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Religious say helping victims will entail stopping traffickers and the demand

Human trafficking protest

Against slavery: People display signs in Los Angeles during a January 9 “Walk 4 Freedom” in advance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States on January 11.
Photo: CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva

BRINGING the light of hope to ending human trafficking means confronting the brutal “darkness” of evil that is driving those who exploit others, said a number of women religious helping victims.

Already “thousands and thousands of us are working in networks across the world to dispel this darkness, and it’s not happening, so we have to ask ourselves, ‘What do we do?'” Loreto Sister Imelda Poole said.

Those active in the fight will have to “look at the darkness – the demand, the traffickers, to see if we can work more closely with the police, the justice (system) and, as a Church, let us open the doors wider and wider to do research, to really look at the phenomenon, to be as clever as the traffickers”, she said.

She and others spoke at a Vatican news conference yesterday (February 3) in the run-up to the Church’s first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking to be celebrated every February 8, the feast of St Josephine Bakhita.

The International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimate at least 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, and 2.5 million more people fall into the snares of traffickers each year. The ILO estimates human trafficking generates more than $32 billion a year – the third most-profitable “business” after drugs and arms trafficking.

Comboni Missionary Sister Valeria Gandini, who works on trafficking and migration issues in Sicily, said people who paid for sex “have a great responsibility in trafficking” because “they are the ones who directly abuse the girl”, and the money they handed to the prostitute headed straight to the criminal networks running the industry.

She said that as she was ministering to women on the street, she saw men ranging from grandfathers to young teenagers on mopeds driving up to proposition the women.

“There is a lack of a sense of responsibility” and awareness that their actions had consequences on others, she said.

Often people were ignorant of the coercive hold traffickers had on these women, thinking the women were freely and willingly prostituting themselves, she said.

As part of their work in preventing trafficking, Sr Gandini said they handed out to “clients” on the streets as well as to people in school and parishes a letter explaining the poverty, trickery, coercion and risks to which the women were exposed.

The hope was that helping people recognise the plight of victims, and the need to respect and protect human dignity would help reduce the demand, she said.

“In order to understand what human trafficking is, it is necessary to meet victims, to listen to them, look at them in the eyes, embrace them,” Sr Gandini said.

So often victims “do not ask for help and they live silently in fear and shame – a silence that we find deafening”, she said.

As a way to raise awareness, the International Union of Superiors General, which includes the superiors of about 1900 religious orders of women around the world, and the Union of Superiors General, which represents male religious orders worldwide, launched the website for the day of prayer, asking people to “shine a light” on the often-hidden problem of human trafficking.

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Cardinal Peter Turkson said the day of prayer was meant to expand awareness and prayer on a global scale “to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches” and inspire people to move from awareness to action.

The only way to stop the worldwide crime of trafficking, he said, was to respond in a way that was as far-reaching, global and co-ordinated as the traffickers.

Women’s religious orders came together to form the international network, “Talitha Kum” in 2004. The network is one of more than a dozen networks that the superiors general have formed to educate and warn potential victims of trafficking, to work to combat the poverty that feeds the trade in human beings, and to rescue and provide shelter and rehabilitation for the victims.


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