By Mary Annette Dworshak, SNJM
As we approach the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita on Feb. 8, I struggle with the reality of global human trafficking. According to a September 2017 report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation: “An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.”
The numbers are staggering. The reality is dehumanizing. In 2014, Pope Francis directly identified the immorality of human trafficking: “The human person ought never to be sold or bought as if he or she were a commodity. Whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of injustice.”
As a teacher of Contemporary Problems to high school seniors at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, WA, what can I do? In 2004 the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary adopted our corporate stand against human trafficking in which we promised to “educate ourselves and others regarding the magnitude, causes and consequences of this abuse, both wherever we are missioned and throughout the world.” We committed ourselves to work in collaboration to “advocate for policies and programs that address the prevention of trafficking or provide alternatives to women and children in danger of being trafficked.”
Fifteen years later, I wonder “What have I done?” Although I have not provided shelter to those trafficked in India or provided job skills training to survivors in Nigeria, as a member of our SNJM Justice Networks, I have collaborated with others to promote awareness about human trafficking, not only within our own community but in our schools in Lesotho, Manitoba, and the United States. Every year some of my students have participated in the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center’s Just Video contest in which they have dramatically and effectively educated others about the tragic reality of human trafficking right here in Seattle along the I-5 corridor.
Sometimes a few of my students or colleagues have joined some of us on the First Sunday of the month for the IPJC Anti-Trafficking Vigil across the street from Seattle’s Westlake Center. After prayer, we stand holding our signs answering questions of the curious, listening to the stories of those who have been trafficked, or smiling at those who give us a “thumbs up” as they walk or drive by.
A few years ago, when the Sisters of the Holy Names focused on the issue of fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline, I invited my students to research the impact of fracking upon water and the environment. We also explored the reality of the promise of the oil boom along with the impact on the economy of the surrounding area and the workers who moved there. The Jan. 28, 2019 issue of TIME reported on women who have been bought and sold in oil patch trafficking. Windie Jo Lazenko tells her own story, which prompted her to assist other trafficked victims.
Just last week in class, I assigned this topic to my students: “Two years ago the Sophomore Social Justice Committee studied human trafficking. What have you done about human trafficking since 2017?” I heard students respond, “I haven’t done too much; I am more conscious of where I shop and what I buy; I advise younger women to be more aware of their surroundings and social media; I have researched more about Fast Fashion and am concerned about labor trafficking, as well as sex trafficking.” What these comments say to me is that there are ways to work on stopping the demand through the lens of labor trafficking, as well as sex trafficking.
There are ways in which each of us can make deliberate choices to refuse to be accomplices of injustice harming all of us in our common home.
Sister Mary Annette Dworshak teaches religion and serves as Peace and Justice Coordinator at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, WA.