Trafficking Presentation

We gathered here today at east coast groovy headquarters for Founder's Day. In the morning we had a prayer and presentation centered around human trafficking and in the afternoon a picnic in the hot hot weather. Were Margaret Anna Cusack, our founder, alive today, she would certainly be working on the issue of human trafficking.

The main presentation was given by our Congregation Peace & Justice Coordinator. Another Sister who works with Covenant House shared about her experience working with trafficked young people there. I talked about my spring ministry experience at Catholic Charities. Here's the written version of my talk.

I recently spent three months working with the Human Trafficking Program at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese Newark. Catholic Charities works with women who have been internationally trafficked into Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union Counties. People often think that human trafficking is a problem in far off places, but the New Jersey Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force estimates that there are at least 4,000 victims in our state.

Perhaps the most important and life changing part of this ministry experience, , was the simple act of befriending some of the women who have been rescued from situations of human trafficking. They entrusted me with their stories, and I now share some of them with you.

The women I met were from all over the world: Ecuador, Mexico, the Philippines, Togo, and Kenya. They were young and not as young, from their late teens to mid forties.

Each woman I met left situations of poverty in their country seeking a better life for her family. They made the sacrifice to come to America, to work hard and send money home. Some couldn’t write their name. Some had college educations. Some had children and/or husbands back home.

Sadly, they were all tricked by their traffickers. Every story is different, but there are common elements. Force and coercion. Seizure of passports and other documents. Threats of violence and harm to their families back home. Restriction of movement and warnings against trusting strangers or the police.

The women were forced into slavery right here in New Jersey: as nannies, household servants, in hair-braiding salons, and as sex workers.

One thing that I learned from the women, is the daily violence trafficking does to the human spirit – whether or not actual physical violence in involved. Most days they may not have been beaten, but there was always the threat. They were mentally and physically exhausted, being forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day 7 days a week. Some days they might even be home alone, but were more afraid of what unknowns awaited them outside in this strange land.

Traffickers do something more than steal their victims’ freedom. Bit by bit, day by day, they try to take away a little more of what it is that make a human being a human being. They take away joy, laughter, and life so that the women are easier to control and exploit.

All of the women I worked with were emerging from human trafficking situations. By the time I met them, they had already been rescued. In exchange for cooperating in the prosecution of their traffickers, the women are given assistance needed to rebuild their lives here in America. Most cannot return to their home countries – either because of continued threats to their families or the shame of having been trafficked. They are eligible to apply for a “T” Visa which allows them to become residents of this country, work, bring their families over, and eventually become citizens.

In the Newark area, Catholic Charities receives funding from the US Bishops Conference and to provide food shelter and clothing, trauma recovery and mental health services, medical care, job training, English classes and employment counseling to women who have been internationally trafficking into our community.

During my three months at Catholic Charities, I met a number of these strong and brave women and in particular befriended one woman from the Phillipines and one from Ecuador. I was blessed to be able to journey with them on their road to recovery.

Each week, they were a little more themselves. A little less afraid. A little more joyful. A little more free. A little more human.

In the end, they survived. They are reclaiming their hope, their humanity, their very life. They illustrate to me the resiliency and inherent power of the human spirit. Really, they inspire me.

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