- Catholic News Agency - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Just days before Super Bowl XLIX, the U.S. House of Representatives is pushing for a bipartisan crack-down on the hidden menace of sex trafficking, which some human rights advocates refer to as “modern-day slavery.”

“Everyone needs to be put on notice: if you buy or sell an individual like a commodity, the law is coming after you, and you can get up to life imprisonment, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act,” announced Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, at a bipartisan End Human Trafficking press event on Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Smith referenced the Feb. 1 Super Bowl in Glendale, AZ, as the center of the next big push to curb sex trafficking. Large sporting events like the Super Bowl and the World Cup have become notorious dens of human sex trafficking with large crowds descending on one city for a short period of time.

“Hopefully, the Super Bowl will not see what we’ve seen in previous Super Bowls, and that is the massive exploitation of women,” Mr. Smith said.

A combination of state and local efforts helped curb trafficking during the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey, including the arrests of members of a drug and prostitution ring in New York City, Mr. Smith said.

Ultimately, the House hopes to have a dozen bills signed into law before the end of the year. Proposed legislation includes safe-harbor laws for victims of trafficking, treating child prostitutes as victims rather than criminals, penalties for those who provide advertisements for trafficking, and more awareness of human trafficking abuses in local law enforcement.

“Every one of these bills meets an unmet need. This is the most creative use of legislative talent I have ever seen,” Mr. Smith said.

Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat, called the current situation a “crisis in our country.” She noted a particular problem for the trafficking of young people who fall through the cracks in the foster home system.

Last year, the House unanimously passed legislation authored by Ms. Bass to help connect child trafficking victims to resources and services that can prevent their further abuse.

The problem of modern-day slavery still however, and it calls for speedy action by Congress, said Rep. Kristi Noem, South Dakota Republican.

“We’re alarmed by what this industry is doing, how it’s growing in the United States, and not just in urban areas around big events,” Rep. Noem told EWTN.

“Everybody thinks human trafficking and sex trafficking is happening at the Super Bowl, at big events. Well, it’s also happening at little rural small towns every single day.”

Even Craigslist-style announcements from small South Dakotan towns are bringing in sex slaves, Ms. Noem said, noting that “76 percent of sex trafficking is being done over the internet right now.”

Ms. Noem had another horrifying statistic – some child slaves are raped anywhere from 25 to 48 times in one day.

“They need a special kind of help and a special kind of care, and that is something that we aren’t addressing right now for those that come out of this industry,” she said.

In recent years, human rights advocates have sought to bring greater awareness to the ongoing problem of human trafficking, including within the United States.

Last summer, more than 100 U.S. cities were part of “Operation Cross Country VIII,” a crackdown on sex trafficking that was part of an ongoing effort to stop the exploitation of minors through the Innocence Lost National Initiative.

During a week-long series of enforcement, FBI, state and local authorities recovered 168 child victims of sexual exploitation and arrested 281 suspected pimps.

The pressing issue of human trafficking has also drawn the attention of Pope Francis, who has called for global action on the matter.

“In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself,” the Pope wrote in December, calling on consumers to practice “social responsibility” when they make purchases.

The first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking is in less than two weeks – February 8, the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita. Just this past year, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace with the International Union of Superiors General at the Vatican determined that the Day of Prayer and Awareness would be global.

St. Josephine Bakhita was herself a victim of slavery in the 19th century. After she was freed, she entered the Canossian Daughters of Charity where she served the poor and shared her own story of slavery.

“It’s awe-inspiring to think that Catholics from so many different countries will gather together on the same day to pray for the same cause,” said the executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration and Refugee Services, Ambassador Johnny Young.

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