Human trafficking is increasingly gaining public awareness. Law enforcement, social workers, first responders – all are beginning to receive training regarding human trafficking. And that’s all very good.
But it’s hardly enough.
It is much easier to help a person in a high-risk situation avoid trafficking than to try and put a human being back together after they’ve been brutalized by traffickers. Individuals, communities, church and charitable organizations must all learn what situations in their own areas put people at risk for trafficking, and work to correct those situations.
We know that people with disabilities and mental health issues are at high risk for trafficking. In Bismarck, N.D., those who work with the homeless populations (a population rife with disabilities and mental health problems) are working to curb the danger of trafficking. Christina Sambor, executive director of FUSE, an organization that works to end sexual exploitation, recognizes the risk of the homeless:
Human trafficking often is an outgrowth of people who are vulnerable to exploitation. Homelessness adds to that because you’re in a place where you’re not getting your basic needs met. Anyone that can provide those needs then has the ability to control your behavior to a certain extent.
Most people that are in the commercial sex industry are in the industry because of push factors, whether that’s poverty, sexism, racism or abuse that push them to a point. They’re doing something that, if they had another viable choice in their mind, they would take that choice.
Raleigh Sadler has much the same message. Sadler is director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association’s Justice Ministries and a college pastor at Gallery Church in New York City. He says we must reach the vulnerable before traffickers do.
Sadler tells…groups that victims are not ‘just the girl who is kidnapped.’
Often, it is the homeless, the immigrant, the widow, the victim of domestic abuse or the orphan. And many times they still live at home and go to college or church.
‘If they can recognize the signs, we can see change,’ Sadler said. ‘I try to help them see human trafficking in a deeper way.’
Both Sadler and Sambor seem to have an intrinsic understanding of solidarity and subsidiarity, two key pieces of Catholic social teaching. Solidarity means we truly are our brother’s keeper; we reach out to those around us when they are in need. Subsidiarity is the teaching that every problem should be solved at the most local level possible. Having local organizations and community members work with at-risk populations means that those most familiar with conditions in that locale are the ones who help solve the issues.
We are all accountable for helping those in need around us, and we know that the needs of trafficking victims or homeless people are very different depending on their location. By focusing on the needs of local at-risk populations, we have another tool in the arsenal to curb trafficking.