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Human Trafficking
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Human trafficking awareness training available to presbyteries

November 4, 2009
By the Rev. Noelle Damico, PC(USA) Campaign for Fair Food

People sitting in church

People attending awareness training. Photo by Sandy Randolph, concordance editor for the Presbytery of Charlotte.

The gentle morning light streamed through the arched windows of Mulberry Presbyterian Church, warming the wooden pews of the sanctuary, where more than 150 FBI agents, Presbyterian clergy, social workers, law enforcement, human services college students and medical professionals gathered for a day-long training on human trafficking in early September.  Sponsored by the Presbytery of Charlotte and the PC(USA), the training was led by the Freedom Network Training Institute, whose leaders from the fields of social service, law and community-based organizations have been on the front lines of investigating cases, assisting victims and working with government and law enforcement to prosecute these crimes.

“This was the best human trafficking awareness training I’ve been to and I’ve been to several different ones and I’ve even helped plan one that was done last year” remarked Julie Owens, a life-long Presbyterian who is the Southwestern region director state of North Carolina’s Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission. “It was incredibly valuable because it demonstrated to members of the faith community about how human trafficking is everybody’s problem.”

The General Assembly of the PC(USA) has spoken powerfully on the issue of human trafficking and a Human Trafficking Roundtable has been convened which includes General Assembly Mission Council staff from across the ministries of the church. The roundtable provides educational and action resources for Presbyterians. This professional training seminar is one of the resources available free of charge to any interested presbytery.

“The response to this seminar was tremendous,” exclaimed Debbie Wilkinson, coordinator for Mission, Justice, Hunger and Disaster Programs for the Presbytery of Charlotte, who helped organize the event. “I have received feedback from several churches and agencies in our area that would like to work together in the future to provide more training opportunities for our community.”

“Offering this human trafficking awareness training is quite straightforward; we’ve got sample fliers, registration forms and suggestions for how to do good outreach to key professional in your community,” explained the Rev. Noelle Damico, General Assembly staff for the PC(USA) Campaign for Fair Food .  She assisted with the Charlotte training and helped the Presbytery of Long Island offer this training in November of 2007.  “The training is free of charge, the materials and leadership of the Freedom Network are excellent, and Presbyterians will emerge from the event well connected with other professionals in their area so that they can be an effective part of a community-based response to human trafficking.”

Human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining, by any means, any person for forced labor, slavery or servitude in any industry or site such as agriculture, construction, prostitution, manufacturing, begging, domestic service or marriage. Human trafficking in the United States is a crime under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (reauthorized in 2003 and 2008). 

“The world today is confronted with a huge human trafficking problem, driven by the same forces that drive the globalization of markets, as there is no lack of demand and supply,” wrote Joy Engozi Ezielo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, in her February 2009 report to the United Nations.  “In varying degrees and circumstances, men, women and children all over the world are victims of what has become a modern day slave trade.”  

Despite statistical difficulties, various government bodies and nonprofit organizations have tried to estimate the magnitude of the problem.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) the United Nations agency charged with addressing labor standards, employment and social protection issues — estimates that there are 12.3 million people in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude at any given time; other estimates range from 4 million to 27 million. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include the millions trafficked within their own countries, according to the U.S .Department of State, with 80 percent of the transnational victims are women and 50 percent are persons under 18 years of age.

“Men are benefiting from this practice more than anybody else,” asserted Bob James, moderator of the National Presbyterian Men’s Ministry. “They are more directly involved in promulgation of it and it’s going to take men to get involved to stop it and to effectively address it.” The Presbyterian Men have made human trafficking one of their national priorities and Dr. James was one of the participants in Charlotte training.

The training is a technical training, designed for professionals who are likely to encounter potential human trafficking victims in the course of their work. The seminar provided a human-rights based approach that centers on ensuring the rights of human trafficking victims and offers concrete tools and practices that have been shown to be effective.  Clergy are among those professionals who may encounter trafficking victims in Sunday worship (traffickers have brought their victims to church) or as they may come seeking emergency assistance. Clergy need to understand how to identify the signs that a person may have been trafficked and the complexities of trafficking so that they do not further endanger the person in their attempt to help or impede the ability of law enforcement to investigate these cases. 

In a highly interactive two-hour introduction,  leaders from the Freedom Network and seminar participants discussed the many different industries in which human trafficking occurs, the dynamics faced by victims, some of the misconceptions surrounding human trafficking, and the challenges of properly identifying and assisting people. Then the leaders broke the assembly into small groups. Each of the groups studied police reports to try and better get a sense of key signs that might indicate a case of human trafficking, what concrete questions would need to be asked of witnesses, and with whom in other professional fields they would want to collaborate next. Small groups, in turn, presented to the entire assembly, making a judgment on whether or not this was a probable case of human trafficking and stimulating further dialogue among all participants. As these were all cases in which leaders from the Freedom Network had assisted law enforcement, the leaders then revealed the full story, showing participants where they had made astute connections, pointing out signs they had missed, and discussing particular ways that law enforcement, FBI, clergy or social service professionals all brought skills and resources necessary to identifying and addressing cases of human trafficking.

During lunch the fellowship hall buzzed as people networked across fields and the geographical region of Charlotte. Following lunch two very intensive sections on best practices for social service providers and legal advisors followed. During the breaks and at the conclusion of the seminar, participants flooded to the front to discuss their ideas and connections with the leaders.

Not only was the topic timely and the seminar highly instructive, the Rev. Chris Carrasco, pastor of Mulberry Presbyterian Church explained, hosting this event was pivotal for her congregation. “We have 70 people here on Sunday for worship and our budget is a shoestring budget that a lot of small churches have; more than one third of our congregation was involved in hosting this event.” She continued, “As a small, older white church we are learning how to reopen our doors literally and figuratively to the community and this was a good positive first step.” 
This human trafficking awareness training event further stimulated interest among members of the Presbytery of Charlotte, said Debbie Wilkinson. She explained that the “Presbytery’s Mission and Justice Coordinating Team is developing a Domestic Violence/Human Trafficking subgroup to further raise awareness and provide training and support for dealing with these issues — this will be a PC(USA) group but will work ecumenically to combat the problem.” Julie Owens will be a part of that effort.

“Being a preacher’s kid and having grown up in the church and now working in the field of domestic violence for 20 years, I’ve seen how difficult it is to get pastors educated even on domestic violence, which can no longer be denied,” Owens remarked.  “And here we have a problem [human trafficking], that is more complex, more difficult to understand, more seemingly removed from what we privileged Americans would even consider possible; it’s so horrible and ugly, the tendency is to turn away, pretend that’s not happening anywhere near me, and to move on to a prettier issue.” 

She paused and added with conviction, “But we, the church, have to take on the ugliest, the most horrible issues.”

To learn more about hosting a human trafficking awareness training in your presbytery, contact the Rev. Noelle Damico by email or (631) 751-7076.



  • I volunteer at an after-school "Success Club" for grades 1-4 in our local Schools. The fact of domestic violence is the greatest cause of children's failure to "keep up" with classmates. Pray for these victims and their unhappy parent-perpatrators. Pray for AGAPE-OUTREACH by every congregation to every home and school!. Jim Shotwell Sr, Delta, Ohio Retired pastor by james shotwell SR, retired UPUSA pastor, MAumee Va on 01/07/2012 at 4:57 p.m.

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