The Corner

Trafficking Victims Take a Backseat to Ideology

Jerry Markon’s Washington Post story was headlined “Catholic Groups’ Ire at Obama Growing.” The headline should have been, “Sebelius’s HHS Manipulates Funding for Political Purposes, Victims of Human Trafficking Suffer.” Based on a pre-publication conversation with Markon, his most alarming revelations ended up on the cutting room floor.

Such as: Senior officials at HHS, up to and including persons in the office of the secretary, overrode career staff to give federal funds to two organizations deemed by the professionals to be unqualified.

The Obama administration inherited a program which provided a stipend to any organization in the country working to help victims of human trafficking — overwhelmingly American kids subjected to commercial sex exploitation — rebuild their lives. This program was administered successfully by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which was competitively awarded the contract in the first place. In order to fund the two unqualified organizations, Sebelius’s political appointees set aside the results of an objective evaluation conducted by the career staff, which would have resulted in an award to the USCCB.

Two of Sebelius’s team, George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary, and Sharon Parrott, counselor to the secretary, defended their actions as “acting in the best interests of the victims.” The sad truth is, they acted with reckless disregard for the interests of victims of human trafficking.

1) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been acknowledged by the government to have been “resoundingly successful” in its management of this program. HHS pitched this proven incumbent overboard in order to hand the program over to three organizations without experience in running the program, two of which submitted applications so poor as to have been deemed “non-competitive.”

2) USCCB wasn’t providing services directly to victims so much as supporting a network of service providers. Many of these organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and other faith-motivated Christian organizations, will not participate in a program that mandates abortions services, abortion counseling, or the provision of contraception. Instead of incentivizing more service providers to help victims, HHS is driving organizations out of this work.

3) The provision of abortions is banned by the Hyde Amendment and the provision of contraceptives is banned by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, so HHS is demanding that service providers do things which HHS cannot pay for.

4) Worst of all, the provision of abortions or contraception to victims of human trafficking who have not yet been rescued is tantamount to aiding and abetting the crime of exploitation. Current victims cannot, by definition, provide informed consent, so the only beneficiary is the trafficker/pimp.

The ugly reality appears to be that Secretary Sebelius is willing to inflict further harm on a profoundly traumatized and wounded population in order to advance her ideological proclivities. And she is willing to violate funding rules to do so.

— Steven Wagner is president of the Renewal Forum. He was director of the HHS human-trafficking program from 2003–2006. 

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