Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy

Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy

Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy


Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is one of the most horrific crimes committed in our society today. It places persons in situations of slavery or slave-like conditions, forced labor or services, such as forced prostitution or sexual services, domestic servitude, bonded sweatshop labor and other debt bondage. In other words, human beings are being bought and sold, sometimes repeatedly, for profit. The term trafficking can  be misleading – it places emphasis on the transaction aspects of a crime that is more accurately described as enslavement.

Recently, people have become more aware of human  trafficking from media reports. The Office of Social Concern in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California  has set up a Trafficking Committee to increase people’s awareness of this scourge of our time. We try to provide immediate help for trafficked  people.  This is happening in many dioceses throughout the US. Our Sisters in the Archdiocese of Miami are participating in parish wide efforts to increase awareness. Patricia McManus rsm works with groups in her parish and finds that it is an eye opener for people to find that trafficking is so widespread. She and her groups are in contact with law enforcement which is essential in this work. The parish shows DVDs after Mass on Sundays to help people become more aware.

Above: Kanthi Salgadu (left) received the CAST Seed of Renewal Award for her work with survivors. Pictured also are film actors Aston Kutcher  and Demi Moore whose DNA Foundation helps fund CAST. Right : Kay Buck Director of CAST.

The Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), based in Los Angeles, has been of great assistance in providing workshops for parish staffs, diocesan personnel, parish groups as well as guiding us in direct service. Our Province supports CAST financially. CAST  provides a full range of services for trafficked people – shelter, food, clothing and legal aid in the Los Angeles area. In our Diocese we know of only one shelter. We have found that our collaboration with CAST has helped greatly.

A recent example of this was when ten  people from the Philippines were trafficked into our area. A Methodist Church got temporary accommodation for them. CAST was able to provide pro bono legal assistance and our parishes gave food and money. Our last report of their situation was good. All got work visas – given to people who can prove they were trafficked. The three year-old daughter of one couple was allowed to re-join her parents here. This is our best example of networking to date!

Members of CAST in Washington D.C. where they visited Senators and Representatives. Pictured are Vanessa Lanza (CAST); Ima Matul (trafficking survivor); Stephanie Richard (CAST);  Angela Guanzon (trafficking survivor); Kanthi Salgadu (trafficking survivor). Ima, Angela and Kanthi work in  CAST’s  Survivors Caucus Leadership Program

Some church youth groups participate in an Action called Freeze. They go to popular places where people gather, call out “Freeze!” to get attention and then pass our information regarding trafficking. It has been a very effective tool.

The following questions and answers may help us to understand the problem better.

Is human trafficking a big issue?

It is a huge problem in our society. Some people get discouraged because they think the problem is too big and they can do nothing. The California Trafficking Victims Protection Act is in place but it can not do everything and legal recourse takes time while people suffer. Many people realize this is happening in other countries but are unaware of how extensive it is here in the US. That is why awareness is so important.

What happens when victims are picked up by the police?
Children are often placed in juvenile hall because there are no other facilities.  There is a real need  for separate settings where the appropriate services can be given. Their needs are quite different from the youth at juvenile hall.

Is enough being done in the local community to identify the victims
No, more outreach is needed in the community to learn the signs of a potential victim, know what questions to ask and who to contact if you suspect human trafficking. Often the victims are anxious, depressed and some suicidal. The churches could become more involved in this area to educate their people.

Is prostitution part of human trafficking?
Very definitely, yes. According to a UN report, the most common form of  human  trafficking (79 percent) is sexual exploitation. Child prostitution is all too common. In the legal terms, a child under the age of 18 cannot give consent and is a victim.

Is human trafficking only in the sex trade?
No, while victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade and adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, there are other victims including domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labour against their will.

Are all victims treated the same?
No, each case is different. When people come to CAST a careful, intensive family history assessment is made. There must be an awareness of the cultural sensitivities, the faith, the values, etc. of the person. Most victims are dealing with trauma, fear and trust issues.

Why don’t the victims come forward and get help?
For many they don’t realize they are victims. Many do not speak English; all their legal documents have been taken from them. They are often physically and sexually abused. If they run away they are told their families back home will be harmed. (Houses of family members have been burned to the ground as punishment.)  They feel powerless to do anything about their situation.

Visible Indicators of Trafficking

•    Does not hold his/her own identity or travel documents
•    Suffers from verbal or psychological abuse designed to intimidate, degrade and frighten the individual
•    Has a boss, trafficker or pimp who controls all the money, victim will have very little or no pocket money, not allowed to speak on one’s own behalf
•    Bruises, depression, fear, overly submissive.

While the problem is daunting, we find people who share our values and can actively support and collaborate with them in addressing trafficking.

Carmel Crimmins rsm
US Province

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