191-Joseph: An Ancient Human Trafficking Case Study

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In this episode, Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak discuss the Biblical and historical story of Joseph and how it relates to human trafficking survivors today. Sandie observes how we can integrate an understanding of this ancient case study into how we fight against human trafficking and respond to survivors in our communities.

Key Points

  • Sandie looks at the story of Joseph through the perspective of Genesis 16:8 when the angel of the Lord said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
  • Similar to Joseph, human trafficking victims typically have dreams of success when they’re young, causing them to be more likely to take risks and experience dangerous situations.
  • When Joseph weeps at the sight of his younger brother, he exemplifies how successful survivors are still susceptible to sorrow and grief over their past.
  • Understanding where people have been is not only important for rehabilitating human trafficking victims, but also in improving our relationships in our own communities.
  • Sandie says, “And I am always reminded that while bad things happen to good people and those things can be redeemed, that we don’t attribute the cause of those bad things to God, but God does redeem.” [00:08:55]


  • Genesis 16:8
  • Genesis 37-50

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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 191, Joseph: An Ancient Human Trafficking Case Study.

Production Credits: [00:00:10] Produced by Innovate Learning., maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. And as you expect on each episode of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, Sandie we’re taking everyone to Broadway today, right? I think that’s what you told me.

Sandie: [00:00:53] Yeah that’s right. That’s right and you’re going to start us off with the theme song.

Dave: [00:00:57] Go go go, Joseph. You know what they say. Hang on now Joseph you’ll make it someday. Sha la la Joseph. That’s the one we’re doing, right?

Sandie: [00:01:06] That’s it. That’s it. Wow. How many of you remember coloring the coat of many colors from the story of Joseph.?

Dave: [00:01:15] Yes of course of course. I remember my brother singing that soundtrack all around the house. He was Joseph in production in our local community.

Sandie: [00:01:23] Oh my goodness. Well you know this month, every year at our church I’m asked to speak on Freedom Sunday. January is our National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. And so, I just came back from Istanbul last week and then on Sunday was able to bring awareness and understanding about some of the issues around human trafficking and use a case study from the Book of Genesis. And that’s where Joseph comes from people. He was not dreamed up in a graphic artist studio. He was a historical figure.

Dave: [00:02:10] And interesting about this story a lot of us are familiar with it either because of our Sunday School curriculum or because we’ve seen the Broadway show and the popularized version of it. But one of the really interesting things about this story is, although it is an ancient story, how many similarities there are with some of the things we see in modern-day trafficking, aren’t there?

Sandie: [00:02:34] Absolutely. And I think one of the things, especially in our faith-based communities, we look at the justice side of fighting human trafficking and we don’t look back at our own historical connection to institutionalized slavery. And when we go back to the very beginning and we’re not actually going to start in Genesis 1, but if we look in Genesis 16 we see a really famous story about a slave named Hagar, who was a slave to Sarah. Sarah was the wife of the patriarch Abraham. And Hagar runs away because she’s been mistreated. And the Genesis 16 says that the angel of the Lord comes to her and says, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ And when I first read that, and I am always looking for great stories that illustrate issues around slavery and how we deal with people who have experienced that kind of trauma. And people often talk about how for Hagar to be seen, to be noticed was so, important in her struggle. And the way that that particular phrase is broken down into where have you been and where are you going, is a good way to look at a case study on human trafficking. So, I’m going to use those two questions to look at the story of Joseph.

Dave: [00:04:18] Where have you been and where are you going.

Sandie: [00:04:20] Where have you been and where are you going. Absolutely. And so, many times we hear counselors, we hear therapists say to people that they want to help coach in working with victims of any kind of trauma or emotional distress, don’t ask them what’s wrong with you. Ask what’s happened, what’s happened to bring this to where it is today? So, we’re going to look at Joseph, and unlike the musical, it doesn’t happen in an hour and 30 minutes.

Dave: [00:04:56] Indeed.

Sandie: [00:04:57] In fact, Genesis 37-50 covers a span of 93 years. And it’s so, interesting in the story because we get a lot of detail about Joseph in 14 chapters. It starts off and actually says he was 17 years old when he told his brothers about his dreams. And what you know from either your Broadway experiences, musicals and TV and all of that, or from your studies in your Sunday school class that you were mentioning that Joseph had dreams where he told his brothers that someday they were going to bow down to him. Right? So, you’ve got to ask where did that come from? And one of the things that I’ve noticed about a lot of survivors that I’ve talked to they have had dreams that made them very vulnerable to being trafficked. We sometimes think that it’s the weakest that become trafficking victims. But in the last couple of years in going to Greece and working with refugees escaping violence, what I saw with the 16, 17, 18-year-old young men and young women is they had a mission- they wanted to make something of their lives, they wanted to be important in helping their families. And so, they would take risks because of those dreams. And if someone offered them a position, a job they based on those dreams of success and a future they often took risks and were very courageous that ended very badly. And so, if you really asked Joseph where you’ve been, and we look at his history we can see that there were some family problems that were more than just about the dreams though. He was the first-born son of Jacob’s second wife. And you have to go back, and you read all these stories and you find out that Jacob had worked to earn the bride price for Rachel and then her father tricked him, and he married her older sister Leah first. And then had to work seven more years to pay the bride price for Rachel. And so, when Rachel’s son was born, Joseph, Jacob was thrilled and spoiled him, the coat of many colors and preferred him. And then his second son was Benjamin. But he had ten other sons that were part of their household. And so, you can imagine the family dynamics that led to this. And now we get to the really exciting part. And do you remember what happened when they sold him? Where were they?

Dave: [00:08:07] They were on a journey, or in a field, or somewhere out somewhere and ran into some slave owners or some something like that I think.

Sandie: [00:08:18] That’s right. That’s exactly what happened. They’re out tending their flocks and a caravan is coming through and they decide to sell Joseph. Sell Joseph. And you know how much they sold him for? 20 shekels of silver, 20 shekels. According to scholars, that’s about $143. And so, he becomes a slave. He goes from being the favored son to being a slave. And I am always reminded that while bad things happen to good people and those things can be redeemed, that we don’t attribute the cause of those bad things to God, but God does redeem. And that’s an important part of this story as well. So, in this story, then you remember the scene where Potiphar’s wife is attracted to Joseph, so, Potiphar buys Joseph and sets him up as a household slave. And I think one of the important things, when we look at a case study, is to understand how many times household slaves is a theme that we see over and over again, domestic servitude is the technical term. When I lived in Greece I saw it over and over again. And we often talk about young women but young men also, become household slaves. And sexual harassment is a common theme whether we’re talking about women or men, young girls or young boys, and that is recorded in this case study. And eventually, the storyline goes then that he’s accused of something that he didn’t do. And we have cases like that here too. We had a case of workers in an elder care facility where they were threatened that if you tell anybody we’re going to accuse you of stealing something. Now they didn’t steal anything but that’s what they were threatened with. So, this is again a common mechanism for that slave’s experience, trafficked victim’s experience. So, Joseph ends up in prison and when he’s in prison he is again working as a slave. He has duties in the prison and he also, gets to know some of the other inmates. And then we start to see how the rest of the story is going to unfold. And we hear about the baker and the cupbearer. Do you remember those stories?

Dave: [00:11:15] Yes. And that’s where the dreams come in, right?

Sandie: [00:11:19] Yes. And I just love the baker and the cupbearer because they tell their dreams to Joseph and Joseph tells them what their dreams mean. And the cupbearer talks about a vine and it buds and there are grapes. And then Joseph says that means in three days the king is going to return you to your cupbearer duties. You’re going to be released. And so, the baker is really excited, and he talks about his dream and there were three baskets on his head and the birds came and ate the grain out of the baskets. And so, Joseph said in three days you’re going to be losing your head. And he was right. So, then he says to the cupbearer remember me. And does the cupbearer remember him?

Dave: [00:12:18] He does because the cupbearer is then serving Pharaoh, right.? If I remember that right?

Sandie: [00:12:26] Yes, he is serving Pharaoh, but he doesn’t remember him right away. It takes him two years. And two years later, and I think one of the things I love about this case study is we started out when Joseph was 17 and he serves as a slave., then he goes to prison, and then even after he starts making friends, it’s two years before that friend even remembers the good thing he did for him. And now Joseph gets called before the pharaoh and the Pharaoh tells him his dream. We probably all colored fat calves and skinny calves and now we begin to see how the story is going to reconnect Joseph to his family. And Joseph is now a slave for Pharaoh as the administrator over the business plan to survive this predicted famine. And so, they start saving up grain, everybody has to store it. And then the famine hits. Then the famine hits. And now Joseph’s family over in Canaan land, the famine is there too. And there’s no food. And when they run out of food and their desperate, father Jacob says to his sons you must go to Egypt and buy grain and sends them on this trip. So, can you imagine what’s going to happen when they see Joseph? And when they get there, Joseph wants to see his brothers. So, he calls them in and asks them about why they’re here buying grain, but they don’t recognize him. I mean look how many years it’s been. He was a 17-year-old boy, maybe he hadn’t even started shaving yet, and now he’s a man in a power of position so, they don’t expect him to be in a place like that. And so, when he talks to them he wants to know about their family. And he discovers through his questioning and through an interpreter that they have a younger brother. Now, he knew they had a younger brother ahead of time. So, they are talking about this and he said Well when you come back bring your other brother with you. And now there’s talking among themselves and they’re saying to themselves oh we’re going to be punished and we’re going to have to plead for our lives and our father’s never going to let Benjamin come with us. And so, they did not realize that Joseph could understand them because he was using an interpreter. And that stood out to me so, much because look how many years later it is, look at where Joseph is, he looks successful and yet that early lack of trust in his family, the betrayal he experienced is still part of who he is and it’s how he responds to this situation. He uses an interpreter, he doesn’t let them know that he understands them. So, Joseph has his own way of testing his brothers, have they changed? So, he has his servants put the money back in their bags and when they’re out on their way home and they stop, they realize that they can never go back because they’re going to be accused of stealing and they go back to their father. But eventually they run out of grain and now they tell their father we won’t be able to get any more unless Benjamin comes with us. That’s what they told us. So, they bring Benjamin back and Joseph sees them again. Again, he uses an interpreter. He does not reveal that you’re my brothers. He weeps. He weeps when he sees his younger brother, and to me, that just reminds us of how years later with lots of success, really, we could call him a survivor now, he is still very susceptible to sorrow and grief over what he’s experienced. Well, now there’s another test. They put a silver cup, a goblet, an important piece from the table in Benjamin’s sack and then they let them go. And then he sends his servants to chase after them because of the theft and they bring them back. And now Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers.

Sandie: [00:17:40] Wow it is absolutely not the kind of family reunion that you would dream of because they are fearful. They are fearful that he’s going to take out exact revenge on them and instead he says, how is my father, bring my father, bring all your families here. We’ll make sure that you have a place. And long story short because remember this is 14 chapters and 93 years. All of Joseph’s family comes, Joseph thrives, he has two sons. By the time we get to the end of the story, he is a grandfather. Three generations he’s lived three generations. And when we get to the next to the last chapter, Jacob passes away, his father. And Joseph has permission to take his father back to be buried in Canaan. And then he comes back and when he comes back his brothers have plotted to deceive him again because they’re still fearful about revenge and they still are trying to manipulate him. So, they decide among them that we’re going to tell Joseph that our father made us promise to tell you that it is his final wish that you take good care of all of the brothers and forgive them and really set it up so, that this is a command from his father. They decided to do that and all of that as we close out this long story and Joseph died when he was 110. When we close out this story we see that Joseph still doesn’t have an authentic relationship with his brothers. An authentic relationship with the family of his origin. And when I start looking at this as a case study for managing victims of human trafficking that become survivors, I want to look at how asking those questions: where’ve you been and where you are going can help us help those that we serve. We sometimes feel in our work as social workers, as educators, even in law enforcement, and community organizations that getting them out of the slavery situation, rescuing them, or recovering them- that’s our big goal. And then we give ourselves two years, it used to be 90 days, but we got smarter, we give ourselves two years to get this person on their feet and stable and we then say they’re restored. But the reality is, in 93 years the restoration aspect of Joseph’s journey from where he began to where he ended was really complicated and we oversimplify, and we can’t do that. We need to understand where they have been so, that we can help them find a way forward.

Dave: [00:21:42] It’s a fascinating parallel, Sandie. When you think about the story and of course we think about especially the Broadway version of it you know a lot of those details are kind of glossed over and everyone lives the happy ending of course. But the reality is, is the story isn’t that.

Sandie: [00:21:58] And see that’s, you just hit on it, Dave. We tell stories of survivors the same way we tell Joseph’s story. We don’t look at the details. We say we rescued them, we gave them a place, we gave them job skills, and now they have a job. And look everybody lives happily ever after.

Dave: [00:22:19] So, this begs the question, what’s the takeaway for us having heard this story in a new light? Or maybe hearing it for the first time and not having thought through the details, how should this inform our work in wanting to end human trafficking?

Sandie: [00:22:38] Asking the question “where you’ve been?” Shows real insight, instead of just being you’re right in front of me. In a way, I don’t want to start a whole new conversation, but many times our approach to victims and survivors dehumanizes them. We see them as a project that has a timeline that begins here and ends here, and then we have a new case and we take people off our case management roles because we define that as a success. And then when there is a relapse, we might go back to victim blaming. And if they’d have continued doing this then this wouldn’t have happened. So, understanding, and I think this is applicable on a much broader scale than just human trafficking, I think this is something that has to be part of our interpersonal skills in our relationships, in our own families, in our communities, in our workplace. And I think I want to leave people with the idea that we need to ask two questions, where’ve you been and where are you going. When we started prepping for this podcast, Dave, you asked me a question and you found out something else about me that you didn’t know. That I’d lived in Japan for a couple of years.

Dave: [00:24:11] I did not know that.

Sandie: [00:24:12] That changes some of how we share information. And every time we build trust with our family members, with our community, gives us an opportunity to be seen for who we are, to be truly authentically seen. And for Joseph, there was this constant revelation that trust between his own brothers and himself was never restored. Never restored. And that kind of grief, he carried that with him from the time he was 17 years old. And so, how do we respond, how do we integrate that understanding from this very ancient case study into how we deal with survivors and with those in our community. That’s my challenge. Where have you been and where are you going?

Dave: [00:25:22] Sandie, it’s a great challenge you’ve given us and I’m going to further challenge our audience to take that first step. So, much of what we’ve talked about in the story of Joseph, as I mentioned really echoes some of the modern trends we’re seeing in the fight against human trafficking. And I’m inviting you also, to take that first step. There’s so, much to learn and discover and there are also, some key things that if you begin from there as a foundation will help you to really ask those questions in a holistic and authentic way. Take a moment to go online and download a copy of Sandie’s book the Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. It’s completely free. We want you to engage with it and it’s going to teach you the five critical things that Sandie and our work at the Global Center for Women and Justice have identified that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access right now by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And we’ll also, be hosting the Ensure Justice conference coming up here in Southern California in early March, March 1st and 2nd 2019. If you’d like to learn more, go over to ensurejustice.com. We look forward to meeting you in person when you join us. If you haven’t joined us for the conference in prior years, please join us this year. And Sandie, I’ll see you in two weeks.

Sandie: [00:26:54] Alright.

Dave: [00:26:55] Thanks, everybody.

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