Popular Misconceptions about Human Trafficking

Blog by Sr. Joel Campbell of the Trafficking Committee.

About ten years ago, Polaris conducted a “person on the street”, experiment to find out what the general public knew about human trafficking. In New York City, people were stopped and asked, “Do you believe human trafficking is going on?” and “Where is this happening?” A good number had heard of it, but when asked, ‘Where?”, their answers were: “In China or India or someplace like that.” If pushed to name a place in the U.S. they said, “Probably Las Vegas, or maybe Los Angeles.” None thought it happened in New York City.

Unfortunately, ten years later, we are not much further along in recognizing how widespread this crime is. People are still in disbelief that trafficking is happening in their home towns. When I spoke to groups about trafficking in Pittsburgh, I gave them the address of a couple arrested and convicted for trafficking two teenagers. When people heard the actual address, a ripple of shock went through the audience. Typically, people form their opinions about the whereabouts of crime from crime shows on TV, and the cities shown in these episodes. But, not in my home town.

Another common misconception picked up from TV shows, is the belief that trafficking involves only adult women, and these are all foreign nationals. It is true that foreign women have been tricked into coming to the states, and once here, they are caught in the web of the traffickers and used in sex trafficking, but there are different forms of trafficking and men as well as children are also part of the picture.

Men brought from Central and South America are used as field laborers in the breadbasket states in the U.S., and women can find themselves as unpaid housekeepers or workers for a laundry, restaurant or cleaning company.

About five years ago there was a large influx of unaccompanied minors at our southern border. The social service agencies in that area were overwhelmed by the numbers and not prepared to care for them. Children were released into the care of couples who promised to raise the youngsters. Later we found that traffickers, posing as interested couples, took children to use in sex trafficking.

One well-used source of victims today is runaway teenagers, who have been couch-surfing at friend’s homes for weeks or months, and who are picked up and offered a place to stay with an “older friend”. They are first given spending money, later drugs, and groomed to service a segment of the public that is increasingly looking at younger and younger sex partners. A trafficker typically has four girls (sometimes boys also), and the age range is 13 to 17 years old.

These teens call what they do as being, “in the life”, and they do not consider themselves victims. They strongly resist attempts to change their lifestyle. They come from homes where parents have stopped parenting years ago, and say that life with their “new friend” is better than what they had.

Traffickers have said that this new source of workers is easier than using foreign girls. There is no language problem, and while foreign girls resent being tricked, these youngsters have chosen the life for themselves. Often they live at home and attend high school, where other teens envy their clothes and technology gadgets (all given by their “friend” who can make $1,000 a night on them.) When a youngster does choose to leave this life, traffickers shrug and say they are easy to replace.

Another misconception has to do with traffickers themselves. Movies and TV have given us an image of the “pimp” as a man, often African American. But pimps are also women of all ages and races, and sometimes couples. Not uncommonly parents have trafficked their own children for drug money, and young women who have learned the trade as teens, branch out on their own. It is a lucrative business.

Human trafficking is real, present in all of our cities, and increasingly targeting younger and younger children. A good resource book to keep yourself updated is: Walking Prey by Holly Austin Smith.

Sr. Joel Campbell, OP member of the Trafficking Committee.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

A Summer Stroll

Blog by Associate Frank Martens, OPA

We recently returned from a trip. Flying into Columbus, we passed over Shepherd’s Corner. It was an amazing sight. The forest, fields and pond surrounded by houses with brown roofs that looked like they were part of a monopoly game. An oasis surrounded by subdivisions.

Later, I thought about how lucky we are to live on the edge of a park. I decided to take a stroll and see what was going on in our little patch since we had been gone. I noticed our lawn was full of clover and the worker bees were busy gathering pollen per their job description. The goldfinch were eating leftover thistle seed from our winter feeding station and showing off their bright yellow and black finery. Some were demonstrating their perfect balance by standing on the top of our blooming coneflowers picking out the small seeds as they swayed in the wind. Monarch butterflies were laying eggs on our many milkweed plants. Soon their leaves will be full of munching caterpillars and those who survive will become monarchs ready for their migration to Mexico. Swallowtail butterflies will be laying their eggs on fennel and parsley. They will emerge as caterpillars and then ultimately become butterflies.

Two pair of nesting wrens were apparently successful fledging their broods. Perhaps their young were nearby since I was greeted by a chorus of chattering wrens. The blue jay family is occupying the spruce trees and squawking loudly, concerned about something. Another birdhouse, previously occupied by evicted house sparrows, is now occupied by eastern bluebirds and mother bluebird is sitting on four eggs. The deer, raccoons, and rabbits who regularly visit us have left their calling cards. A chipmunk runs across my path. Its puffy cheeks full of seeds or berries. Dragonflies from the nearby pond are whizzing around feasting on insects.

Our prairie plants are about to burst forth. They have funny names like rattlesnake master, queen of the prairie, nodding onion, butterfly weed and iron weed. Our raspberries are beginning to ripen and we hope we can pick them before the lady who regularly passes by our patch eats them. Berries on the many native bushes like spice bush, red-twig dogwood and pagoda dogwood, are ripening for the birds who will feast on them. The serviceberry trees have been picked clean by robins, catbirds, cedar waxwings and chipmunks. When evening comes, hundreds of lightning bug visitors will be visible.

My stroll is over. Take your own stroll in a park or garden, or just sit outside and renew your relationship with nature. “Sit and be still until in the time of no rain you hear beneath the dry wind’s commotion in the trees the sound of flowing water among the rocks, a stream unheard before, and you are where breathing is prayer.” Wendell Berry.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

What’s the Green New Deal?

Blog by Justice Promoter, Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

The pros and cons of the Green New Deal have frequently appeared in the press lately. But what is it?  As I did my research, it became clear to me that it’s a vision… a vision of what the United States should be. What country wouldn’t want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that threaten to increase climate disasters beyond return?  Or ensure that everyone has a job that can support his/her family? Or how about promoting justice and equity? It’s all about the Three E’s – Environment, Economy and Equality.

But “the devil is in the details” and it’s clear that what is proposed will need serious consideration and collaboration. This is a BIG, BIG, BIG effort. Most Americans like the principles of the Green New Deal.  In fact, a recent Yale survey found that 81% of registered voters across the political spectrum supported the broad goals presented in the proposal when presented free of political context.

Here are the main elements of the Green New Deal that would be implemented over a ten-year period: (Politifact)

On emissions:

  • eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible
  • build or upgrade to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and ensure affordable access to electricity
  • work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible

On water:

  • guarantee universal access to clean water

On infrastructure:

  • build resiliency against climate change-related disasters, such as extreme weather
  • upgrade all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification
  • provide clean, affordable, and accessible public transit, and high-speed rail

On scientific research:

  • make public investments in the research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies and industries

On the oppressed:

  • promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth

On education:

  • provide resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States

On labor unions:

  • strengthen and protect the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment

On social services:

  • guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States
  • provide all people of the United States with high-quality health care, affordable, safe, and adequate housing, and economic security

Ultimately, the goal would be to get the entire world to a net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 but it’s time the U.S. took a leadership role.

Back in 1932, candidate Franklin Roosevelt promised a new deal that would eventually pull the country out of the Great Depression.  Isn’t this the time to take bold steps to pull the United States and the world back from the brink of climate disaster.



Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

We Should be Ashamed

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

This morning’s Gospel highlighted a basic human command “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” This past week has been filled with the horrendous conditions at the detention center in Clint, Texas.  How many parents would want their children to experience what the children in Customs and Border Patrol in Clint, Texas and Homestead, Florida are experiencing?  How many parents would want to feel the loss and terror of being separated from their children?

Is this what the United States has come to?  Keeping children locked up in overcrowded cages without soap, water, medical care. Sleeping on concrete floors for weeks?  I’m overwhelmed by sadness and anger when I read about these children.  No one should be treated in this way.  If Customs and Border Patrol cannot handle the influx of asylum seekers then money from other immigration, defense, or other sources should be used to help.  Use the resources that were to be spent on rounding up undocumented immigrants and deporting them to help the situation.

The United States has been abundantly blessed with rich resources, successful businesses, excellent educational institutions.  We value freedom of speech and religion.  We have always accepted immigrants even if we haven’t always been the most welcoming because they make us and our country better.  We profess to be a Christian country but we allow children to be treated in such a horrible way.  Call your representatives. Tell them that they should do what Christ commanded and treat others as they would want to be treated.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

For I was a (stranger) refugee and you welcomed me.

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

This Thursday, June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees like Natalie. Born and raised in a small village in Ghana, Natalia’s family was struggling to pay the school fees for her education and welcomed the opportunity for Natalia to receive an education in the U.S.

Shortly after arriving, the father she was living with began to physically and sexually abuse her. For the next six years, she was forced to clean the house, wash clothes, cook, and care for their three children, often working 18 hours a day while receiving no form of payment.  She was never allowed to enroll in school as the family had promised, to go outside, or even use the phone.

One day, after she was severely beaten, Natalia saw an opportunity to run away and a neighbor called the police.  She was then taken to a local hospital for medical. The nurse assisting Natalia was aware of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and referred her to Polaris New Jersey, an organization that works to combat and prevent human trafficking.

We have heard of the many reasons why men and women seek to flee their country of origin and go to another country – poverty, climate disasters, gang, and domestic violence, war.  It’s often hard for white Americans to understand this phenomenon and yet the vast majority of us have immigrant or refugee ancestors.

The United States has admitted, if not always welcomed, refugees from its beginnings. Refugees resettled here to rebuild their lives and contribute meaningfully to local economies. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a model humanitarian program and critical tool of U.S. foreign policy.  Unfortunately, the number of refugees admitted each year has been reduced from an average of 95,000 to fewer than 30,000. There are two pro-refugee bills recently introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

H.R. 2146 and S. 1088. The GRACE Act (Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act) would set a minimum on refugee admissions of 95,000 each fiscal year.

H.R. 2214 and S. 1123. The NO BAN Act (National Origin Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act) would repeal the executive orders that have halted refugee admissions, banned individuals from Muslim-majority countries and barred individuals from seeking asylum between ports of entry. It would also strengthen the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit religious discrimination.

Sadly, as the number of legal refugees is reduced, more individuals are forced to look for illegal means that put them at greater risk of forced labor and human trafficking.  New immigrants may be susceptible to trafficking because of their precarious social and economic circumstances. Like Natalia above, they are pushed into the shadows allowing traffickers to use people’s immigration status as a tool to exploit their labor or coerce them into participating in the sex trade. More and more resources are being diminished or reduced undercutting anti-trafficking efforts and feeding into the hands of those who seek to exploit migrants and refugees.  It’s time to push for more just treatment of our brothers and sisters.


Posted in Peace & Justice Blog