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In November, 2006 the religious Sisters of Northwest Ohio, along with nine other dioceses in Ohio and Kentucky, committed themselves to finding ways to address the issue of human trafficking in their vicinities. A small representative group from the Ursuline Sisters, the Sylvania Franciscans, the Notre Dames and the Tiffin Franciscans began meeting monthly to educate and advocate for victims of human trafficking. This representative group has become known as the STOP! (Stop Trafficking Of Persons) Organization. The first members of this group were Sr. Sandy Sherman OSU, Sr. Sharon Havelak OSF/S, Sr. Madeleva Kraus OSF/S, Sr. Madelena Pohlman SNND, and Sr. Mary Kuhlman OSF/T.
In Sept. 2007 the STOP! Committee attended the annual international conference on Human Trafficking at the University of Toledo sponsored by Dr. Celia Williamson. Since then some members of STOP! attend this conference every year and assist with registration and the introduction of speakers.
- At the same time each religious community committed to a year’s study of the issues surrounding this horrendous plight in our midst. Each community invited survivors to share their stories, prepared prayer services, encouraged reading, and formed discussion groups to help educate themselves about this issue.
STOP! officially began when the Sisters of the Toledo Diocese took a corporate stance against human trafficking. It was celebrated publicly with a beautiful, ecumenical ritual/prayer service at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, Toledo, OH on August 17, 2008.
After the public stance against Human Trafficking several other people joined our committee for a period of time: Jean Underfer-Babalis, Pastor Cheri Holdridge, Carolyn Giera OSF/S, Madelena Pohlman SND, Margaret Hall OSF/S, Diane Marie Pfahler SND, Anne Mary Molyet SND, Karen Bernhardt, H.M., and Linda Connolly. Current members include: Sisters Mary Kuhlman OSF/T, Geraldine Nowak OSF/S, Pat Gardner OSF/S, Ann-Marie Borgess SND, Sandy Sherman OSU, and Fatima Al-hayani.
- STOP!’s first endeavor was to raise funds from the regional conference of LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) to produce a DVD on human trafficking to use as a teaching tool in schools. This was done at the request of Dr. Celia Williamson, Associate Professor of Social Work and Criminal Justice researcher from the University of Toledo. Dr. Williamson has been an excellent community advocate in Human Trafficking since 1993.
- Since August of 2008 we have continued to meet monthly. All committee members attended a training session on Trafficking hosted by the Collaborative in Cleveland, OH. Two Humility of Mary Sisters, Sr. Toby Lardie and Sr. Karen Walsh gave the training.
- Also in 2008 the Sisters of St. Francis in Tiffin opened a home (Sisters in Shelter) for trafficked survivors. This home stayed open for three years, but closed in 2011 due to lack of staffing and finances. Both the STOP! Committee and Sisters in Shelter Advisory Board continue to look for ways to collaborate more fully with other homes for survivors and hope eventually to open another home. Some members were active with Second Chance in Toledo. Sr. Sandy Sherman, Sr. Ann-Marie Borgess, and Sr. Geraldine Nowak began having retreat days and spirituality support sessions with the women at Second Chance. They formed a S.H.E. (Spirituality for Healing and Empowerment) ministry for these women. Monthly Coffee Houses were also held. Several other Sisters participated.
- At this time (March, 2012) STOP! as an organization is not involved with any one house in the area that works with victims. Individuals who wish to involve themselves with Second Chance, the Daughter Project, or Rahab’s House are free to do so. Currently some are doing street outreach for Rahab’s House.
- In March of 2009, STOP! sponsored a conference to educate social workers and counselors with approximately 100-125 people attending. It was held in Sylvania, OH, Sisters of St. Francis.
- In April, 2010 a conference was held in Tiffin, OH (Sisters of St. Francis) for fifty high school juniors from Catholic schools. Theresa Flores, a survivor of trafficking, was the guest speaker and students, along with their advisors, came up with strategic plans to educate their peers and parents about this issue.
- In January 2012 STOP! again hosted a conference at the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania, OH on the Pastoral Responses to Human Trafficking. Representatives of varied faith traditions offered responses to victims. Dr. Celia Williamson began the day with Human Trafficking 101. We received coverage from The Toledo Blade three weeks in a row, were featured on two local TV channels, and were featured in the Catholic Chronicle. Previous to that, Sr. Mary Kuhlman was interviewed by Annunciation Radio and was featured in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) in an article about Human Trafficking;
- For 2013, it is our hope to be able to educate hotel chains, their managers and staff members. We hope to do this collaboratively using resource people working in the area of Human Trafficking.
OTHER STOP! ACTIVITIES:
- In 2010 a Coalition was started in the Tiffin, OH area for those agencies and service people concerned about Human Trafficking in small towns.
- The STOP! Committee ordered t-shirts with S.T.O.P. on the front. And the Tiffin Sisters in Shelter Advisory Board ordered wrist bands with STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING on them. The Sisters in Shelter Board constructed three silhouettes and a board of information as a display for drawing awareness to this issue. These silhouettes have been placed in public and university libraries, churches and schools. They are available for use in the Tiffin and Toledo, OH areas.
- Members of STOP! and Sisters in Shelter Board took part in the SOAP Project during the Detroit Auto Show in January, 2012. The SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) Project was started by Theresa Flores, herself a survivor of human trafficking. Volunteers learn about trafficking, attach stickers providing the 1 -888-3737-888 hotline number to small bars of soap, and then deliver these soaps to hotels in locales near the auto show.
- A prayer was composed by the Tiffin Franciscan Sisters’ Associates in Mexico. The prayer is prayed and distributed at various events.
- Sister Sandy is STOP!’s representative to the Lucas County Coalition on Human Trafficking in Toledo, OH and works with the Education and Marketing Committee of that group. Sr. Geraldine represents STOP! on the Ohio Attorney General’s Trafficking in Persons Study Commission. She is on the Prevention, Education and Outreach Committee. STOP! was invited to participate by State Representative Theresa Fedor.
- Each month members continue to give presentations to churches, schools, hospitals, civic organizations, women’s groups, etc. Members of STOP are available to groups that wish to be educated on Human Trafficking.