‘Look And Find And Act’: Sisters Share Complexities Of Anti-Trafficking Fight

October 11, 2019

ROME — Sr. Kathleen Bryant felt the effects of Talitha Kum firsthand from California when she got an email from a fellow Religious Sister of Charity who lives in Nigeria three weeks before the umbrella organization’s Sept. 21-27 gathering in Rome.

“She had rescued three girls, but one of them was snatched and dragged to Ivory Coast” and later taken to Ghana, Bryant said. The sister in Nigeria, knowing Bryant was involved in anti-trafficking, asked if she could help.

Bryant reached out to Comboni Missionary Sr. Gabriella Bottani, the international coordinator of Talitha Kum, for a contact in Ghana. An umbrella network of networks, Talitha Kum unites sisters all around the world who are involved in anti-trafficking ministries.

Shortly after, the Daughter of Charity based in Ghana was able to locate the 15-year-old, who was then being sold at a local marketplace and is now in the process of being rescued. (Bryant, to her surprise, met the Ghanaian sister in Rome at the recent gathering celebrating 10 years of Talitha Kum.)

“We try to work with police agencies and forces and coalitions, [but it’s a] slow process, working with these organizations,” she said. “Whereas sisters are on the ground; they can look and find and act.”

At the Talitha Kum gathering, sisters shared how they, indeed, look and find and act, rising to the occasion to combat trafficking in all its forms, illustrating how one vast continent or small country can contain so many complexities within its borders.


Mercy Sr. Lynda Dearlove, founder and CEO of the charity Women at the Well, frequently spends time at King’s Cross, the original red-light district of London. Dearlove’s work providing services to women affected by prostitution enables them “to exit at their own speed in their own way.”

The services the charity offers — including drug treatment, showers and laundry, counseling and access to job training, education and state benefits — are to “build up that resilience, enabling them to take the next step to move on,” she said.

Yet Dearlove said her biggest work is in changing attitudes. “But to do that, you have to first change the law.”

“I believe that the woman who is sold in prostitution should not be further victimized by a law that penalizes her for that very exploitation. But everything else should be criminal: those who purchase the women and use and abuse them, those who profit from, those who manage those situations.”

Dearlove said her focus is on affecting the language used within the legal discussions on modern slavery and trafficking, and on working at the national level and with the Holy See and the United Nations.

“Unless we change those systems of oppression, it doesn’t matter how many we rescue because there will be more women brought in,” she said. “It is about supply and demand. If we don’t do something to stop demand, the laws actually create a situation that the traffickers thrive from. … If you traffic drugs, it’s used once, whereas a woman trafficked into sexual exploitation gives again and again.”

Almost 2,000 miles away in Malta, an island south of Italy that’s become a port for African migrants, Good Shepherd Sr. Margaret Gonzi has spent the last few years learning about the ties trafficking shares with migration and domestic violence, her two areas of focus.

Gonzi said the Maltese government has “always been welcoming” of migrants and would “do its best to help them and not send them back.”

This year, with Gonzi’s involvement, the government launched its first national anti-trafficking campaign, Human Like You, to raise awareness on the exploitation of foreign workers. Gonzi has worked to expand the anti-trafficking sphere of influence by speaking on radio stations, at large conferences, and to university students.

This month, her congregation will open a “second stage shelter” for women, Santa Bakhita, named for St. Josephine Bakhita. While the first shelter in Gonzi’s convent has focused on immediate needs for women either vulnerable to trafficking or escaping it, she said the new shelter is more about empowerment: teaching life skills such as budgeting or job training, for example, or providing trauma care.


With a civil war dividing the English- and French-speaking regions of Cameroon, Sr. Mercy Muthoni last year felt it was time to formalize her relationships in anti-trafficking and begin a Cameroonian Talitha Kum network.

A Missionary Sister of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Muthoni works in the country’s northwestern English-speaking region, “an area that is very poor, where farmers live hand to mouth,” where the education system has been suffering since the war began, where houses are being burned down and refugees are on the move to Nigeria and neighboring countries, she said.


To read the full article by Soli Salgado on Global Sisters Report: Click Here

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