January 29, 2014 // Uncategorized

New Jersey Catholic high school leads fight against human trafficking

By EmmaLee Italia

TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) — With the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics approaching, those seeking to exploit others via human trafficking will have opportunities beyond the everyday.

But others are using the events to raise awareness and combat the abuse of fellow human beings.

Students at Benedictine Academy, a Catholic all-girls prep high school in Elizabeth, have participated in developing a public service announcement, in cooperation with Not On Our Watch Advocacy and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General Human Trafficking Task Force.

The 60-second clip may be viewed at https://vimeo.com/84552042.

Testifying at the Trenton War Memorial Jan. 24, the academy’s student leadership team, the Benedictine Cor Defenders, highlighted their awareness training materials during the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day program.

“I was very impressed with their presentation,” said Jim King, director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference. “Any time you have a youth-led educational resource, it certainly is commendable. I know I tend to pay more attention when the youth speak (on this subject), because unfortunately they are often the ones targeted as human trafficking victims.”

King believes the students captured the essence of the New Jersey bishops’ statement on human trafficking, issued Jan. 11.

“Programs like the ones offered by the students of Benedictine Academy are essential to the fight against modern-day slavery,” King told the Monitor, newspaper of the Trenton Diocese. The school is in the Newark Archdiocese.

“Even with all the recent awareness about human trafficking, it will still be occurring. … The issue needs to be kept at the forefront of people’s minds, and I think that’s what the bishops had in mind.”

Benedictine students declared a “vow of silence” on Jan. 11 — Human Trafficking Awareness Day — to show solidarity with victims of human trafficking, many of whom are kept silent by their poverty and status. Students covered their mouths with an X made of tape and refrained from speaking.

“Right now the most important thing is to get people to put the anti-human trafficking hotline number into cell phones,” said Linda H. Michalski, Benedictine Academy’s theology chair and campus minister. “We are also issuing a Super Bowl ‘Halftime Challenge’ — to Facebook or Twitter the hotline number and PSA to at least five friends.”

The Cor Defenders (also known as Defenders of the Heart) have launched several instructive programs. The Be Five By Five program, slang for “be smart,” trains young people and adults to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Their goal is to distribute the Be Five By Five program on USB flash drives, especially around major U.S. events.

“The program offers empowerment points,” said Michalski, “such as, tell your family and friends where you’re going, don’t allow anyone to humiliate you or ask you to lie, don’t meet people on the Internet.” These situations are considered red flags for victimization, but they’re also an opportunity for students to be empowered by seeking help.

Benedictine students also have begun their prayerful participation for Feb. 8, designated by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking.

Feb. 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once she was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering.

“Prayer is always an integral part of what we do,” said Michalski. “In addition to the PSA, we built in a prayer service in our homerooms … and handed out prayer cards about St. Josephine Bakhita.”

New Jersey Catholic Conference director Patrick Brannigan was pleased with the efforts of students like those attending Benedictine.

“I think it’s wonderful to see students involved this way,” Brannigan said. “It brings them closer to their faith. Once young students begin practicing their faith and participating in social outreach like this, they often tend to become teachers. And like the adage says, one of the best ways to learn is to teach.”

Brannigan noted that the statement released by the New Jersey bishops really stated well the concerns of the Catholic community regarding human trafficking.

“In recent months we’ve been hearing a lot about this issue,” Brannigan said. “There are so many instances we’re totally unaware of, in which people are basically held captive as indentured servants.”

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Italia is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.

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