Path 2 Peace, Justice: Human Trafficking- Faith & Culture

Path to Peace a new communique from the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace (ICRP) of Payap University. Their intention is that the newsletter can serve as a tool to communicate activities and engagements taking place at the institute and offer new perspectives on areas of critical peacebuilding. The IRCP would welcome your constructive feedback on this newsletter. To automatically receive copies of this monthly newsletter, please go to to subscribe.

September 2016
Pictured (left to right): Dr. Somboon Panyakom, Dr. Joseph Manickam, Dr. Ashley South, Kristin Wolf, Wanda Manickam, Dagmar Waters, Eva Mazharenko, Dr. Anthony Waters, Dr. Mark Tamthai, and Jon Rudy. 
In August the IRCP hosted special guest Jon Rudy, peacemaker in residence at Elizabethtown College, at the IRCP. Jon led lectures on Peacebuilding 101, Human Security and Peacebuilding, and was the presenter of our Payap Presents series on
Faith: Deconstructing Just War Theory.

For more on Jon Rudy's visit with us, check out his blog:
The Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace

The IRCP’s primary goals are to foster increased mutual appreciation and cooperation among the world’s different religious communities, thus contributing to greater inter-religious and intra-religious understanding among all people everywhere, and to undertake and develop new ways to carry out peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts in Thailand, the ASEAN region, and throughout the world.

The Institute employs various opportunities to reach these goals. There are regular seminars and lectures that offer roadmaps on the journey of understanding. There are cultural training courses lasting as short as 1-2 weeks, semester study programs, and in partnership with the International College at Payap, a PhD in Peace Studies.

Featured Article

Justice: Human Trafficking-  Faith and Culture

By Christa Foster Crawford, J.D.


When many people hear about human trafficking in places like Thailand and Burma, they think about poor people selling their children into prostitution in order to survive. The cause of trafficking is simplified down to “poverty” and the response is focused on “rescue.” If only people had more money they would not be trafficked. If only victims were rescued they could remain free.

However more than 15 years of working against trafficking in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) at the grassroots and policy level has showed me that this understanding of the problem and potential solutions is not only oversimplified, it is usually completely inaccurate. Human trafficking—both for sexual and labor exploitation—is not simply caused by poverty but is supported by a complex mix of factors, including national and regional legal frameworks, political realities, and economic policies. In recent years important progress has been made on addressing systemic issues that increase vulnerability such as improving migration laws and providing citizenship to stateless people rather than merely focusing on individual poverty alone. But these steps, while essential, are not enough.

Trafficking and exploitation are the above-ground fruit, but we must also tackle the roots that thrive beneath the surface. Faith and culture are two important, intertwined, deeply-rooted factors that also must be addressed.

Faith, Culture and Gender

So then, what are the religious and cultural beliefs that underlie human trafficking and exploitation in the countries of the GMS, and how do faith and culture affect the response to trafficking and exploitation?

Perceptions of gender are rooted in the cultural and religious beliefs that are an integral part of any culture. In theory these cultural and religious beliefs and practices may be neutral or even positive for all genders. But when unexamined—or worse, corrupted—perceptions about gender can create vulnerability, fuel demand, and color our responses to trafficking and exploitation. We will look at how this plays out in three areas: female vulnerability, male vulnerability, and male demand.

Faith, Culture and Female Vulnerability

First, religious and cultural views about women and girls increase their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation. While females are not the only victims, they do make up the overwhelming majority. There are four important factors that make women and girls vulnerable:
  • Low Status of Women
  • Religious/ Cultural Beliefs
  • Multiple Discrimination
  • Economics

In many cultures of the world females are viewed as lower status than males. In the GMS this can be seen in familiar proverbs such as “women are cloth and men are gold” that not only exalt men over women, but also make females’ value contingent on their sexual purity. Other proverbs claim that “women are the hind legs of an elephant”—the end that no one wants to be on. Because of their low status, girls and women are given less education and fewer opportunities, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.

Religious and cultural beliefs both underlie and compound the low status of women. Both boys and girls in many parts of the GMS have a cultural duty to “pay back their mother’s breast milk.” However, gendered religious belief that men are pure and women are polluted means that boys can fulfill their cultural obligation to their parents by joining the monkhood and earning merit; girls cannot join the monkhood and can therefore only earn money. The cruel irony is that those who have the least education and the fewest opportunities because of their low status often have the greatest economic burden because of their culture.

Furthermore, multiple discrimination means that exclusion and oppression against out-groups is worse for female members of those excluded groups. For example, cultural beliefs and prejudice against ethnic minorities and migrants means that they lack rights to legal status, work, travel, and other things that make them more vulnerable to exploitation. This risk is multiplied for women and girls who are also migrants, stateless, or ethnic minorities.

Combined, these religious and cultural beliefs create economic force that can be just as effective as physical force at keeping people in prostitution. Limited opportunities for females compounded with the daughter’s duty to earn money leads not only to forced trafficking but also “voluntary” prostitution. For women who lack labor migration rights or who come from marginalized groups within or outside of the country, prostitution can be seen as the best choice. But it’s a choice no one should have to make. As one Buddhist feminist scholar states, “Of course if there were other options for women they would not choose to be prostitutes.”

Failure to recognize and replace these gendered cultural and religious beliefs will make responses to trafficking and exploitation ineffective and short-lived.

Faith, Culture and Male Vulnerability

But gender isn’t only about females. There are also common cultural beliefs and stereotypes about boys and men that also make them vulnerable.

The proverb that “women are cloth and men are gold” not only says that women are more vulnerable, it also says that men are invulnerable. But boys and men can also be victims of trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. The perception of boys as tough and resilient can make us unable to see even under-aged boys as anything but willing participants rather than victims of physical, economic or cultural force, and as victims under the law.

This faulty view of gender also clouds our response to boys and men who are victims of exploitation. For instance, officials may wrongfully categorize males who are trafficked as labor migrants who are jailed and deported, rather than trafficking victims who are given protection and support. Even worse, laws protecting victims of trafficking and exploitation may be written to include only female victims and specifically exclude males.

Failure to see and remove these cultural and religious blinders relating to male vulnerability will make responses to trafficking and exploitation impotent to recognize and respond to the needs of male victims.

Faith, Culture and Male Demand

Finally, religious and cultural beliefs about men and boys fuel demand. Myths about male virility and the justification of hypersexualization and violence with platitudes that “boys will be boys” create a market for commercial sex in which sexual exploitation occurs.

These cultural beliefs must be challenged in order to effectively respond to trafficking and exploitation. If only supply-side factors are addressed, then the problem will just be “pushed down” in one place only to “pop up” in another. Unless and until all of the underlying causes—supply and demand alike—are tackled, the problem will not go away, but merely shift to the next most vulnerable group. But the cultural and religious beliefs behind male demand are so deeply engrained that they are rarely recognized, much less challenged.

Failure to acknowledge and change cultural and religious beliefs behind these myths propelling male demand will make responses to trafficking and exploitation one-sided and destined to fail.


Deeply-rooted aspects of faith and culture relating to gender are key factors that increase vulnerability to and fuel demand for trafficking and exploitation. While culture and faith must not be disrespected or dismissed whole cloth, it is essential to examine how warped perceptions and practices about gender can contribute to trafficking and exploitation, and undermine faith and culture themselves.

In fact, once examined and rid of gendered falsehoods, faith and culture are the most powerful tools available to help society begin to see women as equal value to men, to view men as more than myths about sexual prowess, to understand exploitation as the defining factor rather than gender, and to bring about the end to all forms of trafficking and exploitation.
Peace Day 2016 
Sept. 21, 2016 

Our Peace Day celebration will have a peacebuilding workshop facilitated by PhD student Qamaruzzaman Amir from 1-5pm, Payap Mae Khao Campus.
Our Peace Day evening concert will feature PYU Jazz Band, and Mr. Tony Brown, baritone, as special guest entertainment from 6-8:30pm, Payap Mae Khao Campus..
Tickets will be 200THB, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for pre-registration. Tickets will also be available at the door. 

Payap Presents: Justice 
Sept. 27, 2016

Human Trafficking- Faith and Culture with Christa Foster Crawford, J.D. Presentation will begin 5pm in the IRCP conference room. Click HERE for directions. 
Christa Foster Crawford, J.D. is an international consultant, providing resources and expert advice on ending human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Thailand and the Greater Mekong Sub-region. She holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. Christa is an adjunct assistant professor of Children at Risk at Fuller Theological Seminary, an instructor at Payap University, and a Research Fellow at the IRCP. She also develops curricula and training courses to equip practitioners. She has authored and edited numerous books, chapters and articles on ministering to trafficked and sexually exploited children and women. Since 2001, Christa has lived in Thailand working to end exploitation at both the grassroots and policy levels. 

Path 2 Peace Film Festival: A Journey towards right relationship

Accepting film submissions until Oct. 25th, 2016. 
Nov. 28, 2016 Press Event at Creative Kingdom
Dec. 3, 2016 Path 2 Peace Fundraising Gala at Creative Kingdom
Tickets 1,500THB + 3 day Film Festival Passes
Jan 6-8, 2017 Path 2 Peace Film Festival at Payap University Mae Khao Campus
Tickets 150THB a day or 300THB for all 3 days.

Sinclair Thompson Lectures

Dr. Ben Rhodes, Guest Speaker
Dr. Ben Rhodes on the first evening will speak on the topic of "Religious Perspectives on Disabilities." The second evening we will bring other religious leaders (Buddhist and Muslim) to engage with Dr. Ben and present other religious perspectives as well. March 20-21, 2017 at Payap University Mae Khao Campus

Bibliography and References

Gender and Trafficking

Crawford, Christa Foster. “Cultural, Economic and Legal Factors Underlying Trafficking in Thailand and Their Impact on Women and Girls from Burma.” Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender 12.3 (2006): 821-53.

Crawford, Christa Foster. “Duty, Obligation and Prostitution: How Family Matters in Entry into and Exit from Prostitution in Thailand.” Family and Faith in Asia: The Missional Impact of Social Networks, edited by Paul De Neui, William Carey Library, 2010, pp. 77-99.

Miles, Glenn and Christa Foster Crawford. “Introduction to Part 4: How Can We Better Work with Boys and Men?” Stopping the Traffick: A Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking, edited by Glenn Miles and Christa Foster Crawford, Regnum, 2014, pp. 165-212.

Miles, Glenn and Taina Gallagher. “Unit 4: Gender and Trafficking.” Hands that Heal: International Curriculum to Train Caregivers of Trafficking Survivors (Academic Edition), edited by Beth Grant and Cindy Lopez Hudlin, Faith Alliance against Slavery and Trafficking, 2007, pp. 115-126.
Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee gave a lecture on Aug. 29, 2016 on “Peacebuilding in Societies: Muslims as Majority and Minority” at the Certificate on Building a Peaceful Society offered by King Prajadhipok Institute. Participants included religious leaders, government officers, local politicians, and people from civil society organizations.     

On August 28, 2016, Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee was invited by Deep South Watch, Prince of Songkla University, to be a panelist on “Directions and Future Studies on Peace Research in Southern Thailand." 
The lecture took place at Prince of Songkha University Pattani Campus for scholars who are interested in conducting research in Southern Thailand. 

As part of our Southeast Asian Studies Center, we've had students from Meiji Gakuin University in Japan and Honghe University in China take customized courses at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

The SEASC takes a multi-disciplinary approach offering semester and short programs focused on human rights and politics, economic development and business, and the cultures and societies of Southeast Asia. 

Each program is designed for different types of learners. Learning takes place in the classroom and around northern Thailand in cities and villages. The short course has a lecture series where the semester course has full-length classes offered for transfer credit. 
Contact us for more information!
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