April 25th – Human Trafficking
As the body of Christ, we are called to correct injustices, to treat others fairly and with respect – to think how our actions will affect others and to concern ourselves with the well- being of all persons.
Human trafficking affects us all, from the clothes we wear and the chocolate we eat to those hidden in the communities we live in.
My name is Rosemary Maguire Thompson and I am the executive director of the P. Francis Murphy Initiative for Justice and Peace. I am honored to be here. At the Murphy Initiative we are committed to the principals of nonviolent social change within the context of our biblical studies, church and with the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us – most notably Bishop Frank Murphy and including Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
For me – human trafficking is one symptom of the very sick society that we are all living in and on a good day attempting to act, work and pray into something different .Something better and more reflective of the Resurrection of our nonviolent brother Jesus – the God of our understanding.
The New York Times recently reprinted a story from June 27th 1861 about escaped slaves seen walking openly in the daylight in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “It seems that less than three months into the Civil War the Underground Railroad was emerging, if not into broad daylight,” the article read, “at least into the pale summer dusk.” The three men trudged along with their heavy bundles, unmolested by the slave catchers, for that era, truly newsworthy. Legally, emancipation wouldn’t come for another 18 months, but on their walk to freedom they made their own dream come true.
Today, 151 years later, we deliver just a little bit more on the promise of freedom that motivated those people to walk North, the promise articulated by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, written in blood and tears, enshrined in our values and in such symbols as the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, as I worked on this reflection for you, I couldn’t help but think how far we have come in this modern chapter of our abolitionist fight. Not as far as we should!
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Wow – that is a lot to take in and yet what does it have to do with us? At this moment – there are more human slaves in the world than at any time in the history of the world – and yet slavery is deemed illegal in every nation in the entire world. Take a moment and let that sink in.
The U.N crime –fighting task force is saying that at least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide of these 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time and 80% are being exploited as sexual slaves. The rest is trafficked to perform forced labor, including in homes and sweat shops. $32 billion are being earned every year by unscrupulous criminals running human trafficking networks and 2 out of every 3 victims are women. The head of the UN agency who handles this issue said “it is difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking that human trafficking – yet it is one of the fastest and most lucrative crimes.”
According to these same source only 1 out of 100 victims is ever rescued. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. Between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Up to 50% are minors – 1.2 million children trafficked each year.
The fact is that modern slavery is only bested by the illegal drug trade for profitability and very little money or political will is being spent to combat this horror. Transnational organized crime groups are adding humans to their product list and satellites reveal the same routes moving them as arms and drugs.
Fact: we are talking about millions of people suffering the misery of this most humiliating crime and only 10% of US police stations have any protocol to deal with trafficking.
Fact: there is no human rights subject on which governments have said so much and done so little. So we all have a lot to learn.
Fact: In times of war or armed conflict, the most vulnerable depend upon adults for safety and security. But in many war-torn parts of the world, children are not only frightened and without a safe place, they are forced to engage in warfare as child soldiers.
Human trafficking is a human rights violation that rises to the level of slavery. Trafficking is the purchase and sale of human beings for the purpose of exploitation of forced labor, such as sex work or participation in armed conflict. The recruitment of a child (a person under the age of eighteen) for the purpose of sexual exploitation or participation in armed conflict is considered trafficking in persons.
In 2000, it was estimated that 13 million children were displaced as a result of warring conflicts. During the civil war in Sierra Leone, more than one million children were displaced, and 25,000 children (some as young as eight years old) were abducted and forced to become members of armed groups. Currently, over 300,000 children are serving as child soldiers in fifty countries in every region of the world. While child participation in armed conflict is not new, child soldiering today is a widespread phenomenon, prevalent particularly in developing countries where political, economic, and social instability are more common place and where approximately half the population consists of children. These children are subjected daily to dehumanizing atrocities.
Children who are trafficked into child soldiering – girls as well as boys – are often abducted from their homes, tortured, brutally indoctrinated, forced to become intoxicated with mind-altering drugs, threatened with death or dismemberment if they do not fight, forced to return to their homes to witness or participate in the death or disfigurement of their own family members, required to kill friends who do not obey their commanders, and forced to watch the punishment of other child soldiers who attempt to escape. Some children who tried to escape have reportedly been boiled alive and other child soldiers forced to eat the human flesh as part of their training. Girls are often raped, enslaved, and victimized by sexual violence on a daily basis. These children are drugged to make them fearless, empowered with weapons, and indoctrinated or brainwashed to commit atrocities.
Despite a proliferation of international human rights treaties, labor laws, and humanitarian laws that should provide children with special protection from this heinous form of abuse, the trafficking of children and the use of children as soldiers is increasing.
I don’t know about you but for me the source of my strength and my hope is in the scriptures. In one of Catholic social teaching’s strongly prophetic documents titled “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” the U.S. bishops, using encouraging resurrection language, wrote, “Let us have the courage to believe in the bright future and in a God who wills it for us — not a perfect world, but a better one. The perfect world, we Christians believe, is beyond the horizon in an endless eternity where God will be all in all. But a better world is here for human hands and hearts and minds to make.”
I am overwhelmed by these statistics – this reality is so far from my reality and yet it is real and happening right in front of us every day on the very corners that we drive or walk. How do we not recognize this crime when it is so up close and personal?
In Sunday’s Gospel Luke has walking down the road to Emmaus.
So how do we walk the road to Emmaus? There is no doubt that the story directs us to the church, where we may encounter Jesus in the word and the sacraments. But not to “the church” that’s equated with the institution and Sunday worship. We are directed instead to the church that meets a very ordinary world, a world marked by human loss and human hospitality.
We never hear of Cleopas again after this passage, and we never learn the name of his companion. They are not important people. They are “ordinary” people who have had the grand adventure of following Jesus and his disciples. But now that is over, and they are walking back home.
With Jesus’ death they have lost their faith and their hope. They are not looking for him; in fact, they don’t even recognize him when he joins them. Yet he chooses this place of loss to meet them. When he asks about their sorrow, they are so absorbed in that grief that they cannot believe that this person doesn’t know about their experience. They tell Jesus the story of his own ministry and death, and add the dubious news of his resurrection.
For them the story is over. Their hopes have proven empty, and they are defeated. But then Jesus tells the story back to them, this time through the lens of their own faith tradition and scriptures. “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe. . .” The story is not about them and their disappointment, he says. It is about life, the universe and everything in it.
They respond to Jesus with hospitality, engaging him in conversation and expressing concern for him when he appears to be traveling beyond their stopping point. “The day is over,” they insist. “It’s getting dark. Come eat with us and rest and be safe.” At supper when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread, they recognize him, then almost immediately lose him again as he vanishes. But the experience on the road and at table has transformed them, and they immediately return to Jerusalem to find the disciples and the rest of their group.
What makes the story remarkable is how unremarkable it is. I can understand Jesus appearing to the remaining 11 disciples, to the faithful women who followed him, and even to Paul all very practical appearances in terms of establishing the church and its mission. But Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day. This is what sets this story apart from other accounts of Jesus’ Easter appearances.
Yes, the story resonates with a sense of the church and its mission and of the tremendous power of the word and the sacraments to connect us with the presence of God. But its image is of God and a church that walk alongside human confusion, human pain and a human loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.
This Gospel story has much to do with our topic at hand. I have long wondered how it was that these disciples did not recognize Jesus as he walked with them. Jesus – their teacher, their rabbi, their friend. Hadn’t this guy just preached to them? Displayed miracles of healing? Had even just washed their feet? How do they not know it was Him ? And then my friend and theologian Ched Myers said one day long ago – they did not know him because he was a torture victim. We know by the accounts of our friend the doubting Thomas that his wounds were still opened when he journeyed back to us. Our savior had literally gone to hell and back – he was unrecognizable because he had open wounds – perhaps he was limping and his beautiful face and body disfigured by unrelenting beatings. This is our God – finally recognized in the breaking of the bread – the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist we are asked to remember what has been dismembered. The exhortation lies at the heart of the church’s Eucharistic ritual, repeated with each element for emphasis. It reiterates and sums up all the deep wisdom of biblical faith, the product of a people all too familiar with distress, displacement and near disappearance. Whenever you ingest this memory, said Jesus on the eve of his execution, you join yourselves to our historic struggle to make the broken body whole. It was, and is, both invitation and imperative, equally personal and political. If we refuse to heed it, we are doomed to drift forever on or be drowned by the tides of empire, refugees and all.
I would like to submit to you that that is what we are called to do today. Recognize the crime and the victims.
Help End Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings through abduction, use or threat of force and other forms of coercion, deception, or fraud, for purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Men, women and children are trafficked into the United States from all over the world, including the Russian Federation and other parts of Eastern Europe, Asian countries such as China or Vietnam, Mexico and Central and South American countries. However, trafficking does not always involve transporting a person across borders. It is common among US citizens as well as foreign nationals.
Who are the Victims? (From the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website)
- There is not one consistent face of trafficking victim. Trafficked persons in the US can be rich or poor, men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or US citizens. Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education.
- While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable. These may include: undocumented migrants; runaways, homeless and at-risk youth; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals. Traffickers specifically target individuals in these populations because they are vulnerable to recruitment tactics and methods of control.
- Undocumented immigrants in the US are highly vulnerable due to a combination of factors, including: lack of legal status and protections, language barriers, limited employment options, poverty and immigration-related debts, and social isolation. They are often victimized by traffickers from a similar ethnic or national background, on whom they may be dependent for employment or a means of support.
Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, and between 14,500 and 17,500 of those are brought into the United States, according to the U.S. State Department.
The victims are forcibly kidnapped, sold by their families, or fraudulently recruited by someone promising them a legitimate job. These men, women and children are forced into domestic servitude, prostitution, or some other type of labor. Traffickers use force, fraud and threats to get victims to engage in forced labor (involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery) or commercial sex (prostitution, stripping, and pornography).
It has been reported that “the perpetrators of these crimes instill fear in their victims in order to keep the victims from leaving or reporting the crimes they endure. Tactics for enslavement include debt bondage, isolation from the public, isolation from family and ethnic or religious community, withholding legal documents, use or threat of violence against the person or the person’s family, threat of imprisonment or deportation, denial of medical care, rape, control of the person’s money, and manipulation and psychological abuse.”
Victims are physically and psychologically isolated and unable to find assistance when they need it the most. Some victims don’t speak or understand English; many don’t even know what city they are in. They are taught to be afraid of the police, and even when given the opportunity (like being arrested for prostitution), they remain silent instead of asking for help.
The best way to combat human traffickers is through education of the public and law enforcement officials. Human trafficking has been a dirty little secret among the traffickers for some time. Many people do not believe that crimes like this occur in the United States, including law enforcement personnel and prosecutors. This situation is changing, and it will be progressively more difficult for the traffickers to conduct their business as more people become aware of the problem and how to report it.
For Signs of Human Trafficking, Look beneath the Surface
- Is the person accompanied by a controlling person or boss?
- Does the person speak on his or her own behalf?
- Does the person lack control over personal schedule, money, ID, travel documents?
- Is the person transported to or from work?
- Does the person live and work in the same place?
- Does the person owe a debt to employer/crew leader?
- Is the person unable to leave his or her job?
- Does the person seem afraid, depressed or overly submissive?
- Does the person have bruises or other signs of physical abuse?
The public needs to be aware of the signs of human trafficking and how to report suspected cases. Adults should be as familiar with the signs of human trafficking as they are the signs of child abuse, drug addiction, or domestic violence.
Most trafficking victims fit a very similar profile. Most of them have been forced into prostitution. Most of them have been raped and physically assaulted numerous times. Victims generally will not maintain eye contact. Most of them appeared to be very depressed, for obvious reasons. All of them showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder.
The female victims in bars usually sit gathered around other victims. They appear to be somewhat separated from the crowd, including the legitimate employees. They will all be dressed in similar inexpensive clothing. This clothing is commonly revealing, and the victims will appear uncomfortable wearing revealing clothing.
The victims generally have no idea of where they are, not even what city they are in. They have no financial assets. Many of them live in an apartment that was rented by the traffickers, or their owner. They share this apartment with many other victims.
The victims will not usually speak to anyone other than a “client” due to the fear of repercussions from the trafficker. They will usually only be seen in a bar or other place they are working in. They are usually not allowed out in the public. There are generally one or more people who are in charge of the victims when they are in the bar and at the location where they are being housed.
- know the signs of trafficking and how to report it
- become advocates for those hidden or vulnerable
- raise awareness and educate others about human trafficking, how it affects them and what they can do about it
- campaign and lobby for local, national and international change
- network people in your town – from other concerned community members to professional agencies
“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love” (The Book of Common Prayer).