Human Trafficking Survivors: Leaving Their Tombs Behind
by Sister Maryann Mueller, CSSF
As we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we may be reminded of another Gospel story where Jesus affected the resurrection of a little girl, the twelve year old daughter of Jairus. In Mark’s Gospel we read:
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
The phrase Talitha Kum is the name of the International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons. The expression enfleshes the transformative power embodied in the daily earthly resurrections experienced by survivors wounded by human trafficking. Each time a survivor is able to hear the words “I say to you arise!” and leaves the “tomb” of a past which may drain them of life they give witness to the lesson of the resurrected Christ from which flows the strength of the human spirit.
Catholic Sisters throughout the United States and the world offer various services which help survivors arise from their unimaginable “tombs.” Sisters provide shelter and safe housing to survivors. They are engaged with basic life skills training and with ensuring that survivors know their legal rights. Sisters assist these men and women with work skills training and help them to reintegrate into society.
One avenue that has empowered survivors of trafficking to leave the tombs of the past and rebuild their lives is businesses that train and hire survivors of trafficking. Organizations listed on the resource section of this website work with survivors of trafficking to obtain job skills and help them earn a sustainable income. Survivors may learn to make and sell candles, soap and fragrances, jewelry, bags and other gifts. Several companies will help survivors with education, or will use proceeds to subsidize vocational programs for them. Some of these companies also hire those at risk for trafficking or donate a portion of their profits to organizations that combat human trafficking. Each purchase from any of these businesses help support and provide former victims of trafficking with the tools and opportunities to leave the tombs of their past, to “arise,” and to astound us all with the tenacity of the human spirit.
The Tenth Station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24)
by Jeanne Christensen, RSM
During Lent this year, I was asked to reflect on the tenth station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24). While it is not the Lenten season, I encourage you to become acquainted with Daia, who is so representative of women who are trafficked.
The name we know her by is Daia, but that isn’t her birth name. When Daia was twelve she ran away from home and her mother’s current abusive boyfriend. Within two days on the streets, a young and fun-loving older boy promised her a safe place to stay, food and a chance to be a just-discovered model. Daia thought, “a dream come true.” It became a nightmare of posing for pornographic images and being sold for sex by the boy who made false promises. She, like Jesus, was stripped of her clothing, humiliated and exposed to harsh, unforgiving eyes.
This terrible trauma lasted for many months, until one night she was left for dead in a motel room – beaten for not “meeting expectations” and bringing a good return on the boy’s “investment.” She survived and with help from a small, local organization dedicated to helping victims of trafficking, found her way to healing and recovery. Now she is clothed, praised for her strength to rebuild her life, and the eyes looking at her express pride and encouragement.
Daia and so many other women and young girls like her live in your city, maybe even in your neighborhood. You may have seen one of them in your hospital’s emergency department or at the truck stop on the Interstate. She may even be a student in your high school or university. When you see a woman or young girl you suspect is being trafficked, stripped of her dignity, what can you do? You can respond with compassion, being careful to not put her at risk and you can call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. They will give you safe, accurate information. If it is an emergency situation, call local law enforcement. Whatever you do, don’t look away or remain silent. Mercy requires this of us.
Blessed are they who have survived for they will show us courage and hope, dare us to see clearly and to be their voice.
During the month of February, we commemorate St. Josephine Bakhita, who has come to be known as a symbol of hope for Catholics in the anti-human trafficking movement. St. Josephine was sold into slavery as a young girl in her home country of Sudan, but later in life she escaped and became a Canossian sister in Italy.
St. Josephine Bakhita’s story, although occurring over one hundred years ago, reflects some of the same realities that many human trafficking victims face today. There are so many untold stories of individuals trapped in situations of exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion. We have a tendency in doing this work to lump these stories together into statistics and data in an effort to convey to people the how human trafficking reaches every corner of the earth, every industry, gender, and age group. St. Josephine reminds us that behind these statistics are nearly 21 million individual stories of suffering.
St. Josephine reminds us of a man we work with who for years was exploited right here in the United States at a sandwich shop and was then apprehended by U.S. immigration officials for being undocumented. I think of his resilience in advocating for himself and obtaining legal residency and using his voice to shed light on the issue of human trafficking that occurs right here in our backyard.
St. Josephine reminds us of the service providers who work 12 hour days to assist in providing for human trafficking survivors’ basic needs after escaping exploitation. This type of dedication can only be brought out through immense compassion and hope.
St. Josephine reminds us of the people overseas who are exploited making the products we in the western world could not imagine our lives without. Cell phones, clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other products have a higher cost than just the money we pay for them, a cost paid in the suffering of those who are not paid a fair wage, work long hours, and do not have access to safety equipment.
So, to commemorate these stories, we invite you to honor St. Josephine on her Feast Day, February 8th, and to hold in your heart all victims of human trafficking in three ways:
Gather your family, religious community, and friends to say the prayer of St. Josephine Bakhita (below).
Contact your Members of Congress by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to continue the work to end human trafficking globally.
As people of faith, we have a long legacy of commemorating those who have gone before us to pave the way for justice. So on February 8th, let us continue the work to end human trafficking and celebrate how far we’ve come.
St. Josephine Bakhita, you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with
Christ and his Church.
O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a
state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf
so that they will be released from their chains
Those whom man enslaves, let God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery
and let them look to you as an example of hope
Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for
those enslaved among us.
Prayer: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services
The Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center is a member organization of the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking. IPJC is sponsored by 21 religious communities and works for justice in the church and in the world through education, advocacy and organizing.
A pattern of behaviors and conditions exist at the intersection of many issues, such as human trafficking, immigration and the need to migrate for asylees and refugees, poverty and inequity, domestic violence, treatment of prisoners and the racial disparity in our criminal justice system, and care for creation. Whenever a person of our global home is denied their God-given dignity and shared membership in our society there is control, manipulation, violence, demeaning words and acts, isolation, intimidation, exploitation and abuse of power.
Patterns exist in all our lives and reflect the fundamental direction of our lives in relationship to God and our neighbor. Do our norms, behaviors and patterns reflect God’s life and love and demand right relationship or do they diminish, harm, deny life and collude in injustice?
When we advocate for justice, for right relationship and shared membership, can we help others to see the pattern and the intersection of the issues? As Catholic Sisters, we are pro-birth and pro-life about the seamless garment of life. We need to give voice and visibility to people who are kept victimized, living in the shadows and living in inhumane and punitive situations. Whenever possible, we need to empower and share power so victims of injustice can speak and be visible.
Modern day slavery, whether it is labor or sex trafficking, is so profitable regardless of the economic system. All issues that victimize, marginalize, isolate, keep people vulnerable, disempower, strip dignity and keep people on crosses are sinful because of our turning away from God’s love and seeking reliance in false gods. In this Year of Mercy, we must ask for God’s help and guidance to participate in patterns of behavior and conditions that reflect our fundamental direction as individuals, as a country, and as the People of God.
Will we end modern day slavery and minimize the circumstances by working for comprehensive immigration reform and integration, restorative justice and ending the death penalty and move in the direction of an ecological conversion? Will we provide just wages and benefits so all children and families can thrive and maximize their potential? Can we minimize events and circumstances where people are treated as a product or a commodity to be sold or traded or exploited?
SC Ministry Foundation promotes the mission and ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. As a public grantmaking organization, we have partnered with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC) for over a decade. We congratulate and express our gratitude to OJPC, especially Sasha Appatova, for working with “Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell to set up a special court to address the needs of human trafficking survivors, many who were forced into prostitution. Often, these survivors are required by their traffickers to commit crimes, including prostitution, thefts and drug offenses. The special court allows survivors who have been convicted of crimes their traffickers forced them to commit to get their convictions expunged from their records.” (2015 Annual Report of OJPC) The Women Victims of Violence project of OJPC helps survivors of human trafficking with criminal records and women who were incarcerated because of crimes against their abusers. OJPC is working to increase the number of courts that provide Safe Harbor Expungements for survivors.
In this Year of Mercy, may our actions and beliefs reflect Redemption. May we pray and continue our efforts to take victims of human trafficking and all victims down from their crosses.
Sister Sally Duffy S.C. is the Executive Director of the SC Ministry
Foundation and a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.
Globally, there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking, with hundreds of thousands in the USA, per the International Labor Organization. Human trafficking occurs in every state and in Washington, DC. There is no single profile, no single way traffickers recruit. There is no single group being targeted; they come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, documented and undocumented. They are women, men, children.
When I think of the women I’ve had the privilege to accompany on part of their healing journey, there are some similarities. They carry shame, they desire healing, the light in their souls still shines or at least the embers are glowing. The pain is visceral and so is their courage. When they share their stories I feel sad, pained, angered, and grieved. I also feel deep gratitude for the privilege of being able to support a survivor on her journey of healing, speaking her truth, struggling to choose life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.
I remember the prayer of that amazing abolitionist, dreamer, and underground railroad leader who was born in the late 19th century. Harriet Tubman prayed: “I’m going to hold steady on You, an’ You’ve got to see me through.” I pray for the victims and survivors. I pray for myself and those who work for freedom. I pray also for the perpetrators.
It seems to me that the freedom is needed for all – the survivors and, yes, for the perpetrators. There are so many who do not remember who they are, who have lost their way, who have no idea of the holiness, the grace that is in their very soul at birth. If a person knew who they were as a son or daughter of the Divine, they could not commit such atrocities as enslaving another.
Pope Francis tells us that “Every state of life leads to holiness, always”, but only if we are open to the grace of God’s gift. “First, we must bear in mind that holiness is not something that we can procure for ourselves or obtain with our quality and our skills. Holiness is gifted to us by the Lord Jesus, when He takes us up with Him and clothes us in Himself . . .” (Vatican Radio, 9/11/14)
The gifts are at times squandered and there are those who barricade themselves against the gifts of grace. Even there, we must not lose hope. We must continue to pray for the wounded survivors of human trafficking and for the perpetrators.
There are those who have been so wounded they struggle to remember who they are. I’ve been asked by more than one survivor if God could still love her after all that she had been through, the rapes, the prostitution, the drug use and sales, the violence. I want to say to every survivor, “You are made in the image and likeness of the Divine. Yes, you are loved, you are loveable, you are holy”. I also know that my words will ring hollow if I do not live love. We know that faith without works is dead. (see James 3:14ff)
How are you being called to stretch out yourself in love for the sake of the Gospel?
And good will come to
Harriet Tubman reminds us to hold steady to God. Pope Francis reminds us of the universal call to holiness that is pure gift from God. To what action does God’s love impel you today? Is there one thing you can do? Will it be a personal prayer for survivors? Will you take action to get a prayer for an end to human trafficking read from the pulpit in your church or diocese? Will you call your congressional representative and request that they take action? Will you take the time to peruse the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking website for more ideas?
Who Is God For Victims And Survivors Of Human Trafficking?
By Jeanne Christensen, RSM
As persons of faith, our prayer calls us to respond to the needs of the world and our response in ministry leads us back to God. We are called to integrate contemplation and action. Who is God for each of us?
Who is God for victims and survivors of human trafficking? How does their endurance of daily repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuses shape their image of God? The trauma which trafficking survivors experience is very complex and complicated. How do we help victims understand the love of God and that they are spiritual beings worthy of being loved by God?
Ponder these questions for a few moments.
Here is what some of the exploited women served through The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City said about God:
God is my protector
God is good all of the time
God is REAL love…not fake love
God always found me when I was lost
God is a spirit who always loves me when nobody did
I used to think God was punishing me but now I know I just didn’t let him help me
Without God, I would be dead
Which of these descriptions of God most strikes you? Why?
Conversation with the women also brought out that they don’t like the God-name “higher power” because it’s too abusive. They might consider “deeper power.” Their Native American transgendered person talked about the native belief that God is everywhere, takes all forms, has many names and is in all of us. The belief that God is always with them, but that they have the choice of what to do was voiced by almost everyone. The overall belief is that God is a loving God, but that God is very capable of, in their term, “kickin’ your ass”.
What do these women’s reflections about God say to you?
As so often happens, these victims and survivors amaze us and we receive more than we ever give. We have no idea or experience of the horrendous treatment they survive, so we are amazed at their courage in making the transition out. To fully respond to our calling for ministry with them, we must simply walk with them until we understand. It is a slow and arduous journey – let us begin!
And, let us pray:
Compassionate, tender God, you desire that all might have fullness of life and you invite us to care for all persons you have created. God, we know you are present and we are in awe of your grace which strengthens us as we hear the call to confront the tragic reality of human trafficking. May we respond as You would. AMEN.
Source: Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM (Justice Advocate – Human Trafficking, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, North Kansas City, MO) and the women of The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City, Missouri USA. To learn more, visit http://www.thejusticeprojectkc.org.
Collaboration: Ending Human Trafficking by Working Together
by Anne Victory, HM
Work on the issue of human trafficking can be taxing, even overwhelming at times for so many reasons. The complexity of the crime, the extent to which it pervades our society, the ways in which we are all unknowingly complicit, the myriad faces of victims across the world and within our own neighborhoods all contribute to a sense of “It’s just too big! There’s no way that I can make a difference.” Often we’re left feeling sad and powerless in the face of such a monstrous issue that damages millions of lives each year for the sake of others’ economic gain.
As I examine what seems to make the difference for organizations and individuals who persevere in their efforts to engage with this issue, I find that one of the key factors for success is one word—collaboration. Collaboration these days seems “trendy,” but effectively collaborating is really a process, a journey, and certainly a challenge.
I have come to know that true collaboration on this issue requires a number of elements. The first is a selfless and generous heart. Such a stance demands recognition that no one has all of the resources, knowledge and skills to address such a complex crime alone, so I and others need to share what we each can bring to the table willing to share and to have our views influenced by the gifts of others.
The focus of collaboration needs to be on the mission: what are we trying to accomplish? Agreeing on a common mission requires clarity of purpose and challenging of assumptions for the sake of those we are serving. It’s not my agenda or that of my organization that counts—it is our shared agenda that brings about the best results for the sake of those victimized by human trafficking. A broad vision of ending human trafficking is ambitious, but it is certainly essential to keep us focused on a world free of modern-day slavery.
I have also learned that collaboration takes time, is often a bit “messy,” and is always full of energy. Even when I might prefer to “just get it done,” the results of any project are so much more effective if I allow and even encourage the spirited exchange of ideas and the tangents that seem on the surface to be time-wasters. In the end, serving victims with compassion, preventing the crime, reducing the demand, and addressing the root causes of vulnerability can only be accomplished through creative approaches and ideas offered by generous sharing for the sake of the whole, the mission. These energetic conversations often result in new possibilities that would not have been considered without the “chaos.”
Lastly, effective collaboration calls for networking with sometimes “uncommon” partners, inviting them to bring their unique gifts and resources to the table for the sake of the whole. As St. Paul reminds us, “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Those whom we may never have considered as partners may be just the ones whose gifts are needed to address some aspect of this crime: making a connection with a community business or agency whose resources have the potential to carry the mission to a new level, weaving that safety net for victims, expanding awareness within the community, beginning to change systems to lessen factors that leave people so vulnerable to this abuse.
So collaboration is certainly not for the faint of heart! It’s well worth it, though, to begin to make a real difference in the quest to create a slave-free world. Let’s keep learning, sharing, creating, risking, and encouraging one another on this journey!
For those of us involved in the multiple facets of fighting human trafficking, it has a price. We hear painful stories while growing in sensitivity and compassion for the suffering of victims. Listening to the horrendous stories, up against systemic injustice and organized crime, and fighting for benefits for survivors demands a commitment and a strong personal support system. How can we continue without compassion fatigue, burnout or cynicism? How can we be attentive to trauma stewardship and be mindful of the resources that sustain us in the work?
By listening to women religious and lay people working closely with survivors, I have heard resilience and it sparked curiosity as to how they are sustained in such an intense work over long periods of time.
From Salvation Army workers to women religious, I heard repeatedly that meditation, daily times for gentle stillness, strengthened them to contend with the toll that these traumatic stories take on those who live and work with them. Faith was an anchor in dealing with the ugly realities of those involved in the trafficking of persons.
Judith Sheridan SMSM, who lives in community with survivors, shared that her daily contemplative prayer is her source of resilience and strength. This time of stillness has enabled her to let go when it comes to allowing survivors to learn from their mistakes. “I can’t be responsible for each one.” As Judith surrenders this valid concern in prayer, she experiences peace as she waits in stillness. “If you stay still enough, long enough, you’ll get the grace.” Her daily practice is her what has been described as trauma stewardship. Laura Lipsky writes, “The essence of the trauma stewardship approach is to cultivate the quality of being present, both to the events of our lives and for others and our planet.”
Many of the women involved in this issue reported that immersion in nature, through gardening, hiking, biking, going to the beach, or walking helped sustain them. Many found music, exercise, and movies kept them in balance. Self-care was essential for survival for the long haul. Yoga has taught some active in the fight against human trafficking how to let go and quieted the mind.
Almost everyone found that staying connected with friends, being supported in a loving community, and other social support systems nourished and encouraged them. Observing women recover, heal and move on with meaningful lives gives them the energy to continue. One woman religious reported that hearing a survivor encourage another, “You can do it!” makes her day.
The images of resilience that these women shared included floating in the water, a tree that grows beyond all attempts to kill it, being held in the palm of someone’s hand, a flowing stream, an evergreen tree with strong roots in a drought, a Plover bird at the short walking at the edge of the waves, the fruits growing in our garden.
We know and deeply believe in the interconnectedness of all things – this is true of our beautiful cosmos but as well true of the dark side. Human trafficking is one of many injustices but that one issue is also connected in a web of forces. How do we continue fighting such a powerful lucrative industry with our limited energy and resources? William Blake teaches us, “If one is to do good, it must be done in the minute particulars.” And so we fight human trafficking with each march, with each tender loving relationship with the victims, with each act of advocacy, and with each refusal to feed the consumer monster that drives slave labor supply chains. We move one step at a time, done mindfully, and in the belief that it will reverberate in the web of connected issues. John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything else in the Universe.” This is why we work with coalitions, regional human trafficking task forces and the USCSAHT conscious of the power of each effort maximized when executed by groups.
Contemplative practices that help build resilience could include:
To step back from the situation and Breathe!
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” Etty Hillesum
A Daily Review with a positive focus: What did I do well today? How can I do more of that tomorrow? From Richard G. Tedeschi, Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis
Breaking out of a rut by creating new habits! Brain plasticity taught us that “Neurons that fire together wire together!” Neuroscientist, Donald Hebb encourages us to “Cultivate positive emotions to wire in new patterns” like cultivating gratitude, a daily walk, gratitude journal, don’t feed the darkness with negative thoughts.
In reading on this topic I have found a Resiliency Skill Set, which includes: faith, prayer, gratitude, positive thinking, forgiveness, humor, friendships, flexibility, exercise, being in nature and engaged in some form of beauty.
For our reflection, I share a lengthy quote from Krista Tippett in her recent book, Becoming Wise An inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, “Resilience is a successor to mere progress, a companion to sustainability. It acknowledges from the outset that things will go wrong. All of our solutions will eventually outlive their usefulness. We will make messes, and disruption we do not cause or predict will land on us. This is the drama of being alive. To nurture a resilient human being, or a resilient city, is to build in an expectation of adversity, a capacity for inevitable vulnerability. As a word and as a strategy, resilience honors the unromantic reality of who we are and how we are, and so becomes a refreshingly practical compass for the systems and societies we can craft. It’s a shift from wish-based optimism to reality-based hope. It is akin to meaningful, sustained happiness – not dependent on a state of perfection or permanent satisfaction, not an emotional response to circumstances of the moment, but a way of being that can meet the range of emotions and experiences, light and dark, that add up to a life. Resilience is at once proactive, pragmatic, and humble. It knows it needs others. It doesn’t overcome failure so much as transmute it, integrating it into the reality that evolves.” (Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, Penguin Press NY 2015, p. 251-253)
Our resilience rooted in contemplative living sustains us in hope for the long haul. As one women religious observed, we are a “great fit” for this work because we have nursed, nurtured, educated, people from all walks of life and remained close to human suffering over the years and we nurtured hope all the way.
I recommend Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Verrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco 2009.