The scourge of human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It is present in our city and state, but frequently goes unnoticed because it takes many forms, and its victims live in the shadows. But the human suffering inflicted on the victims of trafficking is very real, and is a terrible crime against human dignity.
The number of victims of trafficking is staggering. The UN estimates that there are over 1.5 million victims in the United States, Canada and Europe. The majority (55%) of forced labor victims are women and girls. And 98 percent of sex trafficking victims are female. Children make up 26 percent of all victims — over 5.5 million child victims around the world.
Human trafficking generally takes two forms: sex slavery and forced labor. Sex slavery means forcing people -- usually women and children -- into prostitution or pornography. Forced labor involves using threats or coercion to reduce people to involuntary servitude.
I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). 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 labour? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity. (211)
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with many of our religious communities for women, have been working for years with secular groups and government agencies to combat human trafficking. For more information about the problem, see the USCCB's webpage on human trafficking. The USCCB has set up a special Anti-Trafficking Program to raise awareness, and to give suggestions for action.
In 2013, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Social Sciences held a special workshop on the problem of human trafficking. At the conclusion of the workshop, a statement was issued calling upon international organizations, nations, faith communities, and civil organizations to commit themselves to take action to eradicate this problem.
What is the government doing?
The United States and New York have strict laws against human trafficking. But these laws can be strengthened, and more aggressively enforced. It's also vital that people become more aware of this terrible problem, and call upon their public officials to take action.
For more information and resources on this subject, check out the following links:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- Anti-Trafficking Program
New York State Office of Children and Family Services -- Human Trafficking
New York City -- Let's End Human Trafficking
The most important thing we can do is pray for the victims of human trafficking. It is especially appropriate to pray to St. Josephine Bakhita, who was herself a victim of trafficking, having been sold into slavery as a young girl.
Please download this beautiful prayer card from the U.S. Bishops' Conference, and offer a prayer to this wonderful saint:
St. Josephine Bakhita,
you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church.
O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf
so that they will be released from their chains of captivity.
Those whom man enslaves, let God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery
and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith.
Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.
International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking
February 8, 2015
“The Holy See designated February 8 as an annual day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking. Catholics all over the world joined in prayer that day, which is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. For further information please visit the USCCB website at: http://www.usccb.org/about/anti-trafficking-program/day-of-prayer.cfm
As Catholics, we are called to work with our parish and community to help end the evil of modern day slavery. If you are interested in bringing awareness to your local parish, learn how to ‘Become a Shepherd’ by visiting: http://www.usccb.org/about/anti-trafficking-program/become-a-shepherd-tool-kit.cfm.