Noticing human trafficking
Are you a detail-oriented person? I am. Wait, but then again, I am not. I might spend hours making sure my book collection is organized just so, but forget laundry in the dryer for days. Are you the same? What we notice or don’t notice has both certain benefits and costs. My attention to my bookshelf saves me time when I want to look something up, but it also costs me time that I could be doing other things (like folding laundry), and my failure to fold my laundry promptly costs me some time ironing.
A couple of weeks ago I had the meaningful opportunity to witness a performance of the play “True Cost” presented via Zoom by the Stillpoint Actors from Chicago. I decided to attend primarily because I was fascinated and inspired by my budding relationships with a few Sisters of Providence and had been invited by at least one of them. As many Americans often are, I was very busy that day and logged on at the last minute. Within a few moments I found myself tearing up listening to a woman I thought was a survivor of Human Trafficking sharing her story. She turned out to be a very talented actress, but one of her lines has stayed with me: “I hoped they would see me.”
Seeing the humanity and value in each person I meet is one of the things I strive to do each day as a pastor serving in the United Methodist tradition — whether it be calling people by names who do not have a house or apartment to go home to and occasionally buying them lunch, greeting the folks as we place food in their cars at a local food pantry, or stopping to pray with someone who is upset in the grocery store or hospital. This may (or may not) be a good start, but it cannot be the finish. There is much that still lies beneath the surface of our society — people, right here in the USA are being trafficked each and every day. There are still slaves in “the land of the free.”
While I knew there was such a thing as human trafficking and have been aware of some news stories about it both on the national and local levels, I didn’t know many of the signs to look for, or ways that I, or any of us, could help. As the play continued I began to recognize some times in my own life where I had missed the opportunity to possibly help someone. I hadn’t paid that close of attention to the people beside me at customs in the airport. I hadn’t paid close attention to the other nannies when I was in college. And I haven’t spoken to many of the farm workers near my home. This list could grow longer.
What was the true cost of my not noticing these details? Could it be someone’s freedom? Could it be someone’s life? I ask these questions not to bring a sense of guilt, but to bring a sense of awareness. Awareness and education are two of the key goals of the Illinois Women Religious Against Human Trafficking which sponsored the event, including Sister Barbara Sheehan, SP, who spoke with our group after the presentation. Without being aware of the problem, we cannot resolve the problem, and these Women Religious and others who partner with them are faithfully and generously making people aware of the problem. I am grateful.
After the play there was a panel discussion that featured members of the Stillpoint Actors Guild, the Illinois Women Religious Against Human Trafficking, two non-profit organizations who help trafficking victims, and two law enforcement officers who go undercover to catch traffickers. I appreciated their candor and openness to questions and sharing, as I appreciate the Sisters of Providence allowing me to be a part of the event.
Recognizing the signs
The thing is, often we can choose what details we pay attention to. We often choose what products we buy, where we stay when we travel, and whether or not we notice the person “too shy” to speak, or “too forgetful” to carry their own ID. We can realize that in saving money, we may be benefiting from another’s strife and make more informed choices. We can do simple things: pray, donate, pay attention.
In the broadcast I learned some possible signs of persons who might be in danger: living with the employer, poor living conditions, multiple people in cramped spaces, inability to speak to the individual alone, answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed, the employer is holding identity documents, signs of physical abuse, being unpaid or paid very little. I also learned things I can do: ask questions, encourage training events, teach your children about the dignity of all people, print information cards to leave in hotels and restrooms or write your elected officials.
In fact, why don’t you put the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, 1-888-373-7888, in your phone right now? We don’t know when we might need it and knowing the number to call could save a life. Entering the number takes less time than it takes to fold a load of laundry!
All single women ages 18-42 interested in joining virtual programs and discussions on topics such as this are invited to contact Sister Joni Luna at 361-500-9505 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.