Avoiding Trafficking in Lent

The Lenten season brings about an increase in seafood consumption as many Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. This increases not only the demand for seafood, but also the demand for human trafficking.

The seafood industry always ranks high on lists of industries where modern day slavery takes place. The fishermen and women who catch the fish and other seafood are often forced into that “job.” But if you thought the inhumane treatment of persons ended there, you’d be wrong. Rather, throughout the entire process–catching, processing, and shipping–human trafficking is present.

This stigma around slavery in the seafood industry has forced companies, such as Red Lobster, to launch “sustainable seafood campaigns” in which they reveal the origin of each catch.

What can you do? Know where your seafood is coming from! If the restaurant, wholesaler, or retailer does not have the information readily available to you, there’s a chance their process could involve trafficking. You can find more tips on how to stop human trafficking in the seafood industry here.

So, next time, before you buy your seafood of choice, ask yourself if you know where it came from. You can help put an end to modern day slavery!

We Make Noise…

Due to its geographic location, Venezuela is a major country for transportation of victims. However, due to the current economic crisis, it is extremely hard to capture traffickers. “When we investigate, we find that, in Venezuela, trafficking in persons is invisible like anything else that questions the prestige and effectiveness of public power. However, it is as real as any other crime of which they speak little. In fact, the country has been under international gaze and questioning since it does not openly declare the criminal cases that are investigated and processed in the country against this scourge.”

In front of this reality, the Daughters of Charity of the Province “La Milagrosa Bogota Venezuela” have begun a campaign against this evil and its invisibility. Currently in its second year of offering options for information and prevention, the campaign is called “Let’s Make Noise, Let’s Talk About Trafficking.”

During the first year of this campaign, the goal was to reach more than 3,000 individuals, informing them of the evil that is human trafficking. With support and participation from each sister and members of the Congregation of the Mission, the goal was met! This had never previously been done! They were able to develop a method to measure the decibels of noise created by their campaign.

Today, we can say that there are more places for dialogue on the topic of human trafficking. People have listened, many have made comparisons. Real cases have been shared along with significant experiences. It has been discussed with the most vulnerable people, informing them of the cases and immediate consequences.

Now, entering the second year of the campaign, the new goal is the reach the border states, including Merida, Tachira, and Maracaibo. These places are known to be home to a vulnerable population.

“The work is still incipient but we are firmly convinced that we are doing what we have to do. The more you talk about the problem, the more people can name and understand the methods and recruitment strategies. In the end,  hopefully there will be fewer victims and life will be given and given in abundance.”


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.