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.
The La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery, founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, is co-sponsoring an online video series titled “The Faces of Human Trafficking.”
The FSPAs partnered with Minnesota’s Breaking Free, one of the nation’s leading organizations for working with victims and survivors of sex trafficking to create the series, which is being launched this month in connection with Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“Our goal was to create an online resource to educate human trafficking support workers and the general public and give voice to the survivors,” said FSPA Sister Corrina Thomas, who serves in the human trafficking field.
The series features stories of survivors, pimps and johns, she said.
For example, Jenny, a survivor who was featured in the series debut Friday, said in her video, “It’s a brainwashing that happens. There’s a reason traffickers go after children.
“I want people to know that women don’t choose this. This is something that happens to them — they’re victims,” said Jenny, who, like other survivors in the series, talk about their childhoods, their time in “the life,” how they survived and what they would like everyone to know about the billion-dollar industry.
Introducing each video is FSPA Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, who founded the task force.
The FSPAs will release the videos at noon on the following dates, with specified ones followed by Twitter Chat via @fspatweets using the hashtag #HumanTraffickingFaces:
Jan. 10 — “Meet Laurie”
Jan. 12 — “Meet Anne,” followed by Twitter Chat
Jan. 17 — “Meet Jessica”
Jan. 19 — “Meet Maya,” followed by Twitter Chat
Jan. 24 — “Meet Ms. R”
All videos and additional resources will be available at the FSPA web site.
Also this month and into early February, near the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking, the series also will feature “Flora,” “Mr. J” and “Mr. P.”
Bakhita, who was born in the Darfur region of southern Sudan in the 19th century, was kidnapped at the age of 7, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means “fortunate.” She was resold five times, and her owners brutalized her, including branding, beating and cutting her. In one incident, one of her owners rubbed salt into the 114 cuts he had made on her body.
Freed through a series of unusual circumstances, she became attracted to the Catholic faith and became a Canossian nun, assisting her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors. Her canonization as a saint in 2000 resulted in part from the affection of children attending the sisters’ school and local citizens.
The FSPAs also will host a public human trafficking awareness prayer service on at 4 p.m. Feb. 6 in Mary of the Angels Chapel at 901 Franciscan Way in La Crosse.
To view the story by Mike Tighe as it originally appears on The La Crosse Tribune: Click Here
Join FSPA-hosted Twitter chats during Human Trafficking Awareness Month
La Crosse, Wis. – The Franciscans Sisters of Perpetual Adoration-founded Task Force to End Modern Slavery partnered with Minnesota’s Breaking Free, one of the nation’s leading organizations for working with victims and survivors of sex trafficking, to create “The Faces of Human Trafficking” video series. The series will be launched throughout January, Human Trafficking Awareness month.
“Our goal was to create an online resource to educate human trafficking support workers, the general public and give voice to the survivors,” said Sister Corrina Thomas, who serves in the field of human trafficking. “With the help of Breaking Free, we’re introducing the world to the stories of survivors, pimps (sellers) and Johns (buyers).”
“It’s a brainwashing that happens; there’s a reason traffickers go after children,” said Jenny, human trafficking survivor featured in the series debut. “I want people to know that women don’t choose this. This is something that happens to them; they’re victims.” Jenny and other survivors featured in “The Faces of Human Trafficking” recall their childhoods, their time in “the life,” how they survived and what they’d like everyone to know about this billion dollar industry.
Each video is introduced by Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, founder of La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery.
Release Dates FSPA will release all videos at noon CST at www.fspa.org/modernslavery and all Twitter Chats will be hosted on Fridays from 12:30-12:45 p.m. CST at www.twitter.com/fspatweets using the hashtag #HumanTraffickingFaces.
Friday, Jan. 5 (released now): Meet Jenny, followed by Twitter Chat @fspatweets using #HumanTraffickingFaces
Wednesday, Jan. 10: Meet Laurie
Friday, Jan. 12: Meet Anne, followed by Twitter Chat @fspatweets using #HumanTraffickingFaces
Wednesday, Jan. 17: Meet Jessica
Friday, Jan. 19: Meet Maya, followed by Twitter Chat @fspatweets using #HumanTraffickingFaces
Wednesday, Jan. 24: Meet Ms. R
All videos, and additional resources, will be available at www.fspa.org/modernslavery. Later this month and into early February, near the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking, we’ll also introduce you to Flora, Mr. J and Mr. P.
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration will also host a human trafficking awareness prayer service on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at 4 p.m. in Mary of the Angels Chapel, 901 Franciscan Way, La Crosse, Wisconsin. All are welcome.
Based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are women religious engaged in furthering the work of the Catholic Church and the Gospel. Their partners in ministry, including affiliates and prayer partners, join them in service of God’s mission. The sisters work in the United States and internationally in varied ministries, creating innovative approaches to healing, teaching and praying. Visit FSPA online at www.fspa.org.
Sister Margaret Nacke, CSJ, was honored Dec. 8 by the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, a network of Catholic Sisters and their colleagues devoted to eradicating human trafficking.
She was awarded the first-ever “Sister Margaret Nacke, CSJ Bakhita Award” in recognition of outstanding work by an individual or group for their efforts to end the crime of human trafficking. In 2013, Sister Margaret was the driving force that resulted in the founding of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
Sisters Ann Oestreich, IHM, and Jeanne Christensen, RSM, of the Board of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, came to Concordia to present the award during Mass at the Nazareth Motherhouse. This new award was named after Sister Margaret in recognition of the decades of her life she has spent to work to end human trafficking worldwide and at home.
According to a statement by Sister Anne Victory, HM, President of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, those who receive this award “exemplify vision, courage, dedication and creativity in addressing the complexities surrounding this issue. They work in collaboration with others to raise awareness of human trafficking, address the multiple needs of survivors and advocate for legislative changes to the modern-day slavery of commercial sex and forced labor.”
“I just want to say I accept this award on behalf of all Sisters throughout the world, really, in the U.S. Sisters Against Human Trafficking, but also throughout the world because many of us are not young but are doing our best to combat human trafficking,” Sister Margaret said. “And I want to thank you, as my congregation, for the support you have given me for this endeavor.”
Sister Margaret has pioneered the ministry of Sisters working to eradicate modern-day slavery. An educator by profession, she has spent significant time establishing and maintaining relationships with many people and groups, and has always had a special concern for those on the margins of society.
This story comes from The Sisters of St. Joseph of Kansas: Click Here
Sr. Mary Adel Abamo, Talitha Kum Philippine coordinator, at their office in Quezon City
MANILA – A group comprising different congregations has grown more muscles in the past 8 years while combating human trafficking in the country as well as in its Asian neighbors.
“The more anti-human trafficking advocates, the better,” said Sr. Mary Adel Abamo, the group’s Philippine coordinator. “More can blow the whistle to crackdown this crime.”
Established in 2009, the Talitha Kum has grown from 10 partner congregation to 40 as of November 2017,
Prevention better than cure
“About 90 percent of the group’s religious advocates are sisters from different congregations, and only 10 percent priests. Lay people are also on board,” she noted.
The group seeks to stop human trafficking through preventive programs like awareness drives since they believe prevention is better than cure.
They plan to identify and form more advocates in schools, dormitories, and communities to broaden the campaign of educating people on the whys and hows of human trafficking.
According to Abamo, the number of documented trafficked children in the Philippines a year or two ago has reached 60,000 to 100,000, while the number of men and women 300,000 to 400,000.
The nun also expressed alarm over the rising figure of Filipino children forced by their own parents to pose naked online, which she explained, is also considered human trafficking.
To read the full story by Oliver Samson on CBCP News: Click Here
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.
Trafficking victims live among us. They may grow our food, make our clothes, serve us in a restaurant, do our hair or nails, or build our electronic devices.
Trafficking occurs in every state in every nation. The number of networks of sisters working against trafficking around the world is an impressive force, but the problem of trafficking is getting worse: In the United States alone, there was a 35 percent increase in sex trafficking reported in 2016, according to Polaris, while labor trafficking reports rose by 47 percent.
Catholic sisters all over the world have been increasing their efforts to fight trafficking. One effective anti-trafficking group is the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT). It was my good fortune to be a charter member of the first board of directors, since I was doing anti-trafficking advocacy at the United Nations at the time.
The 15 sisters on the board are from different congregations and from all over the country, but they do have one thing in common: They are engaged in a wide variety of ministries that involve work against human trafficking.
Some of the board members offer services for survivors of trafficking: rescue, protection, education, rehabilitation. Others create newsletters, maintain websites, act as the justice representative for their congregations, or do advocacy in Washington, D.C., in their state capitals, or with local officials. All have created prayer services and educational resources for their congregations or other organizations they belong to; many of these resources and prayer services can be found on the organization’s website.
The organization was legally incorporated within the past year, so the original informal board is now the first official board. We met Oct. 8-10 at the Washington Retreat Center, a ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. The meeting was devoted to planning, capacity-building and setting the vision for the next three years in leadership, membership, program and services.
The second night of the meeting, we board members gathered in front of the White House for a prayer service. Holding candles and posters, we prayed for homeless youth. (In March, a month after vowing to end human trafficking, President Donald Trump proposed through his budget to eliminate the Interagency Council on Homelessness.) We also prayed for people on the move, especially the 22 million refugees. The president wants to wall them out, deport them, ban then and turn them away.
As we prayed, other people would slip in, indicating their support by whispered word or expression. A Hasidic Jewish family, a tourist couple and several others hovered quietly around the edges of our group. An evangelical minister walked into the middle of the circle and with extravagant gestures to heaven loudly called down the blessing of God, to which we all enthusiastically agreed, “Amen!”
Many religious congregations, individuals and coalitions are members of our anti-trafficking coalition, but everyone has access to anti-trafficking resources on the website: curriculum, teaching modules, faith resources, newsletters, video, information about slave-free goods and services, and suggested actions.
Besides providing a networking tool for members and a source of education for everyone, U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking was founded to be the official U.S. representative of a global network of sisters working against human trafficking. The global umbrella group, Talitha Kum (from Jesus’ Aramaic words, “little girl, get up”), works with its director and with national and regional coalitions of sisters around the world that are engaged in anti-trafficking work.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently mentioned our group in its anti-trafficking newsletter, noting, “U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking utilizes social media to showcase positive efforts and victories of women and men working tirelessly to combat trafficking.”
Work against trafficking is not a single-issue ministry for the sisters, as trafficking has many root causes:
Poverty and lack of decent work drive men and women to seek work to support themselves and their families. Desperate parents may sell their children. Most trafficked people work in commercial sex trades or forced labor. They are also exploited through involuntary domestic servitude, bonded or debt labor, child soldiering, begging, crimes, forced marriage and organ removal.
Political upheaval is a major cause of forced migration as desperate people flee from persecution or violence. Trafficking is the end result of complex interconnected social factors.
Climate change disasters and other natural disasters can be causal factors for all the issues above, increasing poverty, migration and political instability.
The logo of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is particularly apt: It shows a green shoot growing out of the darkness from behind prison bars. It is coming out crooked at first, but as it leaves the cage, it straightens and grows up toward the light. All sisters who have worked with survivors of trafficking can see the victims’ journey in that little shoot. We are all doing what we can to light up the darkness and take away the bars.
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!
Board Member, U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking
U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is a collaborative, faith-based network that offers educational programs and materials, supports access to survivor services, and engages in legislative advocacy to eradicate modern-day slavery.
Following recent climate disasters, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the earthquake in Mexico, members of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking believed it would be helpful to share a module entitled “Human Trafficking and Environmental Refugees” for reflection and discussion. The module can be found here.
A brief excerpt from the module states: “In June 2014, the number of refugees worldwide exceeded 50 million children, women and men. Half of these refugees are children, many travelling alone or in groups. Millions of these refugees are people displaced because of environmental disasters. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that in the coming years millions of people will be forced to relocate due to effects of climate change, including shoreline erosion, coastal flooding or disruption of normal farming practices. Today analysts predict that this crisis in the making will affect 150-200 million men, women and children by 2050, or roughly one in every 45 persons on earth…
Women and children are especially vulnerable during any forced displacement, and they are at risk for gender-based violence and human trafficking. Many children are separated from their families during an environmental disaster. According to the UNHCR, children alone represent more than half of the people of concern. These children, unaccompanied by any adult or caregiver, are targets for traffickers. Two months after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, aid agencies warned that up to two million children were at risk of abuse or trafficking.
After Superstorm Sandy, the state of New Jersey allotted more than $1.5 million to bolster human trafficking prevention and treatment services for homeless youth. Unfortunately, the areas of the world that are most affected by disasters related to climate change are the least likely to have the resources to protect their citizens.”
A second resource was provided in early September by Polaris Project. The article follows.
Natural Disasters and the Increased Risk for Human Trafficking
September 1, 2017
Brandon Bouchard, Director of Media Relations – Polaris Project
While every human trafficking victim is different, a common thread they share is the presence of a vulnerability that traffickers exploit. Those types of vulnerabilities are rampant in the aftermath of natural disasters. Homelessness is one of the top risk factors reported by survivors to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and we often learn that survivors were recruited by traffickers near shelters or centers helping people in need.
In fact, one of the largest labor trafficking cases in United States history resulted from human trafficking that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You can read more about that case from the Southern Poverty Law Center here.
As people throughout the United States continue to deal with the horrific hardships stemming from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is critical that a response to potential human trafficking is part of long-term recovery efforts. Local service providers and the organizations in the fight against human trafficking throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Florida need help more than ever as they provide aid to people affected by these natural disasters.
Below are a few organizations partnered with the National Human Trafficking Hotline that we encourage you to donate to, and you can search for more in the Human Trafficking Referral Directory.
YMCA of Greater Houston
Houston Area Women’s Center
United Against Human Trafficking
International Rescue Committee (IRC) – Miami
Catholic Charities – Diocese of Palm Beach
More Too Life
To learn more about the impact climate change is having on human trafficking throughout the world, read this important report from our friends at the International Organization for Migration: The Climate Change-Human Trafficking Nexus”: here
Excerpts from this document note: “Climate change increases the risk of natural disasters and places a strain on livelihoods; it exacerbates poverty and can potentially cause situations of conflict and instability. These conditions, when combined with a mismatch between demand for labour and supply and the proliferation of unscrupulous recruitment agencies, increase high-risk behaviours and other negative coping strategies among affected populations. This may include resorting to migrant smugglers, which in turn makes them vulnerable to trafficking in persons (TiP) and associated forms of exploitation and abuse. The impact of climate change, however, is rarely considered as a potential contributor to human trafficking in global discussions or national level policy frameworks,1 and the nexus remains relatively underexplored.” (p. 3)
“These incidents of human trafficking in the wake of sudden- and slow-onset disasters demonstrate the necessity of a planned response to address this cross-cutting issue. In general, there needs to be an acknowledgement that human trafficking can be an unintended but direct consequence when migration occurs in the absence of government support and management, after disasters or in the face of slow-onset events.” (p. 9)