The United Nations estimates that 24.9 million people worldwide are currently being trafficked in some form. As the U.S. State Department points out, that's more than three times the population of New York City. And women and girls make up more than 70 percent of victims. 

Human trafficking happens on every continent, a fact that can be difficult for those of us in North America to accept. We may not even realize that it is happening in our communities, and that we are connected to human trafficking through the things we do and the products we consume. 

The first step in our response must be the conversion of our own hearts. We need to critique our attitudes and behaviors — how we treat people, how we spend our money, what we are amused by. As we seek deeper conversion ourselves, we are better able to see the ways we might be participating in human trafficking, as well as the ways we can help prevent it. Armed with this knowledge, we can take action.

(Note: The resources that follow are intended to help you engage this issue more deeply and form a response rooted is your spirituality. Please be aware that some of these resources, given the nature of the issue, address disturbing incidents and topics.)

Prayer for an End to Human Trafficking

Oh God, we didn't see them.
But you did —
The hundreds and thousands of human beings
Trafficked each year to join the millions who are trapped in modern-day slavery.
Under terrible conditions, they work in factories, plow fields,
harvest crops, work quarries, fill brothels, clean homes and haul water.

Many are children with tiny fingers for weaving rugs
and small shoulders for bearing rifles.
Their labor is forced, their bodies beaten, their faces hidden
from those who don't really want to see them.

But you see them all, God of the poor.
You hear their cry and you answer
by opening our eyes, and breaking our hearts
and loosening our tongues to insist:

No más. No more.



This prayer comes from Catholic Relief Services. Rezar en español.

To delve deeper into this issue, we spoke with Sr. Sheila Smith, RSCJ, an expert on human trafficking prevention who represents the Society of the Sacred Heart at the United Nations.

We asked Sr. Sheila about the ways her spirituality informs her work, what a response to human trafficking might look like from the perspective of Catholic social teaching, and what concrete actions we can take to prevent human trafficking. 

Sr. Sheila is doing amazing work, and the thoughts she shared are important for all of us to hear.

Click here to read our conversation.

About Sr. Sheila:

Sr. Sheila Smith is a Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She is presently serving as the Representative for her congregation at the United Nations in New York. Sheila completed her doctorate in theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, where she also helped found PACT-Ottawa (Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans). Although Sheila is presently serving her congregation in an international capacity, she remains part of a group of Ojibway grandmothers who work to prevent human trafficking in their local communities.

Spirituality, Justice, and Human Trafficking

As an RSCJ sister, your spirituality is clearly a part of the work that you do. It is important for people to see somebody who is doing this kind of work and understand more about how their spirituality fits in, because so much of our own spiritual life is about emulating the examples we see. Can you talk about how your spirituality informs your work on behalf of victims of human trafficking?

Forming a Catholic Response to Human Trafficking

How you would encourage others to begin to form their response on a spiritual level. Where should we begin in prayer? What should we be reading?

Concrete Steps to End Human Trafficking

It is important, and sometimes difficult, for those of us in North America to accept that human trafficking is an issue in our own communities. We are more comfortable thinking about it as a global issue, removed from our daily lives. For those of us who don’t spend our days working on this issue at the U.N., what concrete steps can we take to end human trafficking?

The Disproportionate Impact of Human Trafficking on Women and Girls

The U.N. report from 2018 notes the fact that an overwhelming majority of people who are victims of human trafficking are women and girls. Can you explain the impact that this has on women around the world, and also how all of us, women and men, can be more attentive to this issue?

Resources for Further Reflection:

Slavery Today
(What is human trafficking?)

I Am Jane Doe (Netflix)

Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking
(Vatican Section on Migrants and Refugees)

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report (U.S. Department of State)
(Click here for an explanation of this report from Shared Hope International.)

2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (United Nations)

Report: Majority of trafficking victims are women and girls; one-third children (United Nations)

Human Trafficking in North America (United Nations)

Pray for an End to Human Trafficking

Join Pope Francis in praying for an end to human trafficking and the recognition that all of us have a role to play in preventing these crimes. "Faced with this tragic reality, no one can wash their hands of it without being in some way, an accomplice to this crime against humanity."

(via the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network)


Stories from Survivors of Human Trafficking

These stories are difficult to hear, but they are true. These victims of human trafficking are here in North America. They are citizens of the United States and Canada. By hearing their stories, we become more aware and motivated to act.

Many of their stories are available with a quick search on YouTube.

Where do you spend your money, and what do you buy?

Human trafficking is involved somewhere in the production and supply chains of many of the products we buy — food, clothing, technology, etc. Consider where you spend your money and what you spend your money on. Are you sure that product or company has not come into contact with human trafficking at some stage?

Understand how you are spending your money, because you have power with your money.

Here are two places to start:
  • Fair Trade identifies products that are ethically produced and didn't come into contact with forced labor. 
  • B Corporations commit to ethical business practice at every stage. Find out if there is a B Corp selling what you are in the market for.

Recognize the signs of human trafficking (Polaris Project)

"Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need."

Any vulnerable group is vulnerable to human trafficking.

"Anti-poverty work and welcoming migrants is also something concrete that people can do; join a group and volunteer. Prevention of racism. All vulnerable groups are vulnerable to human trafficking. So, to stand in solidarity with any group that is vulnerable is human trafficking prevention work because they are all connected. We need to see the big picture and understand that everything connects." - Sr. Sheila Smith, RSCJ

Become aware of God's presence and give thanks.

I focus on God's presence to me today and in this time of prayer. I express gratitude to God for the many blessings I have received, especially the freedom to make my own decisions and to reap the fruits of my own labor.

Review the day.

What did I do today? What did I buy or use or consume today? Do I know where these things were produced and who produced them? I talk to God about my relationship to this stuff, my relationship to consumption, and the desires that motivated me.

I also think back to what I have learned today about human trafficking. I recall the survivor stories I heard. How did they make me feel? Was there something that made me particularly angry, or sad, or hopeful? I talk to God about this, and I ask God to instill the same compassion in others that God is giving me.

Look forward to tomorrow.

As I look forward to tomorrow, I consider the ways human trafficking may be part of my routine — the products I use, the food I eat, etc. I talk to God, and ask God to point out one thing I can do differently tomorrow. After spending a few minutes praying about this, I ask God for the strength to make this change tomorrow.

I conclude by praying Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit...

Welcome! Chapter 1: World Day of Migrants and Refugees Chapter 2: Season of Creation Chapter 3: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice Chapter 4: Shelter the Homeless Chapter 5: Walking with the Excluded Chapter 6: Caring for Our Common Home Chapter 7: Racism in America Chapter 8: Human Trafficking
Chapter 9: The Salvadoran Martyrs Chapter 10: Blessed Are You Who Are Hungry Now

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