Get Mad!

Diane Scimone and my club, the Students Against Modern Slavery, were recently featured on our school website. Check it out:


Get Mad!

By Abigail Heiser ‘14

scimone2“Get mad. Then do something about it,” we were encouraged by Diana Scimone, founder of Born 2 Fly, an organization working to educate the world about child sex trafficking. It wasn’t a difficult feat: our eyes flashed with the images of dirty, scared children, all looking at us with hopeless eyes. These children, these daughters, sons, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, were all victims of human trafficking. And we were outraged.

Students Against Modern Slavery, affectionately referred to as SAMS, invited Ms. Scimone to talk to the junior and senior classes about a horrifying reality they had studied in Peace and Social Justice: human, specifically child, trafficking. Human trafficking, the number two income-generating illegal syndicate, generates 9.5 billion dollars a year. It ruins the lives of 1.2 million children, some as young as five years old, each year, and that staggering number is only getting bigger. Many Americans falsely believe that human trafficking is something exclusive to other countries, to underdeveloped “backwards” societies. In fact, it’s happening on our very doorstep: 100,000 children here in the United States are at risk for being trafficked this very moment. To be sure, the idea that anyone could defile a human life in such a way is not something one easily comes to term with. The only way to halt and reverse these growing statistics, however, is to spread awareness. And that is the goal of Born 2 Fly, an organization that supplies curriculums for teaching awareness in more than 65 countries.



Diane with students and members of the the Human Trafficking Advocacy Group of the San Jose Diocese, including Sister Claudia McTaggart, NDSJ Board member.

Ms. Scimone was not led to action by the numbers: indeed, the numbers did not even enter her perception until she met face-to-face with a horrible breach of humanity. While working as a journalist in India, she caught a glimpse of the cages that child slaves, an average of 11 years young, were kept in during the day, waiting, terrified, for the night. The night during which the child could be sold as many as 20 times for sex. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. That anger you feel pulsing through your veins right now is what fueled Ms. Scimone to act, to fight against the norms perpetuated by the bystanders in society. It was a long and difficult process, but with determination and willpower, she wrote and published a wordless book that teaches children their value, founded Born 2 Fly, and created and tested a curriculum that is now being implemented around the world in the hopes of preventing countless young girls and boys from meeting the fate to which we have lost millions.

The first part of Ms. Scimone’s original request was not the difficult part of the equation. It is essential, however, not to lose sight of that second demand in our outrage – that we act. Whether that is something as ambitious as founding your own awareness group or something as simple as donating at the provided link, every little bit counts. Find your strength, and use it to fight for the powerless.


Diane and Izzy Ullmann’14, founder of Notre Dame’s on-campus advocacy group SAMS (Students Against Modern Slavery).



The Making of a Girl

This video truly captures the emotional struggles of a girl lured into domestic sex trafficking. It was produced by Jillian Buckley and featuring Rachel Lloyd, an admirable abolitionist who has created  Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, a safe house for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Sold: the Movie


I just saw the world premier of Sold: The Movie, and have been moved to tears. This beautiful film follows the story of Lakshmi, a Nepali girl, ripped from the comfort of home and tossed into an Indian brothel to live a life of smoke and cheap sex.

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In her poor village, her family’s thatched roof may leak and her mother may have to nurse her drunken father, but she has love and joy and encouragement. When a sweet lady at a festival offers her a job in the city where she could get bracelets and make lots of money, she becomes intrigued. The lady pays off her father and a truck, bus, rickshaw, and train later, she has crossed the border and is brought into the bustling streets of India’s Red Light District. She brings her into the Happiness House, a place where life is anything but happy. The lady passes her off to another woman, heavily made up and with the blackened teeth of a smoker. Over the next few days, she is beaten, drugged, thrusted into a dazzling sari, painted in layers of makeup for a girl three times her age and is forced upon by customers. In the beginning, she screams. She fights back. She scratches her first “client” to the point of blood. She tries to break the bars of the cell of a room she has been locked in. She calls out for help from passersby. But each move of protest gets her one more lash, one more kick, one more streak of blood sliced from her young body.

In the beginning, none of the girls accept her. They have surrendered to the life and then (at least pretended to have) embraced it. They smile, flirt with the customers, dance to sexy Bollywood videos. She finds solace in no one. She is utterly alone, distanced from all she knows, and all who love her.

screenshot 3In the brothel, she is exposed to some horrifying dynamics. One of the key invisible chains is that of debt. Supposedly, she must work until she has paid of her “debt.” Then, she is promised freedom. Yet that debt accumulates at a constant level without her power. From the start, she is $30,000 in debt–from travel fees and from her attack of her first client (the Madam claims she had to pay him off). Each new dress, each meal, each “transgression” adds to her debt. She calculates that if she works an average of 10 times a night, for $100 a night, she can work off her debt in a matter of months. But it doesn’t work that way. Another girl did manage to pay off her debt. It took her five years. These girls are grasped by an imaginary number, one concocted by the Madam and subject to change at her whims. Regardless, it is their only hope of freedom. If only they can zero out. If only they can work enough to gain liberation once again.screenshot 5

Another blatant dynamic of the brothels is the inconsequence of each individual to those running the brothels. No singular person is worth holding onto as soon as they become undesirable. Because the girls are not allowed to insist on their clients using condoms, they are intrinsically vulnerable to “the disease” (STDs). Once they have gotten it, they are sent away. Even women who are sick are sent out onto the streets. Girls who have transgressed in the eyes of the bosses are sold to other brothels as punishment. One girl means nothing, for she can be so easily recruited and replaced by a new girl, like Lakshmi.

Yet another gagging dynamic is the clients themselves. So eager to pleasure themselves, they dig themselves into the vaginas of young girls, despite their screams, despite their protests, despite their blood-curdling hollers. So many men passed by the older women and made a beeline towards Lakshmi, a girl of only 13. They don’t stop to think about how much she would rather be flying a kite or learning how to write in Hindi. She is merely a sexual object that he has paid for and believes he has the right to manhandle as he sees fit. These men are sickening, defiling children for the sake of sexual pleasure.

Through an adamant photojournalist and a team of human rights workers in India, Lakshmi and the other girls in the brothel are released into the caring hands of a safe house. But that is not the reality for most girls. Most of these girls die–of STDs or murders or malnutrition or suicide or a whole list of other factors. That is the reality. An estimated 5.5 million children are enslaved around the world, according to the UN. That is the reality.

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Watch the trailer here:

To see the film yourself, come to the next Cinequest screening this Sunday Mar. 9 at 6:45 p.m. at the Camera 12 Cinemas at 201 S. Second Street, San Jose.  Purchase tickets here:

Find the film on Facebook  or visit their website.

A Red X to Mark the Spot

Do you remember last year when everyone had red X’s painted on their hands? It was all over Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook. It was all over school. Those red Xs made a statement. They said: I know slavery still exists and I vow to try to stop it. This campaign was kickstarted by the END IT Movement, a coalition of anti-trafficking organization who have come together to shove human trafficking into the public’s face, calling attention to this vicious crime.

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We’re in a fight. And it’s raging all around us.

Shine a Light on Slavery Day is coming up. On February 27th, join Freedom Fighters around the world in drawing a red X on your hand, and to anyone who asks why, tell them you are wearing it in solidarity with those grasped by the chains of slavery. Tell them it stands for NO MORE! Tell them you are fighting a monstrosity and invite them to join you. I challenge you to tell them any one of these facts:

  • 27 million people are still enslaved around the world.
  • Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry.
  • The average age of sex trafficking is 12-13 years of age.
  • Sex trafficking victims may be sold up to 50 times a night.
  • The Bay Area has one of the worst human trafficking problems in the country.
  • The average age of a slave is $90. That is less than an iPhone (whereas during historical slave trade, slaves were worth today’s equivalent of $40,000).
Human Trafficking by the Numbers

Human Trafficking by the Numbers

Draw a RED X on your hand. Snap a pic. Share it using #ENDITMOVEMENT. Let’s make FREEDOM go viral.


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 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. 

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:

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.