Human trafficking—an issue that seems to touch distant reaches of the world—is actually hidden in the confines of our very own city. Next week, Seattle University will welcome a noted Filipina feminist to examine the issue at “Our Global Problem,” an event on May 18 hosted by the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture.
Human trafficking exploits hundreds of thousands of victims in the United States alone, with an even greater magnitude when measured globally. The underground illegal industry transcends race, culture and background and often targets those affected by poverty or conflict
“I think this is an important issue because it impacts all groups of people,” said junior Annabelle Hufana, a member of United Filipino Club. “Victims are brought into this never-ending cycle and are given a life filled with violence and struggle.”
Tens of billions of dollars are generated by traffickers each year. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 79 percent of cases are sexually exploitative, followed by 18 percent involving forced labor.
With high profits and low risk, the manipulation continues to rob helpless individuals of their freedom. Several groups have been created in an effort to increase awareness and put a stop to the crime, such as the Polaris Project and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Other areas in Seattle focus on the crime as well. The “Help Stop Human Trafficking” campaign was launched by King County in 2013, and organizations like compassion2one have headquarters in Seattle as well.
“The [problem] with human trafficking is people don’t realize that it’s still happening today, even here in Seattle,” said senior Lalaine Ignao, member of the Filipina Interest Sisterhood Pi Nu Iota.
Coming in to talk about the issue from a Philippine perspective is Missionary Benedictine Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, a notable Filipina feminist, theologian and activist. Mananzan believes that “one cannot talk of total human transformation if half of society is oppressed.”
Other panelists have been invited to speak alongside Mananzan to serve as local respondents to her talk, such as Emma Catague and Yasmin Christopher.
“If she gives [the discussion] with a specifically Filipino perspective and global lens, we have local people who can speak about why this issue is relevant to us locally and what issues we face locally,” said Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, director of the ICTC.
The ICTC was initially approached to host the event by the Women’s Empowerment Network, an external coalition engaged with issues relevant to women of color. The Network was bringing Mananzan from the Philippines to Seattle.
“It made a lot of sense that the ICTC would be part of the collaboration to bring Sister Mary John to campus,” Punsalan-Manlimos said. “It was a great opportunity for us.”
The event is co-sponsored by eight other Seattle U groups, including the Department of Women and Gender Studies and the Center for Global Justice.
The theological aspect, both with Mananzan’s work and our Jesuit education brings a unique lens to the mix. Pope Francis decided earlier this year to elevate the issue of human trafficking, dedicating a day of prayer for it and asking the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to focus on it in one of their plenary sessions.
The Pope’s upcoming document on the environment will also be connected to the issue of human trafficking, involving the degradation of the environment and its impact on movements of people.
“The ICTC has been focusing on Pope Francis this entire year and on his idea of church,” Punsalan-Manlimos said. “This church has been inviting us to go into the places in our world where there are wounds and people are suffering, marginalized and dehumanized.”
Although it is helpful that the Pope has elevated the issue, it still is very much a global problem. Marginalization is a profound experience and in order for it to be fully engaged it must be understood in its complexity, according to Punsalan-Manlimos. Bringing awareness to the issue is only the first step.
“As a Filipino-American who grew up seeing and experiencing these sickening crimes up close, I’ve learned to appreciate my privileges and blessings,” said sophomore United Filipino Club Community Service Chair Kristine Santos. “I feel empowered to try and advocate the end to human trafficking.”
The event will begin at 6 p.m. in the Campion Ballroom on May 18. It will be free and open to the public.