“Most believers of any faith and people of all persuasions are shocked, indeed scandalized, when they discover that trafficking occurs in every country and that it represents a most prosperous business on the planet. It is a form of slavery, a crime against humanity, a grave violation of human rights, an atrocious scourge, and it is all the more to be condemned when it takes place against children.”
–– Pope Francis, Remarks to 17th Alliance against
Trafficking in Persons Conference, April 2017
This past weekend I spoke at a symposium in Orlando, Florida, organized by the diocese, intended to raise awareness about the horrendous problem of human trafficking. Unfortunately, far too many people still have no idea how extensive the problem of human trafficking is globally, nor how prevalent it is in developed Western nations, including in the United States.
As of 2016, the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimated that 45.8 million globally are living in slavery, 4.5 million in sex slavery. Florida (where I spoke) is one of the top three U.S. states for human trafficking, along with California and Texas. In Florida alone, there were 1,900 reported cases of human trafficking in 2016, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. Nationally, there were 7,621 reported cases in 2016. However, as most cases go unreported, the total number of women, men and children actually being trafficked is likely far, far higher than that.
An egregious assault upon human dignity
This is an issue that is very close to my own heart, as I have experienced this issue personally. In my travels, I have met families whose children were trafficked and disappeared. These are parents of families from poorer societies. Sadly, they have had no contact with their children – they do not know whether they are alive or dead. Moreover, because they are poor and have little to no economic means to fight for their children, governments do very little to help.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced the evil of human trafficking, and called for action. He has called it a form of “modern slavery,” an “abhorrent plague,” one that is “ugly,” “cruel,” and “criminal.” In addition to taking practical action, he has urged us to pray to Mary “to support the victims of trafficking and to convert the hearts of traffickers.”
I fully agree. St. John Paul II called human trafficking, “a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights.” He also identified it as “one of the pressing political, social, and economic problems associated with the process of globalization” since “it presents a serious threat to the security of individual nations and a question of international justice which cannot be deferred.”
Human trafficking treats the human person as a commodity. It exploits the poor and the structures that cause poverty. And it is an assault on the family, since many victims are children, adolescents, and young adults.
How you may be contributing to trafficking
Unfortunately, not only are many people unaware of how prevalent human trafficking is in our own country, they are also sadly ignorant about how they personally may be contributing to human trafficking.
Statistics show that a large majority of men, and a growing number of women routinely watch pornography. However, the sex industry, including the pornography industry, are fueled in part by, and help perpetuate human trafficking.
The secular, research-based anti-porn organization Fight the New Drug has compiled tons of information drawing the connection between pornography and human trafficking. The connection operates on many levels. In the most egregious cases, women, men and children are outright kidnapped and forced to participate in prostitution and pornography production.
In more “grey area” cases, vulnerable (often poor, or previously abused) people agree – often under pressure or abject want – to participate in pornography for pay, only to find out that they are expected to engage in degrading behaviors that they had not agreed to. The world of pornography is full of “performers” who technically “consented” to participate in porn, but who are transparently being exploited by powerful and wealthy men who have gained power over them in various ways. It is for this reason that Fight the New Drug makes the bold claim that pornography and sex-trafficking are “the same thing.”
And finally, there is the reality that pornography consumption increases the desire in the viewer to “act out” what they are watching with real-life partners – often leading them to resort to prostitution (where trafficking is rife) or to act out violent fantasies. As Dr. Gail Dines states, “The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.”
Those participating and viewing pornography are directly and indirectly supporting trafficking. If you currently watch pornography and needed another reason to quit, consider the women, men, and children who are victims of sex-trafficking. We should have nothing to do with that.
Trafficking and the pro-life/pro-family cause
Human trafficking is indirectly linked to the pro-life and pro-family cause insofar as all assaults on human life and dignity are interrelated and mutually supportive. However, it is also directly linked to the pro-life cause, insofar as human traffickers, especially sex traffickers, routinely force their victims to take abortifacient contraception or to undergo surgical abortions when they get pregnant. The abortion industry, alas, is only too-willing to help out.
As one sex-trafficking victim recounted: “[While in forced prostitution,] I saw 10 to 20 men a day. I did what he [the pimp] said because he got violent when I sassed him. I took all kinds of drugs — even though I didn’t really like most of them … I had forced unprotected sex and got pregnant three times and had two abortions at [a clinic]. Afterward, I was back out on the street again.”
Trafficking is also directly linked to the pro-family cause. Not only is there the connection with pornography and sexual sin mentioned above. But the evidence also suggests that the breakdown of the family is contributing to trafficking, insofar as children who are trafficked typically overwhelmingly come from broken families.
Unfortunately, many ignore trafficking because victims often originate from poor environments/families and easily disappear without much notice. And yet, they are human beings with inherent dignity, which poverty cannot annihilate. We should all be concerned when a human being is stalked, sold into a way of life from which only a few will escape, and treated as a commodity.
In the United States, we rightly commend ourselves that we historically faced the issue of slavery; however, we should not thereby be lulled into complacency. Slavery persists, often right under our noses. It has simply taken on new forms. Because this issue begins with an assault on human dignity, it impacts everyone member of society. This is a human issue that everyone must take seriously.
So what can we do? Firstly, become aware of the issue; educate yourself. Secondly, know how to recognize the signs of trafficking. Thirdly, support organizations committed to stopping human trafficking and rescuing those who have been trafficked. And finally, stop supporting the industries that cause and sustain human trafficking, above all the sex/pornography industries.
A call to prayer, reflection and action
Sunday, February 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of all victims of human trafficking and also the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. We are encouraged to host or participate in prayer services to generate greater awareness about human trafficking.
St. Josephine Bakhita, enslaved during her own childhood, was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of 7. She suffered immensely throughout her adolescence before discovering the Faith in her early twenties. She gained her freedom by asserting her human dignity and refusing to be enslaved. After being freed, she entered the Canossians Sisters in Italy where she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering.
Through prayer, we not only reflect on the experiences of those that have suffered through this affront to human dignity but also comfort, strengthen, and help survivors and their families.
Prayer to Saint Josephine Bakhita
O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery. Intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity.
Those whom man enslaves, let God set free. Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith. Help all survivors find healing from their wounds. We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.