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Collaborating with Law Enforcement to Recover Human Trafficking Victims

February 5, 2021

ZOE collaborates with human trafficking task forces in Thailand, Japan, and the United States, including law enforcement, government, and community agency partners. In Los Angeles, ZOE is a partner of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. Such collaboration is vital to identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute traffickers.

In January 2021, ZOE had the privilege of speaking before the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, along with other community organizations and survivor leaders, to express support for the City Council to fully fund the Los Angeles Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Forces in the midst of possible department budget cuts.

ZOE staff on ZOOm for Human Trafficking task force meeting

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, budget cuts limited human trafficking operations outside of regular business hours. These cuts reduced opportunities to recover human trafficking more victims, including children.

Human trafficking investigations and operations require many hours, and usually months, of building rapport with and interviewing victims, investigations, and collaboration efforts to successfully identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute cases against traffickers.

During the meeting, ZOE’s Chief Operating Office Dave Cox told the commission the following quote:

“Without dedicated law enforcement efforts, child trafficking will grow in our city.”

In the end, the commissioners voted to recommend that the City Council fully fund the human trafficking task forces.

We are thankful for our dedicated law enforcement and other partners who work tirelessly to help recover our most vulnerable children from human trafficking.

 

Author Ester Yu

Love-less Love Hotels

January 28, 2021

Japan is notorious for its sex industry, more often referred to as the adult entertainment industry. All major train stations are surrounded by izakaya (a Japanese traditional bar), hostess bars, karaoke venues, and Love Hotels. Sadly, these “Love Hotels” promise everything but love.

 

Love hotels offer customers elaborately decorated rooms that can be booked for anything from one hour to multiple days. All kinds of sexual toys, cosplay clothing, food, and accessories can be ordered for room delivery without ever encountering any hotel staff face-to-face. Even the check-in process is completely contactless in order to protect the privacy of customers. An article on May 12th in Japan Today reports that the demand for this so-called “love” did not decline with the COVID-19 pandemic, but instead has increased in suburban areas.

 

Regrettably, these hotels are not frequented by married couples looking for a romantic getaway, but instead are often used to exploit women and children or engage in extramarital affairs. It is even considered a common and acceptable business practice for business colleagues to go to an izakaya for drinking after work, followed by karaoke in a hostess bar, finally leading for a Love Hotel for a few hours before catching the last train home. If only we could stand on the rooftops of these hotels and shout out: THIS IS NOT LOVE!  

 

The Bible teaches us about real love:  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13

 

In a recent case:

in the Machida/Yokohama area, a 10-year old girl was groomed through TikTok by a 34-year old perpetrator. Excited to meet her new online friend face-to-face, the young girl was probably surprised to find that he was an adult male that had more than friendship in mind. Already familiar with her school name and home address, it was easy for him to threaten and manipulate the frightened child to accompany him to a Love Hotel where he sexually assaulted her. If only we could’ve accelerated our prevention efforts and ensured that the hotel staff were trained to identify and report this trafficking case before the abuse could take place.  We could’ve saved this child from the guilt, shame, and fear that she had to suffer! This is just one of many cases that happen daily in Japan.

 

There are several ways that you can partner with us to stop the exploitation at Love Hotels. Firstly, make sure that the children you have contact with are aware of the dangers of grooming through social media. Secondly, pray for ZOE Japan as we work with various stakeholders to call for stricter regulation over the Love Hotel industry, including mandatory training for hotel staff and the availability of awareness and prevention materials in hotels to provide information to potential victims. Thirdly, consider a one-time or ongoing donation to ZOE Japan so that we can expand and accelerate our prevention efforts.

 

May those who purchase services at Love Hotels and the staff discover the TRUE LOVE of Jesus and invite Him into their lives to fill the void in their hearts and set them free!

 

Author:

Annerie Van Wyk, ZOE Japan Missionary

How You Can Help

December 16, 2020

As an international organization working in multiple countries around the globe, ZOE needs your help to confront the evil of human trafficking. Because human trafficking and slavery happen every day and in every country, we need as many people as possible working together to see it end!

·  The power of your prayers is an amazing thing. Please consider praying for our ZOE Child Rescue Team, our ZOE parents, the rescued children, missionaries, and staff in every country.

·  Please share what ZOE is doing with people that we cannot reach – your friends, family, work colleagues, sports team, mothers’ group, church, school, and neighborhood.

·  ZOE also needs people to fundraise, sponsor a child, and provide the finances for “special projects” in each country.  

·  Consider giving a donation to a ZOE volunteer missionary whose “salary” is primarily based on the donations of those who feel led to support ZOE. For other ways to get involved click here or contact us.

Christmas Around the World

November 15, 2020

Prior to moving overseas in 2010 to work cross-culturally, I had only ever ‘missed’ being with my family on Christmas Day once. On December 24th, 2003 my husband and I were traveling through Rome and spent a wonderful (freezing cold) Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. We woke up in Florence on Christmas Day and then went on to Nice in France. It was our first experience of Christmas in winter. 

In Australia

Growing up in Australia, December is summer time. It’s our big school break and Christmas Day is usually hot! Many people attend or watch on television Christmas Carol events in the lead up to Christmas Day. Typically on the 25th, my extended family would have a hot roast for lunch and then enjoy either BBQ meats or cold meats like ham off the bone, seafood and salads for dinner. Christmas crackers would be found at each person’s table place. After cracking them open with the person sitting next to you, we would pull out a colored paper crown to wear during dinner, a small toy, and a joke on a small strip of paper. Jokes would be shared across the table and after eating, everyone would gather around the decorated Christmas tree to exchange gifts.     

In Thailand

In Thailand with just over 1% Christians, Christmas is very different. For the majority of Thai people, who are Buddhists, rather than Christmas, the coming of the New Year is celebrated. You will see some Christmas decorations in the malls here, and occasionally even hear Christmas carols playing but Christmas Day is a regular day (not a holiday) and if it falls on a weekday, you’ll still see public schools in full swing. 

When you think about Christmas, what images come to your mind? Depending on where you live in the world, your experiences of Christmas will vary according to your country’s religious beliefs, culture, traditions and climate.

ZOE works in America, Thailand, Australia, Japan and Mexico. All very different nations! So we wanted to find out what Christmas is like for people living in those countries. This month on social media, you’ll see our staff from all around the world sharing their personal memories and experiences in the country they grew up in, or live in now. I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to hear whether or not there’s any truth to the notion that Japanese people enjoy KFC on Christmas Day!

-Andrea Cross

REVENGE PORNOGRAPHY

November 12, 2020

Every year, as the school year draws to an end, many students are breathing a sigh of relief, eager to escape the daily routine of going to school. Because on top of the academic pressure, cram schools, and after-school activities, some students are now facing a new enemy…“revenge porn.”  

“Revenge pornography” is when explicit photos or images of a person are distributed (mostly online) without his/her consent with the intention to embarrass or cause emotional harm.  

According to the National Police Agency in Japan

According to the National Police Agency in Japan, the number of cases continue to rise with as many as 1,559 “revenge porn” cases affecting children reported in 2019. More than 80% of those cases were related to junior high and high school students, but sadly even preschool children fell victim in more than 50 cases.  

Sometimes children become victims by participating in sexting, the sending and receiving of explicit content such as nude selfies, which are then later used by previous romantic partners or friends to embarrass or bully them. In a recent case reported by local media, a group of junior high school boys secretly filmed girls in the locker room and sold the photos and videos via online chat.

Fear and Anxiety

Victims find themselves in a constant state of fear and anxiety, often leading to severe depression, or worse. Their vulnerability now exposed, they become easy targets for child sex traffickers who will use deception or manipulation to exploit them further.   

ZOE Japan

ZOE Japan is blessed to have a strong relationship with another NPO in Japan that supports victims of “revenge pornography” and removes the harmful images from the web. Through this relationship, we are able to observe, learn, and participate in the counseling process to ensure that survivors receive the necessary legal support to clear their names and start the restoration journey. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to expand our professional network and gain experience in supporting survivors.  

Pray

Please pray for spiritual protection, strength, and wisdom for our team members, and for opportunities to share the love of Jesus with survivors and staff.  

-Japan Team

Cuties and the Exploitation of Children

October 20, 2020

On August 19, 2020, Netflix began promoting a French film called Cuties, which was set for worldwide release on September 9, 2020. The film (originally called Mignonnes) by French Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré and Netflix’s marketing campaign brought about worldwide criticism, petitions to remove the film from Netflix, and campaigns to #cancelNetflix due the public’s concerns that the film promotes the sexualization and commercial sexual exploitation of children and appeals to the appetites of pedophiles.

On September 23, 2020, a grand jury indicted Netflix for the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.”

Although Doucouré has stated that her intention was “to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible,” in the making and promoting of the film, young girls were exploited in the process and continue to be exploited every time someone views the film. The lead actress is just 11 years old.

Legal Exploitation

Imagery in films like these normalize the sexualization of children and are legal forms of online child sexual exploitation. Individuals and companies are profiting from the exploitation of children in this film. Exploiters can easily take images and videos from this film and upload them to sites profiting from commercialized sexual abuse imagery of children. In addition, with children watching films like these, they are being exposed to and influenced by sexualized behaviors and media representations of children.

Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)

As a society, we need to take a stand and draw the line against media imagery that fuels the demand for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), their CyberTipline has received over 65 million reports of the online exploitation of children, 312 million images and videos have been reviewed, and over 18,900 victims have been identified by law enforcement. NCMEC further reports that survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) “speak to the long-lasting damage and impact of their images and videos being circulated on the internet.

Subscription-based Services

The lack of control of both the files’ existence and circulation leaves the survivors struggling in their recovery.” In 2018, “teen” was one of the Top 10 search terms from the most consumed pornographic website. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that “[s]ome child traffickers adjusted to the reluctance of buyers to meet in-person to engage in commercial sex. Some traffickers are now offering options for subscription-based services in which buyers pay to access online images and videos of the child.”

The sexual abuse imagery of children exists because there is a demand for it. Let us fight to protect the dignity of children, especially in media, imagery, and the internet.

ZOE Japan to Meet with Government Officials

October 14, 2020

On October 29th and November 30th, ZOE Japan will have the unique opportunity as JNATIP members to meet directly with various government officials to discuss policy reforms and various anti-trafficking initiatives.

There are several topics on the agenda to be discussed with different government departments; and all of them are very important for the purpose of protecting children and people in vulnerable positions.

One of the main agenda items is related to simulated and virtual child sexual abuse material (child pornography). In Japan, possession of child sexual abuse material  became illegal in 2014, but it excludes simulated or virtual child sexual abuse material  such as anime, manga, child sex dolls, and virtual reality. Those in favor of continued freedom to produce these kinds of materials argue for freedom of expression in the arts, and that no real children are being harmed in the production of these materials. There are also arguments that it could prevent pedophiles from committing crimes against children in real life.

However, according to the book Pedophilia Disorder – It Is Not Love written by Akiyoshi Saito, a psychiatric social worker and the Director of a rehabilitation clinic for people with various forms of addiction, the majority of patients who have been charged with a crime and being treated for pedophilia at his clinic had the regular habit of watching or looking at child sexual abuse material multiple times a day. This indicates that the contents were not keeping them from committing a crime, but the material might be increasing their desire to abuse a real child instead of providing an outlet.

The real concern is not whether the child is real or not, but instead the intention of the material to sexualize children, potentially leading to more abusers and victims in our communities. We need to make every effort to eliminate content that could place children at risk.

We are hopeful for an open discussion with the government representatives that will lead to   tangible action points to modify the law to protect children from being sexualized or objectified in any form.

The second topic that we will address is the age of sexual consent.†During the Meiji era (1880s), the age of consent was set at 13 years old, and remains valid until this day. This has been a hindering issue when identifying human trafficking cases and punishing child traffickers. When a 13-year-old child has the legal authority to consent to sexual activities, it creates a huge challenge to provide evidence of exploitation, with abusers simply claiming that that child consented and receiving very light penalties if convicted.

For example, if an abuser connects with a minor through a social media platform and they develop a “romantic relationship,” often, it turns into a sexually abusive relationship which can also be filmed, photographed, and uploaded online. In addition, there are cases in which accommodation and food are provided to runaway children, and sexual activity is required in return. Such cases clearly fit the definition of human trafficking, but if the victim fails to legally prove that it was clearly nonconsensual by use of means of threat or violence, this often leads to very light sentences for perpetrators (if convicted) and a high rate of repeat offenses.

This age of consent not only fails to deter crime and exploitation but also provides legal advantages to traffickers and abusers.

In the upcoming meetings, we will have the opportunity to discuss the possibility of raising the age of consent to 16 to protect young people from sexual crimes at a fundamental level and to punish child sex offenders.

As we are taking these bold steps to be a voice for the voiceless children of Japan, please pray that we will experience God’s favor at the meetings, and that the decisions made will reflect His perfect will for Japan!

Written by Yuri Osborne (Japan Regional Manager)

Hi-rise building

A New Aquarium: Delivering Health and Wellbeing Benefits

October 1, 2020

I remember that my grandmother used to love to sit and stare at the aquarium my older brother kept at home. As a teenager, I never really understood how she could just sit there and watch the fish swim for hours. Have you ever done this? Just sit and watch fish swim? Or have you ever been to a large public aquarium and spent way too long in the darkened room with that huge tank holding all the different species of fish and other sea creatures?

Aquarium of gold fishIt is captivating and actually very relaxing and calming.

Recently, we installed a fish tank at our Child Rescue Center in Thailand. When the girls heard about it they were so excited. In fact, one of them asked if she could purchase her own pet fish to raise in the aquarium. With much joy and anticipation she and one of our ZOE moms bought a fish each to raise in the tank together.

close up view of aquarium of fishIt is a simple aquarium with a good number of fish but it has been so LIFE-giving and restorative for our youth. Not only are they able to sit and enjoy watching the fish, they are also taking ownership and caring for the fish and working together to clean the tank regularly. It’s become a fun family activity that they do together.

child looking at an aquarium of fishFun fact: Did you know that there are studies that show how watching fish swim in an aquarium can actually help reduce stress and anxiety and help with relaxation?

– Written by Lori-Ann Tsang

LINK to study

Frog Blog: A Ribbeting Story of Self-Sustainability

September 29, 2020

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, Say to Aaron, Stretch out your hand with your rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt. Exodus 8:5

Frogs, frogs, frogs! The folks in Egypt were fed up with frogs so Pharaoh entreated Moses to get rid of them. It might have been a different story had it been set in Thailand. Thai people love to be fed up with frogs. In fact, fat frogs are a delicacy to Thai taste buds!

As part of ZOE’s food self-sustainability program, we have recently started growing frogs. Our staff, students, and children love frogs and we can expand our menu without increasing our overall costs.

The frogs are raised in a concrete basin measuring 3×3 meters and 2 meters deep. A portion of the basin is covered with shallow water while the top is covered with a protective mesh to keep birds and other predators out. ZOE also raises catfish and tilapia on our fish farm, but whereas the fish take up to a year or more from fry to frying pan, frogs leap from tadpole to table in 3-4 months. Thus, we can harvest at least 3 crops of frogs every year.

Toads basking in the sun next to a tree trunkEach army of frogs comprises several hundred animals. We buy them when they are just past the tadpole stage for about six cents apiece and feed them with pelletized frog food. When fully grown, the frogs are the length of a smartphone and as thick as a man’s fist.

The chefs in ZOE’s kitchen love frogs, too, because they are easy to cook and can be prepared in a variety of tantalizing and tasty ways. Some like them best boiled, braised, baked, or barbecued. They are great grilled or roasted. Fried, fricasseed, or flamed frogs are flavorful favorites. And any spread will surely be more scrumptious with steamed, sautéed, seared, smoked, simmered, stewed, or stir-fried frog! Serve with rice or noodles and oil! “a feast fit for a king (if not for a Pharaoh)!

Today sitting on a blockWith our first frog yield due in a hop, skip, and a jump, we expect our ZOE family will soon be jumping for joy themselves!

– Written by Ron Boyer

 

How I See Myself

September 23, 2020

Age-related long sightedness is considered a normal part of getting old. As someone in their 40s, who is realizing that small text is increasingly getting harder to focus on, I am well aware that by the age of 45 many people need reading glasses.

Thankfully though, needing reading glasses does not impact the way that I am learning to see myself. It takes focusing on the truth to see the inner me – the way God sees me – and this type of sight has no age limit or restriction. But it does take some practice!

children looking at a mapRecently I had the opportunity to share about this topic with the teens at the ZOE Learning Center. Through many different activities, from looking through different lenses and objects, to examining different perspectives, we learned that there was often more than just one way to look at something.

Although everyone’s life story is different, there are many things that we all have in common.

  • At different points in our lives, we all face setbacks.
  • When we face setbacks we have choices about how we respond.
  • We all have a choice to see ourselves through our own eyes, or through God’s eyes.
  • We all have a choice about whether we listen to lies or truth about who we are.

By recognizing that there is often a mismatch in the way we see ourselves compared to how God sees us, we can choose which lens to look through. I don’t know about you, but for me, the way He sees me is a much nicer view! When God looks at me He sees a beautiful creation, no mistake, chosen, wanted, loved, forgiven. And I must admit sometimes (more often than I care to admit) that’s not the way I see myself.

Children looking through city imagesThere are many life lessons that I learn through nature. And the aloe vera plant is one example of something that has taught me a lesson this year. Aloe vera is one of those things that I have growing in various parts of my garden. It sprouts up easily and seems to thrive almost anywhere. To be honest, I used to just see it more like a weed than anything special until I learned and understood how amazing it really is  From being good for your skin, your hair, pimples, itchy bites, sunburn, even in smoothies. it’s really quite incredible.

Children listening to a Woman team member teach Sometimes we might feel like a weed, pushed aside, unwanted, useless, out of place in a garden of more beautiful plants, but God doesn’t see us like that. He sees us as amazing. And the aloe vera plant reminds me to see myself, and others, in the same way He does!

child looking at Where's Waldo book

By Andrea Cross

A Rider’s Perspective

September 18, 2020

– Written by Betsy Meenk Alviani –

I just participated in and completed one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever encountered. ZOE’s Road of Justice was an 8-day 630+ mile cycling ride from Brunswick, Maine to New Holland, Pennsylvania. It was filled with beautiful views of the eastern United States countryside, fellowship with passionate people, and some of the toughest climbs I have encountered to date on my bicycle.

Brad Ortenzi and other bike race ridersOne of the things that kept me going was focusing on the purpose for why we were riding. Each morning before we set out on our ride for the day, our leader Brad Ortenzi, would give us something to focus on. Sometimes it was a specific child at ZOE and the challenges they were facing. Other days it was the Child Rescue team or the children who have not yet been rescued. Instead of crying about a hill we had to climb, we were encouraged to pray for our daily focus. That really put everything into perspective for me!

road race bicycle roadClose to the end of a tough Day 7 I was thinking that I only had to survive one more day and then I would be done. It gave me hope! This immediately made me think of the children who are trying to survive one more day in the dark and brutal world of child trafficking. They don’t know when or IF their pain will ever end. They have no hope! And this is why we ride; to bring rescue, hope, healing, and restoration to these children. If our riding can bring awareness and get more people involved in the fight or raise the much needed funds to rescue one more child then this 8-day challenge was well worth the effort!

road race bike riders standing for a photo by the beachFighting child trafficking is hard, sometimes messy, and often feels like an uphill battle. But with all of us pulling together we CAN end child trafficking for one more child, and then another, and then another!

Get involved through prayer, education, volunteering, or financial support.

 

ZOE Means Life!

September 9, 2020

Did you know that the Greek word for ‘life’ is ZOE? It’s no coincidence that founders Michael and Carol Hart chose the name with this in mind when they began fighting child trafficking back in 2002.

Most people who know about ZOE are aware of the trafficking side of our work. 

But have you ever wondered why a name that means ‘life’ was selected? 

In the Bible, the word zoe ζωή refers to eternal life with God but in fact, it changes our earthly lives in every good way too, and is offered free for all who believe and accept Jesus. 

As a Christian organization, we want the whole world to have the opportunity to have this kind of abundant LIFE with God. It’s why ZOE exists!  

So how do we actually bring this ‘zoe-life’ to the world?

We reach people who do not yet know about God’s love, or the gift of eternal LIFE. 

Oftentimes this looks like bringing practical help, meeting physical needs and sharing God’s plan with people in remote, small, vulnerable and unreached places. 

But we also rescue children who are orphaned, trafficked, or abandoned. 

We fight child trafficking through prevention, rescue and restoration. 

When we see freedom and healing, it brings us so much joy of course, but when we see people choose to receive God’s ‘zoe-life’, we know that they will experience freedom and life forever!

At ZOE, we are on a mission to show people God’s love, and have them experience His LIFE, for themselves.