ROCKY HILL – Widely held myths and misconceptions about human trafficking were challenged, and shattered, before an audience of more than 100 people who attended a workshop March 7 at St. James Church.
The presentation about human trafficking made clear that the victims include vulnerable men as well as women; and children, who are always vulnerable and often very young. With facts, statistics and victim assistance information, the presentation addressed investigative, legal,and citizen awareness and response aspects under the topic, “Stolen Lives: A Gospel Response to Human Trafficking.”
The speakers were William Rivera, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Immigration Practice for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, and Alicia Kinsman, managing attorney for the legal immigration program at the International Institute of Connecticut.
One goal of the discussion was, as Ms. Kinsman put it, to ensure that “that when a red flag goes off in your head, you have enough information to pick up the phone or send an email to get someone the help they might need.”
During the three-hour discussion, Mr. Rivera and Ms. Kinsman offered participants what likely was not only their first exposure to the realities of human trafficking and modern day slavery, but also the knowledge that these crimes are now local crimes, being perpetrated in Connecticut communities.
Mr. Rivera, who also is an adjunct faculty member at Connecticut College, identified trafficking as a lucrative crime largely hidden from view, and one that has long gone unnoticed by the developed world.
He and Ms. Kinsman told their listeners that conditions are beginning to change and that they can each help.
Through their respective organizations, the two have collaborated in establishing a successful response protocol to identify trends and facilitate recovery. They stressed the importance of public awareness, public participation and public response throughout the investigative, assistance and prosecution stages of fighting the crime.
So that participants would better know it when they saw it, they defined trafficking, basically, as “compelled work.” They described it as a job the employee can’t leave without suffering a severe consequence, real or perceived. And, because such workers can look like any other landscaper or domestic worker, for example, it’s a highly profitable, relatively low risk crime.
Key goals of the workshop were familiarizing participants with human trafficking, identifying trafficked people, understanding how unaccompanied alien minors are particularly vulnerable and knowing where to go for help.
Mr. Rivera said the Department of Children and Families follows up on every report of suspicion, often as many as 10 times for the same child. With the professional services of forensic psychologists, psychiatrists, victims’ rights proponents and other specialists, the pursuit of these crimes is an extremely labor-intensive process.
Interagency sharing of information is critical to link individuals to DCF and thereby to the appropriate law enforcement agency, he said. All information from public tips is confidential, and all processes ensure that investigations are done right to maximize the probability of prosecution.
The presentation was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry and the Office of the Diaconate.
Lynn Campbell, executive director of the OCSJM, told the participants about opportunities for action as they returned to their roles within parish ministries.
She said Catholic Relief Services (CRS) combats human trafficking in 30-plus countries, including the United States. The OCSJM is associated with CRS’s fair trade and human trafficking initiative, represented at the event’s exhibit area and in a talk by volunteer Mary O’Brien, trained by CRS.
Ms. O’Brien focused on how environmental awareness action can serve to reduce human trafficking, in part by encouraging practices that ensure farmers a living wage for their goods and services.
Anne Marie Boulay, women’s ministries director of the Wintonbury Baptist Church in Bloomfield, spoke vigorously about the need for people to get engaged in the fight against human trafficking.
Her goal is to ensure, she said, “That no one would be for sale on our watch in Connecticut.”
She encouraged attendees to pledge to fight human trafficking by praying for, mentoring or fostering a child.
Attendee Deacon Ramon Rosado, who serves at St. Augustine Church in Hartford, told the Transcript the workshop was shocking and eye-opening.
Relating it to the training about child sexual abuse that all employees of the archdiocese undergo, he said human trafficking information should be covered, as well.
“We’ve been desensitized by the media about this problem and need to open our eyes and take the next step,” he said.