by Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – An influx of human trafficking victims seeking assistance is leading Catholic Charities agencies nationwide to develop a wider range of specialized service to enable victims to rebuild their lives.
From life skills and parenting classes to helping victims adjust to a life free of coercion and mistreatment, the agencies are adapting operations so that those who have escaped a trafficking situation are not victimized again by unscrupulous traders in human lives.
The new services are emerging as more trafficking victims are identified by social workers and law enforcement officers, explained Marissa Castellanos, human trafficking program manager for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky.
She credited ongoing training that victim advocates and Catholic Charity workers have directed toward police, prosecutors, judges, social workers and other interested people for the rise in the number of victims being identified.
Whereas in earlier years a victim may have been identified as a prostitute or as being in the country illegally, officials are better recognizing the telltale signs that someone is being trafficked. The result is that a victim ends up being sent to a reliable social service agency rather than to jail.
“The education and training we’re doing throughout the country is vital to identifying victims,” Castellanos told Catholic News Service.
“We know that trafficking has been present, but just that it wasn’t identified at the time or it was identified incorrectly,” she said.
The experience of Catholic Charities in Louisville is tallied, along with the work of 28 other diocesan Catholic Charities agencies in a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Conducted over a month’s time in September and October, 2012 for Catholic Charities USA, the study found that all 29 agencies responding to a survey reported working with trafficking victims.
The agencies aided 239 victims – an average of nine per agency – in the preceding 12 months. In contrast, a similar CARA study in 2005 showed that responding agencies reported serving an average of four trafficking victims in the previous year.
Originally, 48 agencies were contacted to participate in the study. Forty agreed to join it.
The local agencies reported serving far more adults than children – 84 percent to 16 percent. Of the total, 44 percent were women, and 40 percent were men.
The vast majority of trafficking victims served, 89 percent, were foreign-born while just seven percent were U.S. citizens. As for their circumstances, 57 percent of clients escaped from labor situation while 43 percent were victims of sex trafficking.
“Our agencies see more labor victims. We don’t often hear about it. It’s what we can bring to the conversation,” said Julie Zorb, manager of policy and research for Catholic Charities USA.
Zorb also pointed to the finding that local agencies are seeing far more adults than children, who are often the age group identified in anti-trafficking campaigns.
Candy Hill, executive vice president for social policy and external affairs at Catholic Charities USA, told CNS that training about human trafficking has made a tremendous difference in identifying people of all ages who are being enslaved for work or sex.
The evolution is akin to the awareness of child abuse that emerged in the 1970s and domestic violence a decade later, Hill said.
Despite the improved ability to identify trafficking victims, Hill admitted that local agencies have a long way to go to better meet the needs of people caught in a cycle of abuse and enslavement. The most significant need is shelter and or supportive housing, she said.