Human trafficking is a very real problem around the world and in our own city, said Notre Dame Sister Cecelia Liberatore when she addressed the First Friday Club of Cleveland on Aug. 29 at The City Club in downtown Cleveland. The topic of her presentation was “Human Trafficking: Human Tragedy, Human Hope.”
She was introduced by Helena Piller, a human trafficking survivor, client and volunteer at the Renee Jones Empowerment Center in Cleveland. Piller described Sister as “a prophet among us. She accompanies us,” Piller added.
Renee Jones founded the nonprofit center in 1998 as a weekly empowerment program at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. By October 2002, the programs had positively impacted countless people and it expanded into the Renee Jones Empowerment Center with Jones as the president and CEO. The center provides holistic restorative services for minors and adults who are human trafficking and sexual assault victims. Sister Liberatore has worked with the center for more than eight years and serves on its board of trustees.
Recently, the center moved from its office on West 65th Street in Cleveland into bigger quarters in a building owned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at 3764 W. 25th St., Cleveland.
Sister Liberatore recounted the tragedy portion of human trafficking, sharing some sobering statistics and misconceptions. For example, she said some people blame the victims, claiming they knew what they were getting into, that the victim committed unlawful acts and was paid for services. Some also believe the victims have freedom of movement and/or chose not to take opportunities to escape. Others mistakenly believe that trafficking involves crossing borders or that United States citizens can’t be trafficked. In some cases, people believe the trafficker’s actions are “culturally appropriate” and it can’t be considered trafficking if the victim and the trafficker are related or married.
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