Not long ago, Pope Francis made an unexpected appearance at a “Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organized Crime,” a two-day conference at the Vatican organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. To the judges and prosecutors from around the world, Pope Francis said: “Victims … need to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, and their traffickers and executioners must be given no quarter and pursued.”
What exactly is “human trafficking?” It is the illegal trade in human beings for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. As such, it is nothing less than slavery. The number of people trafficked globally is unknown but is estimated at 700,000 to two million people each year. Human trafficking is a $32-billion-a-year industry worldwide and is especially rampant in the United States.
One respect-life publication describes the phenomenon this way: “Lured by promises of a job, an education, a better life, opportunity, freedom, or even romance, women and children come to the United States from Asia, Europe, Central America, Mexico, and other regions. They never suspect that they will be forced to work in brothels, in massage parlors or for escort services. … To keep these women and children enslaved, traffickers may use beatings, rape, threats to family members, debt bondage, and threats of deportation or imprisonment. For a variety of reasons, victims rarely identify themselves. Often they are unable to speak English. They are full of fear and shame and unfamiliar with the protective U.S. laws. … The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is twelve to fourteen. Youth running away from unstable home environments where they suffered sexual or physical abuse are lured by pimps with promises of love, security, and belonging. Pimps adeptly use grooming and recruitment practices, similar to those used by child sexual predators, to create trauma bonds and keep youth enslaved.”
Connecticut is not immune. Since 2008, our state has documented more than 250 cases of domestic minor sex trafficking, according to the Department of Children and Families. However, many other stolen lives tragically fall under the radar and are not reported. They are cut off from the lifelines of their families and support systems.
What can we do to eradicate these sins and crimes, and to help those whose human dignity and fundamental rights are being violated so grossly? For a long time now, the church has been involved in combating human trafficking by direct assistance, advocacy and education. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and religious women and their communities in particular have been very active in calling attention to this scourge and assisting victims.
This coming October, as part of national “Respect Life Month,” our archdiocesan Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM) will participate in the 17th annual Respect Life Conference on October 15 at the Holy Angels Parish Center in South Meriden. Collaborating with the Pro-Life Outreach Ministry there, OCSJM executive director Lynn Campbell will lead a workshop on “Stolen Lives: A Gospel Response to Human Trafficking” with Alicia Kinsman Esq., director of Victim and Trafficking Services for the International Institute of Connecticut Inc. Also, OCSJM has an array of online resources compiled from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sisters of Notre Dame, National Human Trafficking Resource Center and others. These tools are available to educate individuals, communities and parishes on proactive ways they may get involved to offer help and hope. (See http://bit.ly/endhumantraffic)
It is also crucial to recognize that human trafficking is not just a social problem but a spiritual one, rooted in sin. It would not be as profitable as it is without a wide market for sins of the flesh. Anyone who thinks that he or she can indulge in lewd conduct without contributing to evils like human trafficking, even within the supposed privacy of the web or in other ways, without contributing to evils like human trafficking is deceiving himself or herself. Lust corrupts both individuals and societies. Saint Paul speaks of God’s giving people up to “degrading passions … a debased mind and things that should not be done” (Rom 1:26, 28). And he warns: “Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9f).
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, echoing God’s question to Cain in Genesis, asks: “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way,” the pope implores. “Let us not look the other way.”