The title of this reflection is a direct quote from Saint Josephine Bakhita, a courageous woman of faith who suffered brutality for years at the hands of her captors who enslaved her, who stole her from her loving family in the Sudan when she was just a child of somewhere around seven or nine. The terrors she suffered caused her to forget her name. She would eventually break free and become a Cannosian Sister in Italy. She died in 1947. Thousands came to pay their respects. She was officially recognized as a saint in 2000.
Watch this 3 minute video to learn more:
A group of women religious asked Pope Francis to raise greater awareness in the church about the issue of trafficking by establishing a worldwide day of prayer. When Pope Francis asked them for a suitable date, they suggested February 8th, the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita. This year, 2018, is the 4th worldwide day of prayer. It is a day to pray for an end to the scourge of human trafficking.
We know this: Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom. Polaris Project
Take the month of February or the next 28 days if you read this later, to pray daily for eight minutes for an end to human trafficking. Pray for the victims, the survivors, the traffickers, the legislators, the doctors in hospitals. Pray that corporations have fair trade supply chains. Pray for the runaway kids. Pray for the raising of awareness. Of course, you might say you’ve been praying for years and you will continue beyond 28 days! Do this anyway, consciously, deliberately in union with people around the globe. Put a notice in your local church bulletin. Invite a family member to pray. Send the links in this little article to others. Ask Saint Bakhita and others like Harriet Tubman and Sojurner Truth to be allies in the transformative ending to human trafficking. Cover the world in prayer. It will generate action.
Bakhita found peace in God. Through prayer she found God’s love and she lived that peace and love, even after suffering brutality. United in deep prayer, we will know God’s peace. Prayer and peace will provide sustenance and will lead to greater clarity in knowing the actions that each of us and all of us must take to end human trafficking.
Forced to Seek Safety in a Foreign Land: The Plight of Those on the Move
By Jean Schafer SDS
As we think of the Holy Family during the Advent/Christmas season, we often forget their need to flee their homeland shortly after the birth of their child, Jesus, because of a very jealous King Herod. Herod was considered an acceptable leader of his day: bringing Judea into the Roman Empire; copying the architecture and political styles of Greece; stabilizing the economy; reducing taxes; building trade; building the port city of Caesarea and that of Samaria. Yet, in jealousy, Herod had already killed his wife and two of his three sons. His brother narrowly escaped the same fate. Herod feared the announcement of a newly-born ‘King Jesus,’ as a threat to his power and position. This threat he determined had to be eliminated. What followed was the slaughter of Holy Innocents!
“When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.’ Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.’” Matt. 2: 13-18
Today people continue to flee political repression and open conflict. Studies show our world is witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record: •1,200 people are forcibly displaced per hour per day; • 65.6 million have been forced from their homes; • 22.5 million are refugees (half under the age of 18) with 55% from the countries of Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan; • 10 million people are stateless and have been denied a nationality; * 460,000 live in the dangerous Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the largest in the world; • 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims, a stateless people, are fleeing repression in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. Since August 2017 600,000 have arrived on foot and in boats into Bangladesh at a rate of 20,000 a day.
“For 4 days, I hid myself in the forest. Then, we tried to walk to the border. I was so scared,” says Rajida Begum, a 30-year-old mother who fled her village with neighbors when she was 9 months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl under a piece of plastic sheeting in the middle of a rice paddy 5 days after arriving in Bangladesh. As she cradled her newborn baby, she looked relieved: “When I saw that she was healthy, I was so happy. I gave thanks to God.”
Abdul Rahman, 21, who lost his wife – shot by the Burmese army, now is the sole caregiver for his 4-month-old daughter. “The baby won’t stop crying. I’m asking lactating mothers to help with feeding her, but I’m so worried. I don’t know if she will survive. We have no food. We have nothing at all,” he said.
Refugees are men, women and children fleeing war, persecution and political upheaval who have been forced to cross borders to seek safety in another country. Most eventually go home when it is safe (as did the Holy Family); some stay in temporary refugee settlements; and a tiny fraction resettle in a third country, such as the U.S.
Refugees face innumerable dangers as they travel and as they attempt to find a place to live until they can return home. According to the United Nations, human trafficking and the exploitation by criminal gangs are intimately linked to the plight of vulnerable people running from political conflicts. While trafficking for sexual exploitation might be the first type of trafficking people think of, trafficking actually takes diverse forms in conflict situations. Children suffer a high percentage of the abuse, both in sexual exploitation and in labor-related settings.
Let us reflect on some of the contemporary situations of our refugee brothers and sisters, fleeing in fear, as did the Holy Family:
The Islamic State conflict has increased the vulnerability of groups like the Yazidi and the Kurds. Yazidi women are forced into what is called chattel slavery. They are bought and sold as property; forced to act as domestic servants, sex slaves, or wives of militants. Yazidi men and boys are forced to become militants and even suicide bombers. Now girls from the West are lured into ISIL-controlled territory by ‘boy friends,’ using methods similar to those used by online traffickers.
The Syrian conflict has produced thousands of refugees. Trafficked Syrian children are forced to work excessively long hours in abusive situations or are held for ransom until their families pay to have them released.
Boko Haram in West Africa enslaves people in areas they control. Women and girls are forced to marry militants, while boys are forced to become suicide bombers. Children are forced to beg in order to raise funds for the Boko Haram forces.
Congolese militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo force artisanal miners to search for tantalum, gold, diamonds, tin, and other minerals to make money to support the war effort. Children are trafficked and indoctrinated into the militias. A U.N. University report estimates that there are around 30,000 child soldiers in the DRC.
Criminal gangs operating in the refugee camps atCalais and Dunkirk, France have sexually exploited youth traveling alone or forced them to commit crimes in exchange for transportation to the UK. Many children are forced to work along the migration route to finance their journey north.
The Balkan Route—popular with Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees—runs from Turkey into Greece, Bulgaria, and north toward Germany. Children along the route were not only assaulted but also illegally and forcefully deported after they were arrested. Of the children treated by Doctors Without Borders, just over 75% were assaulted by either Serbian state police or border force officials, while 8% were hurt by traffickers. Most had visible signs of mistreatment, including knife and razor blade cuts, scars from severe beatings, and symptoms of dehydration and food deprivation.
Italian authorities discovered an organ trafficking ring involving traffickers from Libya and Eritrea, who charged migrants an up-front fee to get them from Africa to Italy. If migrants could not immediately pay the fee, they were given the option to pay once they arrived in Italy. Upon arrival, however, they were either exploited for forced labor, or their organs were harvested and then trafficked elsewhere.
Pope Francis Calls on People of Good Faith Are Called to Respond:
Pope Francis has spoken often on behalf of vulnerable migrants and refugees:
“It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions for migrants more humane.”
Pope Francis — Message for the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, September 3, 2014
“There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.” Pope Francis — Laudato Si #25, June 18, 2015
Pope Francis has made numerous appeals to promote the culture of encounter in an effort to combat the culture of indifference in the world today. It means seeing through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye. “Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by, but to stop. And don’t just say ‘what a shame, poor people,’ but allow ourselves to be moved by pity.” – Pope Francis.
Learn more of the reality migrants and refugees face. à Rededicate our efforts to live out Catholic Social Teaching. à Join the ‘Share the Journey’ Campaign.’
On September 27, 2017 Pope Francis launched ‘Share the Journey,’ a two-year campaign to share the plight of the millions of migrant and refugee families who are seeking safety and a decent life. As people of faith, we see these people as our neighbors — our brothers and sisters.
The ‘Share the Journey‘ campaign, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities and the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the U.S. highlights Catholic teaching on migration and reaffirms the Church’s commitment to assistant our migrant brothers and sisters who have fled their homeland seeking safety.
Pray often for refugees and migrants and for those who advocate for them
Prayer for Migrant Families
Good and gracious God,
we thank you for the gift of families.
We are grateful for all of the joy and love they bring into our lives,
and we ask that you provide special protection for all families,
particularly those who face hardships as they move in search of a better life.
Show mercy to those who travel in danger,
and lead them to a place of safety and peace.
Comfort those who are alone and afraid
because their families have been torn apart
by violence and injustice.
As we reflect upon the difficult journey that
the Holy Family faced as refugees in Egypt, help us
to remember the suffering of all migrant families.
Through the intercession of Mary our Mother, and
St. Joseph the Worker, her spouse, we pray that
all migrants may be reunited with their loved ones
and find the meaningful work they seek.
Open our hearts so that we may provide hospitality
for all who come in search of refuge.
Give us the courage to welcome every stranger
as Christ in our midst.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.
Remember that the Holy Family was once a refugee family in a foreign land.
In Jesus’ time, would we have found room in our home for the Holy Family?
Today can we find room in our hearts for refugees and respond to their needs in some meaningful way?
‘Flight into Egypt’ 1923 by Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, Pittsburgh, PA 1859–1937 ParisTanner’s painting depicts the Holy Family’s clandestine evasion of King Herod’s assassins, which was Tanner’s favorite biblical story. It expresses his sensitivity to issues of personal freedom, escape from persecution, and migrations of African-Americans from the South to the North. The painting, which reveals a concern for human emotions and an awareness of the mystical meanings of biblical narratives, also manifests Tanner’s affiliation with contemporary symbolism and the religious revival that occurred in response to challenges of the modern era.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
by Anna Lucille Strunk (Lucy)
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.
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.”
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 email@example.com.
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.
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:
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.
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’:
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (“CA-TISCA”) is the first disclosure law to address human trafficking and slavery within the global marketplace. CA-TISCA requires every retail seller and manufacturer who does business in the state of California and has annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding $100 million “to disclose its efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from its direct supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale.”
Eligible companies have to post this information on their websites “with a conspicuous and easily understood link to the required information placed on the business’ homepage.” (California Civil Code Section §1714.43). With California being the 8th largest economy in the world, CA-TISCA affects companies with a combined revenue of $48.4 trillion in 2016, among them many Fortune 1000 companies. Corporate Compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act: Anti-Slavery Performance in 2016
Catholics for Clothing with a Conscience’s Mission Statement: “Inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, the Catholic Campaign for Clothing with a Conscience seeks to foster Catholics’ awareness that promotes solidarity between the consumers of clothing and the people who produce them in order to create a more just economy and sustainable communities.” The Human Thread Campaign: Facebook Page The Human Thread Campaign: Our Mission
Alta Gracia Apparel: Founded in 2010 it is the only apparel company in the developing world that is independently certified in paying a living wage.
Eileen Fisher: She started with $350 in savings. And a vision. Our vision is for an industry where human rights and sustainability are not the effect of a particular initiative, but the cause of a business well run. Where social and environmental injustices are not unfortunate outcomes, but reasons to do things differently. Eileen Fisher: Values Eileen Fisher.com: Human Rights Overview
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.”
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.
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.