Every Passover, Jews celebrate liberation from bondage in Egypt and the emergence as a free people. But today, as many as 27 million people throughout the world are trapped in the modern-day slavery of forced labor and prostitution.
The CIA estimates that nearly one million men, women, and children are trafficked annually across the borders of every country in the world, a figure that does not include the millions trafficked within their own countries. Between 14,000 and 17,000 of those victims are trafficked into the U.S. Some live in bondage right here in Connecticut.
If the problem seems too large or remote to grasp, consider this: Last month, Jarell Sanderson of New Britain pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges, for recruiting two 14-year-old girls to work as prostitutes in Hartford and East Hartford. And earlier this month, federal agents working with Norwalk police busted a sex-trafficking ring allegedly responsible for using young girls, one as young as 14, to work as call girls in Fairfield County.
The pursuit and prosecution of human traffickers is a relatively new area of focus in law enforcement, and has been growing since 2000, when Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Between 2000 and 2006, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, increased by six-fold the number of human-trafficking cases filed in court.
“Human Trafficking – A Jewish Issue?” will explore the subject both through a Jewish lens and from the perspective of law enforcement. The panel presentation, co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, will feature Rabbi Debra Cantor of Congregation B’nai Sholom in West Hartford, Shaleen Silva, executive director of the Connecticut-based Paul & Lisa Program to prevent sexual exploitation, and Kathleen Liner, FBI victim specialist.
JCRC executive director Laura Zimmerman recently learned about the scope of the human-trafficking issue from the head of the FBI’s Special Victims Unit. “I knew a little bit about the issue but I was dumbfounded as to how much there is in Connecticut,” Zimmerman says. The JCRC works to educate the community to advocate for social justice, and the issue of human trafficking fit the agency’s mission, she says. She invited Rabbi Debra Cantor to participate.
“When Laura Zimmerman first asked me whether human trafficking is a Jewish issue, my automatic response was, ‘This is a very Jewish issue,'” Cantor says. “‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt’ runs throughout our liturgy and the Torah, and helps shape a basic worldview. But then what? Remembering is doing. In the Torah, whenever it says, ‘God remembered,’ it doesn’t mean that God forgot something, but that God is about to take action. And for us, it means, ‘Take action.’ You can’t just notice a violation and not do anything about it.”
Cantor cites a rabbinic teaching that relates to the eighth commandment, “Do not steal.” “According to rabbinic tradition, the ultimate example of this is to steal a human soul, because you’re diminishing another person’s humanity,” she says. “That person is created in the image of God, so by stealing a soul, you diminish the presence of God in the world. All the corollaries follow from that concept: save one person, save the world; every human being is like a universe and is irreplaceable.”
The panel will look at the scope of the issue both locally and globally, and will discuss efforts to combat the problem, including specific ways in which ordinary citizens can make a difference.
“Human Trafficking – A Jewish Issue?” panel presentation: Thursday, Mar. 3, 5:30-7 p.m., Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, 333 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford | RSVP required: (860) 727-6139 / email@example.com