Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking!
In our work to end human trafficking and provide excellent support to survivors we are confronted with both the worst and the best of humanity. We see and hear stories of horrific abuse and trauma, and also get to witness the power and courage of the human spirit in the pursuit of freedom and healing. In many ways it reminds me of the Christmas story, of God taking flesh in the unlikeliest of places and the oppressive power structures of the day seeking to extinguish that light, that presence, forcing the holy family to flee in search of safety like so many migrants and refugees today. During the Advent and Christmas season we draw hope by sharing the stories about God’s light and love coming into the world and remembering how the darkness cannot overpower the light.
We believe that God is present in the darkness, accompanying those who are suffering and working for their liberation. We are invited to be the hands and feet of Christ today in the work to shine a light on the darkness of human trafficking and realize a world without slavery. For your role in this collaborative effort, we are so grateful!
As we prepare to bid farewell to 2019 and welcome a new year, we pause for a moment to reflect on all we have been able to accomplish together this past year. From our family to yours, we are proud to share the following highlights of 2019:
Strengthening internal capacity of the organization
- In July USCSAHT hired on its first Executive Director and full-time employee Jennifer Reyes Lay. Jennifer established a national office for USCSAHT in St. Louis, MO (please update your address books if you haven’t yet! USCSAHT, 2039 N Geyer Rd., St. Louis, MO 63131). Having an Executive Director has improved both the internal and external communications of the organization and provided stability for program management and oversight.
- In collaboration with our members and working groups, USCSAHT created a video highlighting our history and current work. If you have not yet seen the video you can watch it on our YouTube channel in English or Spanish.
- We continue to reach thousands of people with information about human trafficking, prevention, awareness, and ways to get involved through our website and social media platforms. In 2019 our website had more than 29,000 visits from 105 countries, we grew our Facebook following to 3,654 people, and grew our Twitter following to 524. In just the past few weeks USCSAHT launched an Instagram page and we already have 82 followers. We continue to respond to the presence of traffickers on these sites by providing counter-messaging about human trafficking awareness and prevention, as well as sharing about the work of the organization.
Education / Prevention
- The education working group is committed to ensuring access to important human trafficking information is available for Spanish speaking communities. All of the educational modules were translated into Spanish this past year and are available free for download from the website.
- USCSAHT also was an exhibitor at five national conferences: Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, Ecumenical Advocacy Days, National Catholic Educators Association, National Council of Catholic Women, and the Religious Formation Conference. Through our presence at these conferences, we were able to share important information and resources with hundreds of participants and encourage them to join us in the fight to end human trafficking.
- The advocacy working group created materials free for download from our website for all those engaged in anti-trafficking work on how to engage with their elected representatives on legislation related to root causes of human trafficking, particularly the connection between migration and human trafficking. USCSAHT sent out information for advocacy campaigns on World Refugee Day, World Migrant Day, and encouraged members to set up visits during the August legislative recess.
- The board members of USCSAHT participated in a legislative Hill Day in Washington DC when they met for their annual meeting in October. The legislative asks focused on bills related to migration and human trafficking. Thanks to additional support and participation by members at least 40 representatives and 30 senators across 18 states were contacted.
- The survivor services working group continues to build a current and accurate database of USCSAHT members connected to houses that serve survivors. This helps improve our communication with one another and the sharing of resources and best practices in survivor-centered care and support.
- Survivors bring informed insights which are extremely helpful as we search for creative ways to empower survivors. We are thrilled that two survivors have joined the working group, both of whom actively and professionally assist women coming out of situations of trafficking.
- Three transitional houses that USCSAHT members are connected to began designing and implementing a program of companionship and mentorship to support survivors as they move into independent living situations.
- Thanks to USCSAHT member congregations and donors, we have provided financial support to ten survivors. These funds supplemented their resources as they paid off a student loan, covered moving costs, purchased household and child care supplies, and covered rent, while relocating into independent living situations. One survivor shared that she is learning the following skills at a USCSAHT member-led home, “seeking support from staff instead of isolating, identifying feelings and anxious thinking, grounding techniques to help me orient, deep breathing, guided meditations, calling a supportive person (friend/family/sponsor), practicing affirmations, outdoor gardening, knitting, sewing, going for walks, listening to music, painting, and cooking.” This has led to an improved ability to process emotions, increased self-awareness, improved sleep, and provided a greater capacity to process grief.
Collaboration with Talitha Kum International
- Recognizing that human trafficking is a global phenomenon that extends beyond the border of the United States, we continue to strengthen our relationships and collaboration with other networks of women religious working to end human trafficking through Talitha Kum International.
- In September 2019, six board members and the executive director of USCSAHT attended the 10th Anniversary General Assembly of Talitha Kum International in Rome. They spent a week learning and networking with sisters from around the world involved in anti-trafficking efforts. USCSAHT members assisted with writing the final documents of the Assembly including the Final Declaration, Who We Are, and Priorities for 2020-2025. All of these documents are available in English and Spanish on our website.
As we look ahead to 2020, there are many new and renovated projects underway that we are excited about. Here are a few of the new things to look forward to this coming year:
- A regular monthly newsletter for members and sponsors that will be sent electronically in the middle of each month. This newsletter will contain monthly reflections, educational resources, prayer resources, updates, and ways to get involved and take action.
- A new, modern, and user-friendly website which we hope to launch in early Spring 2020!
- Outreach to you, our members, to collect better data about the work you and your congregation/church/coalition are involved in so that we can better support you with resources, training, and collaboration in our work together.
- Beginning in January 2020, the monthly Stop Trafficking Newsletter will be hosted on the USCSAHT website and promoted on our social media pages. We are so grateful for the work that Sr. Jean Schafer has put into this excellent resource over the past 17 years, and are grateful for Sr. Maryann Mueller, another USCSAHT board member, who has agreed to take over the work to continue the newsletter.
- Our education working group in collaboration with other USCSAHT working groups and members are planning a series of webinars in 2020 to improve communications and collaboration with one another and inform about important topics related to human trafficking. Stay tuned for exact dates and topics!
- We will be launching an electronic advocacy platform to make it easier for our members and supporters to engage in important legislative campaigns related to human trafficking and its root causes.
- We hope to implement a pilot mentoring program for survivors in at least one or two communities in 2020.
- We are looking to increase survivor participation in our education, advocacy, and communications working groups. If you are a survivor or work with someone who might be interested, please let us know! All of our wonderful survivor collaborators are compensated for their time.
In gratitude for all we are able to accomplish together, in humility as we seek to do our part in this big collective work, in hope as we continue to shine a light in the darkness, in courage as we push through our fears and overcome obstacles, and in love for the beauty and dignity of all God’s holy creation, we embrace this time of transition and welcome what comes next.
—Jennifer Reyes Lay
Executive Director of USCSAHT