ROME — Australian Mercy Sr. Angela Reed recalled a survivor of trafficking in the Philippines who said to her, “You know, Sister, there are plenty of people who live in poverty, but not all are trafficked.”
That provoked Reed to dig deeper when it came to the factors surrounding human trafficking, which are often simplified to fit a straightforward problem-solution paradigm, she said Sept. 23 on a panel addressing sisters who work against trafficking. The 86 delegates of women religious had come to Rome from 48 countries for the anniversary of Talitha Kum, a network of networks for sisters involved in this ministry.
“Some of the major challenges we face is to identify the problem and reframe the narrative from … a random act of victimization to understanding and recognizing it as systemic and long-term cumulative disadvantage over one’s life,” said Reed, who represents Mercy International Association/Mercy Global Action at the United Nations.
Joined by three other experts, Reed focused on vulnerabilities and what is missed when they become the emphasis in the conversation around trafficking as well as “the tendency of society to pathologize, make the victims the problem, saying they are the ones who have the problems and somehow, they are responsible for their situation.
“But survivors tell us a different story,” said Reed, who is Mercy International Association’s global action coordinator, overseeing her congregation’s advocacy work, with a particular focus on the trafficking of women and girls.
Three expert panelists and a moderator shared the stage with Reed: Teresa Albano from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who moderated the panel; Helen Okoro, a social educator who works with survivors in Sicily; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, U.N. special rapporteur on trafficking in persons; and Carlos Andrés Pérez from the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants initiative under the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Echoing conversations sisters had earlier in the week, Reed pointed to patriarchy, sexual violence, colonialism and racism as the root causes of trafficking, and “how we define the problem determines how we think about solutions.”
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