Nowhere to turn

Safe havens, churches work to offer trafficking victims hope

This story is the final in a two-part series related to National Migration Week Jan. 5-11, an initiative of the U.S. bishops that calls Catholics to help ease the struggles of vulnerable migrant populations.

Alex found herself on the street needing shelter and food—and no place to turn.

She was 16 at the time and felt she had no other choice. Her abusive boyfriend wanted her to turn to prostitution.

“At first it was terrifying, and then you just kind of become numb to it,” she said in an FBI video about victims of sex trafficking. “You put on a whole different attitude—like a different person. …You feel empty. You’re at the bottom of bottom and you have nobody to go to.”

Two years later she reached out to the FBI who helped jail her pimp and recover other young victims of sex trafficking, according to bureau testimony.

It’s a story not uncommon for homeless youths, especially in Colorado, a state with reportedly the highest rate per capita of sex slavery. Children who have a void in their lives are most susceptible, according to FBI agent Kurt Ormberg of the Anchorage Alaska division.

“That void might be related to family, food or shelter, but it’s a void that needs to be filled, and pimps fill it,” he said on the bureau website.

And after they nurture their victims, he said, they sexually exploit them.

“Too often,” Ormberg added, “these young victims don’t think they have anywhere else to turn.”

Since its creation in 2003, the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative has recovered more than 2,700 children who were sexually exploited. In July, FBI agents recovered nine youths enslaved in Colorado of the 105 recovered nationwide from an undercover sting. Police also arrested and charged 150 pimps.

Human trafficking has gained the attention of the faith community as more religious and nonprofit organizations are forming to rescue and aid victims.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held National Migration week from Jan. 5-11 to recognize a series of issues, including human trafficking. Its site reports nearly 1.5 million victims are forced into labor, sexual exploitation or servitude in the United States. Some 98 percent of sex-trafficking victims are women and girls.

Locally, safe havens are being founded as a place for young victims to restore their lives and find healing.

Amy’s House in LaPorte was established to restore youths through residential, therapeutic and educational programs. In Colorado Springs, Restore Innocence was started to provide youths with a home and a mentor to begin healing in its Cinderella House. Their mission is to “restore victims of child trafficking back to the innocent children God created them to be.”

Father Dave Nix of Blessed John XXIII Parish in Fort Collins is working with local Catholics to raise awareness and found a Catholic safe haven in the state.

He said Mary is a crucial element to helping young victims heal.

“The full healing and deliverance that can happen in the lives of these girls will only come through the sacraments and Mary,” he told the Denver Catholic Register last year. “If Catholics bow out of this fight, these kids don’t stand a chance.”

The Catholic response to the issue would be to build the dignity of young girls formerly enslaved and increase the community’s involvement.

Prax(us) is another nonprofit launched to address the root causes of human trafficking through weekly outreach on Denver’s streets and connecting homeless youths to resources to help recovery.

“Our point and goal is to build trust with people,” said Emily Lafferrandre, 28, director of education and advocacy. “We want to connect with them and help them stay as safe as possible.”

She said it’s difficult to profile victims, yet they focus on homeless youths, ethnic youths and other young populations without stable resources.

The initiative began in 2007 and in 2012 alone they reached out to 184 youths, she said. Every week they bring resources to those on the streets and hold dinners Monday nights at Central Presbyterian Church.

Without the help of the police or these nonprofits, victims may end up abused, jailed or even dead.

Alex is one example.

“I was very lucky to be able to walk away,” she said in an FBI video. “I never got hurt, so I’m really, really lucky. I’m one of the few that can say that.”

She said she would have “ended up dead” if it wasn’t for her rescue.

Alex later earned her high school diploma and has plans to attend college.

“What happened to me happened, and I can’t change it,” she said. “I can only change my future.”

 

Signs of Exploitation
Questionable work and living conditions
– Poor mental health or abnormal behavior
-Poor physical health, signs of physical or sexual abuse
– Lack of control, has no ID

Hotlines
Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-866-455-5075
Prax(us) confidential local hotline: 303-317-7009

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.