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.”
WASHINGTON — A coalition of Catholic groups led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is in the middle of a postcard and online petition campaign to convince one of the United States’ largest food service distributors to ensure its fish supply is not tainted by labor trafficking.
The problem of forced labor, and even slave labor, on huge fishing vessels has long been a cause for concern, leading to this year’s “Labeling for Lent” campaign by the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking.
This year’s target is Sysco, which supplies food to many Catholic institutions.
“So many Catholic institutions, hospitals and school systems, and even some congregations and motherhouses, are supplied by Sysco,” said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, a coalition member. “We make up a significant percentage of their business.”
“With the Lenten season, there’s some groups that use Sysco for the fish fries for their main source of seafood. That’s something that’s prevalent within the diocese,” said Christine Commerce, coordinator of the human trafficking task force in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, another coalition member.
Commerce added, “Greater Orlando ranks third in the nation in calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. We see cases of both labor and sex trafficking here in central Florida.”
Sysco is not some unrepentant outlier when it comes to human trafficking.
“It is important to acknowledge Sysco’s efforts to begin addressing seafarers and fishers’ labor rights,” said a Labeling for Lent promotional piece issued by the coalition.
To read the full story by Mark Pattison on The Compass: Click Here
My name is Emma and I am living a nightmare. Someone said it is Lent. What does that mean? I think it’s something about God being tortured and dying so I can be saved. I can tell you that I have been tortured and suffered pain while I was waiting to be rescued. Who would save me? Is there such a savior? I didn’t expect to be rescued, saved, but I was. One of my “tricks,” a compassionate social worker, gained my trust after a few “visits.” We pretended to have sex, but we just talked. Then one day when my trafficker was too drunk to notice, my savior took me away from the dingy motel where I worked. We went to a safe house where the bed was clean and warm and no one could force their way into my bed or my body. They said I’d been saved.
But what happens to me next? I don’t have skills, I was only 13 when my trafficker lured me away from home and school. I have been gone for so many months I’ve lost count. If I get sober, will I be able to stay clean when I’m rejected by others? Or when I remember, and want to forget, what I’ve been through?
I can’t go back to school; no one would understand. Can I even go back home? Will my family want me back? Will they blame me? When I’m older, who would want to date or marry me? Will I ever be good enough to have and protect a child of my own? Exploited kids aren’t supposed to be thought of as criminals, we’re victims!
Will my savior answer my questions? Find me the help I need? Can my savior protect me when my trafficker hunts me down? Do saviors hold you when the nightmares come? I hope so—the nightmares take away my breath!
Question: If you met Emma, what would you say to her? What is she saying to you?
The Tenth Station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24)
by Jeanne Christensen, RSM
During Lent this year, I was asked to reflect on the tenth station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments (John 19:23-24). While it is not the Lenten season, I encourage you to become acquainted with Daia, who is so representative of women who are trafficked.
The name we know her by is Daia, but that isn’t her birth name. When Daia 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. Daia 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, like Jesus, 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 express pride and encouragement.
Daia and so many other women and young girls like her live in your city, maybe even in your neighborhood. You may have seen one of them in your hospital’s emergency department or at the truck stop on the Interstate. She may even be a student in your high school or university. When you see a woman or young girl you suspect is being trafficked, stripped of her dignity, what can you do? You can respond with compassion, being careful to not put her at risk and you can call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. They will give you safe, accurate information. If it is an emergency situation, call local law enforcement. Whatever you do, don’t look away or remain silent. Mercy requires this of us.
Blessed are they who have survived for they will show us courage and hope, dare us to see clearly and to be their voice.