Business Professor Jay Milbrandt talks about his drive to seek justice for those trafficked
Culture | Cherie Suonvieri
Jay Milbrandt stands with children at a juvenile prison in Thailand, where he spent summer 2008 addressing human trafficking. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Jay Milbrandt
“It’s a hidden evil,” Eva Sedjo, president of Bethel’s chapter of International Justice Mission (IJM), said. After drug dealing, human trafficking ties with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, according to IJM. Not only that, it’s the fastest growing. In response, students at Bethel have come together to raise awareness.
IJM is a human rights agency that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. Lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals with IJM go into communities and work with local officials to enforce pre-existing rules to protect the oppressed.
Bethel’s chapter of IJM focuses on sex trafficking and serves to raise awareness within the Bethel community and to provide a place to respond and act.
“We focus on the hope and the justice that can be brought about,” Sedjo said.
The group partners with two local ministries, Source and Breaking Free. Both fund Annex, a transitional home for women who are brought out of prostitution or sex trafficking.
“We have volunteer opportunities with them that gives Bethel students a chance to interact with the issue,” Sedjo said.
While Bethel’s IJM focus is on raising awareness, the community recently welcomed a professor who has played an active role in the fight for the justice.
A 2004 Bethel graduate, Jay Milbrandt returned in fall 2013 as a professor in the business department, but not before spending several years as a Global Justice lawyer. Milbrandt earned his law degree at Pepperdine University and then took a trip to Thailand for a summer to address human trafficking in 2008.
Once Milbrandt arrived, however, he grew to know the people on a personal level, and his one-summer commitment turned into much more.
“You become attached,” Milbrandt said. “It’s not just a number or a statistic… It’s the six-year-old girl that sat on your lap and colored a butterfly, and you know that if you come back in seven more years, she’s going to be across the street in the brothel.”
These relationships drove Milbrandt even more to continue putting the skills and knowledge he’d gained to work. While reaching out to the children on the street, he became aware of the number of them who were stateless—legally existing nowhere.
The stateless status of these children means they are unable to attend school, travel or hold jobs, making them easy targets for trafficking.
“They’re the most vulnerable; they’re the least of the least,” Milbrandt said. “They start off selling flowers and trinkets to customers in the brothels.”
The children will continue to do this until their early teen years, and then often end up working in the brothels. It’s just the “eventual course of things.”
According to Milbrandt, there hadn’t been much action on the behalf of the stateless, so that was where he turned his attention. He wrote articles, made a short film and spoke on behalf of those who are stuck in statelessness.
Milbrandt has also helped sponsor children on the street in efforts to get them citizenship. “You can get it, it’s just a big process… Most people can’t do it unless they have legal help,” he explained.
But sometimes even when one does as much as he or she can, situations can’t be helped. Milbrandt shared a story of a girl named Faifah who he had met on his first summer in Thailand. She was 14 years old, stateless and had grown up alone on Thailand’s streets. She called him her brother.
While Milbrandt was back in the U.S., he received the news that Faifah had been caught by police during a brothel raid and was being sent back to Burma. While in Burma, she was seriously assaulted, and then trafficked; her mother tried to sell her.
When Milbrandt first heard of the arrest, knowing she was on her way to Burma, he began calling everyone he could think of in Thailand, trying to get them to do something.
In short, they wouldn’t.
It was a difficult case, and most were unsure of what to do. When Milbrandt finally reached someone who was able to go to the jail where Faifah was being held, she had already been sent across the border.
“Once she was in Burma, there was nothing we could do… no earthly thing,” Milbrandt explained. “There’s no law; no non-profits.”
Along with a Thai woman, he ended up going to find her at her brothel. “That’s hard. When there are cases where you feel completely helpless. You don’t know what to do and everyone you consult with says there’s nothing they can do.”
Even with the tough cases, Milbrandt continues to press forward. “It’s brought scripture to light in some new ways—going to visit those who are the least of these in our world…” he said. “To be able to do something, to be able to be God’s hands and feet is remarkable.”
Though the demand for human trafficking continues to rise, so does the awareness of the issue. Every day more lights are being shone on the dark crime. But what is missing?
According to Milbrandt, much attention is paid to the symptoms, but not enough to the causes.
“We celebrate the brothel raids and we overlook the preventative side of things. If we could solve the stateless problem, we would prevent a huge portion of vulnerability,” he said.
Milbrandt wrote a book called Go and Do as a testimony to the role God asked him to play and as an invitation to readers to join the story.
“As we step out on this journey, we discover an incredible truth: our need for purpose matches someone else’s need for survival,” the book reads on its back cover. “And there is nothing more fulfilling than that.”