US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Sister versus sex traffickers: I'm putting my money on the sisters

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As the contraception contretemps continues, there is another Catholic story that deserves just as much mention: The role of U.S. women religious (and women religious the world over) in the fight against sex trafficking, most of whose victims are women and children.

Sister Pat Bergen of the Sisters of St. Joseph of LaGrange, Illinois writes in an op-ed in today's Chicago Tribune that "the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimates that it is a $16 billion business in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. State Department reports that 14,500 to 18,000 victims are trafficked into this country annually for prostitution, forced labor or other forms of exploitation. The population of victims in this hidden illegal subculture is huge, but unverifiable. Nevertheless, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that it responded to more than 19,400 phone calls on its hotline in 2011." U.S. Catholic's own Margin Notes columnist, Kevin Clarke, recently spelled out the horrors of human trafficking in general in our January issue.

Sisters have had some notable successes in their efforts to fight sex trafficking around the Super Bowl. The sisters reached out to 220 Indianapolis-area hotels, offering information about recognizing sex trafficking, and heard back from 200 of them. Seven requested training for their employees; another 99 requested materials to help employees recognize and respond to possible human trafficking. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels recently signed a law toughening penalties for trafficking girls under 16.

'We want to share with the traffickers that we are watching," Sister Marilyn Nickol, of Cleveland's Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph Cleveland.

The traffickers should be worried--and I'm not kidding.