To curb trafficking, get educated, coalition says

During Derby week of 2019, nearly 60 people, including Catholic school students and women religious, joined in an annual prayer vigil for victims of human trafficking at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville. The vigil, organized by the PATH Coalition, was held virtually last year and won’t take place this year because of COVID-19. (Record Photo By Ruby Thomas)

Human trafficking garners a lot of attention around major sporting events — such as this weekend’s 147th running of the Kentucky Derby — because this form of modern-day slavery tends to spike when people gather in large numbers for entertainment.

But those working to end trafficking urge the public to become better educated about the issue in all its facets, year-round.

“Human trafficking is so much broader than sex trafficking,” said Dr. Theresa Hayden, board president of the Louisville-based PATH Coalition of Kentucky. “Human trafficking is labor and sex. It’s not just about prostitution or the adult entertainment world.”

The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, estimates there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.

  • 81% are in forced labor.
  • 25% are children.
  • 75% are women and girls.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline — 888-373-7888 — receives multiple reports of trafficking in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., each year, according to the PATH Coalition.

Trafficking is ultimately about supply and demand: “Who is out there laboring through exploitation to bring us all those things to make life more convenient?” said Hayden, who holds a doctoral degree in social work and is a professor emeritus in the criminal justice department of the University of Louisville.

We might not realize it, she said, but some everyday things are connected to labor trafficking. For instance, components used to make cell phones are sometimes mined by enslaved people.

Highlighting another example that hits close to Catholic parish life, she said some people are exploited in fish processing facilities that provide the main course for Lenten fish fries.

“It’s a good time to think critically about, ‘Where did that fish supply come from?’ ” said Hayden, who is no stranger to Catholic life. She earned an undergraduate degree from Brescia College (now university) in Owensboro, Ky., and a master’s in religious education from Fordham University.

For Catholics, she said, trafficking is a “justice human rights issue and that’s why Pope Francis has made it a priority and pushed for people to become knowledgeable.”

In his message marking the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking Feb. 8, the Holy Father called for an “economy of care,” one that puts people first.

He envisioned a “courageous economy” that has “the courage to combine legitimate profit with the promotion of employment and decent working conditions,” Catholic News Service reported.

The PATH Coalition, which stands for People Against Trafficking Humans, is ready to help educate the public about these issues by offering educational programs to parishes, schools and organizations.

The coalition is rooted in the work of three congregations of women religious — the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said Hayden. The sisters began by holding prayer vigils during Derby week to highlight human trafficking in 2013. The coalition’s board continues to include representatives of those congregations.

For those interested in beginning their education today, Hayden recommends taking a simple survey at to find out “how many slaves serve me a day.” (Parents should do this survey first before deciding if it’s appropriate for their older children.)

“Students are amazed that they have 38, 50, 70 slaves a day making our life convenient,” Hayden said. “It’s a magical eye-opener that tells you how many things I have in my life that makes life convenient.”

She also acknowledged that solutions to stop depending upon exploitive practices aren’t always easy to come by. But they begin with education and taking personal, manageable steps.

“My work and everything I do depends on cell phones and technology,” she said, noting that some components are mined with slave labor. “As of today, I’ve done nothing about it. It’s out of my control.”

“Collectively, how do we go forward?” she asked.

“I realize I can decide what kind of eggs I can buy at the store. Do I buy farm fresh or the ones that come from a large factory that is probably exploiting immigrants? That’s how I deal with it,” Hayden said as an example.

“I tell my students, back in the 1800s, people in the north and other areas had no idea what was going on on plantations. They would purchase their cotton products and had no idea what was going on. That’s what’s going on with slavery. But once you know, that’s when change takes place.”

To contact the coalition about educational programming, send an email to For more information about the coalition, visit

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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