February 28, 2012

Conference on Working against Human Trafficking

The network of women religious in Europe – known as RENATE – is committed to working together against human trafficking and exploitation. The network organized a Conference for representatives of women religious from all over Europe. It took place in the Salvatorian Retreat Centre in Trzebinia near Krakow, 4th-9th September 2011. The 72 participants came from 18 countries: Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Those invited had demonstrated their commitment to the work of human trafficking and to helping survivors. Together they sought ways of both sharing their experience and coordinating their work into the future.

The Keynote Address on September 5 was given by the well-known British analyst, Ian Linden, on the opportunities, challenges and dangers in the situation of human trafficking. Theologian Mary Grey presided and delivered an address aimed at helping the group to develop a theology and spirituality that will energise those who take up the issue of trafficking of people. Professor Ian Linden is currently Director of Policy of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and formerly Director of The Catholic Institute for International Relations, while Professor Mary Grey is a Professor of Theology at the University of Wales.

Prof. Ian Linden‘s input and the responses raised questions and points for discussion:

  • How can we encourage the victims to speak out about their experiences?
  • What are the recommendations for prevention work with women against trafficking?
  • The victims do not often consider themselves as victims but as the guilty ones. What strategies can deal with this?
  • How do we get men religious to work with this problem?
  • Are we at the cutting edge or are we just clearing up the mess left by the traffickers?
  • We are a small Church in a big world. We used to be a big Church in a small world. Has the Church still got a prophetic voice in this field of work? If so, where is it heard?
  • The driving engine is the demand. How do we conscientise both men and women to work against it?

Professor Mary Grey‘s input entitled Created for Dignity and Well-being dwelt on the theology and spirituality of response to the issues around trafficking of women. Her key concept introduced the group to the spirituality of sumud – an Arabic word meaning steadfastness and perseverance – developed in Palestine among Arab Christians.

In discussion, issues arose relating to some further questions:

  • How do we discover/share the greater wisdom amongst us when we work together?
  • How do we listen to alternative points of view/ different theologies; different languages; different cultures, when we know the most important thing in our ministry is to show women their dignity?

There were two presentations of a ‘hands-on‘ experience of running shelters for victims of human trafficking, the first located in Poland and the second in Albania.

Seven topics for the workshops included:

  1. Law and Trafficking
  2. Women‘s Rights for Freedom
  3. Justice and Speak their Truth
  4. Legalising Prostitution Means Legalising Violence Against Women
  5. Lobbying
  6. The Demand
  7. The Prophetic Role of Women Religious in Counter Trafficking and Catholic Social Teaching. This stimulated the participants to look at how their work can be developed after the conference and also together as a network
  8. The insidious work of human traffickers is on the increase as they make greater use of the internet to attract and recruit victims

Day field trips, offered half way through proceedings, enabled the participants to touch grass root realities in choosing to visit either a shelter for trafficked victims and boarding school for girls at risk, or Auschwitz.

Consequent to all of this listening, discussion, and reflection, the following proposals for RENATE surfaced:
The conference is recognised as providing a resource for the sharing of materials, information and training.

  • The steering group is to include equal numbers of members from Eastern and Western Europe
  • Links with UCESM (European Religious Conference)to be made
  • The website is to be translated into more languages
  • RENATE to lead the global Olympic campaign(2012) for UISG (Union of Major Religious Superiors)
  • Training on social communication for the members to be introduced
  • Training on fund-raising for members to be introduced
  • Ongoing commitment of all to the annual Joint campaign for European Day against Trafficking, October 18th, 2012
  • A commitment has been made to work together into the future

Being of one voice, one heart and one passion enables the group to work not only in solidarity but also to think together strategically. This is the way that the Mission of RENATE is evolving. It has made a commitment to work not only with the victims but to study the roots of the problem and to forward the mission of RENATE in the light of these insights.

Keynote address by Professor Ian Linden

Professor Ian Linden, currently Director of Policy of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, came to share his life-long experience of working to enable poor communities to solve their own problems, with support from skilled workers. Working as Director of The Catholic Institute for International Relations for many years, was an invaluable experience in influencing decision-makers, secular and religious alike, to support liberation movements and to guard against human rights abuses.

He described human trafficking as a hugely profitable criminal activity for organised crime but, in addition, the risks are less than in the drugs trade. There is less focused international attention. Special state prevention organisations are small or insignificant. “A stash of cocaine is incontestable evidence of guilt. A terrified and intimidated woman without documents, unwilling to testify in court, is not”. An analysis was given of the shocking increase in numbers of people being trafficked – in 2010, in the Greater London alone, there was an increase of 250% and annually Human Trafficking yields up to $32 billion in profits. It comes a strong second in the ranking of global criminal enterprise after the drugs trade and third if the illegal arms trade is included. Prof. Linden explained that this hugely profitable criminal activity expands as the drugs trade merges into that of the trafficking of human persons.

Prof. Linden pointed out that one of the most striking features of the Catholic community is that it is a global Church responding to globalisation. The networks of international Religious Orders and Societies have allowed a rapid and unprecedented compassionate response to what amounts to a new form of slavery. Prof. Linden said that Women Religious are the leaders and on the front-line, not only in pastoral care and education but also in advocacy of those in trouble. He added that many states are signatories to the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking and to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. But the actual response to victims of trafficking from state law enforcement varies enormously according to the resources allocated. He also commented on the fact that it is only women religious who take action in relation to human trafficking. “It is lamentable that in 2003 when the International Conference of Superiors General in Rome was asked to take up this issue, only the women religious took action. To date, sisters have experienced great difficulty in getting priests and brothers to join their national networks - as if the problem of human trafficking were a women‘s issue”.

Linden referred to trafficking as the dark side of globalisation and described the European Union as a “proud expression of the post-war quest for justice and peace”. He went on to describe its origins as being “strongly influenced by the lay Catholicism”. He said that Europe has “fallen far short of its ideals, much proclaimed, of being a Europe of values and a Europe of Human Rights”. His keynote speech not only highlighted the failure of European governments but also the failure of European societies. “European societies have been prone to fear of minorities, xenophobia, and the valueless and fickle celebration of wealth and celebrity coupled with voting behaviour that has encouraged growing gaps between rich and poor”.   He asked how is has happened that Europe - despite the vision of its founding fathers - could have come to experience a new form of slavery? The cold war divided Europe, he said, and it split the church as much as it split the political reality. He identified what he calls economism - a state of mind in which economics is the dominant criterion for judging everything. Individualism is associated with a second great theme, choice. Choice carries over to sexual choice – men can choose whatever form they want to choose.

Governments wishing to redistribute wealth have to do so by stealth or they are punished at the polls. “The Church has often been a prophetic voice in this respect. The gender gap has not been closed and the exploitation of women continues”. He added that, it would be hard to argue that in the persistence of its patriarchal culture, the Church is today as much part of the problem as of the solution.

Reflecting on the mission of the Church in the globalised era, Prof. Linden underlined the importance of strategic thinking in working against Human Trafficking. He sees the linkages provided by networks within and between Religious Orders and other organisations such as CARITAS, as one of the great strengths of the global Church. To extend these links to the full, it would be helpful to create a secure directory with a full range of organisations, country by country, working to combat human trafficking, secular, religious and ecumenical, on a secure website. He suggested the feasibility of getting deacons (UK church) involved in the work and raised the issue of translation of materials into different languages serving ethnic minority groups. Other issues that needed addressing were how to get women victims to testify, and the criminalisation of the men creating the demand. The challenges facing today’s women should also involve women of all faiths including Muslim, Jewish and Hindu: “They would surely understand. It is one of the challenges we must face today”.

Responses to Prof Linden’s address

  1. Sister Adina Balan focused on the legal tools in the work against human trafficking. Following the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP, USA), Sr. Adina said about 12.3 million adults and children were trafficked in 2009, at a rate of 1.8 people per 1,000 worldwide. Unlike sex trafficking, labour trafficking crimes are often committed by persons perceived as respected members of society or accomplished business leaders, who are less likely to be investigated than unsavoury characters involved in organized crime or those who live unlawfully off the proceeds of the commercial sex trade. Sr. Adina raised the issue of economic reality of human trafficking driven by profits. If nobody paid for sex, sex trafficking would not exist. If nobody paid for goods produced with any amount of slavery, forced labour in manufacturing would be a thing of the past. Increasingly, anti-trafficking actors are looking to combat modern slavery from the demand side rather than focusing on arrests and prosecutions (the supply side) alone.
  2. Sr. Dagmar Plum (Germany) shared her experience of work in a Detention Centre where she regularly meets the victims of trafficking in women, who would never speak with a man about their exposure to violence. “For the church these women are a side show”, she said. “They do not regard it as one of their key tasks to help these women. There are even said to be bishops, who would prefer religious sisters to stay away from this kind of work”. She gave a historical reminder of how orthodox thinking in Roman times with its hierarchical approach was carried over into the church. ‘There was no place for women in such structures. Even worse, women who appeared in public were regarded as debauched. Principally women were regarded as more animalistic than men and less reasonable. Men did not see the problem as being based in their own incapacity of keeping their own drives under control, but deflected it onto the woman, by declaring them as instinct-driven creatures. The men of the church decided that women were not to be accorded public appearances. Their sin was greater than the men‘s. Women were to be treated like children and slaves, because they were of lesser value and without male supervision could contribute nothing requiring brain power. Therefore they had to stay at home, looking after the family; they were out of sight and easy to keep under control.

Keynote Address by Professor Mary Grey

Mary Grey – Professor of Theology at the University of Wales - was next to address the Conference. Mary has had a special interest in the lives of women and, together with her husband, Dr. Nicholas Grey, founded a charity called Wells for India, which brought water and dignity to the poorest people of Rajasthan. Prof. Grey joined the RENATE Conference to share her findings of research focused primarily on Feminist Liberation Theology and Spiritualities and the relationship between Social Justice and Theology. She presented her paper entitled: Created for Dignity and Wellbeing – a Theology and Spirituality responding to the Trafficking of Women.

The British feminist theologian called for a return of the prophetic dimension of the Church. Seeking to develop a theology and spirituality that responds to the issue of human trafficking, she regretted that it is “largely assumed in the rich countries of the world that Liberation Theology has had its day, but as all Liberation Theologies tell us, the poor are even poorer and the rich care even less”. Nowhere do all factors come together more clearly than in the trafficking of women and young children. “Here above all, the gravity of the situation calls for the return of prophecy. For speaking out, for naming the issue for what it is – a great evil, and for effective action”.

She raised the following issues:

  • How can the Church refuse to recover a prophetic theology, and not content itself with turning a blind eye at worst, or vague criticisms, at best- that in any case never reach the perpetrators?
  • What would be the dimensions of this prophetic theology? In answer to that she led the attention to a new focus for theology.
  • A spirituality against the violence of trafficking is a spirituality “for life”, which envisions transformed, healing relations between women, men and children by telling the truth about the way we are called to relate in mutuality and justice. We need to put our energies into change and transformation.

Prof. Grey said that Liberation Theology and Spirituality teach us that people need to be empowered to move from being victims to agents of their own freedom. She made an appeal saying that “the trafficking of women and children needs to be named by the prophetic Church as sin. Even if this will always be a sensitive area, there needs to be openings for the evil of this issue to be made clear at all appropriate pastoral levels. People need to hear Human Trafficking named and preached against. Part of the scandal of sexual abuse of priests against children was silence and deception as to what was actually going on. The Church must be seen to be facing the truth about the violence in women’s lives, the hypocrisy and failure to act by turning a blind eye to what men are doing to women, and the climate of fear in which trafficked women are often forced to live”. She noted that this conference was being held near the city of Krakow “birthplace of the former Pope, John Paul II. It was he who wrote the document, Mulieris Dignitatem, and he called for this dignity to be restored throughout the world as a matter of justice”.

She re-iterated this point by adding that “our task is to keep querying the subordinate position of women both in Church and society, seeing this linked with false theories of gender and sexuality. Re-education in terms of men and women as equal partners in relationships of justice and mutuality is urgent. Linked with this is the need to examine what models of power are operating in Church, society and in our relationships. Subversive memory recovers voices that restore dignity and agency to women in cultures that continue to undervalue them”.

Responses to Prof. Mary Grey

Sister Maura O’Donoghue made four points drawn on her own personal experience and showed the potential impact on taking up Prof Grey’s challenge.

  1. Over the years she found that trafficking was a worldwide problem, and that women and children, including young men and boys, are not sold just for cheap labour or servicing the sex industry, but also for their organs. She said that 10% of all kidney transplants in the world come from trafficked persons and so few of her medical colleagues would be aware of this fact.
  2. In the second point Sr. Maura drew attention to the compassionate listening that is the bridge enabling the victims to become agents of their future. She recalled the experience of the testimony given by five trafficked people in front of the UN in Geneva. Sadly the delegates of the member nations showed much greater concern in praising their own national governments for the legislation they were bringing in, than to the horrific realities described by those giving their personal testimony.
  3. She discussed the attitude of the Church that is generally reactive and defensive rather than prophetic. She shared the chinks of light from her own experience when invited by one Irish bishop to address his clergy on the topic; she was given a very encouraging reception. “We know of priests in other countries who are blazing a trail in this field. We need to continue to inform and encourage them. As they take up the issue of trafficking, they are helped to re-examine their own attitude of the tradition that men are superior to women. As we all know our Church has a long way to go on this topic”, she said.
  4. The last point concerned the aspect of a prophetic theology that has to be a relational theology. “Justice has to be at the heart of this theology, just as mysticism has to be its handmaid. Mary has clearly told us that prayer will help us focus, will help us overcome fear. We shall be praying together to bring about a society that relates in mutuality and justice. Our prayer will give us energy to bringing about the transformation that is required. Only a mystical theology will sustain us and give us steadfastness and perseverance” – she concluded.

Theological opposition of Father Józef Tarnówka

Father Józef Tarnówka appreciated the abundance of thoughts presented by Professor Grey and decided to focus on two issues. He agreed that Church does not undertake enough actions regarding the problem of trafficking of women. At the same time he questioned the perception of the Church by Prof. Grey. A call for return of the prophetic dimension of church was found to be worth stressing. He linked that with the subversive reading of scriptures that Prof. Grey proposed, e.g. refusing to see Eve as responsible for sin in the world, and consequently all women as temptresses and bearers of sin.

While praising Mary Grey for her “brilliant speech”, he took issue with her on the suggestion that we need to read scripture subversively. Dr. Grey spoke of reading scripture against the grain of the text i.e. reflecting on scripture to discover what we have not yet learned, challenging ourselves to grasp what is healing and redemptive in the text. Fr. Tarnówka proposed a contrary thesis - that Christianity is a religion of redemptive powerlessness revealed in the Cross of Christ. This provoked much discussion among participants. Many of those who had known life under Marxist communism were inclined to be highly suspicious of the terms feminist and liberation theology. Many others commented with enthusiasm on the renewed call for a theology and spirituality that encourages a pastoral approach which seeks to restore dignity to the oppressed victims of trafficking and help them to regain control over their lives.

Father Tarnówka recalled the assumption that the biblical text is inspired and it comes from God who has chosen to reveal Himself to the human person. He asked, “Do we have the right to change the text when it does not fit our theology or our way of understanding God and the world? To change Revelation means to change God's way of looking at the world and at human history. It means to perceive the Incarnated Word, Jesus Christ, as somebody changing his concept of salvation of the human person”.

He said that in the combat against human trafficking, the Church – also as an institution – is not an opponent but an ally. Quoting a chapter of Gaudium et Spes - he showed the Church‘s awareness and its consciousness, both as an institution and as God´s people, and its desire to make conscious to all people of good will, the scale of the threat to the person if the commandment to love is not taken seriously. He explained that the Divine factor in the Church - as an institution and as a community of faith - exists alongside the human factor. This makes such realities as sin and holiness, or the lack of understanding and God's wisdom, exist so close to each other, that in our thinking we translate individual acts and the attitudes of people in the Church as an act of the institution as a whole, making it responsible for immoralities and mistakes. He concluded: “What remains is hope that God in his kindness will grant us, his Church, the ability to proclaim more prophetically and to act more effectively, and that this will bring his Kingdom closer to all people.”

Sister Ann Teresa Herritty’s response

The last response to Professor Mary Grey's address was made by Sr. Ann Teresa Herrity who met Mary Grey – as part of the Vision group, while working with women in street-based prostitution. Sister Ann said that “while encouraging us in this work, Mary Grey also constantly challenged us to do more than simply deal with the symptoms. We listened to her and, as a result, we began to study the roots of prostitution and to see what was going on globally. This led to an awareness of sex-trafficking”

Sr. Ann Teresa welcomed Prof. Grey‘s challenge to return to the prophetic dimension of the Church. Sr. Ann Teresa believes that as religious “we are called to be on the margins of society and to work with the poorest of the poor” and said that we all see trafficked people in this category. If we are faithful to live this prophetic dimension it will ultimately impact on the Church as an institution. She welcomed the Liberation Theology which for her is an essential aspect of the prophetic dimension of the Church.

Prof. Mary Grey's speech and three responses raised questions and statements from the audience, as follows:

  • We had a chance to listen to different opinions. What kind of wisdom is there among us when we are together?
  • We need to listen to the different points of view with patience, and not necessarily adopt them.
  • Listening to the presentations and discussions in a foreign language does not allow us to follow all the detail. But we all came in the Name of God and we all find our own clarity. God inspires all of us.
  • Difference of thinking depends on whether you come from the East/West – that influences the way of our ministry. The most important thing in our ministry is to show the women their dignity, to commit ourselves together with others, men and women. We cannot do the work on our own.
  • I find myself very inspired by Mary Grey – enthusiasm by what she was saying, passion and conviction. I particularly like the sumud.
  • What happens to us when we have these experiences? We need to move on to the further work of practice. Deep respect, ability to accept differences in opinion, to ask the life experiences of the other.


There were several sessions for discussion groups and questions, usually closing each major address or presentation. Participants in smaller teams could share their impressions, opinions, ideas and introduce them to others at the plenary.

The most important points raised during these sessions were:

  • Build co-operative network among congregations.
  • Realise the importance of collaboration between congregations.
  • Realise the importance of inter faith collaborative efforts
  • The Church needs to connect with all agencies involved in eradicating trafficking.
  • Acquire co-operation from male congregations.
  • Need for dialogue between female/male religious.
  • Emphasise work of re-integration between the countries of origin, destination and transit - especially between Eastern and Western Europe.
  • Emphasise importance of prevention work.
  • Work to promote human dignity in schools, families, and employment etc. - no action is too small - no action will be wasted.
  • Sensitize society regarding the problem of human trafficking.
  • Raise awareness about human rights and the rights of the victims of trafficking.
  • Increased action for justice and punishment of traffickers.
  • Combat trends in fashion that are sexually provocative – even for children.


Conference programme offered five topics to consider during issue groups session. These were:

  • Reintegration of Victims
  • Website Technology
  • Preventive Work with Girls
  • Global Olympic Campaign 2012
  • European Day against Trafficking – 18th October

Participants could learn about each subject and discuss it within the group. They collected their ideas and indicated solutions that were presented to the plenary on the posters. Listed areas of exploration brought thoughts that will help in the future work of RENATE.

The participants of RENATE conference in Trzebinia were asked to declare their willingness to commit themselves to the future of RENATE. Their engagement was split according to the five issues discussed earlier (reintegration of victims, website technology, and preventive work with girls, global Olympic campaign 2012, and European day against trafficking - 18th October). They could put their names on the lists verifying their responsibility between co-coordinator and communicator. A good number of sisters declared they were willing to cooperate in the developing work of the network. This has been noted along with some names who have volunteered to join the new steering group of RENATE into the future.

The following proposals for RENATE were formulated:

  • Steering group made of equal members from Eastern and Western Europe.
  • Conference should be seen as a resource group for personnel, training and information.
  • Links with UCESM (Union of the European Conference of Major Superiors).
  • Website to be translated into more languages.
  • Common social campaign for Euro 2012
  • Training on social communication for the members.
  • Training on fund-raising.
  • Meetings to exchange information.
  • Joint campaign for October 18th.

The conference of RENATE has been a rich gathering which has affirmed us in our call to work together against this crime of modern day slavery. Being of one voice, one heart and one passion enables the group to work not only in solidarity but also to think together strategically. This is the way that the Mission of RENATE is evolving. It has made a commitment to work not only with the victims but to study the roots of the problem and to forward the mission of RENATE in the light of these insights. The work will continue and the steering group will ensure that the new mandate will be realised involving others in all future actions whether it be in preventive work, lobbying and campaigning or in direct action. Yes, we can – is the motto, Yes we can live in a world where we can work persistently in the cause of human rights and dignity for all.

Renate Report can be downloaded here.

Full transcript of keynote addresses and responses from audience are available in Appendix VI:

Professor Ian Linden (p28)
Sr. Adina Balan (p36)
Sr. Dagmar Plum (p40)
Professor Mary Grey (p44)
Sr.Maura O’Donoghue (p52)
Fr. Josef Tarnowka (p54)
Sr. Ann Teresa Herritty (p56).

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