Fighting sex trafficking at the Super Bowl

 With the Super Bowl approaching, New Jersey Catholic high school students have developed an anti-sex trafficking public service announcement, and a Catholic investment group gets the word out to Tri-State hotels.

New Jersey Catholic high school leads fight against human trafficking

By EmmaLee Italia

With the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics approaching, those seeking to exploit others via human trafficking will have opportunities beyond the everyday.

But others are using the events to raise awareness and combat the abuse of fellow human beings.

Students at Benedictine Academy, a Catholic all-girls prep high school in Elizabeth, have participated in developing a public service announcement, in cooperation with Not On Our Watch Advocacy and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General Human Trafficking Task Force.

The 60-second clip may be viewed at

Testifying at the Trenton War Memorial Jan. 24, the academy's student leadership team, the Benedictine Cor Defenders, highlighted their awareness training materials during the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day program.

"I was very impressed with their presentation," said Jim King, director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference. "Any time you have a youth-led educational resource, it certainly is commendable. I know I tend to pay more attention when the youth speak (on this subject), because unfortunately they are often the ones targeted as human trafficking victims."

'Modern-day slavery'
King believes the students captured the essence of the New Jersey bishops' statement on human trafficking, issued Jan. 11.

"Programs like the ones offered by the students of Benedictine Academy are essential to the fight against modern-day slavery," King told the Monitor, newspaper of the Trenton Diocese. The school is in the Newark Archdiocese.

"Even with all the recent awareness about human trafficking, it will still be occurring. ... The issue needs to be kept at the forefront of people's minds, and I think that's what the bishops had in mind."

Benedictine students declared a "vow of silence" on Jan. 11 -- Human Trafficking Awareness Day -- to show solidarity with victims of human trafficking, many of whom are kept silent by their poverty and status. Students covered their mouths with an X made of tape and refrained from speaking.

"Right now the most important thing is to get people to put the anti-human trafficking hotline number into cell phones," said Linda H. Michalski, Benedictine Academy's theology chair and campus minister. "We are also issuing a Super Bowl 'Halftime Challenge' -- to Facebook or Twitter the hotline number and PSA to at least five friends."

The Cor Defenders (also known as Defenders of the Heart) have launched several instructive programs. The Be Five By Five program, slang for "be smart," trains young people and adults to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Their goal is to distribute the Be Five By Five program on USB flash drives, especially around major U.S. events.

"The program offers empowerment points," said Michalski, "such as, tell your family and friends where you're going, don't allow anyone to humiliate you or ask you to lie, don't meet people on the Internet." These situations are considered red flags for victimization, but they're also an opportunity for students to be empowered by seeking help.

Readying for Feb. 8
Benedictine students also have begun their prayerful participation for Feb. 8, designated by the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking.

Feb. 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once she was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering.

"Prayer is always an integral part of what we do," said Michalski. "In addition to the PSA, we built in a prayer service in our homerooms ... and handed out prayer cards about St. Josephine Bakhita."

New Jersey Catholic Conference director Patrick Brannigan was pleased with the efforts of students like those attending Benedictine.

"I think it's wonderful to see students involved this way," Brannigan said. "It brings them closer to their faith. Once young students begin practicing their faith and participating in social outreach like this, they often tend to become teachers. And like the adage says, one of the best ways to learn is to teach."

Brannigan noted that the statement released by the New Jersey bishops really stated well the concerns of the Catholic community regarding human trafficking.

"In recent months we've been hearing a lot about this issue," Brannigan said. "There are so many instances we're totally unaware of, in which people are basically held captive as indentured servants."

Italia is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.

Catholic News Service - January 28, 2014





'Positive feedback' reported in bid to curb Super Bowl sex trafficking
By Mark Pattison 

anti-trafficking gathering
Mercy Sister Anne Fleming leads a prayer for victims of human trafficking on Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Detroit in early January. U.S. women religious are uniting in an effort to eradicate human trafficking through eduction, advocacy and assisting the victims. (CNS photo/Jim West)

A lot of "positive feedback" has been reported from hotels expecting an influx of visitors for the Feb. 2 Super Bowl with regard to efforts to curb human trafficking -- primarily sex trafficking -- surrounding the event.

The report comes from Margot Morris, program director for the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment. It has been Morris' job to reach out to hotels big and small from Connecticut to Philadelphia as fans check in with football on their mind -- and traffickers check in with easy money on their mind.

"In New Jersey we got 78 percent positive feedback from the hotels," Morris told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 27 telephone interview.

Hotel 'hierarchy'
Morris spoke of a "hierarchy" of positive feedback. Some hotel managers, she said, responded, "Thank you for speaking at us. It's a really busy time," and offered to put anti-trafficking information by the employee bulletin board area. "On the other hand, we had very encouraging managers who said, 'I can't believe I wasn't aware of this issue. I'm going to have my staff training as soon as possible.'"

To help those hotel managers, the Tri-State Coalition conducted training for hotel staff in November at Rutgers University's law school.

Dominican Sister Pat Daly, the coalition's executive director, said the organization has been planning for this ever since the National Football League awarded Super Bowl XLVIII two years ago to MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City.

"We didn't want to vilify the NFL, we didn't want to vilify the hotels," Sister Pat said. "It's a business -- a high-profit business, an influx of short-term tourists are coming to the area. Unfortunately, it's a great opportunity (for traffickers) to gain lot of profit."

Morris told CNS of one new wrinkle in the hotel outreach effort, this one to independently run budget-priced hotels and motels that dot the New Jersey landscape. "It's a soap campaign. It was established by a survivor, Teresa Flores," Morris said. "We deliver basic human trafficking info and posters of local, missing children. The bars of soap that they give out for free have a hotline number on it."

Hotel operators have been taking the soap bars, and some have even prominently displayed their anti-trafficking training certificate, Morris said.

Billions of dollars
The Tri-State Coalition is the largest Catholic investment group in the New York region, Sister Pat said, adding her hopes that its outreach will make an impact. "The difference in heightened awareness (on trafficking) and within the industry is a deterrent in itself," she said, "I hope with all this awareness being raised now, traffickers will be less included to bring their girls to the area."

New Jersey's Catholic bishops, in a Jan. 11 statement, "Modern Day Slaves Living Within Our Midst," acknowledged that human trafficking exists in their state and in 161 other countries around the world.

It cited statistics from Catholic Relief Services that human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide; at least 12.3 million people are trafficked worldwide; more than 1 million children are victims of trafficking; and on average, only 1 person is convicted for every 800 trafficking cases worldwide.

The bishops urged "fighting this grave violation of fundamental human rights, especially the sexual exploitation of women and children." In New Jersey, the church worked to get passage of the Human Trafficking Protection Prevention and Treatment Act.

Trafficking women and girls
At a Jan. 27 hearing on sex trafficking at the Super Bowl by the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, subcommittee chairman Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said: "The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that more than 10,000 exploited women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010. This must not happen again!"

Smith talked about the Department of Homeland Security's "Blue Lightning" training initiative adopted by many airlines; through the program airline personnel learn how to identify potential traffickers and their victims and to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.

"With minimal modifications, the training is also easily adaptable to bus drivers and station operators, train conductors, trucking associations and other transportation industry professionals," he said.

The U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration has designated Feb. 8 as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking. Feb. 8 is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once she was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering.

Catholic News Service - January 28, 2014