November Monthly Reflection

Hope is a Way of Life

by Anne Victory, HM

With all of the recent crises—multiple hurricanes leaving millions without the basics of life, earthquakes killing thousands, devastating forest fires, senseless gun violence, reckless political maneuvering—I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, drained, exhausted. Add to that the fact that these disasters are likely to make the vulnerable more susceptible to human trafficking, and I truly feel almost paralyzed. Can I—and others who work for justice—make any difference in the face of such chaos? Is this what is meant by compassion fatigue? I suppose it could be.

As I was pondering these things, I was challenged last Saturday when I attended a Walk for Freedom event on Public Square in Cleveland where I staffed my organization’s (Collaborative to End Human Trafficking) informational display. A passerby came up and asked what the display was all about. When I told him, he responded that it’s really hopeless, that slavery has been going on for centuries, and essentially that I have no business trying to change things. “That’s just how things are. Rape is a fact of life, and forced labor is woven into the economy. While it’s probably wrong, it’s also hopeless to try to change things! You don’t really expect to make a difference, do you?”

I was a bit taken aback, since so many others who were present that day expressed gratitude for our efforts to raise awareness of the crime of human trafficking and to connect services on behalf of victims. After a moment, I responded, “Of course, we can make a difference! I believe that things can change. I think it’s worth the effort. I may never know how my presence, my words, or my actions help another person. That doesn’t mean that I should not try. If I –and so many of my colleagues—don’t speak out for the voiceless, that’s when we fail.” Sadly, he walked away unconvinced. Perhaps that was his way of letting himself off the hook, or maybe he is just too discouraged.

As I pondered this encounter, I also recalled the opportunity I had to speak about human trafficking with some refugee women recently at Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. They came from Somalia, Swaziland, Congo, Iran, Nepal, and other countries. They spoke Swahili, Somali, Nepalese, Arabic and some small amount of English. They are eager to get settled in this new land and want to provide a new life for their children. They expected that they would now be safe from harm now that they are in the United States.

As I slowly presented information on human trafficking with the help of interpreters, I watched as their eager faces began to show concern and even fear. It seems that every one of these women knew well that this crime happened routinely in their countries of origin, but they never expected to find it here. In their effort to become self-sufficient, they want to gain employment, but now they hear that some employers may not be reputable. What can they do? Who can help? They expressed fear, especially for their children, who learn so much more quickly and assume, like all teenagers, that they are invincible! My short presentation offered them clues regarding the “red flags,” and local phone numbers to call for help. I left these sessions hoping that, while I had instilled a level of fear, I had also empowered them with tools and resources that will help keep them and their families safe in their new country.

I also left inspired by the courage of these strong women who have already endured so much—war, years in refugee camps, mistreatment, and unspeakable abuse. I respect their resiliency, their willingness to start over in a new land with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their immense hope for their families. So is there any reason why I should not continue trying to make a difference on this important issue in the face of other crises that may indeed cause even more people to become vulnerable? I can’t think of any legitimate excuse!

I feel compelled to continue speaking out for those with no voice, no power. Like the stories of the Old Testament prophets, I am reminded that a prophet’s role is not to be successful but to be faithful. How can I, so very blessed with freedom, faith, education, the support of a loving family and community, turn away in despair over the condition of our world? What about those who really suffer every day of their lives because they lack the basics? Who will speak for them if I don’t?

I recall that the Constitutions of my congregation, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, challenge me to demonstrate that “hope is a way of life . . .” (Art. 17). Standing on the shoulders of so many people of good will who have gone before me and now stand in solidarity with me, I pray that I and we will overcome our compassion fatigue and be ones who offer hope in these most challenging times.

 

October Monthly Reflection, 2017

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

by Sister Kathleen Coll, SSJ

The month of October is a favorite one of mine. Usually, the weather here in the mid-Atlantic is mild with cool evenings. The burst of color surrounding us is amazing! Everywhere you look the trees adorn themselves with beautiful shades of red, orange, brown and yellow. Under the canopy of this beauty exists the reality of what one human being can do to exploit another in order to enrich themselves.

One means of the exploitation is commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) or sex trafficking. It is a serious form of modern day slavery that does not discriminate based on age, class or race. Along with labor trafficking, sex trafficking happens to children, women and men. Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to be indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold.” He calls it “a global economic system dominated by profit.” The Pope strongly condemns this new form of slavery urging people of all religions and cultures to denounce and combat it.

As director of Dawn’s Place, a house for women victims of CSE or sex trafficking, I see them struggle daily to heal from the trauma caused by the extreme poverty, neglect and abuse they have experienced. As young children, none of the women ever thought they would grow up to be drug addicts and victims of prostitution. Their stories vary but most share the same experience of being sexually abused as children with no adult in their lives willing to help. As soon as they can, they run away to escape the abusive situation. They are not long on the streets when they are picked up by man who promises to take care of them. After a little while of “caring for them,” or romancing them, their “boyfriend” sends them out to make money for him by coercing them to sell themselves over and over. If they try to escape, threats of or actual beatings become a reality for them. I remember a woman telling me that the man she thought of as her “boyfriend” after a few weeks, put a gun to her head and told her what she had to do. Many times, their pimp or “trafficker” addicts them to drugs as a means of control if they are not already addicted and are frequently sold by their pimps to other pimps. The women become a commodity to be bought and sold in a society which criminalizes them for being victims of prostitution. Does it sound familiar? Yes, it is modern day slavery, it happens to American women and it happens every day just under our noses!

By the time, the women come to Dawn’s Place, they are convinced that they are what society calls them. They have been incarcerated and carry with them criminal records. Their human dignity has been stripped from them and they have no voice. They speak of going down a path of destruction and depression with long years of abuse and mistreating themselves. One woman expressed it this way, “I was lost for so many years, feeling like I was destined for a life of drugs, abuse and self-loath. I just accepted that I deserved that way of life. Now, I’m a survivor of abuse and sex trafficking. I’m proud of me and how far I have come.”

Another woman who graduated from our program, tells of running away from her family because of he addiction that led her to being prostituted – she knew no other way to survive. She lived for years on the streets or in abandoned buildings, controlled by a pimp. She then was sold to a man who beat her so badly she was in intensive care for three months. After being hospitalized, she was determined to work a program and get clean. To get help for the next step on her journey off the streets, she was referred to Dawn’s Place. She has a job now and an apartment with a future and is earning her own way.

Our desire for every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place is that she will find the courage to break the cycle of violence, recover from trauma, reclaim her dignity and go on to live as a healed, independent and productive member of society. Do we succeed with every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place – no, but we try!

September Monthly Reflection

A prayer for the ones left behind

By Michele Morek, OSU

On May 25, International Missing Children’s Day, I was reading a Prayer for Missing Children by Jane Deren (Education for Justice) when I was struck by a thunderbolt of conscience.

It was a lovely prayer, praying for missing children, including those kidnapped, trafficked, lost as refugees, or lost in conflicts. But it did not only pray for the children. It remembered the suffering parents or other loved ones, comparing their anguish to the suffering of Mary and Joseph when they lost their son on a trip to Jerusalem. (Luke 2:42)

It made me realize—with some shock and shame—that while I often think of and pray for people who are trafficked or kidnapped, I rarely go deeper and think of the others affected: the parents, spouses, friends, and wider community.

I had reason to feel guilty, because I should know better. My friend and sister in religious life was kidnapped, and I know firsthand the sorrow and panic of those left behind: community, friends, classmates and family. Not only the immediate worry and pain, but the pain which persists for years as we witness the continuing suffering of our loved one—manifest in PTSD, nightmares and flashbacks—or if they are still missing, imagine what they might be going through and wonder if they are still alive.

A doctor with expertise in dealing with kidnapping and torture victims came for a healing session with my religious congregation, and explained that a kidnapper / trafficker / torturer does not only hurt a single victim, but victimizes the whole community of family, friends, or religious congregation.

Think of a mother’s anguish, fleeing from war and violence, as she suddenly realizes that a child is no longer with her. Think of a father’s pain when a child is kidnapped or trafficked, as he takes on an additional burden of guilt.

Now imagine the silent suffering of a family living in extreme poverty, who may have sold the child to traffickers in order to feed the rest of the family, or so that the child’s life would be “improved.”

When we pray for trafficked persons, let us remember to pray for those left behind, and to pray that somehow the world might learn how to address the extreme inequality that leads to poverty and violence.

Further Study:

Read Luke 2:42 and imagine how it would look in modern-day headlines.

Check this resource for nonprofit organizations seeking to provide support services for families with missing members. In addition, many states have their own agencies providing support services for such families.

Michele Morek OSU

 

August Monthly Reflection

Traffik 2017: A New Art Exhibit about Human Trafficking

Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

On May 11-12, 2017 Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, WI held its 20th annual conference on Child Maltreatment with support from the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, Coulee Region Child Abuse Prevention Task Force, Family & Children’s Center – Stepping Stones, the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery, and Viterbo University Art Department. This nationally recognized conference addresses strategies that multidisciplinary teams can use to intervene when child maltreatment is reported, collaborate with community and family to protect children, and ensure justice for child victims of abuse/neglect.

This year the conference devoted a full day to human trafficking. Speakers addressed national and state legislation, human trafficking in a globalized context, assisting victims, and suppression of demand on the part of law enforcement. A special feature of the conference was a nationally juried art exhibit organized and presented by the Viterbo University Art Department, entitled Traffik 2017. The goal was to create a space for artists to express themselves, and for others to dwell among works that have been highly considered, in the context of this issue. The call to artists invited submission of works with an implication for introspection on the theme, the issues that surround it or its effects, and to explore broader interpretations of issues that it raises, such as oppression, illicit economies, invisibility, innocence, social justice and others. (http://www.viterbo.edu/art-department/traffik-2017-call-artists)

Image by Margaret Miller, Viterbo Art Alumni 2014

Viterbo University received some 50 entries from artists all over the United States and one from Austria. Since the call was open to anyone 18 years of age and older, entries represented the full spectrum of working artists, from high school and college students, to university professors, to professional and amateur working artists. The jury selected 28 pieces for the show.

A sampling from the exhibit is shown here with the permission of the artists. Their own words describe their creations.

Barbed Wire with Butterfly #2

By Daniel Stokes

Terra Cotta

I have chosen to describe the theme by illustrating the contrast embodied by my subject matter, butterflies and barbed wire. The butterfly representing the fragile, the harmless, the beautiful. All those precious things of this world that are vulnerable by their very nature including men, women, and children.

Barbed wire, whose sole purpose for existence is to inflict pain, as a symbol of the methods and attitudes of those who in service of greed would control, imprison, even enslave the weak and innocent through threats of violence, to whom human beings are nothing more than mere property to be bought, sold, and ultimately destroyed.

Dark Cities

by Anna Lucille Strunk (Lucy)

Acrylic

The top half of the painting shows Americans going about their everyday lives. The blue background reflects a calm and cool world, where there is nothing to be concerned about. The white figures are the everyday people, going about their lives in the cities and towns. The small size and white color represents how most people don’t think outside of their little worlds, and how they believe everything is right and pure.

The lower portion portrays the suffering of people and children taken by the calamity of human trafficking. The red background represents the burning pain and suffering experienced by these individuals. The hunched, black figures are those who have been taken and sold into slavery. They are a larger size than the white figures above because the problem of human trafficking is larger than we think it is. The bent over posture is for the treacherous work they are put through, and how they are sold to people who make things that we use every day, being put in a position that, in an unfortunate way, supports our country.

The black city and Empire State Building that rests over the bottom half of the painting represent the United States being ignorant or ignoring the issue. Our “perfect” little world has horrible and tragic happenings occurring beneath it.

Selling

Rick Carraway

Acrylic on canvas

In painting Selling, I wanted to capture the commerce of selling oneself to survive, and probably not by choice. The Swedish government has found that much of the vast profit generated by the global prostitution industry goes into the pockets of human traffickers. The Swedish government said, “International trafficking in human beings could not flourish but for the existence of local prostitution markets where men are willing and able to buy and sell women and children for sexual exploitation.”

 

This image was not submitted to the exhibit, but represents in a survivor’s own efforts how art can be helpful in the struggle toward healing and freedom.

Survivor Woman

By KN (survivor)

Acrylic mixed with other mediums

Most of the symbolism is in the side where the face is dark or shaded. It represents either the side of us we don’t know or the side we want to be unknown. The side that makes it look as if the wind is blowing to me represents how we are constantly changing. I also think the earthy colors are grounding.

“KN” affirms that art is another way to convey the message from the survivor. Art therapy opens up areas that have been blocked and helps the individual get at the pain from another angle. It functions like a castle with different doors where one can enter the memories and work with them. The doors can be closed again and issues can be put away when the survivor is not working on them. For her, the castle concept is a way to contain the reality so that it cannot have a continuously destructive influence on her life.

Art is frequently used in healing modalities for survivors of human trafficking. It also provides an entry for understanding more clearly the reality of this criminal activity which engulfs our world. Viewers at the Traffik 2017 art exhibit found it profoundly meaningful.

The obvious benefit of the Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare Child Maltreatment Conference was not only the knowledge conveyed in a variety of ways, but the collaboration among social institutions that is essential to making a contribution to ending modern slavery in the 21st century. Mayo Clinic-Franciscan Healthcare and Viterbo University are sponsored ministries of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse. The author of this article convened and continues to chair the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery.

Traffik 2017 will be on display at the Viterbo University Art Gallery from August 30-September 29, 2017. For more information, Department Chairwoman Sherri Lisota, can be contacted at sjlisota@viterbo.edu.

 

How Do You Honor And Cherish Freedom?

By Sister Carol Davis, OP

On the 4th of July in the United States we celebrate Independence Day. In 1776 John Adams wrote an historic letter to his wife Abigail telling her that from one end of this continent to the other there would be future annual celebrations, shows and parades celebrating what he called a “Day of Deliverance.” He recognized the blood and toil of beginning this new nation and he also saw light and glory in the forward movement.

We have much to rejoice about and also much toil ahead because there are millions awaiting their personal day of deliverance from the trauma of human trafficking. Future generations are counting on us too. Each one of us can make a difference.

In her book Stolen, Katariina (Kat) Rosenblatt, Phd, http://www.thereishopeforme.org/ writes about her personal experience of being a survivor of sex trafficking, her escape and subsequent work with American children. She notes some of the significant vulnerability factors that lead to recruitment of American children.

  • abuse at home normalizes maltreatment
  • economic disadvantages – single parent home being of higher risk
  • alcohol and drug abuse in home normalizes that experience/lifestyle
  • seeking a father figure to fill a “daddy hole”

Kat said to me one time when I asked her what I should tell people who want to help prevent human trafficking, “If you see something, say something.”

I am part of a coalition working against human trafficking in my local region and we are noting which kids in schools are “couch surfing” because of some of the reasons that Kat lists in her book. I would add that gay and lesbian kids are sometimes kicked out of their home when they identify their sexual orientation and disclose to family. All of these kids are just one extended family member, neighbor, friend, couch away from homelessness. Within 72 hours of being on the streets, they will be approached by a pimp and are therefore at high risk for survival sex or being trafficked. Those who buy commercial sex are committing a crime. By definition, no one under age can consent to sex with an adult.

Is there a child in your life who needs safe love and care, can you offer it? For example, check out Girls, Inc. When you refer someone to Alcoholics Anonymous or help a woman call a shelter so that she might leave a domestic violence situation, you could be providing a barrier to human trafficking. The more you pay attention, the more you will see the connections and realize that you can make a difference.

Consciousness grows. And we need to grow it worldwide. To that end, in 2013 the United Nations adopted a resolution declaring July 30th the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. What will you do to increase awareness? Check out the prayer service on our website: Click Here

Let us celebrate where we can and continue to respond to the call to hope and freedom. Let us continue to carry the light from the Source of all love and light.

The Spirit of God is upon me,
for the Exalted One has anointed me:
God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor;
to heal broken hearts;
to proclaim release to those held captive.

-Isaiah 61:1

June, 2017 Monthly Reflection

Are We Living Too Fast?

By Sister Jean Schafer SDS

Summer time! For some of us around the country that season is long in coming and often too short. For most of us we want to make the most of summer: enjoy a bit more leisure, travel, read a good book, wear those new summer clothes we bought during the spring sale – our ‘summer wish list’ goes on.

What we probably do not include in that list, however, is a growing consciousness of our role in stopping or furthering the ‘fast fashion’ industry’s exploitation of both the producers and consumers of cheap clothing. To become conscious of our role in this global web of overproduction, human trafficking and environmental pollution is a challenging learning curve. Caring and courageous people are taking up that challenge. By reading further you may sense an invitation to get involved, as well!

What Is ‘Fast Fashion’?

A brief definition: “Fast fashion is the quick turnover of trendy, cheaply-made clothing that often ends up in landfill.” The tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is eroding as some fast-fashion retailers introduce new products multiple times in a single week.

Three major components link us into that reality and its exploitative outcomes.

  • Trendy clothing: The retail industry has convinced the consumer through slick advertising that a new fashion is on the shelves and s/he has to buy it before it goes out of style. Thus, consumers are conditioned to visit retail stores often and succumb to purchase something trendy, whether needed or not.
  • Quick and cheaply made: Those who sew the clothing are forced to work long hours for very low wages under unhealthy conditions, so the retailer can offer us the cheap price that satisfies our expectation of ‘affordable’. Workers have few or no rights and most are caught in labor trafficking because they lack voice or options for better jobs.
  • Landfill destinations: Because cheaply-made clothing does not last and because we did not pay much to own them, it is easy to toss out the ‘outmoded’ and buy the ‘new trendy’ replacement. Yes, we recycle, but thrift stores eventually resort to landfills to keep their racks full of ‘trendy’ clothes.

If you are ready for the challenge, let’s explore more deeply a few of the real facts and trends behind these components of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.

The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. Clothing consumption has increased 500% in the US in just the last couple of decades. Roughly 98% of clothing sold in America are actually made overseas, compared to 5% in 1960. Meanwhile, the global fashion industry earns about $3 trillion per year.

What the ‘Fast Fashion’ industry won’t tell you:

  • The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.
  • ‘Discounts’ aren’t really discounts.
  • There are hazardous chemicals, including lead in your clothing.
  • Clothing is designed to fall apart.
  • Beading and sequins may be an indication of child labor.

There are about 40 million garment workers in the world today; 85% of them are women. On average, only 0.5 to 3% of the cost of production for the average item of clothing goes to the worker who made it – i.e., 30 cents of a shirt costing $10 to make. Then there are also workplace abuses: wage theft (not paying overtime, violating minimum wage laws), lack of building safety, and underage employees, some as young as 11 years old.

The average hourly wage for garment workers:

Bangladesh  $0.24

Cambodia      $0.45

Pakistan        $0.52

Vietnam         $0.53

China              $1.26

What ‘Fast Fashion’ Retailers Earn:

  • GAP’s CEO Arthur Peck’s annual compensation: $3,510,000; Reported accumulated compensation: $30,468,880
  • Hennes & Mauritz is Europe’s largest fashion retailer. H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson’s net worth: $3,000,000,000. He is grandson of H&M’s founder. The Persson family’s worth: $26,000,000,000. (They own 36% shares in H&M.)

What Does ‘Fast’ Look Like?

Farfetch.com announced that it would now be delivering Gucci in 90 minutes in 10 major cities around the world. *F90 delivery is available from store to door in the following cities: London, Paris, Madrid, Milan, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Dubai, Tokyo, São Paulo.

Environmental Impact of ‘Fast Fashion’

  • Apparel accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.
  • It takes up to 700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t­-shirt.
  • Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
  • We churn out clothes at an alarming rate — Americans now buy five ­times as much clothing as they did in 1980.
  • Pesticide-infused cotton fields in Texas and India coincide with high incidences of cancer deaths of farmers.
  • Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.
  • In the US alone, 12.8 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills each year (about 87 lbs of clothing per person every year). Massive landfills in developing countries, such as Haiti, give off poisonous gases and seep deadly chemicals into the waterways and oceans, as the synthetic materials rot.
  • Textiles use 25% of chemicals produced worldwide, many of which are dumped into the environment after use. This water pollution coincides with a massive rise in local cancer and birth defects, especially among children.
  • In 2014, the US produced 35.4 million tons of containerboard, a large proportion of which becomes disposable packaging used in e­-commerce.

Global Response to Tragedy

On April 24, 2013, 1,134 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the 8-storey Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Workers said the building was unsafe. Yet managers forced them in and locked the doors.

Rana Plaza
Nne victim’s future.

 

This date was also when a Fashion Revolution was born and many people rallied to do something to right this terrible wrong.

“The old notion of a ‘good buy’ is that it is cheap and makes you look thin. A renewed notion: a ‘good buy’ for us as Catholics has ethical content. How was it sourced? How does it care for creation? How were the workers treated in the making of this garment? How were they paid?” (The Human Thread Campaign.org: Five Reasons)

What Can We Do?

View the documentary: The True Cost.

This 2015 documentary film directed by Andrew Morgan focuses on fast fashion. Morgan examines the garment industry and links it to consumerism, mass media, globalization, capitalism, structural poverty, oppression, and human trafficking. The documentary is a collage of several interviews with environmentalists, garment workers, factory owners, and people organizing fair trade companies or promoting sustainable clothing production. (True Cost Movie Website)

Take the Pledge to become a responsible consumer and educate yourself on the true cost of fashion:

  • I pledge to be a responsible consumer and remain aware of the environmental and human effects of the fast fashion industry.
  • Buy clothes made with sustainable fibers (recycled polyester, organic cotton).
  • Ask the brands you buy from how their clothes are made—tweet at them or ask retailers when you are in stores about where, how, and who makes their clothing.
  • Recycle clothes at thrift stores, vintage stores, or donation locations.
  • Participate in clothing-swap meet-ups—it’s fun.
  • Buy what you need, not always what you want.
  • Participate in “slow fashion.”
  • Buy clothes you love, that last, and that have an exceptional warranty policy to help you mend them over time.
  • Wash your jeans less.

Search the Internet for information on the harms of ‘fast fashion’:

Search the Internet for information on ways people and companies are working to counter ‘fast fashion’:

General Resources:

In his Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis wrote: “As individuals, we have grown comfortable with certain lifestyles shaped by a distorted culture of prosperity and a ‘disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary’ (Laudato Si’, 123), and we are participants in a system that ‘has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.’ Let us repent of the harm we are doing to our common home.”

May Monthly Reflection

What Does It Mean to be Safe?

by Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC

Neurologists say that our brains are always scanning for information, for danger, for distraction like a vacuum cleaner! The stressful lives that we lead are not healthy for our brains. We all need time and space to just be, and to awaken to our safety and well-being. One of the meditations designed by Dr. Rick Hanson, helps us to rewire our brains so that we can be more mindful and contemplative. I use this meditation with a diverse population and ask them for an image that makes them feel safe. In silence and as one of the steps they sit still with that image and it has effects on the body and their wellbeing. You can view powerpoint slides of his meditations and neuroplasticity of the brain here.

What does this have to do with human trafficking? After rescue and during rehabilitation, how do we help our survivors experience safety?  How safe can they be if they are living in the same city as their trafficker? How do we help with their healing process by creating safety “zones” in their lives? I have used this meditation practice with women and it helps cultivate a sense of safety and peace.

One of the most effective programs for trauma healing that I have ever experienced provides protocols for helping people get to a safety zone. Pat Cane, Founder and CEO of Capacitar trains people to use these healing protocols with survivors of trauma and violence. Using a rich menu of tai chi, fingerholding meditation, acupressure, pal dan gum, tapping, and more, the survivor is equipped and empowered to be part of her or his own healing process.  All you need is your breath and your body.  You can view the emergency kit at on capacitar.org  in several different languages. Look at the home page for stories of work with trauma survivors globally as well as efforts to nurture peace is some very violent parts of the world.

Safety has been foremost on my mind because of a recent tragedy in which three girls were shot, or executed, on Easter Sunday night at an orphanage in a nearby country by a cartel. They had been victims of trafficking and the cartels controlled the market. No photos or places can be disclosed with reverence and protection of those who loved them. However, this story will give you an understanding of the total control and lack of any safety these girls experience here.

At a FADICA gathering in February this year, a few of us were asked to speak about human trafficking and the border between California and Mexico.  Little did we know at the time that some of the stories we shared of escape, healing and support would have such a brutal ending.  The most recent girl was rescued was one year old. Did the traffickers want her for child porn or for her organs? This is the reality we deal with and pray for an end to this unspeakable exploitation. 

I thought of all the effort that went into helping these young girls with rehabilitation—medical and emotional—surgeries and therapy, and yet one shot ended it all.  We wrestle with systemic change when we work for justice. We advocate, meet with government officials, march, educate and try to prevent.  How can we imagine possible ways to go to the source of this trafficking enterprise and find ways to diffuse their power? There is no true healing if the survivor does not feel safe. These executions sent a clear message about who is in control. 

As people of faith we believe that good does defeat evil, that Light can penetrate any darkness. In this Easter season, how can we nurture faith in the transformative power of suffering and death that ends in new life? I struggle as I see their faces and know their stories. It impels us into further action with the powers that be. Our contemplative lives, if authentic, impel us into social action. Otherwise, we sit in impotent silence.

April, 2017 Reflection

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.

To visit our resource section: Click Here

March Monthly Reflection

The Tenth Station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24)

by Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Contemplation

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.

Personal Reflection

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.

Prayer

Blessed are they who have survived for they will show us courage and hope, dare us to see clearly and to be their voice.

February Monthly Reflection

St. Josephine Bakhita: A Saint For Our Time

By the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center

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:

  1. Gather your family, religious community, and friends to say the prayer of St. Josephine Bakhita (below).
  2. Choose one of the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking’s Educational Modules to study and reflect upon.
  3. 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
of captivity.

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
and faith.

Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for
those enslaved among us.

Amen

 

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.