Moderator Julie Etchingham, a British TV journalist, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Msgr. Patrick Lynch, chair of the office for migration policy at the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, att end a Vatican conference on combating human trafficking May 8. CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

Church can educate, blow the whistle on human trafficking, say police

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • May 9, 2012

VATICAN CITY - By partnering with law enforcement agencies, the Catholic Church and other organizations can help victims identify human traffickers and bring them to justice.

"The Catholic Church has a huge role to play with 1.1 billion Catholics across the world. With their networks they can make (society) hostile to traffickers and be safe havens for victims," said a young British woman who was tricked into prostitution in Italy.

The woman, who goes by the pseudonym Sophie Hayes for her protection, was one of a number of speakers at a Vatican conference on combating human trafficking May 8.

Organized by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and hosted by the pontifical councils for Justice and Peace and for Migrants and Travelers, the meeting brought together ambassadors, bishops and representatives from religious orders, Caritas organizations and law enforcement agencies involved in fighting human trafficking.

According to the United Nations, human trafficking -- a modern-day form of slavery -- is now the second most profitable global criminal activity after the illegal arms trade and it's estimated that more than 2.4 million men, women and children are ensnared by traffickers worldwide.

A new partnership between the British bishops' conference and the police already has yielded results, said Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of Scotland Yard's trafficking and organized crime unit.

After an anti-trafficking conference hosted by the bishops in London last December, Scotland Yard was able to break up a Filipino human trafficking ring, he said.

Through their contacts with the bishops, Philippine embassy officials in London met with Hyland and were able to assure about 80 Filipino victims that they would be safe in reporting what they knew about their abusers without fear of deportation and other immigration issues.

While law enforcement agencies in many countries have long turned to the church and other faith-based groups for help in reintegrating trafficked victims into society, more can be done to coordinate groups assisting police in prevention and awareness, he said.

Scotland Yard has a new system of direct reporting where nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups can notify police directly about suspected exploitation, he said.

Police need to know more about which groups are assisting victims so as to "bring those resources together and stop people from being trafficked" and bring criminals to justice, Hyland said.

Trafficking human beings across borders is now easier and cheaper than ever because of budget airlines and online booking services, he told reporters.

However, law enforcement agents have gotten better at identifying abuses, even in cases where the work -- such as construction or domestic labor -- looks legal on the surface, but where workers have been forced into servitude and suffer on-the-job abuse and exploitation, he said.

Beth Englander, director of special programs at the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, told Catholic News Service that in the United States, the majority of foreign-born victims of traffickers were forced into manual labor, while many U.S.-citizen victims end up in prostitution.

She said many are teenage girls from broken homes or involved with drugs and they are either fooled or forced into the sex trade by an older man "who takes a confused girl and gives her the attention and love" she craves.

John Iannarelli, a special U.S. agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation said he was invited to the conference by Scotland Yard.

He said many people are unwittingly recruited and exploited on the Internet. For example, of the 10.2 million websites offering arranged marriages, many are used for trafficking just like many sites posting jobs abroad, he said.

The key to prevention is education, he said, "and that's why working with the Vatican is so important, to educate people about what to look for" and what the dangers may be.

One general sign of a potential trap laid by traffickers is a foreign job or offer that pays all expenses and arranges all legal documentation, he said.

People need to wonder, "Why are they making it so easy," because "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

If people pursue a job offer abroad they need to ask a lot of questions from the potential employer, establish a trustworthy point of contact in the new city in case they need help and always have a backup plan, Iannarelli said.

Victims, families and the church should always contact law enforcement when they sense trouble; "law enforcement is on your side," he said.

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