Nuns told stories of young girls torn from their families and sold into prostitution to more than 60 people gathered for a vigil outside the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse on Sunday.
The vigil was held in recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Temperatures were below freezing outside, but members of the public joined the vigil, and drivers passing by honked in support.
“We really didn’t know how many would be here,” said Sister Betsey Goodwin.
This marks the first vigil the sisters have held for human trafficking victims. It came a day before the third National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Nuns from 16 congregations held signs that said “Stop Modern-Day Slavery” and “Human Trafficking Happens in Our Own Backyard.”
According to the press release, “While many call [human trafficking] a hidden crime, it exists right here, right now in the Boston area.”
Sister Marilyn McGoldrick read accounts of women forced into prostitution in the Boston area at the vigil, along with prayers for the victims.
“Systems of justice don’t exist in my town. People disappear. Rape is all too common,” McGoldrick said, reading an account of a young woman was a victim of human trafficking. “I also prostituted to get money. Young girls like me dream of making the trip to the U.S.”
The account was from an 11-year-old Guatemalan girl.
Another instance of human trafficking in the Boston area was at a Framingham nail salon where the owner kept young women used for sex, as described by State Regent Linda Coletti from the Catholic Daughters of America.
Places such as nail salons and massage parlors are known for holding trafficked victims, said Sister Carole Lombard: “They’re fronts for prostitution, for organized crime.”
Many of the victims are immigrants, Lombard said, but some are trafficked within the country, including children picked up at malls or train stations. While many human trafficking cases go unreported, Sister Peggy Cummins said it is estimated that there are around 17,500 victims in the U.S.
Along with the vigil, the sisters have held two symposiums in honor of human trafficking victims. They continue to work with local organizations such as the Anti-Trafficking Coalition of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Kim’s Project, an organization that helps victims of violence and prostitution.
For their efforts, Pope Benedict XVI congratulated the “women religious” last year for their commitment to raising awareness and educating the public about human trafficking.
“We believe that raising awareness is an action,” said Sister Joanne Gallagher, CSJ.