Invisible to those ashore yet instrumental in keeping afloat the comforts of daily life, seafarers have long seeped through the cracks as they straddle worlds and identities.
They have home countries but live literally adrift, becoming strangers to all nations. They play a role in 90% of global trade but are not typically considered essential workers. They are prone to abuse and exploitation but often fall just outside the realm of trafficking advocacy.
Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of these itinerant workers are also trapped.
For seafarers, who are responsible for delivering most food, medicine, electronics and even racehorses around the world, disembarking at most international ports has become an impossibility. The ship may be welcome, but to the community where it docks, members of the crew are perceived as potential carriers of COVID-19, even though they have typically been at sea for longer than the virus lasts.
The inability to get off ships means crew changes are less likely, so even when a seafarer’s contract expires after several months of labor, his or her tie to the job can get extended indefinitely. And because crews tend to be made up of individuals who come from poverty, their desperation for an income can be abused easily, as official complaints may leave them blacklisted from other jobs, Leahy said.
“It’s fertile ground for exploitation,” she said.
Since the plight of seafarers is distant to those on land, the international campaign Solidarity with Seafarers is bringing it to the fore, educating the public on the link between the products they buy and the people who deliver them as well as encouraging corporations to examine their suppliers’ human rights practices.
Because Walmart has previously demonstrated a proactive interest in addressing forced labor practices in its supply chains, Reyes Lay said, this push for Walmart to include seafarers in that commitment is as possible as it would be impactful.
“It’s modern slavery … and companies that import stuff should be able to prove there’s no slavery in the chain,” Leahy said.
ROME — Coronavirus lockdowns have not led to a reduction in human trafficking, which primarily affects women and girls, but actually increased it over the past year, according to Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti.
“The different types of exploitation have changed, becoming more violent and, in the case of sexual exploitation, more hidden,” she says. “They have moved, in fact, from the streets to apartments or online sites.”
For over two decades, Sister Eugenia has served on the frontline of the Church’s efforts to combat human trafficking of women and girls — a ministry that began in 1993 when, as a missionary in Africa, she first saw women on roadsides waiting for clients.
Since 2012, the Italian sister has headed “Slaves No More,” a Rome-based association extending to 30 different countries and dedicated to fighting the scourge, which affects 27 million victims worldwide. The organization has collaborated extensively with the U.S. embassy to the Holy See during both Republican and Democratic administrations.
In this March 30 interview with the Register, Sister Eugenia explains more about her work to restore the dignity of trafficked women and girls, what the faithful can do to raise awareness of these acts of violence, degradation and exploitation against them, and how her conviction that we are one human family under Christ is central to her work.
Sister Eugenia, who are most liable to become victims of such modern slavery? How do they end up in this situation, and do they include minors?
The categories of people most at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking are undoubtedly women and young women and children.
GUWAHATI, India — Sister Rose Paite stepped inside this sprawling city’s main train station and scanned the crowd. She often visits public gathering places like this as part of her life’s mission: to save children from being trafficked.
In seconds, Paite was off. She had spotted a situation that alarmed her — a young girl, maybe 15 years old, sitting beside a much older man in a crisp button-down shirt. Paite walked up to them and began asking questions.
Where are you going? How did you meet this man?
The answers confirmed Paite’s suspicion.
The girl said she had just met the man on the train. It wasn’t clear where she was headed next.
Paite, who was wearing a black tunic and white veil, talked to her for nearly four minutes and handed over her card. She wanted to be able to check in on the girl, but the girl refused to give Paite her phone number.
Before walking away, the diminutive Roman Catholic nun warned the man, but she said he was dismissive.
“That girl, truly, will get into trouble,” Paite said. “She is so vulnerable.”
Then Paite skittered off again. The Guwahati train station was busy. There were more children likely to be in danger.
Human trafficking is everywhere
Paite is not a lone crusader. She’s part of a vast but little-known network of Catholic nuns dedicated to fighting human trafficking across the globe. The organization, Talitha Kum, was formed in Rome in 2009 and now operates quietly in 92 countries.
The group is made up of roughly 60,000 religious sisters. The work they do is often dangerous and daring — confronting pimps on darkened streets, patrolling dusty alleys that host brothels. The sisters also operate safe houses in several countries, providing refuge for women and girls fleeing their captors.
Their work doesn’t only take place in the streets. The organization pushes for systemic change, lobbying for stronger laws to combat human trafficking.
“If you want people to understand the urgency of the problem, you can’t be tiptoeing around it,” said Sister Jeanne Christensen, a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking, which works with Talitha Kum.
Though National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month has ended, Pope Francis, the FBI and the NFL continue to draw attention to this insidious societal problem. But every citizen, business and organization can do more to alleviate this global crisis throughout the year.
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry that profits from 25 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization. More than 100,000 children are sold for sex in the U.S. each year. Eighty-three percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, according to the Polaris 2019 Report.
As a licensed counselor, researcher on domestic abuse and participant in domestic violence committees, including Illinois Religious Women Against Human Trafficking, I see the critical importance of awareness and prevention.
Pope Francis recently wrote in the preface of an autobiography of a trafficking victim:
“Since there are countless young women, victims of trafficking, who end up on the streets of our cities, how much does this reprehensible reality derive from the fact that many men, here, require these ‘services’ and show themselves willing to buy another person, annihilating her in her inalienable dignity?”
Supporting the pope’s vision through advocacy are U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, among many others. They support human trafficking survivors through direct services such as providing shelter, counseling, spiritual support, job placement and educational scholarships.
The upcoming Super Bowl in Tampa will highlight the efforts of the NFL to grapple with human trafficking. Prominent athletes support the It’s A Penalty campaign that has played a role in eight major sporting events. Together with its partners, the organization has facilitated the rescue of almost 17,000 victims of trafficking and exploitation and prevented thousands more from becoming victims.
Every effort must be made to protect children … They are the future of our human family
The Pope launched this appeal to institutions for the World Day Against Child Labour, held this Friday, June 12th, during today’s weekly General Audience which took place this morning in the Library of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. The Pope continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, focusing on the theme: “The prayer of Jacob” (Gen 32: 25-30).
After his catechesis, the Holy Father addressed special greetings to the faithful, in which he launched the appeal.
“This Friday, June 12th, is the World Day Against Child Labor, a reality that deprives boys and girls of their childhood and jeopardizes their integral development.”
Given the current health crisis in various countries, the Argentinian Pope recognized, “many children are forced into jobs that are inappropriate for their age, so as to help their own families who are in conditions of extreme poverty.”
Many cases, the Pope stressed, are forms of slavery and confinement, resulting in physical and psychological suffering.
“We are all responsible for this,” he said.
To read the full story by Deborah Castellano Lubov on Zenit: Click Here
CLEVELAND (CNS) — Advocates fighting human traffickers are alerting children, parents and vulnerable adults that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed traffickers into new venues, potentially endangering more people to being exploited.
Seemingly innocent online venues are becoming popular places for sex traffickers to groom unwitting children and entice adults facing financial turmoil because of the pandemic. The danger is leading the advocates to call for funding of anti-trafficking programs in any new federal legislation in response to the public health crisis.
The pandemic’s impact on labor trafficking is less certain, but the advocates warn that people desperate for work may be prone to employment schemes in which they are cheated out of promised wages.
What is known, according to the Polaris Project, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, is that buyers of sex are as active as ever, pandemic or not.
“Anecdotally, we have heard from survivors that trafficking victims are now being forced to participate in remote, web-based sexual activity or pornography and that the marketplace for those activities has grown,” the organization said in an April 17 post on its blog at polarisproject.org. “It’s important to remind buyers of these materials that a person on a webcam or in a pornographic video is as likely to be a trafficking victim as a person selling sex in any other environment.”
That poses dangers for children especially, said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
“With the restrictions and limited mobility and physical distancing, the fear is that particularly children, but anyone who can be a potential victim, is going to be more targeted through online sources,” she said.
“Electronic communications and social media networks have become more important than ever,” Lay told Catholic News Service. “We are trying to think of creative ways to reach people and get the message out while they’re at home.”
Tracking the inroads of traffickers into new online venues is difficult. They are able to move silently through online sites frequented by children, who are spending more unsupervised time surfing the internet while at home. Once identified, traffickers quickly move on, hiding out in cyberspace waiting for the next young person to show up.
Concern among the advocates largely rests in online pornography.
“There is a huge demand for pornography online right now,” said Hilary Chester, associate director for anti-trafficking programs with Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “People (traffickers) are going to try to meet that demand. There are real concerns about people being coerced into it, not realizing they are being recorded.”
While it is difficult to track the emerging trends in the actions of traffickers, experience has shown they are adept at maneuvering around their trackers and their motivation is money.
“Once they realize somebody’s on to them, they’ve switched,” said Charity Sister Sally Duffy, a member of the End Slavery Cincinnati, an anti-human trafficking coalition.
Tori Curbelo, manager of education, training and advocacy for LifeWay Network in Forest Hills, New York, described traffickers as opportunistic.
“Their services follow supply and demand,” she explained. “Our hunch is the more demand, the more traffickers will try to meet the needs of individuals online.”
The chairmen of three USCCB committees recently called on Attorney General William Barr to “confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims.”
In an April 30 letter, they urged Barr to enforce obscenity laws, open criminal investigations of pornography producers and website owners, and carry out “national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry.”
Pornography, they said, is the “antithesis” of Pope Francis’ reflection during a March 27 prayer service in the throes of the pandemic in Italy that “affirmed our common ‘belonging as brothers and sisters’ in the midst of crisis” deserving of human dignity and respect.
To read the full article by Dennis Sadowski on Catholic News Service: Click Here
By Jennifer Reyes Lay, Executive Director of USCSAHT
As we gather in our homes or online to celebrate the joyous feast of Easter, remembering Christ’s resurrection and the promise of life after death, it is a perfect time to reflect on how our hope and faith in resurrection helps sustain us in our work to end human trafficking and support survivors.
As Catholics our faith is rooted in the incarnation – God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus – and the Paschal mystery – the life, death, and resurrection of the divine incarnate. This mystery and divine presence permeates all of creation, which cycles constantly through these rhythms of life, death, and new life. The presence of the divine infused all around us, through us, and in us proclaims that even in moments of profound fear and grief, we are not abandoned. Even in the darkest hour, when it seems like death and evil have seemingly won, God can still birth new life and hope into the world.
This resurrection hope is something that we are blessed to see in the lives of survivors we accompany out of situations of trafficking and through the healing process of reclaiming their lives and freedom. We nurture and grow this hope as we share stories with one another about God making a way out of no way, providing safety and shelter, or giving us the strength to continue. This is a lived hope that does not depend on numbers and results, but rather is a grace continually offered us through the Spirit of the risen Christ.
This liberating Spirit which calls us together to end human trafficking is the same Spirit that has been present since the beginning of time working to bring forth life and free God’s people. It is the same Spirit that could not be killed on a cross or stay contained in a tomb. This dynamic life-giving Spirit both challenges and sustains us in this work, impelling us to speak life where there is death, to speak hope where there is despair, and to speak love where there is hate.
The mystery of the incarnation and resurrection continues to be made manifest in the new life coming into the world each day. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.” Because each person is now a precious part of the cosmic body of Christ, we can see the face of Christ in every person. This reality calls us to respond to the suffering of the body of Christ present in human trafficking, and work to heal and prevent further violence to the collective and individual bodies of Christ.
Even though the work to end human trafficking can seem daunting, our faith in resurrection hope proclaims that “through God all things are possible (Mk 10:27).” In a prayer frequently attributed to the prophetic St. Oscar Romero we are reminded, “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” We take comfort in knowing that we are each doing our part to faithfully respond to the call to end human trafficking. And we continue to invite others to join us as co-workers in this prophetic ministry that continues to proclaim life, love, and hope in even the most difficult circumstances.
Joan Dawber, SC, USCSAHT Board member and Founder of Lifeway Network, offers a beautiful homily for Good Friday. She challenges us to see, listen and love as Jesus does. Are we willing to take up that challenge?
WASHINGTON — A coalition of Catholic groups led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is in the middle of a postcard and online petition campaign to convince one of the United States’ largest food service distributors to ensure its fish supply is not tainted by labor trafficking.
The problem of forced labor, and even slave labor, on huge fishing vessels has long been a cause for concern, leading to this year’s “Labeling for Lent” campaign by the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking.
This year’s target is Sysco, which supplies food to many Catholic institutions.
“So many Catholic institutions, hospitals and school systems, and even some congregations and motherhouses, are supplied by Sysco,” said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, a coalition member. “We make up a significant percentage of their business.”
“With the Lenten season, there’s some groups that use Sysco for the fish fries for their main source of seafood. That’s something that’s prevalent within the diocese,” said Christine Commerce, coordinator of the human trafficking task force in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, another coalition member.
Commerce added, “Greater Orlando ranks third in the nation in calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. We see cases of both labor and sex trafficking here in central Florida.”
Sysco is not some unrepentant outlier when it comes to human trafficking.
“It is important to acknowledge Sysco’s efforts to begin addressing seafarers and fishers’ labor rights,” said a Labeling for Lent promotional piece issued by the coalition.
To read the full story by Mark Pattison on The Compass: Click Here
This excerpt is from the Talitha Kum Assembly’s Final Declaration. To read our full declaration: Click Here
First priority: The power differential between men and women in all sectors: economic, social, familial, political, cultural, and religious.
We denounce the objectification and denigration of women that contributes to a global culture of exploitation and violence against women, reflected in human trafficking. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 72% of people exploited through human trafficking are women and girls. There are many forms of human trafficking including sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and illegal organ removal. When it comes to sex trafficking, females make up an even higher percentage of victims.
We call on the Church, as the Body of Christ and an example to society, to witness to the value and dignity of women and girls by promoting their proper role in all sectors. May this commitment be reflected within the Church by involving women in decision-making processes, especially on topics that impact them. We call on Episcopal Conferences, Religious Brothers and Sisters, and Diocesan Clergy and laity to collaborate with women as equals in order to transform the culture of domination and to support the networks of Talitha Kum in their diocese and local communities. We call on governments around the world to ensure that law and policy promotes and protects the dignity and rights of women and girls.
We commit ourselves to empower one another as leaders in the fight to end human trafficking; to strengthen our networks’ inclusive model of working together; to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed, especially women and girls; and to promote the dignity and equality of all people.