The U.S. bishops have urged Catholics to pray for the victims of human trafficking Thursday, as the United Nations again designated July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“Today we take a moment to pray for all victims and survivors of human trafficking and to reflect upon our responsibilities as individuals and as a Church to make their well-being and protection a priority,” Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington and the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration said in a statement.
“We are renewing our call to educating about human trafficking and proclaiming the value of all human life,” said Dorsonville, adding that Pope Francis has made the issue a priority.
“We are called by our Holy Father to take a firm stance against this terrible violation of the dignity of the human person and to do everything in our power to eradicate it,” he said.
The United Nations first declared a World Day Against Trafficking in Persons in 2013. This year, there is an increased focus on the importance of first responders, who work to prevent trafficking and to rescue people who have been trafficked.
“This year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons honors the first responders helping to end the crime of human trafficking: law enforcement officers, social workers, healthcare professionals, NGO staff and many others working around the world to protect the vulnerable,” said a published statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Guterres likened the work of these people stopping trafficking to that done by workers on the front lines battling COVID-19. He added that stopping trafficking is one of the key steps needed for society to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“If the world is to put human dignity and human rights at the centre of the COVID-19 response and recovery, we need to do more to protect trafficking victims and prevent vulnerable people from being exploited by criminals,” he said. “On this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, let us pledge to work for inclusive societies and economies that leave no one behind.”
Due in part to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there have been increased reports to anti-trafficking hotlines, and there has been an increase in traffic to child pornography websites. In March 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received nearly double the number of tips concerning child exploitation than it did in March 2019.
“COVID-19 has presented challenges and opportunities in the fight against child sexual exploitation,” said a July 16 statement from John Shehan, vice president of the NCMEC’s exploited child division.
“In the first quarter of 2020, NCMEC became aware of predators openly discussing the pandemic as an opportunity to entice unsupervised children into producing sexually explicit material. At the same time, we experienced an explosion in reporting to our CyberTipline from both the public and electronic service providers,” he said.
With schools remaining closed around the country, children do not have regular access to their teachers, who are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. Other social services programs have been overwhelmed due to the rising number of coronavirus cases.