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Acton Commentary: Obama Administration Leaves Human Trafficking Victims Out in the Cold

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“Most of us enjoy an economy where we can purchase with ease the things we need and enjoy. However, there is no moral justification for the commercialization of some things; human beings are not products to be bought and sold,” writes Elise Hilton in the latest Acton Commentary (published October 3). The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Obama Administration Leaves Human Trafficking Victims Out in the Cold

By Elise Hilton

Imagine a teen girl: After a fight with her mom, she takes off. It happens a lot; maybe her mom drinks too much. The teenager’s winter afternoon walk leads nowhere in particular, until a man in a car stops. He asks if he can buy her something warm to drink, telling her she is too pretty to be out alone on a cold day. The compliment is enough to get her in the car. She’s just become a trafficked person, snared into the sex trade.

Child or human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. The Department of Justice notes the average age of a child for entry into the sex trade is 12, and 300,000 American children are at risk annually for this crime.

Most of us enjoy an economy where we can purchase with ease the things we need and enjoy. However, there is no moral justification for the commercialization of some things; human beings are not products to be bought and sold.

On September 25, President Obama launched a $6 million effort aimed at trafficking. “When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery,” he said. “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.” He praised faith-based organizations that combat trafficking.

There is a sick irony to this. Last year, the associate director for anti-trafficking services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) program, Hilary Chester, said her staff hoped that a strong record of aiding trafficked victims would keep federal funds flowing into the program. That was before the USCCB received an email stating that it would no longer receive government funds because the Catholic Church refuses to provide abortion, sterilization and artificial birth control to its employees or those the Church’s agencies serve.

The highly-regarded USCCB-administered program coordinated a network of organizations, many faith-based, overseeing $15 million in government funds, according to the National Catholic Register. Now, that money is gone. Maricella Garcia, of Catholic Charities in Little Rock, Ark., says her agency has stopped offering services to trafficked victims. “The grant that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had is that they provided direct assistance money,” she said. “That could help a victim pay for rent or help them pay for food. We don’t have that capability anymore.”

This is more than a bureaucratic decision to fund one agency over another. The Obama Administration is waging war against religious liberty, the HHS mandate its biggest gun. The mandate states that group health plans must cover “[FDA-]approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity. FDA approved contraception includes Plan B (morning after pill).” Organizations with moral objections to these procedures and medications face stiff financial penalties for non-compliance.

To date, more than 80 plaintiffs have filed suit against the mandate, not all Catholic. David Green, founder of the craft-store chain Hobby Lobby, joined the lawsuit, citing his evangelical Christian faith: “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”  Sixty-five Eastern Orthodox bishops have called for the rescinding of this mandate. Michael Milton, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in North Carolina stated, “This is not a Catholic issue only. It is not a contraception issue. It is a religious liberty issue.”

Back to our teenage girl. Say she manages to escape a life that included beatings, starvation, imprisonment and prostitution. She will need counseling, a place to live, an education, means to support herself. Where can she turn? According to Obama’s new initiative, she can turn to a business-to-business network established to identify trafficking, or a research partnership at a university. Perhaps she’ll find help from the tourism industry where an awareness campaign has been promoted.

That’s absurd. The girl won’t find help from these places. The help she needs was to be found in the thousands of local and state agencies previously funded — now with nothing to offer. For many religious groups, there will be no more governmental funds to counsel her, help her get a GED, an apartment or put food in the cupboard. The Obama Administration has decided that above and beyond this care, there must be provisions for abortions, sterilization and artificial birth control. Although these agencies are closest to the problem, know the situation in their area, and are most familiar with how to help someone there, the HHS mandate says they can’t help at all, if they don’t offer services they find morally reprehensible. Unless the faith community and private donors are able to fill in the substantial financial gap, most of these agencies that previously served trafficking victims will find themselves unable to offer help.

Where does that leave the girl? Just as vulnerable as she was before, walking down the street after a fight with her mother.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).