These Religious Women Pose As Prostitutes To Rescue Victims From Sex Trafficking

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It’s fairly common knowledge that sex trafficking, human trafficking and child slavery are the modern forms of slavery. In fact there are more human slaves existing today in the world than an at other point in our history. That is a sad and sobering fact. There are some reports that state the global number of persons caught in human slavery today is 27 million, others say it is lower, and still others state higher numbers. Why the variations?

Because slavery is such a hidden crime, and definitions and laws are constantly changing in order to better target and prosecute the criminals involved, numbers vary greatly depending on which categories are being considered. The Washington Post laid out some great information about the many conflicting reports often shared by the media, but the most important aspect is to know this is a very real and serious issue, and deserves more attention.

Just recently we have seen the new of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department stating they are no longer going to be arresting children on prostitution charges, because they now recognize they are child trafficking victims. That is a huge breakthrough.

“There’s no such thing as a child prostitute,” said said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Although US federal law clearly states that any individual under the age of 18 who is induced to perform a commercial sex act in exchange for anything of value is, by definition, a victim of sex trafficking—not a prostitute, most state and local laws disregard federal protections for trafficked minors, and do not contemplate them as victims. Instead the girls, many of them only between the ages of 12 and 14, are arrested, detained, and prosecuted for prostitution.

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In the UK there have also been similar changes in legislation in recent years to ensure child trafficking victims are not charged as prostitutes, but given the care they need to escape this horrible epidemic.

Clearly there is a continual need for more research, legislative protection and collective action in order to stop millions of women children and men from being sold are slaves. At the 2nd annual Trust Women Conference in London, organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, people from all around the world gathered to discuss strategies to combat this problem.

The TWC event brings together global corporations, lawyers, government representatives, and pioneers in the field of women’s rights and anti-slavery. At this year’s event, one of the keynote speakers was John Studzinski, who is a vice chairman of U.S. investment bank The Blackstone Group. He is also a philanthropist and is passionate about mobilizing those in the corporate sector to take action against human slavery.

John is a chairman for the Talitha Kum organization, started in 2009 and partners with various religious groups to combat the global trafficking trade. Today they have locations all over the world, and their network of 1100 sisters operates in about 80 countries.

The organization estimates 1% of the world’s population (73 million) is trafficked in some form. That is a far cry from the roughly 26 million number often shared by other organizations. The global trafficking trade includes sex trafficking, forced labor and human slavery against a person’s will.

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Talitha Kum believes 70% of the world’s trafficked persons are women, and half are aged 16 or younger. And just like the extreme measures forced upon the victims, including gang rape, beatings, starvation and health problems, the religious sisters also go to extreme lengths to rescue victims.

The women are known to dress up as prostitutes and walk the streets in order to infiltrate brothels. It is a highly risky operation but one that is getting results, said John in his keynote address (video below).

“These sisters do not trust anyone. They do not trust governments, they do not trust corporations, and they don’t trust the local police. In some cases they cannot trust male clergy. They work in brothels. No one knows they are there,” he said in a report shared by the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

These sisters are willing to disrobe and put aside wearing the habit and work alongside locals for as little as 2 U.S. cents an hour to uncover abuses. The women are so focused on their work that they prefer to remain low-key and don’t care to promote what they are doing, stated John in his speech. Which is why we are choosing to do that on their behalf in order to share what these bold, determined women are doing.

The group is planning to expand into 140 countries soon as the demand for efforts to combat trafficking and slavery was rising globally. As well as trying to rescue victims of sex trafficking, the Talitha Kum sisters are very proactive in trying to save children being sold into slavery by their parents in countries across Africa as well as in the Philippines, Brazil and India. The women raise money to “purchase” the children and bring them back into a life of normalcy and safety.

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This is a new network of houses for children around the world who would otherwise be sold into slavery. It is shocking but it is real,” said John.

As for the people who get caught in the human trafficking trade, John says they are from all walks of life and not just one particular socio-economic group.

These are problems caused by poverty and equality but it goes well beyond that. You can’t generalize about trafficking and slavery as no two countries are the same,” he said, which is why global expansion and focused targeting according to what is going on in a particular location is key. Talitha Kum is now being hired by companies to see what is going on with respect to the supply chain.

At the end of the Trust Women’s Conference, speakers and delegates propose innovative solutions to address social challenges and enable more people to take action against this global injustice. The women of Talitha Kum, which translated from Aramaic means “arise child”, are willing to do whatever it takes, including embedding themselves into brothels and amongst prostitutes in order to find a way to rescue them. It is certainly quite a shocking and bold step to take, but it is also a great challenge for the rest of us: what are we willing to do?

You can watch John Studzinski’s keynote address below, where he shares some horrific and sickening stories of some of the women they have rescued, and some footage of the women of Talitha Kum around the world talking about their important mission:

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