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Charlotte parish observes 'Freedom Sunday' with program on human trafficking

CHARLOTTE—Human trafficking is an issue even in Vermont.
That was the message Sister of Providence Pat McKittrick brought to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Freedom Sunday, Sept. 25.
“Kids today think it’s not going to happen to them,” said the coordinator of health ministries/faith in action from Community Health Improvement of the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
But it does happen locally.
Burlington, she said, is a convenient drop-off place for traffickers between Canada and New York or Boston.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
In sex trafficking, criminals earn children’s trust then force them into participation in escort services, nude dancing, stripping, pornography and prostitution. They meet the children’s basic needs if the children are obedient and sometimes take them across state lines to follow sporting, recreational and cultural events.
According to International Justice Mission, an international anti-slavery organization, there are still more than 45 million people who are being bought, sold and used against their will.
It sponsored Freedom Sunday, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish joined in the observance.
Sister McKittrick said that 50-80 percent of persons who are trafficked see a health care provider, but the trafficking goes undetected because they are accompanied by someone posing as a boyfriend or relative who prevents their situation from being exposed. Many victims are afraid to speak up even if left alone with a health care provider.
In Vermont, such victims can call 211 from any phone; it is the easily-remembered, confidential number to dial for information about and referrals to health and human services and community organizations.
“Awareness is the most important thing,” Sister McKittrick said. “We need to be aware of what is around us.”
If someone suspects a person is being trafficked or needs some kind of services, just mentioning 211 in private could help to save a life.
“Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery,” she said, encouraging persons to be committed to building community and looking out for others, to have a clear vision of what really is happening in their community and in the world, to build relationships among health care and faith communities to address needs and “to have the courage to do what you have to do.”
Oftentimes persons fall victim to human trafficking out of desperation – they need money to feed their children or pay their rent or they are addicted to drugs. Some have been “thrown away” by their families, some are homeless or have learning or physical disabilities.
Anyone with a kind of vulnerability is vulnerable to being victimized, she added.
In addition, according to Catholic Relief Services, traffickers prey on migrants seeking employment or escape from conflict. When they can find meaningful, dignified work where they live, they are less likely to risk believing traffickers’ promises of better lives elsewhere.
Sister McKittrick outlined various types of human trafficking into which both men and women, boys and girls are trapped: sex, labor and organ transplant. The average age of those trafficked is 15 or 16 or younger, she added, noting that some persons who are trafficked are branded because “traffickers want to have their property” marked.
The social justice teachings of the Catholic Church call for a response to human trafficking, Sister McKittrick said, noting the teachings about human dignity, respect for human life, solidarity, caring for the vulnerable and sharing one’s resources.
Edmundite Father David Cray, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg, said it was important to join in the Freedom Sunday observance “to let people know what is happening.”
He wanted parishioners to know about the human trafficking situation and what they can do to help.
Offering suggestions from Catholic Relief Services, Father Cray encouraged people to speak out about human trafficking to their lawmakers to find ways to help victims and end human trafficking, to support CRS in its anti-trafficking work throughout the world and to pray for those who are held captive by human traffickers.
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