Brainstormed Solutions

Christian Science Monitor has been working on a fascinating project to analyze best-practices in combatting human trafficking and recently put together a list of 6 innovative and effective solutions. Check them out here!

 

Human trafficking: 6 solutions that are working

By: Michael Holtz of the Christian Science Monitor

January 25, 2016

 

1. ‘Fair food’ labeling for US produce

Farm workers in Immokalee, Fla., have pushed corporations such as Walmart to submit to “clean labor” audits to cut down on the exploitation of largely Mexican, Haitian, and Guatemalan migrants. Their efforts have helped spur the use of “Fair Food” labels for produce that is grown and packed ethically.

 

“In the past three years, [the tomato fields in Immokalee] have gone from being the worst to the best” in the country, according to Susan Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif.

Last fall, Giant and Stop & Shop, two grocery chains in New England, began carrying the label. Similar labels such as “Food Justice Certified,” which expands farm worker protections to organic products, are also beginning to crop up on supermarket shelves across the country.

Such sourcing clues tap directly into the portion of the US consumer base that has begun to turn once routine shopping decisions into moral guideposts. Labor experts see a lot of promise in using labels as a tool to spread the reforms seen in Immokalee to other agricultural centers around the US.

2. Empower migrant workers and trafficking victims

One of the biggest challenges human trafficking victims face is what to do once they’re back on their own.

In Thailand, the Issara Institute helps formerly enslaved migrant workers by directly giving them cash with no strings attached. The philosophy behind the program is simple: No one knows the needs of human trafficking victims better than the victims themselves. Yet they often lack the resources to address them. By giving them the ability to make their own decisions, the unconditional handouts provide a sense of autonomy that these individuals haven’t experienced in months, if not years.

Across the United States, a handful of nonprofit organizations are working to connect with isolated domestic servants to show them that help is available.

Damayan Migrant Workers Association, a grass-roots group in New York that assists Filipino trafficking victims, provides a model for how to transform a cycle of victimization. Former victims become advocates for others, demanding changes to legal and economic structures that facilitate the trafficking of domestic workers. They also formed a co-op, allowing the former victims to become their own bosses.

They have pressured embassies when diplomatic immunity was shielding traffickers from prosecution, and have helped some women win financial settlements. Damayan’s members played a key role in New York becoming the first of several states to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

3. Joint police-NGO task forces

A small antitrafficking team in Seattle is showing how legal action can be an effective tool in fighting forced labor when detectives, prosecutors, and social workers learn to collaborate.

In its first decade of operations, the task force investigated more than 140 cases of potential human trafficking and prosecuted 60 of those. Given the difficulty of bringing such cases, this is well above average for a prosecutorial district. In September, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the task force an “extraordinary partnership.”

Experts say the force’s success stems from its ability to bridge the worlds of nongovernment organizations and diverse law enforcement agencies. Where antitrafficking efforts in some other cities have broken down, the members of this team “have come back to the table” after setbacks, says Kirsten Foot, the author of “Collaborating Against Human Trafficking.”

4. Labor trafficking lawsuits in US courts

In February 2015, a federal court awarded five Indian workers $14 million in a labor trafficking lawsuit against Signal International, a maritime construction company, for abuses they faced while repairing offshore oil and gas facilities damaged by hurricane Katrina.

Five months later, Signal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to implement a $20 million settlement with more than 200 other workers who had their own lawsuits pending. It was, lawyers say, the largest monetary penalty ever in a labor trafficking lawsuit, making it a model for how to fight labor trafficking – both in the courtroom and out.

In Mexico and the US, advocates say abuses that can add up to trafficking in the agriculture industry often go unchecked because foreign workers are required to leave the United States at the end of each season. Back home, they are far away from the US legal system that might help them push for justice against abusive or exploitive employers.

To correct this, lawyers, NGOs, government representatives, and migrant advocates have worked together pursue cross-border justice. This includes finding plaintiffs in Mexico and other countries willing to testify in US courts; many don’t know that they are entitled to legal recourse. The work is painstaking and time-consuming, but provides a path to reducing labor trafficking and migrant worker exploitation.

5. Make foreign recruiters register with the state

From Silicon Valley to the Central Valley, California industries rely on about 130,000 foreign guest workers to do everything from tech jobs to picking grapes, peaches, and almonds. Three out of four of them are hired through labor contractors, according to rough estimates. A new law has the potential to transform the way those contractors do business – and protect vulnerable workers.

The California Foreign Labor Recruitment Law, the first of its kind in the nation, requires recruiters to meet certain conditions and register with the state. Taking effect in July, it forces businesses that want to use foreign-labor contractors to work with only those that are registered, and to tell the state which contractors they are using. It provides a host of protections for workers, including a rule against charging them any fees.

“People should be able to look up in a registry who is legitimate and who isn’t,” says Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking in Los Angeles. “With transparency, the prevalence of modern slavery decreases.”

6. Supply chain transparency

A cluster of California class-action lawsuits against corporations such as Costco is pushing the envelope on accountability for human trafficking in supply chains. The keyword is transparency: If companies are forced to disclose when labor abuses are involved in making a product, they may be more likely to vigorously police their suppliers.

That level of disclosure would go significantly beyond the letter of a 2010 law. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires large retail and manufacturing companies to disclose on their websites what, if anything, they are doing to eradicate trafficking and slavery among suppliers.

In the global cocoa industry, efforts to clean up supply chains have already helped address widespread child labor abuses. Each of the world’s top five chocolate producers – from Nestlé to Mars to Hershey’s – are developing or expanding third-party inspection systems meant to, among other goals, eliminate child trafficking and child labor by 2020 on the farms where they source cocoa.

Meanwhile, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire – together responsible for about 70 percent of global cocoa output – have responded to international pressure by passing laws prohibiting child trafficking and overwork, and mandating primary school attendance.

7. How you can help

  • Here are some of the organizations featured in our series on human trafficking:
  1. The Association of People for Practical Life Education is a Ghana-based organization that works to free trafficked children, including those in the cocoa industry.
  2. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, the first transnational migrant workers’ rights organization based in Mexico, seeks to improve the conditions of low-wage workers in the US.
  3. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a Florida-based human rights organization that works to protect migrant farm workers and promote consumer awareness through its Fair Food Program.
  4. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking is a Los Angeles-based organization that assists labor trafficking victims and works toward ending all instances of human trafficking.
  5. The Damayan Migrant Workers Association is a grass-roots group in New York that assists Filipino domestic workers to fight for their labor, health, gender, and migration rights.
  6. Free the Slaves is a Washington-based organization that works in human trafficking hot spots across the world to liberate slaves and change the conditions that allow slavery to persist.
  7. The Global Workers Justice Alliance is a New York-based organization that aids transnational migrants through a cross-border network of worker advocates and resources.
  8. The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center is a US-based organization that leads national efforts to hold human traffickers accountable for their crimes and to raise awareness of victims’ rights.
  9. The Issara Institute is a Bangkok-based organization that aids human trafficking victims through unconditional cash transfers and other services such as legal support, medical care, and job placement.
  10. ProDESC, the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Project, is a Mexico-based organization that works with migrants, miners, and indigenous communities to defend and advance their rights.
  11. The Southern Poverty Law Center is an Alabama-based group that uses litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy to fight human trafficking and other forms of civil and human rights abuses.
  12. The Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network is a coalition of non-governmental organizations that provide direct services to victims of human trafficking in the State of Washington.

 

Panama’s Human Trafficking Story

By: Izzy Ullmann

The human trafficking story in Panama is one I have heard before, but never officially: human trafficking does not exist. According to Jenise Lawrence*, an American attorney working to combat human trafficking in Panama, this is the story that the government puts out.

And yet, the US 2015 Annual Trafficking in Persons Report reports Panama as a source, transit, and destination country for primarily sex, but also labor trafficking.

I sat down with Jenise Lawrence* in Panama City to learn about the dynamics that she has noted working on this issue (almost solely in the country). As she explained, prostitution in Panama is legal above the age of 18, thus easing traffickers’ ability to sell their victims. About 80% of those trafficked into the sex trade are from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many are brought through a specific visa program, called alternadora, which the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs explains specifically allows foreign national women to work in entertainment establishments [Read more here]. In a leaked report of the US Trafficking in Persons Office’s visit to Panama in 2006, Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez emphatically stated her distaste for what she deemed, “the alternadora visa for prostitutes,” and wished to speak to the president about abolishing the visa program.  According to Lawrence, however, 12 years later the visa is still being used rampantly.

As Lawrence explained, different mafias control much of the sex industry, which serves as one of the primary reasons that the government is paralyzingly tentative to intervene. She mapped out for me the domains of mafia- controlled prostitution.

Venezuelans and Columbians exert a great degree of control over the sex industry in Panama City and the Colón Free Trade Zone. In the Chinese community, there are a few families with concentrated power. These families go to China and bring back people who are willing to be indentured servants. They are then brought to work in Chinito stores for no pay and are provided housing above or behind the shops, subject to debt bondage. As the Russian embassy has gained in power in Panama, there has additionally been an increased presence of the Russian mafia bringing eastern European girls to the country for trafficked prostitution.

As she described it, human trafficking exists as a pretty well organized criminal network. The industry has been working to improve its sex-tourism, and has coordinated taxi drivers and hotel managers and staff to direct wealthy businessmen to prostitutes, all the while making a cut of the profits.

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Child Trafficking campaign poster in Tocumen International Airport, Panama City

In 2014, Panama’s Ministry of Tourism launched a measly effort to raise awareness about human trafficking with posters in the airport, but this was the extent of the campaign. It was catalyzed by a scandal in which a Columbian couple was caught kidnapping children, killing them, and selling their organs. This enraged people in Panama City where the scandal occurred, and provided fuel for the campaign, but the charges “mysteriously” were dropped and neither of the couple was prosecuted.

This reflects a much larger issue that Panama faces of a debauched legal system. Due process is typically nonexistent and according to several locals, the corrupt police force accept bribes for most crimes. Lawrence explained that along the Columbian border, the Panamanian guards are being constantly paid off by the Columbian traffickers to ensure that they do not expose the criminals.

 

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Immigrant sleeping in shelter, Darien Province, Panama

Another issue that feeds into the exploitation of humans is Panama’s identity as a destination and transit country for immigration. Because of its relatively stable economy, the World Bank calculated the net migration to Panama in 2012 as about 28,105, which (factoring in those that are emigrating from the country) comes to about 100 people immigrating into Panama per day.  According to Lawrence, about 60% of them plan to stay, while 40% are headed towards Mexico or the United States. Despite this high number of incomers, Lawrence explains that Panama only has two official shelters for incoming migrants: one which hosts 25 women, and another which holds 65 men. When these shelters reach capacity, government officials drive immigrants in cattle trucks to a central location where they  are dumped and told they have 48 hours to leave the country. According to Lawrence, “The problem is so overwhelming to the government.” She continued, “[Immigrants] are not allowed to settle. They are all illegal but the country does not know what to do. The people do not have papers for Panama, they are not allowed to go into Costa Rica or any other country that would allow them transit through Panama or to stay in Panama, and Panama does not have the resources to send them back to their country of origin.” And few people do leave immediately. Many of these people are expertly linked into underground networks of trafficking, especially for sex.

Panama_Canal

Container ship, Panama Canal

With limited border patrol, trafficking a person into the country is fairly easy. Lawrence explained that people are trafficked over the Columbian border, through the airports, and in cargo ships through the Panama Canal. She described a survivor from Malaysia who she’d met in an orphanage who had escaped her container on a ship and swam to the edge of the Canal to freedom.

But it is not just foreign nationals; Panamanians are being trafficked too. Lawrence told me a story about two indigenous girls who were simply riding in a taxi one day and were kidnapped by their taxi driver, taken to the border where they were raped and drugged and then forced to work in a push button hotel [essentially a secret room with a menu of women who you can purchase at an hourly rate].  Below is a pretty gross video about push buttons.

 

While the US Trafficking in Persons Report for the past 10 or so years has placed Panama as Tier 2, and commended it for some steps towards combatting trafficking, Lawrence explains how each of Panama’s supposed efforts are moot. The 2015 TIP report says that in 2014, “authorities investigated 11 new trafficking cases, four for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking,” and has reported back similar numbers in the 2008, 2011, and 2014 reports, but according to Lawrence, “not one person has been prosecuted.” She explained that the judicial system and enforcement of component of law enforcement is essentially nonexistent. This sentiment was reinforced by many people I spoke to in Panama. The 2015 report also details a “dedicated helpline for reporting human trafficking cases,” but Lawrence counters that, “in reality, there is no phone number or anyone dedicated to the hotline, and if there was, I am sure they were not trained correctly.”

But underlying this slew of issues, Lawrence explains that there is a general apathy about human trafficking. Most people do not know it exists, and those that do are are plagued by the its-not-my-problem mentality. This blockades the serious action needed.

From mafia-controlled areas of the country to an overwhelming immigration problem to an uncoordinated and corrupt justice system to an apathetic public, Panama sure has a lot of issues on its hands. But they do seem solvable. Awareness needs to be raised more fully, especially in schools so that students know about the potential risks that could befall them. And the judicial and legal systems need to be made more accountable, through police trainings, crackdowns on corruption, and instilling an attitude of responsibility among law enforcement and justice officials.

Contrary to public knowledge, human trafficking exists in Panama. Foreigners like Lawrence could continue to enter the country and try to determine ways of combatting the human slavery, but the Panamanian people ultimately need to figure out how to improve their own system to eradicate this problem and protect their citizens and immigrants.

 

Read more about Panama’s human trafficking via The Protection Project’s report. 

 

*name has been changed for anonymity to allow her to maintain legal status in the country

 

The Work Happening in Israel

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Last month, I had the honor to meet with two different Jerusalem-based organizations that address human trafficking in Israel. Mihal Leibel who heads the Task Force on Human Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 11.16.59 AMTrafficking of Atzum and Shari Eshet, the director of the Israel office of the National Coalition of Jewish Women briefed
me on the issues and efforts going on in the
country.
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For the 4th year in a row, Israel has ranked a tier 1 on the US State Department TIP Report — a significant victory in the anti-trafficking efforts going on in the country, but the story is much more complicated than that. Just a little over 10 years ago, Israel was shocked into action by their status as tier 3 on the TIP report and the possibility of sanctions. They illegalized human trafficking, set up state-funded safe shelters around the country, and set a 16-year prison sentence for exploiters.

In Israel, part of the legal definition of trafficking requires cross-border movement. Because of Israel’s very strong borders, legally defined trafficking as suffered extreme losses. As Mihal Leibel, from Atzum noted, “Israel is like an island– it is relatively easy to control its borders,” unlike many countries in which fluid borders exacerbate issues of human trafficking. The fence erected in 2013 on the Egyptian border was a major step in definitively reducing (and almost completely eliminating) illegal immigration (and thus trafficking) from Africa. Using the legal definition of trafficking, Israeli lawyers have been able to prosecute the cases of the over 50,000 Eritrean refugees that escaped to Israel from torture camps where they were held for ransom in the Sinai before the fence was built.

Fence on the Israel-Egypt border

Fence on the Israel-Egypt border

Yet despite the crackdown on international trafficking, what both Mihal and Shari Eshet, of the National Coalition of Jewish Women, explained to me is the prevalence of “local prostitution.” It may not be considered human trafficking by the legal definition, but it is prevalent and exploitative. The penal code in Israel legalizes prostitution and the buying of sex, but it deems illegal pimping, procuring, pandering, promoting prostitution, or owning a brothel. Mihal argues that in defining them in two separate contexts, the law essentially creates a moral judgment– deeming in-country “prostitution” as not as bad as “human trafficking,” regardless of their comparable effects. The long term effects of cross-border sex trafficking and local prostitution are similar: PTSD, disassociation, violence (a prostitute is 200x more likely to be raped than the average citizen), and death.

It is always hard to hone in on specific demographics of those vulnerable to prostitution and those buying their services, but Mihal and Shari both helped lay out some of the basics. Three main characteristics, when in combination, make a person vulnerable to prostitution: 1) previous sexual trauma, 2) parental neglect (especially when it leads to becoming a runaway), 3) poverty. Those buying sex in set aside venues (ie. ‘massage parlors’ and brothels) range from Russian immigrants to ultra orthodox Jews. When there is a demand, the industry provides. As Mihal sarcastically noted, there is no fear of people being trafficked into oncology or law, but a demand for prostitutes open the doors for exploitative provision of services.

There has been a strong move in Israel in the last couple years, spearheaded by Atzum’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, to embrace the Nordic model which would criminalize the purchase of sexual services. This would reduce the demand and attack commercial sexual exploitation as both an economic and a social phemoninon. This has not been embraced all around, though, for some organizations (including the National Council of Jewish Women) worry that it infringes upon sex workers rights.

The conversation continues about who is to be blamed, who is to be considered a victim, which organizations are to be supported, and where the legal system needs to intercede, but it is encouraging to know that Israeli political, legal, and nongovernmental entities are fully engaged in that conversation and are working to make the country one where exploitation does not reign.

Lobbying 101

Last week, in my group, Students Against Modern Slavery, I gave a short lesson on how to lobby and thought it would be valuable to share with you tips on how to lobby, in case you want to take your awareness about human trafficking to the next level by persuading a legislator to support anti-trafficking legislation. As I described in an earlier post, I lobbied Zoe Lofgren about the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act and successfully convinced her to cosponsor it. I also learned much of what I know through International Justice Misson’s Freedom Commons, so definitely check them out for more insight (I will include more resources at the end).

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When you are lobbying, you essentially want to effectively articulate a specific request in a short amount of time. It is crucial that you establish a context for your meeting, explain the issue, how you want your legislator to solve it, and leave having made a feasibly accomplished request. In order to accomplish this, you will need to have 1) done a good amount of primary research (which, lucky for you, I will help out with!) and 2) a clear meeting plan.

 

The planning stages:

It is important to have a strong basic knowledge of

  • the legislator** you are speaking to (check out how they have voted in the past on other trafficking-related bills here for the House or here for the Senate). Also, definitely do a little bit of research about the legislator and the issues that he or she cares about via his or her website.
  • the bill you are meeting with your legislator to discuss (Look up any piece of legislation here).
  • any potential issues about the bill that people have debated, things that may come up in the meeting (check out blogs or other articles written about it).

Then you should outline your meeting and rehearse it (no shame in talking to yourself in the mirror!) so that you are confident when you are sitting in front of the legislator. I learned the “4 Cs” of lobbying from the International Justice Mission and would highly recommend organizing your meeting in such a way.

Connect:  

Briefly introduceScreen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.12.06 PM yourself (2 minutes max) and establish yourself as an authority on the topic, explaining why the legislator should want to listen to you. This could include where you live (especially if it is in his or her constituency), the organization you are representing, and/or the work you have done/ way you have been exposed to human trafficking. If you have any way of forging a more intimate connection with the legislator, this would be the time to do it. (“My daughter goes to the school you went to.” “I saw you speak at such&such convention.” “We go to the same church.” “I was from Boston myself!”… whatever it may be!)

 

Context: 

This is where you establish why you are there and what you have come to talk about. I would suggest transitioning from connect to context by putting the legislator in his or her context. For example, you may begin with,  “As your voting record shows, you are already quite aware of the prevalence of human trafficking. I would like to thank you for voting for XYZ bill.” Make them feel good and appreciated. Legislators work hard and get a lot more backlash than praise, so showing that you recognize that they do positive work will set your meeting on the right foot. Once you’ve provided a context of why you are there specifically, give some context on the issue as a whole. This may mean giving some data, but also giving a short tidbit of how that data looks in the real world. Stories and statistics are always stronger together than alone, so try to give both, but no matter how you decide to capture human trafficking, ensure that you are painting it in its pervasiveness, not just as one sad story you heard about in India or whatever. Based on your research of the legislator, you will know how expansive his or her knowledge is about the topic. Some you may just need to say, “As you surely know, 27 million people are still enslaved to this day,” while others may need a more comprehensive definition of human trafficking and all that it entails. As well as short context on human trafficking, you will need to establish the specific reason you are there–basically the bill (what the problem is and how the bill will fix it). Read here about how I explained this problem-and-solution concept in terms of the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act. Basically, I told Zoe about the strength and comparative effectiveness of the Trafficking in Person’s Office in DC, yet how it is prevented from having the full capacity of impact because it is not a bureau (and thus does not have a seat at the table when State Department decisions are being made). I explained that this bill sought to promote it from an office to a bureau. It was simple and clear cut–a problem and a solution.

COMMITMENT:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.06.57 PMNow that the legislator understands the issue, you need to have him or her commit to a specific plan of action (hint: this is the reason you are there!). By doing research on the bill and where it is in the legislative process (on this website), you will know what you should ask the legislator for. It may be to cosponsor it. It may be to have them talk to the head of someone on another subcommittee to encourage that person to move it along. If the bill is in their subcommittee or scheduled to be on the floor for debate, your request may even be to vote for it. Make sure your question is direct and clear, “Can I count on you to cosponsor this bill?” If they are unable to commit at your meeting, organize a time to follow up with them.

 

CATAPULT:

Look towards the future. Offer yourself as a resource in case they have any further questions, but more importantly, determine when you can follow up with the legislator or an aid about your request (make sure to pick up a business card). “Can I email you in two weeks for an answer? I will be available any time for information.” Give them your own contact information and also leave them a folder with further resources (statistics that you did not have time to address in the meeting, the full text of the bill, etc). And, of course, thank the legislator for his or her time.

After you leave, shoot off an email or letter of thanks to acknowledge the time and energy the legislator set aside for you.

 

SETTING IT UP:

While you are preparing, you need to actually set up your meeting~~on the legislator’s website, there may be a section to “Set Up A Meeting” or a contact page (look for the scheduler or chief of staff). Basically, just keep sending stuff (tactfully… wait a few days between emails) until you get a response. Usually, legislators are very busy and it may take a little while for a response, but if you show your resiliency, you will likely be rewarded. Also, the legislator may be in his or her DC (or state capitol) office when you want to meet. In this case, you can either meet with a staffer (totally recommended, see below) or wait until he or she comes back to your area. Either works, it is really up to you.

 

I am going to include a list of more resources (some repeated from the above links), for your research pleasure. Good luck and go get involved! Politics are so much more accessible than people think! And at the end of the day, politicians want to hear what you have to say~~show the passion (but really show that you intellectually know what you are talking about) and they will want to work to put it into practice!

 

Find your rep: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

The 4 C’s of Lobbying:http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/resources/resources-your-district-meeting/sample-district-meeting-agenda-four-cs

More tips for your meeting:http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/resources/resources-your-district-meeting/tips-successful-meeting-members-congress

The meeting I did as an example:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N4GSgNNZ4K93TCsJVlAWo41sBHA_VT_ZWiF3iqMTauU/edit?usp=sharing

Read the bill (if you want to lobby about the same one as me): http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d113:H.R.2283:@@@P

Check out how your congressperson is doing (what they’ve voted for in the past): http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/house-scorecard

ALSO COME TO THIS ADVOCACY SUMMIT:http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/action-alert/advocacy-summit-2014-action-alert

More Resources: http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/resources/resources-your-district-meeting
(a TON more resources for preparing for your meeting).

Kate Case: (to contact if you want to set up a meeting on the West Coast or just for further advice~~The first time you email her, just say that I (Izzy Ullmann) gave you her info… she’ll know who I am)
kcase@ijm.org
Kate Case | Regional Advocacy Coordinator, West
Government Relations & Advocacy
INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION
916.335.6934 | @IJMcampaigns

 

**every time I say “legislator,” this could also be a staffer~~do not be disappointed if you end up meeting with a staffer instead. They actually are the ones doing the research and passing it on to the legislators along with their own recommendations.

Being Audacious in the World of Child Trafficking

Today, I had the powerful opportunity to speak with and listen to a talk by Diana Scimonethe founder of the Born2Fly project to end child trafficking, as well as a human rights journalist, author, and president of Peabody Publishing, Inc.

Across pizza with a few representatives from the Students Against Modern Slavery, she tears up as she tells us about one girl whose face she cannot erase from her mind. It was the Florida Classic in Orlando, when two major football teams come head to head and you can bet the traffickers were capitalizing off of the influx in testosterone-driven tourists. Her team was doing outreach on International drive (not a bad part of town, she notes, actually more of a tourist attraction) and she reports seeing so much trafficking. She and her team talked to hotel managers in coordination with law enforcement and the DCF (Department of Children and Families),  a list of missing children and runaways in one hand and Backpages.com listings of girls for sale in the other. She describes an especially jolting encounter at one particular hotel. 

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“One hotel we went into there was this car that rolled up… and you know most traffickers aren’t the archetype pimps with the fur coats and the gold teeth and the gold jewelry. They are the MIT graduates and airline pilots…but this guy looked like the archetype. And he pulled up in one of those fancy cars…and  out gets this girl your age and she was probably drunk. He just led her right out of the car. She walked in like a little zombie, walked up to the desk. She was wearing bedroom slippers…. I went up. They organization I was with had put the fear of God in us not to turn this into a rescue. We were just supposed to get the information, because there were people all around watching. So I took some pictures of her and we got the license plate number, but she got back into the car and drove around to the back of the hotel. As I watched her,  I thought, I wonder what is going to happen to this girl that has already happened probably 10 times today and it’s
only, what 12 noon… So we gave the license plate number to law enforcement and I don’t know what happened to her after that. But her face is just engrained in my mind. Every once in a while there’s some incident… that happens in people… you usual
ly have to be able to set aside the emotions to get stuff done, but every so often there is that one that just comes to you, that keeps you going…. [to remind you] it’s somebody’s life.”
Russia: “Thank you for B2F. Thank you for not being indifferent. This program has changed many lives.” 
Diana Scimone was not always a fighter against human trafficking. As a human rights journalist, she traveled to over 40 countries, listening and writing. One particular experience in Mumbai, however, lead her life down a path she never expected it would take. She was being driven through Mumbai’s infamous red light district, observing as the night was just beginning for the women behind the windows while tourists walked through nonchalantly and children played in the street. All of a sudden, her driver pointed to the second floor window of a building and said “That would be a great photo, just don’t let the pimps see you taking it or they will take away your camera.” She snagged the shot, a shot which she describes as the photo that changed her life. Only after they drove away did the driver explain to her what it was of~~the second floor is where the cages of four year olds were kept. These children had been trafficked across borders, only to be beaten, starved, even peed on, to the point that their instinct to run away was utterly drowned out of them. Only then were they ready to be child sex slaves. That photo haunted her to the point that she eventually founded a non-profit to end the slavery that riddles the lives of millions of children worldwide. Capitalizing on her own talents, she has collaborated to write curriculum to teach about human trafficking for children, teenagers, and adults. Now, her program is available in several languages, is taught in over 60 countries, and has been accessed by over 400 different organizations around the world. Register for the curriculum here.
Nepal: Born2Fly co-sponsored train-the-trainer workshops for more than 40 young women from villages where girls are regularly trafficked. This is one of the recent trainings. These young women are now back in their own villages holding awareness and prevention programs for their own communities--all using the B2F curriculums and wordless book.
Nepal: Born2Fly co-sponsored train-the-trainer workshops for more than 40 young women from villages where girls are regularly trafficked. This is one of the recent trainings. These young women are now back in their own villages holding awareness and prevention programs for their own communities–all using the B2F curriculums and wordless book.
 
She advocates using that which one already excels at to jumpstart advocacy, and “audacity,” as she affectionately calls further action. She described her use of fashion to broach the conversation on human trafficking. She wears the ravishing clothing that she has bought through her international work, describes it, discusses the cultures behind the cloth, and then jumps into the issues of human trafficking within that particular culture. She emphasized that one does not need to be doing search and rescue to combat human trafficking. All one must do is apply one’s natural skills to the issue, whether that be in social interaction or education or technology or debate or writing or medicine or anything else. 
One line from her talk that really stuck with me, that I want to share with you is: “Have big ideas. And if your ideas don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” Human Trafficking–man is that a big idea. But if we have ideas that are bigger and better and bolder, together we can eventually trump it. 
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Training Professionals to Spot Victims

Many people who are trafficked, whether for labor or sex, are physically moved from place to place. Sometimes by car, sometimes by ship, and sometimes by airplane. This past month, San Jose Mineta airport employees were trained to spot victims of human trafficking. As Congressman Mike Honda stated, “We value freedom and therefore must be compelled to protect it and that’s why we’re here today.” Significant signs include people who don’t have the normal luggage, those who can’t speak for themselves, and those who are not allowed to be separate from another person. If authorities can catch the crime in action, we may be able to prosecute traffickers and protect victims before it is too late.

Watch ABC7′s report:  
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news%2Flocal%2Fsouth_bay&id=9404543#

It’s Boys Too

Many times people ask me about the statistics of male to female victims of human trafficking. The most widely accepted statistic is that it is 80% women and girls (according to the UN). It is so easy to write of human trafficking (especially sex trafficking) as a women’s issue, yet men and boys are involved as well (at least in that 20% and perhaps even more than has been calculated. This candid article, written by a survivor of child sex trafficking, shows the other side of the coin. Here, a boy speaks to his experience in the life…

I Was A Trafficked Boy8b68a67d4b4e4af8e9ee707bfff4aff5

Posted on February 2, 2014 by proudlysensitive

I remember a day when I was seven years old, where I sat in my bedroom chair in front of my parents; my mother was grabbing my shoulders and shaking me hard as she shouted in my face.  I had “dared” to talk back to one of their clients, told him to go away, and though I obviously couldn’t stop him, he made a point of telling my parents.  They had taught me to be respectful, “coy” “seductive” (it makes me sick to say that, the word they used) to the people who paid them to sexually abuse me, and they beat and raped me themselves to pound this lesson back in that day.  I was often shocked by the depths of their self-righteous cruelty, their indifference to my suffering in later years, but now I see just how far it really went.  This particular client, an old obese pedophile did come back, showing up in my bedroom often at random–my parents didn’t bother scheduling with me beforehand.   He liked to perform many cruel, sadistic acts such as squeezing my chest so hard while he was raping me that I passed out–perhaps also due to the drugs I was frequently given.

After I remembered this last month I was plagued by nightmares, where he would show up randomly, naked in the rooms of a house I was running through; he would have knives in hand to attack me with, while I would try to fend him off with something like a spatula.  I had no real defenses in the dream, just like when I was a child, and these rooms I ran through were filled with other people who also did nothing.  Somewhere between the nightmares and the flashbacks that day, the full reality of it dawned upon me quicker and deeper then ever before: that this was my life.

On many days the kitchen of our house would be full of strange people, and I would have to go out there and sit on their laps while they chose between me or my brother.  I remember many  times creepy women came over to our house for dinner, wearing heavy perfume and makeup.  After the meal was over, they would follow me back into my bedroom and rape me.  I was trafficked as a child, and it wasn’t really that big of a secret.  In fact when I was 12 years old, towards the end of my desirability to  my parent’s pedophile ring, my abusive boyfriend found out what was going on.  But he didn’t help me, instead he tried acting as a pimp himself.    I remember us hanging around the bathrooms of dodgy pizzerias or bowling alleys where he tried to find potential clients to make him some money.  Though I fought hard to rebel against the life my parents made for me in the coming years, thankfully he left my life on his own and I was never sold as a teenager.

I know that my story isn’t really that uncommon.  A recent study showed that 50% of the children being trafficked here in the United States are boys.  And women were not only very well-represented in my parent’s pedophile ring, I know that they also make up a very large percentage of those exploiting street boys and raping boys caught up in the juvenile justice system.  It is unfortunate that we don’t see this reality reflected often or at all, but instead a narrative where trafficking is a “women’s issue” where all the victims are female and the perpetrators male.  That is not the case in this country or otherwise, and having survived these things and being male, it is very alienating and invalidating to see these issues presented that way, primarily by advocates who are not even survivors themselves.  And so are the double standards, the people who blame male victims and accuse us of wanting it, of being able to leave, saying we were “deviants,” “perverts,” “delinquents,”  apparently worse then the pedophiles exploiting us.  And when a standard is put forth where horrific stories of abuse are told giving unconditional amnesty to every woman involved no matter what role she played or crimes she committed, it creates environments where female abusers will be more welcome then male survivors.

Shortly after my grandmother died, I overheard my mother talking in a hushed voice  about how she had been trafficked as a child by grandmother: “it was nothing like what we do to the boys!” she insisted in an angry, derisive tone.  I heard this theme from her over and over again throughout my life; where my emotions were belittled or brushed aside because of my gender.   My mother was a deeply sexist, child-hating hypocrite who felt entitled to put her own pain and her own worth above the innocent, vulnerable young boys that she was abusing.   But her criminal abuse has no justification; the fact that she chose to turn her hatred upon her own children while worshipping the image of her abusive single mother is despicable.  There is no comparing pain or measuring trauma objectively, so my mother did not have it ‘worse’ then I did, and nor did she give me a ‘better’ childhood.   I don’t split hairs; better would have meant no trafficking at all, no sexual abuse, no physical or emotional abuse, and no alcoholism.  If there is still abuse, then the parenting is still abusive; it’s that simple.  Abusive parents should not expect their children to (impossibly) live in the context of the parent’s lives.

Seemingly just because they could, my parents sold my body to pedophiles and child pornographers for money; money that they also kept for themselves, money that I never saw, was not thanked for and which did not mean I had adequate clothing, school supplies or was allowed to ask for things I needed without being verbally abused and shamed in response.   My mother self-righteously believed that as a child I was less then nothing; that I was a greedy, irresponsible ‘thing’ that needed to be beaten, yelled at, worked and “kept in line,” that I deserved nothing.  And this view of me never changed; as I became a young adult and went to college, nothing I did was ever enough, and she vented her endless jealousy and resentment upon me for supposedly having a ‘better life’ then she did.

My mother, the master manipulator, was fond of hatefully spitting out the words “he never worked a day in his life!” when talking about me while I was in my late teens.  But yes, actually I did work; child pornography and child sex slavery are work; in fact they are such taxing and difficult forms of work that they have left me with life-long consequences and absolutely no control and no rights for how the pictures/videos taken of me are used today.  But beyond this being a sick lie, there is the fact that I don’t agree with what she said on a much deeper level.  I don’t believe in child labor, and I don’t believe that children are less valuable then working adults, I don’t believe they deserve less respect, value, or worth.  I don’t want other people to live through what I did, and when I hear of children having significantly better childhoods then I (for instance involving no violence or emotional abuse, but respect, love, and autonomy) then I think that’s great, and I want everyone to have that.  That’s what makes me different, and indeed better then my mother.

Of course, studying itself is work, is an investment and also deserving of respect, not derision.  I did not deserve to be emotionally abused or have my decisions disrespected when I said that; “I’m attending college full time right now, and that is what I’m doing.”   It happens to be the case that having post-traumatic stress disorder and a whole host of other conditions as a result of my childhood left me so disabled that I desperately needed my time outside of class to heal.  And even when I was in such a crisis that I needed to take time off from school, that still didn’t make me less valuable of a person then my parents, people who should have been in jail and who used children as slaves for their own profit.  Today I know that it was insane for my “family” to act like they were the victims of a “deadbeat son.”  This pathetic reversal of reality of course was meant to make sure that I would always feel like a failure even when I hadn’t failed at all.   But I feel no shame today for having been a disabled young adult, since after all I ended up like that through no choice of my own, but through the actions of people like my mother.  I’m now proud of having resisted her insane demands and for doing what I needed and most of all what I personally was capable of doing at the time.  My value and worth as a person is not defined by what work I can do or money I can make.

But much of the language that my mother used against me during that time of my life is in fact completely in line with negative societal stereotypes and forms of emotional abuse that are often targeted at young males.  During this time other people also felt entitled to insult me when they heard barely a fraction of my story.  Society is uninterested in the emotional lives of young men, in the fact that we frequently are survivors of all sorts of traumatic child abuse and also need validation and space to heal.  Homeless male children and young adults are most often given labels such as “aggressive” or “lazy” (despite the endless, 24/7 work that being homeless necessitates) to imply their state is all the fault of their “attitude,” and thus that their parents and the society that threw them onto the streets is not to blame; but the people walking on the sidewalks to and from their comfy homes are the real victims because they have to see the destitute living exposed out there.  People act like it’s legitimate to pour endless amounts of shame and derision on young men for not being 100% independent, regardless of the economic conditions and their personal history.  This emotional abuse as well as the hidden histories behind it are undoubtedly an enormous contributing factor to the epidemic of suicide amongst young men.

The truth is it was very hard for me to escape from my mother’s house, life, and most of all the legacy of having been a “child prostitute.” All of the things I was groomed to do as a child, all of the messages I received were twisted and of no practical value as I moved into adulthood.   Yet shedding them and an incestuous parent who alternately wanted you as a dependant possession and to sell you for her enjoyment is anything but easy.  My former pimp wanted to continue to control, judge, intrude upon me and put me down every chance she got, and I probably would have died if I didn’t do whatever I could to find a life outside of her.   I don’t tolerate in my present life anyone who thinks they have a right to judge me and what I had to do to escape that life, least of all any of my old family who still might see her as a victim when she is anything but.  I don’t feel bad for taking time to heal today either, I’m not comparing myself with anyone else anymore, let alone the person I might have been right now if I had a childhood filled with real love.  Loving myself today means putting aside those comparisons and learning to live openly within my own context and story.

It seems very plain to me that helping males see themselves as survivors, validating and including their experiences as being abuse, and not somehow less or less worthy of being mentioned and talked about and dealt with then the abuse that females experience can only have a positive effect on the world.   That means putting aside all of the shaming labels and recognizing the reality of the trauma that makes us what we are.  You’re not going to stop abuse by ignoring 50% of the abuse that’s going on (it’s the same thing with military rape, where half the victims are male but many so-called advocates pretend it’s only something women go through) or by perpetuating myths and stereotypes about gender.   Nor are male victims served by being hidden away in phrases like “women and children,” as if women are never the abusers, the exploiters of said children, and as if males, having been abused/exploited their entire childhood gain some magical invulnerability to the cycle once they come of age and gain a different label that apparently makes it ok to kill, ignore, and write us off wholesale.   But no, we are the same people throughout our lives, and coming of age shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to no longer offer services or allow societal stereotypes to kick in.

Healing from an abusive childhood is often a lifelong process, and when people aren’t given any space to heal, any validation that what they went through is wrong, they will often repeat the cycle rather then break it.   Males are not less deserving of the human right to housing then females, we are not less exploited by trafficking or pornography, we are not less effected by rape, incest, or other kinds of abuse then females are.  And while vocal male survivors are not as plentiful, actual male survivors are not a minority.  There are many aspects to my personal story, and trafficking is just one of them, but I know that whenever I come across a description that purports to talk about the whole problem while ignoring experiences like mine, that I’m reading something wrong.   Personally, I was abused by both men and women, underage boys and girls, and I don’t stereotype on that basis.  I prefer a mixed community of survivors that includes people of all different sexes and genders, I’m drawn to people with similar healing paths and journeys, that may intersect on different levels.   At my heart I am a human being and I care about that more then polemics, but I do exist.”

Read the original article on his blog: Proudly Sensitive.