|Church members can address trafficking locally|
By Linda Bloom*
Mary Streufert describes human trafficking as "a form of human retail" during an ecumenical conference at the United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations in New York. UMNS photos by Philip E. Jenks, NCC.
Oct. 3, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
Mary Streufert has a blunt assessment of human trafficking. She calls it "a form of human retail."
A theologian and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, she often addresses congregations "to connect them in their heart and their head" on the evils of trafficking and what they can do to make a difference.
During a Sept. 29-Oct. 1 ecumenical conference on human trafficking at the United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations, Streufert shared with participants her presentation for congregations.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act … induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years." Labor trafficking is considered to be the same type of actions "for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery."
Church members tend to become involved after they realize that trafficking is a local issue, according to Clare Chapman, a United Methodist and executive with the National Council of Churches, which co-sponsored the conference with the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
She advocates an ecumenical approach. "We (churches) are going to have a much greater impact if we do this together than if we do it individually," she told United Methodist News Service.
Linda Bales, who fights trafficking as an advocate with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, agreed. "We do need to educate churches on the issue," she said. "They could be very pivotal in identifying people who are being trafficked."
Rescue & Restore
The Board of Church and Society works with the Department of Health and Human Services and its "Rescue & Restore" program, which helps identify and assist victims of human trafficking in the United States.
Often, it’s just a matter of getting organized. Barbara Anderson, an American Baptist from Arlington, Mass., spoke of how church members decided last year to raise $250,000 for "Break the Chains: Slavery in the 21st Century", a two-year national mission project of the American Baptist Women’s Ministries. "To date, we still have 9 months to grow our project," she said. "We have raised over $206,000."
Project participants, who use resources from Rescue & Restore, have had requests from across New England to give presentations on human trafficking. "I think telling the story is what it’s all about," Anderson said.
Through Trinity Baptist Church, where she attends, Anderson and a friend set up a church booth about human trafficking at Arlington’s "town day" last year; staged an educational event the first Sunday in Advent; and led the congregation to agree to sponsor a community awareness program, which took place in late September.
Now Anderson is involved with a group working to establish a permanent safe house for trafficked women in Boston and is planning a breakfast for women of faith in her community to begin building a network of anti-trafficking advocates.
The Rev. Ann Tiemeyer
Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, which fights against the commercial sexual exploitation of women, suggested talking "to the men in your lives about the sex industry in general" and making sure that churches provide "a child protective environment" and mentoring to every child.
Churches can participate in ECPAT’s campaign to protect children in tourism by supporting the "Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism" and encouraging U.S. companies to sign on.
The National Organization for Women-NYC has had success with a campaign to remove sex ads from local publications, according to Sonia Ossorio, the organization’s president. NOW also was part of a lobbying effort that resulted in the passage of an anti-trafficking law by the New York Legislature in 2007.
"It was the 33rd state to do so," Ossorio told conference participants. "There’s a very good chance your state has done so." If not, she suggested lobbying for such a law.
Ana White, an immigration and refugee policy analyst for the Episcopal Church, said her denomination has passed three resolutions on trafficking, including the funding of resource materials. Both legislative advocacy and awareness campaigns are effective. "Even if your state has legislation, you need to be informed about what legislation it has," she added. "No legislation is perfect."
Cherish Our Children, a ministry affiliated with the Lutheran church, gives congregations a way to implement the ELCA Message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation through prayer, education, relationship-building and action, according to Amy Hartman, the national director.
"We tell people: 'Don’t do this as a lone ranger. Build a team around you,'" she said.
Church Women United has a resource, "Human Trafficking: An Education and Action Resource," that can be ordered from the organization’s Washington office or downloaded from www.churchwomen.org.
One immediate result of the ecumenical conference is a commitment by the NCC to work ecumenically and develop a downloadable bulletin insert to be used on Sunday, Jan. 11, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, according to the Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, NCC program director for women’s ministry.
The Justice for Women Working Group will host educational forums on trafficking during the general assembly for the NCC and Church World Service in Denver in November. The NCC Web site also will continue to be a resource sharing space for the faith community.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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