There is something about injustice that stirs the heart of the Rev. Paul Sartarelli and moves him into action.
“Human trafficking is a problem that exists right in our backyards. It is not something that only happens in other countries,” said Sartarelli, senior pastor at The Chapel. “We need to raise awareness and to unite faith communities and nonfaith communities to fight the injustice of slave and sex trafficking of human beings.”
In an effort to help educate people about the issue of young girls and women being sexually exploited in the United States, the congregation at The Chapel is hosting a conference called “Stop the Trafficking” on Friday and Saturday.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploiting them. The purpose of trafficking includes “exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs” (www.unodc.org).
The local conference, from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, will feature three speakers: Sartarelli; Joseph D’souza, an international human-rights advocate; and Carolyn Custis James, a Christian writer and speaker and founder of an organization dedicated to women in ministry leadership.
James, of Boxford, Mass., researches the Bible’s message for women in the 21st century. She said when she initially heard stories of sex trafficking, she was appalled and horrified but didn’t immediately connect the issue to her work. Then, she concluded that God’s vision for women includes those who are being exploited and oppressed.
“There is something we can do to combat human trafficking, and as Christians, we are called to act,” James said. “The church belongs on the forefront of this humanitarian crisis.”
James said one of her goals at the conference will be to call those in attendance to do what they can to combat human trafficking.
D’souza, who lives in India and operates out of London and Washington, D.C., has a particular concern about human injustices in India and other parts of Asia. He is president of the Dalit Freedom Network, a human-rights organization committed to bringing freedom to the Dalit people, who are targets of human trafficking and child labor. Dalits (formerly known as the untouchables) are at the bottom of India’s caste system.
It was in India several years ago that the issue of human trafficking first touched Sartarelli. He saw Dalit people forced to work in rock quarries and living in sewer pipes. Those images, he said, remain with him today.
In recent years, Sartarelli began seeing information about human trafficking in the United States and discovered Ohio is not exempt from the issue. He became aware of legislation being passed in Warren, his hometown, to regulate massage parlors — among the places law enforcement officials say sometimes facilitate human sex trafficking. When he started addressing the issue from the pulpit, several women who identified themselves as survivors of sex trafficking approached and thanked him.
“The more I learned about the issue, the more I realized I needed to do something. The church has a responsibility to not only speak out, but to take action when injustice exists,” Sartarelli said. “My hope for this conference is that it will raise awareness and give those in attendance a chance to immediately connect to organizations that will give them an opportunity to do something about this modern-day slavery. I’m hoping we can be part of the larger movement to fight this injustice.”
In addition to the speakers, staffed resource tables will be available to provide action opportunities for those in attendance. Saturday’s session will include an overview of those opportunities. James and D’souza will speak during both sessions.
Cost for the Stop the Trafficking Conference is $10 per person, $7.50 per person for groups of 10 or more and $5 per high school or college student (18 to 25 years old). Refreshments on Friday and a continental breakfast on Saturday (8 to 9 a.m.) will be provided.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.