To: House Judiciary Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1185 - Human Trafficking
Date: January 19, 2009

The North Dakota Catholic Conference strongly supports House Bill 1185.

Right behind the illegal drug trade, human trafficking ties with arms dealing as the second largest criminal activity in the world. The U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders each year and approximately 17,500 of them are trafficked into the U.S. annually. Based on estimates by the U.S. government of the numbers of all trafficking victims and comparing those figures with widely cited figures of foreign-born children in the sex trade in the United States, some sources estimate that about one-third of foreign born victims trafficked into the country are children. In addition to these numbers, trafficking of U.S. citizens occurs within the U.S., although estimates are not readily available.

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, or deceit for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor - including debt bondage and child soldiering. These acts violate the dignity and nature of the human person and are nothing less than crimes against humanity.

Victims of human trafficking are often 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, their freedom is removed by physical force, psychological coercion or abuse, blackmail, or addiction to drugs. Traffickers force victims to work in the sex trade, as domestic servants, as manual laborers, or soldiers.

Victims of human trafficking suffer physical, mental, and psychological abuse. Many become ill with disease, infected with HIV, and subjected to forced abortions. Some manage to escape, but are forced into criminal activity in order to survive in a foreign land without legal authorization. Some are discovered and rescued, but suffer long-term consequences from their ordeal. Some are never discovered.

Combatting human trafficking requires a comprehensive effort involving communities from the local level to the international sphere. That is why this legislation is important. We must place enforcement and prosecution at every level possible.

In addition, programs must exist to rescue and transition victims of human trafficking. One such program is the Per Capita Victim Services program. This public/private partnership administered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides comprehensive case management to help the victims of trafficking.

Finally, we must address the demand side of the equation, not just with laws, but also with changes in attitudes. Whenever people engage in sex tourism or turn a blind eye to unjust work conditions, they contribute to the environment that allows human trafficking to flourish. These actions ultimately impact real people and violate the dignity of a child of God.

House Bill 1185 alone may not end human trafficking. It can, however, comprise one part of the overall effort to end this crime against humanity.

We urge a Do Pass recommendation on House Bill 1185.