‘Reach Every Victim’ And ‘Leave No One Behind’: Sisters Combat Human Trafficking

August 15, 2023

July 30 is the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The theme for this year is “Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.” Our sister panelists shared what their congregations are doing to eliminate this grave offense against human dignity by responding to the question:

What have you or your congregation done/is doing to combat modern slavery and trafficking?

Catherine Ferguson is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. First a high school administrator and teacher, she completed doctoral work in international studies that took her to Chile, Peru and Mexico. She interned with Pax Christi in Brussels and served as associate director for Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles. She was founder and coordinator for UNANIMA International, a coalition of several sisters’ congregations doing faith-based advocacy at the United Nations. She served as U.S. provincial leader and as congregational leader and is now a board member of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

In 2001, the UISG (Union of International Superiors General) Assembly focused women religious everywhere on human trafficking: “We commit ourselves to work in solidarity … to address insistently at every level the abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children with particular attention to the trafficking of women.”

Then, most in my congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, or SNJM, had little idea about human trafficking.

We had a steep learning curve, but through our international and provincial Peace and Justice Networks and membership in the United Nations-affiliated nongovernmental organization, UNANIMA International, with its advocacy against human trafficking, we learned … and now, internationally and in almost every region here are only some of the ways SNJMs are active in the struggle.

We acted through UNANIMA International at the U.N. to develop and promote an international campaign to stop the demand. We provided educational events at the Commission on the Status of Women and prepared alternative reports for the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

With others, we join the struggle locally and regionally. Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Lesotho, Peru, Brazil, Canada and the United States have regularly participated in demonstrations and marches to raise awareness about human trafficking. We write letters and sign petitions requesting our various governments enact laws and policies to counter the scourge.

In 2004, our congregation took its first corporate stand — to support ending the human trafficking of women and children who are sexually exploited and pressured into forced labor.

Read the full story on the National Catholic Reporter.