Celebrating Triumph Over Injustice

IMG_7048For 853 years, the town of Acquapendente, Italy has celebrated hope and victory over oppression. In 1166, two peasants witnessed the blooming of a near-dead cherry tree and took it as a sign of hope that their town could gain freedom from their oppressor. Every year since the revolt, villagers have held a festival and created pugnaloni—huge, stunning mosaics of flower petals that tell the story of triumph over bondage and injustice past and present.

Some of this year’s mosaics depict current themes of exploitation of migrants, human trafficking and child abuse. They also invite and inspire viewers to hold out hope while working toward justice.

Written by Carol Metzker

Teens Lured into Human Trafficking Online

Every day in my email I read about teens who are lured into relationships with predators posing as teens in chatrooms. Sometimes the teens are talking into sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves to the “teen friend” who promises that the picture is just for him/her.

Of course, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The pictures are received and then shared with other predators on the internet, often on the “dark web.” The teen is then blackmailed into sending more and more pictures as the predator threatens to forward pictures to the teen’s parents and friends if the teen doesn’t comply. The teen is caught in a no-win situation, at times ending in suicide as the teen sees no other alternative. And once a picture is on the web, even if deleted, it is there forever!

In the case above, the teen’s relationship is through the computer chat room but does not get to the next level of meeting the “teen friend” at the mall, park, restaurant, etc. As we know, teens are very vulnerable and easily influenced by others. Some of these online relationships do get to the next level and the teen secretly meets the person on the other end of the line. When this happens, the teen is in danger of being taken and forced into trafficking or groomed to agree to participate “willingly.” This is a very dangerous situation for these teens.

As parents, teachers, relatives, and friends, how can we protect our vulnerable youth from falling into this trap? The first thing we must do is to educate ourselves on how to talk with our youth in an intelligent, clear, and nonjudgmental way. Then, we must take the time to talk with them and listen to them on a regular basis. It is important for parents and schools to use filtering and monitoring software and tools on all devices to which children and teens have access. There are numerous software programs (like this one) out there to help adults keep children safe.

Please do your part and educate others on how they can protect our precious youth from predators.

Click here or click here for some internet safety tips.

Masterpieces of Broken Pieces

A few years ago, residents, volunteers and I painted rocks to surround a garden at Dawn’s Place, a home for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. A resident painted, “We are all masterpieces of broken pieces.”

It inspired the name and concept behind an art project for survivors from Dawn’s Place, The Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking Program and other programs. Survivors and their allies create glittering mosaic candleholders and beautiful ornaments from broken jewelry, unwanted plates and discarded books.

By participating in the “Masterpieces” project, local survivors learn and practice work skills, make decisions, express ideas and think creatively. Survivors earn gift cards to buy what they choose; community members’ purchases of “masterpieces” enable survivors to earn more gift cards. One woman found that the relaxation and focus the activity provides can help her fight insomnia and PTSD episodes. Others experienced a boost in self-esteem when Penn State’s Henry Art Gallery included their “masterpieces” in an exhibit.

The pieces displayed at the “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces: A Labyrinth of Light and Hope”—a glittering, meditative walk among the survivor artwork and candlelight during January’s National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month—help labyrinth participants connect with survivors’ success stories and their deeper sense of compassion.

The “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces” project reminds us all that although we carry scars from life’s difficulties and we are imperfect, we are all the more valuable, beautiful and unique for having survived.

Written by Carol Metzker

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.”