Human trafficking is closer to home than you think
The Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center is working to raise awareness about and stop human trafficking.
This “modern-day slavery” involves “illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation,” according to IPJC’s website.
When many people hear the term human trafficking, they think sex trafficking. While that does make up the majority of human trafficking cases, labor trafficking — often in the service industry — is also a part of it. The United Nations puts the worldwide market value of human trafficking at $32 billion a year.
Another misconception? That prostitution is done willingly. Many times children and adults, usually female, are forced into it.
Providence Sister Charlene Hudon, who volunteers in IPJC’s anti-trafficking ministry, said it’s important for people to know that trafficking doesn’t just happen overseas. “It’s right here in Seattle,” she said, pointing to a recent sting on forced prostitution rings in Bellevue that led to 110 arrests.
In 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 500 calls from Washington state and cited 163 reported cases of human trafficking.
Immigration, trafficking overlap
Charlene Hudon grew up in Yakima in the late 1940s and 1950s, where her father and three brothers managed the family’s apple and pear orchards. As a child, she remembers seeing migrants working in those orchards, sometimes whole families including children.
Years later, after she became Sister Charlene, she found herself thinking back to those seasonal workers in her family’s orchards. She was teaching at Providence High School in Burbank, California, and getting involved in local labor rights efforts.
That led to many years of Sister Charlene’s ministry focusing on immigration and teaching English as a second language. There’s much overlap between immigration and trafficking issues, she said, since many undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to trafficking.
Sister Charlene is now one of the regular IPJC volunteers who show up at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle on the first Sunday of each month, holding silent vigil with signs, acting as visual reminders of human trafficking. They are “joined” by other volunteers who can’t physically be present but pray for the cause at that same time of day.
Many people will give her group a wide berth, avoid eye contact and hurry by, Sister Charlene said. But some people slow down, stop, talk. Or she catches someone’s eye. Pamphlets get handed out; brief conversations happen. Little avenues are made for spreading the word about what people can do to recognize, stop and prevent human trafficking. Once, a woman who said she had been a victim of trafficking stopped to thank the group for being a witness to the issue.
“We’re called by our faith traditions to respond to injustices everywhere,” Sister Charlene said. “Individually we are called to reach out to those that are suffering or impoverished — those maligned and on the margins, suffering. That’s our calling,” she said. “That’s part of each community’s history, to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the children, the sick.”
Providence Sister Charlene Hudon holds silent vigil against human trafficking. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Stealing human dignity
Founded in 1991, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center has 22 religious communities as members. Headquartered in Seattle, the organization is focused on Catholic social justice and peace. Its anti-human trafficking program was developed about 15 years ago, according to Elizabeth Murphy, IPJC’s program associate.
IPJC sees a direct Catholic connection to stopping human trafficking.
“In [the] Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says that slavery is against human dignity and it’s against the Seventh Commandment, which is ‘Thou shall not steal,’” Murphy said. “What you’re doing when someone enslaves another person is you’re stealing that person’s human dignity and their rights as a child of God.”
IPJC’s vigils at Westlake Center and other locations in Washington state, Oregon and California are just one of the ways it is fighting human trafficking.
The organization has led an anti-human trafficking poster campaign on local buses, and members have gone to Olympia to lobby legislators, particularly on Catholic Advocacy Day each year.
Since hotels and airlines can be key hubs for trafficking, IPJC’s Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment has gotten hotel chains like Hyatt and airlines like Delta to sign policies to protect against child sexual exploitation. The coalition’s director, Sister Judy Byron (also IPJC’s program director), and other organization leaders have given presentations to corporations about this issue.
The nonprofit also works to educate people that the products they buy and businesses they support might be connected to cheap or slave labor. Murphy pointed to remarks by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI that making a purchase should be not just be an economic act, but also a moral act.
And parishes and schools can ask IPJC to host workshops to educate Catholics about human trafficking (see box).
Religious sisters are often fixtures in IPJC’s efforts. “I really credit the sisters for starting advocacy on this issue before it was common knowledge,” Murphy said of their efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking.
But laity are involved, too. Charlotte and Earl Sutherland first heard about IPJC when they participated in a JustFaith course at their parish, St. Louise de Marillac in Bellevue.
They’re now among IPJC’s lay volunteers. For the past eight years or so, the Sutherlands have helped stuff and stamp envelopes for IPJC mailings. About five years ago, they started going to IPJC’s monthly anti-human trafficking vigils.
The couple said they’ll get acknowledgements, like thumbs up, from people walking by. Other people come over to ask, “What is this about anyway?”
“There have been people that have stopped and said things like, ‘You know, you should be out here every day,’” Charlotte said.
Comments like that show that people realize human trafficking is a problem and that more efforts are needed to raise awareness, the couple said.
Connect with these organizations, which are taking steps to stop human trafficking:
Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center: Parishes and schools can ask IPJC to give presentations on anti-human trafficking from a Catholic teachings perspective. Visit ipjc.org/human-trafficking.
Providence St. Joseph Health, Renton: Following the Catholic Health Association’s lead, this health organization is establishing protocols to help its health care professionals identify patients who may be trafficking victims. Visit stjhs.org/our-programs/community-partnerships.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: Report or get help. Visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
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