Social action institute addresses human trafficking

Record Staff Writer

Marissa Castellanos, program manager for Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking, part of Catholic Charities Louisville, presented a talk titled “Human Trafficking — A Call to Action” July 30 at Bellarmine University. The presentation was part of the Social Action Summer Institute, a four-day event that focused on Catholic social teaching and poverty. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Those attending the Social Action Summer Institute (SASI) Monday evening at Bellarmine University heard the grim statistics of human trafficking and were told ways to aid victims of the crime.

Marissa Castellanos, program manager for Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking — part of Catholic Charities of Louisville — presented the program during the national institute held
at Bellarmine July 29 to Aug. 1.

The four-day event, which drew nearly 250 people from around the nation, featured workshops and presentations on Catholic social teaching and poverty. Catholic Charities of Louisville and JustFaith Ministries hosted the gathering.

During her address, Castellanos likened human trafficking to modern-day slavery.

“The idea is that individuals who are being trafficked are not free to leave the situation that they are in. They are being exploited and controlled. They are not free to choose not to participate in those activities,” she said.

Castellanos said that human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world, behind only drug trafficking.

“We are inundated with information about the problem of drugs. You hear about it all the time,” she said. “It’s shocking to me that only second to that is buying and selling of people and exploiting them for commercial sex and labor.”

Castellanos noted that the human trafficking industry worldwide is growing because the potential profit is significant.

“The CIA estimates that human trafficking is probably a $28 billion a year business,” she said. “When you traffic a drug, you can only sell that drug once. You have to replenish your supply to keep profiting. … If you have a person and you are exploiting that person for commercial sex or labor, that person
is resellable.”

Many types of victims are trafficked, Castellanos noted, but what they have in common is vulnerability. Young children and women head the numbers of those trafficked each year.

“Children are at the highest risk domestically to be trafficked,” she explained.

She also noted that up to 300,000 American children are at risk to be trafficked.

Additionally, foreign nationals, the poverty-stricken and the uneducated are also at high risk, she said, adding that boys and men also are victims of trafficking.

Castellanos presented a number of ways for participants to take action back in their own communities. She encouraged them to become educated about the issue and, in turn, educate their circle of friends.

She also suggested that programs featuring speakers knowledgeable about the issue be organized, and she urged participants to buy fair trade products.

Most importantly, Castellanos said, everyone should be “observant, responsive community members” and should reach out to people they suspect to be victims of trafficking.

The Social Action Summer Institute offered two tracks for participants. One focused on the foundations of Catholic social teaching and was geared toward those less familiar with social action. The second track focused on poverty issues and addressed action steps.

Michael Coppol, a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Church, said he chose to participate in the second track the conference offered because it “required action.”
Coppol said he attended the Social Action Summer Institute to find out “what he could do.”

“I always think of St. James when he said ‘prayer without good works is a waste of time’ or something close to that,” Coppol said. “In the three years that Christ was teaching, his ministry focused on
teaching and healing. That sounds an awful lot like health care and education to me.”

Sister of Mercy Mary Schmuck, a coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Bardstown, Ky., area and one of the coordinators of SASI, said the final number of participants for the conference was about 250. Forty-five of those were from the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“People are here from 35 states. This is the largest group in five years,” she said, adding that “Bellarmine has been a great host.”

For more information on human trafficking visit

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