Category "Child Trafficking Prevention"

ZOE East Coast Trainings Foster Collaboration to Combat Human Trafficking

June 5, 2024

Recently, Sandy Esparza, our Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, joined the ZOE East Coast team for a series of powerful training sessions. 

Sandy brought her invaluable perspective as a survivor leader to over 60 law enforcement officers, detectives, and representatives from local restoration homes and community organizations.

Both Berks and Lancaster County District Attorney offices came together and met at a local fire station for the training sessions. Sandy led intensive training for law enforcement to help them gain better insight on human trafficking victims, their experiences, and how to be more trauma informed and victim centered in their interactions with them.  

As a lived experience expert, Sandy drew from her own experiences, and emphasized the importance of building trust and nurturing relationships with human trafficking survivors through consistency and compassion.

Sandy shared, “The synergy between Berks County and Lancaster County is nothing short of remarkable. The energy, commitment, and empathy in the air were palpable, leaving an indelible impression on me. I am humbled by the incredible dedication of this exceptional group working tirelessly to uplift and empower victims.”

Sandy’s presentations created an environment of collaboration among agencies united in the mission to combat and end human trafficking and her first-hand knowledge enriched law enforcement’s understanding of survivor experiences and the need for trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches. 

Lt Nelson Ortiz, Supervisor Human Trafficking Task Force, Berks County Detectives shared, “Sandy Esparza’s willingness and ability to share her personal experience as a victim of human trafficking during our training gave those attending a clear understanding of the perpetrators’ methods of operation. We see in her words the suffering of the victims. It opens law enforcement’s eyes to clearly see the coercion, force, and psychological abuse that’s used on the victims.”

He added, “The tactics of the criminal leaves the victims feeling hopeless and worthless. They feel there is no way out of the continual abuse. Sandy’s real-life experience as a victim, motivates Law Enforcement to take a more proactive approach to the crime of human trafficking.”  

Meg McCallum, Supervising Assistant District Attorney for Berks County added,“The Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force is grateful to have had Sandy Esparza participate in our recent training. Her willingness to share her experiences so openly made an impact on each person in attendance and allowed them to truly understand the coercion and manipulation that traffickers use. By learning this firsthand, our local law enforcement now have a better understanding of how to appropriately communicate with survivors in hopes that we can build a stronger case. However, it opened their eyes that building relationships and being able to have an advocate involved to provide basic needs is part of the process and that the end game is not always going to be an arrest and prosecution.”

Sandy also gave the same training about engagement strategies to help survivors of trafficking to two local restoration homes for adult women survivors. The training primarily focused on best practices, trauma-informed care, and victim-centered support and approach.

The training opened lines of dialogue and strengthened the network of advocates, officers, detectives, prosecutors, and support services dedicated to protecting victims and bringing traffickers to justice.

Amanda Tlumach, ZOE East Coast’s Administrative and Donor Relations Assistant shared, “Sandy’s training couldn’t have been better timed. Just three days after hearing Sandy’s testimony, our team of advocates sat face-to-face with a woman engaged in the commercial sex industry. With the new insight gained from Sandy’s shared experience, we were able to acknowledge the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing this vulnerable woman. 

She could not fathom returning to a low-wage job and the reality of waiting for each paycheck. In the “life,” she can earn more money quickly and on her own terms. Despite the potential risks and hardships inherent in her line of work, the daunting steps necessary to secure a better future proved overwhelming for her. It’s why we aim to build connections and establish relationships with these women. Achieving such transformative change demands unwavering dedication and comes with significant costs. Therefore, having access to a supportive network and vital resources becomes paramount.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s East Coast efforts in preventing and combating human trafficking? Click here to learn more!

In Mexico, extreme poverty fuels human trafficking

November 23, 2021
In Mexico, extreme poverty fuels human trafficking.
The ZOE Mexico team partners with local churches and NGOs in Oaxaca to help educate citizens about the atrocities of human trafficking.

Thirteen-year-old Juana* was not in school when a ZOE Mexico church partner first met her.

 

“One day, the church went into the neighborhood to look for children who need an education and resources,” said Mariela Ambrosio, ZOE Mexico Director.

 

They met Juana and learned that she didn’t know how to read or write, and her mother works in the sex industry. Her older sister was following in her mother’s footsteps. The ZOE Mexico team quickly rallied to find a scholarship for her to attend the church’s K-12 E-Kids school. Juana has attended this school for the past five years, learning to read, and recently graduated from primary school.

 

“Juana is now 18-years old and has three more years before she will graduate from high school,” said Mariela. “She is now working towards getting a job while finishing her high school degree.”

 

God sent His son, Jesus, to carry out a plan to end all suffering and bring hope to a fallen world. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world. Would you prayerfully consider joining us to offer hope to those affected by human trafficking by donating to ZOE’s global mission?

With you, our prayer partners, and donors, we can continue this life-saving fight to prevent and end child trafficking and educate and empower more youth like Juana in Mexico.

Your contribution will help bring hope into the darkest of places! Merry Christmas!

*Some information changed to align with our child protective policies

Child Trafficking in Japan

September 22, 2021

“As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject Japanese and foreign men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking, and they subject Japanese children to sex trafficking”

– U.S. Department of State, Trafficking In Persons Report, June 2021

Worth an estimated $24 billion(1), the sex industry of Japan is considered enormous by any standard. The pornography industry alone reached a value of approximately $960 million in 2019(2). To meet this huge demand, it comes as no surprise then that thousands of men, women and children are living in conditions of modern day slavery(3).

What is perhaps surprising, is that the general public remains largely unaware of this terrible evil occurring in plain sight. Those that are familiar with the concept of human trafficking perceive it as something that happens in developing countries as a result of poverty and lack of education, certainly not in Japan.

Skyline of Japan with Lets fight human trafficking in the sky

Skyline of Japan with Lets fight human trafficking in the sky

It is a long and slow process for the authorities and non-profit sector to lift the veil on this terrible crime, introduce much needed policy reforms and facilitate a change in the mindset of survivors, perpetrators and the general public at large. Bi-annual meetings between the government and members of JNATIP (Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons) provides a critical platform to identify issues and develop action plans to address the gaps.

However, despite the efforts of government and activists, the lack of awareness and remaining legal loopholes provide plenty of opportunities to exploit Japanese and foreign women for prostitution, with perpetrators often targeting women (including single mothers) that are vulnerable after losing their regular jobs due to the impact of COVID-19. Many young men are also trapped in the industry, but Japanese legislation only recognizes women as potential victims, making it extremely difficult for men to find a legal avenue out of their situation.

But it’s not just sex trafficking. In recent years, labor exploitation of migrant workers has come into sharp focus in the local and international media. This is specifically prevalent in the government’s Technical Intern Training Program, which despite its good intentions, often finds sending organizations or local employers abusing loopholes in the system to exploit workers through debt bondage and poor working conditions.

Especially disturbing is the exploitation of children. The possession of child sexual abuse images (child pornography) was declared illegal in 2014, a great step forward, but still remains widely available. This contributes to the exploitation of thousands of children for prostitution, sextortion and various other forms of sexual abuse. While law enforcement is cracking down on perpetrators, NPOs such as ZOE Japan focus on raising awareness among parents and children, a key prevention strategy, and supporting survivors of child trafficking with potentially life-saving information and resources.

The It’s A Penalty Tokyo Campaign provides a fantastic opportunity to accelerate these awareness and prevention efforts. Through this campaign, we aim to provide a message of hope to survivors and to actively engage the public in the battle to eliminate human trafficking in Japan.

As an organization on the front line, we are greatly encouraged to have the backing of It’s A Penalty as we move forward with our goal to reach every person and rescue every child.

Written by Annerie van Wyk

– @ZOEJapan

Hoffman, Michael (25 April 2007). “Japan’s love affairs with sex”. The Japan Times Online. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/1125880/japan-market-size-non-contact-sex-self-pleasure/
https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/japan/

Australians Respond to Modern-day Slavery

September 17, 2021

ZOE Australia has been working hard to communicate that awareness, education, and support make a difference in seeing children rescued, loved, restored, and healed!

“Our Pathways to Preventing Child Trafficking course equips Australians to respond to modern-day slavery spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and pragmatically,” said David Cross, ZOE Australia Director. “We have nearly 60 students currently enrolled in the online course. We believe that our toolkits help bring awareness to various industries and social-action groups. For faith-based communities we have prayer-based guides which focus on God’s heart for the fatherless. By using ZOE’s curriculums, toolkits, and guides, individuals, groups, and whole communities better understand the problem of human trafficking and work to change their actions towards others – whether directly or indirectly.” ZOE Australia

ZOE Japan Brings Awareness to Tokyo Olympics

September 17, 2021

With UK nonprofit, It’s a Penalty, ZOE Japan worked on the frontlines of a large-scale human trafficking awareness campaign for the Tokyo Summer 2021 Olympics, held July 23rd through August 8th.

 

“We are excited to have worked together with It’s a Penalty to raise awareness of human trafficking around the Tokyo Summer Olympics,” said Hiromi Hataji, ZOE Japan Regional Director.

“We prepared various campaign materials and distributed videos, posters, and other awareness materials at airports, train stations, participating hotel groups, and other key locations. The ZOE Japan team also established a new call center that was used during the Olympics and that we will continue to use ongoingly. We have received calls from concerned family members and directly from potential survivors of human trafficking.”

ZOE Japan is spearheading the call center and owns the number, but support for survivors is provided in collaboration with other NPOs that are also members of JNATIP (Japan Network Against Trafficking In Persons).

“By utilizing this professional network, we are able not only to provide support to children but also to connect adult survivors with specialist organizations that can support them,” said Hiromi.

“The call center number is the official number used for the It’s A Penalty campaign, providing a great amount of exposure.  And, now that the Olympics are over, we are continuing to use the same call center number for cases related to children.”

Learn more about the Tokyo Olympics human trafficking awareness campaign.

 

It’s a Penalty campaign video shown on the Tokyo Metro, the Haneda Airport, Shibuya Crossing, on Emirates, Japan Airlines, and Cathay Pacific Flights.

ZOE Mexico Team Educates Pastors and NGOs About Child Trafficking

September 17, 2021

Like most countries, many of Mexico’s citizens have never heard of human trafficking. ZOE Mexico is working on innovative ways to educate its citizens about human trafficking. Currently, the team is focusing on speaking with pastors and their churches who are hungry to know how they can help.

Our ZOE Mexico team has also met with several government departments about what steps we can take to inform the public and educate communities about child trafficking, especially the most vulnerable areas. The government recently launched a campaign to bring awareness to human trafficking. Our team is also working with other NGOs to communicate about the problem and dangers to those they serve.

What is Fueling Child Trafficking in Mexico?

  1. Organized crime and greedy opportunists recruit children with force, fraud, or coercion for labor and sex.
  2. Poverty fuels child trafficking – most families do not understand where their children end up; they want to believe the trafficker. They believe their child is safe, going to school, or working a job for a better future.

“We met a mother on the streets with two of her small children involved in high-risk behavior,” said Mauricio Ruiz, Mexico Director.

“Our team encouraged her to allow her children to attend school to get them off the streets. She finally agreed, and the two children are signed up to attend “E Kids School,” a Christian school for at-risk children. These children will receive more than just a great education. They will receive delicious meals and all of their immediate needs met in a safe and loving environment. They will also have an opportunity to hear about Jesus!”

Brad Ortenzi ZOE International Eastern USA Regional Director

May 12, 2021

In 2013 Brad Ortenzi and his wife Lori felt they were being called into ministry, but didn’t know exactly what that would look like. “At that time, I was working with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Child Pornography Unit in Pennsylvania, of which I helped to start,” shared Brad. “I had worked a lot of child sex crimes in my career, but not at this level. My heart began to break for kids even more so than it had before. I was working online acting as a pedophile and getting child pornography from pedophiles. Or I would be online chatting with the bad guy, as a child, and the bad guy was trying to entice me for sex. I would get the child pornography and have to view it to document the affidavits.”

Brad’s heart was breaking for these kids who had been sexually exploited while in the background of his life he was being called to ministry. One day he heard about ZOE and their mission to rescue kids and reached out to the founders, Mike and Carol.

 

“Mike and Carol invited us to Thailand to see ZOE first-hand, and it was there that I experienced a life-changing event,” shared Brad. “One night in Thailand while we were participating in a prayer session with the kids, ZOE staff, and missionaries, one of the children came up and laid her hands on me and started praying for me. I just broke down. God spoke to my heart and said, ‘you have been chasing after justice your whole life, well this is what my justice looks like.’ My heart to God was like, whatever this is, I am in. I want a part of this. I want to use my investigative skills to help kids
and add to that the spiritual side of healing
and restoration.”

 

After this life-altering experience, Brad and Lori went home from this missions trip with a new purpose and direction for their life. They went back home and took an early retirement. In November 2014 they sold their house and their cars and returned to Thailand as full-time missionaries with ZOE.

 

Director of ZOE Child Rescue Thailand

“I was being called to be the Director of ZOE Child Rescue in Thailand that was established in 2004,” said Brad. “I managed five teams. ZOE’s philosophy with missions is, you are there to work yourself out of a job. We are there to bring our experiences and skillsets of who we are, to pour into the Thai nationals, so that we can eventually back out and have them run what we’ve started. The training consists of discipleship, leadership and development.”

 

For five years Brad held this position at ZOE Thailand. “I enjoyed pouring into the Thai staff,” said Brad. “They were all so loving, caring, hard-working, and passionate toward the kids. I was honored to help build the structure of five teams and overjoyed to watch them run with it and make it even better.”

 

Prior to going into police work, Brad served in the Marine Corps for four years and then worked 20 years as a detective in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “Those five years in Thailand were by far the most remarkable and memorable years of my career,” said Brad.

Eastern USA Regional Director, ZOE International

In 2019, Brad and his wife Lori left Thailand and moved back to the states. “Before moving back, I spoke with Mike and Carol to inquire about the possibility of expanding ZOE on the East coast,” said Brad. “We were all in to begin networking and building donor relations and I became the Eastern USA Regional Director for ZOE.”

Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force

photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Through the east coast expansion efforts, Brad began speaking on some Human Trafficking panels and connected with Lancaster County’s Assistant District Attorney that he worked with on the Child Porn Unit. She expressed that she needed someone with Brad’s skills to come on board the County Task Force and help coordinate and put it together.

 

“In 2020, the Founders of ZOE agreed to donate my time to Lancaster County for me to serve as the Coordinator for the Human Trafficking Task Force,” said Brad. “As the Coordinator, I research other task forces in Pennsylvania; look at how they are structured and what is and isn’t working, and research best practices. I have been taking that research to the District Attorney’s office, and giving her my suggestions on how we should proceed. I have since created a draft and structure of the task force using a little bit of what’s working in other states, and also what is working in ZOE Thailand and Los Angeles. I have also been working to collaborate with other government, nonprofit organizations and ministries to meet the needs of the task force. I am excited. We are few months away from officially launching the task force.”

 

The Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force will work to investigate, prosecute, and find restorative paths for trafficking survivors within Lancaster County. This will also include community outreach with prevention education and awareness of trafficking.

 

“With ZOE’s work with the Task Force, we are going to find the gaps that need to be filled by agencies and nonprofits,” said Brad. “The vision for the future of ZOE East Coast would be to build out an advocacy system like we have in Los Angeles. There is also a possibility of opening a restorative home in Southeast Pennsylvania and enhancing some type of Christian-centered foster care for trafficked children.”

The Heart of Brad’s work and passion

“People often ask me why I do what I do,” shared Brad. “My ultimate desire is to see restoration of the children. And, it comes down to the duality of Jesus. He has a warrior heart that fights to rescue His children and He will stop at nothing to make sure those rescues happen. And then there’s the protective loving side of Him, along with the duality of His daddy restorative heart. He just wraps his arms around his kids once they are safe. That has changed my life.

I have come to a whole different level in my appreciation for who God is and how He cares for us. It’s all about the end game for me — that child accepting Jesus into their heart and worshipping Him.”

 

ZOE Cycling Events – Race Across America and Road of Justice

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

ZOE’s Cycling events came about when Brad and Lori had a desire to help fundraise for the new ZOE Home for Youth that was to open in Los Angeles in 2021. “We were avid cyclists and living in Thailand at the time,” said Brad. “We thought, what if we planned a coast-to-coast cycling event – which became the first Road of Justice in 2018 – and invite people to come with us and raise awareness about human trafficking and empower people to be fundraisers for ZOE.”

 

The 2018 Road of Justice started in Virginia and finished in Santa Monica. “Over 45 cyclists biked 3,800 miles, in over 46 riding days,” said Brad. “Some rode for a day, some rode for weeks or months. We raised close to $300,000 that year. We realized then we had something that could work for ZOE.”

 

In 2019 ZOE entered an 8-man cycling team in Race Across America (RAAM). For 39 years, the RAAM has become a global icon, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. “We started the race in Oceanside and finished in Maryland,” said Brad. “We biked 3,000 miles in 6 days and 5 hours and came in third place. We averaged 20.3 miles an hour for 3,000 miles and climbed 100,000 feet. Together the team raised over $175,000 for ZOE.”

 

RAAM logo

RAAM logo

In 2021 Brad and his team of 8 cyclists and 10 crew plans to participate in RAAM on June 19, 2021. “Our goal is to raise $250,000 for ZOE to help fight human trafficking. Looking at the rosters of the other teams, we have a shot to win this!”

 

Another ZOE Cycling event, the Road of Justice, is scheduled for October 11-16, 2021. Any cyclist can participate in this event. The race will begin in San Francisco and end in Santa Clarita. For more information or to participate as a cyclist, visit our website.

 

What is Human Trafficking?

April 14, 2021

        You may have heard about “human trafficking” in the news, from social media, or maybe even from someone you know. But what is it exactly? How and where does it happen? How does someone become a victim? And who are the traffickers? How can you help? Although human trafficking is a complex issue with many layers, we hope to answer some questions you may have that can encourage you to want to learn more.

Girl lonely on a bed

“Human trafficking” is a crime that involves forcing, defrauding (deceiving), or coercing (pressuring or threatening) someone to provide labor or commercial sexual acts. According to the International Labour Organization, there are currently an estimated 40.3 million human trafficking victims worldwide, including forced marriages. Exploiters profit off of the forced labor and forced sex of victims.

How Does Human Trafficking Happen?

A person may be offered an exciting job in a different country, only to find themselves arriving to the other country, having their passport taken, forced to work under dangerous conditions doing completely different work than expected, and told they have to pay off the debt of their travels, housing, and visa before they begin to earn any income. This is labor trafficking. In another scenario, a woman may be romanced by an attractive man who showers her with gifts, attention, and “love,” only to isolate her from her family and friends; begin to verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abuse her; and pressure her to provide sexual acts for money in order for them to make ends meet. This is sex trafficking.

What About Child Trafficking?

feet of child in sandals walking in dirty place

Globally, 1 in 4 victims of human trafficking are estimated to be children. “Child trafficking” involves selling a child for labor or sex. When children are involved, force, fraud, or coercion do not have to be proven for it to be considered trafficking, as children cannot consent to being abused. A family friend may offer to move a child from their remote village to the city to attend a good school, but upon arrival, the child may be abused for sex in a brothel. Or a child may be invited to run away from a group home by an older friend and taken care of by someone the older friend knows, only to be told they owe what has been provided to them and now have to go on the street or to a motel and provide sexual services for money that is paid to the trafficker.

 

What are the Psychological implications of human trafficking?

Girl sitting on stairs outside

While victims of trafficking can be kidnapped, drugged, and forced into exploitation, many are psychologically groomed and manipulated into making them feel like they have chosen the life and circumstances they are in, not realizing they have been targeted because of their need or desire for food, money, clothing, housing, drugs, love, or friendship in order to be exploited.

Traffickers target the vulnerabilities of individuals, especially in their greatest time of need in order to profit off of them. How different could the outcome be if in crisis, the person met a safe person who wants to help them instead of someone who wants to make money off of them?

What About Labor Trafficking?

Man working in field

Labor trafficking can occur in industries like agriculture, food, domestic work, and entertainment, while sex trafficking can occur in pornography, massage businesses, and escort services on the street, in hotels, in homes, and on the internet.

Who becomes a human trafficker?

Traffickers can be part of organized crime networks, friends or family, gang members, intimate partners, employers, and business owners. But traffickers can also be victims of violence and abuse themselves, sometimes groomed to become exploiters by those close to them.

What can I do about Human Trafficking?

While all of this information is overwhelming and the problem is daunting, we as individuals and communities can be part of the solution by:

  • Protecting ourselves and our loved ones by being safe people for them to seek help from when they are in unsafe situations
  • Educating ourselves about the signs of trafficking and asking questions and offering support if we are seeing signs of someone who may be in unsafe situations
  • Raising awareness about trafficking with our personal networks
  • Educating ourselves about internet safety and monitoring the internet usage of the young ones in our lives
  • Donating time, professional skills, or financial support to local organizations who are helping survivors of trafficking
  • Learning about becoming a foster parent to children who need a safe home
  • Advocating for someone to share about human trafficking at your child’s school, church, community group, business
  • Reporting suspected trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888

 

ZOE International is committed to ending child trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration efforts throughout the world. To learn more, visit gozoe.org.

 

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

Acts of Grace

August 23, 2020

ZOE has been blessed with many generous donors over the years. Whether through individuals, churches, businesses, or foundations, we have seen God’s hand of grace moving in our work.  One of our greatest joys is to share God’s abundant overflow with others who are doing His work to feed the hungry and care for the poor. 

ZOE has been working with two of our most generous donors – the Children’s Hunger Fund and USANA – to ensure that much-needed help gets delivered directly to those who need it most.

Hut in the slum village of Chiang Mai, ThailandThanks to Children’s Hunger Fund, ZOE has established the Mercy Network, 73 local churches that have been providing food and other necessities to families in their neighborhoods for years throughout Thailand. Recipients don’t have to be church members or even Christians: God is not a respecter of persons and neither is hunger!

One of the Mercy Network churches is Acts of Grace Church in the heart of Chiang Mai’s slum area. When USANA leaders visited ZOE, we took them to see the work that Acts of Grace was doing with the children who lived in the slum area. They were so moved that they wanted to get involved in that work. USANA committed to feeding 100 kids and to rent a soccer field every Saturday so that the children could have a safe place to play and nutritious meals. In addition, the program has been effective as an outreach to the families of the kids who come.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the church wasn’t able to rent the field but they continued to cook and deliver meals door-to-door in the slums every Saturday. Now, both the meal and soccer field programs are back in full swing!

We are so thankful for partners like USANA and Children’s Hunger Fund. They are true examples of acts of grace!

– Written by Ron Boyer

rice fields and hills in ThailandMercy Network is a regional network of like-minded churches committed to gospel-centered mercy ministry. ZOE partners with local churches who have a passion to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. ZOE provides food boxes to the local churches for them to use as a means of building relationships within their respective communities.

Thoughts From A ZOE Social Worker During Covid-19

May 8, 2020

While the world is confronting crisis, God’s blessing is still present. His helping hands are with His children as He promises.

When we were first told that we would need to work from home, I began brainstorming… How could we work efficiently and how could we plan, manage, and assign a tasks to each other? God has shown me new ideas and helped me realize that my work should be run well everywhere! If we still need to work from home, our work performance should still be professional. My home can become a home office.

During a quarantine time, I’ve had the chance to think on God’s mercy and blessing in my life. Many times God shows me the face of our ZOE leaders and I am thankful for them. They are great blessings, good role models, and have servants hearts like Jesus.

I feel grateful to be able to serve Him together with ZOE. Thankful for God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Many people are crying for help during this time, and God allows us to be the answer. The coronavirus may lock us at home, but it cannot stop us from serving our almighty God!

Thankful for all ZOE leaders and our supporters so we can continue serving children and others in many areas.

– ZOE Social Worker