Last week, in a briefing before members of the U.S. Senate, pro-life organizations lead a half-day event committed to fighting the scourge of human trafficking.
Sponsored by Global Centurion and the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), the event featured commentary from pro-life U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Congressman Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), and experts who examined the health impact of trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as treatment and prevention programs to safeguard at-risk women and children.
Laura Lederer, president of Global Centurion, says this is the first time a briefing has focused on reproductive and procreative health issues such as pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, infertility, sexually transmitted diseases, and childbirth in trafficking.
Among the presenters was social worker Betty McDowell, Senior Director of Ministry Services for Heartbeat International, a network of over 2,500 affiliated pregnancy help organizations and nearly 11,000 pro-life pregnancy help individuals worldwide.
Explaining the major role of pregnancy centers in fighting human trafficking, McDowell posed a scenario to the room:
Imagine for a moment that a pregnancy center’s staff receives some basic training on identifying and responding to signs of human trafficking.
Not long after that training, the volunteers and staff realize that a few of the clients they had been treating may be victims of trafficking themselves. Now imagine this pregnancy center begins to build a partnership with local authorities to further develop a plan of how to appropriately respond after identifying suspected trafficking victims.
Imagine the pregnancy center staff is correct in identifying these clients as human trafficking victims and begins working with the women and with the authorities in the community. Imagine this pregnancy center becomes a key ally in breaking up a trafficking ring and further serving these women who are now free.
"The great news is, you don’t have to imagine this situation because it is a reality," said McDowell.
According to her, this exact scenario played out at a pregnancy help center in recent years. She is aware of many more centers that are serving survivors of human trafficking too.
“Pregnancy resource centers are first responders to human trafficking,” McDowell said. “We are uniquely qualified to help trafficking victims and their unborn children.”
Indeed, according to Dr. Lederer’s research, approximately 70 percent of trafficking survivors stated they had become pregnant while being trafficked.
McDowell explains the role pregnancy centers play in serving survivors of human trafficking and their unborn children. | Photo Courtesy: Betty McDowell
With as great a need as exists in the pregnancy help community, Heartbeat International will soon be introducing a new course to its online Academy, which currently serves over 4,500 active students from pregnancy help organizations around the world. Though the global organization has held webinars and conference workshops on the subject of human trafficking before, McDowell says Heartbeat felt the need to provide a more in-depth, sector specific, online course for pregnancy help organizations.
With the help of human trafficking experts Dr. Lederer and Cindy Collins, Heartbeat International developed its new course to better equip pregnancy help centers to understand what human trafficking is, how to identify its victims, and how to respond appropriately.
This training will use case studies, relating material to everyday applications in pregnancy help organizations and helping staff understand how they may encounter trafficking in their day-to-day work.
McDowell says Heartbeat International is thrilled to be connecting pregnancy help organizations with this important information.
“Pregnancy help organizations are in a prime position to help fight this modern-day slavery,” she said. “With a state-of-the-art learning platform like our online Academy, we are hopeful that we can quickly increase awareness about this tragedy on a global scale, and ensure that more women and babies are set free from its grip.”
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Pro-life Congressman Chris Smith with Heartbeat International's Dawn Lunsford and Betty McDowel