US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The surprising face of human trafficking

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

When you hear the words "human trafficker," what do you picture?

Whatever image those words conjure up in your mind, your first thought is probably not a 23-year-old, five-foot-five white male in Providence, Rhode Island. But that's exactly who was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week for trafficking young women from New York to Rhode Island, imprisoning them and forcing them into prostitution.The Providence Journal reports that the mother of one of the victims cited how trafficker Joseph Defeis "lived the 'high life' and drove around in a Cadillac" while keeping his victims locked up, drugged and starved. And thanks to a plea agreement, he's only going to serve one year in jail.

I've written a number of articles on the prevalence of human trafficking both internationally and domestically, and yet these stories still come as a bit of a shock. And this particular case is far from the worst example of trafficking--usually for labor or forced prostitution, and often involving minors--that is occuring here in the United States.

Each summer, the U.S. State Department releases its Trafficking in Persons Report, which takes a look at how human trafficking is being addressed around the world, and the report just recently added an assessment of what is happening here in the U.S. as well. The website Slavery Map also gives a great overview of where cases of trafficking have been reported and shows just how broad the scope of the problem really is today.

Although it is not one of the most talked about issues in the church, Catholic organizations have been at the forefront of addressing this problem. Catholic Relief Services deals with human trafficking internationally, and here in the states Catholic Charities has done excellent work in identifying victims and helping them to restore their lives.

The best way we can deal with this problem is to raise awareness and to shed the misconception that it only happens in far off places. Take a few minutes to review these tips for recognizing human trafficking victims and know how to report a suspected case. You never know, the next victims to be saved might be in your own neighborhood.