The topic of Human Trafficking was been taken up by the Social Concerns Committee of the Swedenborgian Church in 2013. The Social Concerns Committee is led by Rev. Nadine Cotton and Lois Krebs.
According to the 2009 United Nations’ Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, sexual exploitation accounts for 79% of slavery, while forced labor comprises the other 18%, but it is widely accepted that forced and unpaid labor is under-reported. Children are by far the most victimized group, with about 20% of worldwide sexual slaves being under 18, but in West Africa, for example, up to 100% of sexually enslaved people are children. In the US, the most heavily exploited populations include LGBT teens, runaways and throw-aways (children neglected or abandoned by their guardians), as well as homeless and disabled adults and children.
On Saturday, October 4, Social Concerns Committee co-chairs Rev. Nadine Cotton and Lois Krebs, both of the Cleveland Swedenborg Chapel, facilitated a 2-hour presentation regarding modern-day slavery. First we viewed the DVD Lives for Sale, which explains the connection of immigration and poverty to human trafficking in the US and South America, although the story could well have been set in any nation, since human trafficking is now a global scourge.
The video affords a graphic conception of how easily and quickly impoverished individuals may be tricked, forced or coerced into trafficking, as well as some governmental agencies’ responses to these crimes. One case study presented in the video profiles a young Hispanic woman hired to provide house-keeping services for a family in Florida, who was actually locked into a bedroom for sex when she was not performing cooking and cleaning chores, all for no pay. She was eventually rescued. We also learned about refugees from Mexico and Latin America who run across the desert to escape the crushing poverty of their villages and cities, only to be sexually exploited. In fact, UN statistics indicate that up to 30% of traffickers are women.
Once we had a clear picture of how trafficking works as well as some of its contributing factors, we began discussing recent government and law-enforcement responses to the problem, as well as how middle-class Americans like us can help. The importance of buying fair trade goods, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate; encouraging grass-roots self-empowerment and education; and the prevalence of victims within nail- and hair-care salons, ethnic restaurants; and hotels; and at high-profile conventions and sports events such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the Indy 500. The National Human Trafficking hotline number, 888-3737-888, should be on everyone’s cell phone speed dial, for quick access whenever a potentially exploited individual is encountered.
We discussed some well-known sexual trafficking cases in Cleveland and other areas, as well as the recent campaigns by the Cleveland Swedenborg Chapel to combat trafficking. Our human trafficking display at the meeting included some of Equal Exchange’s fair trade products for sale (a great fund-raiser for any church!) as well as some of the literature that Nadine and Lois handed out to Ohio Turnpike travelers during six public safety awareness events this summer. Janie Shotwell, also of the Cleveland church and Ohio Association recording secretary, has coordinated donations of toiletries and gift bags to strip club dancers, in support of Cleveland’s Renee Jones Empowerment Center.