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Lifting the "Gag" on Trafficking Services

Priscilla Huang,
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
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January 13, 2009

In 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded a multi-million dollar contract to the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to administer subgrants to organizations that directly serve trafficking survivors. Federal funding assistance for trafficking victims is an important and much-needed resource for a highly vulnerable population, however USCCB attached some heavy strings to receiving the grant money. In order to access the funds, USCCB requires anti-trafficking service organizations who receive funds to agree to a religiously motivated restriction on the use of grant funds. Specifically, grantees must certify that its organization will not use federal funds to discuss or provide contraceptive and abortion referrals.

The USCCB-imposed funding restriction is much like the “global gag rule,” an executive order that was reinstated in 2001 by President George W. Bush after his first day in office. Similar to the USCCB directive, the global gag rule prohibits foreign non-governmental organizations that receive federal funding from performing or discussing abortion-related services.

Such government funding restrictions block advocates from providing critically important victim services, restrict public discussion on abortion, and create unnecessary barriers for some of the world’s most vulnerable women from seeking comprehensive health care. The U.S. government estimates that approximately 800,000 people are trafficked worldwide every year. Women and girls make up 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims, and up to 50 percent are minors. Globally, the highest number of trafficked persons come from Asia. The same is true in the U.S., where Asian and Pacific Islander women (PDF) comprise the largest racial group of trafficked persons. Extreme poverty, sexism and racism are the major catalysts for trafficking, and survivors are commonly forced into exploitative situations — such as domestic servitude, sweatshop and agricultural work, the commercial sex trade and servile marriages — where they are often exposed to sexual trauma and unable to access health resources.

Clearly, trafficking victims brave incredible odds to survive. It seems only humane that our federal government should support direct service providers’ ability to give trafficking survivors life-saving information about the health services they need, including abortion and contraceptive care.