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Catholic sisters work to stop sex traffickers at Super Bowl

September 24, 2015
Christina Gray

Bay Area Catholic sisters from more than a dozen religious communities hope to tackle the influx of sex traffickers expected at next year’s Super Bowl by educating the hospitality workers serving its Santa Clara venue, the director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Office of Consecrated Life told Catholic San Francisco.

“The average Bay Area resident is completely unaware of the enormity of human trafficking here,” Presentation Sister Rosina Conrotto said during a group interview with other leaders of the Northern California Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.

Local sisters are imploring hotel and motel managers in the South Bay to train their staffs to recognize and report what Pope Francis earlier this year called “modern-day slavery.”

Major sporting events such as the Super Bowl set for Feb. 7, 2016, at Levi Stadium, are notorious for attracting traffickers who bring large “stables” of women and children to hotels and motels surrounding the venue, Sister Rosina said.

According to UNANIMA International, a non-governmental organization advocating on behalf of women and children living in poverty, sex traffickers see major sporting events as an opportunity for huge profits with little risk of penalty.

For the past six Super Bowls, women religious in host cities have swept in months before kickoff to work with the local business community. Now it’s the Bay Area’s turn.

With the big game less than six months away, local sisters are recruiting and training adult volunteers to help them approach hotel and human resources managers, housekeeping staffs, security teams and others in a position to incriminate sex traffickers.

On Oct. 3, the sisters are presenting a one-day training event in Room C of St. Mary’s Cathedral to anyone interested in joining their ministry.

Hospitality workers can be indifferent, said Sister Frances Tobin, RSCJ, one of the day’s three presenters. “Their whole attention is the day to day,” she said.

“They kind of look at us cross-eyed sometimes, but that’s ok,” Sister Marie Jeanne Gaillac, CSJ of Orange, said. “What we understand is that we are just this little piece in everything that it is going to take to change attitudes and to say, you can’t let this go on.”

While avoiding a bad reputation may be the reason some national hotel groups are working to eradicate human trafficking, the faithful only need look to their Catholic faith to do the same.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church “forbids acts or enterprises that, for any reason, lead to the enslavement of human beings – to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise in disregard for their personal dignity.” And in his first Mass of 2015, Pope Francis urged people of all faiths to fight human trafficking, saying that everyone has a “God-given right to be free.”

“There are women and children out there not because they want to be, but because their pimp has said ‘get out there and make money,’ said Sister Frances. “This is where Christians and other people of faith need to step in.”

After a presentation to the Council of Priests earlier this year, sisters and priests agreed on the need to educate people “from the pulpit and in the pew” about the root causes of human trafficking: poverty, greed and a culture that sees human beings as a commodity.

“When you live in poverty, when you’ve experienced abuse at home, you can become exploited,” said Sister Frances.

Young women and children – some of them foster children or runaways – are conned, often by an older man who promises them he will take care of them and give them a place to stay. “Within weeks, that child has become what society calls a prostitute,” she said.

Sister Therese Randolph, RSM, said that the training event kicks off a greater effort by the sisters to stop human trafficking of all kinds.

“It will not end with the Super Bowl,” she said.

Visit banishbayareaslavery@gmail.com. The U.S. National Trafficking Hotline is 1 (888) 373-7888.



Learn about human trafficking and how you can assist the Northern California Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking, Oct. 3, with overview 9:30 a.m.-noon and training 1-3:30 p.m., St. Mary’s Cathedral, Gough Street at Geary Boulevard, San Francisco.

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