By now, just about everyone has heard about the scandal involving ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), in which two twenty-somethings exposed the rank corruption of this powerful component of the Democratic party’s political machine. But the ACORN scandal isn’t just about tax evasion and the bad behavior of a few ACORN staffers. Rather, the videotapes that started it all captured several ACORN staffers’ unflinching comfort with the growing crime of human trafficking and child prostitution. The weeks since the story unfolded have witnessed a willingness within the women’s advocacy community and Congress to turn a blind eye to human suffering in the cause of growing government.

An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and 80 percent of those victims are women. Trafficking generates $9.5 billion annually, with $4 billion of that attributed to the brothel industry. Women who have been trafficked for sex have a tenfold greater risk of getting HIV. Sixty-eight percent of victims meet the clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Half of the trafficked victims are under the age of 18, and nearly three-quarters of trafficked children have thoughts of suicide.

Human trafficking is a huge and growing human-rights problem. Hundreds of non-governmental organizations, large and small, fight against it. Most women’s groups also rightfully identify this as a women’s issue, and say they are working against human trafficking. Yet, as of this writing, the largest liberal women’s organization, the National Organization for Women (NOW), hasn’t even issued a statement denouncing ACORN, one of the nation’s largest and most well-funded organizations, for acting indifferent to, if not downright supportive of, sexual slavery and child prostitution.

Why is this? NOW says this issue is a priority: Its website provides information on sexual crimes, trafficking, child brides, and violence against women. But the organization’s silence about the ACORN scandal suggests that NOW has a higher priority: growing the welfare state. In other words, NOW is less concerned about the integrity of ACORN, so long as ACORN works in common cause toward growing government and expanding the social safety net.

It isn’t just NOW that is failing to denounce ACORN; many members of Congress are also continuing to support the troubled organization. Last week, Congress voted to defund ACORN. Even many of the members normally supportive of ACORN seemed to see the wisdom in cutting federal funding until ACORN cleans house, establishes better training for its workers, and sets up better guidelines for helping clients. But an outrageously high number of congressmen – 75 members of the House – voted against cutting off funds. Who are these ACORN supporters?

Not surprisingly, all are Democrats; their party is the main beneficiary of ACORN’s efforts. But what is shocking is that ten of those House Democrats actually serve on the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.

This caucus, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who voted to defund ACORN, works to ensure that human trafficking remains on the legislative agenda of each congressional session. The 111th Congress has more than 200 named caucuses focusing on everything from shellfish to sustainable energy, yet most will never even gather to talk about the issues for which they are named. However, the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus is quite active under Maloney’s leadership – pressing for legislation and holding caucus meetings that have even attracted Hollywood glitterati to testify.

Maloney’s website does not contain a statement condemning ACORN. This is understandable; perhaps she doesn’t want to wade into this politically charged issue. But how could ten of her members, who should be more aware than their congressional colleagues of the profound evil of trafficking, vote to continue to provide taxpayer dollars to ACORN?

The last entry on Maloney’s website is the transcript of the statement she delivered at a caucus briefing titled “Assessing the Commitment to Combating Human Trafficking: A Legal and Humanitarian Perspective.” In the statement, Maloney provides all the relevant statistics about human trafficking, cites a newly released State Department report on the topic, and concludes by saying, “I believe that through our collective efforts, we can make a difference. We must continue to work together to protect the victims of the sex-trade industry, and punish the predators who exploit them.”

I assume Maloney was speaking for her entire caucus when she spoke of “punishing the predators.” Perhaps she might remind her caucus members of that commitment and suggest that it shouldn’t be just the “predators” who deserve punishment, but those who assist them. That punishment should begin with denying taxpayer dollars to ACORN – unless those caucus members believe the commitment to big government is a higher priority.

– Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.