One of the first events my wife and I hosted at our residence was a conversation and lunch for guests from the Vatican, religious orders, and NGOs who work to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. Trafficking in human beings is a terrible scourge that enslaves millions of people every year. The U.S. government is committed to preventing and combatting human slavery and my embassy has made fighting it a priority for more than a decade now. President Obama has called on his cabinet to strengthen federal efforts to combat human trafficking and to expand partnerships with civil society and the private sector. Faith and community-based groups are crucial to this.
Pope Francis was a strong supporter of initiatives to support victims and fight human trafficking when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. And I’m very happy Pope Francis has made the fight against trafficking in human beings one of the priorities of his pontificate. Last weekend the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences hosted an international workshop that brought together groups outside and within the Church who are leading the charge in combatting this heinous crime – sociologists, legal experts, institutional leaders, and forensic scientists, as well as representatives of religious orders and NGOs working in the field. I was glad Nan Kennelly, Principal Deputy Director from the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, also attended. She and I had a very substantive conversation following the conference regarding what more the Holy See and U.S. government could do to combat human trafficking.
Trafficking in persons can be a hidden crime. Often we don’t see the victims, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They are people deceived by false promises of prosperity or forced by physical violence to cross borders and seas to be exploited as slaves in menial work or prostitution. They are trapped in a no-man’s land without documents, legal status, or the social support structures that we take for granted. This is where faith-based groups and churches step in – at the working level, getting out to the streets to befriend the prostitutes, or visiting the buildings where exploited workers sleep. I appreciate the work Catholic sisters and the Church have done at the grassroots with networks like Talitha Kum, led by Sr. Estrella Castalone, who are on the front lines assisting victims of trafficking every day. It’s these people of faith President Obama wants the federal government to partner with – taking small steps together to tackle a huge problem.
When I presented my credentials to the Pope, I told him I wanted to work with him to promote human dignity and I specifically mentioned the great collaboration we have with the Holy See to combat human trafficking. Of course, much more remains to be done.
For information on U.S. initiatives to combat trafficking, visit http://www.state.gov/j/tip/. And you can read the State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2013/index.htm.