July Monthly Reflection

Contemplative Sustainability

by Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC

dreamstime_xs_8609504For 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.”

Sister Judith Sheridan SMSM, giving a presentation on human trafficking.
Sister Judith Sheridan SMSM, giving a presentation on human trafficking.

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:

  1. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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.

 Sister Judith Sherian SMSM (left) with Rev. Marge Swaker, being honored by the Soroptimists for their work to help others.
Sister Judith Sherian SMSM (left) with Rev. Marge Swaker, being honored by the Soroptimists for their work to help others.

SOAP Project Takes Anti-Trafficking Efforts into Hotels

Sister Marilyn Nickol, CSJ (far left, standing), led over 40 sister and Saint Joseph Academy student volunteers in the charge to affix anti-trafficking labels to soaps.
Sisters Jackie Goodin and Cecilia Nagel do their part.
Sisters Jackie Goodin and Cecilia Nagel do their part.
Sister Madeline Lammermeier, CSJ, pitches in.
The labeled soaps will go label down into local hotel bathrooms during the upcoming RNC.

Hundreds of small soaps with a very important message will be placed in hotels and motels throughout Cleveland during the Republican National Convention this summer, thanks to the anti-trafficking efforts of the Congregation’s Peace and Justice team, and activities that raised more than $1,000 to purchase the soap. The “S.O.A.P.” (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) project is being coordinated by Sister Marilyn Nickol, CSJ, a member of the Congregation’s Peace and Justice Team. Small soaps have been affixed with a red label that includes the National Human Trafficking hotline. “Very often, trafficking increases around large events like conventions,” said Sister Marilyn. “The hope is that if a man or woman is being used for prostitution in hotel rooms against their will during the RNC, they will see the hotline number on the bottom of the soap bar and call it to find help.” Fundraising for the soap was done by Saint Joseph Academy in Cleveland, and students volunteered to help sisters label the soaps.


Note:  S.O.A.P. is a national project initiated by Theresa Flores. The Cleveland Chapter is chaired by Donna Ancelotti, who has organized  visits to 350 hotels and motels in the area in early July. The CSJs enthusiastically joined the effort to wrap the bars of soap that will be offered to the hotels and motels in the greater Cleveland area at the time of the Republican National Convention.

Tourists Must Blow Whistle On Trafficking During Olympics, Religious Say

This is the logo for the Play for Life campaign, which seeks to prevent human trafficking during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5-21. The campaign is sponsored by a Brazilian network of religious against human trafficking. (CNS photo/courtesy Play for Life campaign)
This is the logo for the Play for Life campaign, which seeks to prevent human trafficking during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5-21. The campaign is sponsored by a Brazilian network of religious against human trafficking. (CNS photo/courtesy Play for Life campaign)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Religious priests, brothers and sisters in Brazil are urging everyone attending the Olympic Games to report instances of exploitation of vulnerable people and to turn in suspected traffickers.

Their campaign, “Play for Life,” invites tourists, residents and visitors “to take a stand, not to submit passively to the arrogance of those who want to manipulate and use everything, even sports and life, for power, pleasure and greed,” according to a global network of religious.

“Talitha Kum,” an international network of consecrated men and women working against trafficking in persons, sponsored a news conference at Vatican Radio June 21.

The group unveiled a new campaign organized by “Um Grito pela Vida,” the Brazilian network of religious against human trafficking. The campaign was being launched for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 5-21.

To read the full story by Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service: Click Here

New App Created To Fight Human Trafficking

MAPLEWOOD, MO. – By day, Molly Hackett helps run the meeting and planning firm Nix in Maplewood.

“We arrange conferences, meetings and events for our clients,” she said.

But she and her sister, Jane Quinn, have another passion that keeps them busy on the side. They’re principal partners in the Exchange Initiative.

“It’s to bring awareness to minors in sex trafficking in travel and tourism,” Hackett said.

The duo recently worked with a development team involving Washington University to roll out a new free smart phone app called Traffick Cam. It’s designed to allow the public to help police combat the growing issue of human trafficking.

“It’s happening in every kind of hotel, from the five star to the ones that only drug dealers stay at. We’re seeing more boys and girls between ages of 14 and 16,” said Sgt. Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police Department.

The app allows hotel guests to enter information about where they’re staying, including the hotel name and room number. They can also upload four pictures of their room, leaving out any personal belongings.

To read the full story from Jacob Long at KSDK: Click Here

Human Trafficking and Forced Labor Victims File Lawsuit Against California-based Seafood Importers

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Victims of human trafficking in the multi-billion dollar seafood industry supply chain, which stretches from seafood packing factories in Thailand to supermarkets in the United States, today filed suit in California federal court. The seven plaintiffs were recruited from their home villages in rural Cambodia to work at factories in Thailand producing shrimp and seafood for export to the United States.  Instead of the good jobs at good wages they were promised, the five men and two women became victims of human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and peonage, according to attorneys at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP, Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and Anthony DiCaprio who represent the villagers.
The defendants sell their shrimp and seafood to large U.S. customers like Walmart and include California-based Rubicon Resources, LLC, and an affiliate, Wales & Co. Universe Ltd, as well as Thai corporations Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food.  The complaint states that the defendants were part of a joint venture that knowingly profited from trafficked labor in direct violation of both U.S. and international law.
“When they finally returned home, these men and women had nothing to show for their hard labor and their families were poorer than before,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, Cohen Milstein partner and lead attorney for the villagers.  “Fortunately, in the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, Congress gave trafficked workers the tools they need to obtain justice when companies knowingly profit from forced labor in their supply chains.”  The United State Government Trafficking in Persons Report, human rights organizations and international organizations have long highlighted the problems of trafficking and forced labor at the Thai shrimp and seafood factories that are part of the multi-billion dollar seafood industry supply chain.
To read the full story from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll on Global Newswire: Click Here

Declaration of The Judges’ Summit Against Human Trafficking and Organized Crime


In accordance with the Magisterium of Pope Francis, the declarations of the leaders of the main religions and of the mayors of the major cities of the world, we affirm that modern slavery in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, and organ trafficking are Crimes against Humanity and should be recognised as such. Organized crime that aims directly or indirectly at expanding modern slavery in its abovementioned forms must also be considered a Crime against Humanity.

We the undersigned have assembled at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to address how representatives of the Judiciary can best face this daunting challenge.

Today, the elimination of modern slavery is a new moral imperative for the 193 Member States of the United Nations, according to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 8.7) approved in September 2015.

The effective application of criminal law is a necessary condition to “eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers” (SDG 8.7), and to help remedy its consequences for victims and society. Criminal justice is intrinsically linked to social justice, which in turn is linked to environmental justice. The Encyclical Laudato si’ affirms that, “Today we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (§ 49). Rehabilitation, resettlement and re-integration aim to free the victims of modern slavery and human trafficking and restore their human dignity, enabling them to become socially and economically independent. Only when they are no longer at risk of being re-trafficked or compelled to resort to illegal and humiliating activities, can they contribute positively to society.

To this end, we endorse the following 10 goals:

  1. To encourage each state to increase resources and international judicial and police collaboration in order to raise low prosecution and conviction rates for criminals, strengthening supranational institutions for the fight against traffickers and the protection of human rights.
  2. Having approved the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ratified the 2000 UN Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol), all nations must recognize modern slavery, human trafficking, and forced labour and prostitution as Crimes against Humanity with commensurate sentences.
  3. Assets seized from convicted traffickers and criminals must be devoted to victim rehabilitation and compensation, and making reparations to society. The crime of money laundering must be severely prosecuted, because it is the process of transforming the proceeds of crime and corruption into ostensibly legitimate assets.

To read the full story at The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences: Click Here

Calley Calls On All To Fight Against Human Trafficking

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Thursday that everyone in Michigan needs to have a hand in fighting against human trafficking.

“Every person in every community must be a part of it,” he said. “If you’ve got a pulse, you’re part of this movement.”

Calley made the remarks during his address to the Detroit International Human Trafficking Summit at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

“I was very pleased to receive the call to be here and be a part of this conversation for what will hopefully be a long-term movement to not just reduce, but to eliminate, human trafficking in Michigan and beyond,” he said.

About 280 community leaders, government, law enforcement and human service organization officials attended the event, organized by Liberty & Freedom Now, a Detroit-based nonprofit that works to raise awareness about and end human trafficking.

“We’re trying to broaden the conversation about human trafficking with this summit,” said Reneé Axt, a volunteer with Liberty and Freedom Now. “We want more people to have more tools to make our communities safer from human trafficking.

To read the full story by Charles E. Ramierz at The Detroit News: Click Here

New Approach to Human Trafficking a ‘Sea Change’ in Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Law enforcement and social service agencies are preparing a major push to clamp down on human trafficking in Nebraska, but advocates say the state should do more for survivors who are likely to require housing, specialized counseling and medical care.

The new approach championed by Attorney General Doug Peterson focuses on helping survivors, stopping traffickers and shrinking the market by going after customers instead of victims who are coerced into working as prostitutes. A state task force is developing a plan, and Peterson is considering legislation next year to increase criminal penalties for traffickers.

Advocates are starting with a focus on sex trafficking, where victims — usually women and children — are forced into prostitution. They eventually plan to expand their efforts into labor trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery in which people are made to work through violence, threats or debt bondage.

“It’s really important that we get out and start prosecuting these guys and getting services to the young ladies” who are sexually trafficked, Peterson said. “We have to let this industry know that to operate in Nebraska, you’re going to place yourself at great risk.”

Yet Peterson and other advocates acknowledge major changes will take time, largely because Nebraska has a shortage of services that are tailored to sex trafficking victims.

The Women’s Fund of Omaha conducted a survey last year that found 84 percent of “service providers,” including nonprofits and state agencies, did not believe they were adequately meeting the needs of people who have been trafficked.

Survivors often need an array of services including housing, education and life skills training and “peer mentoring” from others who have similar experiences, said Meghan Malik, the group’s trafficking response coordinator.

Many have criminal records because they were forced to participate in illegal activity, making it harder for them to find a job. Without a support system, Malik said, many will return to prostitution because it’s a way to make money.

“It’s the life they know, and they have to put a roof over their heads and feed their children,” Malik said. “It’s really on us as a community and service providers to ensure we’re providing a comprehensive array of services. We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.”

Stephen Patrick O’Meara, the human trafficking coordinator for the Nebraska attorney general’s office, said the state is working to improves services for survivors.

Survivors frequently suffer from mental health and substance abuse problems, as well as developmental disabilities that impair their judgment. Many experience posttraumatic stress disorder, have no place safe to go, and may believe their pimp is caring for them. Some foreign trafficking victims speak no English.

O’Meara said authorities will pursue serious charges against traffickers to prevent them from creating new victims, but they also must help victims avoid falling into the same pattern. He said they’re also working to dispel the notion that trafficking isn’t a state problem.

“I’m beginning to see a significant shift in awareness,” said O’Meara, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on human trafficking issues since 2007. “But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t believe or don’t want to believe that something like this could happen in a good place like Nebraska.”

The human trafficking task force is building a statewide network of law enforcement, prosecutors, social service agencies, doctors and nurses, and industries that are more likely to encounter prostitutes, such as motels and trucking.

To read the full story by Grant Schultz at mySA: Click Here

Vatican Summit Pushes Human Trafficking Crackdown

Judges and prosecutors from around the world gather and vow to fight the problem

VATICAN CITY — Judges and prosecutors from around the world pledged Friday to crack down on human trafficking and help victims of modern-day slavery in the latest Vatican initiative to draw attention to the problem and rally resources to fight it.

At a Vatican summit of judges, prosecutors and other public officials, Pope Francis signed a declaration stating human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and the trafficking of organs as a “crime against humanity” that should be prosecuted and punished as such.

At a Vatican meeting of public officials, Pope Francis signed a declaration stating human trafficking is a
At a Vatican meeting of public officials, Pope Francis signed a declaration stating human trafficking is a “crime against humanity.” The Associated Press

The 10-point declaration, which was also signed by the conference participants, pledged increased funding for international cooperation to boost prosecutions of traffickers and consumers of the sex trade. It also pledged better support for victims, including issuing temporary residence permits, and said repatriation should never be the default judgment against victims.

History’s first Latin American pontiff has made the fight against human trafficking a priority of his pontificate as part of his emphasis on looking out for society’s most marginalized, including refugees and the poor.

To read the full story by Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press: Click Here

Sex Trafficking Reaches New Places, Lives In Michigan

LANSING — On a frigid February night in 2015, a young girl with many secrets bolted across the parking lot of a Mason apartment complex.

Her mother chased her, but fell in the snow. She didn’t see her daughter get into a car and drive away with a man she met online.

For two days, the girl was stowed away in an apartment on Michigan State University’s campus while her family searched for her. The man took provocative photos of her. She was offered for sex on Craigslist and BackPage.com, according to MSU Police Department reports the State Journal obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Then he raped her.

She was 14.

This is sex trafficking, a centuries-old problem widely recognized only in the last 20 years. Now it’s reaching new places and new lives because of the Internet.

The FBI in Michigan worked 220 sex trafficking, or forced prostitution, cases last year. Michigan cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center — there were 62 through the first three months of 2016 — have increased each year since 2012. Law enforcement officials said it’s likely most prostitutes are forced.

Police reports and court records show trafficking and prostitution happen in cities such as Detroit and Lansing, but also in small towns such as Mason and on MSU’s campus. Johns come from urban Detroit but also rural Clinton County. They are men with criminal pasts, but also public officials and students.

Experts say just as there’s no community immune from the crime, there’s no demographic — age, race, gender, religion, economic class — not at risk of being victimized. Vulnerability is the uniting characteristic.

It’s a problem thrust into the local spotlight by recent high-profile sex-trafficking cases against Lansing’s Tyrone Smith and Christopher Bryant. The federal investigation into Smith’s case led to the March 14 arrest and 15 prostitution-related charges against longtime Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Stuart Dunnings III.

And it’s an ongoing problem, police said.

“I’m sure there are rings going on right now in Lansing,” said Ted Docks, the agent who leads the FBI’s Lansing office. “I think there’s other Christopher Bryants, Tyrone Smiths in our area, as well as other areas.”

Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth, whose office has worked on all of the recent local sex-trafficking cases, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize ongoing investigations.

 ‘Now you can run away online’

For about a week in February 2015, the 14-year-old Mason girl communicated with a 23-year-old Lansing man named Jordan Ireland through the social networking apps Whisper and Kik, according to the police reports. She also had a profile on the site MeetMe.com, where she claimed she was 18.

Her family was unaware she was on those sites, they would later tell police.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Ireland and a friend, a graduate student at MSU, picked the young girl up in that snowy parking lot where her mother lost sight of her. According to police reports, Ireland and the friend took the girl back to the friend’s apartment at Spartan Village. People were drinking alcohol and Ireland drank cough syrup to get high, but the teen did not drink or do drugs.

That is how many trafficking cases start, police said — girl meets boy online.

The Internet has connected people with perpetrators they may never have met otherwise, and allowed perpetrators to reach into small towns they may never have visited, Docks said.

“The Internet touches those folks now,” he said of trafficking in general, not the Mason girl’s case in particular. “As opposed to … running away to the movie theater up the street, now you can run away online. And someone can give you all the articulation of a better hope and dreams and all those things.”

The girl and her family declined to be interviewed for this story. The State Journal does not identify victims of sexual assault. The State Journal chose not to identify the MSU student because he could not be reached for comment and was not charged with a crime.

Sometime on Feb. 21, a friend sent Ireland a link to an online story about the missing girl. The article gave her real age. Late in the evening on Feb. 21, someone used the MSU student’s laptop to post ads featuring the girl’s provocative photos online, asking for “generous guys near East Lansing” to come over. Minutes after posting the ads, someone used the same computer to search for information on teen prostitution.

Ireland told police the MSU student posted the ads. When police asked the MSU student about it, he asked for a lawyer and wouldn’t answer any more questions.

At least one man came to the apartment, Ireland told police, but left before doing anything with the girl because the would-be john worried he’d walked into a police sting.

That night, Ireland raped the girl while she was sleeping. Later, the MSU student drove her home to Mason.

Ireland is now in prison, at least until 2022, on multiple charges related to the rape.

MSU police sought child pornography, human trafficking and other charges against the MSU student, but Ingham County prosecutors denied the request because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the student, and not Ireland, had posted the ads. Prosecutors were unwilling to strike a deal with Ireland for testimony against the student, according to police reports.

The student has since graduated and works for a banking firm in the Baltimore area.

Trafficking “is a concern for all law enforcement,” said Capt. Doug Monette, the MSU police spokesman. “The communities that surround campus, as well as on campus. It should be on everyone’s radar and investigated.”

‘These women are being forced by someone’

Sometime in the last few weeks, the FBI in Detroit came across two “very active prostitutes.” They were “recovered,” not arrested, said Maureen Reddy, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s operation in Michigan.

They were 13 and 15 years old.

The recovery approach, which places victims in shelters or with family instead of jail, is part of the shift in the way the crime and its victims are viewed.

“I don’t think it’s a new crime,” Reddy said. “But I think what has happened, at least in my opinion, is that they have gone from viewing the prostitute as a criminal to viewing that person as a victim.”

To read the full story by Justin A. Hinkley and Matt Mencarini of the Lansing State Journal on Detroit Free Press: Click Here