I am coming to discover an interesting intersection of money and religion in the fight against human trafficking in the US. In July the Village Voice posted this article about inflated estimations of human trafficking in the US. The article claims that US anti-trafficking groups allow or even encourage an overestimation of the problem because Congress allocates a great deal of money to fight it; the bigger the trafficking problem, the more money for these organizations. The article also claims that many recipients of this money “have clear religious or prohibitionist agendas”. It turns out that this is due to Bush-era faith-based initiatives, which “directed more social service contracts to faith-based groups”. One of the groups identified in the article, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was recently denied a $4.5 million federal grant to assist victims of human trafficking in a controversial decision by the US Department of Health and Human Services, according to this article by the Washington Post. In the review process, the bishop’s conference scored higher than the groups who were ultimately awarded the money. However, there were well-founded concerns that the bishop’s group “would not refer victims for abortions or contraceptives” due to religious beliefs, so they were not awarded the grant. The article notes that while federal funding is generally not permitted for abortions, it is allowed in cases of rape.
Another example is given by the Kansas City NBC affiliate, which posted an article about the organization Stop Child Trafficking Now (SCTNow). According to the affiliate’s investigation, SCTNow raised over $30,000 at a recent Kansas City fundraiser, but when pressed, the organization’s national campaign director couldn’t name any local organizations that were going to receive a share of the donations. This is despite the fact that the funds were promised to be used in KC, and despite the fact that there are several reputable victims assistance organizations operating in KC that seem to be deserving of the money. SCTNow operates under its parent organization, Strategic Global Initiatives, which was founded by Pastor Ronald Lewis and raised almost $825,000 in 2010. Total amount of grants made by the organization during this same period? $43,000. The sole recipient? A North Carolina church founded by, you guessed it, Pastor Ron Lewis.
Even with all of the money flying around trying to address the problem of human trafficking in the US, I get the impression that not much real effort goes into helping victims or even considering what their best interests might be. In class we discussed how attention was originally drawn to the US human trafficking problem by Evangelical government employees in the late 1990s/early 2000s, some of whom went on to work in anti-trafficking or victims assistance. It seems at this point that several of the victims assistance organizations that were founded on religious principles are not doing as much as they could be to actually assist the victims. Victims should be more than just poster children for fundraising events.