Nuns’ innovative effort targets sex trafficking where it happens

01/19/2014 5:06 PM

01/19/2014 10:20 PM

A basic rule of business governs sex trafficking: Offer the merchandise where the customers gather.

And major sporting events create perfect venues. So with the Super Bowl approaching, advocates are on alert to the marketing of minors and others who are trafficked into the sex trade at hotels where football fans will stay.

Human trafficking is a fast-growing criminal industry, with $32 billion in profits annually. Law enforcement is often racing to keep up, as the Internet has shoved much activity underground. Yet nuns working with a Missouri business originated one of the most proactive and sensible approaches.

Several years ago, The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph insisted that their 2011 national conference be held in a hotel willing to sign on as a partner against sex trafficking. They approached a St. Louis company, Nix Conference & Meeting Management, for help. A partnership was born.

Nix’s principals now advocate for hotels to sign an agreement and give staff training to spot the illegal activity and alert police. Guidelines created by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) USA are used. And the nuns have gone on to form a nationwide network of advocacy with Nix.

“We sit down with management and explain what can be happening in their hotel,” said Sister Jeanne Christensen, justice advocate for human trafficking for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community in Kansas City.

Christensen said they don’t blame, but instead try to get the hotels to keep staff trained, as turnover is high among housekeeping and room service staff.

Many religious faiths have taken up the issue of trafficking, first focusing on international victims, and more recently on domestic victims. A forum organized by United Methodist Women was held in Kansas City earlier this month.

It’s a very specific action, Christensen said of the hotel effort. But nuns also educate. U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking recently sponsored an ad they hope will spark awareness in the airline industry, as victims are often flown from city to city as they are trafficked.

The image is a demure little girl with the accompanying words: “To her parents, she is priceless. But, it’s really up to the market.”

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