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Archives Trafficking victims are our sisters and brothers

Feb. 4, 2015

By Kathleen M. Gallagher
NCC Columnist

Human trafficking has always sounded like a faraway problem to me. Sure, I knew it existed, but I’ve always imagined it to be a scandal in other countries like India, China, Thailand, and Malaysia. That way I’ve been able to compartmentalize it and label it as someone else’s problem. We’ve got plenty of our own problems here at home without worrying about problems abroad, I reasoned.

But a few weeks ago the Albany County Sheriff – yes, that Albany, the capital city of New York State – announced a sweep of four massage parlors and 10 arrests, the results of a human trafficking investigation on the streets of Albany.

The unlicensed “spas” have been shuttered, but the really sad part is that nine of the 10 people seized are women who were brought to the Capital Region for the express purpose of being exploited as prostitutes.

Terrified to speak up, fearful for their lives and their families, they are victims of sex trafficking. Right here at home.

Tragically, New York is a hub for human trafficking. Vulnerable women and children, and even men, are bought and sold, raped and threatened, abused and enslaved on a daily basis, for someone else’s benefit.

Pope Francis has said that trafficking “is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the Body of Christ…a crime against humanity.”

It is, in fact, modern-day slavery, and the Holy Father has asked all of us to take action to fight it.

What can we do?
• First, we can pray. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated February 8 as a National Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking. It is the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a woman who lived through the anguish of being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Take some time to pray for the victims of trafficking here in New York State, that they will be open to receiving help and will be healed physically, spiritually and emotionally. Pray for them daily and offer a special intention for them at Mass.

• Second, we can raise awareness.

Learn more about human trafficking at www.usccb.org/stopslavery.  The US Bishops’ Conference has put together a wealth of information on the subject; it opened my eyes to the breadth of the problem.

Then tell your friends and family members about this close-to-home crime and urge them to take action too.

• Third, we can advocate. While our state has made some headway in fighting trafficking, much more can be done.

Tell your State Senator and Assembly representative that you support the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (S.7/A.506). This bill would stiffen penalties for traffickers, facilitate their prosecution, and improve the referral of services to victims. Unfortunately, it has been one part of a 10-part “Women’s Equality Act” that includes a dangerous abortion expansion provision. Now that it has been separated out from that package, it needs to be passed and enacted.

Go to www.nyscatholic.org to send a note of support to your representatives.

The Catholic Church as an institution has done a fabulous job in providing shelter, health care and healing services to trafficking victims. Now we as individuals have to step up.

We cannot look the other way and pretend human trafficking doesn’t affect us.

We are the Body of Christ, and these are our sisters and brothers, many of whom live in our very own communities. Their degradation is our degradation; their torture is our torture.

At the end of the day, this is an issue of human life and human dignity, and all of us who are pro-life must help stop the scourge.

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