Trauma, suffering & spirituality: Sr Imelda Poole IBVM MBE on the struggle of anti-trafficking

By Ian Linden, Visiting Professor, St. Mary's University - who blogs regularly at:

The illicit proceeds  from human trafficking and exploitative labour crimes in 2018 are estimated at $150 billion (up from $32 billion in 2011).  Sexual trafficking provides a significant part of these proceeds, $99 billion, going into the hands of  criminal gangs.  The dark underside of globalisation, the trade has been the subject of both documentaries and thrillers.  But what is far less well known is the extraordinary role nuns, Women Religious, have played  in caring for its victims and combating it.  

I was recently privileged to interview Sister Imelda Poole, IBVM MBE, about  her experience of working with trafficked women. 

Here is Sister Imelda explaining what brought her into this work....

Sister Imelda was then profoundly influenced by meeting trafficked women awaiting deportation in an Italian detention centre.  She describes what sexual trafficking means for its victims.  Sister Eugenia Bonnetti, mentioned below, is a founder of the movement to combat trafficking in Italy.

Work in Albania gave her considerable experience of the criminal gangs that flourished  in post-communist countries.  Many of these have found human trafficking safer, so more lucrative, than the drugs trade.  The gangs operate across borders. But this is also true of Women Religious whose congregations are found in many different countries. 

An important part of the mission of Women Religious involved in combatting sexual trafficking is setting up and maintaining shelters for women who have escaped their traffickers.  This has become  an ecumenical effort in the UK involving the Salvation Army as an important partner.  Below she describes the formation of the Medaille Trust which cares for trafficked women in a number of shelters in the UK.
* CLARIFICATION: The founder of the Medaille Trust is Sr. Teresa Ann Herrity, a Sister of St. Joseph, living with her community in Newport. In the video footage, we mistakenly named the founder of the Medaille Trust as Teresa Helm, who was in fact a key lay worker in the UK. Sadly, Teresa is now deceased.

After pioneering work combating sexual trafficking in Europe, Women Religious successfully engaged the Catholic hierarchy in their mission.  This engagement went up to the level of the Pope and  Vatican with meetings in Rome and is now an international movement (see which includes police and which is a network of Religious in Europe).  I discuss with her the tension between protecting trafficked women suffering from trauma and the police's need for the women to testify in order to obtain convictions.

Finally we discussed what impact this work, which many would not associate  with nuns, had on her religious life.  In a  moving personal testimony, at times  struggling to put her experience into words, she places it squarely in a tradition of Christian spirituality.