January 8, 2014 On December 12, 2013, Pope Francis called for action against the scourge of human trafficking. He stated, "Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, international security and laws, the economy, families and communities.” Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, in which a person through force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration has designated February 8 as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking. February 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once Josephine was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering. Click here for prayer resources. Human Trafficking in California Human trafficking isn’t just a problem in foreign lands. Some might be surprised at how prevalent it is here in California. According to a recent study, California is a top destination for human traffickers.The state’s extensive international border, its major harbors and airports, its powerful economy and accelerating population, its large immigrant population and its industries make it a prime target for traffickers. Apart from the harm that this crime causes its victims, secondary consequences of human trafficking can severely affect California communities. The link between human trafficking and other criminal activities such as human smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime, increases the potential for other violent crimes. The U.S. Department of State reports that the impact of human trafficking on surrounding communities includes increased crime and gang activity, child exploitation, public health problems and depressed wages. Taking Action The US Bishops’ Anti-Trafficking program is encouraging Catholics to utilize the Become a SHEPHERD toolkit and other USCCB resources to host prayer services and information sessions to reflect on the experiences of those who have suffered through human trafficking and exploitation. Catholics are invited to pray for the emotional, physical, and spiritual healing of those that have been trafficked, and make a personal commitment to work against human trafficking. To download the resources please visit: http://www.usccb.org/about/anti-trafficking-program/become-a-shepherd-tool-kit.cfm. USCCB’s Anti-Trafficking Program advocates for better protection for victims of human trafficking, provides training and technical assistance to service providers, and educates the public on the prevalence of human trafficking. In 2013, USCCB launched the Amistad Movement to empower immigrants and local leaders to prevent human trafficking in their communities. USCCB is a founding member of the Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking, whose main goals are to educate Catholics about human trafficking, to promote responsible consumer practices, and to support national legislation that combats human trafficking. More information on the work of USCCB’s Anti-Trafficking Program is available at: www.usccb.org/about/anti-trafficking-program/.