This research deals with the importance of a missional appropriation of human trafficking for the sex work industry. This research is necessitated by a current limited theological reflection on this growing global issue and the complexities surrounding it. As the most common form of trafficking in humans, the recruitment, movement and sexual exploitation of human beings is a crime against humanity that often causes nearly irreparable physical and psychological damage to its victims. Unfortunately, due to the complexity and invisibility of this issue, it remains a challenging field of research.
The complexity not only surrounds the victims, but starts from the ever-evolving definitions of human trafficking, the changing nature of perpetrators, the healing and reintegration strategies of victims into society, the family of victims and perpetrators, economic challenges, traditional cultural practices, the different channels offering assistance, ethical implications, to the ever-growing demand. Within each of these mentioned categories are many questions and challenges that need to be theologically addressed by this research. This theological reflection will be built upon existing research from other academic fields and will attempt to move beyond mere words and theories to strategies for action.
Unfortunately, the growth, magnitude, complexity and hidden nature of human trafficking make this a particularly tricky human rights concern to address adequately, or even to develop a reliable victim estimate. It is often compared to modern-day slavery that requires a global multiple stakeholder approach to address effectively. The global ecumenical church could play an important part in the lives of the victims hereof. As the missionary action of churches cannot be separated from their being, the church could channel this missionary identity to include an ethically motivated mission to the marginalised in sex trafficking circles. In this missionary action, unity and ecumenism become very important as the whole church is called to witness in the whole world, becoming an inclusive life bringing community promoting human dignity, justice, healing, and hope.
The current research gap within theological reflections lies therein that it does not approach this complex issue transformatively, ethically, missionally, multi-dimensionally or phenomenologically. A new missional theological theory for the global ecumenical church’s involvement needs to be developed, one where human trafficking as a phenomenon is reinterpreted to be a theological issue leading to action being taken in a life-giving mission. This theory will serve as the foundation for this study.
According to missional theology, this life-giving mission should happen from the margins in order to confront and transform all that denies life. Missional theology coupled with social ethics could assist in this endeavour, as it provides essential insights for bringing life to the marginalised. All complexities, challenges, and opportunities therein are explored. As this issue remains a local problem stemming from global pressures, the challenge for the researcher lies therein to create a glocal theological theory, meaning a theological theory that has global influence, but one that can be customed for local use. It needs to enable both the creation of a global life-giving mission through the ecumenical church, as well as the creation of a customised local life-giving mission with key concepts derived from the global initiative.
As a destination for sex trafficking, the empirical research is carried out in South Africa, with the city of Rustenburg as a specific focus, where the researcher has previously been involved in counter-trafficking projects since January 2013. This focus on the local is especially important for this research as the challenge of human trafficking lies simultaneously in the global and the local, and a need exists to move beyond words and theories. The empirical research will then aim to relay narratives of the marginalised victims and survivors in this area, in order to investigate the viability of a global theological theory that can be used to derive and set up a local life-giving mission to the victims of sex trafficking through the ecumenical church.
A central aim of the research is then to create a glocal theological theory, with the integration of missional theology and ethics, from which local strategies and methodologies for a life-giving mission can be derived, tested and evaluated. This includes a life nurturing mission that brings healing and prophetically denunciates the root causes of suffering and that promotes the transformation of structures that dispense injustice while bringing hope of the transformation of all things.
Both the theory and praxis are examined with the fullness of life, human dignity, hope, justice, healing and the end goal in mind, which is the formulation of a missional appropriation of human trafficking for the sex work industry. This examination takes place within the transformative paradigm using a mixed methods approach.
As a missional and ethical theological foundation for the ecumenical church’s involvement in the complex issue of sex trafficking has not been tabled as of yet, neither concrete theoretical models for this involvement, this research could bring a new dimension to the nature of Church in the post-modern global culture.