Hidden in plain sight in our community lies one of the most odious crimes against humankind: slavery, which is the result of the widespread trafficking of human beings. Incredible as it seems in this day and time, the person mowing your lawn or cleaning your house or selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door in your neighborhood might be trapped in involuntary servitude.
Human trafficking, as defined by the Texas Department of Public Safety, “involves the recruitment, harboring, transporting or procurement of a person for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery or forced commercial sex acts.”
Certainly, as faith leaders, we have heard of the existence of this malevolent crime in the United States for several years. But, like most people, we have not been fully aware of this modern-day slavery in our community. This lack of knowledge among the general public is especially insidious because it only helps perpetuate the problem. That is why increased public awareness of human trafficking and its virulent consequences are essential to its elimination.
In a step to increase public awareness, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas, the American Friends of the Anglican Center in Rome andThe Dallas Morning News are partnering to sponsor the Dallas Symposium on Human Trafficking — #StopSlaveryDallas on Saturday.
This joint effort is an outgrowth of a meeting in 2013 in Rome by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Justin Welby, and Pope Francis. As a result, the Global Freedom Network, a faith-based movement to eradicate slavery by 2020, was launched by the two prelates together with the grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.
Committed to the dignity and freedom that is the birthright of all humankind, Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Orthodox leaders signed a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery. We, as the leaders of the local Episcopal and Catholic churches, are following the call from Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis to take up the challenge to eradicate this heinous act against humanity.
Although slavery is a global challenge, it must be addressed on the local level.
Sadly, Texas is second only to California in the number of calls placed to the national human trafficking hotline with 1,876 calls from victims and survivors. About 36 percent of the calls involve sex trafficking. Labor trafficking accounts for about 27 percent, and the balance is a combination of both or unspecified causes. Of course, only a small percentage of the victims call the hotline.
A 2011 study on the sexual trafficking of young girls in Texas published by the Dallas Women’s Foundation reported that “740 girls under the age of 18 were documented being marketed for sex during a 30-day period.” The most vulnerable children for sex trafficking are runaways, unauthorized immigrants and unaccompanied minors.
Labor trafficking is also a form of modern-day slavery. Victims are usually adults, although many are children. These victims are kept in involuntary servitude through debt bondage and other forms of coercion in a variety of areas.
In its Texas Human Trafficking Fact Sheet, the Center for Public Policy lists “domestic servitude (nannies, housekeepers), small businesses (landscaping, nail salons, restaurants, industrial cleaning, construction and hospitality), sales crews (peddling magazines, flowers and candy) and large-scale labor in agricultural and industrial settings.
Archbishop David Moxon, a member of the Global Freedom Network executive committee and the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See, will offer the keynote address at the symposium and provide an overview of international initiatives to halt modern slavery. Symposium speakers and topics include the North Texas Anti-Human Trafficking Team, “Recognizing the Signs of Human Trafficking,” “The Face of Human Trafficking: A Survivor’s Account,” and an update on state and federal trafficking legislation.
The symposium is open to the public. As faith leaders and concerned citizens, we call on all people of good will to attend and become informed. Only then can we all work together to eradicate this unconscionable crime against humanity.
Paul E. Lambert is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas; Kevin J. Farrell is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas