Example of Trafficking Education Workshops

My goal for the Office of Migration and Modern Slavery is to educate the public about the issues surrounding human trafficking and migrants. Recently, I received a reflection written by Sister Teresa Daly, D.C., informing me of action items that she and others have implemented to learn more on human trafficking. Her example follows.

“We thank God everyday for the wonderful ISP (Ignatian Spirituality Project) team we have here in New Orleans. Together, we facilitate retreats for the women from the Grace House and other entities that provide recovery programs for women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

“For some of us, the topic of modern slavery has been on our minds and hearts for awhile.

“Our ISP team decided to sponsor a workshop on anti-trafficking and invited individuals who have also expressed an interest in this topic as well as a very knowledgeable speaker to address the group. Debbie Shjnskie, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, is helping us to focus a bit on this area. Our desire was to learn more and to deal with some questions such as: How do we know to suspect that someone might be being trafficked? What can we do if this is the case?

“All of us in attendance left this experience more aware and somewhat overwhelmed by the reality that trafficking is in our own society. We thought we need to learn more. This was the start of the idea to hold a day-long seminary on human trafficking that will take place in New Orleans on March 3. Our goal is to raise our own consciousness and awareness of this reality in order to do so for others too.

“As we continue with the ISP retreat program, we continue with hearts aware of this suffering in the lives of many and of our desire to include the victims and perpetrators in prayer.”

It encourages me to see others being proactive and learning more about these important issues. Please feel free to share with me what you have done or plan to do!

Simple Yet Complicated

When I was a little girl, I loved kaleidoscopes. I was fascinated by the colors and patterns. I loved how each time I turned the cylinder, the pattern would change. Sometimes, the patterns were quite beautiful; sometimes, not as much. It was striking how simple yet complicated it all was.

Being engaged in the work of ending human trafficking can be similar to looking into a kaleidoscope. At one turn, you see the 40 million global victims and the need to rescue those trapped in it. On another turn, you begin to wonder “are the people getting their nails done contributing to the $150 billion forced labor industry?” Another turn and you are marveling at the tireless efforts of professionals and nonprofessionals who fight day in and day out to eradicate this crime against humanity. Sometimes I’m visualizing those forced into sex trafficking. Other times, it’s those working in forced labor.

With all of the different  forms of trafficking and views of these individuals, how does one help? One of the greatest tools I have when interacting with those forced into trafficking situations is myself. Being present with someone in their reality is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

So, I will raise my voice for the voiceless. I will give my time and energy working to combat victimization. I will be a responsible consumer and not support companies with unethical or unfair practices. I will remember that if circumstances were different, it could be me praying for someone to consider my suffering as if it were their own.

Those of us who know better have a duty to do our part. We should use our own strengths to fight for those who are trapped in human trafficking. It seems simple–you want to make a difference–but quickly becomes complicated. Some can donate money and other resources, while others can raise awareness. Some can encourage law makers and law enforcers criminalize human trafficking, while others can support those who provide services to those rescued from trafficking. “When you know better, you do better.”

There is one thing everyone can do. If you see a someone that you believe is being victimized, call the police immediately. Although there are usually no bars or fences, the victims are indeed prisoners.

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Use this post to remind yourself of the importance of the issue.

New Factor in Victim Selection

It’s a known fact that pimps and human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable individuals. They are the easiest targets. But what makes one vulnerable? Homelessness, poverty, past traumas, and increasingly, opioid addiction.

As the opioid epidemic in the United States rages on, traffickers have begun to recognize the helplessness that often comes along with it. Perpetrators try to exploit these individuals, some going as far as to recruit from substance abuse treatment clinics.

“We’ve had a number of cases where pimps and traffickers will lure women into human trafficking through drugs, by drugs, or if they’re not already addicted, they’ll get them addicted as a means of keeping them submissive and keeping them hostage,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This has unfortunately become a pattern in so many of the investigations and the cases we’re seeing.”

Is this surprising? With the drastic increase in opioid addiction, probably not. Opioid addiction knows no bounds. It crosses all demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic borders…as does human trafficking.

This growing correlation between opioid use and human trafficking serves as further evidence that modern slavery is not a victimless crime. It also creates an even tougher cycle to break out of for those who have fallen victim.

To read more on the opioid epidemic and modern slavery, click here.

Climate Change Refugees

Floods. Droughts. Hurricanes. Tornados. Mudslides. Volcanic Eruptions. Tsunamis. These natural disasters seem to becoming more and more frequent and causing more and more harm to the towns, cities, states, and nations they affect.

Climate change. It’s a real issue. And it is a catalyst for more issues including migration.

It may be impossible to reverse climate change, however, failing to stop it will force tens of millions of people from their homes.

For example, the Middle East and Africa experienced the worst draught in 900 years. Many farmers lost their crops, their livestock, and the livelihood. Not all refugees from this area are fleeing from war, some are fleeing from climate change.

In contrast, the United States experienced many devastating hurricanes and floods this past year. Families lost their homes, businesses lost their offices, and people lost their loved ones.

Experts, statistics, and common sense are all in agreement–as the impacts of climate change increase, so too will the number of global refugees.

“What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term,” said US Military Corps Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney. “In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.”

So what do we do?

The short answer–stop climate change. Much easier said than done. And can’t be done over night. In the meantime, countries have set up an initiative on climate risk insurance available in the most vulnerable areas of the world. This covers roughly 400 million individuals.

We continue to look for solutions to help end climate change and, therefore, limit climate change refugees.

You can read more about climate change refugees here.

Slavery Around the World

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, modern slavery is an international issue! While some traffickers are working within the confines of a country, others are crossing borders every day. But, in one form of slavery or another (or, unfortunately, multiple forms), slavery is prevalent in every single country throughout the world.

Every year, the U.S. State Department investigates countries for its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. In 2017, 23 countries were classified as Tier 3 countries, meaning they “do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” What are these countries? Maybe not-surprisingly, they include Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, and Venezuela. You can read the report and access the full listing of countries here.

This classification does not imply that trafficking exists only in these countries. Additionally, there are different types of trafficking that are most prevalent in different areas of the world. For example, in India, forced marriage or becoming a “slave bride” is a main concern for young girls. This stems from sex-selective abortions in which male babies were preferred, creating one of the most severe gender imbalances in the world. Read more here.

In North Korea, workers are shipped to China to process seafood that will be shipped to and sold in American homes and restaurants. These workers have no privacy, no access to telephones or email, and cannot leave the compounds without permission. They receive a fraction of their owed salaries, and it is taken from them by the North Korean government. Read more here.

Similarly, girls from Eastern Asia are smuggled to Myanmar to work as maids (read more here) while African girls are fleeing from their home countries to be forced into sex slavery. Specifically, often into Chad where girls become “ghost girls” with no way out. Read more here.

Girls in South American countries don’t always have it any better. El Salvador, being riddled with gang violence, is seeing female-only gangs. Girls feel forced to enter a gang to protect themselves but instead, are stripped of all of their freedom. This is due in part by the high number of femicides (gender-motivated killing of women), most of which are never prosecuted. Read more here.

In Kyrgyzstan, domestic violence runs rampant. Due to the level of cultural acceptance of abuse of women, the country has an extremely high number of women in jail for murder, specifically for murder of their husbands. Read more here.

First-world countries are not exempt from these horrors. In Britain, labor slaves are tricked in to working 12+ hour days at hand carwashes. They end up trapped in debt bondage, unable to escape their captors. Read more here.

This is not an exhaustive list. Instead, it should be seen as evidence that modern slavery is everywhere and it manifests in different forms. Even in countries classified in the TIP report as Tier 1 countries, such as the United States, Israel, Colombia, Taiwan, and Belgium, there exists a level of modern slavery, despite laws to combat it. In fact, Britain is considered a Tier 1.

So, what must be done? We must work together, internationally, to create a safe place for migrants and victims of human trafficking. We must work together to create laws against human traffickers and smugglers. We must work together to end modern slavery for good.

Modern Slavery in Tribal Communities

Tribal communities often get the reputation of being exclusive and unwelcoming. This attitude can stem from the fact that Native American communities are hyper-protective of their own. So, it would be easy to think modern slavery isn’t issue among this population. Well, you would be wrong.

Native Americans, especially younger females, experience high levels of violence, abuse, and rape. In fact, according to federal data, Native women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as women of other races. They experience a higher-than-average level of poverty and a lower-than-average rate of employment. Due to this, they are at an increased risk of abduction and disappearance and are easy targets for traffickers seeking to recruit them for commercial sex work.

“I think a lot of disappearances of young women can be tracked back to some sort of trafficking,” said Patti Larsen of Mending the Sacred Hoop, an organization focused on ending violence against Native women.

You can read more about Native women and human trafficking here.

Fleeing from the Northern Triangle

I’ve written before about my experience with those who are fleeing from the Northern Triangle. This trek is a question of life and death. It used to be that these people were coming to America to achieve the “American Dream.” Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Now, these people are coming to America to escape violence, gangs, cartels, and a cycle of poverty.

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), in 2016 alone, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the Mexican-American border stopped almost 47,000 unaccompanied minors and more than 70,000 family units fleeing from the Northern Triangle.

In order to serve this vulnerable population, we must be creative. Currently in San Antonio, when migrants are released from the Dilley and Karnes detention centers, Sister Denise LaRock, D.C., and others with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES accompany them to the bus station where they will begin their journey across the United States to join family members and/or sponsors. Bags with food, toiletries, blankets, and other necessities are given to these migrants to help them on their journey. However, the most important thing the refugees receive is a white piece of paper. That white piece of paper has a map of the United States on one side and their travel information on the other.

Click here to read more about the work being done to help these migrants