Loving our neighbour? It might be more difficult than you think…

August 23rd, 2013 1:39 pm

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39). It’s Christ’s second Greatest Commandment, and probably one of the most well-known sentences in the Bible. If you are anything like me, you have undoubtedly been considering it for years. You might even think that you have it all worked out—that, compared to some of Jesus’ other more metaphorical teachings, this instruction is fairly self-explanatory. My current work has indicated that, for me at least, this was anything but the case.

Through my work with Student Christian Movement (SCM) Britain, putting my faith into action, I am working with a professional network of organisations in the West Midlands area of England. These agencies are all working in different ways to bring human trafficking to an end. It is through this work that I have been pushed, once again, to consider what it means to ‘love my neighbour’.

Human Trafficking: the fastest growing international crime

Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is believed to be the fastest growing international crime, second only in magnitude to the international drugs trade.[1] A conservative estimate by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that 2.5 million individuals are victims of trafficking at any one time.[2]

Trafficking can be thought of as possessing 3 elements: movement, control and exploitation. Trafficked victims are moved into situations of exploitation where they are controlled through force, coercion or deception.[3]

Trafficking occurs in nearly every nation on earth[4]. It is not just a problem that happens elsewhere: there is substantial evidence of trafficking taking place into, within and out of European countries.[5] In 2011 over 900 victims of trafficking were identified within the UK alone. [6]

How does this present itself?

It is hard to conceive how trafficking materialises itself. Consequently, a lot of commonly held perceptions are actually inaccurate. The following description, based on the anecdotal evidence I have gleaned from my work, and the international research, is an attempt to dispel some of these myths and explore how individuals are really moved, controlled and exploited in trafficking situations. For the sake of brevity and clarity, the circumstances described below usually pertain to victims of trafficking that are either older minors[i] or adults—often the situation involving younger children is far more complex.


It is rare that the act of trafficking will commence with an act of ‘kidnapping’ with it being more likely that trafficked people are seduced into travel by job offers, gifts or the promise of a ‘better life’.[7] Often individuals targeted by traffickers are facing poverty, discrimination or homelessness. It is only when they arrive in their new destination, or they are too embroiled to escape, that they realise that the promised outcome of their travel doesn’t exist. Once they are in the hands of the traffickers, trafficked individuals are often moved a lot, frequently being sold to other traffickers.[8]


Mechanisms of coercion often operate around money, with traffickers offering to pay for individuals’ travel and then treating this money as a ‘debt’ which the trafficked individuals must work to repay. In other cases, individuals are stripped of their passports so that, even if they did approach the authorities for help, they could not prove who they were. In the most extreme, but all too common cases, trafficked individuals are subject to violent threats, intimidation and abuse to ensure that they do not try and break away from their situations.


The stories of trafficking that reach the press are often examples of young women or girls trafficked to undergo sexual exploitation. While a large proportion of trafficking does pertain to this particular type of exploitation, it is by no means the only way trafficked people are exploited. Trafficked individuals are also subjected to forced labour, forced street theft or begging, domestic servitude and even organ harvesting.

Loving our neighbour?

It is likely that there will be trafficked individuals being exploited within your city, town or community. I would argue that they are our neighbours as much as any other person. I am rapidly becoming aware, however, that ‘loving my neighbour’ in this context is fraught with difficulties. Extending love to trafficked individuals involves facing the very worst of human existence, and the very extremes of human frailty. It involves increasing the level of personal danger you face, in order that others may be safer. Through this work I am realising more than ever that Christ’s command to ‘love our neighbours’ is a call for us to stand with the marginalised, speak out for the oppressed, and do our best to protect the exploited. Are we ready to accept this call?

[1] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as cited by Stop the Traffik, The Scale of Human Trafficking (2012), http://www.stopthetraffik.org/the-scale-of-human-traffiking [Accessed 28th Nov 2012]

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking FAQs: How Widespread is human trafficking? (2012), https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/faqs.html#How_widespread_is_human_trafficking [Accessed 28th Nov 2012]

[3] Steve Chalke, STOP THE TRAFFIK: People Shouldn’t be Bought and Sold, (Oxford: Lion Hudson plc, 2009), p. 10, UK Serious Organised Crime Agency, An Overview of Human Trafficking (2012), http://www.soca.gov.uk/about-soca/about-the-ukhtc/an-overview-of-human-trafficking [Accessed 29th Nov 2012]

[4] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Report of Trafficking in Persons (2009), http://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/Global_Report_on_TIP.pdf [Accessed 28th Nov 2012].

[5] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Report of Trafficking in Persons (2009)

[6] UK Serious Organised Crime Agency, Baseline assessment of human trafficking in 2011 (2012), Accessed from: http://www.soca.gov.uk/about-soca/about-the-ukhtc/national-referral-mechanism/statistics [Accessed 30th Nov 2012].

[7] STOP THE TRAFFIK and United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking (UN.GIFT), DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE WORLD AND EARN GOOD MONEY? (2012), http://www.stopthetraffik.org/campaign/giftbox [Accessed 2nd Dec 2012]

[8] Steve Chalke, ‘Noi’s Story’ in STOP THE TRAFFIK: People Shouldn’t be Bought and Sold (2009)

[i] Minors are considered to be individuals under the age of 18, as per legislation from the United Nations.


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