A young English woman who was forced into a life of prostitution by a human trafficker lauded the Vatican for addressing the issue by hosting a recent conference.
“For me this is really important, this is a real first step to really shape how things can go moving forward especially for the Catholic community so this is an incredible day,” 29-year-old Sophie Hayes told CNA on May 8.
“The Catholic Church has a huge role to play as there are 1.8 billion Catholics across the world,” Hayes added, “which is really pivotal to make sure that with all of their networks and all of their support we can really make this a hostile place for traffickers but also really support the victims of trafficking.”
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” They also estimate it to be the second most lucrative criminal enterprise globally after the illegal arms trade.
“In spite of the engagement of the international community and the efforts of part of civil society this very sad phenomenon continues to victimize millions,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in his introductory remarks at Tuesday's conference.
“It is one of the worst forms of human exploitation; it is no less than a contemporary form of slavery.”
The conference was co-organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
It brought together church leaders, law enforcement officers, diplomats and those who work with trafficking victims.
They also heard from Sophie who, 5 years ago, was lured into prostitution in Italy by an Albanian man she thought was a friend. Six months later she managed to escape back to England where she now runs a charity that highlight the issue and supports victims.
“I think from what we’ve heard today it’s one of the fastest growing crimes globally so it’s extremely common, this is not a story that is unusual or an isolated case,” she said.
The conference also heard from Bishop Patrick Lynch of Southwark in England who stressed the need to educate people of the dangers posed by traffickers so that everybody knows “the false hopes and the false promises are really what they are – just false.”
Cardinal Turkson linked the issue of human trafficking to the forthcoming Year of Faith which, he hoped, would “find new ways of changing hearts and minds to make them more receptive to issues of human dignity and respect for the human person.”