By Paige Hanley
ROME (Catholic News Service) — Knowing that human trafficking is taking place across the globe and often involves forcing victims across borders, a global coalition of Catholic sisters met to strategize ways to fight the criminal business and work with advocates of civil justice.
Nearly 100 delegates from 48 countries who are active in Talitha Kum, the international network of religious against human trafficking, came to Rome Sept. 21-27 for their general assembly. They also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the network, which operates under the auspices of the women’s International Union of Superiors General and collaborates with the men’s Union of Superiors General.
“The challenge is that trafficking is so pervasive and that still there are many people in the United States that don’t understand that it happens everywhere,” said Sister Ann Oestreich, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Milwaukee and a founding board member of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
People who are trafficked in the United States are not just “coming in from other countries, but it is domestic as well. It’s in the rural areas. It’s in the cities. It’s in the suburbs. It’s everywhere,” she told Catholic News Service Sept. 25.
But migration between countries remains a primary factor fueling the phenomenon, she said. Harsh restrictions on migration often leave migrants especially susceptible to traffickers, as they congregate and seek refuge in communities near borders and grow inevitably desperate for means to support themselves and their families, she added.
Traffickers and their recruiters take advantage of displaced and indigent migrants with promises of shelter, work and decent wages, she said.
“If someone comes along and says, ‘We have work, you can work here, you can support your family here,’ it is very tempting. It’s very attractive. And often it’s labor trafficking, or domestic servitude, sex trafficking or organ trafficking,” Sister Oestreich explained.
“More and more, we are trying to help people to see the very close connection between migration and human trafficking — migrants being some of the most vulnerable people — and we are working with the Talitha Kum networks from Argentina to Mexico together to try to see how we can help safeguard some of these migration routes and share resources with them,” she said.
Sister Adina Balan, a member of the Congregation of Jesus in Bucharest and a Talitha Kum delegate representing Romania, told CNS about one young victim who was tricked into prostitution by her friend and then couldn’t get the help she asked for from clients or police. The sister did not identify the woman to protect her privacy.
Prostitution is legal in Germany and police didn’t intervene because they could not prove the young woman had not given her consent, Sister Balan said.
Instead, the woman’s mother “went to the embassy every day for six weeks to push people to do something. When she had enough money, she went to Germany herself and to the police. The girl spoke to her mother once a week and gave clues. Eventually, they found her,” she said.
Sister Oestreich said, “Human trafficking right now is a very low-risk, high-profit criminal business. We need to flip that equation to make it a very high-risk, low-profit criminal business. It starts with reporting and prosecuting, and reparations for the victims.”
Another part of the work, she said, is to teach people to recognize that all people are brothers and sisters.
“We do not support the buying and selling of our sisters and brothers. We do not support the commodification of the human person,” she said. “The dignity of the human person is primary in our Catholic social teaching. This is completely unacceptable. This is, as Pope Francis said, ‘a crime against humanity, a heinous sin.'”