Boston area Sisters collaborate to respond to the human face of trafficking

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It was 2007 and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious introduced itself as a group to the reality of "Modern Day Slavery." At first for many of us it was simply a concept. As abhorrent as trafficking may be . . . The purchasing of a human being, primarily women and children for sexual or labor exploitation was a perception that this happened somewhere else, to somebody else. However, at some point, whether it was through group discussion, reflection on a film that we saw, HEARTS WERE TOUCHED and an inter-congregational group represented by the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the Medical Missionary Sisters of Mary, the Holy Union Sisters, the Marist Missionary Sisters, and the Sisters of St. Joseph formed the Boston Unit of LCWR anti-human trafficking coalition.

The newly formed "coalition" realized what they discovered was very disturbing. Slavery was prohibited in 1850 yet it existed everywhere in a new form; victims of human trafficking were often punished while the perpetrators went free; there were no safe houses within this area; and people were unaware of the scope of this horrendous evil.

As the group continued their research through reading, meeting with members of the FBI, Homeland Security, the state and local police human trafficking division, it became clear that it was crucial to raise awareness and consciousness about Modern Day Slavery. A mission statement was developed and it still influences the work of the coalition and is expressed as follows:

Impelled by our call to live the Gospel, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Boston Unit Anti-Trafficking Coalition promotes the dignity of persons who are trafficked. The coalition is committed to:

Raise awareness through education;

Collaborate with others to ensure necessary services with compassion;

Advocate for justice; and

Pray for victims and for oppressors (all affected).

In this way, we seek to abolish modern-day slavery in all its forms.

Education, collaboration, advocacy, and prayer became the hallmarks of the mission of the Coalition so it holds symposiums every year; gives presentations on human trafficking in schools, churches, civic groups; advocated for the passage of the victim protection law in the state of Massachusetts; does public witness through annual silent vigils during January ( Human Trafficking awareness month); opened the first safe house in Massachusetts and continues to work with survivors of human trafficking. In this way, the mission of the coalition is fulfilled to: Raise Awareness, Stimulate Inspiration, and Move to Action.

As they have done for 150 years in Boston, the Sisters of St. Joseph are responding to the needs of the times in their support for this ministry to work against human trafficking. As a Congregation, the sisters have taken a Corporate Stance against this Modern Day Slavery, host prayer vigils, symposiums, assist the Coalition's "Bags of Love" project, and support all efforts to raise awareness about, and put an end to, human trafficking. The lens through which the Congregation views their vision is expressed in the Corporate Stance. "We, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, whose mission of unity and reconciliation impels us to promote right relationships, denounce the slavery of human trafficking in all its forms in every place where it exists."

The sisters take seriously the charism of Unifying Love and the challenge of the Gospel . . . "the Christian conscience here is not to hide our face from evil. Not to walk around it, or pretend it is not there; but to face its massiveness in spite of our feelings of powerlessness or insignificance and to become involved in transforming it." (Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, in her book "Consider Jesus.")

The surprising success of this summer's movie "The Sound of Freedom" is a step in moving to overcome those feelings of powerlessness and insignificance by making this "silent crime" the focus of conversation and consciousness-raising, heightening the realization that human trafficking exists globally, nationally, and locally -- right here, right now, in our neighborhood.