Amistad Houston empowers community to raise awareness, fight against human trafficking

January 24, 2016

HOUSTON — The United Nations International Labor Organization estimates that more than 21 million adults and children worldwide are victims of human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Houston, due, in part to our city’s demographics and geography, is one of the largest destinations and hubs for human trafficking in the United States. 

Each victim of modern day slavery has a different journey. It could be a child from rural Mississippi forced into prostitution, or a child across the globe from rural Ghana forced into the cocoa industry. It could be an immigrant to the United States, legal or undocumented, who has been fraudulently offered a good paying job in a restaurant or hotel, factory or farm, only to be deceived. It could be a runaway teen or mail-order bride who was promised security or love, but instead finds herself a captive, unable to leave the home. All are victims who are forced to endure brutality, endless labor or sexual slavery. 

“It is hard to think of trafficking happening in our own communities but it does,” said Wendy Garaghty, Parish Outreach Coordinator for the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. “This evil lurks in the dark corners, undetected by day to day happenings and flow of people in our city. Chances are wherever you live, it is happening nearby. The predators of human trafficking make no distinction between rich or poor, citizen or social status, age, gender or culture when choosing their victims. Your teenage daughter may be feeling down one day and a stranger approaches her saying all the things she needs to hear. He befriends her, invites her to meet him the next day, false promises of love are pledged and one day she is gone.”

Three years ago Garaghty, along with parishioners of the Co-Cathedral and volunteers with the Parish’s Outreach Ministry, decided it was time to do more. 

For the first 18 months, they began volunteering for and working with local agencies that provide services for the victims. “But, the more we got involved with these agencies, the more we felt our own flame wanting to burn brighter — we needed to ensure our Catholic identity was there in the midst of our good works. It was then that we turned to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’s (USCCB) Office of Migration and Refugee Services and found out about the Amistad Movement,” Garaghty continued. 

The Amistad Movement utilizes the Catholic Church’s extensive network of social service providers, advocates, charitable associations and ministry outreach programs to implement this direct and action-oriented awareness raising campaign, and seeks to empower at-risk communities with the educational tools to protect their own community members from falling victim to human trafficking.

After some initial correspondence, a visit from USCCB representatives and some volunteer training, the leaders of the Amistad Movement felt that the Co-Cathedral’s Outreach Ministry was a perfect candidate to take the lead on Amistad in Houston.

Since January 2015, the Amistad Houston team has been training receiving training from the USCCB, and in October, 2015, they were fully certified by the USCCB and launched Amistad Houston. 

“Our initial step is training teams of Community Educators for each Vicariate (a group of parishes representing the regions of the Archdiocese).The teams are responsible for bringing the same training to all parishes in their Vicariate,” Garaghty explained. 

“The people in the pews are so important to the success of Amistad Houston,” Garaghty said. “The laity, who live, work, shop, play and eat in the community can be instrumental in preventing this evil crime. Simply becoming aware of the businesses near you and what goes on in your neighborhood could prove to be life-saving to someone. Victims aren’t all in brothels, they are in private homes mopping floors and washing dishes in neighborhood restaurants.” 

“So, what can we do in the fight against this crime? First,” suggests Garaghty, “Sign up for an Amistad Training! You can’t do anything about something you don’t know about. Become aware and get the right resources.”

“As an individual or family, think about the choices you make daily on what you eat, wear and drive. Are we conscious consumers and ethical employers? So much of what we use in our lives comes from slave labor,” she continued.

“Become an Organ Donor. The U.S. is the largest consumer of organ trafficking, a horrific crime against the poor. Somewhere in another part of the world in a back alley someone is tricked into thinking they will be paid a few dollars to undergo a medical test only to wake up and find that they have a slit in their side and their body is stitched up. With an organ missing and no post medical care, many healthy individuals lose their lives. If we became organ donors, then we could minimize and prevent the demand for black market organs in the U.S.,” Garaghty said.
Garaghty concluded by saying, “God introduced me to my first victim of Human Trafficking 20 years ago, only I didn’t know it. If I had known then what I know now, her life and my life would be different today.”

To receive more information about the Amistad Houston Program or become an Amistad Community Educator, contact the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Outreach Ministry at For information about human trafficking, visit

To report a suspected circumstance of human trafficking, text #BeFree.

Amistad Houston is a ministry of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in partnership with the USCCB.

Did you know?
• Human Trafficking is a form of modern slavery that denies freedom to 21 million men, women and children around the world.
• It is an injustice that affects millions of people every year on every continent and at all socioeconomic levels. 
• Human trafficking is a highly organized, lucrative business, generating $150 billion per year.
• There are more slaves in the world today than in any other time in history.

Sources: Polaris and United Against Human Trafficking (Rescue and Restore)