Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of people for the purposes of slavery, forced labor, and servitude. It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
The specific mission of our Congregation comes right out of the New Testament story of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 well-tended sheep to go in search of the “lost one”. Over our 170 year-history and in each of the 72 countries where we are located, we have tried to discern ever anew in each era and culture, who the “lost ones” are; the poor, the marginalized, the ostracized, those wounded by life and excluded from full participation.
This mission is fueled by one simple, bedrock idea; that every human person is sacred. This core Good Shepherd value is captured in our identifying motto, “One person is of more value than a world”. Our mission calls us to stand with those who are in some way “lost”; the powerless, those who do not count in society, those who are the ‘non-persons’ of our day. Our 4th vow of zeal defines us as existing for these others, the ones that Jesus, the Good Shepherd said He knew, that He called by name, that He loved, and for whom He laid down His life. There is a searing clarity about our Good Shepherd mission and its driving force, our 4th vow of zeal . This mission places the individual who is at risk or in any way excluded at the heart of our ministries.
Not surprisingly, the issue of human trafficking emerged as a top priority in our 2003 General Chapter Direction Statement that guides the entire Congregation for the next six years. Another way of describing a Direction Statement is to speak of it as a means of “dreaming our best dream together on behalf of a suffering humanity”. In particular, it spoke of “the poor becoming poorer and the rich richer, that women and children are exploited and trafficked; and that migrants, refugees, indigenous people, Dalets, and many others are being excluded and marginalized.” In response, the Delegates, on behalf of all of us, pledged themselves “ to be present at the margins; to make a preferential option for the poor by giving priority to women and children who are exploited and trafficked.”
My own involvement in the human trafficking issue has led me to design and carry out a research project on behalf of the Congregation that took me to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Belgium, Paris, Milan and Palermo to interview trafficked women. I chose these specific countries in Southeast Asia and Europe because Good Shepherd Sisters are already involved and have relationships with women who have been trafficked in each of these locations either in our own Good Shepherd programs or other programs serving trafficked women. This process facilitated my access to trafficked women and reduced the possibility that the interviews would re-traumatize the women. (The U.S. research sample is progressing at this moment.) The variables studied were the women’s ”social and emotional adjustment”, “life before trafficking”, “the experience of being trafficked”, and “life after trafficking”. I used two research instruments; a structured interview of trafficked women and a structured interview of Key Informants or service providers that asked questions similar to the trafficked women’s questionnaire. However, several questions were added that addressed “best Practices” in terms of treatment, and legal and policy relevant issues specific to their countries. In each location I was accompanied by a sister or staff member who knew the women, knew the primary language that the women spoke, and also knew English so that she could act as my interpreter.
In Sri Lanka, I interviewed six women in a female prison where one of the sisters does outreach work and four young women from three NGO programs that serve trafficked women. Two of these programs were run by Good Shepherd sisters.
In Thailand, I interviewed five Thai trafficked women from our Good Shepherd Program located in a large seaside resort area and “foreign tourist Mecca”.
In Korea, I interviewed five Russian women who had been trafficked into Seoul. Two Korean Good Shepherd Sisters run this residential program.
In the Philippines, I interviewed ten Philippine trafficked women and adolescents from Good Shepherd programs located in Quezon City, Angeles City, General Santos City, Batangas City and Cebu.
In Belgium, five women were interviewed in programs sponsored by the “Le Nid” Movement where Good Shepherd Sisters volunteer and where they run an emergency shelter for trafficked women. The women had been trafficked in from Romania and Albania.
In Paris, eight women were interviewed at a residential program run by a religious community that several Good Shepherd Sisters were familiar with because of their own outreach work to trafficked women.. Two other women were interviewed in Strausberg by a Good Shepherd Sister involved in the “Le Nid” Movement. The trafficked women were from Sierra Leon, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Moldavia and the Czech Republic.
In Italy, five trafficked women were interviewed in Milan from a Good Shepherd Residential program that works in collaboration with Caritas Ambrosia. In Sicily, at a Good Shepherd Residential program, five women who had been trafficked were also interviewed. The women were from Nigeria, Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria and Moldavia.
Although I have not yet analyzed the data nor completed the interviews of women trafficked into the United States, I can share the responses of some of the women on two questions about their experience:
What was the hardest part of being trafficked?
“Being a prostitute, having no choice,”
“I was 11 years old when they took me,”
“This was my life, what right did they have to take it?”
“It is impossible to forget what I have been through,”
“ complied because I did not want to die,”
“The violence of the customers,”
“I am very bitter, no girl goes into this on her own, a hatred grew within me,”
“I must drink before I do this, if not drunk, I cannot do,”
“Being badly beaten,”
“They looked at us as if we were bad women.”
What was your greatest fear during the time you were trafficked?
“That I would be killed by a customer,”
“That the customers would get violent,”
“That all my dreams would vanish,”
“Getting AIDS and STDs,”
“One of the girls jumped from a building and died, and I envied her,”
“That I would lose my mind,”
“That what they did to others, they would do to me,”
“I was afraid most of sadistic clients,”
“That they would kill me or tell my parents what I was doing.”
The last question asked the women what their experience of the interview was. Many said that it was difficult to go back there in memory but if it could help one girl not to experience what they had been through, it was worth it. Another woman, when answering this question said of her experience of being trafficked: “It was painful. I accept that it happened. I survived. And I struggle every day.”
The goal of this research is to publish a book which places the voices of these trafficked women, the world’s most silent, dispossessed and nameless of women, at its center. Carefully rendered research can make it difficult for governments and individuals to avoid facing this harrowing, global human rights violation. Seeing trafficked women as full human beings can be the first step towards a needed shift in consciousness and conscience.
What is at stake in the issue of human trafficking in a very stark way is our core, bedrock belief that every human person is of infinite worth and dignity, not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit in the underground marketplace. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. Human trafficking is a stark, haunting cry in our time that matters deeply and must be answered.
From Good Shepherd News No. 181, November 2005 - Article by Sr. Helene Hayes, RGS, PhD