LOS ANGELES _ Backed by a tougher Indiana law, a coalition of Roman Catholic nuns has stepped up efforts to curb the sex trade during this weekend's Super Bowl.
The group, which includes the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Cleveland, has contacted hotels in Indianapolis and its environs to be on the lookout for sex trafficking and to take steps to halt it. The effort was first reported by WKYC-TV.
"No one wants human trafficking in their town," Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Ann Oestreich said in a prepared statement. "These activities happen in the dark. What we are attempting to do is to shine a light on sex trafficking and reduce opportunities for it to happen."
Oestreich is coordinating the Super Bowl 2012 Anti-Trafficking Initiative for the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan. The group says it has contacted the managers of 220 hotels within a 50-mile radius of Indianapolis to help spot trafficking.
"Human trafficking is a tragic violation of human rights that devastates its victims, strips away their dignity and security, and tears at the fabric of our global society," said Sister of St. Joseph Nancy Conway. "It is a form of imprisonment and oppression which demands a compassionate response to the cries of victims who long for a future with hope."
Major events such as a Super Bowl or Olympics often attract a host of illegal activities, including sex trafficking and gambling.
To deal with an expected increase in prostitution, Indiana passed a law, which went into effect Monday, designed to make prosecution of sex trafficking easier. Among other things, the law makes it a felony to recruit, transport or harbor anyone under the age of 16 for prostitution or other sexual conduct, punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison.
"Sex trafficking is tragic because it is imprisonment and oppression that devastates its victims," Sister Pat Bergen, a team leader of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in La Grange Park, Ill., wrote in Friday's Chicago Tribune. "Mostly young women and children, the victims are subject to gross human rights violations, including rape, torture, forced abortions, starvation and threats of torture or murder. Many of these victims have been imported from poverty conditions in foreign countries, duped with promises of good jobs in the U.S. Others were purchased like possessions or kidnapped outright. And some are American runaways whose lives have hit bottom."
The U.S. State Department recently estimated that 14,500 to 18,000 victims are trafficked into the United States annually for prostitution or other forms of forced labor.