U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking Hires New Executive Director
ST. LOUIS: U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) is pleased to welcome to the team our new Executive Director, Katie Boller Gosewisch. Ms. Boller Gosewisch begins her tenure with USCSAHT May 17, 2022 and will be the second Executive Director of the organization. USCSAHT was founded in 2013 by a group of Catholic Sisters who were committed to ending human trafficking and supporting survivors and dreamed of creating a national network of resources and support made up of many different congregations and other mission-aligned partners. Today this member-based organization has grown to include over 110 congregations of women religious and another 70+ individuals and groups spread throughout the United States. USCSAHT is also the U.S. member of Talitha Kum, an international network of consecrated life working to end human trafficking.
Katie Boller Gosewisch will be joining USCSAHT as the organization continues to grow and diversify, increasing its impact in the larger struggle to end human trafficking and support survivors on their healing journey. She believes strongly in USCSAHT’s vision of a world without trafficking and exploitation and uplifting the dignity of every human being. Katie shared, “I am tremendously honored to be chosen to lead USCSAHT as we work to realize a world in which trafficking is eradicated and the innate dignity of the human person is recognized and upheld.”
Katie brings great skill and experience to this role having served as the Executive Director for two Minnesota-based nonprofits: Living at Home Network and WeCab, both of which focused on serving vulnerable populations with important access to resources like transportation, safe and affordable housing, and medical care. She is a committed and vision-driven professional with more than 20 years of experience providing program management, educational, and fiscal leadership within the nonprofit environment; with a focus on advocacy, training, community engagement, grant writing, special events, and staff and volunteer coordination.
Katie is also well educated in the values and teachings of the Catholic Church, which inspire her to work for justice in the world. She holds a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology from St. John’s University and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and History from St. Mary’s University. She has also previously worked as a youth minister and religious educator.
“The Board of Directors is pleased to welcome Katie to USCSAHT and we look forward to working together with her,” said Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, President of the Board. “Katie has the necessary skills, experience, and passion to lead us into a mission-centered future in our priority areas of education, advocacy, and survivor support.”
During the past several years, the work of the coalition was affected by Covid-19. We have been unable to visit businesses with anti-human trafficking posters, to gather volunteers for education or activities, or to give presentations to parish groups. We did, however, become more proficient in Zoom meetings and continued our monthly gatherings at which we discussed online activities and legislative advocacy, welcomed guest speakers, and shared ideas from counties and local groups in which individual coalition members participate.
One of the yearly projects of the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT) is a teen contest in which students submit depictions of human trafficking according to a given theme in poster, essay and musical form. As a result of this contest, teens study and learn about human trafficking and become aware of its dangers and how to recognize it. For several years, the coalition has assisted with this project by providing information and materials about these contests to Catholic high schools in the Bay Area.
The theme for the 2022 contest was “Shine Light on the Darkness.” One of the winning posters, among the many amazing contributions, is:
The San Joaquin County Human Trafficking Task Force hopes to inspire teens in their county to study human trafficking and to submit their entries next year for the End It Summit that takes place annually on January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
WORK CONTINUES ON SB 1193
As our state opens up more, our work continues on updating and placing notices about human trafficking in businesses that are required by law to post the information.
Sister John Paul Chao, smsm, worked for months to update the poster and the letter from the Alameda County D.A.’s office. She is pictured here with the Assistant D.A. in charge of human trafficking, Sharmin Bock, and the H.E.A.T. Watch (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Coordinator, Fiona Bock, who gave her hundreds of copies of the new poster and letter. With these in hand, Sister John Paul and her faithful volunteers are once again on the road visiting bars, massage parlors, hotels, and 10 other business establishments.
A FOND FAREWELL
Sister Marie Jeanne Gaillac, CSJ, worked tirelessly in numerous Coalition projects since the beginning of the Coalition in 2006.
In more recent years, she was very instrumental in helping to establish the Interfaith Subcommittee of the SF Collaborative Against Human Trafficking. At their annual award ceremony this year, Sister Marie was recognized for her tireless work: “Age is easy to measure. Passion is not. Sister Marie has shown us that a passion for human trafficking victims has no age limits. In 2006 at the age of 76, Sister Marie became one of the founding members of the Northern California Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking. For 16 years, she was a dedicated, tireless and very active member.”
In April, at the age of 92, Sister Marie moved to the retirement center of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Orange County. You will be sorely missed by all, Sister Marie. We wish you all the best in your new home!
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
The Senate has introduced a critical bi-partisan anti-trafficking bill – The Abolish Trafficking Reauthorization Act of 2022 (S. 3946) will reauthorize The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017. For over 20 years, the TVPA has helped protect vulnerable children and provide services for survivors of exploitation. Among other things, this new bill would reform current standards for child sex crime victims who were forced into the criminal justice system. Call your senators today and ask them to vote to reauthorize this bill. The U.S. Capitol switchboard number is: Capitol switchboard number is: (202) 224-3121.
I’m old enough to remember the beginnings of Network. I was in graduate school, going on peace marches and wearing “Boycott grapes” buttons. I was not directly involved with Network, but many of our sisters were in this new social justice advocacy group, and, being a bleeding-heart liberal from birth, I was really proud of them. And at the April 22 gala celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C., it was my honor to sit with four of the pioneers. I had come with one of them, my housemate, Ursuline Sr. Angela Fitzpatrick.
I hovered around the edges of Network for years, writing letters, signing petitions, and actually visiting the Network office when our U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking group went to Washington to lobby our congressional representatives. (Network let us leave our luggage in their offices while we went to the Capitol.)
I finally jumped into the deep end and went on the 2018 tax justice tour with the Nuns on the Bus in spite of the fact I knew nothing about taxes —if you get involved with Network, you learn fast! — the 2020 virtual tour, and lots of good webinars in between.
But I was bowled over by what I saw and felt and experienced April 21-23 at the big 50th anniversary celebration, which included training for advocates and the gala.
Picturing the Network sisters I had known over the years (many white and, at this stage, mostly gray-haired), I was blown away by the explosion of diversity and youthful energy at the meeting. Oh, yes, there were a few of us old-timers, but there were young sisters and men and women of all ages and ethnicities/nationalities: associates, young staffers, college students, activists of all sorts, and, of course, our young sister-columnists for Global Sisters Report. One of my favorites was a young adult from India with a pink pageboy mop of hair.
U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT) is honored and grateful to receive a very generous legacy gift from Our Lady of Victory Missionary (OLVM) Sisters, also known as the Victory Noll Sisters. This legacy gift will sustain the ongoing work of USCSAHT and honor the long history of the OLVM Sisters work accompanying those on the margins who are impacted by oppression. For the past 100 years, the OLVM Sisters have been living their mission and charism of presence, advocacy for justice, faith formation, and leadership formation with persons who live in poverty and oppression, who are on the edges of the human family. Since their founding, they have been focused on living in the communities they accompanied and meeting people where they were, responding to the needs as they arose organically through trusted relationships. Their goal has been to go where there is the greatest need and empower others to become leaders in their community, using their voice and talents for good. Now, they are living into the next phase of their life as they are no longer accepting new vocations and caring for the 32 sisters remaining in the congregation.
Part of living into this next phase of life for the congregation includes sharing their resources with other mission-aligned organizations through the distribution of legacy gifts. When it became apparent to the leadership team that the congregation had more resources than it currently needed, they asked the congregation at one of their assemblies: “Where do you want to make an impact? Where can we contribute our resources to places that are in alignment with our mission and charism?” Some of the key areas of impact identified were: supporting immigrants and refugees, working with women and children – particularly victims of exploitation, leadership formation of women, empowering Hispanic/Latino communities for leadership in the Church and beyond, addressing the climate crisis, and investing in community development of impoverished communities. While there are not many OLVM sisters who are able to engage in this kind of direct work these days, their legacy gifts are a way the congregation continues to live its mission in partnership with others.
Sr. Mary Jo Nelson, current OLVM President, shared that the mission and vision of USCSAHT to realize a world without trafficking and exploitation align well with the congregation’s focus on justice for women and children, promoting ongoing education, and supporting the work of the sisters in the U.S. who are also connected to a global network of sisters committed to this same mission and vision. The fact that our ministry has both a local and global impact makes it extra significant. The OLVM Sisters have been long-time members of USCSAHT, and with this legacy gift have solidified their support as legacy members in perpetuity, witnessing to their lasting legacy of accompaniment, education, empowerment, and transformation of society. USCSAHT is honored to be entrusted with this gift and legacy of the OLVM Sisters which will help sustain our ongoing work into the future. With this gift we can continue and expand our work to educate about human trafficking prevention and identification; advocate for stronger laws to prevent human trafficking, hold those responsible accountable, and support survivors; and provide direct support to survivors on their healing journeys.
The OLVM Sisters are the second congregation to make a legacy gift to USCSAHT as they near fulfillment. The first congregation was the Sisters of the Holy Family which you can read more about on our blog. If you or your congregation are interested in establishing your legacy as a champion of human rights in the work to end human trafficking and would like more information about how to make a legacy gift to USCSAHT please contactInfo@SistersAgainstTrafficking.org or call 267-332-7768.
Tensions have been brewing for months on end without a resolution in sight. For two months, it has become clear that there is little to no peace progress being made in the Russian-Ukraine crisis. Families are being torn apart and economic desperation is on the rise for the Ukrainian people and those around them. This crisis, however, is not the only conflict in sight. From civil wars and political unrest to terrorist insurgencies, there is a large number of countries currently experiencing armed conflict. As people lose their jobs and homes while fleeing these countries to seek refuge, human traffickers are on the prowl, searching for ways to exploit victims.
It is no secret that traffickers prey on victims in search of employment opportunities. Oftentimes, victims are lured in by the promises of a higher-paying job. With a decrease in the availability of social services at this time, many victims can fall prey to traffickers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates an average of 40.3 million individuals are trapped in forced labor. Armed conflict only worsens this prevalence, increasing refugees’ vulnerability to human trafficking. These people are trapped and exposed to indentured servitude or debt bondage and forced to work with little to no payment all while facing psychological and physical abuse.
Labor trafficking is not the only form of human trafficking that is rampant as a result of armed conflict. Child labor is just as heinous and its risk is heightened during periods of armed conflict. To begin, the ILO defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to [their] physical and mental development.” Parents often are unable to provide for all of their young ones and with economic desperation on the rise, children join the workforce in order to lessen their families’ burden and provide additional support. Traffickers take advantage of this and exploit these children, promising to help and provide. Once taken, they are often overworked, underpaid, isolated, deprived of education, and physically and sexually abused. Not to mention that at times of conflict, there is a rise in the unlawful recruitment and use of children through force, fraud, or coercion—to be used as combatants or constrained to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. In addition to these child soldiers, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report indicates that young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with commanders and male combatants. Therefore, it is essential we keep ourselves educated on the topic and keep in mind this increase in human trafficking in order to best learn how to assist in combatting both trafficking cases as well as providing humanitarian aid.
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.”
When Sister Rose Ann Barman gave a seminar on sex trafficking to community members in Colorado Springs in 2014, one of the people in attendence asked, “‘Well, what are we going to do about this?’” The Benedictine nun at Benet Hill Monastery wanted to do more than raise awareness; she wanted to provide support for survivors.
Eight years later, Barman partnered with Liz Kosofsky to open Bakhita Mountain House, a non-denominational home, which will be one of the few places in Colorado for adult women who are victims of sex trafficking.
Human traffickers compel victims to participate in labor or commecial sex. While exact numbers are difficult to calculate, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded over 10,000 cases in the United States in 2020 (the last year for which data is available). Colorado had 137 reported cases that year, making it among the top 20 states with the highest number of reported cases. A majority of those cases were for sex trafficking.
The Bakhita Mountain House is a two-year program where the six female participants will determine what resources they most need to recover.
The goal is to give the women a place for healing, said Kosofsky, program director for Bakhita. “What we’re hoping to offer at Bakhita is a place for people to stop and take a deep breath. To reflect and to look at what they want. Not, ‘What needs to happen right now?’ but, ‘What do I see for myself moving forward?’”
This month, Sister Teresa Ann Wolf, who served as the director of the Multicultural Center for several years, is at the Mexico border helping to provide temporary shelter and feed refugees and immigrants.
Wolf presented information about the current border issues at the Watertown Public Library on Nov. 1 before leaving on her latest trip.
“Anyone whose life is in danger and is at risk can approach an international border and apply for asylum. It’s an international human right,” Wolf said.
Wolf explained that although this is an international human right, the United States and several other countries fail to uphold this law and many recent immigration restrictions and policies have only caused further harm to already traumatized people.
The political tension that centers around immigration, whether illegal, legal or asylum-seeking, comes with a heavy price. That price is the failure in identifying, solving and reforming issues regarding immigration among congress. But there is also a heavy toll paid by all immigrants, regardless of their visa status. Wolf said communities also suffer from the polarization of immigration in a variety of ways.
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.