LEICESTER, United Kingdom – For this year’s Day for Life, the Catholic Church in England and Wales is raising awareness about human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

The Day for Life – this year marked June 17 – is dedicated to “raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.”

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales brought attention to the words of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exortation Gaudete et Exsultate:

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” (Gaudete et Exsultate 101)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the president of the bishops’ conference, has been a leading advocate of anti-trafficking efforts. He was the driving force behind the Santa Marta Group, a global alliance of international police chiefs, bishops and religious communities working to better coordinate their efforts to help the victims of modern slavery.

It is named for the Vatican guesthouse which serves as the papal residence, and Francis hosted the first meeting of the association, giving it his support and blessing.

Closer to home, Nichols helped establish London’s Caritas Bakhita House in June 2015, to offer care for women victims of human trafficking.

Named for St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave that became a religious sister, the home offers support, legal and financial assistance, and help finding work and a place to live for women escaping from traffickers.

“Given the trauma suffered as a result of human trafficking, the process of rehabilitation and recovery takes time, trust and patience,” said Karen Anstiss, the Service Manager at the facility.

“When a person suffers abuse, threats, coercion, abduction, exploitation, forced prostitution/ labor and other abusive practices similar to slavery, the scars run deep, particularly if this is experienced over months or years,” she told Crux.

Ahead of the Day for Life, Anstiss spoke to Crux via email about the work of Caritas Bakhita House and the role the Church has to play in the fight against the plague of modern slavery.

Crux: Can you give me a bit of the history of the Caritas Bakhita House?

Anstiss: In response to Pope Francis’s call to the Catholic Church to provide support and a safe place for victims of human trafficking and to advocate on their behalf, Caritas Westminster, under the auspices of Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, set up Caritas Bakhita House in June 2015, to care for women victims. This was part of the Catholic Church’s global response to human trafficking.

Caritas Bakhita House – with a manager, support team and volunteers – provides women escaping human trafficking with safety and support to enable them to begin a process of recovery. It offers women a range of services including emergency support, legal and financial assistance, mentoring, help with accessing accommodation and work.

Guests benefit from the values, principles and action of Caritas Bakhita House: compassionate love, respect, hospitality, friendship, solidarity and a spirituality of inclusion, based on Jesus’ promise in John 10:10, “that all may have life and have it to the full.”

What needs to be done to help trafficking victims, both to escape their slavery, and to care for them afterwards?

Given the trauma suffered as a result of human trafficking, the process of rehabilitation and recovery takes time, trust and patience. When a person suffers abuse, threats, coercion, abduction, exploitation, forced prostitution/ labor and other abusive practices similar to slavery, the scars run deep, particularly if this is experienced over months or years.

A safe, secure environment with compassionate care and understanding is paramount for recovery of ‘normal’ life. It is therefore important that each person is given individual care according to her particular circumstance. No one trafficked person has an identical story with another, even if there are similar patterns, journeys or circumstances of abuse.

Caritas Bakhita House provides 24-hour pastoral and spiritual care; a support worker; access to healthcare and counselling services; in-house clinical psychologist; free legal assistance and advice; asylum-seeker application; skills development; educational and employment opportunities including lessons in English language, arts, crafts. Above all, it provides a secure place where trusted friendships can be established without judgement.

Guests are given additional assistance to enable them to ‘move on’ from the safety of the house and are facilitated in becoming independent while being able to call on the advice and support of mentors as they move towards full independence.

The Diocese of Westminster had led efforts to improve collaboration between the police and those who work with trafficking victims. Why is this important, and what more can be done?

Working with the police is critical to ending what Pope Francis calls the “shameful scourge of human trafficking.” Police have an essential, clear role in tackling “this crime against humanity” particularly those trained and assigned to the work.

Moreover, police are likely to be the first to be involved in the rescue of victims.

There is always more that can be done to improve relationships. People skills are essential for building trust with victims. It is imperative for victims to be treated with respect. Police need to demonstrate patience, adopt a victim-centered approach and work at a pace acceptable to the victim.

Touching on this, Pope Francis has also supported these efforts, endorsing the Santa Marta Group. How important are the Church and other religious groups in fighting trafficking, both at the “larger” level — such as the Vatican — down to the parish or religious community?

The initiative of Pope Francis, establishing the ‘Santa Marta Group’ demonstrates his commitment to anti-trafficking. His public witness encourages laity, clergy and religious in the Catholic Church to continue their resolve to end human trafficking.

The importance of this work is part of the mission of Jesus, in ‘setting the captives free’ restoring ‘life in all its fullness’ proclaiming the ‘good news’ to those whose dignity and human rights are violated.

It adheres to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, particularly the life and dignity of the human person, solidarity, working for the common good. The Catholic Church recognizes the inherent God-given dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all human persons as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world and members believe they play a vital role through prayer and action to realize this goal.

Religious are well aware that disregard and contempt for human dignity and rights result in abusive practices. Their vision of a peaceful and just world to give every human person that God-given dignity propels them in their mission and ministry to rid the world of the abuse of human trafficking.

How is this Day for Life helping bring awareness to the trafficking problem?

Globally-recognized days that highlight the crime of human trafficking, such as ‘Day for Life’ or Saint Bakhita day are important markers in bringing public attention to this crime. Mobilizing public opinion and action in combatting human trafficking goes towards putting a stop to it. Unless it ends, it is crucial to keep it in the public arena until it becomes a totally unacceptable practice.

The Catholic Church is in a unique position as a universal body, touching all corners of the world, even the remotest parts. Therefore, designating a ‘Day for Life endorsed by Pope Francis, for prayer, education-awareness and action throughout the universal Church has a powerful impact and force in mobilizing parishes, communities and individuals to put an end to human trafficking.