By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Standing in a shop in Kolkata, India, Cindy McCain peered between the shop’s floorboards and saw dozens of eyes staring back at her. They were the eyes of about 30 or 40 girls who, McCain believes, were victims of sex trafficking.
McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, recounted this and other stories related to human trafficking to Assumption High School’s student body Sept. 16 in the school gym. She was visiting Louisville to receive the 2016 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement. The award was presented by the Muhammad Ali Center during a ceremony on Sept. 17.
Her message to the Assumption students was two-fold. She cautioned the young women to be careful, explaining that anyone can become a victim of trafficking. And she encouraged the students to learn the signs of trafficking and report suspicious behavior.
In that Kolkata shop, she said, “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know what it was.”
She returned to the United States and began to learn about the business of buying and selling people for labor and sex, she said. McCain now serves as co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking and on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.
Trafficking in humans “happens everywhere,” McCain said, noting that she once spotted a victim at an Arizona gas station. “It’s in your neighborhood. It’s in your computer (on websites where customers can find trafficking advertisements). You have seen it.”
“There are girls right here in this assembly who have been affected by human trafficking,” she said. “You can sell guns and drugs once. You can sell women over and over and over.”
According to a 2015 report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, one in three known victims of human trafficking is a child. Women and girls account for 70 percent of all trafficking victims worldwide, the report said.
McCain advised her listeners at Assumption to go out in pairs and to be wary of people they encounter on social media. She also told them that it’s OK to report something they think is suspicious and ensured them that reports can be made anonymously. Reports can be made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.
Assumption students aren’t new to the problem of human trafficking. Students traveled to Washington, D.C., last winter to learn more about the issue from the Sisters of Mercy and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The school is planning to make another trip to the capital this year. Assumption students have also spoken to elected officials about the issue and written about it in their student newspaper.
McCain encouraged the students to continue their efforts in advocacy, urging them to become humanitarians.
“I hope at some point in your life you become an activist for something and more importantly, a humanitarian,” she said. “One person can make a difference.”
The Assumption students first learned about trafficking in 2015 with the help of Catholic Charities of Louisville.
Catholic Charities offers programs for victims of human trafficking and provides education to prevent trafficking. Kentucky Rescue and Restore, a national program administered in Kentucky by Catholic Charities, aids victims and trains law enforcement and others to recognize trafficking. My Life My Choice offers a 10-week prevention workshop for girls who are at risk of trafficking.
In the past year, Catholic Charities of Louisville identified 47 cases of trafficking in Kentucky and trained more than 4,000 people to help prevent and recognize the problem.
To learn more about trafficking and its prevention, visit www.rescueandrestoreky.org.