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Working to restore dignity Richard Peña | Sat, Mar 15 2014 12:00 PM

A couple of weeks back we attended a meeting of the Sweetwater Woman’s Club and listened to an address by Sister Judith Sheridan.

Sr. Judy, we learned, is a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary.  This is an International Order of Sisters in the Roman Catholic Church who are dedicated to live and serve, multi-culturally, in the manner of Mary with a special interest in helping women and children.

Some years ago a couple of the sisters in the order undertook research into the problems of human trafficking as they felt a special need for this study in our times.  They discovered that the San Diego area, with its close proximity to the border was a likely area for trafficking.  It is, in fact, one of the top ten for trafficking in the United States.  The greatest needs were safe housing for those victims and the services that they might need they might need.

Their Congregation started “Mary’s Guest House” in 2005 to provide housing for the women until they were united with family, had legal immigration status, studied English and had some job training which would allow them to work and become self-reliant and a credit to society.  The guest house can accommodate five guests—women 17 or older.

Trafficking, we learn, is nothing more than modern day slavery.  It is the abyss of human cruelty.  Most people think that this is something that is found in Thailand, or Romania or some other such place.  How about El Cajon or National City or Chula Vista or a street or town near where we live?  Trafficking is more lucrative than drugs since it can be used over and over.  And this is rather frightening.  When you are changing a person into a product you are bringing consumerism to a new low.

Research has disclosed that human trafficking is estimated to be a $32-billion industry.  Trafficking can be for labor, sex, organs, pornography and other such degrading acts.  It is estimated that a trafficker (pimp) can make upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the sale of one child.

Research tells us that more than one million children run away from home each year. It further has determined that the average time it takes a trafficker to approach such a child is 48 hours, thus making the runaway extremely vulnerable. The Department of Justice estimates that the average age for entry into sexual exploitation is 12 to 14 years.

One of the main works of advocates has been to encourage countries to outlaw commercial trafficking of women and children.  To do this the general public must be aware of such a situation. The best way is to stop the demand for such an industry.

An example of how an exploitation might take place:  take a small village in Mexico or Indonesia or Nigeria. A person, someone whom the villager might trust, comes to visit them.

He or she might tell the parent that there is a chance they could have money come to them.  He tells them that he can take his young child to the U.S. where there are jobs available that can bring the family much needed cash. The family, being poor, will trust the individual and the first step for the exploiter has been taken. The final destination for the child is to become a farm worker, or factory worker, or assist in a brothel or massage parlor. They are then at the mercy of their masters, or of the exploiter who started them on that path.

The message that Sr. Judy and her associates is trying to convey is that such a situation exists.  They are helping by aiding one woman at a time.  There is a larger challenge to all of us to influence our society and to bring values of gender respect, morality and justice where there is none.  We, together can make a difference.

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