The New York Province of the Society of Jesus is a member of the New York Coalition of Religious Congregations to Stop Trafficking Of Persons (NY-CRC-STOP). As a member of the Coalition, the province promotes education and awareness raising events concerning human trafficking, including an upcoming conference on April 5 at St. John’s University in New York City.
Nicholas Napolitano, assistant for social ministries for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces, is a member of the planning committee for the upcoming conference and provides some insights into what human trafficking is and how it can be stopped.
In Our Company (IOC): What constitutes human trafficking?
Nicholas Napolitano (NN): Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Victims can be men, women or children. It is happening all over the world, including right here in the U.S. In addition to the commercial sex industry, we find human trafficking victims in industrial, garment and meat-packing factories; in farms, landscaping and construction businesses; in private homes forced to work as housekeepers and nannies; and in restaurants, bars, nail and hair salons and other service industries.
IOC: What is the goal of the conference at St. John’s?
NN: First and foremost, we want to raise awareness about the issue of labor trafficking. Each of us needs to explore the relationship between human trafficking, poverty and the cost of products we consume every day. Attendees will be able to prayerfully reflect on how we can act mindfully to end modern slavery and protect human dignity and worker’s rights.
IOC: How can one person or group of people hope to make a difference against such a massive issue?
NN: In 2012 when a group of religious sisters began educating hotel and tourism staff about human trafficking around the Super Bowl, many people claimed it was a waste of time and energy. But it brought together people of conscience and has proven to be a tremendous opportunity to educate the general public, develop prevention tools and reporting resources and reach out to corporate partners. Many of our Jesuit institutions in the New York City area used the proximity of Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands in New Jersey as an opportunity to educate their community on the issue of human trafficking. Awareness raising events were held at the Church of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Parish. Students from the Loyola School and St. Peter’s Prep got involved in hotel outreach. And the success of these efforts speaks for itself: media coverage was widespread; 78% of hotels responded positively to outreach; and partnerships among coalitions against human trafficking were strengthened.
Pope Francis has made it very clear that Catholics must get involved in the effort to end human trafficking. “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity,” said Pope Francis in an address he gave on December 12, 2013. “We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence.”
I offer all this to say that an idea came from a couple of leaders of religious orders and blossomed into a very successful anti-human trafficking movement.
IOC: What else can people do to get involved?
NN: There are many ways that people could get further involved in ending human trafficking. There are a host of local and national educational and direct service organizations that offer good educational resources on the issue including:
- GEMS Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, a New York based organization committed to helping girls and young women at risk of becoming targets for trafficking.
- Polaris Project A nation organization working to end modern day slavery.
- Catholic Relief Services University A program with online resources on labor and sex trafficking. The classes are open to all interested in the issue, not just university students.
- NY-CRC-STOP A member for the Life Way Network, NY-CRC-STOP is made up of 27 different religious congregations working to end human trafficking.
Click here to learn more about the upcoming conference at St. John’s University.