Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Every year, more than 14,000 individuals, predominantly women, are brought into the United States annually and exploited for their labor, including in the commercial sex industry. Many experience extreme violence and sexual assault at the hands of their traffickers. Some become pregnant as a result of rape; some contract sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The lucky ones find their way to the many social service organizations that are committed to helping trafficking victims gain their freedom and lead healthy and safe lives. Unfortunately, for more than two years, the Bush administration has seriously compromised this safety net.
Since April 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) grants ranging from $2.5 million to $3.5 million annually to support organizations that provide direct services to trafficking victims. But here's the catch: as part of its sub granting program, USCCB prohibits, based on its religious beliefs, grantees from using federal dollars to provide or refer for contraceptive or abortion services. Never mind that these organizations do not necessarily hold the same religious beliefs as USCCB and never mind the specific needs of the people they serve.
We filed a lawsuit today, ACLU of Massachusetts v. Leavitt, to put an end to this compassionless and harmful policy and to ensure that our tax dollars are not being misused to promote one religious perspective at the expense of the health and safety of trafficking victims.
In the coming week, we will post blog entries from a range of organizations that work with or on behalf of trafficking victims. Stay tuned as the story unfolds.