Partners Against Sex Trafficking; A Cure for Poverty

Conference Explores Grassroots Efforts to Shut Down Brothels

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By Edward Pentin 

ROME, MAY 19, 2011 ( Millions of victims are caught up in human trafficking — an umbrella term that includes forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude and child soldiering.

It’s an increasing scourge in many countries and, as it grows, it’s becoming ever more sophisticated, posing challenges to those working against it. 

Church members, those of other faith groups, businesses and nongovernmental organizations have tended to use the «three P» approach in their anti-trafficking work: prevention, protection of the victims, and prosecution of the perpetrators. But to these, another has been added: partnerships — the need to combat the problem from the grassroots up to the highest levels of civil and political authority.

For much of the past decade, the U.S. embassy to the Holy See has commendably and consistently helped to draw a great deal of attention to this modern-day slavery and exploitation. The embassy did so again on May 18when it brought together representatives of these parties to a conference in Rome to «explore the nexus» of these partnerships and how they can and do work together to curb the injustice.

Speakers included the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, as well as religious actors in the field, senior corporate officials, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. From the U.S. House of Representatives was Congressman Chris Smith who has been at the forefront of successfully introducing anti-trafficking legislation in the United States.

Quoting U.N. figures, Smith said approximately 12 million people are victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, and demand is rising for the latter. «It’s a direct consequence of the permissive society coupled with pornography,» he told ZENIT after the conference, adding that men will visit brothels because it’s «accepted» and yet they go «without realizing who is really being exploited.» He said that for this reason, education is «extremely important.»

«So many women who are seemingly there on their own volition but are victims of incest of some other sexual trauma early on in their lives,» he explained. «For others it’s coercion all the way.»

Smith has successfully introduced three anti-trafficking bills in the U.S. that became law, the main one being the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. The law includes life prison sentences for persons convicted of operating trafficking enterprises in the United States, provision of assistance and protection for victims, and prohibits U.S. aid to foreign governments that tolerate or condone severe forms of trafficking. Yet despite the need for such a law, he said it was very hard to get it passed and that it was «vigorously opposed» by the Clinton administration.

One of the most respected pro-life representatives in congress, Smith praised the Church for its work in anti-trafficking. «The Church has been there from the very beginning, as have I, and it’s been totally supportive,» he said. «John Paul II was always out there at the front and, although he wasn’t a Catholic, so was President [George W.] Bush.» He noted that Bush enforced a zero-tolerance policy on military personnel visiting brothels, which Smith said was a «huge step» in the battle against the scourge.

On security concerns that human trafficking presents, Smith said it’s «a big money maker and increasingly the money is finding its way into terrorism.» In his speech he called «bad cops,» the «Achilles heel» of anti-trafficking initiatives.

But his address was mostly filled with positive references to the work that the Church and civil society is doing to combat human trafficking, from shelters run by the indefatigable Sr. Eugenia Bonetti in Rome to initiatives by Catholic Relief Services to build more shelters for victims around the world.

«I often find that my role is to facilitate the innovations of civil society,» Smith said, and cited one example of how he and other members of congress draw attention to an initiative that helps flight attendants discern a trafficking situation and notify law enforcement on the ground where the plane has landed.

During the conference, Smith and other delegates also highlighted how the private sector can influence civil society in combating trafficking. One speaker cited two respected Web sites through which any individual can help make a difference: and

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Fostering prosperity

Vast amounts of state aid and governments imposing endless regulations are not the way to solve global poverty; rather it will be done through trade, private enterprise and helping populations in poor countries to contribute to their own prosperity.

This is the view shared by members of PovertyCure — an international network of individuals and NGOs who are seeking to encourage anti-poverty solutions through fostering opportunity and unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit in the developing world.

A leading partner and one of the main organizers of the network is the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Its president and co-founder, Father Robert Sirico, told ZENIT there is «plenty of data across the board» that has long been known to create prosperity — namely low taxation, low regulation and increased market globalization. «This doesn’t come without some problems as the Pope and others have indicated, but this is the first time in human history where we know how to solve poverty.»

Father Sirico said one of the overarching aims of PovertyCure is «to challenge the development community to really focus on developing, that is opening spheres of economic productivity and cooperation,» allowing the others to «contribute to their own prosperity.» «When I put it like that it sounds so clear and simple,» he said, «but it is and that’s what’s frustrating.»

The American priest noted the challenges of overcoming a static mindset that believes government aid is the only real solution to global poverty. But he also highlighted a «perhaps more sinister» problem which is a «huge institutional vested interest in leaving the situation as it is.» He was referring to the thousands of people employed through aid program bureaucracies that are averse to change for fear it will put them out of a job. Father Sirico said it is «ridiculous to spend significant proportions of development money on supporting bureaucracies to administer programs.»

Instead he prefers what, in Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI calls «fiscal subsidiarity» — a form of creating credits in various nations not for foreign governments to invest in developing nations but for the citizens to invest in businesses in poor countries, and to have their tax burden lightened with respect to the investment that they give. «That’s one approach,» he said. «The other is to obviously drop the scandalous trade barriers that separate people and create pockets of interest in maintaining unfair portions of the market.»

When put to him that some aid agencies believe international aid should be a mix of private entrepreneurship and state aid, Father Sirico said governments should be «the last in and not be the most dominant» in a development situation which tends to always be very delicate. «The problem is that government is very heavy handed and bureaucrats develop self interest in justifying their existence,» he said. «So it sounds very reasonable to say you want to have a partnership but when the partner is a huge gorilla, and the other partners are small little enterprises, the gorilla has the say.»

He therefore prefers to approach the issue «through the lens of subsidiarity.» Otherwise, he said, there’s a tendency on the part of government to «suck all the air out of the room» and not allow scope for enterpris

He readily concedes, however, that what he is advocating is not a panacea, nor that the free market is naturally moral. «People caricature my approach, saying [I believe] the market is virtuous,» he said. «But the market will reflect all of the vices and virtues that people will reflect in their own private life because that’s in fact what the market is.»

For this reason, he calls «for a more robust form of evangelization.» It’s evangelization, he said, that «really shows us what we need to do rather than covering it over with regulations and giving the impression that if we made regulations then we’ve solved the problem. That’s simply not the truth in terms of human misery.»

Father Sirico was speaking on the sidelines of a May 18 Acton conference in Rome on the transformation of the Asian economy through the expansion of trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship. He said that Asia is one of the «great examples» that «really underscores our point.»

In its vision statement, PovertyCure states that Christ calls us to solidarity with the poor, but this means more than just material assistance. «It means seeing the poor not as objects or experiments, but as partners and brothers and sisters, as fellow creatures made in the image of God with the capacity to solve problems and create new wealth for themselves and their families. At a practical level, it means integrating them into our networks of exchange and productivity.»

The Acton Institute and its co-members of PovertyCure are inviting other partners and NGOs to join the network. More details can be found on its Web site at:

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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at:

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