Nuns working to prevent sex trafficking at Super Bowl


Catholic News Service

Picking up from efforts to stem sex trafficking at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, 11 women’s religious orders from Indiana and Michigan are working to stop sex trafficking at this year’s Super Bowl.

The orders are members of the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan, established in the early 1990s. The coalition is a member of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which spearheaded the anti-sex trafficking efforts two years ago in South Africa.

The nuns aren’t always the biggest football fans, but they’ve picked up some of the terminology.

Sisters of the Holy Cross lead the Human Trafficking Awareness Day prayer service, which included the story of St. Josephine Bakhita, at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto in Notre Dame, Ind., Jan. 11. (CNS)

When ICCR’s human trafficking working group mentioned during its meeting last June that Super Bowl XLVI would be held in Indianapolis, “we picked up the ball and ran with it,” said Sister Ann Oestreich, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister who ministers as justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in South Bend., Ind., and is the two-state coalition’s justice co-chair.

“In CCRIM, we had done a process in terms of picking one issue that was important to all of our members. Prior to the Super Bowl, the issue of human trafficking came up,” Sister Ann told Catholic News Service during a Jan. 12 telephone interview from South Bend.

“It’s such a broad issue. How do we get at it as investors, as socially responsible investors? So we decided to take a look at the hospitality industry and purchasing stock in their companies so we could get into a conversation with the hotels.”

Coalition representatives contacted the federal Department of Health and Human Services for assistance. “We asked for printed copies of brochures on their website, and HHS was kind enough, when they heard what we were doing, to provide 2,000 printed copies of those brochures.”

The coalition prepared its own fact sheet to help hotels detect sex trafficking, including a list of phone numbers to call as well as a shelter for trafficked women.

The goal was to contact 220 hotels within a 50-mile radius of Indianapolis by Jan. 17.

To date the response from the hotels has been quite good, Sister Ann said.

Based on a Jan. 12 conference call with coalition members, “we’ve got about 50 responses so far for the hotels,” she added. About half of the hotels have asked for further info that we’re offering them in terms of training, in terms of signing the ECPAT code.” ECPAT is an acronym for Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking, which has developed a code of conduct to deter child sexual exploitation.

At this rate, Sister Ann said, they’re likely to run out of the HHS brochures. “They’re asking for 50 copies, 100 copies, 10 copies. The materials are going to be used far and wide,” she said. The fact sheet will also include instructions for hotels to download and print additional brochures.

For two weeks after the Jan. 17 contact deadline, students from Marian University in Indianapolis and volunteers from the Congregation of St. Joseph in Tipton, Ind., will make personal visits to the hotels to deliver the requested materials.

Sister Ann said the hotels asking to participate in the effort cut across chain ownership and pricing levels, from the swanky hotels in downtown Indianapolis to more modest hotels in outlying areas.

Once the deliveries are over, the coalition is going to leave the hotels be. “The hotels are going to be busy and we want them to be able to do what they have to do,” Sister Ann said. “The Super Bowl is a celebration, but we don’t want exploitation to be part of it.”

Asked if she had a rooting interest in this year’s Super Bowl, she replied, “My prayers have not been answered. I was hoping for the Buffalo Bills because I come from Buff. So I’m going to be neutral in regard to the teams. … But I’m a woman of faith. I know they’re going to get there someday.”