Human trafficking is so widespread that congregations of women religious are uniting in a nationwide effort to limit its reach. The effort will focus on broader education about sex and labor trafficking, legislative advocacy for stricter laws and penalties for traffickers and wider support for victims through much-needed social services and employment.
“It’s a stronger voice,” said Mercy Sister Jeanne Christensen, justice advocate for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community in Kansas City, Mo. “Coming together in one group helps to concentrate the voice and the power in a good sense.” The collaborative campaign was formalized during a three-day meeting of representatives of a dozen congregations active in anti-trafficking programs in local communities and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in mid-April in Washington. “In our dialogue with government, non-government organizations and church officials, we sisters got a better sense of their focus and their thrust in regard to modern day slavery. And they got a better idea of what we sisters are doing,” Sister Margaret Nacke, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, who helped convene the gathering, said.
The call for greater collaboration stems from Sister Margaret’s research into the trafficking work of religious congregations. Her findings led to the development of the Bakhita Initiative, an Internet-based listing of anti-trafficking programs and resources available from congregations nationwide. The initiative is named for St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who became a nun after her release. Born in 1869, she was kidnapped at age 7 and sold into slavery. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita, which translated means “fortunate one.” She eventually was freed and was inspired to join religious life. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 2000.
Sister Margaret envisions the online initiative as being a storehouse of human trafficking resources for religious congregations as well as the general public. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 minors are victims of sex trafficking at any given time, according to the Justice Department. Worldwide, about 21 million people are trafficked in an industry that nets traffickers $32 billion annually, the State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons report said.
“This is a crucial point to come together (nationally) because we really want to go about this in terms of best practices,” Sister Geraldine explained. “We want to use both heart and head. It’s important to collaborate and network.”
Learn more at Dennis Sadowski’s The Message article: Women Religious Uniting In Nationwide Effort To End Human Trafficking.