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Chicago, December 11, 2023 – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters were among 150 attendees of the Alliance Against Human Trafficking conference who shared ideas about their efforts to end the scourge of human trafficking.

Begun in 2013 as U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. It changed its name to Alliance Against Human Trafficking to be more inclusive of the many allies in the Sisters’ efforts against human trafficking.

Human trafficking – the forced, fraudulent, or coerced exploitation of human beings in labor or commercial sex – is an illegal trade that afflicts women, children, and men. Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking organization, puts the number of people who are trafficked at 25 million worldwide. “It’s a big, $1.5 billion operation,” said Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, adding that human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade, after drugs.

Sister Patricia emphasized that human trafficking is everywhere in the world. “In my work here in Michigan, I’ve learned that many people think we don’t have human trafficking in Lenawee County because it’s rural, but in all 83 counties in Michigan, there are cases of human trafficking,” she said. 

“One of the phenomenal aspects [of the conference] was how many different people we were able to interact with and network about what was taking place in their geographical regions,” Sister Patricia said. She gained “new ideas, new insight, a way of realizing the connection of all of us.” Human trafficking is growing worldwide, and “the more who are involved [in working against it], the more can be done,” she said. 

Sister Judy Byron, OP, also attended the conference. “One takeaway for me was that we had the vision to end human trafficking, and the Sisters got together to found Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking,” Sister Judy said. “We’ve partnered with associates and many organizations and lay people to address this issue because it’s bigger than us.”

Through her involvement with the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC), based in Seattle, Sister Judy has been active in efforts against human trafficking since 2008. The organization’s many activities include monthly vigils in downtown Seattle that have been ongoing for 15 years and various presentations on the topic to raise awareness of the issue, including webinars for junior high school students. 

During the vigils, IPJC activists hold signs to attract the attention of passersby. In the beginning, Sister Judy said, people thought that human trafficking involved brothels in Cambodia. “Over the years, people began to realize that it’s happening in this country – labor and sex trafficking,” she said. “People thought it was over there but realized that human trafficking is no respecter of countries. It’s everywhere.”

Sister Judy explained that Adrian Dominican Sisters and other faith-based investors also work with the tourism industry to train their employees about the signs of a human trafficking situation and what they should do if they suspect it. Hotels and airlines especially have been training their employees, she said.

A particular challenge in efforts against human trafficking is that it has moved online in recent years, Sister Judy said. “Children are solicited on their phones and groomed for sex,” she explained. “There are parental controls on iPads and phones, but if kids want to find a way around it, they will.” Faith-based shareholders are working with social media platforms such as Meta, phone companies, and other communications companies to find ways to protect children, she said.

Sister Patricia educates the public, working with parishes and schools in the Adrian area and speaking to organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce. “I see many positive programs reaching out to the public,” she said. “This networking is very proactive and positive around addressing the issue.”

If you suspect that a situation involves labor or sex trafficking, call the U.S. Department of Human Services at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423). More information can be found on www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign or from the Polaris Project, https://polarisproject.org/.

January has been declared the National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11, 2024, is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The observance continues into February with the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the Patron Saint of Human Trafficking Victims.

September 23, 2022, Viera, Florida – In a guest Op-Ed column for Florida Today, Adrian Dominican Sister Lucy Vazquez, OP, spoke out against the practice of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of “importing” refugees from Texas to Florida and then sending them to Martha’s Vineyard to make a political statement about immigration. 

Sister Lucy Vazquez, OP

Sister Lucy wrote that this latest political practice “is a complete contradiction” of the Jesus’ statement in the Gospel that we will be judged on how we treat those in need – including immigrants and refugees – for “as long as you did it to one of these, the least of my little ones, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40). While immigration reform is needed, she wrote, “we need to afford those who seek refuge in our country the dignity of human beings.”

Writing as a refugee from Cuba, Sister Lucy noted the hard work of her father and of other refugees who sought work to support their families. “Florida would not be as prosperous as it is today without the untold contributions of refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other countries,” she wrote. 

Read Sister Lucy’s guest column in Florida Today, “Political theater at the expense of refugees is unforgivable cruelty.”



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