Recommitting to ending trafficking

Left, women religious representing 29 UISG regions of the world gathered on the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita for the Angeles in St. Peter’s Square to bring attention to human trafficking. Right, Following the demonstration the sisters listened to three young women who shared their stories of being trafficked from their home countries to Rome. (Joyce Meyer)

Young women once again being sold into slavery! This was the story from Change.org recently describing ISIS’ new tactic. Every day we are greeted with another story about women and girls being sold or trafficked somewhere in the world. And each time, I feel a kind of helplessness. What can I do? It seems such an overwhelming disease in our human family. Although we know from the Ebola epidemic that physical diseases are painfully difficult to eradicate, those that drive persons to destroy others spiritually seems even more so. Between 26 and 30 million persons are currently experiencing the consequences of this spiritual sickness in our world.

So, how do we build the will to stop this global atrocity? Public demonstrations can help build awareness, the goal of 60 women religious representing 29 UISG regions of the world who gathered on the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita for the Angeles in St. Peter’s Square last month. Pope Francis spoke passionately about the need to end this scourge against children, women and men: He said that government leaders need to act decisively “to remove the causes of this shameful wound. . . . a wound that is unworthy of civil society.” Sr. Patricia Byrne, the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) representative, the staff of Talitha Kum, Comunauta Rut and brothers from John XXII Association organized the day.

Following the demonstration three young women shared their stories of being trafficked from their home countries to Rome. Sister Patricia found “their personal testimonies deeply harrowing. Each woman was betrayed initially by women, one from her own parish church; trapped in a maze of enslavement; sexually physically and psychologically abused and even tortured and mutilated.” How did a university graduate find herself in such a position? “I jumped at the chance of going abroad to a job waiting for me as no work was available at home,” she said. The other two added that their families needed support and the lure of work abroad was an opportunity to help. Sister Patricia: “It was the monster, poverty that grabbed them and the systems of violence that exploits and dehumanizes youth without prosecution for the perpetrators.”

Women and men religious of the city risked their own safety to liberate these three from pimps, shifting them from shelter to shelter to keep them safe from the perpetrators, providing care and counsel until they were healed enough to share their stories. Why take the risk of sharing their painful experiences? The women’s response was that they wanted to “be the face of God” as others are for them. They had become strong through love and care shown them, and now they want to be part of keeping others from the same fate.  

The women helped raise questions about how to engage local communities, parishes and neighborhoods in this movement against trafficking:  “Where are the homilies that teach responsibility of parishioners and communities to identify the signs of this crime? Where are the lists of resources in our churches to help people know what they can do? How can we influence political will of governments to change and implement laws to protect the vulnerable? How do we get men more involved in this issue and can we stop the perpetrators?”

Everyone agreed to commit herself and her UISG region to this call from the periphery to “wake up” our world to what is happening among us and find ways to be accountable to one another from country to country. UISG Talitha Kum is the unifying vehicle for global action.

[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is international liaison for Global Sisters Report.]