January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Clinical Simulation Laboratory at The University of Vermont Medical Center has programs that train healthcare professionals to identify and work with patients who are victims of human trafficking. Sister Pat McKittrick, RN, has served at The UVM Medical Center for 21 years. She is instrumental in the faith-based community’s response to human trafficking in Vermont.
Human trafficking, the process of delivering a person into enslavement, happens everywhere – even in Vermont.
The first time I came face-to-face with human trafficking was when the mother of a young girl came to see me. She asked if her child could do community service with me. She explained that her 16-year-old daughter was found at the airport about to meet a man she had met on the Internet, who was from out of state.
Fortunately, the teenager was found before she met up with her “new friend,” who had promised her everything. The young woman came to do community service with me. At the time, there was news of another teenager in a similar situation in NY who died as a result of human trafficking. I asked this young woman: “Aren’t you afraid something could happen to you?” She responded: “Not everyone dies.”
Then, it happened again.
A few years ago, I met two young Chinese students who were here for a cultural experience. They paid $3,000 to come to the US, hoping to improve their English in the process. Soon, I realized that their situation was questionable. They described living in an apartment in Burlington with six Russian girls and two men. They were told to each pay $300 monthly plus utilities. That situation became troublesome, so they moved to a different apartment. This second apartment housed six girls living in a one-bedroom apartment. I asked: “Where do you sleep?” They answered: “We sleep on mattresses on the floor in one bedroom.” I said: “What happens if you need to go to the bathroom during the night?” They responded: “We just crawl over each other.”
They were given work in motels. Despite the fact they were here to improve their English, they were told not to talk to guests. One was terminated for talking to the guests despite the warning. There were many other unjust and unethical issues that occurred.
Ask yourself: “What happens if you lose your job, have little or no funds, limited language skills, and no connections when you lose your job in a foreign country?”
These experiences and more have forced me to ask: Why should Faith communities care — and what can we do? Many religions believe in the “Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Many others also follow The Law of One: “We are all one. When one is harmed, all are harmed. When one is helped, all are healed.”
I found a path for moving forward and taking action in a leadership course with Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., a Benedictine nun, author and speaker. She explained four important elements that I believe they apply to human trafficking.
- We must have:
A clear Vision
Know our reality
Courage to do what we need to do.
We must work collaboratively, to eradicate Human Trafficking. And, we are doing just that: The Burlington Area Ministerial Association (BAMA), a dedicated group of faith leaders from diverse communities, recently sponsored a Human Trafficking educational presentation for clergy and faith leaders. The workshop was co-facilitated by Rev. Kristabeth Atwood and Rev. John Lucy who presented material from the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services. Participants learned the causes and effects of human trafficking in our world, discovered resources, and learned steps they can take to end human trafficking.
So, now I ask for your help. Here’s how we can work together to end this horrible practice.
- Need a New Years’ Resolution that will touch the lives of those enslaved? http://ofamission.org/need-a-new-years-resolution-heres-one-or-ten-for-you/
- How can you help? Be informed. http://www.givewaytofreedom.org/Human-Trafficking/human-trafficking-resources.php
- Keep your eyes open. Call 211 if you suspect Human Trafficking.
- Take part in an International Day of Prayer for Human Trafficking on February 8.
Watch for upcoming events about Human Trafficking. The UVM Medical Center will offer a series on Human Trafficking in the spring.
Join us for “Human Trafficking: The Faith Community Reponse” on January 29, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Mary Fletcher Meeting Room at the UVM Medical Center (located on Level 3 of the ACC, next to the Garden Atrium). Call 802-656-0748 for more information.
Sr. Pat McKittrick, RN, is a Community Health Improvement Coordinator at The University of Vermont Medical Center, where she has worked for 21 years.