Mother Jones Covers War on Women and Human Trafficking

Check out this excellent article by Mother Jones:

Mother Jones: Catholic Bishops War on Contraception

We would add is that it’s not just survivors of trafficking for sex who are harmed with these policies. Many survivors of trafficking for labor (domestic servitude, agriculture, restaurants, etc.) are vulnerable to sexual assault.

Furthermore, if you ask ANY case manager doing this work, they will tell you that any person held in human trafficking, regardless of the type of trafficking, usually has unmet medical needs (which, for women, include gynecological services).

Restricting access to healthcare because of ideology means that you are not truly providing the care and services that survivors of human trafficking need and thus not fulfilling the goals of the funding and the law. Requiring a program to tap into emergency funds or divert funds from other essential programs to cover these costs ONLY because of religion is not a solution. Furthermore many organizations (like Break the Chain) don’t have alternate funding sources. This means that small, local service organizations without million-dollar budgets, those that are often connected with immigrant community organizations (BTCC’s cases were mostly African and South Asian domestic workers), are at a huge disadvantage. Our organizations depend on TVPA funding to do the work, so it’s important that the funding cover the entire range of needs that our clients have when we meet them.

I could go on at length, but I am glad Mother Jones is covering this issue.


This International Womens’ Day: The War on Women

This International Women’s Day is a blog series featuring the opinions of BTCC advocacy interns and staff related to women’s rights in the US and around the world. 

By Susie Robertson, BTCC Intern 

This International Women’s Day, I want to talk about one issue that has been on my mind. Last week, the Senate effectively killed the Blunt Amendment, a piece of legislation created in response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive care mandate. The amendment would have allowed employers to opt out of covering any health services that are contrary to their beliefs. This was a small victory in what feels like a rising “war on women.”  I do not support any attack on women’s access to contraception, but what upsets me most about this controversy is the sudden resurgence of hateful, misogynistic language.


When Rush Limbaugh used the term “slut” to describe the Georgetown Law Student who recently testified before Congress on the issue of contraceptive coverage, I was both offended and concerned. It scares me that that type of language still has a place in our political discourse. That type of stigmatization of female sexuality is not only outdated, it is flat out wrong.

As disgusting as Limbaugh’s comments were, overt sexism is not the only issue at play. Women themselves have wavered in their unconditional support for birth control. The arguments in defense of contraceptive coverage have focused largely on the alternative uses for the therapy, such as treating ovarian cysts and regulating hormonal disorders. Even Sandra Fluke, who has become a symbol of the female side to the argument focused primarily on these alternative uses in her testimony before Congress. These types of conditions are important reasons for the affordability and availability of birth control, but focusing on them seems to imply that there is something wrong with using contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. Taking control over your reproductive health and engaging in consensual sex responsibly does not make you a “slut,” and no woman should apologize for using birth control.

Access to family planning and quality healthcare are the most effective tools to empower women. Today,trafficking and exploitation of women are at disturbingly high levels and women across the globe face the threat of violence everyday. The current attack on women’s health in America is yet another obstacle in addressing this problem. The more we limit access to birth control, the more vulnerable women around world become. As the international community confronts the crisis of women’s rights, family planning and sexual health needs to be part of the discussion.

That is why this International Women’s Day, I want all women to be proudly demand control over our own reproductive health. To paraphrase one of this year’s best movies about strong women, I want to say something to every woman out there: You are kind, you are smart, you are important and you are not a “slut.”


HHS: Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters

By Kaitlin Owen, BTCC Human Trafficking Advocacy Intern

In October 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement declined the renewal of a grant to the United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), an organization that distributes aid to organizations whose clients are victims of human trafficking.  Instead, the grant was divided and given to four organizations, the largest of which is the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

In a statement, HHS explained their decision:

“Victims of trafficking have significant health care needs. Based on these needs, our Office of Refugee Resettlement included an explicit preference for organizations that would ensure that victims had access to information and referrals for the full range of health care services in the funding announcement for these grants…The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops indicated it could not meet that standard.”

In essence, that “standard” to which HHS is referring is providing abortion, sterilization or contraceptive services- case managers commonly refer to these as family planning services.  In accordance with Catholic Church teaching, USCCB “won’t facilitate taking innocent life, sterilization and artificial contraception.” In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a suit against the U.S. District Court in Boston for not requiring USCCB to provide these services as a part of MRS’s anti-trafficking programs.

Due to controversy concerning the grant dispersal, The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began an investigation into HHS’s grant dispersal process: whether or not HHS did so justly and within the correct parameters, or if they should have refused USCCB from submitting an application from the beginning. The first hearing was held on December 1st, 2011.  This hearing dealt only with the concerns surrounding HHS and the justness of their dispersal The second hearing was held on December 14th, at the request of Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

The focus of the second hearing was to educate the Committee on the services needed by and available to victims, in contrast to the first hearing, which dealt exclusively with the actions of HHS.  ”To conduct a responsible review of the process used to award these grants,” said Cummings, “we need to understand who these victims are, what they have gone through, and why they need reproductive health services.” Service providers and survivors of trafficking were represented by a panel of two human rights activists: Florrie Burke, a psychologist and well-respected expert on anti-human trafficking efforts and Chair Emeritus of Freedom Network USA, and Andrea Powell, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of FAIR Girls in Washington D.C. Throughout the hour, they emphasized that returning agency to a client is essential to the healing process, as it is agency that was taken from themby their traffickers.  By restoring agency, the client service providers restore the dignity of their clients, and by restricting access to reproductive health services, the USCCB is denying survivors of human trafficking the agency to choose their health care for themselves.

Break the Chain Campaign strongly believes in the concept of restoring the rights of the survivors through restoring agency and self-determination.  Survivors of trafficking deserve immediate and full access to the entire range of healthcare services, including family planning and reproductive services. We are concerned that anti-choice politics will distort what really matters in anti-trafficking service provision: the human rights of survivors.