The first question world-renowned human trafficking expert Father Jeff Bayhi is usually asked after he delivers a lecture is, “We don’t have that here, do we?”
The second question is often, “The young people being trafficked — they’re not our children, are they?”
On Nov. 16, Father Bayhi showed an audience of law students at the University of Notre Dame how the atrocities of human trafficking reach even South Bend, Indiana, through a presentation called “Humanity as Commodity: The Modern Form of Slavery.”
Father Bayhi is the founder of Metanoia Manor, a residential facility in Louisiana that provides a place of refuge for young women who have been victims of human trafficking by supporting them with mental, physical, and spiritual health, instruction in academics, life skills, and job training.
There are an estimated 48 million enslaved people worldwide, with an average age of 11-14. While many believe it to be an issue primarily overseas, hundreds of thousands are enslaved in the United States, with 42 percent of these American human trafficking victims trafficked by their own parents.
Often, parental trafficking involves children solicited for sexual favors by family, family friends, and other acquaintances.
In child trafficking worldwide, the victims’ legal documents and identification are usually taken. Many of these victims are then taken away to different countries, far from their families and communities. They must repay their trafficker for their own transportation expenses in exchange for freedom.
According to Father Bayhi, the average amount of sexual favors required for a young Nigerian woman is 5,000. For Albanians, Bulgarians, and Romanians, it’s about 3,000.
“But you never finish paying. When they do let you sleep, they charge you every night for where you sleep,” he said. “And when they do give you something to eat, they charge you for every meal you eat. You never really do get caught up. If you do escape, your family will be killed. And they do kill the families.”
Other threats of violence keep millions in forced slavery across the world. In some places, a refusal to perform could lead to the amputation of the victim’s hands and feet.
A common thread within human trafficking worldwide, including in the United States, is the psychological and often physical manipulation that makes escape nearly impossible for victims. Only an estimated .04 – 2 percent of victims successfully escape.
Even after they can escape or are rescued, the psychological distress and trauma form a permanent prison.
Father Bayhi defines success for the children in his care by the trust they develop for his organization and the five religious sisters who live with them 24/7.
“You know what I define success as? When the girls will start to sleep in their beds and not in their closets. All of our kids sleep in their closets when they come. Because they’re used to people coming in the middle of the night,” he said.
“We have children who are now brushing their teeth every day. Some have now completed high school. Some have college credits. But the amount of damage that these children have suffered is incredible.”
While this is a pressing issue with an incredible number of people currently in modern slavery, success is difficult to measure. The number of organizations able to help is disproportionate to the number of children and adults needing help.
There are fewer than 600 beds available nationwide for child sex trafficking survivors, but there are over 13,000 animal shelters across the United States.
Finding opportunities to help with this often-hidden issue can be difficult. Father Bayhi chose to speak to Notre Dame law students in hopes that they would someday have the opportunity to help abused children legally through the legislative and judicial systems they will take part.
“A complicated issue like this has multifaceted solutions, including those related to law and public policy,” said Phil Tran, the Program Coordinator at the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.
“By having students from various disciplines interact with an expert on the topic, we afford them the opportunity to understand this issue and many other issues with greater depth in order to be further shaped as a powerful force for good in the world,” he continued.
Father Bayhi implores supporters of this fight against modern slavery to donate to organizations that help human trafficking victims or to get involved.
“We need to educate and mobilize. Most people have no idea that this is happening,” he said.
Fast Facts on Human Trafficking from Father Bayhi
• According to WHO, there are more than 48 million slaves worldwide.
• Over 80 percent are sold into the sex trade, while the others are forced into labor and organ procurement.
• The average age of entry for sexual slavery is 11 to 14.
• Interpol interrupted one of the nine known international child porn sites. They had almost 500,000 registered members worldwide.
• In the U.S., 42 percent of all juvenile victims are trafficked by their primary caregiver.
• The National Foster Youth Institute estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have been within foster care (or another part of the larger child welfare system).
• Victims are expected to perform favors 7-20 times daily.
• 56 percent of all trafficked victims are forced into abortions annually.
• The market for young males is increasing and is nearly 20 percent of all victims.
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