Ending human trafficking requires collective action in addressing the conditions that cause it, said a U.S. bishop.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to unite in promoting efforts that prevent the evil of human trafficking,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, in a statement released Feb. 1.
On Feb. 8, the Catholic Church marked the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. The observance coincided with the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was born into slavery in 19th-century Sudan and eventually gained her freedom in Italy, where she became a Canossian sister. Since her canonization by St. John Paul II in 2000, she has become the patron saint of human trafficking survivors.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops collaborated with The Catholic University of America in celebrating a Feb. 8 Mass for the occasion, as well as an ecumenical prayer service as a panel discussion on the issue.
The USCCB Committee on Migration also has supported legislation and policies to protect victims and prevent trafficking, and has urged Congress to pass the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023. Named for the internationally renowned U.S. abolitionist who himself had escaped slavery, the act would allocate $241 million annually from 2024-2028 for domestic and international anti-trafficking measures and victim support.
“We … recognize the important role of governments in addressing the conditions that lead to trafficking, and we remain committed to working with our own government and fellow members of civil society to develop and implement anti-trafficking efforts,” Bishop Seitz said in his statement.
In 2021 alone, some 50 million individuals worldwide were in a form of modern slavery, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
The two most common types of human trafficking are forced labor (including sex trafficking) and forced marriage.
In 2021, the Washington-based nonprofit Polaris, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, received more than 10,350 reports involving over 16,550 individual victims — numbers representing “likely only a fraction of the actual problem,” according to the organization’s website.
During fiscal year 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opened 1,373 human trafficking investigations, an increase of more than 260 cases over the previous fiscal year.
The State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report highlighted three key trends in trafficking: an increase in forced labor, a rise in the use of online scams to target victims and growing numbers of boys and men among those trafficked.
Traffickers typically prey on individuals made vulnerable by economic distress, forced migration, domestic instability or a history of being sexually or physically abused. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement notes the “complex nature” of trafficking, with perpetrators operating under the radar and victims, who often blame themselves, rarely reporting their enslavement. Some victims are mistakenly identified as criminals or undocumented migrants, the agency also said. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection also seeks to identify potential victims as they enter the U.S. and direct them to agencies providing legal protection and assistance.
In a video message for last year’s day of prayer and awareness on the issue, Pope Francis said the “shameful scourge” of human trafficking “disfigures dignity.”
“It is incumbent upon all of us to unite in promoting efforts that prevent the evil of human trafficking,” Bishop Seitz said in his statement. “I join our Holy Father in inviting the faithful and all people of good will to uphold and affirm human dignity and grow in solidarity with those who are vulnerable to exploitation and have been impacted by this terrible evil of modern-day slavery. Inspired by St. Josephine’s life, may we accompany them in the pursuit of justice.”
Young people join religious sisters in fight against trafficking
By Carol Glatz | Catholic News Service
ROME — The world’s religious sisters have paved the way in their pioneering fight against human trafficking, said a survivor and activist.
Now today’s young people “are walking the way,” following in the sisters’ footsteps to raise awareness, assist victims and promote solutions, Daniela Alba, a staff member of Jesuit Refugee Service, said Feb. 6.
Alba and about 40 other young people were in Rome’s central Santa Maria in Trastevere Square filming a promotional video “flash-mob” style with music, clapping and holding aloft handmade signs with words like, “Freedom,” “Hope,” “Stand together,” “Dignity” and “Respect” in different languages.
Other volunteers took advantage of the small crowds to distribute bookmarks illustrating International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.
The young students, volunteers, researchers, communicators and activists working against trafficking also represented organizations that partner with Talitha Kum, a global network begun by women religious in the 1990s to assist victims and fight trafficking.
“The nuns laid the bricks down, paved the way, and now we are walking this way,” said Alba, who is a survivor of gender-based violence, fleeing at a young age from Bogota, Colombia, with her mother to the United States.
“People think these things happen in silos, but forced migration drives human trafficking,” she said.
Trafficking is also driven by greed, she said, referring to the fact that traffickers, who take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities to force or trick them into slave-like working conditions, are answering a demand for cheap labor. “The fear of survival” is a natural instinct, yet greed perverts that into thinking, “I need more and nothing is ever enough.”