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Noelle Damico

Noelle Damico, the associate for fair food for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, explained how human trafficking includes exploitation across gender and racial lines and for a many forms of labor. Photo by Leep Zelones.

Human trafficking: human beings in peril

By Jessica Reid

“Those of us who are free have a moral obligation to our sisters and brothers who are enslaved to use our power wisely and well to end [human trafficking],” Noelle Damico said during morning plenary on Friday, July 20.

Noelle serves on the PC(USA)’s round table on human trafficking and works with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. During her talk, she addressed the issue of modern day slavery, more commonly referred to as human trafficking. In an animated and passionate speech, Noelle challenged everyone to take action.

“As people of faith, we believe that even in the worst circumstances, God is there . . . strengthening us for the long, hard work of reshaping our society toward that day when all forms of slavery will be eliminated.”

Noelle listed five things each of us can do to achieve a day when human trafficking is no longer allowed to continue. One of those was to be clear with ourselves and others that it’s not just women and girls who are in peril, but also men and boys.

“For too long we’ve not been counting men and boys, not because there haven’t been men and boys in modern slavery, but because we haven’t even been looking for them,” Noelle said. “As women—women who have been on the forefront of identifying gender disparities and working to right the human rights abuses faced by women and girls around the world—it is imperative that we say: ‘Human trafficking is not only about women and girls; it is also about men and boys.’ And we say it loudly, clearly and repeatedly.”

She went on to list other ways we can help, including ending corporate practices that ignore slavery in workplaces and in supply chains, pointing out that Presbyterians have already had some success in this area.

“This year is the tenth anniversary of the General Assembly’s support of the Taco Bell boycott. Presbyterian Women was among the first to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ call to boycott the company. That boycott ended successfully in 2005 when Taco Bell’s parent company made the first fair food agreement with the CIW.”

She also said we must work to recognize that people are trafficked both for sex and labor; to make an effort to uphold the human rights of trafficked persons by respecting their culture, language and choices on when or if they want to be helped; and to change the dynamic of hero/victim that continues to objectify those we are trying to help.

“Ironically and dangerously, this ‘I am the hero/you are the victim’ approach simply replicates the violation that survivors of slavery have already experienced, but this time, purportedly in the name of good,” she told the crowd.

“We don’t need heroes, we need human beings,” Noelle continued. “Humans who are ready to understand that our own rights are intimately intertwined with the rights of those we seek to help.”

The face of human trafficking*

20.9 million people worldwide are trafficked

55 percent are women and girls

45 percent are men and boys

*estimates provided by the International Labor Organization

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