Priest gives voice to those caught in human-trafficking trade

According to the Walk Free Foundation, more than 35 million people are enslaved worldwide, and over half are women and girls. Many of them are victims of sex trafficking, a specific form of modern slavery that exists throughout the world, the United States and Virginia. In Virginia, there were 663 tips to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2014.

Father Chris Vorderbruggen
Father Chris Vorderbruggen

The Rev. Chris Vorderbruggen, a priest of the Independent Old Catholic Church, believes the way to change these kinds of statistics is not to cite them, but to give voice to the people behind them. He will present “Peace from the Broom Closet: Stories of Two Sisters of the Night” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, in Memorial Chapel at Sweet Briar College.

The event is free and open to the public. Please note, however, that the program contains subject matter that is not appropriate for young audiences. Children younger than 12 should not attend.

As a young missionary working in Mexico’s border towns, Vorderbruggen says he used his priest’s collar to gain access to victims of sex trafficking. He wasn’t there to rescue them, he said, but he collected their stories to share with others to bring attention to their plight.

“This is not an academic presentation,” Vorderbruggen said. “My goal is to make people feel by telling [personal] stories, so others might be called to take some action. Who knows, there might be a Sweet Briar student who will decide to change the world.”

He met Rachael and Sasha in a border-town brothel, where they’d been force into the sex trade as young girls. What happened to them is both shocking and inspiring, he says. His account, told in the tradition of storytelling, is real and unadulterated. It may trigger painful reactions for some, he warns, but there is another side to relate, too.

“I want them to be seen as more than victims. That’s just one aspect of their stories. They had dreams to be a doctor and a ballet dancer. I want to show what they were hoping of and dreaming of, even in captivity, and how it all happened.”

Participants also can learn more about abuse, slavery and human trafficking in Virginia from area nonprofit organizations during the program’s intermission.

Sweet Briar’s gender studies program is sponsoring Vorderbruggen’s presentation. Students have been actively involved in planning the event, as well as promoting it through a website, www.PeaceFromTheBroomCloset.org.

“The women of Sweet Briar understand the power of solidarity and the need to persevere against overwhelming odds,” said Madeline Artibee ’16. “We hope this event honors the humanity of Rachael and Sasha, raises awareness of the trafficking crisis and empowers others to join in the daunting fight against oppression.”

An interfaith community potluck will be held the night before “Peace from the Broom Closet” at 6 p.m. March 29 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The theme is “A Call to Service.” Area families from diverse faith backgrounds are invited to attend. Vorderbruggen and Sweet Briar students will talk about human trafficking and the impact that the Peace from the Broom Closet Project has had on their lives. A representative from Freedom 4/24 will be available to answer questions.

For more information, contact Liz Kent León at lkent@sbc.edu or (434) 381-6315.