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Publisher's pick: With awareness achieved, apathy is unacceptable

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Today, I remembered to pin a slim, satin, navy-blue ribbon upon my coat lapel.

It seems that every organization seeking awareness for an acute social cause has co-opted one ribbon color or another to symbolize support by the wearer. I like the choice of navy blue. It's a serious color to emblematize a serious ministry and a serious problem.

The Sisters of St. Francis distributed navy ribbons Saturday at Assisi Heights to promote local community awareness of the grave issue of human trafficking.

Shedding light on dark topic

"Breaking the Chains of Modern Day Slavery: Part 2" was an open-to-all event attended by more than 200 people. If what attendees wanted was information and resources to address this social ill, they left with that and a whole lot more. Once heard, insights shared by presenters about the sickening horrors of human trafficking cannot leave one's mind.

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Yet, hope also filtered through the gloom, as did the Saturday morning sunshine. We learned how oppression can be turned to opportunity when we collectively step forward to fight the problem of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Today, I offer a recap of the well-organized and fast-paced program so you, too, can consider becoming engaged in breaking the chains of modern day slavery.

Franciscan Sister Anne Walch is the human trafficking awareness educator. Her first chore was to introduce Dr. James "Call me Jim" Levine, author and well-known Mayo Clinic physician. Jim traveled to India for the Food and Agricultural Organization arm of the United Nations to conduct research on the effect of child labor on education and malnutrition. An encounter at the Delhi Airport resulted in a horrifying hostage situation for several days.

After being freed, Jim traveled to Mumbai to join his team and visited the infamous "Street of Cages," where children are held captive for prostitution. His experience led him to write "The Blue Notebook," an eye-opening and heart-rending novel that is available online and in bookstores.

Then, after a mix-and-mingle with resource exhibitors, I moderated a panel discussion of resource experts addressing what is being done in Minnesota. Efforts and advocates include:

• Victim advocacy — represented locally by Jeanne Roynane, victim services supervisor, Olmsted County Community Services.

• Trauma-informed, culturally specific services for victims and reduction strategies through the Offender's Prostitution Program (John School) and community education — Nikki Beasley, director of the Breaking Free program.

• Hosting human trafficking watch meetings and counseling victims — Linda Miller, executive director, Civil Society.

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• Educating the public and accompanying underage victims through the legal process — Kimber Schletty, director of community education, Mission 21.

• Raising awareness in the local judicial system — Erin Gustafson, Olmsted County Attorney's Office.

• Educating men about issues surrounding violence and oppression of women — Dr. Robert Stanhope, MATTOO (Men Against the Trafficking of Others).

The event concluded with remarks and a compelling video presentation, "Half the Sky Movement: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Mary Christen Czech, a life skills coach, and her husband, Chuck Czech, and KSMQ-TV, the PBS affiliate in Austin.

How you can help

Perhaps you ask, skeptically, does modern-day slavery really occur in Rochester, in Olmsted County? It seems incredible, doesn't it, given the high-quality caliber of our community?

The answer, emphatically, is yes. This local and untenable social ill was confirmed by resource panelists and presenters.

So what can we do as a community to stop human trafficking?

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Victims of human trafficking may look like many of the people you encounter every day. What clues should you look for? Here is a list from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center:

• Evidence of being controlled by someone

• Evidence of inability to move or leave job

• Bruises or other signs of physical abuse

• Deep-seated fear, hopelessness or depression

• Not speaking on own behalf and/or non-English speaking

• No passport of other forms of identification or documentation.

There is much more to be learned. The Sisters will continue their admirable effort, as you would expect them to — but they need the help of organizations, volunteers and public and personal donations. Proceeds will go toward the Human Trafficking Ministries of the Sisters of Saint Francis and like-minded local support organizations.

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For more information about how to get involved and to donate, contact Kathy Gatliff, director of communications, 507-282-7441, ext. 523, or email to info@rochesterfranciscan.org.

Related Topics: CRIMEPOLICE
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