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Human Trafficking

The issue of human trafficking has gained increased and much needed attention in recent years. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, between 600,000 and 800,000 victims are trafficked throughout the world each year. They are women and men of all ages. The Department of State estimates that more than half of the 14,500 to 17,500 victims trafficked into the United States each year are children.

Victims of trafficking come from nations all over the world, but also from within our own borders. Strangers, family members, criminal networks, and other youth sexually exploit an estimated 125,000-300,000 American children each year. These children come from a wide variety of backgrounds and 75 percent are from middle-class families.

In keeping with the teachings of the Church, Catholic Charities upholds the belief in the dignity of every person and the right of each human to a dignified life, free from violence and fear. We also uphold the right of every person to what is necessary for a dignified life—including food, clothing and shelter. Trafficking violates these fundamental beliefs.

Thus, we have joined our agencies in advocating for programs that identify and help victims of human trafficking. We seek to provide trafficking victims hope and a chance at a new life of their design. The policy positions of Catholic Charities USA concerning human trafficking are rooted in Catholic social teaching and the experience of nearly 140 local agencies that run programs in support of thousands of trafficking victims annually.

Catholic Charities USA advocates and supports legislation that addresses the needs of victims of domestic trafficking. In addition, Catholic Charities USA works with Migration and Refugee services on addressing international trafficking issues.

Key Programs and Policies

The federal government has invested in programs and partnerships ($74 million in 2003) around the world to put an end to international human trafficking. A few such initiatives are summarized below:

Rescue and Restore Campaign
The Department of Health and Human Services launched the Rescue and Restore Campaign in 2003 to identify the increased numbers of trafficking victims in the United States and provide them what they need to live safely in the country. Between 2004 and 2006, the campaign has trained law enforcement officers, community-based organizations like Catholic Charities agencies, educators, and health care providers on how to identify victims and raise awareness about trafficking. The Campaign also created a hotline to link victims of trafficking to local organizations that can provide them the help they might need. Catholic Charities USA supports this campaign, as it seeks to identify trafficking victims so they can have a chance at a renewed life.

Trafficking in Persons Report
The Department of State produces a report ranking countries on the extent of trafficking within their borders. The results motivate nations to take action to improve their countries through passing anti-trafficking laws, outreach and education, and better training of law enforcement officials. The government invested $170 million in 70 nations worldwide in FY 2002 and FY 2003 to “strengthen anti-trafficking law enforcement, victim support, legislation, and regional cooperation” (Department of Health and Human Services). Catholic Charities USA supports the publishing of this report, a component of assisting human trafficking victims.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act
Created in 2000 and reauthorized three times, the TVPA created the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to coordinate the work done by various agencies on trafficking. Under the Act, the Department of Health and Human Services takes responsibility for certifying victims and helping them access benefits; the Department of Justice investigates traffickers both here and abroad; the Department of Labor offers job training and referrals to approved victims and investigates labor law violations; the Department of State coordinates international anti-trafficking programs; and the Department of Homeland Security also investigates cases and provides international victims visas to stay in the country for help. Catholic Charities USA supports this act, as it helps trafficking victims to have a chance at a renewed life.

Outreach and Support to Special Immigrant Populations (OSSIP)

A Comprehensive Assistance Program for Foreign-Born Survivors of Human Trafficking

It is estimated that over 18,000 men, women and children are trafficked into the U.S. annually for sexual exploitation or forced labor. After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing.

OSSIP provides intensive case management and legal services to survivors of human trafficking, to aid survivors in successfully navigating all aspects of the U.S. legal and social services system, with the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency and self-empowerment for the survivor.

OSSIP aids survivors in successfully obtaining the benefits to which they may be entitled under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). These services include:

  • Immigration legal representation
  • Assistance with safe and comfortable housing
  • Assistance with food, clothing and other necessities
  • Assistance with medical services
  • Assistance with mental health services
  • Assistance with obtaining non-exploitative employment
  • Assistance with interpretation services
  • Client advocacy before law enforcement officers

Under the Trafficking victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which provides immigration relief and social services to eligible victims of trafficking, Congress defines "severe forms of trafficking in persons" as:

Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform the act is under 18 years of age; or The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Key Questions to Help Determine if Someone Has Been Trafficked

  • Are you being forced to work against your will?
  • Are you being paid?
  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • What are your working conditions like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/use the bathroom?
  • Are there locks on the doors/windows so you cannot get out?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

Men, women, and children are trafficked into the U.S. for activities including, but not limited to:

  • Agricultural work
  • Domestic work
  • Restaurant work
  • Garment work
  • Entertainment & Sex industry
  • Begging
  • Use in criminal activities
  • Forced prostitution

If you suspect that someone is being forced or coerced into working or into prostitution, or is under the age of 18, or if you are victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center : 1-888-3737-888, which can connect you with helpful resources nationally, as well as in Maine.

Survivors of Human Trafficking May be Eligible for Public Benefits and Immigration Legal Status

Under the Trafficking victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), trafficking survivors are not treated as criminals, but as crime victims, entitled to governmental protection and assistance.

It does not matter how the person entered the U.S., whether they initially consented to being brought here for a job, or whether their current employment activity is illegal (such as prostitution). If at anytime they were deceived or coerced into forced labor or the commercial sex industry (or are involved in the commercial sex industry and are under 18), they are a survivor of human trafficking. They may be eligible for services and have legal rights that must be protected.

It is likely that a trafficking survivor will not know that they have been trafficked or that they are entitled to assistance or benefits as a result of their situation.

OSSIP works with local law enforcement and social, health care and legal service providers to identify trafficking survivors. This collaborative effort allows survivors to procure assistance and benefits while ensuring that their immediate safety is protected.

More Information

Visit Catholic Charities USA website for more information, resources, and links about Human Trafficking.

Read the RIS Assistant Program Manager's testimony on Maine’s Anti-trafficking Efforts to the Maine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Human Rights.