by Gretchen Lane
Human Trafficking isn’t an issue in Maine, is it?
We’re talking about sweat shops in Asia, sexual exploitation in Thailand, labor camps in India and Africa. Nothing all that close to home really, right? (To answer that question, please see the links to news articles at the bottom of this post.)
I hadn’t taken much notice of human trafficking in the US until a year ago when I visited a ministry to survivors of trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness in Nashville, Tennessee, called Magdalene, a residential two year for women, and Thistle Farms, a social enterprise where Magdalene residents create bath and body care products that support the ministry. The love shared there and the transformation of everyone involved in the ministry, from the survivors to the providers to the donors to the volunteers, was so inspiring. I was struck by how the Gospel message of love was being lived out in every aspect of the work and how it truly healed all it touched.
I was also struck by the need. Magdalene/Thistle Farms serves 28 women at a time and last year had a waiting list of 100 to enter their program. These were all women in the US who’ve been treated as commodities rather than human beings and have disappeared from the view of most of society. I came home from that experience with a box full of Thistle Farms products to sell to raise money for their ministry and to raise awareness of the issue in our minds. I set up an exhibit table at our Diocesan Convention where many of you stopped and talked with me about the issue and many of you bought the lovely products and some even just made donations. It was a wonderful opportunity to begin a conversation about how it is not all right to make human beings anything other than human.
Human trafficking ministry begins in Maine
Since those beginning conversations I have invited a group to join me in exploring what is provided in Maine for survivors. We’ve also been investigating what needs the church or faith communities might try to meet. We’ve had wonderful conversations with providers, a school social worker, and other faith and ministry leaders and are working on several different fronts right now. We will have an exhibit at Diocesan Convention, we have worked with the Maine Council of Churches to get a faith-based voice on the Attorney General’s Work Group on Human Trafficking. We are also developing materials to use in small group educational settings to raise awareness of the issue and of resources available to survivors. We are working with Wisdom’s Women in Lewiston (part of the Trinity Episcopal Church) to try to bring the founder of Magdalene/Thistle Farms to Maine to speak in 2015. In the months to come we hope to build more resources for education and information from this event.
Earlier this month, Klara Tammany, Executive Director of Wisdom’s Women; Peggy Day, deacon and member of our Human Trafficking Ministry Group; and I attended the 2nd Thistle Farms National Conference. The topic of the conference was “Roots: Digging Deep and Growing Hope.” We encountered folks working to raise awareness, offering direct support and ministry to survivors, sharing about social enterprises that empower women to reclaim their lives. We explored addiction being healed in recovery, isolation being healed in community, and childhood trauma being healed by having access to trauma-informed care. All the solutions are undergirded by the belief that love heals. We are excited to bring this experience and energy to Maine and continue our own work to find ways to bring healing, not only to survivors, but to a culture that permits the dehumanization of vulnerable people.
The Human Trafficking Ministry Group is a gathering of many different people, Episcopal, Lutheran, and secular, from all around the state, and we’d love to hear what you are doing in this ministry field and talk about how we can work together.
There is a catch phrase in many grant applications: “work collaboratively toward collective impact” (Cary Rayson, executive director of Magdalene shared this with us). While that is a great soundbite, it is also a good description of the call to Christian mission.
Join us in our work to end this kind of trauma. We do a lot of our ‘meeting’ with each other via email and WebEx meeting technology. If you’re interested in getting more involved, please come see our display at Convention or you can email me at email@example.com.
Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network www.mainesten.org
Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault www.mecasa.org
The Center for Women’s Wisdom at Trinity Jubilee Center, Lewiston www.wisdomswomen.org
“Portland resident who helped pimp Maine girls gets four year sentence” Portland Press Herald, September 23, 2014
“Bought and sold: Sex trafficking in Maine” Bangor Daily News, August 24, 2014
“Maine gets mixed reviews in annual human trafficking report; rural states are ‘sources for the pipeline,’ expert says” Bangor Daily News, August 14, 2014
“Police uncover sex trafficking ring in Kennebec County” Morning Sentinel, April 10, 2014
“Report includes 19 indicators of sex trafficking in Maine” Bangor Daily News, November 21, 2013