This weekend, in recognition of the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita  and the National Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Human Trafficking, thousands of churches across the country will join together in prayer to end human trafficking.
Approximately 2 million people are trafficked annually, according to Catholic Relief Services (CRS).  Human trafficking is modern-day slavery that exploits vulnerable persons, often taking victims across international borders and leaving them without the information or ability to flee their plight. Globally, the estimated cost  of a trafficked person is a mere $90 and, according to CNN, as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States per year.
Victims, some lured away from their homes with false promises of legal employment, are forced into prostitution, labor, or servitude. Local authorities may unknowingly perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking by detaining victims of trafficking as “undocumented immigrants.” Deported survivors of human trafficking are often at risk of being resold into trafficking by their former captors.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston understands the harsh realities of human trafficking too well. Houston is one of the nation’s largest hubs for human trafficking and the organization’s Cabrini Center for Immigration Legal Assistance  provides legal assessments and representation to victims. Staff Attorney Kristin Zipple-Shed describes the challenges the Cabrini Center confronts, “cultural barriers are compounded for international victims of trafficking; for example, perpetrators in the U.S. have well established connections and victims’ families may be threatened in their home countries.” She explains, “Victims may lack awareness of laws and the role of law enforcement. They may be more likely to stay in the harmful situation than trust me or law enforcement.”
There are avenues for hope and best practices to be learned from the efforts of service providers like the Cabrini Center, however. A model in collaboration, Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston teams up with parishes, community partners, government agencies, and law enforcement to raise awareness of human trafficking and subsequently, increase the numbers of victims identified. Kristin explains, “It doesn’t take one form—that’s what makes human trafficking so hard to fight.” Community involvement gives the Cabrini Center various, multi-lingual channels to spread their grassroots message and fosters relationships that are helpful to survivors seeking relief. “Assisting victims of human trafficking means recognizing the individual as the whole person,” Kristin says. “More awareness about trafficking helps victims come forward” and when they do, “these people need more than legal help so it’s important to make the appropriate referrals.”
On the National Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Human Trafficking, there are many ways to become more familiar with anti-trafficking efforts and further advocate for the human dignity of this vulnerable group. Know the red flags, Kristen explains, “Look beyond the surface.”
USCCB’s Anti-Trafficking Program has resources that can help you learn how to identify a possible victim of human trafficking  and how you can help them .
Nationwide awareness events taking place this Saturday (masses, film screenings, information sessions, etc.) are a valuable opportunity to encourage public education . We join with USCCB in inviting all to continued prayer for victims of the atrocities of modern-day slavery.
*Tessa M. Winkler is the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.'s (CLINIC) Public Education Officer