Listen to Survivors

We often wonder how best to continue the fight against human trafficking. Education and training are two very popular ways this is happening. But, for too long, we’re been ignoring the most obvious solution—listening to the survivors.

No one knows the ins and outs of the horrors of human trafficking better than the victims and survivors. ECPAT-USA and DHS have recently recognized this and have given survivors critical roles to play in combatting trafficking.

ECPAT-USA, the nation’s leading ant-child trafficking organization, has replaced their Advisory Council with a Survivor’s Council, a council comprised of one male and six female survivors of sex trafficking. Their role will be to work in current and future ECPAT-USA initiatives to “ensure the efficacy and sensitive of programs, reports, and materials.” By sharing their experiences with those best able to help, survivors offer insight, hope, and justice for other survivors, as well as the ability to help shape policy and programs to assist in fighting human trafficking.

A similar program known as the Blue Campaign (a program of the Department of Homeland Security) is helping survivors find their voice. Broadly, the Department of Homeland Security’s goal is to help to recognize human trafficking in our communities, arrest the traffickers, and help the victims. Specifically, it offers a voice for survivors and recognizes that, without the help of these individuals, the cycle will never end.

Many survivors want to share their story in hopes of helping others in the same position. So why not take advantage of this knowledge? Who better to teach others the signs of trafficking? Who better to help shape the laws and policies than those who lived through the horrifying experience?

Are We Asking the Right Questions?

The late Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Rose McGeady saved the original New York Covenant House from closure in the early 1990s. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the runaway youths in this country, including those who often end up trafficked. Her efforts to serve the country’s homeless youth dramatically helped expand the reach of Covenant House throughout the world, with 16 locations currently open in the U.S.

But there is always more work to be done. Surveys have shown that around 88% of human trafficking survivors saw a healthcare provider at least once during their time as a victim. While many healthcare providers are being trained more extensively on the signs of a trafficking victim, researchers at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. created a tool that may also help to identify these victims.

This tool, which takes the form of a questionnaire, is being pretested at the Covenant House in Houston. It directly asks respondents a variety of questions including if anyone has ever forced or pressured them to perform sexual acts, forced or pressured them to take pornographic photos and/or videos, and if anyone has ever put their photo on the internet to find clients.

After being pretested at locations in four states, 25.8% of respondents answered “yes” to one or more sexual exploitation screening questions.

“The key takeaway is that there are reliable tools that can improve our ability to identify human trafficking victims to help navigate them to services that can help them recover,” said Diane Santa Maria, University of Texas Health School of Nursing professor.

You can read more about this new tool here.

Weekly Vatican Conference: Pope Francis on Human Trafficking

Pope Francis highlighted human trafficking at the Vatican conference this week. In a later interview regarding the Pope’s talk, Monsignor Robert Vitallo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), reported that the Pope condemned “trafficking in human beings as one of the most dramatic manifestations of the commercialization of others, a crime against humanity that disfigures both victims as well as those who carry it out.” The Pope stressed the importance of networking on an international level in order to eradicate this crime. Monsignor Vitillo spoke on the importance of global level advocacy in the “shaping of international policies that have been already prepared, but still need to be implemented by the governments, as well as, new policies that need to be developed.”

Lindsey King speaks on the problems connected with the implementation of the existing international laws, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air in her article “International Law and Human Trafficking” from Topical Research Digest: Human Rights and Human Trafficking. Enforcement of these laws is problematic, in part, due to the crime transcending borders and jurisdictions. Furthermore, there is a lack of law enforcement training and awareness, language barriers, and the hesitancy on the part of victims to speak out against their traffickers, just to name a few.

There is no simple solution to eradicate this crime against humanity. However, as a world community, we must work diligently to urge our political leaders to spend time, energy, and resources to enact the existing laws as well as to create new laws and policies that protect all human beings from being used as objects. In working together, we can enact change and save countless women, men, and children from those who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

Click here to read about Monsignor Vitillo’s thoughts.

Click here for the Topical Research Digest: Human Rights and Human Trafficking.

 

From Slavery to Freedom

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking survivors.

Josephine was born in 1869 in a small village in Darfur. While still a young girl, she was kidnapped by slave traders and sold into slavery.

For over a decade, she was bought and sold many times and endured horrendous experiences, including torture by her various owners. She suffered branding and beatings on many occasions. It is said that once, her owners cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to make sure that the scars remained.

Her captors asked her name, but in her fear as a result of her trauma, she was unable to remember the name her parents had given her at birth. Mocking her, they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate.”

In 1883, Josephine was eventually taken to Italy where she served a family as a maid. While there, she came to know the Canossian Sisters of Venice.

It was during Josephine’s time around the Canossian Sisters that she began to learn about God and Catholicism. This was an experience during which she learned about the Gospel.

At the age of 30, Josephine was baptized into the Catholic faith on January 9, 1890. She took the name Josephine Margaret. Jospehine’s warm demeanor persisted up until her death on February 8, 1947. Pope Saint John Paul II canonized her on October 1, 2000.

The Vincentian priests sponsored the cause to canonize Josephine Bakhita. Father Bill Sheldon, C.M. served as the Postulator General in Rome and worked on her cause during his tenure. He confirmed that there was an affiliation between the Canossian Daughters of Charity and the “Vincentian Family.”

Josephine held no bitterness toward her owners. In fact she once said, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

What Drives the Demand for Human Trafficking?

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (January 11) to the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (February 8) is a month set aside for us to be more aware and pray for an end to human trafficking. It is a time to remember those who are vulnerable and more easily victimized–migrants, runaway youth, homeless youth, applicants for fake jobs in foreign places, etc. Usually trafficking is a crime against those who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized.

During this period of time, the Super Bowl, one of the largest and most publicized sporting events in the U.S., took place in Atlanta. According to the Urban Institute, Atlanta has the largest underground economy for commercial sex–including sex trafficking–in the country. Sexual exploitation of men, women, and children takes place in this city and in every corner of the world every single day.

While it is true that the demand for sex trafficking increases around events such as the Super Bowl, it is wrong to assume this is the ONLY reason for an increase in sex trafficking. Still, prior to the Super Bowl, there was an effort to make others aware of the dangers around human trafficking that arise when large groups (especially large groups of men) gather for such an event.

Another cause for an increase in demand of sex trafficking is pornography. Pornography production often involves the use of fraud, force, or coercion to prompt the performance of those being depicted. Additionally, traffickers often further exploit their victims by recording the acts which they perform and post these for commercial profit.

Often times, we think of trafficking as something very distant that doesn’t touch our lives. However, it is something that happens each day in the U.S. and it is up to us to be aware of this crime and report it to proper authorities. This requires learning the signs of trafficking.

Learning these signs is one of the easiest ways to help fight against this form of slavery. This fight starts with knowing what to look for and all it requires is for a person to be more vigilant and aware in their normal and everyday surroundings. Additionally, by teaching adults the signs of trafficking, studies show that we can help to prevent the progression of children being trafficked.

 

#TackleDemand

It’s common knowledge that human trafficking increases around the Super Bowl and other large events. (You can read more about that here.)

The #TackleDemand campaign is aiming to draw attention to this increase in demand and educate the public on the dangers of human trafficking as well as the warning signs and what to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked.

Use the hashtag #TackleDemand on your social media posts to get involved and help us fight human trafficking!

Click here to read more about the campaign.

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

In December 2016, President Barack Obama instituted January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In his proclamation he stated, “Today, in too many places around the world – including right here in the United States – the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.”

When thinking about Human Trafficking most people think of sex trafficking, however there are other ways that people are being bought and sold including forced labor, domestic servitude, organ harvesting, child soldiers and forced marriage. Millions of people throughout the world, including right here in the United States, are being forced into a life that is not of their choosing.

We must all raise our voices to shut down this billion-dollar industry! There are numerous actions that can be taken to help to increase public awareness and to stop this horrible injustice. Will you take the time to read and act?

  1. On Thursday, January 11th, participate in “The Blue Campaign by wearing a blue ribbon. Spread the word by distributing blue ribbons to others and taking a picture of yourself, your friends, family and co-workers wearing blue ribbons and post on social media with #WearBlueDay. Include a statement to explain the meaning of the ribbon and why you are participating.
  2. Go to the App Store and download:
    • TraffickCam App: Each time you travel, use the TraffickCam App to take pictures of your hotel room to add to the national database used by law enforcement to track places where trafficking is taking place.
    • The STOP App: Use the STOP app to report suspicious activity related to trafficking.
    • Sweat and Toil App: The Sweat & Toil app to learn how goods are produced and by whom.
  3. Visit Know The Chain to educate yourself about the risk of forced labor in the apparel, food, and technology industries.
  4. Check your state’s report card. States receive grades from A to F from Shared Hope International, which keeps a close eye on how each state meets certain criteria related to stopping human trafficking.
  5.  Save, post, and distribute the National Human Trafficking hotline number.
  6. When traveling, choose a hotel that has signed the Tourism Children Protection Code of Conduct sponsored by EPCAT-USA.
  7. Ask your church or organization to include an announcement in the bulletin (or elsewhere) regarding National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, noting that January 11th is “Wear Blue Day.” Encourage others to get involved in the movement to educate others by hosting workshops or presentations.
  8. Take the steps to learn more! Try these websites:

For additional tips to learn more about human trafficking, don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Migration & Modern Slavery!