Anti-human trafficking awareness at Good Shepherd, Belmont

Posted on September 9, 2014

On Sunday, August 24, members of Good Shepherd, Belmont, and Holy Family, Half Moon Bay, in celebration of their Area Ministry partnership, co-hosted a special event aimed at raising awareness about the growing problem of human trafficking in the San Francisco Bay Area. The event began with a worship service that included Sr. Margaret Hoffman of Notre Dame de Namur University as guest preacher. Sr. Margaret has become increasingly involved in helping to educate the community about the prevalence of human trafficking and its effect on both the victims involved and the community as a whole. Following the service, a luncheon was held which featured Judith Hamilton, an advocate with Freedom House, as guest speaker. Freedom House is an organization dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking escape life on the streets. The only organization in the Bay Area providing shelter to victims of trafficking, Freedom House programs include counseling and life skills training, and connecting victims with the necessary resources to begin rebuilding their lives. They currently have a shelter for adult victims in San Francisco and a newly opened shelter on the peninsula for older children who are trafficking victims. Freedom House provides outreach to law enforcement agencies and to the community through educational opportunities designed to raise awareness about this issue, which continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Sr. Margaret Hoffman, SNDdeN, and Judith Hamilton of Freedom House presented a comprehensive overview of the prevalence of trafficking, both on an international scale and here in local communities. They uncovered some of the myths about trafficking and presented factual information that is staggering and sobering. However, there is hope in the fact that individuals and church communities can reach out to this population and communities at large to increase awareness and understanding and to become involved in reaching out to the victims themselves.

Trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery with nearly 28 million victims. It is an extremely lucrative industry, currently the second largest type of criminal activity, exceeded only by the illegal drug trade. There are two major types of human trafficking: (a) sex trafficking, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act is under 18 years of age; and (b) labor trafficking, which is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

California is one of the top five states where trafficking has a large presence, and San Francisco is one of the top 10 hubs because it is a major port of entry for immigrants coming into the country. It is the largest resource in the vacation sex tourism industry, and it is a large city where it is easy to recruit women and children with promises of food, shelter, love, and protection. Unfortunately, these promises soon turn to violence and torture as a means of controlling their behavior and preventing them from leaving. Children are among the easiest to recruit because of their naïveté and vulnerability, and trafficking is one of the top forms of violence against women and abuse of children. It is a misunderstood phenomenon, commonly being viewed as a life of choosing prostitution, and therefore is often overlooked by law enforcement officials and criminal courts.

People of faith can help by holding discussions with congregations and communities, and bringing in resources to help increase awareness, understanding, and compassion. For more information, please visit Freedom House’s website at Watch for details of the next anti-human trafficking conference, to be held during Super Bowl 2016 at the new Levi Stadium.

photos: Ken Myers

top photo, right to left — Beth Myers, MFT,CT, SEP, chair of the event committee; Judith Hamilton, an ambassador of Freedom House San Francisco, presenter; Sr. Margaret Hoffman, SNDdeN, congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur; and the Rev. Michael Arase-Barham, vicar of Holy Family, Half Moon Bay, and Good Shepherd, Belmont.