Focusing on the Victims of Human Trafficking

February 8 is designated World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. The day is intended to raise awareness and encourage reflection on the violence and injustice that impact victims of human trafficking. February 8 was selected because it is the day commemorating Saint Josephine Bakhita, who herself was sold into slavery as a young girl and whose powerful testimonies raised awareness of human trafficking around the world.

Human trafficking exists in the United States and throughout the world. People are conscripted to work in factories, on farms and as domestic help, and a particularly egregious form of trafficking involves the sex trade.

According to Covenant House, the nonprofit agency which serves runaway and homeless youth, sex trafficking in the United States ensnares over 100,000 youth yearly. Traffickers frequent malls, middle schools and high schools, theaters and bus transit centers looking for vulnerable youngsters. Covenant House also maintains that a girl who has taken to the streets is likely to be approached within 45 minutes. Traffickers create a cycle of dependency and coercion from which it is extremely hard to escape. Millions throughout the world are subjected to modern forms of slavery, and this subjugation can occur in neighborhoods close to us. It happens wherever the homeless, the mentally ill, the runaways, and the poor are neglected. It happens to those who answer ads for employment in faraway places and may not understand what they are getting into. It happens in our cities and small towns. Pope Francis drew attention to the “plague” of human trafficking, and called on government leaders to confront the causes of the trade in human beings.

We are asked to support legislation to strengthen anti-trafficking measures, support the efforts of those who take care of street kids and to be alert to situations around us. The pontiff has insisted that all our efforts to stop human trafficking should begin with prayer, “Prayer is the force that sustains our common commitment” to ending trafficking. Recalling last year’s World Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, the Holy Father said that February 8 is a day that invites us to join forces to overcome this challenge. “All of us,” he said, “can and must work together to denounce the cases of exploitation and slavery of men, women, and children”.