Vatican Hosts Conference Promoting Awareness of Human Trafficking

Trafficking Victim, Law Enforcement Officials, Church Leaders Give Testimony

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By Ann Schneible

VATICAN, MARCH 8, 2012 ( An international conference on human trafficking was held today at the Vatican, with a focus on the Church’s role in the prevention of human trafficking, pastoral care for its victims, and the reintegration of these victims into society.

Every day, men, women and children are bought and sold into slavery for purposes of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, or forced labor. The objective of the conference was to promote awareness among the 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, thereby establishing a fortified network to both prevent human trafficking, and to offer care for its victims. The conference was organized by the Office for Migration Policy of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, and hosted in the Vatican by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Included among those in attendance were delegates from Lithuania, Nigeria, Thailand, South Africa, USA, Europe, the Head of the Polish Police Force and a senior member of the FBI.

Victim of human trafficking

One of the main speakers was Sophie Hayes (not her real name), a young woman from Britain who five years ago was trafficked into Italy by an Albanian man who she had believed to be her friend. «I worked in Italy for six months,» she explained during a press conference, «and it’s my very first time back here. [It is] quite a scary experience but a great place to be in such different circumstances, [going] from working on the streets to now sitting here with all of these guys looking at how we can work together, which is absolutely key to making sure this doesn’t happen to other people.»

Sophie also thanked the media for their role in helping to promote awareness of the prevalence of trafficking. «I think it is really important that the media are here to really make sure that this isn’t a topic that’s hidden, something that isn’t in the spotlight, because it really has to be on the agenda.»

It is important, moreover, «to make people not afraid to talk about this, because the only way we can prevent this is to have everyone know what’s going on, everyone to have an opportunity to make sure that they can make a difference, and just really work in partnership and support all of our work to make sure that we don’t have to have conferences like this ever again.»

Law enforcement

Attendees also heard the testimony of Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, Specialist Crime Directorate on Human Exploitation and Organised Crime for the London Metropolitan Police. «From the law enforcement side,» Hyland explained, «today has been very significant. We had presentations this morning from people who are working with victims, people who are working to prevent people from becoming victims, and most importantly from a victim herself. And what that does for me, as a police officer, it reminded me why I do the job that I do.»

Hyland also emphasized the importance of collaborating in the fight against human trafficking. «The Catholic Church,» he said, «is a partnership, and is represented globally. But also, what there is, is many different groups who are already working to combat trafficking and to assist with reintegration and to assist law enforcement.»

«There are many examples,» he went on, when «the metropolitan police has used the Catholic Church, and Christian societies, and other faith groups, to help victims to reintegrate them into their normal lives. And with that comes prevention, because it raises awareness, and actually brings those who were trafficking to justice.»

Working toward prevention

One of the main objectives of the conference, explained Bishop Patrick Lynch, chair of the bishop’s conference commission for Migration Policy and auxiliary bishop of Southwark, England, was «to create and strengthen a network of Church representatives, members of religious orders, NGOs, law enforcement agencies, embassies, and the two pontifical councils here in Rome. And I think by bringing people together, that is actually happening through this conference.»

The bishop also placed special emphasis on the reintegration of victims who have been rescued from trafficking, not only by «providing a safe supportive shelter with a family atmosphere,» but also by «providing an opportunity for healing – and by that I mean physical, psychological, social and spiritual.»

Bishop Lynch spoke about the need to help victims know where they can go for help, and to promote awareness as to the reality of human trafficking in order to prevent it from taking place.

Finally, he spoke of the need to «pray for all those who have been trafficked, and to pray for those who are working with trafficked people.»

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