Melinda Clark, the Executive Director of North Star Initiative, a Christian trafficking ministry in Lititz, Pa., visited Lancaster Bible College on Oct. 10 to speak in chapel as well as to take part in a Q&A session with students that evening. Clark sought to open students’ eyes to the troubling realities of sex trafficking in Lancaster, Pa., and challenged them to respond to the traffickers, victims, and consumers as Jesus would.
“I have the incredible privilege of serving North Star, which works at the intersection of exposing the evil of sex trafficking and restoring the lives of those that have been wrecked by it,” said Clark.
North Star Initiative is a 501(c)3 organization that seeks to advocate for and support survivors of sex trafficking by providing physical, psychological, emotional, educational, and spiritual development through a Christ-centered focus. They offer the only safe house in Lancaster County, called The Harbor, for survivors of sex trafficking. It is a 24×7 restoration home with beds for up to 10 residents.
Residents participate in a 12-month program where they are guided by skilled staff and a coaching team. The program focuses on healing from trauma and recovering what was taken from survivors in the experience of being trafficked. Clark explained at the Q&A, sponsored by LBC’s Student Social Work Organization and Fighting for Freedom, that the program helps residents to set up bank accounts, go to school, get jobs, learn how to drive, and many other practical skills they need to live a flourishing life once they leave The Harbor.
Clark explained, “North Star exists because one woman, Jen Sensenig, chose to see what was happening in her community and when something seemed off, she paid enough attention and chose to get uncomfortable enough to step out of her own context and get involved with a local business that was doing something sketchy.” Jen Sensenig has ties to LBC – her daughter, EJ McFarland (‘22), serves as the Student Affairs Coordinator.
“Sometimes people imagine trafficking as something that happens overseas and what we don’t necessarily realize or understand is that sex trafficking is something that happens daily in Lancaster County,” said Clark.
Clark explained that the human trafficking industry is the second-largest criminal enterprise on the planet, second to the drug industry, and even greater than illegal gun trafficking. It involves both labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Human trafficking is a global industry that makes 150 billion dollars a year, involving 30 million humans across the world.
“Traffickers use force, fraud, cohesion, and most commonly, psychological manipulation to entrap a victim that they have targeted or exploited or groomed,” said Clark. “Traffickers do not look like shadowy strangers in white vans. The truth is that traffickers look like neighbors, family members, pastors, businessmen, friendly women, successful peers who seem to be doing well financially. They sound like adventurous friends on gaming apps, romantic partners on dating apps.”
Clark pointed out that the sex trafficking industry is driven not only by the heinous acts of the traffickers, but by the buyer’s willingness to pay. “We often don’t think of the one who is driving the industry and maybe that’s because that part of the transaction is just too uncomfortable,” she explained. “The majority of the people participating in the business are tragically, white, middle class, married, and college educated.”
Clark continued to explain how pornography is a driving factor in sex trafficking. “There is no more direct link from the trafficking industry to the pornography industry. They are a part of the same crime.”
She asked students to consider the fact that the desire to satisfy one’s lust through pornography fuels the commercial sex industry. A person is being exploited, abused and dehumanized to capture the images and videos that so many use as a coping mechanism. “It is the buyer’s participation in the industry that directly incentivizes traffickers to find victims that they can sell over, and over, and over again,” said Clark.
Clark encouraged students to be aware, have open eyes, and show compassion when interacting with people. “People in trauma rarely have predictable, conventional, rational responses. So if somebody in your life says something that doesn’t make sense, don’t ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Ask yourself, ‘What’s happened to you?’”
She reminded students that it is okay to feel uncomfortable. “It’s not easy to ask questions when you’re concerned about someone. It’s not comfortable to speak the truth when you see someone in a struggle. It’s rarely convenient to stop what you are doing and engage in a battle that is for someone else’s good.”
“Following the way of Jesus looks like exposing the world’s darkness and opposing them,” she continued. “It looks like walking out of the darkness and into the light. It looks like entrusting him with our stories and investing in the healing of others even if it costs us something.”