Community can help prevent trafficking, speaker says

Several participants took notes during Nace-DeGonda’s presentation on human trafficking Oct. 11 at St. Peter the Apostle Church. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Human trafficking happens when people’s vulnerabilities are exploited, but the good news is, the community can help reduce those vulnerabilities, said Amy Nace-DeGonda, a local expert on trafficking who spoke at St. Peter the Apostle Church Oct. 11.

“Unfortunately, human trafficking can be hard to identify,” she said. “We can’t always easily identify it; there’s not one red flag to look for.”

Nace-DeGonda leads the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative, Catholic Charities of Louisville’s program to combat human trafficking. Her presentation was one of four organized by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Family and Life Ministries in observance of October’s Respect Life Month.

During her presentation, she explained there are two types of human trafficking: sex and labor. For a case to be deemed human trafficking, Nace-DeGonda said there has to be proof of force, fraud or coercion. Usually, it’s a combination of the three.

“We’ve served over 500 people (who survived trafficking) and very often (the trafficker) is someone they know,” she said.

The Bakhita Empowerment Initiative offers resources for survivors as well as prevention education for youth around Kentucky. And it’s the only agency in the commonwealth providing both services, noted Nace-DeGonda.

“Prevention is so important so that we don’t have to put on the bandaids later,” Nace-DeGonda said. “And we have to address the systems that are creating the vulnerabilities” that allow trafficking to occur in the first place.

That’s where the community can help, she said.

“We need to increase protective factors for our communities,” she said. “Maybe then the traffickers won’t need to traffic anymore.”

These “protective factors” that can help reduce trafficking include access to things like stable housing, social services and support systems.

“If you don’t have housing stability, how can you have stability anywhere else in your life?” Nace-DeGonda posited. 

Amy Nace-DeGonda, the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative’s program director, spoke about human trafficking Oct. 11 as part of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Family and Life Ministries Respect Life Month series. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Take, for example, runaway teenagers, she said. They usually don’t have apartments or jobs to go to, so they may engage in “survival sex” to meet their housing and other needs. 

Or a mother, unable to pay her rent, may be propositioned by her landlord who wants a night with her 16-year-old daughter.

“It’s not black and white like we’d like it to be; it’s not choosing between a good option and a bad option,” Nace-DeGonda said. “Usually it’s choosing between two bad options. If the mom says no, she can’t pay rent and has nowhere to live with her children. If she says yes, her rent is covered for a month and she and her children have a place to live” but at the cost of trafficking her daughter.

Nace-DeGonda noted that the topic of human trafficking seems to gain popularity when large events, such as the Kentucky Derby, happen. She said studies don’t show that trafficking increases around large events. While the extra attention isn’t bad, it’s usually aimed in the wrong direction.

Instead of looking for “a white van creeping slowly through the neighborhood,” consider the undocumented workers in Kentucky’s fields and restaurants.

“Every one of us can probably stand up and say, ‘I’m not engaged or complicit in sex trafficking,’ ” she said. “But everyone in this room, including me, contributes to labor trafficking.”

The reality of it makes people squeamish, she said. And although the Backita initiative doesn’t train the community to spot human trafficking, there are ways for community members to assist people being trafficked and those at risk. 

“Being intentional” and participating in the community can help combat human trafficking, she said. Some ways to do that are:

  • Making connections with the youth in your church or neighborhood.
  • Offering support for basic needs, such as clothing, housing, transportation and childcare.
  • Organizing social activities that promote fellowship and community.

When those who are vulnerable have people around them checking in, making a connection and lending a hand, “that increases their protective factors.” Other Respect Life Month events included a panel that discussed foster and adoptive care; a presentation on end-of-life and elder care; and a discussion on racism through the lens of “Open Wide Our Hearts,” a pastoral letter against racism.

Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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