Two Sisters reflect on years of campaigning against human trafficking

By Sister Marie Power HFB:

The campaigning group that I am a part of, TRAC (Trafficking, Raising Awareness and Campaigning),  for me,  “does what it says on the tin.”

Although I was not in at the founding of TRAC, I very quickly joined enthusiastically when I returned to live in London. At that time it was chaired by a dynamic and wonderful woman, Theresa Helm, who sadly died about two years ago. I began to chair the meetings while Theresa was ill and I am still in this role.

The work of TRAC is fundamental to fighting trafficking because it addresses the causes, namely demand. While it is necessary, of course, to help the victims it is also necessary to try to prevent them becoming victims in the first place. I began work in anti-trafficking in the mid 1990s and working all over Europe,  it became clear to us at that time that the demand for sexual services in the West of Europe fuelled the rise of trafficking of women and children from Eastern Europe;  it is this that TRAC is still trying to raise awareness about - although we now know that trafficking is worldwide and is internal as well as external to most countries.

While we in TRAC are mainly concerned with the exploitation of women and children in prostitution there is now growing awareness of the labour exploitation of men and women. However we are now concentrating on the abolition of prostitution in the UK. This is an enormous task but we are committed to establishing the “Nordic Model” here, which criminalises the buyers of sex and decriminalises  the women in prostitution.  This must come with realistic exit strategies for those who depend on prostitution for their living.

This is a complex and difficult task but it has now become law in many countries including Ireland and Northern Ireland  - and we have many allies so we are not working alone.

By Sister Isabel C Kelly FMSJ:

Most people on approaching their 70s are winding down but I was just about four months off 72 when I was asked to be the Justice & Peace Co-Ordinator for the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph with a focus on human trafficking!

I had no idea what the two words meant but when we voted on this appointment, I had no doubt that the Sister who had met the Franciscan International leader on human trafficking would be chosen to do this work. So I got the shock of my life when I received the letter asking ME to do it. I had a very good look at the letter, read it several times, and decided that there was nothing in it that could inspire me to refuse!

A few days after saying YES, I received the minutes of the first meeting of religious before the Medaille Trust was initiated. Nobody knew me at that meeting, none of our Sisters were there, so to get those minutes, for me, was a miracle in itself. I wrote for permission to be an observer at the next meeting in Southampton and everything blossomed from then.

Before that meeting, which was in February 2006, I had booked myself into a two-and-a-half day workshop/conference with Franciscans International in New York at the beginning of March plus a week with another organisation in New York. I stayed with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Manhatten and travelled on two tubes to the venue – starting at 0730 and returning around 2030. I went to all the workshops which mentioned prostitution, human trafficking, paedophiles etc,. We had no break for lunch or coffee so I just went from one workshop to another sipping a cold drink and nibbling at a sandwich while I waited for the workshops to begin.

All I have done ever since is mention human trafficking to anyone I meet – on train platforms, at bus stops, on the bus and even to my hospital patients in my chaplaincy work. In fact, one patient told me her son had mentioned that there would be a lap dancing club opening at a location near to where I live. I went to the police station to ask if they knew about it, if police would be there, in uniform or in civvies? They knew about it, police would be around both in uniform and in civvies!  The lap dancing club was closed within three weeks.

I went to the bi-centenary of the Abolition of Slavery in Hull and as I sat at my table for lunch, I heard someone say, “I got into this because of a nun!”  It was a policeman I had spoken to in 2006 after my short spell in New York, to ask if they knew anything about human trafficking and if they were doing anything about it!!

I have raised awareness of human trafficking to a number of groups – all by word of mouth! I have never advertised myself. It has just happened. Maybe not everyone can raise awareness through talks but we can tell others the little we know and pray. Never say “ I am too old” to do that!

Just do it!

“Please do whatever you can to raise awareness on this worldwide evil and pray for those who are trying to eradicate it.”

Sister Marie, far left & Sister Isabel, far right at a TRAC meeting

Sister Marie, far left & Sister Isabel, far right at a TRAC meeting