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October 14, 2021

Chargé d’Affaires Patrick  Connell’s Welcome Remarks


October 14, 11:00 a.m.
Rome, Italy

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, and friends – both here and online — good morning and welcome!

I am honored to welcome you to a discussion of trafficking in persons hosted by the U.S. and Irish Embassies to the Holy See, in collaboration with Sister Pat Murray and the International Union of Superiors General.  Ambassador Hannon and I would like to offer an enormous thank you to Sister Pat.  The UISG is a cherished partner of both the Irish and the U.S. Embassies to the Holy See, and we are truly grateful for your steadfast support.  And at the same time I’d like to express my appreciation to Ambassador Hannon, who raised this important issue with me in our very first meeting.

Human trafficking is a global crisis and a source of untold suffering.  It is estimated that over 25 million people are affected by human trafficking around the world.  The poor and vulnerable are most at risk:  over 70 percent of victims of sex trafficking and forced labor are women and girls, and nearly a third are children.  This crime is an affront to both human rights and human dignity.  I know I join everyone in this room when I say I believe we have a moral duty to work together to prevent human trafficking, bring perpetrators to justice, and educate the next generation about this appalling crime.

The United States is committed to this work.  Since 2001, the U.S. government has invested more than 340 million dollars in 88 countries to fight human trafficking.  In partnership with governments, civil society, law enforcement, and faith-based organizations, we are working to protect victims and end the scourge of this modern slavery.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is particularly honored to promote and support the courageous work of Catholic sisters to combat trafficking in persons.  Our grants fund anti-trafficking organizations such as Talitha Kum, a network of over 2,000 religious sisters in 92 countries led by Sister Gabriella Bottani, who is here with us today.

Every year, the U.S. State Department releases the Trafficking in Persons Report, a critical tool to monitor and assess anti-trafficking efforts by governments around the globe.  As part of the report, the Department honors individuals – heroes — who have dedicated their careers to combating trafficking, often at great risk to themselves.  These “TIP Heroes” are recognized for their tireless efforts to protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of criminal activity at home and abroad. To date, 100 individuals have received this award.

It is my profound honor to tell you that today, there are three TIP heroes in this room.

Sister Imelda Poole is this year’s awardee.  She is recognized for her work helping thousands of trafficking survivors in Albania, as well as her efforts to train local leaders to become advocates for human trafficking victims.

Sister Gabriella Bottani has dedicated her ministry in Italy to combatting modern slavery.  Talitha Kum’s work on the front lines of modern slavery has helped over 10,000 survivors.

Blessing Okoedion, herself a victim of trafficking, has played an integral role in pushing Italian authorities to ensure that Nigerian women and girls receive the care and services they deserve as they heal.

And Sister Monica Chikwe, Vice President of the anti-trafficking organization Slaves No More, is here today on behalf of a fourth TIP hero, her Sister Eugenia Bonetti, whose work has provided a platform to advocate for survivors of the sordid and terrifying world of sex trafficking.

And, this morning, I would like to recognize another brave and selfless woman, an extraordinary trafficking survivor from history, Saint Josephine Bakhita, the Patron Saint of Human Trafficking.  She was born in Sudan into a loving family but was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery, enduring brutal treatment.  An Italian diplomat bought her and moved with her to Italy, where she became a Canossian nun.  In 2000 Pope John Paul II and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops canonized Saint Josephine and asked her to intercede and assist victims of human trafficking.

Her story, and the incredible stories we will hear from the esteemed women here today, are an inspiration and a testament to how victims can recover from unimaginable tragedy and trauma and find direction and value in life.

It’s our hope that stories like these can reach a very important audience, young people – the “next generation.”  Our conversation today will center on how to raise awareness of human trafficking among youth, and how to empower and enable young people to become leaders in the movement to eradicate modern slavery.

In the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic, which has forced so many young people online, where traffickers prey on the vulnerable, the United States has expanded efforts to educate youth about human trafficking.  Around the world, U.S. funding supports outreach to schools to identify risk factors and teach students to detect networks of criminals online, connect at-risk populations of young people to resources and supportive services, and raise awareness and increase youth engagement in preventing and ending human trafficking.

I look forward to our discussion today.  Together, we honor the resilience of those who have endured this terrible crime, and who are courageously rebuilding their lives.   We reaffirm our commitment to preventing criminals from exploiting people for profit, and we invite all — especially and crucially, the next generation — to join the challenge to help end human trafficking.

Thank you.