ROME — In part II of our interview on human trafficking with recently retired Australian ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy [see Part I here], we discuss how one Italian religious sister is at the forefront of the battle against human trafficking, how ordinary men and women can help, and what Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S./Mexico border might mean for one of the chief channels of human trafficking into the United States.
Ambassador McCarthy, one of the greatest figures in the anti-slavery and human trafficking cause has been the Italian religious sister, Sr. Eugenia Bonetti. What can you tell us about her efforts as a religious to combat human trafficking, specifically prostitution?
She is dynamic. She is an inspiration and one of the most influential figures in the Church, in mobilizing women religious to work at the level of reclaiming and assisting women who have been trafficked, especially for prostitution at the international level.
Through her publications, through her organizing and inspirational speeches and presence, she has become one of the most prominent influences working for the rehabilitation of women who have been ensnared in trafficking. Sr. Bonetti not only has led and organized teams of women religious to help trafficked victims get away from prostitution, but also to lead them on to be in a position to start a new life, either in the countries where they were rescued, or in their own lands.
Sr. Bonetti has become a symbol of a worldwide movement among Catholic religious in fighting modern slavery and human trafficking.
How can ordinary men and women become informed about human trafficking and make a difference?
Ordinary men and women should begin by thinking about what they can do to find out about not buying goods that are tainted with forced labor or slave labor. Now, to do that, they should also be considering asking their own governments what is being done on their behalf to slavery-proof government procurement of goods and services.
Everyone is entitled in a democracy to ask their members of parliament, their congressmen, or their senators about what the government is doing to end modern slavery and human trafficking. Similar questions can be directed by ordinary men and women to corporations with whom they have dealings. Does that corporation buy from people whose goods have been produced with forced labor? Are they certain that the goods that they are selling do not have supply lines which include slave labor?
In this way, a situation emerges worldwide whereby people are able to find out that the goods they are buying do not have tainted associations with modern slavery and forced labor.
Where else to look? What else to do?
Governments, churches and individuals, especially young people, all have immediate access to the Internet. There are all sorts of organizations that can point an individual in the right direction. Individuals joining together, and discussion at national and international levels, can produce a public opinion that will not tolerate the continuance of affronts to human dignity through modern slavery and human trafficking.
Furthermore, when important measures are taken, whether by governments or individuals or corporations, everyone should be swift to praise them and to urge them on. The stand taken by Consumer Goods Forum [the major supermarkets] and the Vatican about slavery-proofing supply lines should be praised in public, and to their employees and representatives.
When it comes to the trafficking of women and children into prostitution, is it not a greater challenge to eradicate this particular form of human slavery, as they themselves are treated as goods to be bought and sold?
It’s a great a challenge. Forced labor involves many, many more people in different parts of the world, and it will only be eradicated by concerted campaigns involving both the public and private sectors worldwide. But there is no disguising that — according to the International Labor Organization in Geneva — the amount of money involved per year with human trafficking and modern slavery is said to be about $180 billion, half of which is generated through sex trafficking.
The level prostitution around the world at the present time is probably the highest ever, and it cannot be maintained without human trafficking. There must be a critical focus on the fact that many of those involved are among the most degraded and confined of any human beings, making them — in terms of loss of human dignity and freedom — amongst the poorest of the poor.
Many young women and girls, on false promises, are taken to countries where they have no connections and do not know the language, where they are stripped of their passports and other identification and confined to brothels with little or no hope or escape and, in the long run, of survival.
Ending these conditions and freeing the trapped and enslaved will take determination and planning. The first step is a real understanding in the minds of public officials, and wider public opinion, that sex trafficking continues to grow in most parts of the world.
There are various people who say “this doesn’t concern us.” However, it’s now known that, in most of the major cities of the world, if you want to find human trafficking, the red light district should be an immediate place to investigate. Mayors, bishops and other civic and church leaders should fully understand that these areas of prostitution and sex trafficking deprive women and young girls of their freedom and dignity and leave their lives in absolute ruin.
This is a major and ugly infestation of vice in our world, which will only be overcome if there is consistent and forceful action at all levels of society to bring this evil scourge to an end.
Being actively involved in anti-trafficking takes particular courage, perspective and training. It’s the Sr. Bonettis of the world who provide the leadership and direction. But civic and government leaders can say to their law enforcement agencies: “These are criminals, and I want them shut down.” One can say to religious leaders: “I want the Church to preach against it. I want to see that schools have suitable educational materials.”
Citizens can also contribute to the emergence of markets in which they don’t have to buy goods they fear are floated on slavery. There may be a lot of cheap goods around, but cheap for what reason? In other words, we can avoid complicity in the sale of goods produced with force labor by being careful to check that retailers know the supply lines of their goods.
One individual can have some impact, but when the actions of millions consolidate, you begin to change the world for the better.
The pope is traveling to Mexico later this week. Is it likely that he will address these issues during his visit there?
Immigration, refugees and other aspects of population movements are likely to be key themes for Pope Francis when he is in Mexico. In that context, both Church and civic leaders in Mexico would expect the pope to address human trafficking, especially trafficking for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.
Pope Francis is also likely to be informed about Mexicans in the US working in forced labor or slavery conditions. The Pope’s presence in Mexico may also give worldwide prominence to the mass border crossings of young people and children from Central and Latin American, unaccompanied and without connections. Many of these become victims of human trafficking, both for sexual purposes and forced labor.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent of Aleteia’s English edition.