171 – Dr. Hilary Chester and the USCCB Anti-Trafficking Program

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Dr. Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak talk to Dr. Hilary Chester about the work she is doing with the Catholic church to fight human trafficking, including long-term care and working with less visible victims like offshore fisherman.


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 171. Dr. Hilary Chester and the USCCB Anti Trafficking Program.

Production Credits: [00:00:12] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:36] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, one of the things I love about talking with you every other week is getting to meet so many wonderful advocates, and trailblazers, and folks that have so much enthusiasm for this as we do. And today we’re going to be connecting everyone else with the relationship you’ve had for a long time.

Sandie: [00:01:06] Yes, I’m really excited to welcome Dr. Hilary Chester to our show.

Dave: [00:01:11] Dr. Chester directs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Anti Trafficking Program. The ATP has several initiatives including a national education and awareness raising campaign directed to immigrant communities, a federally funded program to deliver stabilizing and sustaining services to foreign national victims of human trafficking, a federally funded project to build global awareness and the capacity to respond to victims of human trafficking and exploitation in the maritime industries, and a new program to provide specialized employment services to survivors of trafficking in the U.S. as well as the ongoing development and delivery of training curricula to national and international entities. That includes law enforcement advocacy and service providers, evaluations and quality improvement planning for service delivery and outreach programs, and of course research and advocacy. The ETP consults for the U.S. government on child trafficking cases and response to technical assistance requests.

[00:02:12] Dr. Chester has over 12 years of experience working with vulnerable migrants including unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking and refugees. Program management, social science research, and evaluation. She is a member of the global COATnet, Christians Organization Against Trafficking steering committee, and has been an invited member of the national and international working and advisory groups on human trafficking migrant children and alternatives to migrant detention. She received her doctorate in anthropology from Southern Methodist University. Dr. Chester, we’re so glad to welcome you to Ending Human Trafficking.

Hilary: [00:02:50] Thank you. I’m excited to be here. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to share what we’re doing at the Bishops conference, and to see where there may be other people that are interested in what we’re doing and cross-promoting with what Sandie’s been doing.

Sandie: [00:03:03] I loved our e-mail conversation and I actually captured the quote under your e-mail signature, “creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.” And I have a sense, Hilary, that that’s kind of a life motto for you in everything you do.

Hilary: [00:03:28] It really is, I think it speaks certainly to my personal faith. And then also, I think it speaks to why I’ve worked in faith-based organizations on the issue of trafficking and serving migrants and refugees. I’ve always been, it seems, drawn to some of the most vulnerable among them- so the unaccompanied children who are migrating, refugees that are forced and displaced from their communities, and then certainly victims of human trafficking.

[00:03:56] And I think that what’s important to me is not just serving people, but also really thinking about how to empower them, how to help them move on so that they don’t continue to be in these vulnerable situations, and even thinking about how we talk about them as our beneficiaries. And how we talk about our programs and making sure that we’re using really empowering language so that the beneficiaries themselves don’t always kind of feel like a charity case. You know people want to feel like they have value, and contribute, and are not just always receiving assistance. So, I think that the issue of belonging and respect are really critical.

Sandie: [00:04:37] Wow, well that really fits our values of dignity and the idea of justice, where we do have equal opportunities. And we actually try to even the playing field for people who come to us with vulnerabilities and risks. So, we use, for our Ensure Justice conference every year, we base it on Proverbs 31:8, that tells us to be a voice for those who have no voice and ensure justice for those being crushed. And as I’ve gotten to know you and followed your website, the opportunity to intervene on the behalf of those being crushed is something that you’re doing amazing work and I appreciate your leadership. So, let’s jump in, and just tell us a little bit about the anti-trafficking program.

Hilary: [00:05:28] Sure. At the Bishops conference, we’ve had an anti-trafficking program since the early 2000s. But even before we had a standalone program, we were looking and advocating at the issue back in the late 1990s. In part because both our own programs for refugees and for migrants here in the U.S. and programs that our Catholic partners our Catholic sister organizations overseas we’re doing with, for example migrant workers for women and other people being displaced out of places like Eastern Europe at the time when the Soviet Union was dissolving, that people in these ministries were seeing people that they were serving in their traditional work with domestic violence, or their traditional work for migrant workers, or for refugees. But seeing situations and people in situations that were just a little bit different, a little bit off, and frankly a little bit more kind of criminal and sinister. And so, it was through that exposure to people in our own programs that we began, like others at the time we weren’t unique, to recognize that there was this sort of new distinct, maybe not new, but you know we thought needed to be highlighted as a separate crime.

[00:06:44] And so in the late 1990s, we were among some of the early advocates here in the U.S. working to have something like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in order to codify this kind of new form of exploitation. And then asking that there also be part of that law programming and resources being established to help support people who’d been in those exploitative situations. So, we were early on very focused on people on the move, migrant laborers, people trafficked across international borders, because that was what the paradigm was. That was what everybody was sort of looking at and seeing, and so that work fit into our programming for refugees and unaccompanied child migrants that we’ve been doing for very many years. And so, we housed it in the same office and developed programming similar to the way we help refugees sort of restart their lives here in the U.S. Similar programming, for at the time for national victims of human trafficking, who needed to be stabilized and supported through the investigation of their case, and then helped to kind of launch and restart their lives in these new communities in the U.S. We did a lot of advocacy over the years around those issues.

[00:08:16] And then in the mid-2000s when the paradigm began to shift and people recognized you know there are U.S. citizens that are in the same situation. And there are certainly people that are not being trafficked across international borders but are experiencing that same cycle of recruitment and gaining control and then the exploitation. And so, as people began to really broaden what we recognized as trafficking is something that doesn’t have that movement piece necessarily. We also kind of changed our programming, but we’ve stayed very focused on the foreign national victims and survivors just because that’s really where our institutional strength lies. But we work with a lot of Catholic partners around the world who are working with people more at that national level. And then, of course, we’re in working groups and work collaboratively with organizations that do focus on U.S. citizens here. And we’re really excited that our new employment program will be open to both U.S. citizens and foreign national victims. So, we’re really excited that that program, in particular, that really is meant to help people get back on their feet and move forward, will be open to all survivors.

Sandie: [00:09:18] Tell us a little bit more about that employment program.

Hilary: [00:09:21] Sure. So, for me, this is like a total passion project. I think myself personally, having now worked in trafficking since the early 2000s, that I am seeing people who have been out of trafficking for longer periods of time. We have survivors that we hear updates of how they’re doing. And so there really is just more of an awareness, I think on my part, on how people do long term once they are out of our programs. And we really do see that they still sometimes need assistance. And we also were seeing when we were serving people right out of the trafficking situations, that even in their kind of initial recovery phase really wanted to get back to work. Whether they just felt that sense of responsibility to supporting their families and supporting themselves, or whether they felt like they needed something really positive and affirming and esteem building like having a job and being productive and supporting themselves. It’s obviously really important to all of us, of course, it’s important to survivors of trafficking as well.

Hilary: [00:10:17] And so it seemed like a piece that is so critical for the individual to move forward and yet it’s something that when we do these kinds of critical services survivors right out of trafficking we never get to that. You know there are a million other, not a million, but there are dozens of other more, in our minds, often seemingly more urgent more critical services you know that what they really need is housing, what they really need is a bus pass, what they really need is to get their GED, or what they really need is to get a doctor’s appointment. So, we just get very caught up in the immediate needs and we’re not expending our resources and the government assistance for the long term needs that folks have.

Hilary: [00:11:02] So I saw this as a gap and then we had the opportunity to do a demonstration project. And we did that and we were really pleased with the results. And then we’ve been both applying for funding, pitching the idea of services really focused on employment and job readiness the last couple of years. And finally, it clicked with the funder, and so we just got some new funding from the Department of Justice and they’re funding a couple of other programs doing employment services as well. It’s not just us, so that’s exciting. But there will be a little bit more capacity for survivors. And you know it’s not a huge program so it’s not going to be every survivor can access it certainly, but it is exciting to see that there is an interest and a recognition that there needs to be an investment in those kinds of services.

Hilary: [00:11:51] And I think we call our dignity of work program because there’s Catholic teaching around the dignity of work, the importance of work again affirming people. People’s work should not just sustain them, but it should really contribute to their sense of self and their sense of their role for their family. So, we just we really like the idea of people moving forward and a lot of the survivors need help reframing what their skills are and what their experiences are not in the same industry where they were exploited. And it’s hard I think sometimes for people coming out of exploitative situations to do that reframing. We came up with a lot of tools to help them recognize you know maybe you were a domestic worker, and so you’re good with kids, but we’re not going to say like, “oh that’s what you’re good at, and so maybe you can just work in a childcare center.” If it’s for their own personal sense of well-being, they don’t want to do that same kind of work. And so, helping them recognize like if you can take care of small kids, you can multitask, you can shift priorities, you can make fast decisions, and keep cool under pressure. And helping them recognize skills, they can present that to a potential employer without having to talk about what their exploitative work was.

Sandie: [00:13:11] So it’s really a strength-based approach?

Hilary: [00:13:13] Absolutely.

Sandie: [00:13:14] When I hear you talking about dignity and recognizing their role in their families, it reminds me of a case we had here in Orange County. And we had all the resources to make the doctor appointments, to find the housing, all of those things- just like you described. But a young father who had been trafficked here from the continent of Africa, his main concern is how to get money to buy school uniforms and books because that’s how he makes sure his kids get to go to school. And he would give up a doctor’s appointment if he could exchange that for the 30 dollars he needed to send to his family. And recognizing that role as a father as part of his dignity and his sense of belonging is a bigger priority than getting his teeth cleaned maybe for him from his perspective.

Hilary: [00:14:08] Yeah, right.

Sandie: [00:14:08] So then tell me just a little bit about what are the biggest challenges you face in pursuing this goal for employment. You’re laughing, yeah that is a loaded question.

Hilary: [00:14:20] I mean some of it is that we do have some of our own private funds and we use our church money to do initiatives and things that we think are important that we don’t see either public government funding out there available to do. But we do also as an organization, pursue federal funding and so I think one of the big challenges is that there really is still a real emphasis and a real focus on that kind of initial year or so that people are out of the trafficking situation. And not that people don’t need a lot of support during that period, they absolutely do. But I think it’s a bit maybe naive on all of our parts to think that then after that they’re ready to just go and don’t need some extra assistance in some areas or they don’t need sort of a touchstone back to get some assistance later down the line. And so, I think that that’s one issue, is that most of the social service programs are very focused on that initial year or maybe two when you talk about some of more residential supportive housing programs and things. But that’s one gap.

Hilary: [00:15:32] I think the other is really again trying to just help people who are coming out of these exploitative situations to market themselves well. And I think those of us who are well employed and are well educated, I think we forget sometimes how hard it can be to navigate some of these interviews, and job applications, and things are moving online, and there’s just a lot of changing dynamics in how people seek employment how people look for jobs. And then on the flip side when you think about the kinds of jobs that are available for people that don’t have a lot of educational achievement or educational history attainment, then you’re looking at a lot more of the service sector jobs and frankly very few of those are good living wage jobs. And I think that’s a real problem for people coming out of exploitative situations to move into what are really very low paying, barely a living wage job. And I think it’s really hard because that isn’t alleviating some of their very deep-seated anxieties about being able to support themselves, being able to support their families or the fear of relapsing into something like the commercial sex life. Because there’s a sense of what their earning power may have felt like it was, or what they perceive their earning power may have been sort of in the life, and then to be in a very low wage job. With often low wage jobs that frankly are the more restrictive, where it’s really hard to get a day off. There’s a real consequence for being late.

Hilary: [00:17:06] And those are just the kind of challenges that are especially challenging to people with trauma around workplaces if you will. You know their trauma occurred in a work setting and so to then put people in jobs that some of those anxieties still keep coming up, I think is another challenge. And that’s something just that is a challenge for everyone who’s a working poor person in this country. And something that we, as a country, really need to think about how we’re valuing people’s labor and why are some people’s jobs so devalued that they are not adequately compensated.

Sandie: [00:17:45] And that plays all back into the whole dignity and respect value that we’re founding this on. So, let me move into an area that I find really fascinating that what you’re doing at the Anti Trafficking Program and all of your staff is so well done, and that’s in the maritime sector. I didn’t really begin to understand that that was a trafficking sector industry, until late in the work that I did in Greece. And when I began to discover that are in especially in our Filipino community, that I had learned that women were in domestic servitude and possibly had been trafficked. But now I was learning that the men on the ships were often in perpetual service and couldn’t go home because of trafficking scenarios that are much like the force fraud and coercion that we talk about in human trafficking. So, tell us what you are doing.

Hilary: [00:18:49] Sure. So, I mean absolutely when you talk about the idea of you know trafficking is a hidden crime and one of the ways that people are kept in these exploitative situations is by being isolated, and I don’t know what’s more hidden and isolated than a ship that just doesn’t come into port for years at a time because they do all of their offloading of the fish to platforms that are out in the ocean. And the captain is sort of the boss of everything on these ships, and even smaller ships that don’t go out as far or as long, when you’re out at sea you’re out at sea. And I think that’s the huge risks there are for exploitation. We got interested in this issue partly because we work within the Catholic Church there is a ministry called the Apostleship of the Sea or Stella Marice. Those are port chaplains, they’re all around the world. There are other Christian faiths that have port chaplains also, and sometimes they’re co-located in the same port, sometimes they sort of divide up the ports in a particular country.

Hilary: [00:19:52] But the Catholics are the center of the highest number of port chaplains around the world and they have seafarer’s centers at almost every port where they’re operational. And what that does is it enables foreign crewmen, by and large, its men, to get off the ship. And even if they’re obviously not from that country and normally couldn’t leave the port at all because they don’t have a visa to come in. The port chaplains can escort them to their centers, they can be at the center, it’s sort of like a duty-free zone. And there they call their families, use the Internet, wire money, file complaints if they’re not being paid or they’re concerned about their pay, they can stay at the seafarer’s centers while they negotiate their next contract for their next voyage. Many of the crewmen are in ok, they’re fine situations. They just need a place to sort of be present, and not have to stay on the ship for a couple of days that cargo’s being on and offloaded for example, or while the ship is being refurbished or something.

Hilary: [00:20:58] But these port chaplains also encounter fishermen who seemingly there are many more abuses going on in the fishing industry, than like the cargo and the freight that’s being transported, where the crew is by and large much more skilled workers. And so, we do have port chaplains even at those ports where then they’re going onto the ships or they’re going to the docks and they’re giving out clean water, first aid, phone cards. Again, they bring cell phones so people can make phone calls. And they will help people and take them to their centers if they are between cruise, or if they need real assistance with a trafficking case. And in some cases, our port chaplains go on the ships, and then they can try and talk to the crew apart from the captain and get a sense of what might really be going on. There were a few ports in Thailand, in particular, and in Taiwan, we had port chaplains that we’re seeing really egregious trafficking cases. And so, they began to ask what more can we be doing. How Should we respond when we see these cases? And so, as a trafficking expert, the AOS came to us and said you know what can we do to train our chaplains to do the right thing when they encounter this and how can we then get other chaplains to look more carefully because maybe they’re just not seeing or they’re seeing it not thinking to ask what more they do.

Hilary: [00:22:19] So we saw this big need to build up their capacity and then connect them to entities in our Catholic network and their network partners that know how to work on trafficking, but maybe don’t know anything about the fishing industry or the maritime industry. And we want to connect the two to each other. But then also do some capacity building with the trafficking experts in our networks who are used to working in the more traditional industries to think about fishing and the fishermen themselves. And so maybe you’re an expert on domestic workers, or construction, or trafficking in agriculture, or the sex industry. And so how would you adapt your programs if you know six fishermen were needing assistance, and how would you do better outreach or different outreach when it comes to safe migration orientations and things.

Sandie: [00:23:15] So I noticed on the web page one that you actually have a link to shrimp purchasing and how do you buy shrimp that impacts maritime trafficking.

Hilary: [00:23:27] Sure. The other thing we really liked about this project is that it gave us something very tangible to do with kind of the everyday Catholic and people of goodwill that hear about trafficking. This isn’t their job, but they want to do something. And so, to really think about ethical consumerism and supply chains. There are more and more now like these media exposés on trafficking in the fishing industry and that with the California Supply Chain Transparency Act, there are some opportunities for some of the big seafood distributors and retailers to do a better job of being transparent about what they do to try to keep their supply chain clean. So, we did a big awareness raising and advocacy campaign through our national coalition of Catholic organizations to ask. We picked two of the retailer and a distributor or supplier brand of seafood to tell us what are you doing. And then people would preferentially buy products that are doing their best to clean up their supply chain. So not a boycott, but rather people want to be informed consumers, they want to make ethical choices, and they will. And we did that during Lent because for Catholics and many Christians we abstain from meat and eat seafood. The idea is that we’re being in solidarity with the poor because in many parts of the world seafood is a much cheaper source of protein than meat. And the idea that we might actually be contributing to exploitation while trying to do lent in solidarity, obviously we don’t want to do that. We thought that was a good hook to get attention, and raise awareness, and get people interested in thinking about their choices.

Sandie: [00:25:11] And I love how you use the word hook for maritime fishing. That’s good. And we’ve done past podcasts on the California Supply Chain Transparency Act.

Hilary: [00:25:21] Oh great!

Sandie: [00:25:21] And I had hoped that more of our community would respond, and there’s research that shows that millennials as they go out into the market to find a job, they’re looking at corporate social responsibility, “what’s your company’s track record?” And they can make a choice between a company and take a lower salary because of that role of dignity and respect. So, I’m looking at the time and there’s a couple of questions that I really want to get some information from you for our listeners, training resources and a little bit about the COATnet as well.

Hilary: [00:26:03] Sure. So, we’ve been experimenting, over at the Catholic Church we’re not super high tech, but we are trying. And so, we’ve been experimenting with e-learning platforms, where we have modules online that people can access, and log in as a learner, and then they can move through different modules and we have little quizzes to make sure they’re learning the content. So, we’re trying that and we tried that, in particular, to help with this maritime trafficking project, because unlike a live hosted webinar because we had people literally on the other side of the globe there just was never a good time to have a webinar. And so, we’ve been trying this e-learning and then we have our peer education curriculum that we use here in the U.S. in immigrant communities, knowing that they’re more vulnerable if they’re working in the underground or unregulated economy industries. And so, we have a peer to peer training that people can do in their own community. We have resources in all different languages so that people get the training and then they go out and through their own networks and in their own language, spread the information about how to seek assistance, how to accompany someone who needs to seek assistance, and how to find a lawyer. It’s a very rights-based curriculum, what are your rights as a worker, what are your rights as a worker in agriculture and domestic work. It’s not the same as the general wage an hour.

Sandie: [00:27:30] We’ll put a link to that and our show notes. And then the other part that fascinated me, when I clicked on the link to the Christian Organizations Against Trafficking, the whole globe lit up. And so, I want to know how do I get involved with that?

Hilary: [00:27:50] Excellent question, since I’m on the steering committee that’s a great question for me because one of the things I’m tasked with is getting more people in the Western hemisphere more organizations to join. So, this is a coalition of just member organizations with a rotating steering group of leaders that are voted in. There’s no real paid staff, Caritas Internationalis, which is based at the Vatican, it’s not the head of all of Caritas across the world because each Caritas is an autonomist to its own country. But rather it’s kind of the parent organization that does their collective advocacy, their global advocacy, and also some education, development, outreach, and marketing. They come up with the campaigns that the different Caritas offices at the national level will then do. So COATnet was hosted by one of the Caritas in Europe, and then as it grew moved to the Rome office. But we have members that are from different Caritas national offices but a lot of other women religious, men’s congregations, like the Scalabrinians, and the fishers of the Good Shepherd- for example that work a lot with domestic workers are migrant workers. There are other non-Catholics as well, although we’re really trying to beef that up because we’re overwhelmingly Catholic at this point.

Hilary: [00:29:16] But the idea is that we all as faith-based organizations, not only are practicing experts with a lot of professional expertise, but we also have a value-add by being a faith-based organization. By all being mission-driven, we want to make sure that we are highlighting, not downplaying those attributes. And that we are working collaboratively to help build each other up and to help build capacity where it’s missing. We like the idea that we’re global so that we can work where there are countries of origin, transit countries, the destination countries. You know a lot of people are trafficked across international borders. So how can we be responsive at each phase and help be supportive? So, we have this gathering, we get together in person every other year. But we have calls, there usually at an odd time like either very early in the morning or in the evening for us here in the U.S. So that that accommodates the Europeans and that everybody over in Southeast Asia and South Asia. But it’s a really great group, and some folks work only within their own country, some work on international cases, some work with labor, some with sex trafficking, some do shelter work, some do mostly training and education. And there’s just a real variety of organizations and then their expertise. But what we have in common is this mission to eradicate slavery, to build up survivors, to prevent more people from falling into these kinds of exploitative situations.

Sandie: [00:31:00] And there’s so much value in sharing our different experiences and collaborating and joining our strengths. This has been such a delightful conversation and there’s so much to learn about the work of the anti-trafficking program there. And we’re going to wrap up, and I’m going to give you 30 seconds to tell us one thing you want people to understand in the fight to end human trafficking.

Hilary: [00:31:28] I think the one thing that sort of does keep me awake at night, is that some trafficking really is people very much locked away in a worksite, locked in someone’s home as a home worker or on a fishing boat for sure. But I feel like the majority of people who are trafficked, who are in these horrific exploitative situations, are to some degree out and about in our communities. And the idea that we are first not recognizing them is a problem. But also, that there’s a sort of a “normalization” of some kinds of people being exploited and being in situations that “we would never, I could never do that.”.

Hilary: [00:39:06] And I think that there’s some kind of compassion that we need to be having to say, “it’s not OK for any person to be taken advantage of like that.” And so, thinking about young women and young men who end up in sex trafficking situations that are exploited, or twisted relationships, or that they’re out on the streets and really don’t have a lot of other options from their perspective. We’re looking at undocumented immigrants who are working under the table, and sort of this normalization like “well, of course, they’re not being treated well or are not getting fair wages.” And I feel like we need to be more aware of how we’re normalizing the exploitation of some people, and if it’s not good enough for you it shouldn’t be good enough for them. And I think that it’s an empathy, it’s a solidarity that we need to really have.

Sandie: [00:39:50] Well that’s going to keep me awake at night, too. Thank you, so much. And it’s been great. And I’m just really grateful that you came on the show today.

Hilary: [00:40:00] Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to share, and hopefully, attract more people, and just have more connections ourselves as well.

Dave: [00:40:09] Sandie, what Hillary just said at the end there, just makes me realize the importance of what we’re doing but also the complexity of it. So, if you also are looking for more ways, like Hillary and like Sandie, to be adding value and wanting to learn more about these issues, I hope you’ll use our website as a starting point endinghumantrafficking.org. Of course, all of our past episodes are there. And it’s also a place you can sign up to get on our newsletter, right Sandie?

Sandie: [00:40:34] Right, yeah.

Dave: [00:40:34] To learn more about what’s happening. And we look forward to seeing you again for our next episode in two weeks. If you haven’t already, please take a moment if you use iTunes or Stitcher or one of the other podcasts services, to leave a rating or review for the show. That’s a big help, and it helps more people to find the show. And Sandie see in two weeks.

Sandie: [00:40:48] See you then.

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