CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: The Sisters and Associates have pledged to offer a Christian response to human trafficking, the fastest growing crime in the world. Guiding the way are subcommittee members(from left clockwise) Sister Francis Bangert, Sister Mary Berg, Sister Angela Palm and Sister Sally Ann Brickner. (Renae Bauer photo)
by Renae Bauer
True or false: Fewer people are enslaved today than the 12 million people who were during the New World slave trade (16th through 19th centuries).
False: It's estimated that today more than 27 million people - children, women and men - around the world are fraudulently led or forced into sex trafficking, forced and bonded labor, domestic servitude, forced child labor, or child soldiers (US Department of State). And even though human trafficking is illegal in every nation, it happens everywhere.
With an issue so global, so pervasive, so evil you might wonder what you can do about it. It's the same question the Sisters and Associates have been asking for a couple years, and they have come up with some ideas.
Two years ago, both the Franciscan Federation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, two national organizations to which the Sisters belong, passed resolutions stating the need for members to become knowledgeable about human trafficking and to provide a Christian response. Knowing this, the Sisters and Associates took several months to read educational materials, listen to regional experts, and pray about what to do, says Sister Francis Bangert. By fall 2013, the Sisters and Associates approved a Corporate Stance Against Modern Slavery.
With the corporate stance in place, the Sisters formed the Peace and Nonviolence Subcommittee, composed of Sister Fran, Sister Mary Berg, Sister Sally Ann Brickner and Sister Angela Palm. The group's purpose is to keep attention on the matter by sharing ideas, information and experiences. As the committee members have learned more about human trafficking and shared their findings with Sisters and Associates, they have asked the Sisters to share some of their activities. Here's a sampling:
Prayer: Prayed the rosary to end modern slavery, offered intentions for the end of modern slavery, prayed for victims and perpetrators, and prayed for healing.
Growth in Awareness: Read books/articles, listened to local/world news about human trafficking, and engaged others in conversations about human trafficking.
Action: Contacted legislators, stayed in hotels with anti-human trafficking policy and trained staff, evaluated investment funds so as to not contribute to human trafficking, became more conscientious about food and clothing purchases, watched the human trafficking documentary titled "Nefarious", and switched to fair trade coffee.
Sister Mary Berg, the newest member to the subcommittee, says she was inspired to join the subcommittee because of the human trafficking conversations at home where she lives with three other Sisters. As Sister Mary has learned more about human trafficking she has become sensitive to a situation of someone she knows. The person has worked every day for several weeks with only one day off and without overtime pay.
For Sister Angela, the way in which poverty and natural disasters contribute to human trafficking was a startling revelation. "Natural disasters displace many people who are at a greater risk for gender-based violence and human trafficking," and often trafficked persons live in fear of being murdered if they do not comply with the "recruiter's" demands, she says.
"What strikes me is the scope (of human trafficking)," says Sister Sally Ann. "Slavery touches every aspect of my life from the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and the shoes I buy."
There is good news. Women religious communities in Wisconsin are working together to develop a Christian response to human trafficking. In fact, at the end of April the Wisconsin members of LCWR, their marketing/public relations personnel and legislative action representatives gathered in De Pere for two days to learn about current legislative measures, existing outreach and services, and gaps they might address.
"Not everybody can do everything" to end human trafficking, says Sister Fran. "But everybody can do something."
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