The Catholic Register
September 17, 2023
Human Trafficking
Publisher’s Notebook

Calling trafficking what it is

Calling trafficking what it is

The Word can help combat human trafficking.


  • avatar
    Peter Stockland
    The Catholic Register

In the 1980s, we didn’t even know enough to call it human trafficking.

I was a young reporter then, working an evening shift in the newsroom of a Western Canadian paper. A call came in about a missing teenaged girl, and I dutifully spoke with the family and wrote a short story that would function as a kind of prototype Amber Alert, i.e., “Be on the lookout for…”.

The next day, I got a call back from the family. The girl had been located. She was safe. Everything was fine. She was in Los Angeles. Everything was fine. She’d been picked up by police. Everything was fine. No. Not fine. I started calling every LA police station I could get a number for, and finally tracked her down. She’d been found in a motel and arrested for prostitution, a desk officer told me.

“Prostitution? Is she being charged?” I asked.

“Charged?” he said. “She’s sitting here drawing a picture of Snoopy. She’s a kid. We’re not going to charge her. We just want to get her home.”

I called a contact in child protective services who, faster than you could say caring bureaucrat, arranged her safe return. Except it was anything but safe. I discovered she’d been taken south by an ex-boyfriend of the mother and told they would “live together on an island.”

It got worse. Mom had routinely used daughter as boyfriend bait. Barely into puberty, she was used to “taking showers” with the men who came and went from the house.

Over the career decades since, I’ve written tens of thousands of articles of all kinds. Not one has stayed with me as that one has. I still remember vividly the combination of psychological electric shock and bewildered disbelief at the story as it tumbled out. I remember exactly where I was sitting when she told me what had happened to her. Remember, we didn’t even know at the time what to call it.

Now we do. Now, as Quinton Amundson and others on The Register team have done exceptional work making clear in this special issue, the problem is dispelling an enduring myth. It’s the belief that human trafficking is an evil predation crossing our borders from outside that involves kidnap plots and forcible confinement.

No. Not at all. As voice after voice in these stories articulates in different ways, the vast majority of trafficked humans are victimized by people they know. Human trafficking might occur on a global scale, but we need to comprehend it as local in operation. It unquestionably constitutes physical violation. Its worst devastation, however, can be psychological and spiritual through manipulation and then evisceration of trust, of belief, of faith in the world.

That’s why one thing this special section showcases is the role of the Church, and the Church’s lay organizations in both combatting human trafficking and offering openings for spiritual renewal to the victims. The Church is very much in the world of trafficked humanity by raising awareness and by active rescue from its perniciousness.

It’s The Register’s hope that this special section might serve as a calling to both. Now that we know exactly what to call human trafficking, we can engage the Word to defeat it.

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