Imagine a young girl sexually abused in her home from the age of five.
By the age of 13, she was drinking and smoking. She ran away from home and ended up being a prostitute. She was beaten, burned, and ruled by fear by her pimp. She felt trapped in what they call “the life.”
One day she woke up in a hospital, and a nurse told her that God loved her. She started to read the Bible and God helped her to see that there was hope for her.
That woman is Colleen Stratton, whose story was told in a video called Seeds of Hope shown prior to her keynote address at Catholics at the Capitol held on March 28 in Madison.
As a survivor of human trafficking, Stratton said, “I cannot remain silent about human trafficking. I have to bring it to light.”
Happening in Wisconsin
Unfortunately, Wisconsin is one of the worst states in our country in terms of both sex and labor trafficking. Much of it happens in the Appleton, Green Bay, and Milwaukee areas, but no county in the state is immune.
It’s occurring in cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas. People of all ages, genders, and races are targeted, but children under 18 are most susceptible to targeting.
The pattern is the same in many cases of trafficking. Perpetrators find vulnerable people, make them promises, and then trap them in a life of slavery. The traffickers often threaten their victims or say they will kill their friends or families if they try to escape.
What can be done?
What can be done to help prevent this tragedy?
Colleen Stratton and other speakers at Catholics at the Capitol encouraged concerned citizens to educate themselves about this issue, support law enforcement efforts, and help the victims.
Catholic Sisters in Wisconsin and across the country have been involved in combatting human trafficking for many years (see more at www.sistersagainsttrafficking.org).
They have developed a toolkit on human trafficking which has been sent to every parish in Wisconsin. It includes a DVD, lesson plans, and resources.
I would encourage parishes to use this kit to educate everyone, especially parents and grandparents who should warn their children and grandchildren about the dangers of human trafficking.
Eye Heart World
There is an initiative in Wisconsin called Eye Heart World that is geared around a three-sided approach to combating human trafficking with awareness, prevention, and aftercare.
Colleen Stratton is a member of the Eye Heart World Outreach Team headquartered in Brown County, Wis.
Eye Heart World was born in 2010 when Brian and Season Russo decided to take action against human trafficking in an innovative way. For the first awareness event they organized, Season and her mother, Denise Foster, created 30 bags, hoping to raise funds for a safe home in their community.
Supporting the cause in a tangible way proved to be contagious — every single bag was sold that day. Since its inception, Eye Heart World has sold thousands of products; educated over 20,000 individuals; and raised over $100,000 to fund the fight against human trafficking.
This summer, Eye Heart World will open Rose Home for survivors of sex trafficking in the Green Bay area. For more information, go to www.eyeheartworld.org
Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but our country is still experiencing slavery at an alarming rate in the form of human trafficking. Let’s do all we can to raise awareness of this issue, contact law enforcement if we see anything suspicious in our communities, and help the victims of this modern form of slavery.
And above all, pray for an end to human trafficking in all its forms and for prosecution of those involved.