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A Sustaining Legacy of Working for Justice: U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking Receives Legacy Gift from Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters

May 11, 2022

U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) is honored and grateful to receive a very generous legacy gift from Our Lady of Victory Missionary (OLVM) Sisters, also known as the Victory Noll Sisters. This legacy gift will sustain the ongoing work of USCSAHT and honor the long history of the OLVM Sisters work accompanying those on the margins who are impacted by oppression. For the past 100 years, the OLVM Sisters have been living their mission and charism of presence, advocacy for justice, faith formation, and leadership formation with persons who live in poverty and oppression, who are on the edges of the human family. Since their founding, they have been focused on living in the communities they accompanied and meeting people where they were, responding to the needs as they arose organically through trusted relationships. Their goal has been to go where there is the greatest need and empower others to become leaders in their community, using their voice and talents for good. Now, they are living into the next phase of their life as they are no longer accepting new vocations and caring for the 32 sisters remaining in the congregation.

Part of living into this next phase of life for the congregation includes sharing their resources with other mission-aligned organizations through the distribution of legacy gifts. When it became apparent to the leadership team that the congregation had more resources than it currently needed, they asked the congregation at one of their assemblies: “Where do you want to make an impact? Where can we contribute our resources to places that are in alignment with our mission and charism?” Some of the key areas of impact identified were: supporting immigrants and refugees, working with women and children – particularly victims of exploitation, leadership formation of women, empowering Hispanic/Latino communities for leadership in the Church and beyond, addressing the climate crisis, and investing in community development of impoverished communities. While there are not many OLVM sisters who are able to engage in this kind of direct work these days, their legacy gifts are a way the congregation continues to live its mission in partnership with others.

Sr. Mary Jo Nelson, current OLVM President, shared that the mission and vision of USCSAHT to realize a world without trafficking and exploitation align well with the congregation’s focus on justice for women and children, promoting ongoing education, and supporting the work of the sisters in the U.S. who are also connected to a global network of sisters committed to this same mission and vision. The fact that our ministry has both a local and global impact makes it extra significant. The OLVM Sisters have been long-time members of USCSAHT, and with this legacy gift have solidified their support as legacy members in perpetuity, witnessing to their lasting legacy of accompaniment, education, empowerment, and transformation of society. USCSAHT is honored to be entrusted with this gift and legacy of the OLVM Sisters which will help sustain our ongoing work into the future. With this gift we can continue and expand our work to educate about human trafficking prevention and identification; advocate for stronger laws to prevent human trafficking, hold those responsible accountable, and support survivors; and provide direct support to survivors on their healing journeys.

The OLVM Sisters are the second congregation to make a legacy gift to USCSAHT as they near fulfillment. The first congregation was the Sisters of the Holy Family which you can read more about on our blog. If you or your congregation are interested in establishing your legacy as a champion of human rights in the work to end human trafficking and would like more information about how to make a legacy gift to USCSAHT please contactInfo@SistersAgainstTrafficking.org or call 267-332-7768.

PDF version of this press release

The Link Between Human Trafficking and Armed Conflict

May 5, 2022

By Felisher Ongera (USCSAHT Student Intern)

Tensions have been brewing for months on end without a resolution in sight. For two months, it has become clear that there is little to no peace progress being made in the Russian-Ukraine crisis. Families are being torn apart and economic desperation is on the rise for the Ukrainian people and those around them. This crisis, however, is not the only conflict in sight. From civil wars and political unrest to terrorist insurgencies, there is a large number of countries currently experiencing armed conflict. As people lose their jobs and homes while fleeing these countries to seek refuge, human traffickers are on the prowl, searching for ways to exploit victims.

It is no secret that traffickers prey on victims in search of employment opportunities. Oftentimes, victims are lured in by the promises of a higher-paying job. With a decrease in the availability of social services at this time, many victims can fall prey to traffickers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates an average of 40.3 million individuals are trapped in forced labor. Armed conflict only worsens this prevalence, increasing refugees’ vulnerability to human trafficking. These people are trapped and exposed to indentured servitude or debt bondage and forced to work with little to no payment all while facing psychological and physical abuse.

Labor trafficking is not the only form of human trafficking that is rampant as a result of armed conflict. Child labor is just as heinous and its risk is heightened during periods of armed conflict. To begin, the ILO defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to [their] physical and mental development.” Parents often are unable to provide for all of their young ones and with economic desperation on the rise, children join the workforce in order to lessen their families’ burden and provide additional support. Traffickers take advantage of this and exploit these children, promising to help and provide. Once taken, they are often overworked, underpaid, isolated, deprived of education, and physically and sexually abused. Not to mention that at times of conflict, there is a rise in the unlawful recruitment and use of children through force, fraud, or coercion—to be used as combatants or constrained to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. In addition to these child soldiers, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report indicates that young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with commanders and male combatants. Therefore, it is essential we keep ourselves educated on the topic and keep in mind this increase in human trafficking in order to best learn how to assist in combatting both trafficking cases as well as providing humanitarian aid.

To learn more about the connection between armed conflict, labor, and child trafficking, read our Human Trafficking: Labor Trafficking education module and visit these websites:

Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones

Countries Currently At War 2022

2020 Trafficking in Persons Report

May, 2022 Monthly Reflection

May 1, 2022

Words Survivors Want to Hear

Kathleen Bryant RSC

We have so much to learn from the soulful stories of victims, survivors, and thrivers from their experience of being trafficked. We have even more to learn from their collective wisdom and resilience.

I invited survivors/thrivers to share the words they most wanted to hear when first free as well as when they claimed themselves as survivors and then thrivers. In the responses, the women also shared words and phrases that are not acceptable or helpful. I will never forget the response of a woman I interviewed about 15 years ago when she expressed gratitude for being called a “survivor” and not a victim. Thanks to each of the survivors who responded to this request and to the sisters in our member houses of USCSAHT, who graciously invited their members to share.

The first response received reads like a meditation, a kernel of wisdom born out of life experience and suffering. Margeaux wished she had heard:

“You are not alone. I know you might be afraid and hurting. I hold space for you.
Also, I honor the courage and strength it took for you to step onto the journey of freedom.
It is a process and you have within you what it takes to heal and grow.
Do not be afraid to reach out for support and accept help.
You deserve it. There is hope.” Margeaux Gray

What are helpful words during the first hours and days when a woman is finally freed? Here are some words and feelings the women mentioned that they longed to hear when first free.

Pasi’s response is a prayer of gratitude and notable in that it includes a prayer for others: Thank you! Thank you, God! Hope that everyone can be OK and stronger. Siti Pasinah

What I would have liked to hear is, “we’re here to help you.”

An immediate need is rest! As one thriver remembers: The word that is coming up for me is Rest. Our healing happens when we sleep. There is no room for our human needs when we were trafficked and the process of getting away from trafficking is exhausting and frightening. And there isn’t a lot of validation for the need to rest in any corner of society. Yet what survivors often need immediately after being trafficked is a chance to sleep, rest and recover. Survivors need to hear it is ok to lay our heads down.

I wanted to hear “I believe you. I am here for you, no matter what you want to do.” Now, I mainly just want to see that people are safe by their behavior, not so much their words. But, as a trans nonbinary person, it’s still important to feel seen, heard, and safe in my own skin. “I accept you, and you are so important to me for exactly who you are. Your life is so valuable.” Charlie Quinn Tebow

You’ll adjust just fine. Your future holds much more.

God is good! you can pursue your dreams and desires now.

Once free, meeting other survivors is key.

As a victim I would have want to have heard from survivors on the other side to see that my world wasn’t over. I also would love to have heard some compassion from the police instead of laughing at me or saying they would be taking me home if they weren’t on the clock. As a survivor, I still need to remember and hear it wasn’t my fault and I deserve a happy healthy life just like anyone else.

I wanted to hear that you are not alone on this planet, that they understand me, they will help me and will not leave me alone until I can take care of myself financially. I want to hear that I’m safe and all the horrors are over.

Jasmine Grace Marino said that she needed to hear, “You are loved. You are washed clean. Forgiven. Made New!” “God is love” was revolutionary for me because I had been searching for it my entire life in people, places and things.“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [she] is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” 1 John 4:16

Words or phrases that are not acceptable:

I don’t want to be referred to as “she sold sex” rather “ she was sold/bought for sex” is what happened to me.

Rescued- it implies that the survivor is someone waiting to be rescued because the word simplifies thus incredibly complex crime promotes misconceptions about who traffickers are and his they control and manipulate their victims.

Instead of Save use Assist

Instead of Set Free = Help to recover

Instead of Voices for the voiceless = Rebuild and heal

What’s wrong with you? Has been used by people who wanted to help and it made me feel disgusting until I met a social worker who asked “what happened” I was able to share my experiences in a way that felt kinda safe.

An organization once referred to me as doing sex work. That is misleading because the activity involved is neither sex, nor work- it’s rape/ assault. Instead use being prostituted or women in prostitution which is the legal term- SK

Donors’ money gives us hope and are praised for it. That diminishes our humanity. We have hope, a will to live and thrive and faith during the trafficking situation and after. I’d like to see organization’s respect our ability to survive and recognize their donors as people who are kind enough to give money for us to have the resources to heal

What words do I want to hear as a survivor/thriver?

Your shame has now been turned into your superpower

That I can live Happy, Joyous, and Free.

That using my past pain for someone else’s healing is giving God glory. We have overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our TESTIMONY! Jasmine Marino

Look how far you’ve come!

Life is hard, but you made just fine

I like it when people say kind words and compliments. For example, you are a very kind person, very caring about your children and others, a loving mother. You are strong and energetic, you do everything in time.

In Her Own Words:

Finally a poem written by a survivor/thriver:

“I’m not what I have done, I am what I’ve overcome”
I wave a crown of loneliness out of feeling overrun
Without Dawn’s Place I’d have no hope
Before I came here I was broken
I couldn’t handle life, let alone cope
& now that I am here this program has my full devotion
I never imagined someone would ever think I mattered
They pick me up when I am feeling down,
Because before Dawn’s place my life was shattered
If you ask me this is the best program around.
I don’t even think you could begin to comprehend
Dawn’s Place saved me from myself
Here I can be myself I don’t even want to pretend
I never thought I’d have a chance at life again
But dawn’s place continues to show me what I can be,
So today I am a survivor & getting stronger each day,
Today, nothing can stop me & I strive to be the best version of me
& I could not imagine my life in any other way
My Soul had been stomped upon.
I was lost, broken, helpless and hopeless.
Then the angels from Dawns Place swooped down and rescued me.
Little did I know, Dawns Place was the perfect place
For a woman to start a new life.
They placed my feet on a strong foundation.
They nurtured and helped to heal my broken heart.
They taught me honesty and integrity.
Dawns Place taught me how to rightfully love myself and others.
My healthy self-esteem soars with determination
My life has a new direction!
Thanks to Dawns Place I am a survivor, I am an overcomer

For more from thrivers about their resilience:

118 Arrested In Undercover Sex Trafficking Operation In Valley

April 21, 2022

PHOENIX — Phoenix police announced Friday the arrest of 118 people in an undercover investigation aimed at preventing human trafficking-related crimes in the Valley.

Police said the Phoenix HEAT unit worked with human trafficking units from Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa, Tempe, HSI, and the FBI to address the problem in the greater Phoenix area.

Officials said the joint operation was conducted in Scottsdale and Phoenix and resulted in 118 arrests related to prostitution, luring, pandering, escort service violations, and warrants.

The investigations took place in two phases, the first over a three-day period in January. Phase two took place over a three-day period in February, police said.

Officials said three of the subjects arrested had outstanding felony warrants; one of which was for homicide out of Texas.

Four Disney Employees Arrested In Florida Human Trafficking, Child Predator Sting

April 14, 2022

Four Disney employees were arrested in a massive undercover operation targeting human traffickers, child predators and prostitution.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office identified the workers at a news conference Wednesday following the conclusion of Operation March Sadness 2, a six-day sting that led to the arrests of 108 people.

Xavier Jackson, 27, of Kissimmee, allegedly communicated online and via text with an undercover detective posing as a 14-year-old girl, authorities said.

Jackson worked as a lifeguard at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Sheriff Grady Judd said. He allegedly sent photos showing him “doing things that’s totally inappropriate” and bragged about working at the resort, the sheriff said.

Jackson was arrested and charged with three counts of harmful material and one count of unlawful communication.

The three other Disney employees were identified as Ralph Leese, 45; Shubham Malave, 27; and Wilakson Fidele, 24. They were all charged with soliciting a prostitute, Judd said.

Fidele, from Orlando, worked at Disney for about four years at the Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland, the sheriff said. Leese, from Winter Garden, worked in IT for Disney, and Malave was a software developer for the company. Malave is in the United States on a work visa, according to Judd.

Read the full story by Minyvonne Burke on NBC News.

I-Team: Sex Traffickers Recruit Women In Prison Promising Home And Money After Release

April 13, 2022

OCALA, Fla. — In the world of human trafficking, victims, sold for sex, are not always identified as victims. Instead, they are often arrested.

That’s something Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd acknowledged after a number of women were arrested in a sting operation.

“We know some of these ladies we arrested for prostitution denied being victims. However, there will be follow up by this wonderful team of folks because we know some of them are victims. That would not admit to being a victim,” Judd said, referencing a team of anti-human trafficking nonprofits that work with survivors.

Misty LaPerriere, a law enforcement liaison for Selah Freedom, said the path to identifying as a victim is rarely a straight shot.

“Sometimes it takes 8 to 10 points of contact before somebody is ready to get help and get out of ‘the life,’” she said.

There are women currently serving time in state prison for crimes committed while they were victims of sex trafficking — a reality the Florida Department of Corrections is now addressing, through new efforts to connect survivors with legal services and safe housing upon their release.

The Florida Women’s Reception Center, a state prison in Ocala, has an inmate capacity listed as 1,235. The I-Team met roughly 100 at a re-entry event. This event is for prisoners with less than a year left on their sentences. Statistics show three out of four women will be back.

Read the full story by Kylie McGivern on ABC Action News.

How The Sex Trade Preys On Ukraine’s Refugees

April 10, 2022

Five weeks into Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, imagine for a moment what it’s like to live there now.

Bombs, bloodshed, trauma. No school for your children, no healthcare for your parents, no safe roof over your head in many parts of the country.

Would you try to run? Ten million Ukrainians have, according to the United Nations.

Most seek refuge in other areas of Ukraine, believed to be safer. But more than three and a half million people have fled over the border.

They are mainly women and children, as men under the age of 60 are obliged by the Ukrainian government to stay put and fight.

Displaced and disoriented, often with no idea where to go next, refugees are forced to put their trust in strangers.

The chaos of war is now behind them, but the truth is, they’re not entirely safe outside Ukraine either.

“For predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy,” UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Twitter. “It’s an opportunity – and women and children are the targets.”

Trafficking rings are notoriously active in Ukraine and neighbouring countries in peace time. The fog of war is perfect cover to increase business.

Karolina Wierzbińska, a coordinator at Homo Faber, a human rights organisation based in Lublin, told me children were a huge concern.

Many youngsters were travelling out of Ukraine unaccompanied, she said. Patchy registration processes in Poland and other border regions – especially at the start of the war – meant children disappeared, their current whereabouts unknown.

My colleagues and I headed down to the Polish-Ukrainian border to see for ourselves.

At a train station, well known for refugee arrivals, we found a hive of activity. Dazed-looking women and crying children were all around.

Read the full story by Katya Adler on BBC News.

April, 2022 Monthly Reflection

April 4, 2022

The Journey Makes Us One

By Sr. Judy Molosky, CSJ

My Lenten readings from Pope Francis to Olga Segura have all repeated the same prophetic call to “build communities of care,” and it’s not just an Easter or Earth Day call. It’s a survival imperative whether we’re praying for Ukraine or vulnerable women and children on Hollywood Boulevard. Communities of care guarantee love, strength, energy, and resources resulting in peace and freedom for all.

I invite you to watch the video below and listen to the events of February 2022 when it seemed like the whole world descended on Los Angeles for the Super Bowl! But for people like Theresa Flores, trafficking survivor and founder of the SOAP Project (Saving Our Adolescents from Prostitution), it meant “get yourself to Los Angeles and organize! Build a community of care around the Super Bowl! Raise awareness! Tell the horror of human trafficking!” Few people realize that predators often take advantage of big sporting events like the World Cup or Super Bowl, descending on vulnerable children and adult victims of societal neglect. And so Theresa came. She enlisted powerful organizations like the Junior League and rallied young and old to join her in the SOAP Project. What a thrill to do something together to wake up L.A!  The Sunday before the big game Theresa gathered over 200 community builders and empowered us. We listened to her terrifying story of being trafficked at 15, then packaged up soap bars and launched carpool teams to visit over 400 L.A. hotels. We offered hundreds of bars of soap and a photo page of 11 missing young women. Yes, we boldly asked managers to place these precious survival soaps, labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline #1-888-373-7888 in hotel bathrooms – leaving a lifeline to freedom!

My own reluctance in approaching an unsuspecting hotel manager was quickly dispelled when he asked: “You’re only giving us 75 bars of soap, and what about going over to the Cloud Nine Motel down the street?” Before that first stop, I felt like we might be seen as the “do-good” advocates for victims meeting business people who didn’t care. How wrong I was! People do care. Ordinary staff care! That day we helped build communities of care. As Sister Julie said about the day: “What I appreciated most about the SOAP Project was meeting with the hotel staff. The whole day felt like a movement from the ground up. We met managers who actually witness human trafficking. They are aware, but need resources like a HOTLINE! It felt like an Alleluia experience to me.”

 We all wondered if our work on that Sunday afternoon made a difference. Who really knows, except victims. To our surprise the following week L.A. Sherriff Alex Villanueva published a report from their effort, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild. “Nearly 500 human trafficking-related arrests were made in Southern California during Super Bowl week.” Police focused on two goals: free victims of sex trafficking and send a message to pimps, exploiters, and buyers that it is unacceptable to buy another human being for sexual purposes. How great to witness communities of care being built among three disparate groups: SOAP Project supporters, police, and hotel staff, all wanting to protect victims – to give them a lifeline to freedom, while raising awareness in Los Angeles of this horrific crime.

We hope to keep living up to the Easter song that proclaims, “the journey makes us one.”

Pope Says ‘Slaughters and Atrocities’ Committed Daily in Ukraine

March 27, 2022

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, continuing his implicit criticism of Russia, called the conflict in Ukraine an unjustified “senseless massacre” and urged leaders to stop “this repugnant war”.

“The violent aggression against Ukraine is unfortunately not slowing down,” he told about 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Sunday address and blessing.

“It is a senseless massacre where every day slaughters and atrocities are being repeated,” Francis said in his latest strong condemnation of the war, which has so far avoided mentioning Russia by name.

“There is no justification for this,” he added.

Moscow says the action it launched on Feb. 24 is a “special military operation” designed not to occupy territory but to demilitarise its neighbour and purge it what it sees as dangerous nationalists. Francis has already rejected that terminology.

“I beg all the players in the international community to truly commit themselves to stopping this repugnant war,” the pope said, drawing loud cheers and applause from the crowd.
Read the full story by Philip Pullella on U.S.News & World Report.

Ukraine: Increasing Concerns Over Human Trafficking

March 24, 2022

No sooner had the first missiles been fired over the skies in Ukraine and thousands of people began to flee, than there was evidence that criminal gangs linked to human trafficking were on the move along border routes.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM ) around 1.5 million children, who are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, have fled Ukraine.

In a statement, the agency said: “Instances of sexual violence have already been reported and among the individuals promising onward transportation or services, there have been indications of potential exploitation.”

Aid agencies like Caritas Ukraine are supporting women and children crossing the border into neighbouring countries like Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, to try to prevent human trafficking.

“Right now, there is a very high risk that people might become a human slave,” said Vladyslav Shelokov, Caritas Ukraine’s Resource Mobilisation Director.

Risks to refugees

Sr Imelda Poole, IBVM, is President of RENATE, a network of women religious combatting human trafficking, and is based in Albania. Speaking to Vatican Radio, she said there have been accounts of transnational criminal gangs working in vans along these routes.

“Women and children are really vulnerable, and also we do know from our sisters and colleagues working in Ukraine itself that sadly even in the basements where refugees are trying to keep safe there seemed to be some risks there too, and there have been some known rapes of women in the basements.”

Read the full article by Lydia O’Kane on Vatican News.