Fifteen years ago, LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) Region 6 hosted a panel focused on working to eliminate human trafficking. Following that meeting, five Sisters from the four congregations in the Toledo-Tiffin area expressed the desire to join the effort and thus began S.T.O.P. (Stop Trafficking of Persons).
For me, that desire came from a deeply felt need to pay forward many graces received during years of healing. I was active in S.T.O.P. for six years as we educated ourselves and took on the mission of educating students, teachers, parents, pastoral care ministers, and others in our area while collaborating with Dr. Celia Williamson from the University of Toledo and LCHTC (Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition). But direct service to victims consistently beckoned me.
I began to volunteer at a local organization that provided shelter and services to victims. Becoming a member of the staff, I facilitated support groups and engaged Sisters in holding coffee houses for the women. One evening, three of us from my own support group hosted a coffee house. In the course of conversation, one of the women figured out that we were religious Sisters. She wanted to know how we knew one another. When we shared our connection in our own healing, she said, “I always thought God had favorites and blessed some people and not others. But now I know that I am no different from you.” I still get goosebumps when I recall her words.
Gradually, one member of the staff, herself a human trafficking survivor, and I connected. Her dream was to minister to adult women survivors, who, like herself, fell through the cracks and turned to self-prostitution for survival. She taught me that a child who is consistently sold to others, often within a family, has no other definition of self. She asked my help in making her dream a reality. With God’s grace, we began Rahab’s Heart in 2011.
As Rahab, known as a prostitute in the first book of Joshua, gave safe haven to the Israelites, we give safe haven to the women we encounter through street outreach, offering weekly dinners, Bible study, bi-annual retreats, and connection with outside services. Building relationship and sitting at table with them is our first goal. If they ask for more, we guide and support them. But regardless of their choices, we never abandon them. My hope is that every victim finds safe haven and never feels abandoned.
Across the globe there are some 40 million victims forced into the sex and/or labor trade. While most are women and girls, victims also include men, boys, and members of the LGBT community. The Pandemic, unemployment, homelessness, climate change, and the migration and inhumane conditions of refugees make so many more vulnerable.
Do you feel a deep desire to pay forward the graces you’ve received? Do you have a passion to help end the trafficking of persons? You can become involved in small or large ways! Explore websites such as uscsaht.org, polarisproject.org, ecpat.org. Educate yourself on how to spot possible victims, especially those who are hidden in plain sight—a classmate, neighbor, or anyone who becomes withdrawn and/or seems controlled by another. Do your own research and discover groups in your area. Choose to get involved by offering your heart, hands, and voice.
About our guest blogger: Sister Sandy Sherman, OSU, is a vowed member of the Ursuline Sisters of Toledo. Over the past 45 years of her religious life, she has been involved in education, social justice and has served in leadership roles of various organizations. Sister Sandy was elected President of the Ursuline Sisters of Toledo in 2014 and is currently serving a second term. She is also co-founder of Rahab’s Heart which is now in collaboration with the Daughter Project.