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Sister of Mercy shares human trafficking research

| Friday, November 4, 2016

Angela Reed discussed her research with formerly trafficked Filipino women during her lecture, “A Conversation on Reframing Human Trafficking,” at the Hesburgh Center on Thursday afternoon. Reed — the interim coordinator at Mercy International Association and a Sister of Mercy — said the Philippines’ stance on prostitution is complicated.

“It’s illegal, but a blind eye is turned toward it,” Reed said. “It happens, in pseudonyms. People are employed as guest relations officers, or they have different names. It’s definitely an accepted reality in the Philippines.”

Furthermore, Reed said only the trafficked women ever face consequences.

“In the Philippines, my experience is the prostituted women is arrested for prostituting herself,” she said. “The customer usually remains anonymous … that’s an issue of gender discrimination.”

In recent years, Reed said she has spent significant time in the Philippines learning about human trafficking from those who have experienced it firsthand. She said the women — who, on average, had started trafficking at the age of 15 and were now part of a recovery program — were willing participants in the study.

“All of the women wanted to partake, because they wanted to make a difference,” Reed said. “It was meaningful for them, and many felt that this was transformative, because they had an opportunity to share their story.”

Reed said one of her goals in this study was to determine why certain women are more vulnerable to human trafficking.

“We can’t say it’s purely about poverty; there have to be other factors,” she said. “Why does one woman get trafficked and another doesn’t?”

Reed said the root causes of trafficking became clear during her conversations with these women.

“In my first interview, I began to see that they wanted to talk to me about their childhood and their adolescence,” she said. “It started to occur to me that this victimization and sexual exploitation is not so much a one-off event, but a series, a process of victimization.”

For this reason, Reed said preventative measures against human trafficking must focus on girls in their youth.

“I’m encouraging not only nation states, but community groups to look at these conditions,and see, can we help prevent trafficking by creating better conditions early on in life?” she said.

Part of this, Reed said, is to give women better options, so they don’t feel cornered into human trafficking.

“If women are given better opportunities, like education, proper healthcare and opportunities for work, the demand for trafficking might be there, but there will be no supply,” Reed said.

In general, Reed said countries must do a better job at protecting and helping their women in the face of human trafficking.

“We’re trying to change the narrative, to stop talking about trafficking as a random act of victimization and to talk about preventative measures,” she said. “We need to see countries and states take responsibility for their citizens.”

Reed said she sees her research on human trafficking as part of her role within the Catholic Church.

“I consider myself a reformist within the Church,” she said.“Giving voice to women’s experiences is important, and was part of the process for me of claiming my own leadership and role as a woman in the Church.”

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