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.
By Jennifer Reyes Lay, Executive Director of USCSAHT
Focusing on the reality of human trafficking and working to end it as my full-time job, I am frequently asked by people, “How do you do it? How are you able to face such evil every day and not grow hopeless or discouraged?” For me, the gifts and wisdom of the Advent season hold a key piece of my answer. I believe in the radical hope and promise of a God who chose to incarnate into the world, to enter into the joys and sorrows of humanity, and whose presence continues to permeate creation as they work towards the promised kin-dom of justice, dignity, equity, and freedom. I believe that our vision of a world without trafficking and exploitation is possible because it is God’s vision too. This radical hope in the face of violence and injustice that is so present in the Scripture readings of the Advent season, this is what keeps me going year-round.
It is true that it is difficult to think about the fact that at this moment there are millions of people around the world who are suffering great violence and exploitation as victims of human trafficking. And it is much more difficult for those who are actually living that current reality. But facing this harsh reality should not discourage us, but rather motivate us to take action. Part of the reality of the ongoing incarnation of God and Christ in the world means that we are now called, as the Body of Christ, to continue incarnating – making real and tangible – the promise of God’s justice in the world through our lives, words, and actions. We are no longer waiting around for someone else to come and make things better. Rather, we join together, each doing the work we are called to do, to be the light in the darkness and execute justice and righteousness.
The lighting of the Advent wreath over the next four weeks offers us an opportunity to nourish our own radical hope and faith as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel – God with us. The first week of Advent focuses on Hope. Where do you find hope in your particular life and circumstances today? What is the promise of God in which your hope resides? How can you continue to nurture this hope in you beyond the Advent season? How might hope support you in your own anti-trafficking advocacy?
The second week of Advent focuses on Love. What does true love look like in a world that often uses false promises of love to exploit and abuse another human being? How might the call to love ourselves and love our neighbors inspire us to take action to end human trafficking and support survivors? How can the deep love of God nurture and sustain us in this work? How can we make time to remember the great love that holds us and protects us always?
The third week of Advent focuses on Joy. It might seem strange, but I actually find a lot of joy in my work to end human trafficking and support survivors. I rejoice every time we are able to inspire another person to take action. I rejoice in the community that surrounds me who holds this same vision of a world without trafficking. I find joy in the lives of survivors who are healing and thriving despite the horrors they have endured. We get to find joy in difficult work and difficult circumstances, and we get to celebrate every little victory. Where do you find joy in difficult circumstances? How might you make intentional time to celebrate and give thanks as an act of resistance to despair?
The fourth week of Advent focuses on Peace. We are reminded that peace and justice go hand in hand. Without justice, there can be no true peace. Human trafficking is a grave injustice and perpetuates violence against the Body of Christ. How can our call to follow in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace inspire and sustain us in our work to end human trafficking and support survivors? How do we take time to nurture our own inner peace in order to be peace in the world? What would it look like to see peace and justice reign in our world?
I invite you to use this season of waiting in radical hope, to nourish and inspire you in your own work and commitment to end human trafficking. Do not grow weary. Do not grow discouraged. God is ever-present and always coming into the world anew, working with us to realize this vision of the beloved community, where dignity is uplifted and true love abounds. May we speak with the faith of Mary in our own Yes! to God’s invitation to be part of this holy work.
The autumn season is a favorite of mine. Usually, the weather here in the mid-Atlantic is mild with cool evenings, Autumn can also bring cold rainy days with colder days ahead. We need to remain open to what the season holds. Yes, the burst of color surrounding us is amazing! Everywhere you look the trees adorn themselves with beautiful shades of red, orange, brown and yellow. Under the canopy of this beauty exists the reality of what one human being can do to exploit another to enrich themselves.
Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) or sex trafficking is a serious form of modern slavery that does not discriminate. Along with labor trafficking, sex trafficking happens to children, women and men. Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to be indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold.” He calls it “a global economic system dominated by profit.” The Pope strongly condemns this new form of slavery urging people of all religions and cultures to denounce and combat it.
As director of Dawn’s Place, a house for women survivors of CSE or sex trafficking, I see them struggle daily to heal from the trauma caused by the extreme poverty, neglect, abuse and exploitation that they have experienced. Being open to what lies ahead; working through challenges, and keeping hope alive have been hallmarks of the residents of Dawn’s Place. I thought you might like to read a few of their reflections.
One of the residents writes: “I was lost for so many years feeling like I was destined for a life of abuse, drugs, and self-hatred. I just accepted that I deserved that way of life. I’m now working hard in therapy, with the steps in recovery and group work. Today I am becoming a different person. I’m finding a new way of life and my self-esteem is growing.”
Another writes: “As I progress through the program, I am learning not only how to take care of myself, but more importantly how to love myself. I am finding my self-worth. I also have something I never had before and that is hope. I now have hope for a brighter future than I ever would have dared to dream about before.”
One resident who recently returned to Dawns Place writes: “I am so grateful Dawn’s Place took me back a second time. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity for a better life then the life I was living. I’ve been learning a lot about myself and how to be a better woman. It’s probably the closest I’ve felt like home in a very long time.”
The mission of Dawn’s Place is to extend hope and healing from sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. By offering individual trauma-informed and group therapy, along with providing yoga and music therapy as well as life skills, Dawn’s Place works to support women in their journey of healing and becoming that new person.
Our desire for every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place is that she will find the courage to break the cycle of violence, recover from trauma, reclaim her dignity and go on to live as a healed, independent and productive member of society. Do we succeed with every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place? No, but we try. (ahomefordawn.org)
Kathleen Coll, SSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, is a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.
Preying on the Vulnerable……Let Us Pray and Advocate
by Sally Duffy, SC
“Farmworkers picking & bagging lettuce” by yaxchibonam is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Labor trafficking advocacy can often get overshadowed by sex trafficking in discussions with state and federal legislators. This is not an either/or but rather a both/and when meeting with legislators. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline learned about 1,236 situations of labor trafficking in 2019.
About six years ago there was a labor trafficking indictment against four men connected with labor trafficking of minors at an egg farm in Marion, Ohio. The labor trafficking scheme forced eight Guatemalan minors to work at egg farms in central Ohio. Haba Corporate Services contracted to provide labor to Trillium Farms, knowing that the workers were unlawfully present in the United States. The unaccompanied minors had been coerced or threatened to enter the United States and then housed in an isolated trailer park in Marion, Ohio. In 2013 and 2014, Trillim Farms paid the defendant’s company approximately $6 million for its labor services.
Immigration laws were violated and contributed to the exploitation of vulnerable children who lacked immigration status. “The four defendants coerced and assisted individuals to enter the United States illegally, many of them children, forcing them to live in deplorable conditions and work for little to no wages,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division in a Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio September 18, 2018 Press Release. “These reprehensible actions are unacceptable and rest assured the FBI will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those who engage in human trafficking.” Comprehensive immigration reform would also alleviate the vulnerability of minors and adults.[i]
There is a difference between human smuggling and human trafficking that often needs to be differentiated. Polaris Project provided the following clarification in a blog post on May 25, 2021[ii].
“Human smuggling is the business of transporting people illegally across an international border, in this case into the United States. Smuggling does not involve coercion. The people the smugglers bring from one place to another place – illegally – generally have chosen to make the trip themselves for any number of reasons. Some are fleeing violence or poverty. Most, and are in fact, paying someone to help them make the journey.
Human trafficking, by contrast, is involuntary and is integral to its very definition. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to get someone to sell sex or work in exploitative conditions.”
Another important issue related to labor trafficking is that the United States never totally abolished slavery. The 13thAmendment has an “Exception Clause”, it remains possible for slavery to be used as a method of punishment, allowing the government to legally subject people incarcerated across the United States to forced labor. Just because something is legal, it does not mean it is just. Numerous states have introduced legislation to either remove the punishment clause from their state constitutions or add language to explicitly outlaw slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. Utah, Nebraska and Colorado voters have already voted to remove the “exception clause” language from their state constitutions that allow for slavery or involuntary servitude through the use of forced prison labor.
Unfortunately, this exception clause has been used to force labor of prisoners and persons in detention centers. The labor conditions are not always safe and the wages often do not meet the minimum wage standards and on average are around one dollar/hour.
You can join Polaris Project in their campaigns demanding all states and the federal government to explicitly outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime in the U.S. and state constitutions. “Taking forced prison labor out of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mean abolishing prison labor altogether. Many incarcerated people want the opportunity to earn money, learn new skills, and contribute to the economy. But the current system of forcing people to work, for little or no pay, often in dangerous or unhealthy conditions, does not make our streets safer. It does, however, create a profit motive for sending people to prison, which has in turn led to the devastating mass incarceration of Black Americans.”[iii]
Please consider advocating to put an end to the “Exception Clause” in the United States. You can take action immediately.
Another advocacy issue is Raising Labor Standards by working to get a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in order to ensure that the people who clean our homes and care for our loved ones receive the fair wages, benefits, and protections all workers deserve. A Domestic Bill of Rights has been passed in 11 states (most recently Virginia) and 2 cities.
There are efforts to introduce a bill at the national level that would create a standard level of protection and dignity for domestic workers. The bill will be co-sponsored by Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Ben Ray Lujan and Representative Pramila Jayapal.[iv]
Some of the protections in the bill include:
Paid sick leave to take care of one’s self or their families
Extend civil rights protections, including against workplace harassment, to domestic workers.
Afford domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks.
Establish written agreements to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities.
Protect against losing pay due to last-minute cancellations.
Additional legislation that was passed in California is The Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE), Act H.R. 3344 (Royce (R) to increase access to information for workers lawfully entering the United States, prohibit workers from paying fees to foreign labor recruiters, require companies to utilize registered foreign labor recruiters to prevent cases of exploitation and modern-day slavery in the United States.
“Every year traffickers use trains, buses, planes and ships to transport thousands of victims, hiding them in plain sight while traveling to destinations around the world. As the eyes and ears in airports and global transportation systems, airport employees are uniquely positioned to help combat the issue of human trafficking. The Sacramento County Department of Airports (SCDA) partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a new Human Trafficking Awareness and Reporting training program. The Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI) is designed to provide airport employees with the tools needed to take advantage of their unique position and ability to identify potential human trafficking victims and notify federal authorities.
Passed and signed in 2018, it requires transit agencies like bus and light rail stations to provide human trafficking training to employees who may interact with traffickers and/or their victims.”[v]
Thank you to Samantha Mott of Saccounty News for highlighting this human trafficking training on March 10, 2021. Samantha Mott is the Communications and Media Officer for the Department of Health Services in Sacramento County, California.
The Top Three Identified Types of Labor Trafficking in the United States in 2019 by the Polaris Project.[vi] Please remember that this information is under-reported.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
As we approach the beginning of a new school year, it is important to remember that aside from children, teachers, and staff, human traffickers can be found near schools, playgrounds, and other venues where children and teenagers congregate. These include social media, which offers traffickers access to children and their profile information. Traffickers often create fake profiles to impersonate individuals whom children may trust. By connecting on social media, a trafficker can anonymously learn the characteristics, behaviors, and social circles of their potential victims. In 2020, one case of grooming started on a school-issued Chromebook which led to a student and the groomer meeting up in person.
Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Education developed the Human Trafficking in America’s Schools guide to provide up-to-date information for school personnel on how to address and respond to human trafficking. School districts throughout the United States vary on if and how they may educate students and staff about human trafficking. In some states, training is mandated by law, and in others it is voluntary. In 2019, Florida became the first state in the nation requiring instruction in child trafficking prevention for students in grades K-12. The ruling also establishes procedures for school districts to plan and document the delivery of the required instruction at the end of each school year.
As mentors and role models, teachers and school staff are positioned to educate students about the dangers and warning signs of trafficking supported by collaboration with child protective services, law enforcement, social services, and community-based service providers. Educating children about online safety, the warning signs of predators, and providing helpful local resources may help prevent them from joining the thousands of child human trafficking victims in the United States.