WASHINGTON (BP) — Amid the gridlock of a partial federal government shutdown, President Trump and lawmakers came together across party lines to enact anti-human trafficking legislation named for the 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy with Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, voiced gratitude “for the leadership of Congressman Chris Smith [a New Jersey Republican who sponsored the legislation] and all those who worked to see the Fredrick Douglass bill become law.”
“This Act brings new resources to the tireless fight of seeking freedom for captives and justice for perpetrators of this grievous evil,” Wussow said. “We pray that our government’s efforts will honor this bill’s namesake by abolishing the terror of slavery both here and abroad.”
Signed into law Jan. 8 by Trump, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act passed the House 368-7 and the Senate by voice vote.
The bill authorizes some $430 million over four years to combat sex and labor trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. It focuses on prevention education, help for trafficking victims, facilitating trafficking-free supply chains in U.S. commerce and training U.S. airline employees to recognize trafficking.
Trump signed three additional anti-trafficking bills between Dec. 21 and Jan. 9.
“This is an urgent humanitarian issue,” Trump said, according to a White House release. “My administration is committed to leveraging every resource we have to confront this threat, to support the victims and survivors and to hold traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes.”
Southern Baptists have combatted human trafficking via local ministries, Southern Baptist Convention resolutions and a 2010-2014 campaign by the Woman’s Missionary Union to end human exploitation.
The latest SBC resolution on trafficking, adopted in 2013, estimated 27 million persons worldwide were being held in some form of slavery, including forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The resolution encouraged support of “agencies and ministries which help rescue and rehabilitate trafficking victims.” It also “call[ed] upon Southern Baptists to support public policies” that combat trafficking.
Key Bennett, a SEND Relief missionary in New Orleans for the North American Mission Board, has worked with human trafficking victims for a decade. She said helping those who are trafficked requires churches both to advocate just public policy and engage in hands-on ministry.
“It’s about being Jesus to the people that come our way,” said Bennett, executive director of the Baptist Friendship House, a joint ministry of NAMB and the New Orleans Baptist Association that ministers to homeless women and children. Jesus “would minister to the human trafficking victim,” she said.
Bennett partners with local law enforcement officials to give trafficking victims basic supplies like food and clothing as well as housing, protection and transportation back to their homes. The SEND Relief website lists at least 15 ways each church can help trafficking victims. Among them: teach life skills, assist with financial planning, offer counseling services and encourage lawmakers to pass legislation against human trafficking.
“It takes all of our churches [and] our Southern Baptist entities … working together to make a difference in regard to human trafficking,” Bennett told Baptist Press.
Douglass (1818-95) — the namesake of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act — was a Maryland slave who found faith in Christ during his teen years and escaped from slavery at age 20 in 1838. He became an author and speaker in the abolitionist movement.
Douglass rebuked the hypocrisy of Christians who supported slavery, which he believed was inconsistent with the Gospel. “I love that religion,” Douglass wrote in his 1855 autobiography, “that is based upon the glorious principle, of love to God and love to man; which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by.”
Kenneth Morris, a descendant of Douglass and president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, said upon Trump’s signing of the bill, “If my great ancestor were here today, I believe he would be driven to lead the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery,” according to a release from Smith’s office.