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At the local abortion facility, an older man drives a car with four young women in the back into the patient parking lot. Those praying on the sidewalk are concerned, not only with the fact that they are entering an abortion facility, but also with the suspicious dynamics in this group. In a separate incident, across town at the Catholic pregnancy health care center, a woman breaks down and shares with the nurse that a man is selling her for sex and she might be pregnant.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans Respect Life Office's active engagement in a human trafficking awareness campaign helped those praying on the sidewalk and the pregnancy center staff to recognize the signs of human trafficking and make appropriate calls to report it. Through a collaborative effort with local service providers, the young woman at the health center was quickly relocated to a safe house for sex trafficking victims.
New Orleans is a known destination for human trafficking. The popular, tourist-driven economy and convenient location allow for a "market" for both buyers and sellers of these victims. Sadly, it's a microcosm of the trafficking going on across the country.
Statistics gathered from the Polaris Project's National Human Trafficking Hotline reveal that most of the U.S. female human trafficking victims are sold for sex, often multiple times each day, up to seven days a week. According to current research, female victims are very likely to conceive a child at some point, even if they regularly use birth control. Traffickers often force these women to then abort any child conceived. So, fighting the modern-day slavery of human trafficking is a deeply pro-life endeavor – for women and their unborn children, alike.
Dioceses around the country are developing various ways to respond to this urgent situation. The Archdiocese of New Orleans' local response is part of a comprehensive approach modeled on the U.S. bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the Catholic blueprint for respect life activities at the national and local levels.
In addition to raising public awareness about sex trafficking, the multi-faceted approach includes a train-the-trainer element. Recent statistics indicate that 87% of trafficking survivors had contact with a healthcare provider during the time they were being trafficked, with 57% of these situations involving a women's clinic, urgent care facility, or some other type of neighborhood clinic. Catholic healthcare providers, those who pray and counsel outside abortion facilities, and others who might encounter trafficking victims are getting the training they need to recognize and assist victims.
Raising awareness about human trafficking helps us partner with care providers through our donations and services for victims and survivors. It also serves our advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to affect changes legislatively.
Finally, the foundational work of prayer cannot be emphasized enough. This has grown into a whole new ministry, our Respect Life Prayer Team. Orchestrated by one of our Human Trafficking Committee members, the team leads a prayer effort involving hundreds around the archdiocese, including those who are retired, physically challenged, homebound, in assisted care residences, and others who cannot otherwise participate in this work.
The Church will keep fighting this evil hidden in plain sight. In addition to praying for the development of effective ministries for sex trafficking victims, check with your local diocese to see what resources are available for those most at risk.
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