Column for the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola Sunday Bulletin by Kathryn King, FSP. The parishes of St Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Loyola are working together against Modern Day Human Slavery.
Trafficking: The New Slavery
Two things happened this week that compelled me to write about this topic. First, I read a pamphlet titled “Sex Trafficking: The New Slavery” by Diane Bayly, the educational and outreach coordinator for the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Services. Second, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation designating January 2011 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Both stirred the memory of my first acquaintance with the reality of human trafficking.
Ten years ago, I was living in a Convent in New Jersey as the Novice Director for the Eastern Franciscan Common Novitiate, a collaborative formation program for fifteen Franciscan Congregations of Women Religious. One day I received a letter from the Director of a program sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The program helped women who were victims of trafficking. Briefly, the director was asking for hospitality for several young Mexican women, who, as victims of trafficking had agreed to be prosecution witnesses in the trial of two men accused of trafficking. The trial was scheduled for a nearby city and a ‘safe house’ was needed for the girls during the trial.
In a meeting with a US Marshall, I learned firsthand of the horrific experiences of these young girls. They were bright and beautiful young Indigenous girls about 14 or 15 years old from rural Mexico. Their families had agreed to let them move to a larger town to complete their secondary education. The girls would live with a family from the village who had migrated to the town and were the proprietors of a successful restaurant. While studying, they were to work in the restaurant for room and board as well as a small stipend that would be sent to help support their families.
Soon after moving to the town, they were kidnapped, taken to a luxurious hacienda on the outskirts of a larger Mexican city, and forced into household service. Each one was raped until she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby. Then the girl was sold to the owner of an escort service in the US and trafficked by van to a small city in New Jersey in proximity to Manhattan where she was to be “educated” into the commercial sex industry. Each day they were driven from the city ‘residence’ to an upscale ‘play house’ in the suburbs to meet their clients. The lives of the girls were directed and monitored by female managers of the “business.” The adept use of grooming practices alternating with regular beatings and threats to kill the babies who were left behind in Mexico formed the ‘education’ and created ‘trauma bonds’ keeping the girls enslaved. They could not speak English, had limited education, and knew they were in the US illegally. Besides the prolonged trauma and fear of their perpetrators, most of the girls felt shamed at having given birth outside legitimate marriage and knew that they would be shunned by their families. A profound loss of hope overtakes such girls, leading in many cases to dissociative disorders with a profound loss of self. The description of the trauma of these girls was so vivid and shocking to me that day, that the emotion still remains.
The Polaris Action Center identifies trafficking as the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. The US Department of State estimates that there are over 800,000 persons trafficked across international borders each year exclusive of the thousands trafficked within a country. 80% are women and children. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first comprehensive federal law dealing with trafficking in the modern era. It offers a ‘victim centered’ paradigm for addressing the crime of trafficking including prevention, protection, and prosecution.
This law will be presented to Congress for re-authorization in 2011.
The prophetic charisms of women religious continue to call them to respond to the needs of the marginalized. Working in collaboration, thirty religious congregations have formed the New York Coalition of Religious Congregations Stop Trafficking of Persons (NYCRC-STOP). Since June 2005,
the coalition has been engaged in education (neighborhoods, parishes, religious congregations, and police precincts) advocacy, legislation, and housing. The collaboration of anti-trafficking groups in prayer, education for awareness, letters, protests, blogs, news articles, pleas from survivors and research studies have yielded some positive results. For example, Craigslist has removed the “Adult” or “Erotic” section from all of its global sites worldwide as of December 2010.
You might be asking, “What can I do to help?” Become a member of a grassroots network. Learn the signs of human trafficking in order to be the ‘eyes and ears’ on the street. Simple observations of what is happening in the neighborhood gives important clues to law enforcement Phone the national hotline (1-888 -3737-888) to report a tip, connect with services, or request resources. Advocate for the re-authorization of the Protection Act.
In the end, the young girls referred to above did not have to endure the final ignominy of public witness to their trauma because the perpetrators pleaded guilty. Although we never met personally, the Mexican girls and I surely met spiritually and emotionally in a way that inspired me to bring their voice to the tragedy of the new slavery.
- Kathryn King, FSP Pastoral Associate