Pittsburgh, PA, and surrounding areas have long been known for the many religious communities that call it home. For several decades these Sisters have worked collaboratively to accomplish some projects to assist the disadvantaged in the city. They do this through a group called “Path to Justice,” composed of representatives of 12 different communities who meet monthly.
Two years ago I was invited to join this group and have found these Sisters to be a great source of support and encouragement. On their part, they have welcomed my ideas on fighting human trafficking, inviting me to speak at meetings and other programs, and lately, joining me as I visit hotels and motels to give workshops to the housekeeping staff. These workshops are aimed at teaching the staff what to look for in their daily rounds in order to learn if trafficking is happening at their workplace. They then learn some steps to take if they suspect it is happening. This is important because the goal is to arrest the trafficker, not simply the young person in the hotel room.
From all that we have learned, we know that the trafficking of young girls takes place whenever an event happens in a city that will draw large numbers of men to stay at hotels and motels during this time. Sports events are high on this list of events, and Pittsburgh is a well-known sports city.
I began visiting hotels and offering workshops four years ago and have now gone to seven different areas of the city and learned much from working with the housekeepers and other staff members. The housekeepers are the “eyes and ears on the ground,” in the hotels. For their part, they are often parents of children in the same age range as those being trafficked, and are more than eager to do their part to work against this evil practice. I leave them with a handout of “red flags,” to help them remember what was discussed at the workshop.
The Sisters who meet as the Path to Justice have embraced this hands-on approach. They first come along to observe a workshop, then when they are comfortable, they go to other hotels on their own.
We also work to plan an event each January where the public is invited to a spirituality center for a program on trafficking. Last year’s was well attended and written up in the newspaper.
I have very much enjoyed working collaboratively with all of these communities. I think I bring a “Dominican flavor,” even as I learn from all of them. It has enriched my efforts and given me new friends. Finally, I see this group and its efforts as an extension of our community trafficking committee. Wherever one of us lives and works, the rest are all represented.