No one can tell the story of human trafficking better than a survivor can. Please do yourself and these human beings a favor and spend a few minutes listening to their voices.
Thank you CAST LA for the incredible work you do.
No one can tell the story of human trafficking better than a survivor can. Please do yourself and these human beings a favor and spend a few minutes listening to their voices.
Thank you CAST LA for the incredible work you do.
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!
By: Michael Holtz of the Christian Science Monitor
January 25, 2016
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“I want to shine a light on slavery. When I was working in the field, I brought lots of candles with me, and with the help of my interpreter, I imparted to the people I was photographing that I wanted to illuminate their stories and their plight, so when it was safe for them, and safe for me, I made these images. They knew their image would be seen by you out in the world. I wanted them to know that we will be bearing witnessto them, and that we will do whatever we can to help make a difference in their lives. I truly believe, if we can see one another as fellow human beings, then it becomes very difficult to tolerate atrocities like slavery. These images are not of issues. They are of people, real people, like you and me, all deserving of the same rights, dignity and respect in their lives. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of these many beautiful, mistreated people I’ve had the tremendous honor of meeting.
I hope that these images awaken a force.” – Lisa Kristine, photographer for social change
Watch her Ted Talk here:
“Just because I took some little girls who were in western education, everybody is making noise,” he says. He laughs. “Let me tell you: I took the girls…I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls,” he says. [Watch a video of his statement here ].
This is Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram, the militant group that has been terrorizing Nigeria for over a decade now. The group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is sin,” attacks Christians as well as Muslims who do not practice the Islam that they believe in. It attacks schools, mosques, and churches. It has bombed bus stops and police stations, killing an estimated 1500 people just this year.
But last month, Boko Haram took its terrorizing acts to a new level–a level of human trafficking. One night, they raided the Government Girls Secondary School, an all-girls school in Chibok, Nigeria. Allegedly, people knew that it was going to happen (they stopped and asked for directions), but with such a corrupt government and limited communication, no one was able to assemble troops or some sort of defense for the girls (Amnesty International actually declares that the military knew Boko Haram’s plans and failed to take action). Petrified of the burning buildings, the students escaped with the Boko Haram soldiers, convinced that they were coming to their rescue. When they were loaded into trucks and buses, that was not the case. 276 girls were abducted. 276 young women, working to get an education. 276 women who had broken the gender barriers, the cultural barriers, the religious barriers, and achieved something that so few women in their situation are able to do–get educated. These are the girls destined to be doctors and lawyers and teachers. They are the ones working to break the incessant cycles of poverty and illiteracy. Yet Boko Haram believes that, in that very act, they are engaging in a filthy act and threatening Islam.
But what these girls are really doing, are threatening extremism. Boko Haram recognizes something that not enough people do. They recognize the power of education. They see it as the true weapon that it is. They know that if young women are taught about the world, are given the tools to make their own decisions and direct their own lives, the suppressive acts of fundamentalist extremism will be undermined. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes, “The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls — and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks.” It is true. Boko Haram, in that sense, is very right. They rightfully fear women’s education.
Yet they have taken this fear to horrific levels. They have already been treating these girls as slaves, forcing them to do labor for them, perform sexual acts, even auctioning them off to their soldiers for marriage at $12 a girl. It is undeniable that Boko Haram is brutally subjecting these young girls to all forms of human trafficking. And as Shekau said in the quote above, he is planning to not only work these girls for his own benefit, he is planning on selling them on the rampant black market of modern day slavery. Just think: if he is selling them, that intrinsically means that there are people on the other end, willing to (even wanting to) buy them.
And of course it does not stop there. As aid groups from around the world have stepped in to search for and rescue the girls, Boko Haram has fought back. Yesterday, a two-pronged bombing targeted aid workers. 118 died simply because they were trying to save girls who have been kidnapped and some sold into slavery!
This is fundamentally a human rights abuse. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, cousins and neighbors are grieving the seeming loss of their loved ones. Nigerians have been protesting in the streets, calling for their government to tell them the truth, to acknowledge the sheer significance of the kidnapping and to take a stronger stand against Boko Haram. But most importantly, they are calling for the freedom of the girls. Their cries and hashtags of #BringBackOurGirls have echoed around the world, uniting people of all nations in an attempt (even if it is just with the tap of a phone) to ring the bell of justice and free these enslaved girls.
i only fear that this will become a media campaign, like KONY 2012, and like the former, will die out (whether the girls get rescued or not). People are so fixated on these 200+ girls that they are not recognizing the fact that girls are kidnapped and enslaved every day. That every morning that we roll out of bed and grab that cup of coffee, there are small children enslaved in the tomato fields of Florida and the brick kilns of Pakistan, that there are young women serving 20 clients a night in brothels in Fremont and India, that there are prisoners put on dead row in China so that their organs can be trafficked. Yes, we need to stand up for these girls. We need to raise our voices in unison and cry out for their freedom. But we cannot forget the other 27 million human beings around the world who have been dehumanized to the place of slavery.
This week, the students of Students Against Modern Slavery stood up, using the power of imagery to speak out against human trafficking. Take a stand as well. Take a photo of yourself with a fact about human trafficking and post it to social media–it is up to us to spread the word about this horror.
Photography by: Sarah Miyahara
comment here with a photo of yourself to be added to the gallery:
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.
By legalizing, regulating, and broadening the collective attention to prostitution in the world-famous Red Light District, Amsterdam is taking a different approach to the issue. With enforced 21 and over age limits, sex-workers unions, and the building of a new museum to show prostitutes’ stories from behind the glass, Amsterdam is working to ensure that prostitution is a legitimate industry, not one that is run by a vile underground of traffickers and tainted by coercion or manipulation. Read about their interesting approach:
AMSTERDAM (AP) — “On any given evening, thousands of tourists stroll down the narrow canal-side streets of Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District, gawking at ladies in lingerie who work behind windows, making a living selling sex for money. Now a small educational museum is opening Thursday in the heart of the district to show reality from the other side of the glass.
Organizer Melcher de Wind says the Red Light Secrets museum is for those who want to learn more about how the area works without actually visiting a prostitute. It’s located in a former brothel, one of the narrow buildings typical of Amsterdam.
Visitors enter the museum by passing a hologram of a beckoning prostitute. Then the displays attempt to place prostitutes as part of society. There’s a short film showing the many people who work with them: those who clean or repair their rooms, do their laundry, or run over to their windows with coffee or food during shifts.
Prostitutes rent windows on a half-day basis and can work shifts that are 11 hours long, six days a week. They spend a lot of time waiting for customers. In their free time, they visit local hairdressers, nail salons and clothing shops.
There’s also a nursery school in the heart of the Red Light District, right next to the windows. In one scene in the film, a middle-aged prostitute in red leather receives an afternoon visit from her grade-school daughter.
The museum makes only a passing attempt to document the history of prostitution tolerance in Amsterdam — starting from the 16th century, when it was a port city flush with wealth from the spice trade and authorities turned a blind eye when sailors went ashore looking for women. Or during the Napoleonic Wars, when prostitutes first began to have mandatory medical checkups to combat venereal disease among soldiers.
The museum focuses on the era since 2000, when prostitution became legal in the Netherlands. Since then the city has been struggling — it says with some success — to eradicate pimps and human trafficking.
Yolanda van Doeveren, who manages the city’s prostitution social programs, says the district is regulated by police officers, social workers, health workers, tax authorities and civil rights groups. A new girl who appears in a window will be noticed in a matter of hours and must be able to show that she’s old enough and has approval to work.
The legal age to work as a prostitute in Amsterdam has recently been raised from 18 to 21.
Van Doeveren says trafficking remains at the heart of the Dutch debate over the ethics of prostitution. There’s also an acknowledgement, however, that the worst abuses of underage girls or prostitutes being exploited by pimps now take place out of sight in underground brothels — an ongoing challenge for police.
At the museum, the tour resumes: In one hallway, there’s a work roster on a white board showing who’s working in which room on what days, along with times for client appointments. There’s also a chance to take a seat in an actual window in front of passers-by.
And then the tour proceeds to a typical “peeskamer,” Dutch for “workroom.”
Ilonka Stakelborough, an escort who heads a sex-workers union called “the Geisha Institute,” says the rooms, about nine feet long and six feet wide (3×2 meters) have a standardized look that could really use an update — black lights have been nearly universal since the 1970s.
The beds are low and strong, near a sink and a small cabinet of lubricants, cleansers, condoms and sex toys.
“No perfume,” Stakelborough says. “Because then the smell rubs off on a man’s clothes and he has problems with his wife when he gets home.”
Are married men the main customers? No, you can’t generalize, Stakelborough says. Men of all types, married, unmarried, young or old visit prostitutes at all hours, she says — some even on their way to work in the morning.
How do you know who’s just coming to look and who wants to do business?
“Eye contact,” she said.
Very few women who work as prostitutes ever earn more than a middle class income at best — and usually it’s worse, according to Stakelborough and Van Doeveren.
Stakelborough says it’s not the prettiest or youngest girls who get the most customers or earn the most. And escorts and high-end brothel prostitutes don’t necessarily do better — they have fewer customers, longer sessions and lots of costs, for taxis or splitting profits with brothel owners, she said.
A window typically rents for 150 euros ($202) for a half-day. Given the standard cost of about 50 euros ($70) for a 15-minute session, their take-home pay before taxes is only 150 euros after seeing six clients, or 250 euros ($338) after eight.
Approximately 75 percent of the women are from poorer countries, often Romania or Bulgaria.
“Almost all the women who are here are here ‘voluntarily’, in the sense that they come knowing what they’re going to do,” van Doeveren says. “But you can ask yourself what their other options were.”
At the end of the museum there’s a wall of quotes from prostitutes.
“This job is not for the faint-hearted,” wrote Eva from Holland. “I have become much harder.”
“It makes me feel lonely my mother doesn’t know what I do,” wrote Carmen from Romania.
Visitors can write down their own sexual secrets in a mock-up confessional booth before heading back out onto the street.
If you go:
The “Red Light Secrets” Museum of Prostitution is located on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal 60-62 in Amsterdam. The museum is open daily from noon to midnight.
RYOT NOTE: Although many believe all of these women choose to be apart of the prostitution industry, that’s not always the case. Some of these women are trafficked, told they’ll have jobs in dance or waitressing, only to be sold. Stop the Traffik is committed to turning communities into places where it is harder for traffickers to hide their activities and their victims. Their goal is to unite people around the world through global campaigns, believing we are stronger and can create greater change when we work together. Take action by clicking the action box above this story, join the campaign and Become the News!”
Read the original article at: http://www.ryot.org/red-lights-district-museum-opens-amsterdam-teach-reality-prostitution/558301#9gGHy7iATuyImMlb.99
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 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.
Recently, I guest-authored on the web site Powerful Women, writing about the grey area between human trafficking and prostitution. Read my article here.
“You better change out of that right now. You look like a prostitute.” I’ve heard this more than once and every time it drills a deeper hole into my heart. Not because I am hurt by being thought of as a prostitute, but because I hate the way prostitutes are singled out as an evil one would not want to be associated with. Every time we slut shame or scoff at a prostitute we are perpetuating a system of blame-the-victim that has so been engrained into us. We have built a culture in which we see the victim as the wrong-doer, the one in need of punishment, without trying to understand why that person is a victim.
No matter what your opinion may be on the debate over the legality of prostitution, the grey area of ‘consent’ must be acknowledged. Those who advocate for prostitution as a legitimate profession often will state that it is something that a women has decided to do out of her own free will. Yet such an assertion fails to acknowledge how she started as a prostitute in the first place.
The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14. At that age, no sense of consent, whether ethical or legal, is legitimate. This is not just my opinion. It is law. According to Trafficking Victims Protection Act any child under age 18 used for prostitution is considered a commercially sexually exploited child (CSEC). They don’t have to prove that they have been tricked or coerced or abused (1). A twelve year old girl being sold on the streets night after night is not doing it because she wants to be there. In most cases, somebody is working behind the scenes of her nighttime career, pulling the invisible strings of manipulation. These girls are automatically considered victims of human trafficking. (Read about how girls get sexually trafficked https://tostopthetraffick.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/very-young-girls/). Technically, human trafficking is the exploitation of a human body for labor or sex (for the profit of another person). However, once their are protected as victims until they are 18, suddenly when they pass the magic number, these girls are considered criminals.
A ghastly number of victims of human trafficking are arrested and charged as prostitutes. Pimps sell girls out, whether online, in brothels, in strip clubs, etc and then collect the money. Yet it is those very same girls who are being locked up as punishment for their “misdemeanors” and in some cases “felonies”. Because it is so difficult to prove that a person is not selling her body of her own accord, those who are being manipulated are the ones getting punished. A pimp can so easily turn the situation around, arguing that she made the choice to be there. When it comes to this point, it is all he-said-she-said, and the pimp usually wins.
Some women may start off being trafficked and even once freed, turn to prostitution later in life. It has been engrained into some girls’ minds that sex is all they are good for, thus making it seemingly impossible to forge another career path. Other girls may have been cut off from all other resources–human, financial, skill-building– during the time when they were trafficked, and left jobless, turn to the only thing they know.
Yet so easily we write off prostitutes without trying to understand what has brought them to where they are. We celebrate a culture in which “boys will be boys,” yet if a woman does something overly sexual, there is cause for judgement. This is taken to the extreme when it comes to prostitution. Sure, some prostitutes come to the profession with fully independent intention of being a sex worker. But many girls are manipulated and trafficked into being there. Human trafficking is very real and very prevalent. It needs to be acknowledged as such.
Learn more about CSEC: http://www.misssey.org/csec.html
Read up on the laws concerning prostitution in the US: http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000119