Salvatorian anti-trafficking ministry’s next chapter

What  Sister Jean Schafer, SDS calls “a large bump in the road” has prompted her and Sister Sheila Novak, SDS to uproot their SDS Hope House ministry and replant it into the hands of another local organization that shares their vision. In January 2015, Sr. Jean’s leg was shattered when she was hit by a car while on a walk. Three hospitalizations, two surgeries, and seven months of recuperation convinced her and Sr. Sheila that their two-woman team is no longer able to provide a 24/7 service to survivors of human trafficking.

Sr. Jean says, “In the Bible, seven is the symbol denoting completeness. So, after completing exactly seven years, we have decided to pass our shelter ministry into younger hands. Providentially, in January 2015 we heard that another local group, the Alabaster Jar Project, intended to raise funds to start a house for survivors in North San Diego County . . . Through these months of collaboration we are confident that their services to trafficked survivors will be carried forward ethically and with compassion.”  As of March 1, the Alabaster Jar Project will officially begin operating the house as their shelter.

Srs. Sheila and Jean have collaborated in their antitrafficking ministry for 13 years. Their work has taken many forms, from developing educational materials to presentations about modern-day slavery to law enforcement officials and health care professionals. In 2004, they worked with California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, leading to the first antitrafficking legislation, known as the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2006.

Then in 2008, with support of the SDS North American Province, Srs. Sheila and Jean opened SDS Hope House in California to help survivors of human trafficking rebuild their lives. SDS Hope House offers safe transitional housing for women who are ready to begin their healing journey from situations of enslavement.  In the course of the last seven years, the sisters have provided resources to 45 women, about half foreign nationals and half U.S. citizens. Being with these women 24/7, Srs. Jean and Sheila came to understand the long road human trafficking survivors must walk to re-establish their freedom, self-reliance and dignity.

The sisters will remain in California and continue their anti-trafficking ministry in other ways. Sr. Jean will continue to publish her monthly Stop Trafficking e-newsletter, made possible through a growing number of sponsors, primarily Catholic Sisters’ congregations. The newsletter spurs people to action by dispelling misconceptions and raising awareness of human trafficking that happens in plain sight.

The sisters’ advocacy efforts have steadily gained momentum over the years, and helped to achieve systemic change, such as state and federal laws that did not exist 15 years ago. Early on, Sr. Sheila founded two coalitions for different agencies to share information and resources to aid trafficking victims. Srs. Sheila and Jean also addressed church and school groups, civic organizations, and hospital and law enforcement personnel about red flags for trafficking activity and how to respond to help victims. Their educational program, “Breaking the Snares,” has been adapted for Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith traditions.

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