Catholic Charities of the East Bay (CCEB) in California is remaining firm in its conviction against referring teenage victims of sex trafficking for contraception and abortions at a new facility, while emphasizing that medical care is not the new facility’s primary mission.
“We are not licensed to provide medical services,” said Mary Kuhn, spokesperson for CCEB. “We provide therapeutic services, shelter, case manage, and make sure the girls are getting either homeschooling or the right school, all of that...We're not involved in their medical decisions.”
Catholic Charities is planning to open a home for teenage victims of sex trafficking, but has faced opposition from neighbors and critics who oppose the Church’s teaching on contraception and abortion.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the planned home will house up to 12 teenage sex-trafficking victims, ages 12 to 17, in Sequoyah, a forested neighborhood of the eastern Oakland hills. The facility, a former rectory, is still awaiting state approval to begin operations.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley had approached the diocese with an initiative to tackle human trafficking in the area. The new facility will be named “Claire’s House,” after O’Malley’s mother.
Kuhn told CNA that the biggest problem faced by social services agencies and advocacy groups for victims of sex trafficking is a lack of supportive homes, and Claire's House is intended to fill that need.
The district attorney approached Oakland Bishop Michael Barber in 2015, along with other faith-based agencies in the area, asking for their help in addressing the problem of sex trafficking.
“There's a lot of support for this program in Alameda County and the greater Bay Area,” Kuhn told CNA.
“Unfortunately there are a few people that are, quite understandably, nervous or opposed because they really just don't want this near where they live.”
The president of the Coalition of Residents Protecting Sequoyah, the neighborhood where the home will operate, has expressed concern about human traffickers coming to the neighborhood looking for girls they have abused.
“Claire's House is not a safehouse, and it's not a shelter," Kuhn clarified.
“And that's really important...a safehouse means you're hiding from someone, and a shelter means you're getting a bed, but little else. Claire's House is a home, and it's a home for healing. It's a home for girls who have already been separated from their exploiter,” she said.
The young people that the house will be serving will primarily be referred to the house by the county social services agency, and will be children that are already in the foster care system.
Without a place like Claire's House, Kuhn said, they could be placed in a foster home with a family that "really isn't prepared to provide the sort of therapeutic services and support that they need, because of their experience [of being trafficked].”
“They're not coming in as an emergency placement or a crisis situation, so there is an assessment process. So they're at a place where they are contemplating where to go next in their lives, and they just don't have housing and they don't have a place where they can be kids again.”
In alignment with Catholic teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception and abortion, the facility will not make appointments for clients at clinics that provide contraception or abortion and will also not provide transportation to those facilities.
Instead, the home will post a sign in a common area that explains the teens’ medical options. It will be up to the teens’ parents or guardians to arrange for abortion or contraception if they so choose.
“We are not a provider of medical services,” Kuhn clarified.
Per the house's licensing, they contract with a third party medical provider who Kuhn said is equipped to work with the vulnerable group that they serve.
If there are conversations or decisions regarding abortion or contraception, that would be between the girls, their doctors, and their guardians. She said the house will likely not talk to the girls much about those topics, but that pro-life pregnancy resources are a service Catholic Charities of the East Bay would like to provide in the future.
“They do have access to third-party medical care providers,” she said.
“Of course, we'll talk about health and hygiene, life skills, things like that. But our goal is to get them stabilized, enable them to pursue their education, get them the therapeutic services they need, and enable them to start participating in things kids do.”
The overarching Catholic values that come from their work help the teenagers to heal, she said.
“A lack of supportive homes for children who have left their exploiters— that is the single biggest problem that's faced by social service organizations and advocacy groups, and Claire's House fills this desperate need,” she reiterated.
The survivor led-community is supportive of the house, she said, and she said she hopes that other Catholic Charities organizations around the country can follow the same model.
“We are a national system, and we have deep experience serving people on the margins,” Kuhn said.
“And other entities would have a difficult time matching what Catholic Charities is able to do.”
The home plans to begin accepting its first clients as soon as the state approves a care license for the facility. Kuhn said Catholic Charities of East Bay will not be publicly announcing when they begin their services out of respect for the privacy of the children.