By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
MASON CITY — “We want to educate parishioners and other people that, yes, it really does happen here, next door, that it is not far from us or removed from us,” said Laura Doerfler, co-chair of the social justice committee at Epiphany Parish in Mason City, on the committee’s decision to sponsor an upcoming presentation on human trafficking.
“Human Trafficking in North Iowa: Any Place, Any Church, Any One” will be held on Tuesday, May 1 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Epiphany’s Holy Family Church social hall.
The speaker will be Mary Ingham, the executive director of Crisis Intervention Service, a local organization that provides individuals affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, homicide and other violent crimes with professional, confidential, 24-hour services and support.
“We know that trafficking can flourish in the heartland because many people want to believe ‘those things’ don’t happen here,” Ingham said. “The reality is that trafficking can occur in any community.”
In her presentation at Epiphany Parish, Ingham will share information about the reality of human trafficking in Iowa and will provide an overview of the prevalence and types of trafficking seen in the area. While it is difficult to determine precise numbers because of underreporting, Ingham said that in the last year, her organization worked with 108 individuals who had been personally impacted by human trafficking.
Ingham said during her presentation she also plans to address the personal and social stigma surrounding human trafficking and the trauma trafficking causes victims and survivors, as well as how to recognize individuals who may be at risk of trafficking, the services available to help victims and how to make referrals.
“As we educate individuals, we can hopefully provide early intervention and reduce the long-term impact of trafficking in our communities,” Ingham said. “We want to make sure that anyone that is impacted by trafficking knows that help is available. We want to ensure that community members know how to identify potential trafficking and how to safely intervene.”
Doerfler said members of Epiphany’s social justice committee thought it was important to sponsor an event on human trafficking because they felt as people of faith that they had an obligation to address such a direct violation of the respect owed to every human life.
“These people are being stripped of their dignity,” Doerfler said of those being trafficked. “As Catholics and Christians, we should be showing compassion and love and humility to these people. We should ask ourselves what can we do to help.”
Human trafficking is an injustice that the Catholic Church has repeatedly spoken out against. During the Second Vatican Council, the document “Gaudium et Spes” condemned slave labor and the sexual exploitation of women and children, calling them “infamies,” and stating that such practices “poison human society.”
Several recent popes have also spoken out against human trafficking, including Pope Francis, who called it, “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.” “It is a crime against humanity,” he said.
Epiphany Parish’s Holy Family Church social hall is located at 722 N. Adams Ave. in Mason City. Those attending the human trafficking presentation may enter through the north entrance of the building where the elevator to the social hall is located. The event is free, and all are welcome to attend.
What is human trafficking?
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion.” Human trafficking takes a variety of forms around the world and victims include both adults and children. Some individuals are trafficked for prostitution and other types of commercial sexual exploitation, while others are trafficked for forced labor in sweats shops, agriculture, fishing or domestic servitude. Some children are also forcefully recruited to become child soldiers in military conflicts. In a 2014 report, the U.S. State Department estimated that 20 million people were living in modern day slavery globally. Additional information about human trafficking is available at the USCCB’s website, www.usccb.org.
A woman’s hands are pictured in this photo illustration depicting the effects of human trafficking. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)