Raising awareness of the human trafficking crisis

Sisters take information on the road so others can help end it in Wisconsin.

by Renae Bauer
published August 2017

Which statement is true:

  1. Approximately 26,000 Wisconsin children run away each year, putting them at risk of being trafficked.
  2. Milwaukee is the “pimp capital” of the world.
  3. Slavery is more common today than when it was abolished in 1865.
  4. All of the above.

Tragically, the answer is number 4, which is why so many religious communities, bishops and Pope Francis are talking about human trafficking and the need to end it.

Sisters Francis Bangert and Mary Berg have begun an anti-human trafficking educational ministry which they are taking to parishes across the state. Through their presentation the Sisters are raising awareness of how much human trafficking is happening in Wisconsin and how the Catholic Church is responding.

“People think human trafficking is happening in developing countries only, that it’s not around here,” says Sister Mary. But nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, Wisconsin is part of a sex trafficking route which runs from Chicago north through Milwaukee, Appleton and Green Bay then west to the Twin Cities. “It’s an eye-opener,” Sister adds.

“Often, when we finish our presentations audience members can’t believe that trafficking is happening under our noses,” says Sister Francis. “The disbelief -- because you just don’t think this could happen here to our kids.”

Both Sisters became aware of human trafficking in 2011 when the Franciscan Federation and Leadership Conference of Women Religious both approved resolutions calling for prayer and the end of human trafficking. These resolutions inspired the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross to learn more about the issue which resulted in the approval of their Corporate Stance on Modern Slavery in 2013. 

According to Sister Francis, the Catholic Church has addressed human trafficking for decades. 

“Way back in 1965 there was already attention being drawn to modern slavery as a critical issue. Then the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral letter Church in the Modern World talked again about dishonoring our Creator God through actions of this kind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has information on modern slavery. Pope Benedict spoke about the things that contribute to trafficking like poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, desire for adventure,” she says. “And Pope Francis says we cannot remain indifferent knowing that humans are being bought and sold like goods.” 

The Sisters stress the importance of knowing how consumerism plays a role in human trafficking. 

“There is a connection between human trafficking and the food I eat and the clothes I wear and the entertainment I enjoy,” says Sister Francis. “All of that is connected back to men, women and children who work for low wages or none in terrible conditions to produce all this stuff we enjoy.” 

Sister Mary says one way to learn how our purchases impact enslavement is to visit www.slaveryfootprint.org where the homepage asks, “How many slaves work for you?” The site’s self-assessment tool points to the size of our homes, the digital devices we own, and the clothes we purchase as contributing to slavery. 

Ultimately, both Sisters pray that their efforts and those of others will encourage people to see trafficking victims in the same way St. Francis of Assisi saw lepers. “He was called to a change of heart upon meeting a leper and kissing a leper whom he despised. That was the beginning of the turn-around in his life. He cared for lepers,” explains Sister Francis. “We have lepers today. We have women and men who are being looked down upon and despised worse than animals. That’s a sin. That is against everything that is Franciscan. We, too, are called to take care of the ‘lepers’ whether it’s a physical leper or a spiritual leper.”

Bangert -Fran -Berg -Mary _opt

TRAFFICKING TALK: Sister Francis Bangert, left, and Sister Mary Berg give a presentation at St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay. (Renae Bauer photo)


Stay in touch -- This story originally appeared in the Sisters' newsletter. Subscribe to our FREE printed newsletter (issued five times a year) and our FREE e-spiritual reflections (weekly). We enjoy hearing from you so visit our “Send a Greeting to Sister” page and say hello. Thank you and God bless!

Anti Human Trafficking _optLIVING THE MISSION: Sister Francis Bangert, left, holds an anti-human trafficking toolkit assembled by 15 women religious communities and distributed to all parishes in Wisconsin. Sister Mary Berg displays articles detailing a recent sex trafficking sting in Northeast Wisconsin. (Renae Bauer photo)

What You Can Do:

Pray for the end of human trafficking as well as for the victims and perpetrators.

Grow in awareness

Act

  • When staying at a hotel, ask if the staff is trained to recognize sex trafficking
  • Help organizations that advocate for or shelter survivors of trafficking
  • Contact legislators about proposed or current laws that impact human trafficking

Stay in touch -- This story originally appeared in the Sisters' newsletter. Subscribe to our FREE printed newsletter (issued five times a year) and our FREE e-spiritual reflections (weekly). We enjoy hearing from you so visit our “Send a Greeting to Sister” page and say hello. Thank you and God bless!