A Beacon of Hope, #NunsAgainstTrafficking
Human trafficking and modern day slavery are words often heard, yet seldom understood. It is a topic that makes many of us feel remorse and fall into despair. In such a climate, though, there is hope! The Sisters of All Saints Monastery in Calverton, NY are swimming against the current. They are standing up and making a difference. With the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, they have initiated The HOPE Project to help young women escape “the Life.”
What is meant by, “the Life”? “The Life” is what prostituted women call their life circumstance, namely, a situation in which women are forced or coerced by a pimp into prostitution with “johns.” According to the Palermo Protocol at the United Nations, "Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. To the surprise of many, what this suggests is that a person does not have to be taken across a border to be trafficked; it is a matter of exploitation rather than transportation. This is not just a global problem but a local epidemic, as well. Anyone can be trafficked, regardless of socio-economic status, age, education, or gender. And, the majority of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are US citizens! In the United States, an estimated 1.5 million people are trafficked every year. Of these individuals, approximately 75-85% are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
So what can be done to address this epidemic? There are two leading approaches to tackling the issue of sex trafficking. One model encourages the legalization of prostitution in order to regulate the “industry.” While this might make sense at first, the facts show that trafficking has actually increased in those countries where this model has been adopted. Legalizing prostitution has increased the demand for purchased sex. As a result, since most people do not willingly sell their own body, the new “entrepreneurs” (otherwise known as pimps) must traffic women and men to meet the high demand. This model, therefore, is not only immoral, but it has also proven to be quite unsuccessful. Another approach to eradicating sex trafficking is called, The Nordic Model. The Swedes correctly realized that most prostitutes do not act according to their own volition (i.e. they were trafficked). Therefore, they decided to implement a two-prong approach, which first prosecutes the pimps and “the johns” (the buyers) and second, viewing prostitutes as victims, provides them with programs and means to get out of “the Life.” In 1999, Sweden enacted a package of supporting laws, now known at The Nordic Model. These laws helped decrease the demand for purchased sex, created an unsuitable environment for traffickers to conduct “business,” and provided opportunities for the healing of victims and their reintegration back into society. Sweden, at the same time, allocated funding for education on human trafficking.
While laws in the United States still need to be reformed to prosecute the solicitors of paid sex and better support the victims, the Sisters of All Saints Monastery are doing their part to move the ball forward. The HOPE Project is a holistic initiative that will provide female victims of sex trafficking with safe housing, medical care, psychological services, rehabilitation, and a variety of other social services. It will be a place for victims to regain control over their lives, rediscover their God-given dignity, and, simply put, recharge their batteries. In order for this to become a reality, the nuns remind us that this Project needs to be a communal initiative.
To find out more about All Saints Monastery and their initiatives, please visit their website at whitefieldfarm.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/wfieldfarm/
Nicholas Anton is the Coordinator of UN Programs for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org). He is an elected member of the CORE Group (executive committee) of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons at the UN (ngocstip.org).
The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.