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Sisters combatting human trafficking

Sisters combatting human trafficking

July 30th was the World Day Against Trafficking of Persons. Across the world, a further opportunity to raise awareness of disturbing developments and trends while profoundly aware of all those committed to a life of action, education and advocacy beyond this ‘one-day’ focal point.  This news piece is an opportunity to give a flavour of the responses shared by Global Sisters Report panelists to the question:

“What have you or your congregation done/is doing to combat modern slavery and trafficking?”

You can read the full article HERE

In 2001, the UISG (Union of International Superiors General) Assembly focused women religious everywhere on human trafficking:

We commit ourselves to work in solidarity … to address insistently at every level the abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children with particular attention to the trafficking of women.”

Catherine Ferguson is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and founder and coordinator for UNANIMA International, a coalition of several sisters’ congregations doing faith-based advocacy at the United Nations. She served as U.S. provincial leader and as congregational leader and is now a board member of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby. She shares:

Then [2001], most in my congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, or SNJM, had little idea about human trafficking.  We had a steep learning curve, but through our international and provincial Peace and Justice Networks and membership in the United Nations-affiliated nongovernmental organisation, UNANIMA International, with its advocacy against human trafficking, we learned … and now, internationally and in almost every region here are only some of the ways SNJMs are active in the struggle. [ … ] With others, we join the struggle locally and regionally.

Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Lesotho, Peru, Brazil, Canada and the United States have regularly participated in demonstrations and marches to raise awareness about human trafficking. We write letters and sign petitions requesting our various governments enact laws and policies to counter the scourge.

Siobhán O’Keeffe, a native of County Cork, Ireland, is a Sister of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Chigwell Sisters) who lives in Liverpool, England. A registered nurse with a diploma in person-centered care, she has additional graduate work in theology, justice, peace and mission studies. She offers spirituality and dementia care training to religious communities and other groups and writes and speaks on that topic and on prayer and spirituality.

The mission of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary is to be “joyful co-creators sharing God’s unconditional love in our wounded world.” We commit ourselves to prophetic witness to the healing, liberating and empowering love of Jesus to the most vulnerable.  We have felt compelled to respond to human trafficking in the following ways:

We pray each day with the whole church for an end to the abomination of human trafficking. We seek the intercession of St Josephine Bakhita for each one.

Sisters support victims who have arrived in England in perilous small boats and now seek refuge, companionship and food at Liverpool Foodbanks.

A sister was one of the founding members of the APT — Act to Prevent Trafficking charity in Ireland — whose purpose is twofold: “to raise awareness of the issue of trafficking in persons,” and “to work in collaboration with others to prevent the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.”

Siobhán has served in ministry with Ruhama, an “Irish NGO and registered charity that offers nationwide support to women impacted by prostitution, sex trafficking, and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.”

We are a member of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation, or RENATE, “working tirelessly to rehabilitate victims, free the world of sexual and labor exploitation, slavery and forced organ harvesting.”

May we be ever true to our call to be “joyful co-creators sharing God’s unconditional love in our wounded world.”

Caroline Price from New Zealand is a member of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Melbourne, Australia. Before entering the community, she served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force for 12 years in administration and flight operations.  She established the congregation’s International Secretariat for Justice and Peace, which worked closely with their International NGO Office at the United Nations, and has served as area community leader for the sisters in Victoria, Australia. Currently, she is a member of the province leadership team.

One would think that in a modern, affluent country like Australia, the trafficking of people would not be happening. Sadly, it is not so. Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand are modern economies, but trafficking continues to happen. Recent research commissioned by human rights group Walk Free reports there are an estimated 41,000 people living in modern slavery conditions in Australia, an increase from 15,000 from a 2018 report.  People have come to Australia and Aotearoa or New Zealand [Aotearoa is its Māori name] from the Pacific on work visas and found themselves enslaved. 

Good Shepherd Sisters are involved with people who are trafficked in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Cross-border trafficking is challenging. It is an area of ministry for our sisters and partners in mission across the globe. Our non-governmental organisation, or NGO, at the United Nations focuses on trafficking and advocates for women and children.

Sisters also run support programs for trafficked people in Taiwan and Macau. Parts of the congregation are involved in the network with Talitha Kum, an international network of religious congregations.

In Australia, Good Shepherd Sisters don’t work directly with people who are trafficked; we are members of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, or ACRATH, which assists in education, advocacy and support and works with other NGOs and state and federal governments to address the issue. Recently, advocacy over 17 years bore fruit for a group of workers from Vanuatu who received wages that had been kept from them. In May 2023, the Australian government allocated funds so victims and survivors of human trafficking can access support without involving law enforcement. A momentous achievement!

ACRATH’s work gives me hope that through advocacy and support, things can change. It is never easy but consistent and persistent advocacy for the rights of trafficked people is the call for Gospel justice.

Judith Sheridan is a Marist Missionary Sister from Massachusetts.  In her congregation, she designed and administered their U.S. Global Justice and Peace Office, co-directed a residence for women victims of trafficking, and served as assistant provincial and provincial superior of the U.S. Province.

When the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (Marist Missionary Sisters) began to research how to serve the victims/survivors of human trafficking in the San Diego area, we discovered that the No. 1 need was housing, leading us to open Mary’s Guest House in 2005. Today, so many years later, housing continues to be the greatest need.

Women come to us after they are rescued from dangerous situations and enslavement. They are rescued during law enforcement raids by police, the FBI, or Homeland Security at the borders. Some manage to escape their captors and are helped by a good Samaritan. Then, the Human Trafficking Hotline, or the emergency shelter of Marisa Ugarte assesses them. If they need long-term shelter, they are referred to us for housing and services.

Renee came to our “safe” house, and it took time to gain her trust. It took caseworkers, immigration representatives, lawyers, doctors, FBI, etc., to assist her during this transitional period. English, GED, job training and employment were essential to help her become self-sufficient and achieve her goals. 

Nuala Patricia Kenny is a native New Yorker and a Sister of Charity of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She has received many honours for her work in child health, medical education and health policy. Past president of both the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Canadian Bioethics Society, she was chair of the Values Committee of the 1997 Prime Minister of Canada’s National Forum on Health. She has authored numerous papers and several books.

My congregation has a long and proud history of educating and empowering women, which was continued in our 2008 Corporate Statement: 

We Sisters of Charity of Halifax, called to be prophetic women in a world wounded by violence … stand together in a time when we hear the silent cries of victims of human trafficking, especially women and children taken for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. We commit ourselves to work to eradicate this global human rights violation and affirm the dignity of all human beings.

In New York, Sr. Joan Dawber has collaborated with women religious to provide housing for women survivors of human trafficking. Sister Joan is also one of the founding members of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, “a collaborative, faith-based national network that offers education, supports access to survivor services,” and advocates to eradicate this example of modern-day slavery. As a member of Talitha Kum International, they are connected to a global network of women religious working to end human trafficking.

As educators, our sisters know that it is critical to educate the general public on this complex and tragic issue. Their educational programs have worked with schools, parishes, women’s groups, businesses, hospitals, law enforcement officials and policymakers.

Note: The latest Global Slavery Index notes that worldwide there are approximately 50 million people now living in modern slavery — 10 million more than five years earlier. Around 22 million are trapped in forced marriages, and almost 1 in 4 in forced prostitution — 80% of those are women. These are horrifying statistics. (Sr. Catherine Price, GSS)

See https://presentationsistersne.ie/no-more-no-more/


Also End Human Trafficking Network 31 European Countries (renate-europe.net)

And APT Ireland | Act to Prevent Trafficking

And UNANIMA International (unanima-international.org)




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