A charismatic 84-year-old Catholic religious sister was in Hastings Thursday to educate Nebraskans on the clear and present dangers of human trafficking.
Sister Margaret Nacke of the Sisters of St. Joseph order in Concordia, Kansas, offered three thought-provoking presentations on the inhumane practice and its commonness statewide to groups of social workers and employees at Mary Lanning Healthcare, students at St. Cecilia
High School, and the general public at St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
As founder of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, the Hebron native has enlisted the resources of consecrated religious women including sisters and nuns across the U.S. to aid in combating the crime.
Through her group’s affiliation with Talitha Kum (Aramaic for “Little Girl Arise”), a Rome-based network of consecrated religious men and women, she is able to network with sisters in 80 countries who are working to combat human trafficking.
According to the latest statistics, 900 children are being sold for sex in Nebraska alone each month. That such a thing goes on here at all comes as a shock to some, but not to Nacke, who has been active on the front lines of combating the sale of children for sex and labor for more than a decade.
“The thing that’s hard for us to get our heads around is that people are bought and sold and the bottom line is the money that is generated,” she said. “Human trafficking is almost more lucrative than the drug business because you can sell a person over and over again.”
Though hardly a new problem, the practice of luring children into the sex trade by force, fraud, or coercion has grown exponentially with the rise of social media in recent years. The ease of which predators are able to lure children into conversations is frightful, Nacke said.
“Predators are in our house now,” she said. “They didn’t used to be. Technology has really facilitated what we see today with the ease of kids connecting with people in the dark.
“Parents can be in the living room reading a book or watching a program on television and their kids can be in their bedroom talking to a trafficker online. It’s critical to get it into their heads that if you don’t know who is on the other end of that line, to break it off.”
Traffickers trolling for victims online use whatever information their potential victims post online to target them. Utilizing such information makes it easy for them to strike up relationships with their unsuspecting targets rather easily. It isn’t long before such relationships advance from online to in-person contact.
Once in a relationship, the victim typically is isolated from family members, making them even more vulnerable and dependent upon the trafficker, whom they believe cares for them. It is through this faux relationship that the trafficker persuades the victim to participate in what is touted as a highly profitable profession.
Once the victim engages in a paid sexual act, the trafficker uses guilt, manipulation and force to enslave him or her in the trade.
“That’s how they groom you,” she said. “The Internet is considered the auction block. What you put on the Internet about yourself is really fodder for a trafficker. Young people put a lot about themselves out there. When you hit that button, it goes viral. Then they (traffickers) hold it over your head: ‘I know where you live, I know where you go to school, I know your parents and siblings, and if you don’t do what I want, I can get them.’ ”
There are multiple sites that peddle human beings around the globe. Victims are bought and sold across state lines and even country lines. The frequency of such crimes recently prompted legislators to take action against traffickers and others who fuel the high-dollar industry.
A bill passed by the Senate in March targets sites where human trafficking occurs, giving victims of human trafficking the right to sue any site that knowingly perpetuates such criminal activity. One such classified ad web site, Backpage, was shut down in April following an FBI raid of the founder’s home for its role in perpetuating human trafficking.
Because worldwide efforts aimed at stopping human trafficking are ongoing, Nacke continually is seeking ways to better combat this profit-driven attack on children.
Use of an app she recently learned about that offers transparency to those working in food and labor chains could — for instance — make it easier for her to disseminate information among the 255 sisters on her contact list who are on the front line in the war against human trafficking.
Her best weapon, she said, is education.
“When you give talks about something, you have to know what you are talking about,” she said. “That’s how I’ve really grown in knowledge as to what human trafficking is. And I just keep right on growing. There’s learning all the time.”