A new US State Department program that is supposed to fight human trafficking is raising concerns among some human rights groups that the money may end up supporting abortion and prostitution. The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) reports that a coalition of human rights groups sent a letter last month to the White House expressing concerns about the End Modern Slavery initiative:
Organized and led by Global Centurion, run by Laura Lederer, longtime advocate against human trafficking, the coalition charges that early meetings for the private foundation were largely carried out in secrecy “with only a few of the largest and most well-funded of anti-trafficking groups invited to participate.” The group charges the board of the nascent private foundation was also created without proper transparency.
On policy questions, the coalition is most concerned with the issues of prostitution and abortion. Many of the large or otherwise well-connected human trafficking groups are soft or accepting of legal prostitution, many of them calling it “sex work” and considering it legitimate. The Global Centurion coalition points out that most prostitution is precisely the kind of human trafficking they are trying to stamp out.
Some of these same groups also support legalized abortion, and the request for proposals issued by the State Department on March 16, may permit a U.S. funded private foundation to skirt U.S. policy against funding abortion groups overseas. In a background memo provided to the “Friday Fax” by Global Centurion, several groups close to the process openly support abortion including the leftist labor group Solidarity Center, the feminist group Futures Without Violence, Free the Slaves/Freedom Fund, ECPAT International, Coalition to Abolish Slavery, the Hillary Clinton-supported Vital Voices. Critics point out that abortion is a tool used by pimps and other traffickers to keep their sex slaves working.
Indeed, a U.S. study of women who survived sex trafficking found that forced abortion was common among victims who became pregnant, calling it an “especially disturbing trend.” Lederer, one the authors of the study, testified about the findings at a congressional hearing on on sex trafficking and health care.
The paper, published in the Annals of Health Law, was based on surveys of 66 women who had been trafficked for sex in the U.S. Fifty-five percent of the respondents reported undergoing at least one abortion while they were being trafficked, and 30 percent reported multiple abortions.
From the paper:
The prevalence of forced abortions is an especially disturbing trend in sex trafficking. Prior research noted that forced abortions were a reality for many victims of sex trafficking outside the United States and at least one study noted forced abortions in domestic trafficking. The survivors in this study similarly reported that they often did not freely choose the abortions they had while being trafficked. While only thirty-four respondents answered the question whether their abortions were of their own volition or forced upon them, more than half (eighteen) of that group indicated that one or more of their abortions was at least partly forced upon them.
One victim noted that “in most of [my six abortions,] I was under serious pressure from my pimps to abort the babies.” Another survivor, whose abuse at the hands of her traffickers was particularly brutal, reported 17 abortions and indicated that at least some of them were forced on her.
“Notably, the phenomenon of forced abortion as it occurs in sex trafficking transcends the political boundaries of the abortion debate, violating both the pro-life belief that abortion takes innocent life and the pro-choice ideal of women’s freedom to make their own reproductive choices,” the authors wrote.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Disturbingly, the study also found that while 88 percent of the women reported having contact with health care workers — including at abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood — most were not offered help:
… These opportunities [to offer help] have largely been missed as even those healthcare professionals who recognized that victims might have been “on the street” rarely understood that they had a pimp/trafficker. Just over half (51.9 percent) of respondents who answered (N=81) said that at least some of the time the doctor knew they were “on the street,” while the remaining respondents did not believe doctors were aware of their situations. Almost half of survivors (43.1 percent) (N=58) said the doctor asked them something about their lives, but only 19.5 percent of those who answered (N=41) reported that the doctor knew they had a pimp. At least two prior studies have demonstrated that medical care providers are woefully unprepared to identify trafficking victims.
One survivor, “Lauren,” reported:
During the time I was on the street, I went to hospitals, urgent care clinics, women’s health clinics, and private doctors. No one ever asked me anything anytime I ever went to a clinic. . . . I was on birth control during the 10 years I was on the streets—mostly Depo-Provera shots which I got at the Planned Parenthood and other neighborhood clinics. I also got the morning-after pill from them. I was young and so I had to have a waiver signed in order to get these—one of the doctors (a private doctor I think) signed this waiver when my uncle took me to see him.
Another survivor who underwent six abortions — including forced abortions — answered “yes” to the question: “Did the doctor, nurse, health provider know you were ‘on the street’?,” but reported that none of them asked her anything about her life (click graphic to enlarge). To the next question, “Did the health provider know you had a pimp?” she wrote, “Yes — only the one private doctor. Not the health clinics — but they never asked.”
Further, undercover investigations of abortion facilities by Live Action and Life Dynamics have found that abortion clinic staff often enable and even facilitate the sexual abuse of women and girls. When Live Action sent undercover investigators posing as sex traffickers into clinics, they filmed staffers advising the supposed traffickers on how to get abortions for underage victims while avoiding the law.
There have also been lawsuits and criminal cases in a number of states in which girls and teens were taken for abortions by their abusers, given abortions with no questions asked and then returned to the abusive situation. In Arizona, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office alleged that a Planned Parenthood counselor deliberately falsified a pregnant teen’s record because “they did not want the hassle of having to report the assault to law enforcement as they were a mandatory reporter.” The alleged perpetrator, an 18-year-old student, is accused or raping or molesting at least 13 girls, many fellow classmates.
Federal investigators report that sex trafficking in the U.S. likely generates more than $9.5 billion a year and that it goes on in “nearly every American city and town.” A 2008 State Department report said that most victims of human trafficking are women and girls and that 70 percent of them are trafficked for sexual purposes.
“A Death Sentence”
Steven Wagner, former director of HHS and the creator of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ program to help trafficking victims, notes that “to provide abortions or regimes of contraception to a person currently being exploited for commercial sex might very well be a death sentence.” Further:
… If someone is being trafficked — which is to say, under the domination of a pimp/trafficker — she is by definition unable to provide informed consent to an abortion or to a regime of contraception. The victim has no voice in this decision. Indeed, providing such services to a victim of sexual trafficking benefits only the trafficker by getting the victim back out on the street and making money sooner. [Emphasis added]
The average age of entry into commercial sex exploitation is about 14. The average life expectancy of someone in commercial sexual exploitation is seven years. Start at 14, dead by 21. The mortality rate for someone in commercial sexual exploitation is 40 times higher than for a non-exploited person of the same age. Helping a victim return to exploitation more quickly by terminating a pregnancy increases the odds of death.
Kristy Childs is a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation and the founder of Veronica’s Voice, an organization in Kansas City that rescues victims. She tells me there have been many live births among her clients over the past 12 years, but she has yet to be asked for help getting an abortion. “Pregnancy often leads a woman to seek rescue and a new life,” she said.
Abortion, on the other hand, is usually unwanted and often traumatic, is used as a tool by sex traffickers and other sexual predators, and puts women and girls at further risk for more trauma and continued abuse.
Even a cursory look at the research on abortion shows that a history of sexual assault or abuse is actually a risk factor for psychological problems after abortion. Other risk factors include low self-esteem, few friends, lack of support, feelings of alienation, prior emotional problems, previous abortion or miscarriage, and being coerced or pressured to abort or feeling that abortion is their only option.
Further, the Elliot Institute’s survey of nearly 200 women who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest – one of the only studies on sexual assault pregnancy ever done – found that nearly 80 percent of the women who aborted a pregnancy conceived in sexual assault reported that abortion had been the wrong solution, and most said it only increased the trauma they had experienced.
This is also why the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at abortion clinics needs to come to an end. The Elliot Institute’s model bill would hold abortion businesses liable for failing to screen for coercion and for performing abortions when there is evidence that the woman or girl is being forced or coerced into abortion. This could help identify women and girls who are victims of sexual predators or human trafficking and would stop providing perpetrators with an easy way to cover up and continue their crimes.
Modern Day Slavery of Human Trafficking
Forced Abortion in America Special Report
Concealing Sex Trafficking: Failure to Report Sex Crimes May Also Hide Human Trafficking
Empower Women, Not the State
Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortion Act