Cabrini University’s ECG Anti-Human Trafficking class, the Barbara and John Jordan Center and the Cabrini Action & Advocacy Coalition (Cabrini Closet) recently organized an evening at Cabrini University with guest speaker, Tammy McDonnell, an activist, advocate and human trafficking survivor. The following are excerpts of the account of the presentation which appeared in Catholic Philly.com.
Human trafficking survivor Tammy McDonnell shared her experiences on November 6 at Cabrini University and, through a panel discussion that followed, raised awareness among students and residents about the crime of trafficking — a form of modern-day slavery — its prevalence in Philadelphia-area communities and how to combat it.
Human trafficking occurs when force, fraud, or coercion is used to control another person for the purpose of engagement in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against that person’s will.
“Slavery is death,” said McDonnell, who is also an activist for Covenant House in Philadelphia. Human trafficking treats people as disposable, she said.
“Trafficking happens in your own backyard,” she said, adding that it is so prevalent, “you can be sitting next to a survivor, and not even know it.”
Her human trafficking story began when she sold her car for $800 to a man that she now realizes was a “recruiter,” an intermediary who referred her to someone who could give her a job that she needed, which “was the start of everything.”
Looking back, she now realizes her trafficker was a predator who took advantage of her vulnerabilities. She felt trapped and was too afraid to break away because she needed to protect her family from the trafficker, who made threats against her mother and her children.
Then one day, she said, “this cosmic mental switch went off, and I said, ‘I’m done.’” She fled Philadelphia for New Jersey, where she was homeless and subsisted by committing petty theft crimes, such as breaking into parked cars and stealing items which she sold to purchase food and drugs.
The crisis center referred McDonnell to a women’s recovery program, where she lived with Catholic nuns for 18 months. During her recovery, one of the sisters recommended McDonnell for a position as survivor advocate for Covenant House in Philadelphia. Now, her role has been expanded also to include outreach worker.
“I can raise awareness because it’s so necessary,” McDonnell said. She advocates for laws to prevent human trafficking in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “I knew nothing about the law, except how to break it.” But now she attends community college, pursuing paralegal studies, and hopes eventually to attend law school. “My life is helping other people,” she says.