Toward Columbus: Human trafficking prevention aims for church's help

Women's committee produces educational materials
June 5, 2006

Concerned about the daily business of buying and selling human beings, the Executive Council's Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) is taking acting inviting the rest of the church to join the effort to stop modern-day slavery.

Some 10,000 packets of educational material are being readied for mailing and distribution to bishops, diocesan resources centers, deputies, every Episcopal congregation, and members of the Episcopal Church Women's triennial meeting.

The CSW had a mandate from the 2003 General Convention (Resolution A025) to identify and develop resource materials to be used by congregations and dioceses to address the domestic and international problem of trafficking in women, girls, and boys as well as any known local connections in trafficking.

"While trafficking is a largely hidden social problem, victims are in plain sight if you know what to look for," says one of the brochures in the packet.

The committee hopes that congregations will use the information to raise awareness among their members and encourage people to help victims of trafficking, and work to end the trade in humans.

A letter accompanying the packet says that human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing. Drug dealing is the largest criminal enterprise, the letter says. Approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims are trafficking across international borders each year. Some 18,000 to 20,000 victims come into the United States, according to the letter. More than half are thought to be children.

The Rev. Catherine Munz, a member of the committee and an organizer of the project, said she was unaware of how pervasive human trafficking is. Munz, rector of St. Bernard's Episcopal Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, recalls seeing prostitutes outside a known brothel across the street from St. Clement's in New York City, where she did her field-education work while attending the General Theological Seminary.

The women would go from looking like 17-year-old runaways to looking like 45-year-old women "who had seen the world" in the span of six months.

"Now I wonder how many of them literally had no choice in what they were doing," she said.

Now, Munz said, she knows there is "this whole other worldliness that some women live in."

There is a good chance that Episcopal Church members might encounter someone they suspect is in the country against their will, Munz said. "Every single person in every single pew has the opportunity to affect the life of someone who is, literally, a human slave."

The packet offers ways to identify victims of human trafficking and how to get them help.

The CSW's work has also had a ripple effect, Munz said. When Munz asked members of her parish to help prepare the mailing, she asked people to review the packet and watch the DVD it contains. She told them that ministry begins when they are aware of the needs of people around them.

When her CSW project colleague, the Rev. Mary Moreno Richardson, began telling people in her diocese in San Diego about the CSW's project, they became interested. Now there is talk of a public service announcement on trafficking being produced which would feature Richardson and Munz along with some more well-known people.

"Just because we've been speaking out, people have been asking how they can help and we want to tell them how they can help," Munz said.

As she and Richardson researched possible educational material Munz said the volume of available material felt overwhelming. "The mandate was to educate the church. We did not want to overwhelm the church the way we were feeling overwhelmed."

They decided to use material created by DHHS along with a brochure written by Munz. Paul Gould, a graphic artist from St. Bernard's, designed the logo for the packet and its mailing envelope. Munz hopes the powerful logo will make the envelope stand out in the midst of a congregation's mail.

The packets going to diocesan offices will contain a DVD produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) called "Look Beneath the Surface: Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking in the U.S. The DVD, part of the Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking awareness campaign, the 11-minute DVD is suitable for adult and adolescent education sessions.

Eventually, Munz said, the CSW hopes to get the DVD to every congregation. The committee is awaiting all the promised copies from DHHS.

The packet also includes posters and brochures in English and Spanish, a card with referral information and a reference card for professionals on how to identify and help victims of trafficking.

The materials in the packet suggest that people may be victims of trafficking if they:

  • are accompanied by a controlling person or boss, and not speaking on their own behalf,
  • lack control over their personal schedule, money, travel documents and other identification,
  • are transported to and from work or who work and live in the same place,
  • are in debt to an employer or crew leader, or who say they cannot leave their job, and or
  • are bruised, fearful, overly submissive and/or depressed.

If you think you have encountered a victim of trafficking, call the DHHS Trafficking Information Referral Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Workers there can help the person safely and securely connect to basic services and help rebuild their lives.

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