By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – A group of volunteers working in conjunction with Catholic Charities Office of Parish Social Ministries is offering presentations and resources to help others understand the reality of human trafficking in Mississippi. Mississippi Catholics Against Human Trafficking (MCAHT) can host an awareness event in any parish or school and offer resources for the faithful to then take action on the issue.
MCAHT has a couple versions of the presentation. Some are for adults, others are more appropriate for youth. They explain different forms of trafficking such as work or sex trafficking.
“The material comes from Shared Hope International which was started by Linda Smith after she visited brothels in India where young girls had been trafficked since they were very young,” explained Cookie Leffler, a volunteer for MCAHT.
“Shared Hope International has created videos and discussion questions and information specific to adults, adult men only, adult women only,” she went on to say. “What MCAHT did is put the Catholic spin on the information. What is Pope Francis saying about respect life? What saints are the patrons of those who are trafficked? There are prayers written to end human trafficking so we can put a Catholic lens on it,” Leffler said.
For both groups, the event includes warning signs of what traffickers act like and how they groom their victims. It also includes way to spot someone who may have been trafficked or who may be in danger of it.
“What we would like to do is in particular reach out to our youth because they are the target audience for sex traffickers and we would like to be able to get the information out to them about what sex trafficking looks like whether its you or your friends. It’s not only low-income or neglected kids who get trafficked. Yes, they are a target, but kids from good upper-class homes can be trafficked as well so we want to reach all the youth,” said Leffler. She said when she offers the training, she shows a map of areas where trafficking is prevalent. The teens are almost always shocked to see Mississippi on that map.
Some groups may feel called to take action. “MCAHT was designed to not only do the education part of it but in any way support what other organizations are doing in terms of service work,” said Leffler. She hopes to expand into service projects to support organizations who care for people rescued from traffickers as well as lead people to prayer.
“We also want to support the prayerful approach. We can offer prayers, a version of Stations of the Cross for trafficking victims, saints who address human trafficking.”
Parishes or schools who wish to host a human trafficking awareness event or prayer service may contact Dorothy Balser in the Office of Parish Social Ministry at (601) 326-3725 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.