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Slavery to Freedom: Practical Responses to Human Trafficking in the United States

This interactive dialogue will address the issue of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation in the United States of America. Approximately 1.5 million people are trafficked in the US each year, 75-85% for sexual exploitation. Panelists will provide perspectives on the facts and statistics, legislature, experiences, theology, and practical responses. Come learn how you can help end trafficking in persons!

Part 1 - (0:00) Rev. Thomas Brennan, SDB

Part 2 - (17:38) V. Rev. Athenagoras Loukataris, Faros Tou Kosmou 

Part 3 - (33:47) Shelia Simpkins McClain, End Slavery Tennessee

Part 4 - (51:32) Gerondisa Foteini and Sister Theonymphi, All Saints Monastery and The HOPE Project

Part 5 - (1:03:06) Discussion

This panel discussion was held on Monday, July 4, 2016 at the 43rd Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in Nashville, TN. 

Translation of Part 2 - V. Rev. Athanagoras Loukataris

The Greek Framework

Greece, being at the crossroads of three continents, shines as the gateway to paradise for the tormented third world immigrants or uprooted refugees seeking a better chance in life, while our numerous islands and diverse coastline function as a bridge which facilitates the mobility of these people who arrive in our country in unstoppable “tsunami” waves, causing internal unrest, at a moment when the social connection web is heavily hit by the serious economic crisis.

Since China, with its frenetic development rhythm is becoming our strategic investor, I cannot avoid the mental cohesion that although the Chinese ideogram for the word " crisis" is double, combining the concepts of "danger" and "opportunity", in Greece the idea of economic crisis goes hand in hand with catastrophe at all levels. Greek society, and therefore the Greek family, are in a state of shock, having suffered a deep trauma which they find it impossible to heal.

Greece, consequently, is both a country of destination and transit of the victims of illegal trafficking and trading of humans entering the EU. It is estimated that approximately 20.000 women, among them 1.000 girls aged 13-15 years old, are victims of sexual abuse in Greece.     

The west side story

In the West of the city of Thessaloniki and of civilization lies Dendropotamos, which is inhabited by Roma people at a percentage of 90% and forms a ghetto, surrounded by road bridges, railway lines and large ditches. The area is not easily accessible, other than four narrow entrances on the four points of the horizon. In this muddy corner of the city the well-off society has sent off and hidden away everything that causes abomination. The outcast Roma, the addicted users who roam the narrow streets with their heads down seeking a dose, the drug dealers who seem to hold the addicts' lives in their hands, addict teenage girls who offer sexual favors to dealers and even underage Roma boys for whom these girls are a way of inexpensive relief. Furthermore, this area is home to ruthless arms, babies and women dealers.

Due to their involvement in serious delinquency, many of the Roma will sooner or later end up in prison or even lose their lives. In both cases, their children will have to grow up deserted and unprotected in the streets until the District Attorney for Children decides to which Institution they will be sent. This is the gap that “The Lighthouse of The World” in Dendropotamos comes to fill. Our Center attempts an holistic intervention in this particular area, so that it offers these children, apart from the family nest and the warm hug along with home cooked meals that their poor souls need, any other type of material necessities which are essential to their studies, which in turn will allow them to find legitimate ways of survival in the future.

Nevertheless, there are some boys who will resort to known hangout places of our city- cinemas or bars-which function as meeting points, seeking some easy money. Furthermore, adult Roma traffickers carry girls and women from the Balkans, in collaboration with illegal networks that issue fake passports, to brothels in Thessaloniki, making sure they restock their "merchandise" frequently enough. Another source of income for both teenage and adult Roma is selling protection to these girls who are forced to sell their bodies either because of circumstances or made by the traffickers.

Mother and Daughter

After research we did in the area and from interviews we took, many similar incidents have come up, one of which I would like to share with you. Some thirty years ago, the girl in the story was twelve or thirteen years old but looked older with the appropriate clothes and make-up. You see, her mother who had only her, knew that the image of a rosy-cheeked young girl would be more attractive than her own, and would certainly serve her purposes. Well, this mother pushed her young daughter to middle-aged men, turning her into a prostitute, while the poor girl wanted nothing else but go to school, right opposite her house, with her girlfriends. And when they scolded the mother-pimp, she replied shamelessly "Mind your own business". And when mother and daughter walked in the street, young kids would laugh at them shouting "Customers! Customers!" the young girl tried to hide in her mother’s floral skirt, in an effort to hide her shame.

In Press

Two days before my departure I was informed on the following incident, which according to all the evidence gathered, is a case of internal (domestic) abuse for the purpose of exploitation of a minor. Sixteen year old X spent the first years of her life in an institution before living for a few years with her father, of whom she has fond memories. After her father’s death, she was left to her schizophrenic mother’s care. As a result, the mother's boyfriend "sold" her to a man who lives in Dendropotamos, an ex-convict. He has put the helpless girl in a house where middle-aged men come and go, while the girl carries 50euro notes, when she goes to the local mini market. It should be noted that the girl has a history of epileptic crises, for which she should be taking medication that she does not seem to have with her.

Some time ago, the girl's pimp had left her in the area of the Railway Station, where she met a young man, Z, who sympathized with her during a crisis she had. The girl told him that she "didn't want to go back to him".  Unfortunately, the pimp looked for her and rushed her back to his house. The young man really cares for the young girl and wants to help her escape. This young man has been under the care of an NGO called PRAKSIS, which stands for Programs for the development of social support and medical cooperation, from a very early age. When he was a child, PRAKSIS made it possible for him to be operated on his head for a tumor which caused him epileptic crises. His mother left her last breath on a pavement in Dendropotamos with a syringe nailed on her private parts, and he was called to identify the body. His father died of overdose the day he was released from prison, his older brother is convicted and only his younger brother is not in prison. Z is constantly stressed and insecure about his moves, with the fear that he might do something wrong without realizing it. He has now moved to Germany, struggling for his future and to save the young girl from her tormentor.

The NGO PRAKSIS has asked for my help to spot the sixteen year old girl - which we did - while the young man from Germany has seeked my phone number so that he can contact me and ask me to help the young girl. Needless to say that I intend to do that the minute I return to Greece with the aid of the District Attorney for Minors in Thessaloniki.

In the last two years the “Lighthouse of the World” leans over the problems faced by the young girls whose tribal tradition wants to get married at a very young age, twelve or thirteen, and raise children, while they themselves are still children, thus burying their dreams of youth and their personal ambitions. The most common condition for these girls is that they end up divorced, with two or three or four children, who they have to raise on their own, while being uneducated or even illiterate. At this point in their lives it is very easy for them to become victimized, by persons inside or outside their home environment. The “Lighthouse” (FAROS) attempts to turn their interest towards their studies and facilitate them at all levels so that they are able to achieve their independence and be masters of their own bodies and lives in general.

Thank you for your time.