“Four months ago, a 15-year-old girl walked into Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri and asked for help. Along with four other girls between the ages of 12 and 18, she had been sold for sex at truck stops across Missouri, Florida, Texas, and New Mexico for almost two months. She was lucky to be alive. According to her police report, another girl traveling with her during those months had died in her arms. The 15-year-old girl who walked into Cardinal Glennon, like the majority of children who are sold of sex in the United States today, was trafficked using Backpage.”
Missouri Senator, Claire McCaskill, shared this story in a hearing room in November 2016. Along with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, she launched an investigation into online sex trafficking just months earlier. Quickly, their investigation led to Backpage.com, the site that has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of child sex trafficking.
During the same hearing, Senator McCaskill stated that Backpage CEO, Carl Ferrer, and other executives were aware of the ads selling children for sex on their website. However, they told moderators that these ads are not to be taken down. The guidelines emphasize “IF IN DOUBT ABOUT UNDERAGE, THE PROCESS FOR NOW SHOULD BE TO ACCEPT THE AD.” Despite many meetings and requests from 2010 – 2013 with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Backpage executives never changed their policies regarding these ads. Ferrer refused to appear at the hearing.
The Senate voted unanimously to hold Backpage in contempt and in January, Ferrer was arrested on charges of sex trafficking and pimping.
Click here to read the full story and see the Senator’s findings from their investigation into Backpage.com and Carl Ferrer.
This looks like a dream!
Recently, Ashton Kutcher spoke in front of the Senate regarding the anti-human trafficking organization, Thorn
, of which he is co-founder. “I’m here today to defend the right to pursue happiness…It’s bestowed upon all of us by our Constitution…But the right to pursue happiness for so many is taken away and sold for the momentary happiness of another.”
He gave senators several ideas to end the trade in humans, including adaptable technology and steps to protect vulnerable refugees. With tears in his eyes, Kutcher pressed the importance of using good technology to battle technology that facilitates human trafficking. He recommended addressing the “pipelines” to trafficking–taking a deeper look at the foster care system, which he says is a “breeding ground” for abuse, and providing better assistance for vulnerable refugees.
Kutcher also told stories of victims he has had direct contact with. He told the Senate about the time the Department of Homeland Security called Thorn as their last hope in saving a seven-year-old girl who had been raped to make child pornography for three years. “We were the last line of defense. An actor and his foundation were the potential last line of defense.”
You can view the full video of Kutcher’s presentation here.
Tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita. She was born in Darfur, Sudan in 1869 and ripped away from her loving family between the age of 7 and 9. She was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and given the name “Bakhita.” After being sold several times and enduring such brutal treatment that she couldn’t even remember her own name, she ended up in Venice, taking care of an Italian family’s child. When the family left for business in Africa, they left Bakhita and the child with the Canossian Sisters of Charity. Bakhita would later say that the moment she walked through the Sisters’ doors, she felt as though she had returned home.
When the Italian family returned for Bakhita and their daughter, Bakhita refused to go with them. Despite the family’s protestations, it was determined that Bakhita was a free woman according to Italian law. They could not force her to accompany them. She was baptized Josephine in 1890 and became a Canossian Sister in 1896. After 50 years of ministry, she died on February 8, 1947 at a Canossian convent, surrounded by her sisters.
In 2000, she was canonized by Pope John Paul II who declared: “The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance, but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.” Her feast day is recognized as a day of prayer for an end to human trafficking around the world.
In honor of St. Josephine Bakhita, I invite you to pray with us today:
O God, you always hear the cry of your people
and have compassion for the oppressed and the enslaved.
May they experience the liberation of the cross
and the resurrection of Jesus.
We pray to You for those suffering
the torment of human trafficking.
Transform us by the power of Your Spirit,
to be sensitive to the pain of these, our sisters and brothers.
Committed to overcoming this evil,
give us the courage to stand up and work for the rights
of our sisters and brothers
who live in slavery and exploitation.
We ask this with the intercession of St. Josephine
in Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Prayer by Peter McKenna, SCJ]
Rosy is a 28-year-old American-born woman. Between the ages of 4 and 13, she was abused by her step-father. From the age of 8 until 14, she was also abused by her step-mother’s father.
At 14-years-old, she was on a train and followed a man who acted interested in her as a boyfriend. He brought her to a motel and he became her first pimp.
When she gave birth to her daughter, he sold her to another pimp. The child was adopted and Rosy was forced to marry the new pimp’s friend. She had two more children who were both adopted.
Rosy was assaulted many times. Traffickers abused her repeatedly, both emotionally and physically. She was gang raped at the age of 14. She was kidnapped and held in a room for weeks at a time, made to do drugs.
Eventually, Rosy was forced to cash fraudulent checks and sell drugs by her pimp. She was found in possession of heroine. She was arrested and sent to jail. Once there, she reported to the police what had happened to her and the FBI got involved.
Rosy was referred to a safe, residential program. Rosy’s life had been saved.