By David Lichter
This issue of Vision is dedicated to human trafficking. The Catholic Health Association’s July-August 2018 issue included a fine article, “Building a Program for Trafficking Survivors” by Jennifer Cox. She mentions how “clients’ stories may differ in texture, but they carry the same threads of violence, abuse, exploitation, sorrow, neglect and trauma.” She also notes that this topic is not addressed in many medical books or programs. We can say the same for our preparation and practice in spiritual care. For this issue, we were challenged to find members who felt confident that they could write about their experience in caring for individuals or families affected by human trafficking. We are grateful for the articles we received.
“We can all do our part in responding to the suffering of those who have experienced human trafficking,” Cox concludes. “Awareness is the first step, and then staying vigilant to perceive those who might be silently suffering and in need of support.” For myself, the topic challenged me to do more reading, as well as being more appreciative of our members working in this field, such as Father Don Lum, BCC, who ministers in north Florida and is dedicated to serving those affected by human trafficking.
The USCCB website on human trafficking was very helpful to me. Please reference it on your own as well. I appreciated the way the site begins with Catholic social teaching: “Human trafficking violates the sanctity, dignity, and fundamental rights of the human person.” It quotes from the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, as well as the U.S. State Department, to define human trafficking. Its many guises include “commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, and involuntary servitude.” The umbrella term being used internationally is “trafficking in persons” as a form of “modern slavery.”
I was not surprised but saddened to know that trafficking is present in every sector of society, commerce, and industry. “Victims may be workers in food processing factories, waiters or cooks at restaurants, construction workers, agricultural laborers, fishers, housekeeping staff at hotels, domestic help in private residences, or sex trafficked women and men in brothels, spas and massage parlors.” It’s overwhelming to consider this. Even more so when we think about the numbers: nearly 40.3 million people worldwide, of whom 24.9 million are entrapped in forced labor and sexual slavery, and 15.4 million subjected to forced marriage.
The statistics are staggering.
- 25% of all victims are children ages 17 or younger, representing 10 million girls and boys worldwide.
- Nearly 30% of all victims are men and boys, jumping to 46% for victims of forced labor.
- Of the 24.9 million victims of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, nearly 1 of 4 were exploited outside their home country.
- For every 1,000 people across the world in 2016, 5.4 were victims of human trafficking.
- Trafficking is a $150 billion (yes, billions!) enterprise. The USCCB states, “Modern-day slavery has become the fastest-growing source of illicit profit for criminals worldwide.” Wow!
What was most helpful on the site was the list of widespread myths regarding human trafficking that were dispelled.
- It’s not mainly about sexual commercial exploitation. Of the 24.9 million victims worldwide, nearly 81 percent are in forced labor, and 18 of the 25 types of human trafficking in the United States are labor-related.
- It rarely involves kidnapping by an unknown person. The truth is it’s usually a “groomer,” someone who has intentionally and deceptively captured the vulnerable victim emotionally first.
- It doesn’t mean being taken to another country. Actually, one can be a victim in one’s own country, state, and community.
- Not only illegal businesses, such as brothels or the drug trade, profit from it. Victims of human trafficking are also found in hotels, construction, and agriculture.
- Undocumented victims of human trafficking can also receive help and social services.
- Contrary to what we might like to think, most of us benefit from services or goods produced by victims of human trafficking. Such labor is everywhere, “everything from fish, cotton, rice, cement, and even Christmas decorations.” Yikes!
- are not necessarily physically restrained or abused. Instead, “traffickers often use methods of fraud and coercion to ‘imprison’ their victims … including threatening to kill or harm loved ones, tricking the victim into thinking he/she owes him/her a debt, or threatening deportation in the case of the foreign-born victims.”
The last myth was most important, that it’s too much for any of us to make a difference. The USCCB site says, “Every person can help to bring an end to human trafficking. Request a free toolkit from our Become a SHEPHERD program to learn more about the signs of trafficking and how to educate others. Each one of us can take steps to become more involved in the growing movement to end modern-day slavery.”
I hope that raising the topic might lead you, as it did me, to take some small step to increase your awareness and to find a way to engage in responding to this human tragedy. I hope these few articles might help. We are grateful to our authors.