Stop human trafficking

A 21st century problem that cuts across the centuries

What do 19th century logging camps and the 50th Super Bowl have in common? Human trafficking.

While it’s a great sporting event, there is also a lot of crime associated with the Super Bowl. At a January 2014 U.S. House of Representative subcommittee hearing, chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., noted that, “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that more than 10,000 exploited women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010.”

Catholic Relief Services, cited in a 2014 Catholic News Service story, noted that human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide. 5 Stones, a non-profit group established to raise awareness about sex trafficking in Wisconsin, calls it a $99 billion a year industry and that it represents 80 percent of all human trafficking.

For this year’s Super Bowl, set for Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., law enforcement — and even San Francisco airport employees — are gearing up to thwart trafficking. For the first time, the FBI is also teaming with non-profit groups to reach out to women and girls with victim advocates and other services.

While, according to 5 Stones, Wisconsin had the first federal court case against human trafficking (in 2006), a March 2014 Gannett news story noted that prosecutors had won only three human trafficking cases in the state in the eight years following.

Wisconsin’s religious communities are now advocating for victims and the Wisconsin Region of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has a parish toolkit on human trafficking. (See the Bay Settlement Sisters website at In a letter in the kit, Wisconsin’s bishops note that “human trafficking constitutes one of the gravest offenses against the human family. It preys upon the most vulnerable …”

But what does this have to do with Wisconsin’s logging industry? Logging virgin forests of Wisconsin built many cities — Marinette, Peshtigo and Oshkosh are among many in our diocese. The history book, “Wisconsin Mosaic,” notes that by 1865, there were 600 sawmills in Wisconsin, producing lumber valued at more than $4.3 million.

Lumber brought growth to Wisconsin. It also brought human trafficking, with women sold as prostitutes and kept as virtual slaves in logging camps. Another woman, Dr. Katharine Bushnell, who had served in China as a medical missionary, brought the practice to public attention. In the late 1880s, she came to Wisconsin from Chicago and infiltrated the camps, finding the sad conditions many women lived in. She then spoke publicly, and even addressed the Wisconsin state Legislature about the camps. She was not believed at first and even ridiculed.

However, in 1888, the state senate passed what some now call the “Kate Bushnell Bill,” (SB 46), titled: “An act for the prevention of crime and to prevent the abducting of unmarried women.”

Afterwards, Bushnell went to India to oppose human trafficking for prostitution practices by members of the British army. She later went to China to expose the opium trade — at the request of the British government. She returned to the U.S. in retirement and died in California on Jan. 23, 1946.

From 1888 to the three convictions in Wisconsin by 2014 seems a long time for awareness to surface against such an awful issue. And yet, it is still a nearly invisible scourge. On Jan. 16, a day-long workshop on human trafficking was held at St. John the Baptist Church in Howard (The Compass, 1/22/16). The opening speaker, Sr. Celine Goessl, noted that education on trafficking is the key to ending it.

“I’ve been doing only education in the state of Wisconsin since 2008,” she said. “I’m still going out to churches and organizations and finding people who are not even aware that this is happening.”

Let’s work on being aware. Women need our help.