There is a dark world of human trafficking that the world does not know of. Statistics showed that the world has more than 40 million people living in slavery and that every year there are millions of young girls sold in the sex slave trade.
Former NFL All-Pro linebacker, Bob Swenson's eyes were opened to human violent oppression and injustice of the poor 15 years ago after his wife Libby shared the shocking statistics of the sex slavery trade over dinner. Since then, he was determined to use his popularity and power to serve God by serving the most vulnerable.
In an article he wrote for Globe, the former player of Denver Broncos and member of the legendary "Orange Crush," narrated how the stories of his wife, a staff of Love Justice International, an organization that intercepts human trafficking intending to "stand in the gap to love people and fight for justice," and God's Word led him to respond in practical ways to put awareness and "make a dent" on the tragic reality of injustice.
His wife's worldview changed during one summer in college when she volunteered to help in an orphanage. She met a young girl named Hazel who was abandoned in a train station. The latter had cerebral palsy, was unable to speak, and was cross-eyed, and because the orphanage staff thought that she was contagious or had some bad karma with her, she was locked in a room with only a small pot for her bathroom necessities and a single spoonful of rice to feed her daily.
Libby chose to take care of Hazel but while doing so questioned God and His inability to stop suffering. Then, she was reminded of Matthew 25:35-40 and realized that Hazel is Jesus Christ and that what she is doing is a beautiful opportunity to serve Jesus.
When school came, she was already unable to visit Hazel and was shattered when she found out that she died. She then had a realization that changed her life - Hazel lived in a country where there was no lack of food for her to eat. God provided for her yet His provision was taken away by selfish, heartless people in power that saw her as worthless. "If people have the power to sweep away justice, then that means I have the power to give justice to people-and that's how God shows up, through people. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and that's how He works," she declared.
Swenson, on the other hand, came across Isaiah 58:6, a calling he knew was from God, inviting him to take action. Since then he trusted God to lead him and her wife to the next step they would take for justice.
Paintings Convey Stories of Human Trafficking Victims, Bring Light And Help
One summer, he and his wife were strolling through an art show at Beaver Creek, Colorado, when they met artist Judy Dickenson who was painting a portrait of a Rwandan woman. They found out that she and her pastor husband use their gifts to serve widows in Rwanda.
Swenson then thought, "What if we created paintings of people who'd been intercepted and rescued from human trafficking as a way to tell their stories in a dignified way?"
He shared this idea with the couple and Dickenson immediately agreed to do the first painting. That was the birth of the Freedom 58 Project, "a collaborative movement working to raise awareness and help end modern-day slavery and violent oppression around the world," with Swenson as president and founder.
In partnership with Love Justice International, which to date has intercepted 30,578 victims, and other Christian organizations, they were able to gather photos and stories of men and women who were rescued and intercepted from the human slavery trade. Soon, artists from around the country volunteered to paint and participate in the project.
Currently, Freedom 58 is in partnership with three anti-trafficking organizations and has created and gathered more than 230 paintings, making up the Faces of Freedom art exhibit, a traveling and virtual exhibition that utilizes paintings and portraits as instruments to raise awareness and bring light to the dark world of human trafficking.
"In its own unique way, each work of art uplifts those who are closest to God's heart in their suffering. As visitors proceed through the paintings, confronted by the beauty and tragedy of numerous stories, they are encouraged to consider a series of questions and invited to learn how to join the fight against violent oppression of the poor," Swenson proclaimed.
One of the paintings is that of Claire entitled "The Saint", painted by California artist Johanna Spinks, who added a halo of gold to Claire's smiling face to represent honor, dignity, courage, and faith.
Claire thought she was traveling to China for a reputable job when drugs were found in her possession. It was then that she found out that traffickers used her to smuggle drugs into Iran. She was immediately arrested at the border and was imprisoned in Iran for 5 years. Her initial sentence was death by hanging.
While waiting to be executed, Claire shared that she believed God would make a way for her release and busied herself by sharing with her inmates the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, God made a miracle to release her from prison. She then became a part of Love Justice Uganda, working and making sure that the horrific injustice she experienced will not happen to others.
Sex Trafficking: Billion Market Value
BedBible.com did a two-month, in-depth research about worldwide sex trafficking, with data gathered from 172 countries and that analyzed 109 victims, making it the most comprehensive and largest study on the topic. They explained that sex trafficking was the chosen topic because it compromises 79% of the world's human trafficking cases, Globe Newswire reported.
The most shocking and heartbreaking revelation from the study is that the sex trafficking industry has never been larger, having an estimated market value of $99 billion, larger than the global cocaine market, and as huge as the global PC market. What's more, its yearly revenue is equivalent to the sum of what McDonald's, Netflix, Wall Disney, and Best Buy are making.
The number of sex trafficking victims every single day is at 35 million with only about .04% of survivors as majority of cases, unfortunately, go undetected.
Online recruitment increased by 22% during the pandemic with significant growth of potential victims found on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram having a 120% and 95% increase respectively.
Twenty percent of victims worldwide are children but in Africa and Mekong region, children are the majority, if not all, victims.
Lastly, the study found out that the reasons why people end up as victims of sex trafficking are recent migration, mental health issues, unstable housing, homeless youth, and drug addiction.