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Opinion | Human Trafficking Threatens Our Society

June 30, 2022

In the United States, slavery may be remembered as an abolished practice of the past, but it is still happening here today. It has been carried on through a new, illegal outlet: human trafficking.

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Taking the definition a step further, the National Human Trafficking Hotline describes human trafficking as “modern-day slavery.”

Just looking through the news, I have come across countless stories — some just hours old — updating the world about ongoing human trafficking instances. For example, an incident occurred on May 26, only a state away in Oshkosh, Wisc. Slightly south of Green Bay, the area’s local ABC channel covered the ongoing inspection of a spa where victims and evidence of human trafficking have been discovered.

The FBI breaks down human trafficking into three forms. While all three involve the use of “force, fraud, or coercion,” they have different, inhumane purposes.

Historically creating the highest number of victims, sex trafficking forces victims to “engage in commercial sex acts.” Children and women are often the most vulnerable to this type of trafficking. These victims may suffer serious trauma, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping disorders or eating disorders. Along with reproductive problems, victims may also contract infectious diseases from unsanitary living environments.

Labor trafficking, much like it sounds, forces victims to perform labor or service. This type of trafficking is the most similar to the historical, unethical practice of slavery here in the United States. It falls into two categories: bonded labor and forced labor. Bonded labor is when the victim is in debt to the trafficker, while forced labor is when the trafficker violates the victim’s free will.

Lastly is domestic servitude, in which the victims are often held in a household and “appear to be domestic workers,” like nannies and housekeepers but are really being controlled through force. People most likely to be subject to this type of trafficking are immigrants or people of color. They make up 65% of all domestic workers in the United States. Immigrants are often blackmailed by traffickers, who threaten deportation when the immigrants do not yet have full citizenship.

Read the full story by Maggie Knutte on The Daily Illini.

FBI Working To Protect Children From Human Trafficking

June 28, 2022

MIDLAND, Texas — Finding children who have either run away or been trafficked is becoming a bigger concern for law enforcement.

It was just a few days ago that 70 children were found and recovered in Midland, Ector, El Paso and Tom Green counties after a three week long operation.

Many of those children were runaways and some were also victims of abuse and trafficking.

Missing children, whether they are running away or being trafficked, are a big concern for law enforcement. This is why government agencies such as the FBI will work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement.

“We work very closely with our local law enforcement partners,” Aida Reyes, the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent of the Violent Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Squad, said. “So whenever there is an effort to locate children or to try and find to avert a disaster of somebody taking a child or engaging in sexual activity with a child, we do collaborate amongst all of us and put resources into making sure that we find these children.”

Read the full story by Jonathan Polasek on News West 9.

Three Men Sentenced To Federal Prison On Charges Related To Human Trafficking

June 26, 2022

Each admitted to role in forced farm labor in Operation Blooming Onion

BRUNSWICK, GA:  Three men have been sentenced to federal prison in separate but related cases in which they admitted providing forced labor for south Georgia farms.

Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, of Jesup, Ga., was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; Aurelio Medina, 42, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 64 months in prison after pleading guilty to Forced Labor; and Yordon Velazquez Victoria, 45, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Mendoza and Medina are citizens of Mexico illegally present in the United States and are subject to deportation after completion of their prison terms.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“These men engaged in facilitating modern-day slavery,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who would exploit others whose labors provide the fuel for their greed.”

The cases were charged as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, Operation Blooming Onion, which tracked a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring farm workers from Central America into the United States under the H-2A visa program under fraudulent pretenses and to profit from their labor by underpaying the workers and keeping them in substandard conditions. The case has been designated as a Priority Transnational Organized Crime Case under the OCDETF program.

As described in court documents and testimony, Mendoza admitted that from about August 2018 to November 2019, in Glynn, Wayne, and Pierce counties, he was a leader in a venture to obtain and provide labor and services for farms and other businesses. He did so by recruiting and unlawfully charging more than 500 Central American citizens to obtain H-2A visas – specifically granted for temporary agricultural labor – and then withholding the workers’ identification papers and threatening them and their families in their home countries to force them to work for little or no pay and in deplorable conditions.

A key victim testified during sentencing that Mendoza selected her from another work crew after her arrival in Georgia from Mexico and brought her to live with him, maintaining control through threats and intimidation and raping her repeatedly for more than a year – including deceiving her into believing she had married him. When she escaped, he kidnapped her at knifepoint from a home where she was babysitting children who were playing in their front yard. Law enforcement agencies tracked her to Mendoza’s Jesup mobile home, where after her rescue the officers found a shrine to Santa Muerte – “Saint Death” – decorated with her hair and blood in what was believed to be a prelude to her murder. Mendoza faces pending state charges for aggravated assault related to that incident.

Medina admitted that from about April to October 2020, in Glynn and Effingham counties, he charged foreign workers to obtain H-2A visas and then withheld their identification documents. Victoria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted he conspired with Medina and allowed Medina to use his name to apply for the use of H-2A workers, and then transported those workers from housing to work for which Victoria was paid $600 per week.

The investigation into forced labor in agricultural communities, in south Georgia and beyond, continues through U.S.A. v. Patricio et al, in which 23 defendants are charged in the labor trafficking, visa fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The defendants are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Two of those defendants are fugitives.

“These defendants are being held accountable for the horrors of human and labor trafficking that they inflicted upon their victims, in the name of profit,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Thanks to the great work done by our agents, along with our state, local and federal partners, this case was successfully investigated and prosecuted preventing more innocent people from being victimized.”

“Customs and Border Protection takes great pride in fostering collaboration with our partner government agencies to diligently combat human trafficking and forced labor as part of our overall duties and responsibilities in protecting and preserving our national security,” said Henry DeBlock III, Area Port Director for CBP Savannah.

“This sentencing sends a strong message: DSS pursues those who fraudulently use worker visas, like the H-2A, for personal gain, making sure that those who commit human trafficking face consequences for their criminal actions,” said Jessica Moore, chief of the criminal investigations division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “We are firmly committed to working to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this. DSS’ global presence and strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement partners was essential in the pursuit of justice for these victims.”

“Mendoza, Medina and Victoria misused the H-2A program in order to enrich themselves at the expense of foreign workers and American employers,” said Mathew Broadhurst, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to vigorously pursue those who commit fraud involving foreign labor programs.”

“The United States abolished slavery and involuntary servitude over 156 years ago, yet these men engaged in the heinous crime of forced labor and chose to exploit their fellow human beings for profit,” said Philip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners to purse justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking and prosecuting perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

“This investigation is an excellent example of a partnership between federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies working together to bring down individuals involved in a human trafficking conspiracy,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “The hard work and countless hours put forth by all has prevented so many victims from being further victimized by the defendants who have caused considerable emotional harm.”

The cases are being investigated as part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

Agencies investigating the cases include Homeland Security Investigations; Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security; the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and Wage and Hour Division; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the FBI. The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Human Trafficking Coordinator Tania D. Groover, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Deputy Chief E. Greg Gilluly Jr.

Press release originally posted by U.S Department of Justice.

A Simple Act That Supports Survivors of Human Trafficking in Worthwhile Wear Programs

June 25, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, May 27, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Over 25 million people are trafficked worldwide, leaving many survivors with inadequate resources for dealing with trauma, abuse, and addiction. But despite these odds, there’s hope and a way for everyone to be a part of the solution.

Now, through July 30, everyone, everywhere is invited to walk, bike, run, swim or even kayak to support survivors of human trafficking through Worthwhile Wear’s national “Act Challenge.” For every mile logged at WorthwhileWear.org or shared on social media using @WorthwhileWear, Act Challenge sponsors will make a financial donation per mile that helps provide safe housing and restorative programming to survivors of human trafficking in America. The Act Challenge is a free event and open to all ages and abilities.

Schools, businesses, gyms, churches and even other organizations are capitalizing on the opportunity this event offers. Educate students, clients and colleagues on the issue of human trafficking, and then host a walk/jog/ride to make a positive impact in the life of someone affected by trafficking.

The goal of this year’s Act Challenge is to complete 30,000 miles by July 30, “World Day Against Trafficking.” Join everyone in raising awareness about the issue of trafficking and help expand housing capacity and outreach programs for survivors by logging miles today.

To join this effort, follow these steps:

  1. Track: Log miles while walking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, etc.
  2. Record: Submit completed miles on the submission form at www.worthwhilewear.org or post on social media and tag @WorthwhileWear
  3. Repeat: Miles may be submitted every day through July 30.

Read the full story on Globe News Wire.

Humanitarian Crisis In Ukraine Is Turning Into Human Trafficking Crisis: UN Envoy

June 24, 2022

New York [US], June 6 (ANI/Xinhua): The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is turning into a human trafficking crisis, warned Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, on Monday.

From the outset of the conflict, heightened risks of trafficking in persons, including for purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution, have been alarmingly evident, Patten said.

The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement, she told a UN Security Council meeting on conflict-related sexual violence and human trafficking in the context of the Ukraine conflict.

There are also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience, she added.

In her visit to a Tesco supermarket-converted receiving center for Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, she found “grave security and protection concerns” in a facility run by volunteers, and with only a “bare-bones presence” of UN agencies.

Humanitarian staff at the site gave credible anecdotal accounts of attempted human trafficking, said Patten. With minimal security screening, a man registered as a volunteer at the Tesco center in the afternoon and entered the “French room” where refugees were waiting for transport to France. At that time, he made contact with a 19-year-old woman, whom he later woke up in the sleeping hall at 2 a.m., offering a ride to France, she said.

Read the full story on The Print.

Cardinal Nichols: Ukrainian Mothers & Children Rescued From Human Traffickers

June 9, 2022

Nearly 30 mothers and children were rescued after a bus intending to traffic them was stopped when a mother called a number she received from an anti-trafficking leaflet.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, shared this as an example of a best practice implemented to combat the scourge of anti-trafficking as part of the efforts of the Santa Marta Group.

The English Cardinal who leads the Santa Marta Group was speaking at a press conference in Vatican Radio’s headquarters, following the Group’s encounter with Pope Francis on Thursday morning in the Vatican.

Enormous challenge

Responding to the question from Vatican News on how the war in Ukraine has impacted human trafficking and their best practices, Cardinal Nichols recalled very informative and inspiring reports from the police forces of Poland and Lithuania.

“It is just an enormous challenge,” he noted, stressing the war in Ukraine has caused the largest movement of people in a short time across borders in Europe for 60 or 70 years.

“A positive” aspect which the Cardinal shared was “that because of some of the partnerships that have already been established, within a matter of hours, leaflets had been prepared warning those who were crossing the border against the dangers of being trafficked.”

Saving real people

Those leaflets, he noted, had a contact number, and one of them was passed out to a Ukrainian woman who then narrowly avoided falling into the hands of human traffickers.

This, he said, is a specific example of the many “stories of speedy action attributed to existing patterns of cooperation.”

The Cardinal warned that authorities are fighting an uphill battle.

“It was pointed out to us that, to begin with, the better-educated, probably better-off people, were those able to get to the border,” he noted, explaining that “those coming now are the poorer people who have less resilience and fewer resources.” He acknowledged that “the strain is being felt everywhere.”

Read the full article by Deborah Castellano Lubov on Vatican News.

A 17-Year-Old Boy Died By Suicide Hours After Being Scammed. The FBI Says It’s Part Of A Troubling Increase In ‘Sextortion’ Cases.

June 7, 2022

(CNN)Ryan Last received a message on a school night in February from someone he believed to be a girl.

Within hours, the 17-year-old, straight-A student and Boy Scout had died by suicide.

“Somebody reached out to him pretending to be a girl, and they started a conversation,” his mother, Pauline Stuart, told CNN, fighting back tears as she described what happened to her son days after she and Ryan had finished visiting several colleges he was considering attending after graduating high school.

The online conversation quickly grew intimate, and then turned criminal.

The scammer—posing as a young girl—sent Ryan a nude photo and then asked Ryan to share an explicit image of himself in return. Immediately after Ryan shared an intimate photo of his own, the cybercriminal demanded $5,000, threatening to make the photo public and send it to Ryan’s family and friends.

The San Jose, California, teen told the cybercriminal he could not pay the full amount, and the demand was ultimately lowered to a fraction of the original figure—$150. But after paying the scammers from his college savings, Stuart said, “They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him.”

At the time, Stuart knew none of what her son was experiencing. She learned the details after law enforcement investigators reconstructed the events leading up to his death.

She had said goodnight to Ryan at 10 p.m., and described him as her usually happy son. By 2 a.m., he had been scammed, and taken his life. Ryan left behind a suicide note describing how embarrassed he was for himself and the family.

Read the full story by Josh Campbell and Jason Kravarik on CNN.

June, 2022 Monthly Reflection

June 2, 2022

“That they all may be one.” John 17:21

By Margaret Louise Brown

Christ’s Farewell Discourse, as written in the Gospel of John, shares His final request.  That humans live together as one.

At the same time, the Bible reminds us that humans are easily distracted by their desire for worldly values: power, money, status, possessions, etc.  It also reminds us of the need to guard against seeking for oneself and to maintain a focus on the needs of all.

When the gifts given to us at our creation are developed and used, some will excel in the Arts and Sciences or Business and Leadership.  Yet, others will become the heartbeat of our lives; excelling in Support, Service, Implementation, Conservation, Family life, etc. “We can’t have one without the other” (to paraphrase a song). We were created to be a harmonious, interlocking puzzle which, if one or more pieces are diminished, the picture becomes unbalanced.

The “haves” and “have nots” have existed throughout human history. Because of our innate human weaknesses, we tend to value self-preservation over preservation of humanity as a whole. Whether that self (family) preservation is driven by fear, greed, or other personal motives, the result has allowed for sub-categories of humans – those who don’t have as much value, whose voice doesn’t count. As such, they can be used for the benefit of those who perceive themselves as having the “right” to control others, even unto death.

Sociologists have long identified the passage from common good to self-preservation begins when members of a particular society no longer need one another for survival. In the United States, some would say that happened after World War II, with the establishment of the Middle Class, when society’s economic slogan moved from, “A chicken in every pot” to “two cars in every garage.” Then came the implementation of the Trickle Down economic theory of the 1980s. Studies now show that the theory failed due to human nature. On average the benefits of implementing the theory stayed at the highest level of business: the owners, their families, and up to three management levels down in the organization. The workers themselves not only didn’t benefit from the “rising tide,” they fell behind, and wealth inequity only increased.

Greed, desire for power, fear, anger, despondency, and resurgence of “rugged individualism” have become primary drivers in society today. The prevalent message seems to be that it is okay to categorize, to demean, to abuse, or to traffic others, for one’s own benefit; to keep what one has, make sure “ours” are taken care of first, or to get what we want. Regardless of how it affects the other.

Is Jesus’s desire still doable?

Jesus’ desire is still relevant, still doable. Some may say it is impossible to change the power dynamics of our society, but I don’t agree. I believe there are good people who believe in Jesus’ plea to His Father, whether by inherent belief or from the teachers in their lives.  Unfortunately, the noise of the world has muted their voices. Some see the tide so strong against the good, they have given up.

But it is never too late for God. What He requires is like-minded people to push back against self-focused policies and belief systems. New prophets must emerge, believing the words from Luke 12:12, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you, at the moment, what you should say.” We are all called to be voices for good—for the common good. Polarized mass media has, for the most part, hijacked public messaging, but we have God-given gifts to work together to move the needle toward the good. It only requires us to take the risk and speak up.

Like the Victory Gardens of World War II, we must believe that our individual contributions can make a difference. Take time out of your busy schedule to find one initiative to engage in. Speak out to the people in your community and to leaders, both locally and nationally. If each one of us would take a step, we will, God willing, truly live the great experiment of our American democratic republic, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In other words, “We are all one.”

U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking Hires New Executive Director

May 17, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MAY 17, 2022

Katie Boller Gosewisch (Executive Director)
U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking
Katie@SistersAgainstTrafficking.org | 267-332-7768

U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking Hires New Executive Director

ST. LOUIS: U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) is pleased to welcome to the team our new Executive Director, Katie Boller Gosewisch. Ms. Boller Gosewisch begins her tenure with USCSAHT May 17, 2022 and will be the second Executive Director of the organization. USCSAHT was founded in 2013 by a group of Catholic Sisters who were committed to ending human trafficking and supporting survivors and dreamed of creating a national network of resources and support made up of many different congregations and other mission-aligned partners. Today this member-based organization has grown to include over 110 congregations of women religious and another 70+ individuals and groups spread throughout the United States. USCSAHT is also the U.S. member of Talitha Kum, an international network of consecrated life working to end human trafficking.

Katie Boller Gosewisch will be joining USCSAHT as the organization continues to grow and diversify, increasing its impact in the larger struggle to end human trafficking and support survivors on their healing journey. She believes strongly in USCSAHT’s vision of a world without trafficking and exploitation and uplifting the dignity of every human being. Katie shared, “I am tremendously honored to be chosen to lead USCSAHT as we work to realize a world in which trafficking is eradicated and the innate dignity of the human person is recognized and upheld.”

Katie brings great skill and experience to this role having served as the Executive Director for two Minnesota-based nonprofits: Living at Home Network and WeCab, both of which focused on serving vulnerable populations with important access to resources like transportation, safe and affordable housing, and medical care. She is a committed and vision-driven professional with more than 20 years of experience providing program management, educational, and fiscal leadership within the nonprofit environment; with a focus on advocacy, training, community engagement, grant writing, special events, and staff and volunteer coordination.

Katie is also well educated in the values and teachings of the Catholic Church, which inspire her to work for justice in the world. She holds a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology from St. John’s University and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and History from St. Mary’s University. She has also previously worked as a youth minister and religious educator.

“The Board of Directors is pleased to welcome Katie to USCSAHT and we look forward to working together with her,” said Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, President of the Board. “Katie has the necessary skills, experience, and passion to lead us into a mission-centered future in our priority areas of education, advocacy, and survivor support.”

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Download a PDF of this press release

Northern California Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking: Updates

May 15, 2022

COVID TIMES

During the past several years, the work of the coalition was affected by Covid-19.  We have been unable to visit businesses with anti-human trafficking posters, to gather volunteers for education or activities, or to give presentations to parish groups.  We did, however, become more proficient in Zoom meetings and continued our monthly gatherings at which we discussed online activities and legislative advocacy, welcomed guest speakers, and shared ideas from counties and local groups in which individual coalition members participate.

One of the yearly projects of the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT) is a teen contest in which students submit depictions of human trafficking according to a given theme in poster, essay and musical form.  As a result of this contest, teens study and learn about human trafficking and become aware of its dangers and how to recognize it.  For several years, the coalition has assisted with this project by providing information and materials about these contests to Catholic high schools in the Bay Area.

The theme for the 2022 contest was “Shine Light on the Darkness.” One of the winning posters, among the many amazing contributions, is:

The San Joaquin County Human Trafficking Task Force hopes to inspire teens in their county to study human trafficking and to submit their entries next year for the End It Summit that takes place annually on January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

WORK CONTINUES ON SB 1193

As our state opens up more, our work continues on updating and placing notices about human trafficking in businesses that are required by law to post the information.

Sister John Paul Chao, smsm, worked for months to update the poster and the letter from the Alameda County D.A.’s office.  She is pictured here with the Assistant D.A. in charge of human trafficking, Sharmin Bock, and the H.E.A.T. Watch (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Coordinator, Fiona Bock, who gave her hundreds of copies of the new poster and letter. With these in hand, Sister John Paul and her faithful volunteers are once again on the road visiting bars, massage parlors, hotels, and 10 other business establishments.

A FOND FAREWELL

Sister Marie Jeanne Gaillac, CSJ, worked tirelessly in numerous Coalition projects since the beginning of the Coalition in 2006.
In more recent years, she was very instrumental in helping to establish the Interfaith Subcommittee of the SF Collaborative Against Human Trafficking.  At their annual award ceremony this year, Sister Marie was recognized for her tireless work: “Age is easy to measure. Passion is not. Sister Marie has shown us that a passion for human trafficking victims has no age limits. In 2006 at the age of 76, Sister Marie became one of the founding members of the Northern California Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking.  For 16 years, she was a dedicated, tireless and very active member.”

In April, at the age of 92, Sister Marie moved to the retirement center of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Orange County. You will be sorely missed by all, Sister Marie. We wish you all the best in your new home!

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

The Senate has introduced a critical bi-partisan anti-trafficking bill – The Abolish Trafficking Reauthorization Act of 2022 (S. 3946) will reauthorize The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017.  For over 20 years, the TVPA has helped protect vulnerable children and provide services for survivors of exploitation. Among other things, this new bill would reform current standards for child sex crime victims who were forced into the criminal justice system.  Call your senators today and ask them to vote to reauthorize this bill.  The U.S. Capitol switchboard number is: Capitol switchboard number is:                                                                   (202) 224-3121.

Read or download a PDF of the full Stop Slavery May newsletter.