Sex trafficking remains a scary reality, overseas and domestically. In the United States, sex trafficking is big business, generating an estimated $9.5 billion a year, according to the United Nations. In the Catholic Church, women religious have come to the forefront in the efforts to stop trafficking and bring healing to victims.
Sister Gladys Leigh, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for 42 years, is now a volunteer grandmother figure for The Covering House, a new St. Louis-based organization that provides refuge and healing for girls who have become victims of sex trafficking. Sister Gladys has been preparing for her role since she learned about the issue of sex trafficking when she and 900 Sisters of St. Joseph met in St. Louis for the community’s U.S. federation meeting in 2011. Being from Peru, “I thought it only happened in poor countries,” she told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. “But it’s happening here immensely. I thought, ‘That’s the kind of ministry I am called to do.'”
St. Louis has become a prime area for sex trafficking, primarily because of the growing online marketplace for the sex trade as well as easy access to interstate highways and its position as a hub for large-scale conventions and sporting activities.
Anna Sandidge, justice coordinator with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, explained that religious communities, many of whom have spent their lives working with vulnerable and marginalized people, seek to have a role in community outreach efforts to stop trafficking and to restore the human dignity of those who have become victims. For the Sisters of St. Joseph, the issue traces back to the sisters’ founding charism of “serving the dear neighbor without distinction,” said Sandidge. “In the constitution of our founding we were charged by Father Jean Pierre Medaille to serve the women of the street. This really is an anchor to our founding.”
Learn more at the Catholic Sentinel article: Helping victims of trafficking a calling for women Religious, others.