The Catholic University of America

July 17, 2015

Catholic Groups Work to End Human Trafficking

  Bishop Eusebio Elizondo (right) chats with conference participants. 

More than 300 representatives of Catholic social service organizations and parishes from across the country came out in force at Catholic University this month to answer Pope Francis’s urgent call to end human trafficking.

“Pope Francis in his message at the World Day of Peace this year called human trafficking an open wound upon the body of Christ,” said CUA President John Garvey, who welcomed attendees to the University’s campus on July 9 at the start of the two-day conference titled “Answering Pope Francis’s Call: An American Catholic Response to Modern-Day Slavery.”

The conference was cosponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Catholic Charities, D.C.; Catholic Charities, USA; and Catholic University’s National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS).

“Human beings made in the image and likeness of God are reduced to objects because there is a demand for it,” said Garvey, who noted that forced slavery is a multi-billion-dollar industry.

“The scourge of modern-day slavery is closer to us than we might want to admit. Unlike slavery of the 19th Century, the modern-day culture of enslavement ignores slaves all together.” The Church, Garvey said, is uniquely equipped to bring this problem to light and to address it.

In an opening address, Most Rev. Eusebio L. Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle, also quoted from the Pope’s World Peace Day message. He said the Holy Father is making an urgent appeal to anyone who witnesses human slavery “not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity.”

The bishop noted efforts under way to combat modern-day slavery, such as current legislation in Congress; the Amistad movement, a national education campaign launched by USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services; and USCCB’s SHEPHERD program, which provides a toolkit for Catholic parishes to identify situations of human trafficking.

Bishop Elizondo also offered particular gratitude to women religious who he says have been committed to the struggle against slavery long before the problem began to make news. “Their long-standing efforts to provide love and support to survivors of human trafficking and a commitment to advocate on behalf of its victims are an example that brings glory to the Church and should be one that we all strive to imitate.”

Many women religious were in attendance, as well as Catholic Charities staff, other Catholic social service agencies, and community members from parishes across the nation. A large number of attendees were social workers, including many NCSSS alumni. Also represented were nurses, lawyers, and community activists.

Gabriella Sanchez, assistant sociology professor at CUA, moderated the keynote addresses by Tina Frundt (left) and Gerardo Reyes-Chávez (right).  

Nearly 20 more speakers — scholars, law and policy experts, social workers, and leaders of social service agencies — addressed a wide range of topics including identifying potential victims, navigating social services, understanding the legal framework, building a toolkit for a parish community, and exploring current trends.

Two keynote speakers shared their personal stories of survival and advocacy.

Tina Frundt told her story of being trafficked from the age of 9 until her 20s. It started with foster families selling her. “When you are raped and abused for so long and no one believes you, you become angry. Abuse was my normal, it’s all I knew,” she said.

Even after she was adopted at age 12, she was always waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” That’s how, a few years later, a trafficker sensed her vulnerability, gained her trust, and eventually kidnapped her and forced her into prostitution.

A Catholic service agency in Washington, D.C., helped Frundt escape. “They didn’t judge ever, not one time, and told me I would do amazing things. The impact of not being judged is pretty spectacular,” said Frundt.

Today, she trains organizations and law enforcement officials on the issue of human trafficking. In 2008, she founded Courtney’s House, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that assists victims and survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and has helped more than 500 victims escape trafficking and start a new life. Through Courtney’s House, Fundt works with local parishes to identify those at risk in their congregations.

Starting at age 11, Gerardo Reyes-Chávez, the second speaker, worked as a peasant farmer in Zacatecas, Mexico, and later in the fields of Florida picking oranges, tomatoes, and watermelons. He told attendees of inhumane and sometimes violent working conditions hidden in the swamps of Imokalee, Fla.

Today, he is a leader in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. He has investigated several modern-day slavery operations by going undercover to work on tomato farms and interview workers who have escaped brutal operations, such as being locked in the back of trucks overnight. He has mobilized the Immokalee community around national actions for the Campaign for Fair Food, and he has negotiated with major food chains.

“This was a conference that was all about rolling up our sleeves and addressing the problem,” said William Rainford, dean of NCSSS. “The attendees are people on the front lines in their communities who are effecting change. There was an amazing sharing of information and a profound commitment to answering the Holy Father’s call to eliminate the atrocity of human trafficking.

“The conference was just the beginning of a strong Catholic partnership aimed at advocacy, prevention, and rescue — with the goal of eradicating human trafficking in our lifetime.”




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