Sex trafficking and Super Bowl Sunday: Faith Groups Mobilize

Religion Newswriters Association, Religion Link

Super Bowl XLV in Dallas will be the most watched, and most hyped, sporting event of the year. But the dark side of such a huge gathering is the sex trade that targets the thousands who attend. This edition of ReligionLink focuses on the human trafficking pipeline that supplies the sex-for-money industry.

Religious groups have increasingly put human trafficking at the top of their social justice agendas, and many of those groups hope to use this year’s big game as a platform for drawing attention to what some call a modern-day slave trade.

Estimates of how many people are in some form of bondage around the globe range from 12 million to 27 million victims, and human trafficking is now a growing local issue in the United States, as experts say there are forced laborers and sex workers in every U.S. state.

Texas is a focal point for the American trade. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States annually, and some 20 percent of them come through Texas. In 2008, nearly 4 in 10 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline were from Texas.

Jan. 25 blog post at Christianity Today‘s website details how a number of church-based anti-trafficking groups plan to combat the sex trade during the run-up to the Super Bowl. The groups include Traffick911, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit, and Love 146, a Connecticut-based anti-trafficking ministry. And Christian Brothers Investment Services, an investment firm that works with 1,000 Catholic institutions, is pressuring Dallas hotels to help battle the sex trade.

The blight of human trafficking is of course far bigger than the Super Bowl and the state of Texas, and there are a number of developments that are raising the visibility of this issue, and the visibility of religious groups fighting to end modern slavery.

What’s new

  • NGOs and nonprofits are now enlisting the aid of international, national and local religious groups in the fight against human trafficking. Christian and Jewish groups in particular are bringing the issue and its victims into their congregations, exploring their sacred texts for direction and solutions. There are now cross-denominational Freedom Sundays and Freedom Shabbats and interfaith conferences dedicated to the issue. At the same time, more local and state governments are focusing on the issue. As of January 2011, 67 bills at the state level were pending, according to the Polaris Project.
  • The Conference on Religion, Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery will be held March 31-April 2, 2011, at the University of Denver, where it will be a joint project of the university and the Iliff School of Theology.
  • The Freedom Summit 2011 was held Jan. 21-22 and organized by the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition in concert with Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif. The summit focused on building community awareness and mobilization against human trafficking. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a keynote address.
  • In 2010, the U.S. State Department issued its 10th annual report on global human trafficking — the enforced labor, selling or prostitution of persons without their consent or benefit. “Trafficking in Persons Report 2010″ shows that 12.3 million people – most of them women and children – are enslaved globally. For the first time, the report ranked the U.S. among countries faced with the problem, and gave it “tier 1″ status, ranking it among the top enforcers of human trafficking laws and prosecutors of those who engage in it.
  • According to the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2005 there were about 10,000 forced laborers in the U.S., around one-third of whom were domestic servants and some portion of whom were children.
  • In December 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which was signed by then President George W. Bush.
  • In 2007, the U.S. Senate designated Jan. 11 as the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness.
  • Christian recording artists like Natalie Grant and Sara Groves are increasingly using their music to highlight the issue of human trafficking.

Why it matters

As various forms of human trafficking have become more prevalent and international, and as more children have become involved, more people are recognizing that prostitutes are often victims forced into the trade directly or through desperate circumstances over which they had little control. Their rescue and rehabilitation have become top priorities. Prostitution and slavery are addressed in Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures, and many people of faith believe that fighting human trafficking is a moral and religious imperative.

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