September 18, 2020

Survivors of human trafficking inspire work of new outreach ministry

By John Shaughnessy

Theresa Chamblee’s voice becomes softer and almost breaks when she talks about the survivors of labor and sex trafficking she has met.

“I admire so much their resilience,” she says. “And I admire those who have come forward, who are using their life, their story to help others. It’s amazing to me.”

It’s also personal to Chamblee, who is co-leading the Anti-Trafficking Ministry in the archdiocese with Deacon John Hosier.

“Human trafficking has always been an issue that has weighed heavily on my heart,” says Chamblee, who is also the director of social concerns for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

“This ministry helps us live our faith through being the face of Christ to others and seeing the face of Christ in everybody. It helps us to see our brothers and sisters and the pain that so many people carry.”

The pain of human trafficking—and the opportunity to get involved in helping end this tragedy—were part of the focus of the kickoff event of the Anti-Trafficking Ministry: a virtual, educational webinar in August that drew about 50 people from across central and southern Indiana.

“The webinar was very eye-opening,” Chamblee says. “There was a little bit of shock. It’s bigger than what people thought. I think everyone has heard of human trafficking, but it was even evident when we did our webinar that in the chat box people were writing questions of, ‘You mean in my neighborhood?’ ‘You mean this happens in rural areas?’ ‘You mean this happens everywhere?’

“We don’t realize how prevalent labor and sex trafficking are in our society.”

Recognizing the signs

Chamblee knows that more than 22,000 trafficking victims and survivors were identified in the United States in 2019, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline’s data also noted that 157 human trafficking cases were reported in Indiana last year.

That’s part of the information that the Anti-Trafficking Ministry wants to share with people across the archdiocese.

Initially, the ministry’s main goal is to educate people about trafficking. Chamblee says that education includes “recognizing the signs that maybe someone is being trafficked” and then calling 9-1-1 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) to report it.

The education also includes what not to do.

“When you see something, report it, but do not—and I stress this—do not intervene personally in that situation,” Chamblee says. “Do not go up to someone and say, ‘Are you being trafficked?’ Because here’s the thing: You may put that person’s life in jeopardy by the person who is trafficking them. And secondly, you may put your life in jeopardy because they are very closely watched.

“So it’s very important you call 9-1-1, or you call the Human Trafficking Hotline and let it go from there.”

There are also other ways Catholics across the archdiocese can make a difference, she says.

“We need to pray,” she says. “God can move mountains through our prayer. We need to pray for the end of trafficking, for the victims of trafficking. We need to pray for even the people who partake in trafficking. It’s an addiction for so many people who are involved in sex trafficking.”

Helping parents protect their children

Chamblee also encourages parishes to schedule a presentation from the Anti-Trafficking Ministry or a movie night featuring a documentary about trafficking. She also suggests having a fundraiser “for an organization that’s on the front lines of rescuing and helping women, men and children become survivors.”

People who participated in the webinar also had a recommendation for the ministry.

“We received feedback that we need to bring this to parents so we can do prevention as well,” says Chamblee, a mother of six. “There are ways parents can help to protect their children from predators on social media. There are things you can download on your devices that will monitor what your children are doing through social media.”

For Chamblee, it’s all part of an effort that reflects one of the main principles of the Catholic faith.

“We all have a moral responsibility to each other. This shows our commitment as an archdiocese to the whole person. Labor and sex trafficking are such an affront to the human dignity of a person.” †


Related story: ‘God moment’ leads couple to help start anti-trafficking ministry in archdiocese

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