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.

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.

Continental Network Against Modern Slavery

In August, I attended the Seminario Continental Against Human Trafficking organized by Confederation of Latin American Religious (CLAR) in Bogota, Colombia. Seventeen Daughters of Charity from all different provinces of the Americas attended the seminar.

During our time together, we talked about awareness and the importance of the dignity of the human person. The main objective was to strengthen our networks for the defense of every life.

The dynamics led us to move from a global understanding of the phenomenon of trafficking, especially from the perspective of migration, to a biblical reflection to continue to reframe our different charisms around a new axis given by the cries of life and of the poor.

Following this conference, the Daughters of Charity Intercontinental Commission on Modern Slavery met at the Provincial House in Bogota to revise and complete the study we initiated in February 2016. This study came about after our General Assembly where we were encouraged to “share commitments to ending modern forms of slavery.” We were also encouraged to choose concrete commitment to ending modern slavery in each of our provinces, to increase networking, and to go out to the peripheries and to difficult areas.

Through a process of small and large group discussions, our ideas and plans were developed into a draft document. The document included specific content across three detailed areas: structure & communication, formation, and action & collaboration.

Each member shared with the group a couple specific points from the Seminario Continental Against Human Trafficking that stood out as being important to include in our present work against trafficking and for migrants.

The dynamics of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating forced us to think strategically about new ways of acting against Human Trafficking and how to accompany migrants. We focused on how we could work together and with other groups to reach our goal as this is a collaborative problem that will require many individuals.

Recovering from ISIS Captivity

Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape is overwhelming. It is a complex form of trauma that breaches the physical, mental, and spiritual trust of a person against their will. Due to high levels of stress caused by abuse, a person can experience chronic fatigue and many other symptoms.

Two weeks after her rescue, Souhayla, a Yazidi native of Iraq, was still experiencing many of these symptoms. She could not sit up. Her physical injuries were significant, but fortunately, not life-threatening. The sixteen year old’s near unconsciousness was the result of severe shock after three years of serial rape as a captive of ISIS.

Souhayla’s village was raided by ISIS in 2014. Citing a defunct statute of Islamic law, ISIS deemed the Yazidi ethnic minority eligible for enslavement. Soulhayla was held as a prisoner is Mosul, Iraq where she was raped time and time again by multiple men. She was later moved to an area of Mosul that was riddled with armed conflict. It was here that her captor was killed in an airstrike, destroying much of his house. She found the strength to climb through the debris to an Iraqi checkpoint. She was later reunited with her family.

Now back home, Souhayla is slowly recovering, as is common for women who have suffered this type of abuse. Almost 90% of these women slip into a coma-like shock after their rescue as a way of dealing with the psychological trauma they have endured. At first, many show an alarming amount of indoctrinate, unable to abandon their ISIS ideals.

3,410 Yazidi people remain captive or unaccounted for as the conflict in the Middle East continues. Souhayla and her family hope that their story will raise awareness of this abomination of human rights and bring rescue and healing to girls like her.

You can read more of Souhayla’s story here.