Melissa Holman shakes hands with Pope Francis in November while attending the Pontifical Academy of Sciences conference which is fighting human trafficking and the slave trade. Courtesy photo
Human trafficking paper elicits invitation from Vatican
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Human trafficking is a problem both nationally and internationally, and earlier this year, Pope Francis called for a gathering of Vatican and other experts with the aim of better tackling the issue.
The conference, hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, took place in November in Vatican City, and among those in attendance and speaking was a Liberal High School graduate who now works for the Texas Attorney General’s office.
In law school at the University of Texas, Melissa Holman published a paper about human trafficking and sex trafficking and U.S. legislation on the issue.
“It talked about the link between legalized prostitution and sex trafficking,” she said.
Pope Francis has made human trafficking one of his big agenda items, and the aim of the November conference was to have people who work in the field brainstorm ways to combat the problem, and thus, form an official Vatican response to the issue.
In her paper, Holman said to many, the worldwide slave trade is a problem found only in history books, but the truth is that human beings are still being enslaved on a massive scale.
“Often, the victims are women and children held captive for the purposes of sexual slavery,” the paper read.
The paper, written in 2009, gave an estimate from the U.S. Department of State of approximately 560,000 women and children that are trafficked across international borders each year and forced into the commercial sex trade. This is, however, a conservative estimate, she said.
“Some non-governmental organizations put the number well into the millions,” the paper noted.
Over the two days of the conference, Holman and 15 other speakers spoke for 30 minutes each, with each presentation followed by a 15-minute discussion period.
“The first day, they had us all meet the pope and take a group photo,” she said. “On the second day, they held a private mass for us in St. Peter’s Basilica.”
In addition to the speakers, there were a total of 60 people in attendance, and Holman said she was the only American asked to speak at the conference.
“There were some attendees from the U.S.,” she said. “It was definitely international. There wasn’t a huge American presence.”
The LHS grad was naturally honored to be able to speak at an event of this magnitude.
“I was definitely intimidated by the caliber of the people that were there, but also very excited and definitely very honored to have been invited,” she said. “It’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Holman graduated from LHS in 2002 before doing undergrad work at Wichita State and later to law school at UT.
“After that, I did a federal courtship for two years there in Austin,” she said. “I was in private practice for a year and a half in Dallas. I’ve been working for the Texas AG since March.”
Holman said human trafficking has always been an area of interest for her.
“I don’t really work on it professionally,” she said. “I’m not a human rights lawyer, but this conference definitely made me want to start getting more involved.”
Holman is an assistant attorney general for the State of Texas in the AG office’s litigation division.
“Basically, we’re the defense attorneys for the state and its agencies when they get sued,” she said. “There’s constitutional law, employment law, all kinds of stuff.”
Holman said when she found out she was going to speak at the conference, she was a little overwhelmed.
“I don’t really know how they found it,” she said of the paper. “It’s on the Internet. It was published in a journal. They contacted me about it. At first, I didn’t think it was legitimate, and then they sent me the booklet. I realized it probably was the real deal.”
Holman said much research was done by conference officials when selecting what would be presented.
“I’m sure they read all kinds of articles that had been published and just kind of selected those they were interested in having be presented,” she said. “On doing the research on human trafficking, they came across my paper and liked it.”
Holman considers herself fortunate to get to speak at the conference.
“There’s a ton of scholarly research on this area,” she said. “I was lucky they picked me to present.”
Holman is the daughter of Pastor Ann Holman of Liberal.
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