Amnesty speaker discusses human trafficking

Michelle Farabaugh

The Stop Violence Against Women Campaign lecture, sponsored by the University chapter of Amnesty International, addressed the serious issue of human trafficking and ways to combat it last Monday night at Driscoll Hall.

According to William Myers, the coordinator for the Villanova chapter of Amnesty International, one of the organization’s major focuses this year is the prevention of violence against women.

“Women who have been trafficked are exposed to many forms of violence and abuse,” he said. “In order to end violence against women, we felt it was important to shed light on the issue for the Villanova community.”

The presentation was conducted by Bridget Rooney of Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Sister Terry Shields, M.S.H.R.

Catholic Social Services is a local agency founded by the Department of Justice that now plays an integral role in shedding light on the issue of human trafficking.

According to Rooney, human trafficking is defined as “modern day slave-trading” in which humans are exploited for economic gain through force, fraud, or coercion.

It is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

“When I tell people that I work for a human trafficking agency, they often laugh,” Rooney said. “Not because they think it’s funny, but because they think it’s far away. Yes, this is a global problem, but it is happening here too.”

Up to 800,000 men, women and children are enslaved each year.

While labor abuses, such as domestic servitude and sweatshop labor, are common, data shows that 70 percent of trafficked women and children across national borders are victims of sexual exploitation.

Many trafficking situations involve a substantial isolation of the victim.

Language barriers and being alone in a foreign country both contribute to the vulnerability that traps so many victims.

One example cited by Rooney discussed Mexican immigrants brought to Florida for agricultural employment.The workers were only paid 40 cents for every 32 pounds of produce harvested.

When translated to a larger scale, each worker would have had to collect two tons of produce to earn $50, an obviously unrealistic and abusive situation.

Rooney also mentioned the story of a young Cameroonian girl invited to stay with a family in order to attend school in America.

When she arrived, however, she was forced to undergo extreme physical labor and sexual abuse.

Although the family was eventually convicted, it is a prime example of how the girl’s isolation away from her home led to her victimization.

Rooney then mentioned different measures that Catholic Social Services is taking to provide aid to victims in the Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

Since its conception, the organization has identified 65 clients, 46 of whom were eligible to receive federal aid.

With the aid of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, benefits for certified victims include medical care, food stamps, housing, and the chance to apply for the right to legally live and work in the United States for a specified period of time.

Sister Terry Shields discussed a refurbished house in the city that will provide shelter for nine female victims.

The program will also help the women deal with common problems accompanying their situation, such as substance abuse and psychological issues.

“Prostitution is not a victimless crime,” Shields said.

She pointed out that women are forced into the activity, either through trafficking or by circumstance. “Some women just need to feed their children. They don’t think of themselves as prostitutes until they have a run-in with the law.”

Approximately 70 people attended the lecture in Driscoll Hall.

Amnesty International is an organization that supports “internationally recognized human rights for all.” According to its Web site, the association focuses on a wide range of issues such as armed conflict, refugees and migrants and poverty. Over 2.2 million members worldwide participate in public demonstrations and other activities that encourage governments to support rights for all.

Some of Amnesty International’s effort comes in the form of collaboration with student groups. Villanova’s chapter is a small but dedicated group of students that interacts with other human rights organizations on campus as well as independently.

“We worked together with STAND during their Darfur Week, and alongside the Peace and Justice Center to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Myers said.

As part of Amnesty East Pennsylvania, Villanova members take part in the Urgent Action letter writing campaign to address individual human rights violations. Whereas other groups deal with broader issues, Amnesty narrows its focus to specific causes, such as defending “prisoners of conscience,” those who are arrested for expressing their beliefs in a lawful manner.

Students interested in becoming part of Amnesty International can attend the group’s regular meetings on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Peace and Justice Center, or join the group’s email list or Facebook group.