Slavery is a manifestation of the sinful belief that some human beings – because of race, age, or powerlessness – are less important and therefore subject to domination.

As people of life, we believe in the dignity of the human person and that no individual is more equal than another.

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation (sex trafficking) or forced labor (labor trafficking). “It is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak” (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, #12).

International Labor Organization's 2014 estimate placed the number of traffic victims — men, women, and children — at 21 million worldwide. Slaves dwell in the shadows of our communities, made invisible by physical threats; silent for fear of economic repercussions; broken from the steady torrent of abuse.

Feb. 8 is International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Feb. 8 is also the Feast Day of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of victims of human trafficking.

Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869. As a young girl, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. Like a commodity – at times valuable, others times worthless – she was sold, resold, resold again and given away. She was forcibly converted to Islam before she was bought by an Italian consul, in whose home she found “moments of joy.”

The list of the 12 most lucrative global industries begins with drugs, arms/defense spending and prostitution. Human trafficking and pornography also make the list. These and prostitution comprise trade in human persons and are inseparable. The johns, pimps, purveyors of pornography, “owners” and users of trafficked slaves fail to consider the human person as anything more than a commodity. Evil, lust and greed prevent them from seeing the person as a special and sacred gift of God.

No matter how we define it and describe it, both labor and sex trafficking are slavery and violations of the principles of respecting life and protecting human dignity. What is respectful and dignified when humans are treated as the tools of pleasure and commerce?

“Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #157).

“Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person's life” (EV, #81).  This we can do through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Anti-Trafficking Program, whose mission is to educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against fundamental dignity of the human person; to advocate for an end to modern day slavery; and to provide training and technical assistance on this issue. Visit www.usccb.org for more information.

Pope Francis described human trafficking as "deplorable…cruel…criminal" (Angelus, 7/30/2017). People of life know this cannot continue, not in our communities, not anywhere.

For more information locally, visit Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans (OATH) at http://www.oregonoath.org

http://www.oregonoath.org/