by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
Right behind drug dealing, it is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal activity in the world. It counts approximately 700,000 victims every year. An estimated 17,500 persons are victimized by it each year in the United States. These victims include young children, women, and men. And yet, many Americans are unaware of its existence or pervasiveness. It is human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person by force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.
The Catholic Church has condemned human trafficking and established social services to help its victims. At the same time, she has called for laws against human trafficking and changes in social systems to address the root causes of human trafficking.
The Fathers of the Vatican II, reaffirmed the Church’s historic concern about forced labor, stating that “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, [and] disgraceful working conditions where [people] are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons” are “infamies” because they are an affront to very nature of the human person.
In more recent years, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, and representatives of the Holy See have strongly condemned human trafficking as an intrinsic violation of human dignity that all governments must address. Bishop conferences around the world responded by putting increased pressure on governments to enact new laws and enforce existing prohibitions on human trafficking. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops played an important role in getting the the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 passed and implemented, and has contracted with the federal government to provide services to the victims of human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking can be highly skilled, but most are poor and desperate. They see migration as a way to escape oppressive and dire conditions. At the same time, there is “demand” in more developed countries for forced labor and sex trade services.
Human traffickers promise unsuspecting victims an opportunity to travel to a foreign land for employment and housing. Some arrive at their location legally. At the end of the journey, however, they are forced to work in the sex trade, domestic services, or manual labor. Their freedom to legally move about is removed by physical and psychological coercion or abuse.
Some victims are never discovered. Those that are often traumatized by physical, mental, and psychological abuse. Many become ill with disease or become infected with HIV.
Human trafficking is not a problem only in some distant land. Thousands of persons are trafficked each year in the United States for forced labor and prostitution. Some may have arrived here with the intention to work legally. Upon arrival, they are confined and not allowed to travel. The traffickers hold whatever legal documents the victims may have as a method of coercion. Whenever Americans engage in “sex tourism” or turn a blind eye to work conditions, they contribute to the environment which allows human trafficking to flourish.
The Human Trafficking Victims Protection Act provided a good start to addressing the problem. The federal government can, however, do more. In the meantime, states have started enacting their own laws to crack down on human trafficking. These laws supplement federal enforcement, close loopholes, and provide additional tools for prosecution.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference is working with North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on legislation for the 2009 legislative session to ensure that our state’s laws address human trafficking to the fullest extent possible. At the same time, the North Dakota Catholic Conference will take this opportunity to inform people about this crime against humanity and how you can assist in the global effort to eliminate human trafficking and help its survivors.
Stay tuned to the North Dakota Catholic Conference web site for more information during the upcoming legislative session.