help.  
Therefore, be it resolved, that the United Methodist Church, building on the foundation already established in The United Methodist Book of Resolutions and Social Principles, hereby encourages all of our congregations to become familiar with the extent and nature of commercial sexual exploitation in their communities and to find ways to support local Christian ministries that holistically assist women, men, and children in leaving prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation—such as stripping, “escort” services, and pornography—by addressing such needs of the people it serves as what has been described above; and
Be it further resolved, that the General Conference encourages the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), in consultation with the Women’s Division and other relevant United Methodist agencies, to explore ways in which our Church can be more involved in this important area of ministry.