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February 4, 2022, Adrian, Michigan – Modern-day slavery – including labor trafficking and sex trafficking – is a worldwide plague, bringing in billions of dollars in illegal profits every year to criminals and enslaving 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people.

Those were the staggering statistics mentioned during a panel discussion by members of the Lenawee County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition. The virtual presentation, “A Closer Look at Human Trafficking,” was held during Human Trafficking Prevention Month on January 26, 2022. Two Adrian Dominican Sisters were presenters.

Laura Schultz Pipis, co-facilitator of the Coalition and Associate Director of United Way of Monroe and Lenawee Counties, opened the program by offering resources to participants who might be triggered by the dark topic of human trafficking. She also facilitated the question and answer session that followed.

Amanda Davis Scott, Program Director of the Lenawee County Child Advocacy Center, said victims from throughout the world are trafficked in a variety of ways, either for sexual exploitation or to provide a number of services, from construction and domestic work to work in hotels. 

“Anyone can be the victim of human trafficking,” Amanda said, but certain groups are more vulnerable, including people of color, children in foster care, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and low-income people. Parents striving to provide for their families could be tricked into sending off one of their children to another country for what they are told is an opportunity for a better life. 

Amanda also described the various ways that traffickers exert control over their victims: threats to harm other victims or their families; confinement, often in a place where the victims don’t know the language; isolation from families and friends; and physical and sexual abuse.

Also on the panel were Adrian Dominican Sisters Patricia McDonald, OP, and Marilyn Winter, OP, both involved in the Coalition. 

Sister Patricia McDonald, OP

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity,” said Sister Patricia, Professor of Counseling Education at Siena Heights University. “We are coming to a conscious awareness of what this is and what we can do. …This is an awakening in us as a people.”

Sister Patricia pointed to some red flags that could warn concerned citizens that a person they are encountering is a human trafficking victim: bruises in various stages of healing, an excessively submissive demeanor, and even an inappropriately quiet stance. She also explained a silent signal that victims might use to tell others that they are trafficked: putting their thumb into their hand and their hands down.

“If you see it, say it,” Sister Patricia said. “Turn it over to legal authorities. It’s up to us to do what we can, where we can, in all ways we can. Let’s join forces and help make our society better for all of humanity.”

Sister Marilyn Winter, OP

Sister Marilyn Winter, OP, Co-Facilitator of the Coalition, noted the “perfect storm” that makes human trafficking possible: a person who has power, a person who is vulnerable, and an ignorant public. 

“A lot of times, trafficking is so invisible and involved in places that we would never think is open to trafficking,” Sister Marilyn said. She gave the example of some orphanages, where children can be illegally adopted, and travel tourism in poor areas, where children are set up to sell small items to tourists – for the benefit of the trafficker. “Trafficking is moving its tentacles into many aspects of life,” she said. “The more people become aware of the evil of trafficking, the better off the world will be.”

The Adrian Dominican Sisters have long been involved in efforts to combat human trafficking and in December 2008 approved a corporate stance “to educate ourselves and others regarding the magnitude, causes, and consequences of this abuse.”

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Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates join in the 2017 Climate March.

February 20, 2020, Adrian, Michigan
– As we celebrate World Day of Social Justice on February 20, 2020, a number of Adrian Dominican Sisters reflect on their call as Christians and as Dominicans to work toward social justice and to advocate for those who are denied it in any way.

“Our commitment to peace and social justice is very Dominican,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office for Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation. “It’s part of our DNA because of our charism of searching for truth and speaking truth – veritas. There’s no greater truth than the Gospel call to justice and following in the Gospel values.” 

Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, front right, and other Dominicans in the Houston, Texas, area at the Houston Lights for Liberty rally, advocating for immigrants.

Members of the Dominican Order work together to respond to social justice issues. The International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace is made up of Justice and Peace Promoters of the world’s regions and continents. Each of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Mission Chapters has a Justice and Peace Promoter to help coordinate the efforts of the Chapter in various issues of peace and justice.  

Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter, said the Florida Mission Chapter has worked for years advocating for the repeal of the death penalty in their state. Sister Patricia has also been very active in working toward a just immigration reform and just treatment of immigrants. A nurse practitioner, she serves every Saturday at clinics in Mexico for people who live in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in the United States.

The Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, has been working on immigration issues for years. Sisters and Associates “respond to the social, educational, legal, and spiritual needs of documented or undocumented immigrants” through service such as weekly prayer at a detention center for immigrants, observing and reporting on court procedures for detainees, and serving as literacy tutors. 

Associate Peggy Treece Myles, left, and Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, stand in front of the Nuns on the Bus at its stop in South Bend, Indiana, during the 2018 tour on tax justice.

Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, participates in a monthly public witness in Chicago with Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants,” she said. “We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”

Sister Judy Byron, OP, Program Director for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (ICPJ) based in Seattle, Washington, said much of the organization’s work deals with justice for women, such as those who work in agriculture and are subjected to sexual abuse. The ICPJ also offers programs to educate the public about human trafficking and, from its beginnings in the 1990s, with the housing issue. 

Sister Virginia King, OP – Justice and Peace Promoter for the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter based in Detroit – has focused on climate change since she ministered in California. Climate change “is aggravated by our use of coal and gas,” she said. “Green energy is where I’ve put some energy and focus to address climate change, to use less of the polluting energies and more of the green energies.”

Sister May Cano, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter based in the Philippines, deals with a variety of issues in her work with the Diocese of Kalookan. She also has a unique focus, working with family members of victims of extrajudicial killings – people killed, with the permission of the government, because they are suspected of being drug dealers or users.

Sister Cathy Olds, OP, right, helps prepare a meal for immigrants staying at Annunciation House, a hospitality house in El Paso, Texas, for immigrants coming out of detention.

While the Sisters and Associates might focus on different specific justice issues, they see those issues as connected.  “They’re all part of the whole,” Sister Kathleen said. “We need to see those [issues] as connected, as respect for life – all life, not just human life. All life is the issue.”

Sister Janice Holkup, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Dominican West Mission Chapter said justice work is “all about values. My values are human values, values that support justice for all.”

The Sisters also recognize their justice work as rooted in the Gospel and their faith.  “Since from initial formation and as a young religious, I was exposed and had worked for justice and peace,” Sister May said. “I am inspired by the Gospel of truth, to proclaim the Gospel to the lowly, free the prisoners, and so on.” 

Sister Patricia agrees. “My faith life is based on the Gospel, and that’s where I learned what justice and peace means – through what I read and through what Jesus teaches me through the Gospel,” she said. 

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, left, and Associate Patricia Gillis attend the People’s Climate March in April 2017.

Many of the Sisters said their justice ministry is a challenge because there is widespread injustice. “You have to figure out where you’re going to put your energies,” said Sister Virginia. Sister Judy said added challenges are the need to raise funds for resources and the political environment.

But the Sisters also find hope as they continue in their justice advocacy. Sister Patricia finds hope in the immigrants and asylum seekers. “The people are in such dire circumstances,” she said. But “along with their faith, they have hope that things will be better for them.” She is also encouraged by the number of younger people who are becoming involved in work for social justice. 

“If enough people come together, we can make a difference for the common good,” Sister Janice said.

More information on how Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates are involved in justice issues can be found on the Congregation’s Engaged in the Mission page. The website also offers opportunities to advocate for justice and peace through its action alert page.



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