All of the speakers at the anti-trafficking symposium stressed that the economic impact of the pandemic had increased vulnerability for populations already prone to labor trafficking and hindered aid organizations in delivering their services to victims of human trafficking.
"COVID has impacted the delivery of services," Richey said. "This is really, really problematic. Closure of shelters, halting of services that are necessary, here I am talking about counseling, medical services, treatment, training for jobs -- all these have been paused in various ways across the 57 countries as the pandemic has hit."
"Moreover, at a time when the need is greatest, a lot of civil society organizations have been facing reduced or halted funding, so not only can they not offer the services, but they also do not have the funds to adjust the delivery of services as needs to happen."
Richey said that some short-term adjustments could go a long way in providing help, such as offering hotel vouchers to victims when shelters are closed, using telemedicine when in-person visits are not possible, and keeping the justice system open via video.
Callista Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, said that increased efforts were needed to fight against human trafficking.
She highlighted the U.S. Justice Department's announcement on Sept. 21 that $100 million in grants would be provided to "special task forces working to defeat traffickers, support research and evaluation, and to provide services and housing to victims."
"Combatting the global evil of human trafficking is a top priority for our embassy, and a cornerstone of our relationship with the Holy See," Gingrich said.
The ambassador said that the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has supported faith-based organizations, including the work of Catholic religious sisters, who help rescue victims of human trafficking.
"The scourge of human trafficking is a stain on all of humanity. It invades borders, destroys communities, and robs millions of their human dignity," she said.
"Together we can save lives and end this horrific injustice."
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.