Priority!

The Super Bowl of Trafficking

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., The Salvation Army and other organizations were paying attention to a much more serious “game” than football—sexual trafficking of children.

Nita Belles, a noted author, speaker, and leader of a coalition of nonprofits called “Blitz The Trafficker,” said the Salvation Army’s USA Eastern Territory helped connect her with the community, offered facilities for meetings, and printed 5,000 booklets featuring the photos of missing children believed to be the victims of trafficking.

In-our-Backyard

“At least one child out of the book was recovered who was being trafficked,” Nita told Priority! the day after the Super Bowl.

“I don’t know how many more. We don’t have an exact number of recoveries, but our attitude is that one [child] being trafficked is too many. If we are able to recover one … that is worth all our efforts, but there were many more recovered than that. … We had a successful operation.”

Lt. Colonel Carole Bate, The Salvation Army’s social justice consultant in the USA Eastern Territory, said volunteers from the Southern New England and New Jersey divisions helped pass out the booklets.

“That’s what [workers] use as a starting point to talk to people on the streets,” Carole says.

Booklets were distributed at hotels, convenience stores, restaurants, diners, and other public locations before the Super Bowl. Photos in the brochure were of children who possibly could have been brought to the area to be trafficked.

Nita and her group have used such tactics at the last five Super Bowls, where sexual exploitation increases tremendously because of high demand for sex workers.

“Every year we are able to recover missing children,” she says. “We don’t go to the game. We have never gone to the game. We just go to the events to get the word out about the missing kids.”

Besides The Salvation Army, Blitz The Trafficker featured such nonprofits as KlaasKids, In Our Backyard, Free International, StopSexExploitation, Global Child Rescue, and Called2Rescue.

Nita says working with The Salvation Army was a “blessing on every front.”

“They were wonderful,” she says. “Their attitude and their commitment to helping people and being a part of a team was exemplary. I tease them that when we look in the dictionary under the word ‘servant,’ that we find ‘The Salvation Army.’ They’re incredible.”

Carole said the “While Women Weep” quote of Founder William Booth makes fighting human trafficking “at the very core of The Salvation Army message.”

In our Backyard

That made it easy to partner with Nita, author of the 2011 book In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States. She said many consider the book a primer on the subject.

Nita got involved in the cause around the year 2000 while working on her master’s degree in theology. Her emphasis was women’s concerns and she saw that 80 percent of human trafficking victims were women.

“I had done a lot of domestic violence work in the past and I had seen some pretty horrific cases,” she says, “but when I saw what happens to human trafficking victims—the deliberate torture for the gain of money—it was the most horrific thing I had ever seen. I said, ‘I have to do something.’ ”

She asked God what He wanted her to do and His answer was to write a book. Despite her aversion to writing, she complied.

“The research had to be ‘boots on the ground’ and I began talking to people doing the work around the nation,” she says.

From a small town in central Oregon, Nita discovered human trafficking even there, thus the name of her book: In Our Backyard. Today, she is a regional director of Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans and oversees the Central Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force.

Unshackled

Nita has brought together many nonprofits and witnessed many people freed from the shackles of human slavery and trafficking.

“It’s humbling,” she says. “For me, I think about how this life is so short, and we’re going to spend eternity together. If
I can meet somebody on the other side [who was trafficked], we’re going to be skipping and jumping in heaven together for the rest of eternity; that’s our goal. We want to set them free so that they can be free to be all that God created them to be.”

However, Belles is not one to be satisfied that some are free when so many others are still enslaved.

“There are so many more out there,” she says. “We don’t have time to sit and dwell on it. We might have a little happy party, but you know, the phone is ringing, the emails are coming, and we’ve got to get going because there is more to be done.”

 by Robert Mitchell

Editor’s note: The Salvation Army mounted a similar anti–trafficking campaign at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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