Education about Human Trafficking: The Diocese of New York and the GIFT Box
Human trafficking is a global scourge affecting The Episcopal Church and all member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Countering this criminal phenomenon has been a mission priority for The Episcopal Church for decades, with General Convention passing resolutions and policies on human trafficking even as the United Nations was developing its global international legal framework to overcome trafficking in persons in the early 2000s. As Episcopalians’ awareness of human trafficking has increased, so has the number of local Episcopal programs and ministries providing critical information, resources, education, training, advocacy, counseling and other services.
One such ministry is that of New York’s Diocesan Task Force Against Human Trafficking, which recently displayed the UN GIFT Box at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the diocesan headquarters. Yvonne O’Neal, member of the Task Force, Team Leader for the GIFT Box initiative, member of the UN’s NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons and co-chair of the UN’s NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, reports on its impact.
A picture is worth a thousand words and the GIFT Box that was on display at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine from November 2015 to January 2016 served as a graphic reminder of the nightmare that is human trafficking. The Task Force against Human Trafficking of the Episcopal Diocese of New York displayed the GIFT Box in the Cathedral during the Diocesan Convention so all members of the Diocese could see it. It was then on display outside by the Peace Fountain through the end of January 2016.
The GIFT Box is a walk-in piece of public art that was originally launched during the London 2012 Olympics by STOP THE TRAFFIK and the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN GIFT). On the outside it looks like an enormous gift, but the pictures and stories inside the box tell about the insidious evil that is human trafficking. The GIFT Box introduces visitors to the reality of what human trafficking is like and causes people to take note.
A cadre of volunteers, including three from the Task Force, were trained to staff the box. It was a great opportunity to talk to people, not only from New York, but from different parts of the world who visited the GIFT Box. Task Force member Christina Hing vividly recalls the 7th grader from the Cathedral School who was visibly moved when he entered the box and read every word. The young man remarked, “This is very interesting.” This was probably the first time this young man, as well as many of the other visitors, heard about human trafficking.
The presence of the GIFT Box was a teaching moment for nearby schools. One group of young folks from an afterschool program visited, asked lots of questions and took copies of the Task Force’s brochure home with them. These young people can be advocates for change. Everyone who visited the GIFT Box was asked to sign a letter asking Congress to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.
While the GIFT Box was inside the Cathedral, volunteers mounted a big social media campaign to let people know of its presence. One of my friends stopped by after he saw something I posted. In late December, the GIFT Box caught the eye of WCBS reporter Lynda Lopez, whose podcast is available online. We are grateful for the wide publicity and interest that her reporting generated.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has noted that trafficking in persons is one of the fastest growing means by which people are enslaved. It is the fastest growing international crime. Human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide – exceeded only by drug trafficking. According to the International Labor Organization, 5.5 million children are the victims of human trafficking, including sex exploitation, forced labor, and as prison/child soldiers.
The Diocese of New York’s Task Force Against Human Trafficking, chaired by the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, aims to educate and advocate against human trafficking. We seek to bring greater awareness that this is a problem that exists all over the world, throughout in the United States – no State is immune – and that it is a big problem within our own Diocese. We urge people to learn more and see how they can be advocates for change. Any suspicious activity that looks like another human being is in captivity should be reported to the police or to the national hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
Yvonne O’Neal, Member, Diocesan Task Force Against Human Trafficking; Team Leader, GIFT Box at CSJD; Co-chair, NGO Committee on Sustainable Development; Member, NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons