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Local View: House, event aim to erase normalization of exploitation

The Hildegard House, a Catholic Worker Community house, opened in 2014 as a response to the Duluth Trafficking Task Force request to join a team of service providers for people who have experienced sex trafficking. Our house, like many other Catholic Worker houses in the U.S., is committed to providing hospitality for the homeless, the exiled, and the hungry. It also is committed to protesting injustice, war, racism, and violence in all its forms.

The particular mission of Hildegard House is to welcome and offer compassionate, nonjudgmental hospitality to those who have experienced human trafficking and are in need of a place to rest and heal. Over the past three years, our Catholic Worker Community has offered hospitality, provided supportive and fun events, offered a listening ear, and cooked quite a few good meals for women who have experienced sex trafficking. We made a community house into a home with the hope that all who enter will be restored with dignity and self-worth.

Currently, our community has incorporated the Phoenix Rising Program, which is run by survivors of sex trafficking. With logistical help and support from the Hildegard House Catholic Worker Community, Phoenix Rising is developing a multitude of peer-led supportive services and activities.

And while the Phoenix Rising community is helping to comfort the afflicted, others will be looking to address the violence that comes from the demand side of human trafficking. This might be referred to as afflicting the comfortable.

For too long, the profiteers of human trafficking have been protected by social norms that have reduced human beings to commodities. The sex industries that include strip clubs, porn shops, and escort services get legal protection and become acceptable businesses. Our economic system of rampant, unbridled capitalism dominated by patriarchal principles provides the almost-perfect setting for the business of sex trafficking to flourish. It is, in fact, a multimillion-dollar enterprise. It also is referred to as modern-day slavery.

Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement, raised the question, “Where are the saints to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?” It is time to do away with the institutionalization, legitimization, and normalization of sexual exploitation. It is time to restore the inherent God-given dignity in every human being by loosening the chains from the oppressed, holding the oppressor accountable, demanding restorative justice, changing societal norms, and doing away with a system of unchecked capitalism.

Saturday will mark the second annual “Lantern Launch” sponsored by the Hildegard House Catholic Worker Community. We invite you to join us as we send light and a message of support, encouragement, and hope to all those who still silently suffer in human sex trafficking.

To you, our sisters and brothers in captivity, you are not alone.

Michele Naar-Obed is one of nine women from the Duluth community who started the Hildegard House Catholic Worker Community. She has lived for more than two decades in the Catholic Worker Community model and is well known for her local, national, and international social-justice work.