Pope encourages church, police in shared battle against trafficking

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

CITY (CNS) — An unrelenting, coordinated commitment is needed to prevent people
from falling prey to traffickers and to help victims caught in their snares,
Pope Francis told representatives of law enforcement agencies and church

growing number of people being trafficked and exploited are “the most
vulnerable” people in society; they are stripped of their dignity,
physical and mental integrity and sometimes even their life, the pope said Oct.
27 during an audience with the Santa Marta Group.

and encouraging the group members for their fight against this “social
evil,” Pope Francis reiterated that “what is needed is a coordinated,
effective and constant commitment, both to eliminate the causes of this complex
phenomenon and to reach, assist and accompany the people who fall into the
snares of trafficking.”

Santa Marta Group is an international coalition of senior law enforcement
chiefs and members of the Catholic Church — including bishops’ conferences and
religious orders — working together to end human trafficking. The group was founded
in 2014 as part of an initiative begun by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of
England and Wales. The name “Santa Marta” refers to the Vatican guest
house, where Pope Francis lives, and where police chiefs and Catholic bishops held
their first meeting.

group, which now has members in more than 30 countries, met at the Vatican Oct.
26-27 to detail progress being made, share best practices and update the pope
on their efforts. Nearly 21 million people, including minors, are believed to
be victims of human trafficking, according to the International Labor

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the group’s president, told reporters
that while human trafficking is still not a top priority in many parts of the
world, much has been done to finally expose “this great evil.”

that were once completely hidden are now being heard and misery that was once
unacknowledged is now being acknowledged,” he said at a Vatican news
conference Oct. 27.

survivors of trafficking — Al Bangura and Princess Inyang — also spoke at the
conference and detailed how they were tricked by traffickers with promises of
legitimate job offers and opportunities.

a talented soccer player in Sierra Leone, was lured to Paris then London as a
teenager by a man claiming to be an agent signing him up to play for a European
soccer team; instead he was trapped in a hotel “where older men began to
turn up” and rape him.

worked as a cook in Nigeria and headed to Europe to pursue a job offer there.
Instead she was forced into prostitution in Italy and coerced into paying the “madam”
45,000 euro (more than $49,000) in fees and even more in rent.

managed eventually to escape their captors, rebuild their lives, and now they help
raise awareness to prevent others from being tricked.

prevention also entails giving young people real opportunities by setting up more
educational scholarships and skills-building projects in countries of origin,
Inyang told reporters.

enforcement also needs to do more to investigate, prosecute and arrest
traffickers, not the victims, she said. “Reception” or protection
shelters should be set up for suspected victims of trafficking instead of
housing them in detention centers while their cases are investigated, she added.

not always easy for police responding to an incident to clearly identify whether
a person breaking the law has been coerced into it by traffickers, said Kevin
Hyland, the former detective inspector of Scotland Yard’s trafficking and
organized crime unit.

often delegate riskier crimes, for example, petty theft or tending illegal
cannabis farms, to their victims, he told Catholic News Service.

often victims are found in situations that make them “look the same as an offender”
to an untrained officer or to one “unwilling to explore further,” he

an effort to improve law enforcement’s response, the United Kingdom passed the
Modern Slavery Act, giving officers new mandates meant to increase protection
for victims and increase convictions and tougher sentencing on criminals.

said the 2015 act created his new role as Independent Anti-Slavery
Commissioner, a role designed to better identify and support victims, improve
the legal and justice systems’ response to trafficking and build diverse and
effective partnerships.

example, the close collaboration between law enforcement and the church with
the Santa Marta Group “is actually quite a natural fit because the church
reaches out to the vulnerable, offers that extended arm and support, and the
police are there then to actually remove the threat of those committing these

officers, too, have become more sensitive and cooperative with other agencies over
the years, he said.

example, three decades ago, an officer responding to domestic violence would
not have understood the psychological coercion at play preventing a battered
spouse from pressing charges or getting help, he said.

the approach has changed” and “policing does know how to deal with
vulnerability,” which might include looking for other ways to deal with
the situation and requesting “other interventions” from different
kinds of agencies. “Also taking away the offender and putting in protection
for the victim is essential,” he added.

within law enforcement there is that ability to show compassion, to work in a
way that deals with the victim’s needs and also pursues the perpetrators,”
he said.

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