July 29, 2020
Human trafficking has many faces. Imagine a teenage girl pressured into prostitution by her boyfriend to pay the rent; a foreign national tricked into domestic servitude with promises of a better life; a fisherman trapped at sea working for wages that never materialize. These are just a few accounts of the estimated 40 million people who are enslaved across the world today.
July 30 marks the
United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a time to raise awareness around human trafficking and amplify efforts to stop it. With the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to the retraumatization of survivors and increasing risk among individuals experiencing disadvantage, the need is even greater to shine a light on the work Catholic sisters are doing to address the realities of human trafficking, both domestically and abroad.
Catholic sisters from the Los Angeles area demonstrate against human trafficking in Hollywood, California. Front to back: Sr. Eleanor Ortega, Sr. Judy Molosky, Sr. Celia DuRea, Sr. Suzanne Jabro and Sr. Margaret Farrell. Photo by Lisa Kristine, courtesy of Talitha Kum
Human trafficking is commonly defined as the exploitation of another human being for commercial sex or labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Broader characterizations include child soldiers, the sale of organs and forced marriage. Human trafficking is notoriously difficult to expose, and yet the
International Labor Organization estimates that it is a $150 billion criminal enterprise – the third largest illegal activity in the world, behind drug trafficking and arms dealing. Traffickers may elude authorities by crossing international borders, or they may be part of domestic networks that crisscross regional lines.
Although many people are just beginning to recognize human trafficking as a critical human rights issue, Catholic sisters have championed the anti-trafficking movement since the first widely recognized case of human trafficking in the United States surfaced over 20 years ago. In 1995, over 70 Thai nationals were found enslaved in a makeshift garment factory in
El Monte, CA, shocking an array of human rights leaders, including sisters in the Los Angeles area. Sister-led ministries, such as the Good Shepherd Shelter and Alexandria House, as well as congregations, such as the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, all rallied around survivors. Nonprofits, such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast), were founded to support anti-slavery efforts.
Today, Cast is a well-known anti-trafficking organization that has received accolades from the
U.S. State Department and the United Nations. However, when Cast first began, Catholic sisters were among its only allies. While others didn’t want to believe that slavery still exists or were afraid of getting involved, sisters immediately recognized the significance of this issue and provided trafficking survivors with long-term shelter in their houses and convents. As the anti-trafficking movement has grown, Catholic sisters have faithfully led the way. Sisters, who serve people without regard to religious beliefs, provided Cast with the first shelter in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to trafficking survivors, who have distinct needs due to the nature of the trauma they have experienced.
At an international level, Catholic sisters have also pioneered the prioritization of human trafficking as a top line issue. In 1998, the
International Union of Superiors General (UISG), the worldwide leadership association of Catholic sisters, initiated a formal study of and collaborative effort against trafficking in persons. Two years later, the United Nations adopted its landmark Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. Within six months of the UN resolution, the UISG officially made a commitment to address human trafficking “insistently and at every level” through working in solidarity with other congregations across the world. Catholic sisters have taken this mandate to heart. Today, UISG ministry Talitha Kum has an active membership of 2,600 sisters and their collaborators located in 92 countries, making it the largest anti-human trafficking network in the world.
To read the full story by Sabrina Wong on
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation site: Click Here