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Women Religious Vow Solidarity In Fight Against Human Trafficking

November 12, 2018

Comboni Sister Gabriella Bottani, coordinator of Talitha Kum International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons, listens at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Parma, Ohio, during an Oct. 26 meeting of women religious from throughout the Western Hemisphere who are working to stop human trafficking. (Credit: Dennis Sadowski/CNS.)

PARMA, Ohio  – There was a time years ago when Flor Molina was working in a Southern California sewing factory, earning a scant wage and sleeping at night in a storage room not far from the factory floor.

On top of that, her bosses forbid her from talking with the other employees.

It was not the life she imagined when she accepted an offer 16 years ago from a factory recruiter in her native Mexico who promised good pay and decent housing.

Molina had made the difficult decision to leave her mother and children behind in Mexico for six months so she could save the $5,000 she needed to start her own sewing business. She had been sewing clothes and gained a decent customer base; she dreamed of taking the next step as an entrepreneur.

After 40 days in the factory, Molina escaped and found help. She realized she had become a victim of unscrupulous human traffickers and her only value to them was her labor.

Now 46 and living in Los Angeles, Molina told her story Oct. 26 to 60 participants in the Borders Are not Barriers conference of women religious, a handful of priests and justice ministry workers from throughout the Western Hemisphere working to stop human trafficking.

To read the full story by Dennis Sadowski on CRUX: Click Here

Q & A With Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck On Collaboration In Anti-Trafficking Work

November 9, 2018

Weisenbeck spoke with Global Sisters Report about winning the award and the particular role women religious can play in ending human trafficking.

GSR: How did you find out you had won the Roberta Zurn Award?

Weisenbeck: The executive director from the Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse gave me a phone call. That’s how I found out about it. And, of course, I was very pleased about it — who wouldn’t be? I’m really happy that women and women’s organizations are taking up the cause of human trafficking. I think that they raise the issue through the awards that they give and the efforts they support.

Roberta Zurn was an educator. I never knew her, but it impresses me that she was an educator, and I think that highlighting the issue of human trafficking by giving the award to someone who’s involved in that work supports her goal of education in the world. Education is so important.

To read the full story by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins on Global Sisters Report: Click Here

2018, November Reflection

October 31, 2018

Take Off Your Shoes. Get Your Feet Wet.

Anne Victory, HM

My favorite place for reflection is the beach. Every year I look forward to the annual trek with friends to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for vacation. The experience never fails to inspire and refresh me, and this year was no exception. We friends each have our rituals at the beach, and mine is taking walks along the shore at sunrise, coffee in hand, welcoming the new day and marveling at the constancy of God’s love and presence as the waves cascade onto the shore. I never fail to be amazed by the grandeur and diversity of the creatures who share the sand with me as I walk—tiny shore birds who scavenge right along the incoming waves and never fail to escape just in time, the surf fishers who patiently and persistently try day after day to catch their breakfast, the beachcombers searching for treasure in the sands, the dolphins who may make an appearance to entertain me with their antics.

I tend to be a “safe” walker, keeping my shoes on in order to stay balanced so as not to risk toppling into the sea. I am usually adept at avoiding the incoming waves in the nick of time—but not today! As I pondered the peace and beauty all around me in an otherwise turbulent world, a wave caught me from behind and swamped my shoes—the only ones I brought with me! After a moment of distress, I heard a new message—“Take off your shoes. Get your feet wet!” So I did. I allowed my feet to experience more closely the feel of sand and water, dodging the tiny stones and sharp shards of broken shells as I relished the coolness of the ocean and the softness of the sand.

Overcoming my initial hesitation and accepting the challenge to do so, I wondered how else I and we being asked to “get our feet wet” in the quest for a world in which slavery will no longer exist? What more can I and we be doing to confront the evil of human trafficking? Granted, the issue seems too daunting, too huge to imagine making much progress, but that is no excuse for not taking off our shoes and risking the waves. There are many options, and luckily, there are many others with whom to share the load as together we tackle the challenge of weaving a safety net for generations to come.


So here are some ways I am trying; you may think of many more:

  • Introducing more creative ways to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking and the urgent need to confront it;
  • Taking care to use images and words carefully in relation to human trafficking – physical ropes and chains and tape across the mouth are generally NOT what is seen;
  • Finding new partners in my local/regional community who share a vision of a world without slavery and working together to weave a more effective safety net for the immediate and long term needs of victims and survivors;
  • Raising awareness among providers of health care and social services of the reality of the crime, the fact that they may be treating victims of those vulnerable to the crime, and the need to provide care in a trauma-informed manner;
  • Advocating for collaboration in this critical issue—no one and no group can do this work alone;
  • Listening more closely to the wisdom of survivors to increase my understanding of how this crime affects the depths and resiliency of their human spirits;
  • Empowering survivors with the support they need to fulfill their potential as members of God’s human family;
  • Advising those who want to “do something” to mentor vulnerable children and young adults who need positive role models in their lives;
  • Praying for victims and survivors of the crime and for a change of heart on the part of the traffickers and buyers;
  • Taking the challenge of the “Slavery Footprint” to heart as I recognize my complicity in the crime of human;
  • Making choices to become a more conscientious consumer of products and services that have no slave labor in their supply chains;
  • Advocating for changes in laws and enforcement of current laws that more effectively address the immense injustice that so many are facing silently and unnoticed.

Survivors are depending on us to “get our feet wet” in the waves of their human need and to overcome our discomfort and fear of being too weak to find our footing as we walk these sands with our brothers and sisters in need. Let’s take off our shoes and wade in! Together we can make a difference!

Human Trafficking Survivor Describes Forced Labor Ordeal In U.S.

October 24, 2018

Evelyn Chumbow of Cameroon says she was only nine years old when she was trafficked into forced labor in the Washington, D.C., area.

Chumbow, who’s now in her mid-30s, says she was sold by her uncle to a woman from her home country of Cameroon who had a home and a business in the United States. She said she came to the United States with the expectation that a better life awaited her.

“The image that I had of the U.S. is completely from what I saw on television — you know, ‘[The] Cosby Show’ and ‘[The] Fresh Prince of Belair,’ ‘[Beverly Hills], 90210’ — and so when I was told that I was going to come to the U.S. and be adopted and get a better education, I was excited,” Chumbow said in an interview with Hill.TV that aired Monday.

But she said that as soon as she arrived she was forced into domestic labor, working for eight years before she was able to escape with the help of Catholic groups. She said her captor is now in prison.

As many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the U.S. State Department.

Human trafficking has become a rare bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) warned during a Sept. 26 congressional hearing that trafficking is even taking place in the U.S.


To read the full story by Alison Spann and watch the video on The Hill: Click Here

Benedictine Sisters Fight To Combat Human Trafficking

October 3, 2018

Human trafficking in South Dakota is a more pressing issue than some may realize.

According to Sacred Heart Monastery Sisters Mary Jo Polak and Joelle Bauer, this is partially due to the interstate highway system and events such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and other such predominantly male gatherings, that indirectly contribute to the trafficking issue.

“Brendan Johnson, the former U.S. attorney here in South Dakota, said that wherever you have a large gathering of men, you have a strong opportunity for prostitution and sex trafficking,” Polak said.

Polak and Bauer are members of the monastery’s Peace & Justice Education Committee, which tackles issues such as racism, immigration and gun violence.

Human trafficking recently became a big concern for the committee after Bauer attended a leadership conference in which trafficking people for sex and labor was the main focus. Since raising the issue back at the monastery, presentations and coordination with local agencies have been a priority with the Peace & Justice Education Committee.

The committee has organized two upcoming presentations about human trafficking. The first will be held at Mount Marty College on Oct. 4. The talk, “Labor Trafficking and the Importance of Fair Trade,” will be presented in Roncalli at noon by monastery residential volunteer Kimberly Mosqueda. The second presentation will be part of the monastery’s Theology Institute, called “Human Trafficking: A Christian Response.” It will be presented by S. Theresa Wolf from 9 a.m.-noon on Oct. 13.

The public is invited to attend both presentations, but are advised to register for the second one ahead of time by calling the monastery at 668-6000.

Both Bauer and Polak have heavily researched human trafficking and have discovered that it takes many forms.

While most people may automatically think of sex work when they hear “human trafficking,” labor is also a factor in the practice.

To read the fullest story by Reilly Biel on The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan: Click Here

October, 2018 Monthly Reflection

October 1, 2018

A Second Chance For Alexis: A Call To Action For Women’s Religious Communities In Ohio

by Sally Duffy, SC

A recent legislative victory in Ohio will allow survivors of trafficking to expunge their records of most crimes that can be linked back to trafficking. This clarifies opportunities the Safe Harbor Act intended to grant survivors when it was enacted six years ago.

 Survivors are often forced to participate in a broad range of illegal activity—from drug offenses to theft—for traffickers’ financial gain. This can result in hundreds of convictions.

Now, survivors will be able to avoid some of the barriers created by lengthy criminal records. They’ll be able to find meaningful employment, suitable housing and opportunities for furthering education.

The Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) worked for three years on legislation to clarify the opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to expunge and seal criminal records

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Now, our Safe Harbor clients can finally have a true second chance. They can reclaim their lives and become full members of the community.

OJPC Deputy Director Sasha Naiman works directly with survivors of human trafficking through the Safe Harbor program.  “Now, our Safe Harbor clients can finally have a true second chance,” Naiman said. “They can reclaim their lives and become full members of the community. They can remove the shackles of human trafficking.”

Another advocacy effort in Ohio is a clemency application for a trafficking survivor named Alexis Martin. The Clemency application for Alexis asks Governor John Kasich to commute her sentence and issue a pardon, in the spirit and intent of Safe Harbor. Unfortunately there was and is an extraordinary miscarriage of justice when children get imprisoned for trying to escape violent, abusive traffickers.

Alexis was arrested at age 15 and sentenced to 21-years-to-life in adult prison, in connection with the murder of her pimp.

Alexis’s early childhood was marked by neglect, abuse, and trauma. By age 14, it is well-documented that Alexis was trafficked by violent, controlling pimps. Alexis was kidnapped, raped, starved, drugged, and beaten by these pimps; forced to dance at strip clubs; and forced to have sex with strangers. The pimps took all of the money Alexis made. She tried to get help from a juvenile probation officer, DYS, and her parents, but no one helped. At age 15, Alexis reached out to an ex-boyfriend and another female trafficking victim (who were both adults in their 20s) for help – to get some of her money back and to escape far away. Alexis thought that her ex-boyfriend would come to her pimp’s house, get the money, and get Alexis out. In the process of this “robbery,” the ex-boyfriend ended up killing Alexis’ pimp and hurting that pimps’ brother (another pimp, who was raping Alexis at that moment of the “robbery”). Alexis did not know that anyone would get hurt, and she is deeply sorry for the loss of life.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Because her attorney did not know about Ohio’s Safe Harbor law, he never fully explained how the robbery, assault, and homicide were related to the trafficking [/perfectpullquote]

Alexis was arrested in connection with the robbery and murder. The juvenile court recognized that she was a victim of human trafficking based on the clear underlying facts. Because her attorney did not know about Ohio’s Safe Harbor law, he never fully explained how the robbery, assault, and homicide were related to the trafficking – and he never asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, as required by Safe Harbor law. If the court had understood that this was an escape attempt, Alexis should have been granted a guardian ad litem under Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law. A guardian ad litem gives recommendations about a juvenile’s best interests and the most effective responses from the court, like addiction treatment and mental health services. Then, the court can put all charges on hold, place the juvenile in appropriate diversion activities, and – when the diversion is complete — dismiss and expunge all records of the case. However, Alexis never received a guardian ad litem; she also didn’t know she was entitled this type of advocate.

Instead, Alexis’ case was moved to adult court and she was convicted, at age 16, of robbery and murder. The court sentenced her to 21 years to life in adult prison. Alexis willingly talked to the FBI, and helped them catch some of the people involved in trafficking girls; she did this risking danger to herself. Then, Alexis, with a new attorney, appealed her case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court recognized that Alexis was clearly a victim of trafficking and noted specific, troubling details about the trafficker’s control and exploitation of Alexis. “There is also evidence that Kerney trafficked Martin,” the ruling said. “According to Martin, Kerney had her perform exotic dances, sell drugs for him, prepare about eight other girls for prostitution, and collect money from them. Martin used the name Alexis Love and referred to Kerney as ‘Dad.’” Despite these facts, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Alexis – because her trial attorney did not bring evidence that her offenses were related tothe sex slavery, abuse and violence she endured.

Today, Alexis is 20 years and incarcerated at the Dayton Correctional Institution. During her 6 years behind bars, Alexis has gotten her GED, is getting an HVAC certification, and is creating new prison programs to help other sex trafficking survivors heal.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]child-victims of sex traffickers should not spend 21-to-life in prison.[/perfectpullquote]

If women’s religious communities in Ohio would be willing to write a letter of support for Alexis Martin, please contact me. We need letters of support for Alexis’ application because child-victims of sex traffickers should not spend 21-to-life in prison.


Sally Duffy, SC {} serves on the board of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.

September, 2018 Monthly Reflection

August 31, 2018

Recognizing the Humanity of Traffickers

by Sister Maryann Mueller, CSSF

Several months ago on a retreat with other social justice coordinators I participated in an exercise that had a profound impact on me. We were asked to find a partner we did not know and then sit facing each other, holding each other’s hands. We were asked to first look into the person’s eyes and then look down at their hands. We sat this way for about 10 minutes while a mantra “I love you” played quietly. As I gazed at my partner’s hands I began to “see” hands of people in countries throughout the world, people I did not know, hands of all different shapes, sizes and skin tones. With each I thought to myself “I love you.” After several minutes my thoughts flowed to the hands of those who traffic other human beings for profit. In my mind these hands also took on different shapes and hues. I remember hesitating, but knew that I was called to say “I love you” to each of these people also. My thoughts then moved to some specific people in the news, to their hands, and to each I said, “I love you.”

I have thought of this experience many times in the past several months, especially while listening to the news, or hearing stories of human trafficking. Probably one of the most humanly impossible things to do is to love those who do evil acts against other human beings. Yet, as Christians we believe that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We are all vulnerable creatures and although we may act in a way that is hateful and evil, we are all called to love each other as a human being made in God’s image.

I do not know the long term effects that this retreat experience will have on my life, but each morning I do pray for transformation of the hearts of traffickers, of ICE officers, of terrorists and for all who are deliberately planning to hurt other human beings.


Sex In The Shadows: Traffickers Exact A Human Toll From Major Sporting Events

August 13, 2018

As high-profile​​ sports figures descend on Northeast Ohio this week, an 83-year-old nun arrived at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday advocating for victims who walk among us hidden in plain sight.

Sister Barbara Catalano, a Dominican Sister of Peace, did not resemble many other visitors clad in shirts and jerseys of their favorite NFL teams. The diminutive woman was dressed casually in white pants and a shirt accented with a purple short-sleeved jacket. She also wore a look of determination, toting a satchel containing anti-human trafficking literature and a bag filled with bars of specially wrapped soap to the Canton football shrine.

“I want to talk with someone important,” said the Akron resident, who had not called ahead to make an appointment with a Hall of Fame executive.

Parked in an auxiliary lot a quarter-mile from the front door, Catalano eschewed a free shuttle ride and walked along a narrow backstreet as cars and golf carts transporting HOF workers zipped past. The nun moved with such pace, bounding down a steep flight of concrete steps, a freelance photographer assigned to chronicle her visit had difficulty keeping up.

She was eager to discuss the evils of the world’s fastest-growing industry. Human trafficking, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, generated about $99 billion in profits in 2016. And it thrives on the peripheries of major multiday events like the ones being hosted in Canton and Akron this weekend, say some anti-trafficking advocacy groups and law enforcement.

From foreign-born laborers erecting scaffolding for pennies on the dollar to underage girls being forced into prostitution at nearby hotels, human trafficking takes different forms. In the past month, several survivors have told The Athletic nightmarish tales of beatings, gang rape, threats to family members and years of mental anguish associated with a life of sex slavery. Two women began being trafficked at age 15.

To read the full story by Tom Reed on The Athletic Ink: Click Here 

August, 2018 Monthly Reflection

August 1, 2018

Developing Survivor Advocacy Training for Trafficked Persons

by Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

After more than a hundred presentations designed to raise awareness about human trafficking in western Wisconsin, various professionals and community organizations are now pondering how to develop a survivor advocate training program that is solely focused on the needs of trafficked persons. A natural progression has been through outreach toward like-minded groups to find ways in which to collaborate. This appears to be motivated by a desire and need to become learning communities together.

In western Wisconsin, the La Crosse Task Force to End Modern Slavery (TFEMS) has fielded inquiries from law enforcement, health care providers, community agencies and faith-based groups about preparing advocates who could be available on a 24/7 basis to assist survivors of human trafficking. The need arises out of several factors including an increasing recognition of victims in service areas, a lack of volunteer advocates available at critical times of need, and an acknowledged necessity to prepare advocates to interact appropriately with trafficked persons.

A local law enforcement officer emphasizes a need to not only to apprehend the criminal perpetrator but also to help the victim of human trafficking. Her interest and goal is to develop a core of survivor advocates who could be on call 24/7 to respond if a victim is open to receiving help at the time of the arrest/rescue. There is no such resource available to law enforcement in western Wisconsin at present. Her critical questions focused on what kind of training a survivor advocate should receive and how such training could be provided.

New Horizons, a local shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, currently answers part of this need with night time volunteers who can meet victims at the county line and take them to the hospital or a shelter. A one-year commitment is required of the volunteers who work in this capacity. While a twelve-hour training module is provided for them, it focuses primarily on domestic and sexual violence and only minimally on trafficked persons. Limited follow-up case management is provided to the victims. Likewise, this is also true of a 40-hour advocate training program provided by a local health care system.

In searching for a means to respond to the various inquiries, TFEMS is partnering with New Horizons and The Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse (a partnership of donors, grantees and volunteers working to support programs for women and girls) to effectively create a human trafficking survivor advocate training program. Because Wisconsin does not have specific legal requirements for training of advocates for trafficked persons, we are prompted to seek out training modules and resources specifically related to human trafficking. Our neighbor state of Minnesota provides an exemplary model in its 40-hour training requirement for anyone who serves survivors of human trafficking.

So far, many ideas have been brought forward. All agree that a model for training must articulate core competencies, be sustainable, and be appropriate for both professionals and volunteers. Human trafficking advocates must be able to interact with a victim, establish and sustain relationships, and if possible, be compensated.

Continuing the conversations around survivor advocate training will take place in a Survivor Safe and Free Round Table event which will invite participants to reflect on possibilities for further collaboration and inquire if their agencies/organizations would send their professionals and volunteers to participate in a training program. Content will also be explored which must be multidisciplinary, survivor-informed and guided by the experience of professionals working with trafficked persons.

There is an indication that we may be breaking new ground in an attempt to create a program specific to survivor advocates in the human trafficking arena and in the potential creation of a workable protocol for response in western Wisconsin.


June, 2018 Monthly Reflection

June 1, 2018

Join the Movement, Create a Tipping Point to End Human Trafficking

by Sister Linda Haydock, SNJM

On first every Sunday of the month for ten years we Catholic Sisters and our companions stand and pray to end the trafficking of over of over 40 million women, children and men. It’s said that statistics are faces with the tears wiped away. We will stand, advocate and work until the face of human trafficking is revealed as the modern day slavery it is and brought to an end.

Why would people stand in silent vigil every month for ten years? We feel called, compelled and have a conviction that every action we take to witness against the injustice and indignity of human trafficking makes a difference. While we advocate and educate we stand in silent vigil. We hold companies accountable for trafficking in their supply chains, and we vigil. As we form committees and coalitions we vigil. As we accompany and support survivors we vigil.

Rain, shine or snow we stand in the heart of downtown Seattle at Westlake Park. This small urban gathering place for the community is also a hub of human trafficking, law enforcement officers tell us. Throughout the years we have had every encounter imaginable with passersby. Many walk by without even a glance, but many more come to a new awareness of the human trafficking taking place in our midst. From photo journalists to the state attorney general, we enlist them to act end human trafficking as we give public witness. Survivors thank us and students stand with us. Retired sisters unable to stand, join us in their chapels.

Every time I join in community at Westlake Park it is a new opportunity to deepen my commitment to give what I can and to do what must be done for the sake of the whole human community. There are more laws now, more organizations addressing human trafficking, more companies aware and addressing the situation, and much more public consciousness of the need to end the exploitation of human beings. When will we reach the tipping point where survivors outnumber the persons trafficked and slavery is no more? I can’t tell you how many more vigils we will hold or when we will celebrate the end of trafficking, but I can tell you as long as there are Catholic Sisters and human trafficking exists we will stand strong on every corner and commit ourselves to every effort to end human trafficking.

The movement is growing. Fifteen states and three Canadian Provinces hold vigils. What if we doubled the number of vigils this year? If every city in North American joined the sisters for half an hour on the first Sunday of the month it would signal that we are well on our way to that tipping point to end human trafficking.

To Start a Public Vigil

  • Contact the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center at:
  • Get Signs
  • Set a Time and Place
  • Show Up