Most people think slavery was abolished hundreds of years ago; however, it still exists and is thriving in our world today. Modern day slavery, or human trafficking, is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, behind drug and arms trafficking. This illicit act, as defined by the United Nations Protocol on Human Trafficking, is “the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion.” Ultimately, it is a “horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person.” Even Pope Francis said that human trafficking is “a crime against humanity … which threatens not only individuals, but the basic values of society.”
Human trafficking takes on a variety of forms of slavery, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, debt bondage and involuntary servitude. Some people are trafficked for prostitution or pornography while others are trafficked for forced labor to work extremely long hours in sweat shops, in agriculture, manufacturing or the service industry. It is shocking to know that the vast majority of individuals who are trafficked each
year are women and children, and those individuals suffering from poverty are disproportionately affected. Although it is extremely difficult to pinpoint an exact number, estimates show that the number of people trafficked globally is between 700,000 and 2 million people annually.
It is easy for us to think that these horrific crimes take place in other parts of the world or in big cities like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. Although Wisconsin recently passed a new law that will help in the fight against human trafficking, it is still a major issue and problem for our state.
While this topic is a difficult and challenging one to discuss, it is important that we do our part to raise awareness. Many organizations, and in particular the religious communities of our diocese, are getting involved to help educate the faithful on this topic. For example, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay approved a corporate stance on modern slavery that reads: “We, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross and Associates, believe in the sanctity of every human life and are committed to upholding the dignity of every human person. Therefore, we denounce all forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking, and pledge to work for their elimination.”
Also, the Holy Cross Sisters in Merrill ran a single frame announcement at the local theater to help raise awareness. Others work with the hotels in the area to educate staff on what to look for in order to be able to recognize a trafficking situation, such as a person not being able to leave a work environment, having limited contact with family or friends, not being allowed to speak for themselves or not having any form of identification.
There are many ways to get involved, but first and foremost, we must have faith in Christ and pray that modern-day slavery will be abolished. Through him, all things are possible. We can also educate ourselves on this issue and advocate to our elected officials to pass legislation that will end human trafficking. One such bill is the FORTE Act, which is designed to prohibit foreign labor recruiters from charging “recruitment fees” to apply for and receive jobs in the United States.
Many times these workers, who are trying to make a better life for themselves, are misled and exploited. We must also be vigilant. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, “Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where are the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way.”