It seems like there’s a national day for everything, but today’s blog focus is something that I’m passionate about year-round. Today is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which was proclaimed an official “day” by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 to draw attention to the need to better coordinate the world’s efforts to combat human trafficking. According to the UN, in 2018, about 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries. This statistic is staggering, and we need to work together globally to eradicate this atrocity.
You might be wondering how I became involved in such a cause. The fact is that the people you meet along the way as you navigate life can open your eyes to issues you might otherwise overlook. My wife, Terese, is one of those people. As a nurse, her compassion for others is unyielding. She has also helped to educate me along my spiritual journey.
Journey to the Vatican
In 2019, I traveled with John McCaffrey, President of The Galileo Foundation, and my wife, Terese, to the Vatican. The Galileo Foundation focuses on bettering the global community through awareness and aid. The opportunity presented itself to meet with the Pope as he addressed members of the Foundation to remind them of every “Christian’s duty to raise awareness of the plague of modern slavery.”
As recently as February, Pope Francis spoke about human trafficking in his remarks for the International Day of Prayer and Reflection. In the video, he talks about an economy that doesn’t profit from the buying and selling of human beings but instead is an economy of care, courage, and the promotion of justice. Listening to the stories of human trafficking survivors will change your view of the world and humanity.
Understanding the Issue
Slavery is not a new phenomenon, but the buying and selling of women and children continue at an alarming rate worldwide. Women make up 46% and girls 19% of all victims of trafficking. However, the number of children among detected trafficking victims has tripled, and the number of boys has increased five times over the past 15 years.
What do we mean precisely by the phrase “human trafficking?” The Department of Homeland Security explains that it’s “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” These individuals are often hampered by being in an unfamiliar country, language barriers, and fear of both their traffickers and law enforcement preventing them from seeking help.
These individuals are often targeted because they are psychologically or emotionally vulnerable. Often, they suffer economic hardships, natural disasters, or political instability that leaves them in dire need of assistance. Unfortunately, this prompts them to put their faith in the wrong hands.
Even if they do manage to escape or are located by law enforcement, the trauma caused by traffickers can be irreparable. They can also be sent back home to their native country to start the cycle of poverty and struggle all over again.
This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons theme is “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way.” The UN hopes that the theme will highlight the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking. They play a critical role in establishing effective measures to prevent human trafficking and help support survivors on their path to rehabilitation.
Listening to the experiences of those that have lived through being trafficked can help organizations to develop a more victim-centered and effective approach to combat human trafficking. In addition, there are far too many myths and misconceptions associated with human trafficking. Sometimes victims are re-traumatized during post-rescue experiences and legal proceedings. Others have even faced punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers.
The Blue Heart is increasingly recognized as the international symbol against human trafficking. It represents the sadness of those trafficked while reminding us of the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell fellow human beings. By wearing a Blue Heart, you can show your solidarity with the victims of human trafficking and increasing the visibility of the ongoing efforts to end the practice once and for all.
Paying it Forward
I have been fortunate in both my professional and personal lives to have the time to devote to volunteering with The Galileo Foundation and working to help underserved populations. I feel compelled to pay it forward because I am grateful for all the opportunities and success that I have had.
As I mentioned, the people I’ve met along the way have also shaped me as a person. Have you heard of the “running nun?” Sister Mary Beth Lloyd is often seen running marathons in her full habit. She has said that she does this to draw attention to the issues that are important to her. I spoke to her about one of those issues, human trafficking.
Her approach – she buys children back from human traffickers. Imagine the bravery and courage it would take to confront the evil at the source. She does what she must to help as many children as she can.
I’m not asking you to go to such extremes. I’m just hoping that today and every day, you will donate, volunteer, and raise awareness of the harrowing ordeal these victims experience in the hopes that we can live in a world where all human beings are valued.