February 8: a day of prayer for victims of human trafficking

I’d like to believe such things as human trafficking are imaginary or merely historical, but then I’d have to ignore too much.

A couple of years ago, I heard personally from a woman who had been trafficked sexually as a teenager. This wasn’t some runaway who had been taken in by a pimp in the big city, not that such a situation would have been any better. No, this woman, Theresa Flores, had been a 15-year-old high school student in an American midwestern suburb when she was drugged and then sexually assaulted as the attackers taped the assault. By threats of exposing the tape and later by threats of harming her unwitting family, the attackers forced Flores into two years of working for them as a slave sold into prostitution.

Impossible? I can only wish. Flores now travels far and wide to share her story and to increase awareness of how prevalent human trafficking is today in the United States. She rightly calls herself a survivor. She is doing what she can to spare other people what she went through.

Not all trafficking is sexual. Only a few miles from where I live, just across the river, two people were convicted a decade ago of depriving several migrant agricultural workers from Jamaica of their passports and the wages that had been promised to them.

There are various special observances sponsored by advocacy groups who want to bring a halt to human trafficking. One of those days is tomorrow, February 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.

Bakhita was a Sudanese woman born in the middle of the nineteenth century. Kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, tortured by her “owners,” she ultimately wound up in Italy. Eventually, a court ruling freed her. She adopted the Catholic faith, and entered a convent while retaining a missionary spirit: “her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa.”

She died on February 8,1947, and has since been recognized as a saint by the Catholic church and as patroness of Sudan and of all victims of trafficking. The anniversary of her death is an especially apt time to spend time in prayer for all people who are being bought and sold as commodities.

I wish this were something past – a sorry part of the human condition from which we have all turned in horror. It’s not. There are still people in slavery, some very close to home – still people selling other people – and still people who create the market by “buying” the services of the trafficked victims.

A couple of bills are pending in the New Hampshire legislature this year in an effort to fight this plague. One would create a civil right of action for trafficking victims, while the other seeks to do that plus strengthen existing state anti-trafficking legislation.

People aren’t property. I pray for the day when that can go without saying.