BY TONI CASHNELLI
It’s horrible, and it happens here.
In 2015, human trafficking – the practice of treating people like GRAPHICS BY AARON GOLDER, Graphic Design Dept. Mount St. Joseph Universitypossessions – is a global pandemic. What’s shocking, says Fr. Al Hirt, “In a day and age when we thought slavery ended 150 years ago in this country, is to know that it’s widespread here and around the world.”
“Here” is Cincinnati, the site of an Oct. 27 conference on human trafficking mounted by the Sisters of Charity and co-sponsored by two dozen concerned groups, including the JPIC Office of St. John the Baptist Province, represented at the event by Br. Scott Obrecht. Pastor Al and 20 members of his congregation, St. Monica St. George, were among 500 people attending the Violence Against Women Symposium at Xavier’s Cintas Center, all gathered in a comfortable auditorium to hear the uncomfortable truth about modern exploitation. “The parish has already gotten involved with this issue,” Al said, “so this was sort of a natural event for me to attend.”
Throughout the evening women who had investigated and battled trafficking told stories in grim, gut-wrenching detail. Those who had experienced and lived to tell about it proved just how resilient the human spirit can be.
Attendees learned that human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, yielding $150 billion in profit annually. About 55% of its victims are women.
Those numbers were provided by speaker Pamela Matson, a 25-year veteran of the FBI who estimates that 20.9 million people in the world are enslaved. “The UN recognizes five types of human trafficking,” said Matson: labor trafficking; sex trafficking; child prostitution; organ trafficking; and the conscription of children as soldiers.
Edwina GateleyIf you thought this was strictly a third-world problem, think again. Thousands of victims in the United States are controlled with threats, lies, drugs and physical violence. A map projected on a screen showed the network of highways – 21 of them criss-crossing Ohio – that gives traffickers easy access to any part of the state.
Matson, who spent her last seven years in the FBI working on human trafficking cases and other civil rights crimes, was frustrated by the lack of legal support. “Ohio was the fourth-to-last state to enact a trafficking law,” she said. One two-year investigation resulted in the 2014 conviction of Christopher Hisle, a Cincinnati man who admitted he locked 12 women in his house and forced them to engage in prostitution.
When does exploitation become trafficking? If fraud, force or coercion are involved, Matson said, it’s a crime. And if anyone under the age of 18 is involved, “It’s automatically a crime. There’s no need for proof of force, fraud or coercion.”
Pimps prey upon the young and the vulnerable. According to Matson, “The average age for starting prostitution is 13.” Thirty-two years ago, Edwina Gateley discovered her life’s work was befriending and ministering to people in prostitution. An author, artist and theologian, British-born Edwina is an eloquent spokeswoman for her cause. Outwardly as proper as Mary Poppins, she pulls no punches in her graphic depiction of life on the streets.
Thirty-two years ago, “I heard God’s whisper” to work with women in prostitution. “It made me feel God really, really was concerned about a whole population of women nobody gave a damn about. My call….came directly from God. Off I went to the streets of Chicago,” where she met women selling their bodies for $10-$15 a night. “It was those women in prostitution who took me to this underworld. They became my sisters.”
Edwina learned that more than 90% of them were victims of child incest. “They felt guilt; they had zero self-esteem and were too young and immature to know they were being exploited. They thought they were scum. With no other source of income and zero self-esteem, what else can you do?” Sitting with prostitutes and hearing their stories, she assured them, “You are God’s work of art.” Sharing those stories became her ministry. “We have to change what’s happening to these beautiful girls and women who are being brutalized,” she said.
One of those women, Brenda Myers-Powell, was 14 when she escaped an abusive home in Chicago. Brenda Myers-PowellControlled for years by pimps who degraded and physically abused her, she survived when Gately intervened and helped her break a cycle of violence.
“I had no idea I was traffic,” said Brenda, addressing the Cintas crowd with disarming candor about the horrors she endured as a young woman. Her own mother died at the age of 16. Neglected by her caretaker grandmother, Brenda had two children of her own before she turned 15. “I was raised up [to think that] God didn’t care about me.”
Over the years she was kidnapped, locked up, forced into prostitution, shot, stabbed, and badly disfigured “when I was dragged six blocks by a car when my clothes were stuck in a car door.” Then she met Edwina Gateley. “She took me, a raggedy piece of girl, and taught me how to find me.” Today Brenda is a motivational speaker who runs The Dreamcatcher Foundation, a survivor-focused agency working to end human trafficking in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.
As the Cintas audience learned, awareness is the most powerful weapon in the war on human trafficking. Watch for signs that people are being controlled (see sidebar). If you suspect that anyone is a victim, call the toll-free hotline National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
Al and his parishioners at St. Monica St. George have taken it a step further. “Our parish has a tithing program and this year we tithed about $2,000 to three different organizations dealing with human trafficking,” he said.
Sadly, the stories of rescue and redemption are rare. This evening, "The magnitude of the problem was put before us again,” said Al. Trafficking happens around the corner from where we live, where we work, where we worship.
Millions of people in the world will never know freedom. And thousands of them are closer than you think.
Ohio is taking its anti-trafficking campaign to the highways. Starting next year, all truckers issued a commercial driver’s license in the state will undergo a one-hour training program to learn what to look for and what to do when they suspect human trafficking. They will also receive a Truckers Against Trafficking wallet card with info and instructions about how to proceed. Ohio is the first state to make anti-trafficking training mandatory for truckers.
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People who are victims of human trafficking may exhibit:
If you suspect someone is a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
Visitation is one of the principal tasks of the Provincial Minister. I won’t deny that there are times when the travel and number of friars makes it wearying, but most of the time it really is a great privilege and joy to talk with brothers in this forum. It was that way when I visited this week St. Anthony Friary in Cincinnati, the home of 11 friars.
While I was tired of listening at the end of the two days, it was a very uplifting visit. To a man, the friars enjoy living with one another and spoke well of each other. They know each other’s quirks, but are accepting and supportive. They appreciate and are committed to the “infrastructure” of prayer, chapters, and recollection that they have chosen for themselves. They even enjoy “forced rec,” when they all come together on Wednesday evenings for an hour or so. They have written a “fraternal life plan” which now focuses on providing hospitality since it is no longer the site of our Postulancy program.
I heard things like; “I am here as long as you need me here; I am open to anything the province needs; I want to be open to what the revitalization and restructuring might ask of me; I want to be useful; we have good community, how can we go deeper?” All of which is music to a Provincial’s ears! Al Hirt and I are grateful to be a filial house of this fraternity and will join them as our schedule permits.
Several years ago I was visiting in the Southwest and one of the parishioners I met asked me who I was and what I was doing. I tried to explain our custom of visitation. He seemed to understand, nodded his head, and wisely said, “I get it, you encourage them.” But then he asked, “Who encourages you?” You do, my brothers, you do. We have much for which to be grateful.
Speaking of visitation, we are already (believe it or not!) in communication with the General Council about a General Visitor for the Chapter of 2017. We like to have the Visitor named by the time of the APA so that he can come and get a sense of the Province in that forum before he begins visiting individual friars and fraternities. That means he has to be named early in the year, so this is the time to begin proposing some names. Say a prayer! I know from experience that it will be a gift and privilege for him to get to know us.
— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
BY FR. MARK SOEHNER, OFM
If what Stan Bir did in profiling could be called “Stan-dardized”, and Tim Lamb’s work could be called, “Lamb-inated”, perhaps the postulants and I have been “Scott-guarded” in a recent Profiling Workshop given by Fr. Scott Brookbank from Holy Name Province.
All 16 postulants from the U.S. and their directors came to the workshop at the Capuchin Retreat House in Washington, Mich. It was a good first meeting for all of them.
Above, SJB postulant Dan Ward with classmates; right, Scott Brookbank led the workshop.Above, postulants and directors in Washington, Mich.PHOTOS BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMScott encouraged the 16 U.S. postulants’ understanding about their profile using the same instruments as both Stan and Tim (Myers-Briggs, FIRO-B, and the Leadership Matrix). Soon metaphorical lightbulbs went on as they applied their new knowledge to community living. Running masking tape on the conference room floor, Scott taught the postulants the meaning of Introvert/Extrovert. With introverts on one side of the line and extroverts on the other, both groups explained how they processed information, and what they needed from the other group. Gradually a grid of masking tape delineated the full 16 MBTI types. A similar interactive process was used for the FIRO-B, while the Leadership Matrix was handled in our individual provincial groupings.
This week of being together also introduced the postulants to each other, since they could potentially be novitiate classmates next August. Evening recreations were opportunities to get to know each other, as well as the sending province. Formators, too, were able to have some time for support and planning the next gathering in the Spring. Now that I’ve been Scott-guarded, I hope my own community skills grow.
Bonaventure Bai is ready to take the oath.
Left, postulant Sr. Elizabeth; right, Sr. Marie Joseph
PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER MEYER, OFM
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