Every month, small groups gather on the downtown streets of Seattle and Vancouver to raise awareness about a big issue: human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery that isn’t just a world away.
The Vancouver vigil started about three years ago, after members of the JustFaith group at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Vancouver attended an anti-human trafficking conference in Portland. “That really tuned us in to how much of a local problem it is,” said Margaret Johnson, an Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner who helps organize the vigil.
In Seattle, a group of up to 40 people hold anti-trafficking signs and stand in silent prayer at Westlake Park on the first Sunday of each month. The 30-minute vigils are organized by the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center (IPJC) in Seattle, a ministry sponsored by 17 religious communities. It is just a small part of the work IPJC has been doing for more than 15 years to combat human trafficking.
Human trafficking “ranks up there with drugs and arms dealing,” said Holy Names Sister Linda Haydock, IPJC’s executive director. “When we first began to talk about it, [people] just glazed over like they never heard about this. The challenge is having people to be aware of situations that might relate to trafficking,” Sister Linda said. Trafficking can involve farmworkers, household workers and prostitutes, among others. Workers may be undocumented, or someone has taken their documents, and then they’re threatened — with deportation or harm to themselves or their families, she explained.
IPJC focuses on educating people about trafficking and providing resources for learning more, dispelling misconceptions and taking action. It joined a coalition of women religious to place “Stop the demand” signs on Seattle-area buses five years ago. More recently, it has presented more than 80 parish workshops and does webinars and presentations for junior high students in Catholic schools. In the past two years, IPJC has logged nearly 25,000 downloads of anti-trafficking materials from its website.
The Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center suggests these ways to help combat human trafficking:
– See how many slaves are working for you: www.slaveryfootprint.org.
– Find out what and where products are made with slavery: www.productsofslavery.org.
– Think you know of a case of human trafficking? Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.
Learn more at Jean Parietti’s Northwest Catholic article: Fighting against forced labor.