Categories for Survivor Support
December 2, 2019
Moving Into Mutuality
By Kathleen Bryant, RSC
As women religious accompany and listen to people at the borders, we discover relationships of trust among asylum seekers, migrants, and ourselves. The same trust has been building steadily between survivors of trafficking and women religious over the last 20 years. In the last few years, I have observed a budding transformation of relationships among survivors and sisters. Moving from our focus on providing safe communities and services to ensure healing and success, we now also see the emergence of mutuality in our relationships.
Friendship develops from knowing and reverencing the story told without prodding, with respect for the dignity of the person no matter what was endured or the circumstances. As we observe gently and unobtrusively transformation in these women, often we are invited into a new relationship. I reflect on the freedom I have because I was not the caseworker, therapist, or community director for survivors. I am not bound by the ethical boundaries of these vital relationships. In that freedom, I have enjoyed friendships with women who were at one time trafficked. There is such a joy in these relationships.
At the Talitha Kum meeting in Rome, we talked about weaving a web in love. In this network of over 2,000 sisters in 92 countries, we heard about how we are “attracting others through tenderness and compassion…inviting others to rest safely in the web of women religious.” Pat Murray IBVM invited us to “widen the tent of your heart.”
Deep respect for the dignity of the human person is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching. Words have power and impact how we think about ourselves – victim, survivor, thriver. Pope Francis urges us always to find out the first name of anyone we want to help or those we encounter in service jobs. When I ask each person their first name, it seems to establish a more respectful connection and offer some dignity.
About five years ago when I was interviewing a survivor in one of the homes women religious run, the young woman thanked me for calling her a “survivor.” Repeatedly she had heard herself labeled as a victim of human trafficking. Now she has moved on in her life as a college student and in her own evolution has moved beyond “survivor” and left behind the labels. She has decided to move beyond any involvement, even advocacy, to be her own person. The transformative care that the women religious offered has enabled her to be free and move on.
When mutuality emerges into friendship, healing is evident. About twelve years ago in Ireland, when awareness of trafficking was first breaking, the police knew that our sisters were committed to this issue and brought a few women to our houses. With the help of a caseworker and services, these women moved on with their own lives. However, they periodically visit to have a cup of tea and even bring their children to share with the community the joys of their life. That early relationship of offering a safe place developed into a friendship with the community.
In evolving efforts to accompany those who were trafficked at one time, I find myself in new relationships. There is a mutuality emerging. I first discovered this as I noticed my own desire to include those I have met along the way at social functions. These were women who worked through healing, found jobs, and were living a whole new life. Last September I invited three of these special friends to a piano recital I gave. I took liberties to invite contemplative stillness after the last note of each work. On the way home, they shared how they had entered a deeply peaceful place which was a new reality for them. I invited these resilient voices to my Golden Jubilee and my 70th birthday party and delighted in how they were woven into my circle of friends and having fun. It meant so much to me that they came. Simple efforts reveal the mutuality I discover. One woman is great about making suggestions for new music to discover and new playlists to create.
There is a deep connection between us which is difficult to describe but it’s real.
I count on these friends who end up encouraging me. When I learned that I was leaving the U.S. to move to Ireland, I worried about their reaction. These resilient women were not floored but instead voiced their pride in this move forward and encouraged me! Mutual relationships are such a gift, especially when graced without effort!
Pope Francis challenged us at the Talitha Kum gathering to “Never end the day without thinking about the gaze of one of the victims you have known: this will be a beautiful prayer.” I give thanks as I hold the treasure of these unfolding friendships in my heart and reverence these women’s resilient voices. A beautiful thanksgiving prayer!
Sr. Kathleen Bryant Religious Sisters of Charity committed to the abolition of human trafficking and caring for Earth
November 6, 2019
A diversion program for victims of human trafficking is spreading to cities around the country. The model has roots in Columbus, Ohio, where a judge decided to direct women toward rehabilitation instead of jail.
Ten years ago, Judge Paul Herbert was sitting in a courtroom when he noticed a trend. He was seeing lots of women who were abused and forced into sex work, but they were being treated like criminals.
“The sheriff brings the next defendant out on the wall chained up,” Herbert says, “and it’s a woman and she’s all beat up, she’s looking exactly like one of these victims of domestic violence except she’s in handcuffs and a jail suit. I look down at the file and it says prostitute.”
Herbert realized the law didn’t recognize these women as victims of human trafficking. So he pitched the idea of a courtroom dedicated to recovery, not punishment. It’s called CATCH Court, which stands for Changing Actions To Change Habits.
“We didn’t have the vocabulary that we do, even the vocabulary, let alone the way society looked at these women,” Herbert says. “So it was pretty much, we were kind of a laughingstock.”
To read and listen to the full story by Paige Pfleger on NPR: Click Here
October 14, 2019
ALBANY — New York is helping survivors of sexual abuse, stalking and human trafficking keep their addresses under wraps.
A new law signed Thursday by Gov. Cuomo allows victims and survivors to keep their addresses hidden from perpetrators by using a substitute address in place of their actual home, school or work address.
“Victims of heinous crimes like sexual assault and human trafficking should not have to live in constant fear that their assailant could find and potentially hurt them again,” Cuomo said. “By signing this legislation into law we will help protect survivors from further abuse by shielding their address from public view and hopefully provide a measure of comfort as they move forward with their lives.”
The measure expands the New York Department of State’s existing address confidentiality program that already covers domestic violence victims. But those who have been victims of sexual offenses, stalking or human trafficking were not covered by the program.
To read the full story by Denis Slattery on New York Daily News: Click Here
September 12, 2019
Those Who Don’t Survive. . . And Those Who Do
By Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA
Lisa McCormick and her son Jeffrey
Most often we speak about the “survivors” of human trafficking when we reference people who have escaped the violent control of their perpetrators. Less often do we talk about those who do not survive, those who have died at the hands of their traffickers. This story is about Lisa McCormick and her son Jeffrey. Jeffrey did not survive the events which ultimately resulted in his death. With a home in rural Wisconsin, Jeffrey was a 17-year-old boy recruited into a sex trafficking ring out of Madison, WI and exploited until his death in September 2016. His mother, Lisa, has survived the horrific reality of losing a son who was trafficked.
Lisa never dreamed that this would happen in their family. The family moved from Alabama to Wisconsin when Jeff was in the first grade. In his rural school, Jeff tried hard to “fit in” over the years. Although making efforts to succeed in sports, it was not his thing. In middle grades, he was their best dancer, and for that he was bullied and picked on by other boys. Jeff became anxious and depressed. There were angry and violent days when he started cutting himself. At the age of eleven (6thgrade) he began using marijuana and by 7th and 8th grade was experimenting with drugs such as Triple C, an over-the-counter medication for colds. Taking 20, 40 and 60 pills at a time, Jeff developed severe gastrointestinal issues. In grade 9 he began stealing meds from his father’s medicine cabinet. Even more lethal drugs like meth, cocaine, and LSD became a regular diet for him. Changes in his skin, dry hair, panic attacks, and hallucinations were easy to see. He could no longer verbalize his needs.
In Jeff McCormick’s short life as a vulnerable youth, there are stories about running away, becoming homeless, getting picked up by men who promised him good things, but who forced him to have sex with women and dance in gentlemen’s clubs in order to make money to pay back his traffickers. He was missing for weeks, kept in a drug stupor and physically violated in various ways evidenced by the burn marks on his body. Although 17 years in age, he was considered and treated like an adult by law enforcement and transferred numerous times in and out of treatment centers, jails, shelters, and hospitals. The traffickers began threatening his mother on social media with verbal violence while insisting on knowing Jeff’s court dates. Lisa, his mother, knew nothing about what Jeff had been through—the fact that he had been sold on Craig’s list, forced to work in Sioux City, Iowa, overdosed in a hospital and eventually released to his mother.
In June of 2016, Jeff was at home as a very violent and disturbed son. He continued to run away, returning to Iowa on one occasion. A few months later on September 30, 2016, Lisa was notified by the sheriff that Jeff had died of an overdose of fentanyl laced with other substances. During funeral preparations, an envelope was sent to the home with photos of physical violence by the traffickers showing how they exercised control over Jeff. Two traffickers stalked the family by putting their pictures on social media, showing up at the funeral visitation and at the cemetery. Lisa states that she “lost it” at that point, vowing that she would do all in her power to prevent other families from going through such an ordeal.
Lisa has turned this experience into a personal mission to help others. She has made it her life’s purpose to share her family’s story so others understand trafficking and how easily our vulnerable children can get caught up in it. She speaks on the topics of sex trafficking, drug addiction, bullying, acceptance, and her faith throughout her personal journey as a parent survivor of a sex trafficking victim. She educates groups to encourage them to know the signs of at risk youth, to not be afraid to talk to them and show them care and to give them someone to trust. Walking alongside parents, grandparents, caregivers, and others, Lisa is a living beacon of hope so that they are not alone in this journey. She is a member of the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Council and is featured in the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families documentary film, It Happens Here, on youth sex trafficking in Wisconsin – soon to be released along with a school curriculum on human trafficking in 2020. She is a frequent speaker throughout Wisconsin for educational and professional organizations as well as at schools, churches and public awareness events. Lisa has been instrumental in developing a program with the Janesville, WI police department called SLOTH (Supporting Loved Ones through Hardships). Over the long term, Lisa’s continuing efforts will be evident in the development of Destiny Center in Juneau County, a residential home for girls in recovery from addictions and trafficking.[i]
When the author of this column was educated by survivors of human trafficking in Washington D.C. while serving on the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (2012-2013), survivors would convey that the life expectancy of trafficked individuals, particularly women, was between 37-50 years of age. The reasons were obvious: their bodies were spent and worn out from multiple rapes, beatings, from diseases resulting from sexual contact, multiple forced abortions and relentless work under inhuman and illegal conditions. One author states that “The average life expectancy of someone in commercial sexual exploitation is seven years. Start at 14, dead by 21. The mortality rate for someone in commercial sexual exploitation is 40 times higher than for a non-exploited person of the same age.”[ii]
The calculations are brutal, yet believable, especially when considering U.S. Life Expectancy by gender and race or ethnicity. (See the attached chart.) The data is informative and convincing that human trafficking creates a major health issue in the world. Moreover, it is a life issue which begs a place at the heart of our moral reasoning and action.
And then there are the traffickers themselves – Jeffrey Epstein, for example! He didn’t survive either! But for reasons altogether different. And that would be another story.
[i]These details of the story about Jeff McCormick, including the picture, are used with the permission of Lisa McCormick, his mother.
September 9, 2019
Nancy Esiovwa says the five years since she escaped slavery have been as traumatic as her captivity. Now she is fighting the Home Office in court.
Ten years ago, when she was being held as a slave in a family house in Bedfordshire, beaten and working without pay, the only thing that kept Nancy Esiovwa from despair was the belief that she would one day be free. Now she is. But her life since gaining freedom has, she says, been as traumatic and desperate as her experience at the hands of her traffickers.
Shortly after she was identified by the Home Office as a victim of modern slavery in 2014, Esiovwa was left without any kind of support. She ended up on the streets, homeless and destitute and facing violence and assault. The Home Office has turned down her application for asylum and refused to grant her leave to remain. She now lives in daily fear of facing immigration detention or being sent back to Nigeria – the same country to which her traffickers, who have threatened to kill her, have returned.
Her story is not unique. The Home Office has been under increasing pressure to improve their treatment of slavery victims. Frontline agencies say people are being abandoned and failed in their thousands by a system that is supposed to protect and support them.
Esiovwa has decided to fight back. She is taking the Home Office to court over its decision to deny her leave to remain, arguing that it failed in its legal obligation to consider her trafficking status and right to access ongoing counseling and mental health services. The case follows a landmark ruling in 2018 that forced the government to lower the threshold for allowing trafficking victims leave to remain; currently, only 12% of victims who apply get a positive decision.
“I don’t feel that my trafficking status, or my very urgent need to get mental health support to recover from what I’ve been through, both at the hands of my traffickers and at the hands of the Home Office, have been considered,” she says.
“Everyone thinks that when you escape from slavery it is a happy ending, but that’s not true. Even though the government has accepted I’ve been a victim of slavery, they have just seen me as an immigration problem that they want to get rid of.”
To read the full article by Annie Keely on The Guardian: Click Here
August 29, 2019
CASPER – Gov. Mark Gordon’s task force to address the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous people met for the first time Wednesday in Cheyenne. The meeting, which followed a panel on the topic Tuesday in Riverton, marked the Wyoming state government’s first institutional step to take on the issue.
Similar to a task force on human trafficking created several years ago, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force aims to understand an issue that has gained more attention but, to this point, has gone unaddressed.
Cara Chambers, the state director for the Division of Victim Services and chairwoman of both committees, said in an interview with the Star-Tribune that this week’s efforts resemble the beginnings seen in early conversations around human trafficking, where the state first began to understand how prevalent the issue was in Wyoming.
“We didn’t have data on human trafficking because we weren’t looking for it,” she said. “I think that may be the same situation here. … You don’t see what you’re not looking for.”
Wednesday’s meeting was “quite foundational,” Chambers said, the agenda consisting primarily of introductions between the group’s eight members and the different elements each could bring to the greater discussion.
The team is now trying to identify the scope of the issue, which has been elusive to this point because of a lack of data or a comprehensive understanding of the problem. Government entities are only now beginning to get a sense of the scale needed to address the issues.
To read the full story by Nick Reynolds and Chris Aadland on Wyoming News: Click Here
August 22, 2019
August 5, 2019
WASHINGTON (CNS) — At age 9, growing up in Cameroon, Evelyn Chumbow had dreams of coming to the United States, thinking she’d live like the characters in TV shows such as “The Cosbys” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” which she believed depicted life here.
When a relative offered her the opportunity to come to the U.S. through an arrangement with a family in her hometown, she was ready to embark on that life.
“I was just excited,” she said. “I could never think that I’d come to the U.S. and become a victim of modern-day slavery or end up in foster care.”
But that’s exactly what happened and that’s the experience she talked about June 26 to participants of a daylong human trafficking conference hosted on Capitol Hill by the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
Participants, who lobbied U.S. lawmakers after the conference for tougher legislation to combat the problem, learned about its complexities and its global dimensions:
— An estimated 40.3 million people are enslaved.
— Of those, 24.9 million are in forced labor (including sex trafficking).
— 15.4 million are in a forced marriage.
Chumbow, who was 11 when she became a victim of forced labor, fit many of the characteristics of trafficking victims: 25% of those trafficked are children and over 70% of those trafficked are women and girls. Chumbow thought she was coming to the United States to be adopted by a family.
Instead, she was in a group of girls brought in under one passport and then sent off to become a domestic worker in a house in Maryland, where, at age 11, she cooked and cleaned and took care of other children, receiving no salary. The relative who had made the arrangement, she later found out, had sold her for $1,000 to the household where she suffered a variety of abuses.
Unknowingly, she had been brought to the country illegally and didn’t know where to go and what to do about her situation. Eventually, she escaped, helped law enforcement convict her abuser and embarked on a long journey of healing, which now involves educating the public about human trafficking.
To read the full story by Rhina Guidos on Catholic News Service: Click Here
July 15, 2019
At the very end of a long municipal court hallway that mostly smells of sweat and despair, Vanessa Perkins turns slowly as she tries to decide where to sit for a quick afternoon break.
She looks to the left, to the right and back left again before she finally settles on a low-slung table. All the shabby blue chairs are doubles and would put her too close to people. And right now what Perkins needs most is space.
It has been an emotional day inside Courtroom 12C at the Franklin County Municipal Court building, where she is bailiff for Judge Paul Herbert. On most days, she does the same as any bailiff here: manages misdemeanor caseloads, handles the paperwork and deals with the myriad of problems that arise.
But this is a Thursday, and Thursdays and Fridays are different. That’s when Judge Herbert presides over CATCH Court (Changing Actions To Change Habits), a specialty docket for women in the system who are victims of human trafficking. After a lifetime of abuse, years of battling alcoholism and drug addiction and thousands of days running the streets of Franklinton, Perkins was among the first to graduate after CATCH started a decade ago this fall. Now, she is its highest officer.
June 24, 2019
On this recent day, about 16 current women of CATCH — gathered in a relaxed semicircle with the judge sitting on a chair near them, and Perkins and a probation officer sitting close by — were asking one another questions as part of peer-to-peer work. A woman named Jamie Vanover asked Perkins for advice. As per custom in this court, however, the first question posed was: “How many days you got?”
To read the full story by Holly Zachariah on The Columbus Dispatch: Click Here
Even victims don’t know they’re being trafficked. So how can you spot the crime and the perpetrators?
Colleen Stratton grew up in Kohler, one of the most affluent communities in Wisconsin. She met her trafficker when she was about to turn 25. By then, she’d already struggled with abuse, self-harm and addiction.
She met that man in Florida after her parents sent her there for addiction treatment. Stratton skipped out on treatment and stayed in a beach-side hotel until her money ran out.
Her trafficker, she said, didn’t have to groom her. She was already homeless and detoxing from drugs and alcohol.
“He said he was going to take me back to his house and help me get on my feet again,” Stratton said. “A week later, he was raping me and having others rape me.”
Her trafficker also “owned” four other women and kept them in his “stable” — a term used to describe a group of people being trafficked by the same person.
He would take her to walk the streets, to truck stops and motels.
“I thought that I was just a prostitute,” Stratton said. “I literally just thought, ‘OK, I’m prostituting myself so that I have a place to stay, so that I can have drugs, so that I don’t get beat.'”
Though Stratton didn’t realize it, she’d entered the dark world of human trafficking. The International Labor Organization estimated 40.3 million people were victims of trafficking at any given point in 2016. The signs are subtle but it’s taking place all around us, in towns of all sizes in Wisconsin.
You may have seen someone being trafficked and had no idea it was going on.
To read the full story by Diana Dombrowski on The Sheboygan Press: Click Here