Investor Advocates for Social Justice

Coverage of Tri-State CRI’s Anti-Trafficking Work in the Star Ledger

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Super Bowl 2014 Pre-game

By Mark Di Ionno/Star-Ledger Columnist
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on October 01, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated October 01, 2013 at 11:58 AM

There’s a pre-Super Bowl battle going on, that’s more life-and-death than any football game.

This one pits nuns against pimps. And as any Catholic school kid can testify, the smart money should be on the nuns.

Beginning this week, a group of 200 volunteers, including 30 nuns, will be cold-calling or visiting 300 New Jersey hotels to talk about the Super Bowl’s dirty little secret: prostitution.

Make that dirty big secret, because everybody knows hookers follow the game. But most dismiss it with a smirk. They see only a victimless crime, a business arrangement between consenting adults, where the women are willing opportunists and the men just out for a good time.

The nuns don’t see it that way. They see victims. They see powerless women — and girls — exploited because of their poverty. They see human degradation of the worst kind.

“These girls are modern day slaves,” Sr. Patricia Daly, a Dominican nun told the audience of volunteers, mostly from faith-based groups, last week at the Jewish Federation of Metrowest in Whippany. “Their stories are absolutely heartbreaking.”

Daly is leading the “Hotel Outreach” program for the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Melanie Roth Gorelick, the coordinator of the coalition, says it has turned its “attention to the Super Bowl” since last April, just before Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation aimed at human trafficking. In the outreach program, the volunteers will invite hotel managers to a Nov. 6 training session at Rutgers-Newark, to help them identify traffickers. If they don’t respond, they’ll invite them again. And again.

SUPER_BOWL _NUNS_FIGHT_PIMPS.JPGSister Pat Daly with Catholics for Responsible Investment leads the effort for nuns and other volunteers to visit local hotels prior to the Super Bowl to fight human trafficking as law enforcement expects an influx of prostitution.John Munson/The Star-Ledger

“We want to make them understand that looking the other way on prostitution and human trafficking is bad for business,” Daly said. “There won’t be any loud protests, just gentle persuasion.”

As the executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, a group of 40 Catholic dioceses and congregations, Daly has experience pressing corporations to look at the human rights or environmental impact of the policies, by having investors raise concerns.

The volunteers — which include Protestant, Jewish and Buddist congregants — will canvas national luxury brands in nine counties around the Meadowlands (plus Atlantic City) as well as the short stay joints along roads like Routes 1&9.

A second phase of the program will be distributing soap to the budget places, with the coalition’s hotline number on the wrapper, so a girl being forced into prostitution has a lifeline.

In her presentation last week, Daly did not make a huge differentiation between prostitution and human trafficking, because most prostitutes are vulnerable through substance abuse or family problems and coerced by men who can only be described in words not used by religious women.

“Depraved. So low. Something must be really be wrong in their minds,” Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd, of the Filippini Sisters at Morristown’s Villa Walsh.

She is the international director for her order’s missions and safe houses in Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Eritrea (a small African country on the Red Sea), and India, and said her order rescues girls as young as six.

“It’s hard for Americans to believe, but there are people so poor in the world they sell their young daughters because their families are hungry,” Lloyd said. “You have to wonder, how could a mother or father do that? It’s just an awful, awful situation.”

It’€™s hard for Americans to believe, but there are people so poor in the world they sell their young daughters because their families are hungry.

The nuns and the coalition also have a partner in Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, whose office has “ramped up” human trafficking enforcement, by adding four deputy AG’s to the existing task force. A recent bust of a Lakewood house where girls were kept as sex slaves was just one of the investigations brought to fruition and Hoffman said more are in the works.

The AG, too, is in the training business, and has over 100 law enforcement people also bringing their form of gentle persuasion to the hospitality industry.

“This is the kind of crime where we need the entire community to bring it to the attention of law enforcement,” Hoffman said. “But this doesn’t end with the Super Bowl. The game just gives us a chance to let people know we are very serious about this.”

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