Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently began bussing immigrants to places such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC to draw attention to more traditional cities governed by Democrats. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida financed the flying of immigrants, many from Communist Venezuela, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
This action is appalling and inhumane. Sadly, the tactics are similar to human trafficking, as if the ends justify the means of dehumanizing people. Many traffickers use psychology to keep their victims “enslaved.” Dehumanized, and treated as commodities or political pawns, these are mostly families without passports, who speak a different language, and wear only the clothes on their backs. These migrants are fleeing violence and life-threatening situations. Homelessness, hunger, extreme poverty, and violence are some of the reasons to risk a life-threatening journey to the United States border. Given the conditions of needing to migrate, the luring and promising of food, jobs, housing, etc. can be convincing tactics to persuade someone to board a plane.
This luring, false promises, fraud, emotionally abusive mischaracterization of immigrants, and deception about opportunities are tactics traffickers use. Isolation and total dependency are also tactics of traffickers. There was no communication and care coordination regarding the arriving immigrants by either governor.
There are economic and other reasons for calling these actions unjust and appalling. This truly is a moral issue; this is about who we are as Christians. Because we are all made in the unique image and likeness of God, and we are all called to welcome the stranger. “When I was an immigrant, you welcomed me.”
Immigrants have inherent dignity, a dignity given to them by God our creator. They are also a result of the incarnation, the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Therefore, they have shared membership in our society and our Church because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. We are a people of faith. Believing in the Trinity, the image and likeness of the Trinity means that we are relational, a community, personal, mutual, inclusive, and we are an accompanying people.
The question, “Who is my neighbor?” is the question we are asked on a daily basis. Our neighbor is the person God puts in front of us. Our neighbor is the person in need. Compassion and mercy call us to reach out to the immigrant and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Philippians also teaches us that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and that there are laws greater than the laws of any country. Yes, laws are important but laws can also break people rather than help people.
I have many people that say to me, “But Sister, they are illegal.” God does not make anyone illegal or illegitimate. I do not know about you, but sometimes I break the law by speeding. Sometimes I do not catch that green light that has turned yellow and then is all of a sudden red. Now, maybe that never happens to you. My reasons for speeding are not the same reasons that immigrants leave their homes. They are doing it to save their children. Migrants are doing it because God is calling them to live out their God-given dignity and shared membership. The law is breaking them. Moreover, why is the law breaking them? It is because our immigration system is broken, antiquated, and needs to be fixed.
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Conference in their statements on immigration calls us to radical hospitality, to welcome, and to take risks out of love. In the words of Pope Francis, “If we want security, then let’s give security, if we want life, then let us give life, if we want opportunities, then let us provide opportunities.” Our American values call us to human rights, liberty, and the international common good. Jesus came to liberate the captives and set free the oppressed.
Let us pray for all our brothers and sisters who are in the shadows, silenced, and oppressed, who if they are sent back to their country of origin, would be sent back to be killed, raped, or to be forced to be part of gangs. Let us pray to avoid complicity in the tactics of human traffickers and the conditions of human trafficking. Let us pray for the grace to know the needs of our brothers and sisters and to take the crucified down from their crosses.
The Catholic Health Association has a spring campaign called “How Bad Can a Chocolate Bunny Be?” Let’s plagiarize and ask “How bad can a chocolate pumpkin be? Or a chocolate turkey? Or a chocolate Christmas tree?”
How bad? The main ingredient in chocolate is cocoa; and when one considers the harvesting of cocoa, one must also consider the harvesters. The U.S. Department of Labor reports millions of children are exploited by labor trafficking—working long, arduous hours for little or no pay.
Ivory Coast is the world’s leading producer of cocoa, the raw ingredient for chocolate, and is responsible for about 36 percent of global exports. The Ivorian cocoa trade is mired in the exploitation of children, war and corrupt profits for officials and western big chocolate business. It is estimated that a quarter of a million children work in hazardous conditions on Ivorian cocoa farms, in spite of a pledge by the world’s biggest chocolate companies more than seven years ago to abolish forced child labor from their supply chain. Ghana is also a major producer of cocoa and child labor is found there as well.
The U.S. Department of Labor published their 2022 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. This 116-page report includes clear and specific detail and information. It identifies seven countries where cocoa is harvested by a child or forced labor. These countries are Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. To learn more, visit The Department of Labor.
One of Catholic Social Teaching’s principles, The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, says “The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected – the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”
How can we help ensure the dignity of work and rights of workers? We can purchase fair trade products; in the upcoming holiday seasons, when cocoa and chocolate are staples, we can purchase online or locally fair trade products from one or more of the companies listed at the end of this reflection.
By purchasing fair trade products, we avoid chocolate produced through the exploitation of child labor. Fair trade is a system of certification that aims to ensure a set of standards are met in the production and supply of a product or ingredient. For farmers and workers, fair trade means workers’ rights, safer working conditions and fairer pay. For shoppers, it means high-quality, ethically produced products. Many companies offer fair trade cocoa and chocolate, along with many other products.
It is important that we consider our own consumerism – our desire for less-expensive, easily-acquired products; and to remember those who are exploited in order to grow, harvest, produce or sell such items. Pope Francis says: “Together with the social responsibility of businesses, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person out to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.”
Why not use the word “slavery” when referring to trafficking?
Sister Michelle Loisel, DC
Picture by Martha Dansberger
Over the past few months, there have been several articles written and discussions at webinars I have attended on the words “slavery” and “trafficking.”
It is common in the anti-trafficking field (either in campaigns or in policy) to link colonial slavery with human trafficking by reference to “modern slavery.”
These terms have been used by several organizations and individuals who were unaware of the deeper meaning of this terminology with regard to the victims. “Technical definitions of ‘slavery’ and ‘human trafficking,’ as well as related concepts like forced labor, child labor, and bonded labor differ slightly legally, but there are enormous overlaps between them. Many of these terms are commonly used interchangeably, as ultimately, they all involve practices that exploit or abuse someone physically or psychologically for profit.”
We must place ourselves here in the historical American context and see if slavery has indeed ended. Another point is that historical slavery was legal, certainly inhuman but legal, human trafficking is not. In this same context, slavery is based on race, exploitation is based on rape culture, abuse, and sexism.
Unfortunately, while “slavery” is eye-grabbing and makes awareness easy, it paints a problematic picture of human trafficking. Human trafficking and historical slavery in the U.S. have similarities, however, framing like this is troubling as they are not the same (National Survivor Network, 2019).
This language minimizes historical enslavement of African people and the multi-generational trauma and resulting impact. It can also be harmful to survivors, as it paints an inaccurate picture of many trafficking experiences.
Survivors to whom I spoke of human trafficking do not connect their experiences with “slavery” and certainly would not identify as “slaves” We can recognize that other survivors may identify with this term, and we can acknowledge their individual right to self-identify. We also are aware that using this terminology may make it harder for some who have been trafficked to recognize and acknowledge the exploitation perpetrated against them. As advocates, we cannot cease to be vocal and address the reality that victims of trafficking in the United States are disproportionately people of color.
In the context, we are living today including the historical context we understand that associating the crime of human trafficking with chattel slavery can be harmful for African American. Slavery and human trafficking are not equal experiences; to use the same term “slavery” to describe two separates but equally brutal injustices may not be accurate. There is a glaring discrepancy between the way powers have addressed slavery in the past and present and we need to recognize the ways nations have exploited and oppressed people of color.
This reflection led me to a moment of pause and self-reflection and allowed me to realize the power of words. Why do I use this language? Who is it benefitting? And more importantly, who is it harming?
Land of the Brave? Yes. Home of the Free? Not really.
July has always been one of my favorite months. My family always held our annual Family Reunion on the 4thof July in Indiana and got together each year with those with whom we shared a blood bond. It felt safe, you didn’t need to explain yourself and it was fun to find out how similar we all were and what common traits we all held. Not to mention the amazing food like tomato pie, popcorn right from the field, fresh walnuts, pickled eggs (not my favorite) and even homemade wine—all freshly made by our farm family members. But as I sit here reflecting on my own family, so many of them lost in the past several years and knowing that it will never be the same again, I recall all the hundreds of survivors of Human Trafficking who I have met—many of them who have never been to a family reunion. They have never spent time running around a field with sparklers, water gun fights with cousins and crazy uncles, eating homemade ice cream they helped churn, or even going to a parade. Approximately 40% of survivors are trafficked by family members and when they are fortunate enough to escape, many are forced to leave their entire family.
In July, while we celebrate FREEDOM, most people don’t realize that there are still many who have never known what this word means. Victims of trafficking, enslaved to the will of others, including those not being paid for hours of back-breaking work in a tomato field, those being forced to do more than massages in a massage parlor, and children used as objects of gratification—none of them know freedom. Yes, right here in America. Victims and survivors of trafficking are certainly representative of who we are referencing when we talk about the Home of the Brave, but they are certainly not experiencing the Land of the FREE.
As we sit and watch a 20-minute firework display (on which thousands of dollars were spent), chatting with an aunt we haven’t seen in years, going up to the buffet line of the 4th of July potluck picnic, most of us don’t stop to question if the worker who harvested the tomatoes on the table was paid a fair price for his work, or if the shrimp was harvested by an ethical company. We take for granted the word Freedom and believe All are free. But unfortunately, this isn’t true.
My family moto on our crest reads “Justice Will Prevail.” I know this to be true in my bones but there were plenty of times I doubted it. Especially while being sold to men and forced into debt bondage as a teenager. Although my faith remained strong, even during the worst of the times, there were many occasions, even after escaping, that I wondered if this was really true. My attempts to prosecute the traffickers led to dead ends, finding qualified counseling to help me heal the trauma was fruitless, and I had no one to talk to about what I endured who could possibly understand.
So, what does justice look like to me now? To an Irish Catholic, middle aged woman (ok, maybe a little older than that) who once was not free? It looks like this: stronger laws in every state (with law enforcement and judges who will enforce them) to help stop the Demand for sex for sale, tougher penalties against the traffickers but also the perpetrators- the buyers. It looks like services for survivors who need a bed, trained counselors, drug addiction help, being reunited with the children that were taken from them, dental help for the teeth they lost at the hands of their traffickers, programs for gay youth who are kicked out of their homes and are now vulnerable and ‘sitting ducks’, and many good lawyers who will help survivors get restitution and their records erased.
Freedom isn’t Free. It requires a lot. It requires more than us dressing up in an “America is Great” t-shirt, eating our apple pie and going to see fireworks. It requires strong men uniting to fight against this injustice instead of being a part of the problem and being brave enough to call it out for what it is to other men. It means that we will view prostitution as an oppression instead of a profession.
It requires what it once did- fighting a war against what is UNJUST. It requires us to open up our eyes to truly see what is happening right next to us. And then doing something about it.
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.”
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
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 NineMotel 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.”
A Century Later Human Trafficking Activists Continue Her Work
By Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF
Women’s History Month was first observed in Sonoma, California, in 1978 as Women’s History Week. Nine years later, after petitioning from the National Women’s Project, Congress extended the observance of Women’s History to a month. Today, Women’s History Month has evolved from simply celebrating the accomplishments of women to recognizing the struggles of all women.
Almost 100 years ago, Doctor Katharine Bushnell was a prominent anti-trafficking activist in the United States and abroad. She was born one of nine children in Illinois in 1855.
Bushnell graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago (today, the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University) and then worked as a physician in China for three years. Then, she became ill, returned to the United States, and worked with prostituted girls and women in Denver’s red-light district. She dedicated the rest of her life to working against human trafficking.
While creating a home for survivors in Chicago, Katharine learned of a girl burned to death for refusing a man in an Ashland, Wisconsin brothel. This incident brought to light how perpetrators colluded with elected officials, lawmakers, and police and were never convicted of their crimes. Forced prostitution was promoted in Wisconsin’s logging camps and mining communities, and many victims were trafficked from neighboring states. Katharine presented information to the Wisconsin State officials and repeatedly lobbied for laws to punish the perpetrators and help the victims.
Once, while meeting with Wisconsin State officials, a mob of angry men attempted to block her way. However, her efforts led to the “Kate Bushnell Bill” (SB 46), titled: “An act for the prevention of crime and to prevent the abducting of unmarried women.” This legislation sent perpetrators to prison for enslaving girls throughout Wisconsin. For more than thirty years, she was a prominent anti-trafficking activist in the United States, England, China, and India. Katharine Bushnell died in California on Jan. 23, 1946.
To learn more about Katharine Bushnell and the work she did, please see her autobiography, Katharine C. Bushnell: A Brief Sketch of her Life and Work (KCB; Hertford, 1930)
She also published a comprehensive study of women in Scripture. More than 800 studies exposed a patriarchal reading of Scripture entitled God’s Word to Women: 100 Bible Studies on Woman’s Place in The Divine Economy.
Let Us Celebrate Courage, Resilience and Compassion
By Jeanne Christensen, RSM
February 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita. Why do we celebrate her? Because she is the patron saint for persons who are trafficked and exploited. Human trafficking is an insidious, violent, demeaning and exploitative tragedy. A tragedy where human persons are considered property to be bought, sold, and discarded when no longer useful or profitable. And yet, those very human persons who are trafficked are often some of the most resilient people I know.
In 1869 as a young girl, St. Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped and sold into slavery. She was treated brutally by her captors as she was sold and resold. She did not remember her name, Bakhita, which means “fortunate one,” a name given to her by her kidnappers. “Fortunate one,” yes, because she eventually gained her freedom and spent the rest of her life working to free enslaved others and to serve them with compassion. She is described as resilient as are trafficking survivors today.
In 2004 for the first time, I met prostituted women who had survived and were transitioning successfully into recovery. I was awed by their stories but more so by their strength, courage, and resilience. How could anyone survive what they had experienced and still have hope? One told me, “God reached into hell and pulled me out.” She went on to help other victims and survivors.
Another woman’s story speaks to the trauma victims endure. The name we know her by is Daria but that is not her birth name. When Daria was twelve she ran away from home and her mother’s current abusive boyfriend. Within two days on the streets, a young and fun-loving older boy promised her a safe place to stay, food, and a chance to be a just-discovered model. Daria thought, “a dream come true.” It became a nightmare of posing for pornographic images and being sold for sex by the boy who made false promises. She was stripped of her clothing, humiliated, and exposed to harsh, unforgiving eyes.
This terrible trauma lasted for many months, until one night she was left for dead in a motel room – beaten for not “meeting expectations” and bringing a good return on the boy’s “investment.” She survived and with help from a small, local organization dedicated to helping victims of trafficking, found her way to healing and recovery. Now she is clothed, praised for her strength to rebuild her life and the eyes looking at her now express pride and encouragement.
The hope in this story? Daria was able to earn an associate’s degree in nursing and secure employment and the existence of the small, local organization that assisted her with compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
The survivors of human trafficking show us courage and hope, dare us to see clearly and to be their voice. We have no idea or experience of the horrendous treatment they survive. We are amazed by their courage, resilience and compassion for each other. In my experience, I receive more than I ever give. To fully respond to our calling for ministry with them, we must simply walk with them until we understand. “We must be willing to be disciples of compassion — learning to see with faith and deeper insight so that we are enabled to see below the surface, to see the meaning of things and events. Empathy is the ability to see yourself in another, especially someone who is suffering, and to respond to them with compassion.
What do we see below the surface? Do we see any complicity in structures or systems from which we benefit? Can we acknowledge that poverty is a modern form of slavery, that cheap labor and environmental destruction factored into our desire or demand for low consumer prices and higher profits? Can we live with knowing that comfort, convenience, and entertainment for some requires the exploitation of others?
Besides the larger patterns of oppression that become visible when we see below the surface, we may find small conversions occurring every day as we learn to see victims and survivors as no longer invisible, stereotyped, labeled, insignificant or threatening. Once they become real people, relationships are possible. Our world expands as we discover more diversity but also the common humanity we share with everyone.
Ultimately, those who can acknowledge the disparity and discrimination in our society, in the world, can also recognize the image of God everywhere and in everyone. When this happens, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
A portion of this reflection was adapted from a column by Pat Marrin in the National Catholic Reporter, 06/22/2020, “I Want to See” Used with permission.
Remember those childhood puzzles and exercises of “connecting the dots?” By following the numbered sequence, an image would emerge that was not apparent at the start. What looked like a random scattering of numbers and dots was transformed into a lovely flower or panda or tree or puppy. As a small child, I found the process exciting! What would emerge? What would I discover?
In these times of monumental chaos throughout the globe, I find myself trying to “connect the dots” again, although in much more serious matters. What are the connections between migration and human trafficking, between poverty and human trafficking, between patriarchy and human trafficking? And how are these all intertwined? What will it take for us to connect the dots? What will be the impact if we begin addressing both the immense suffering of those who are oppressed by human trafficking and the crumbling systems that facilitate the oppression: destruction of earth’s resources through climate change leading to forced migration, voracious appetites for cheap products resulting in forced labor, systems that use and abuse others for their own satisfaction and wealth, seeing people on the margins as objects to be used and tossed aside rather than sacred persons made in the image of a loving God?
The prospect of beginning to connect these dots seems so heavy and immense that it’s hard to pick up the pencil and begin drawing! Is it even possible to make a difference in such large and complex issues that, if not addressed, could cause mass annihilation of the peoples, nations, and creatures on the margins? I hear echoes of encouraging parents and teachers from my early childhood cheering me on when I could not see the picture and hardly knew which number came next. It took those trusted and encouraging words from my circle of loving people to allow me to hold on tightly to my pencil, to draw the next line, to trust that a beautiful image would be revealed.
Perhaps what we all need as we begin collectively to “connect the dots” of human trafficking in this New Year is just such a support system: those who share common values of human dignity and honest work, the sanctity of every life and the sacredness of every creature on earth and in the universe. With these values we can build communities that encourage, support and work together to take every next step, draw every new line, determine every next action as we stand with one another to advocate for changes that will bring about justice, provide needed services for those who have suffered such deep trauma, and draw a picture of the new reality of God’s dream that we really are all one.