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.

 

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America’s Daughters

Watch this powerful video created by the Polaris Project.

“America’s Daughters is a powerful piece of spoken word written and performed by a female survivor of sex trafficking. Through her words, we gain a brief glimpse into the unbelievable exploitation so many people have endured while yearning for what we all need: LOVE. This woman’s brave decision to speak out also demonstrates the remarkable resilience of the survivors Polaris Project serves every day.

Join survivors in the fight to end human trafficking. Go to http://www.polarisproject.org/americasdaughters­.

Credits:
Produced and Directed by: William Caballero and Kate Keisel
Edited by: William Caballero: http://www.wilcab.com
A special thanks to all the Polaris Project New Jersey team, volunteers and survivors who made this possible

Sign-up to learn more: http://www.polarisproject.org/sign-up.”

 

 

 

Force, Fraud, and Coercion

Force, Fraud, and Coercion. These are the three catchwords that differentiate human trafficking from other forms of manipulation and exploitation. They are the ways that humans get into the trade and the way that they are kept in. I think that to really understand human trafficking, one needs to have a true understanding of these three terms.

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FORCE

The first way that people are trafficked is through the use of force. This may be the primary vision that people have when they think of human trafficking. Force could include anything from kidnapping to starvation to forced confinement to drug dependence to abuse. A person who is forced into sex trafficking, for instance, may be picked up off the street, shoved into a van, and driven to a foreign place where he or she would be made submissive through rape, physical and verbal abuse.  Around the world, people are quite literally stuffed into trucks, the hulls of ships, even packaged up and sent across borders by traffickers.

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Many traffickers use drug dependence to manipulate their victims. Women in brothels are provided with drugs and form addictions to them. Even if they are able to escape or are rescued by aid workers, they will return to their pimps because their withdrawals from the drugs are too painful to bear.

Another way that traffickers keep their victims in check is by forced confinement, keeping them under lock and key with guards patrolling their very move. They control living conditions of their slaves. If there is any chance of revolution or backlash, a pimp can simply cut off water or electricity, essentially forcing those who have been trafficked to follow their rules. They will only let them out under close supervision, and some may even collect rent! This throws victims into an endless cycle of debt.

Pimps may keep girls under their control through force, abusing them physically, sexually, emotionally, and verbally. Read more about this in my description of Guerrilla Pimping.

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The second form that traffickers use to lure people in and keep people in is fraud. This form is quite multifaceted and can come in many disguises. One of the most common way is false promises, whether of employment, marriage, a better life for one’s children, education, etc. In the documentary, The Price of Sex, many of the women enticed into the sex trade were done so through fraudulent promises (usually of better jobs).

(for more on these women’s stories: read Broken People)

Many people are more likely to trust one of their own kind, whether that be religion, ethnicity, or even gender, and are most vulnerable to fraud coming from these people. A newcomer to the US from Cambodia may be offered assistance by a fellow Cambodian in finding work. She may put her trust into this person’s hands, unsuspecting the “helper”s true purpose of handing her over to a trafficker for monetary compensation. Without language, cultural, or legal knowledge of a place, a person becomes increasingly susceptible to fraud.

Fraud also includes false promises of immigration status. A person will pretend to sponsor another’s immigration, paying for legal documentation, only to demand repayment once the person has crossed borders. This hurtles a person into debt bondage, another rampant form of fraud. In the case of debt bondage, a person is either forced to or coerced into taking out a loan, only to have labor demanded for repayment. Because the debt just keeps increasing, this form can keep generations upon generations enslaved.

This form is especially prevalent in Pakistan, where 1/100th of the population is enslaved by debt bondage. Hear the story of one family:

 

COERCION:

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And the final form is coercion. A pimp or trafficker may coerce a victim by threatening him or her. The pimp may threaten to harm them or their family. They may threaten to tell their family or community, something which to a person from a culture based around honor and aversion from shame, is a detrimental concept. They may threaten blackmail with photos, confidential information, etc.

In many cases of coercion, a trafficker will hold onto a person’s legal or travel documents, making the victim dependent on the trafficker. Especially for an immigrant, being in a country without documents could be an easy reason or deportation. Without his or her documentation, a person is much less likely to escape from a pimp, for he or she recognizes the danger of being on the loose, undocumented.

 

Yet in most cases, these forms are not used independent of one another.  In Teresa Flores’s case, her pimp payed a lot of attention to her, smiled at her, and kindly offered her a ride home from school one day (fraud). Instead, he drugged and raped her (force). Then, took photos of her and threatened to show them to her father and his boss, essentially humiliating her and getting him fired (coercion).

 

There is no one way that a person gets trafficked or controlled. Because traffickers use such a multitude of tactics, it is so much more difficult to eradicate those base causes and prevent a person from being trafficked in the first place. And because the multifarious ways that pimps keep their victims under control, it is also extremely difficult to rescue a person from human trafficking. Once you can begin to understand these three forms, though, you can start to really appreciate the complexity that is human trafficking.

To read more about Force, Fraud, and Coercion, read How Human Trafficking Works.

On Domestic Servitude, the Inescapability of Death, and Visa Manipulation

Last week, I attended a conference put on by the Catholic Network to End Human Trafficking. As always, I was exposed to new horrific realities which I wish to pass on.

 

1. DOMESTIC SERVITUDE

One of the concepts that felt substantially new to me was that of domestic servitude. I know about it as a manifestation of human trafficking, yet I have never been more exposed to the stories of those affected by it as I was today.

In the privacy of the home, family members are exploiting their own family members. A FIlipina woman was always a generous host to her sister and niece whenever they visited her back home in the Philippines. She would cook and clean for them, honoring them with traditional hospitality. When they offered to bring her over to the US, she agreed. They gave her another person’s visa, and instructed her to push a man’s wheelchair through security at the airport and not say a word. Once she arrived in their home, she was forced to work 24/7. She did all of their family chores, cooked, cleaned, tended to the children, whether her relatives were home or not. They kept her up until 2 AM, commanding her to massage each family member to sleep. A few months in, they demanded $10,000 to pay off the debt of the visa the had gotten her. Moneyless, she had to start working to raise the money. When she was finally able to pay it off, they raised the rate to $27,000, telling her it was a bargain, for the normal charge was $30,000. Soon after, she was brought to an elder care facility and forced to work and live there.

What can be done about a situation like this? There is such a grey area between someone who is simply caring for her family, and someone who is being held a slave. How was she to know that they were manipulating her? How was an outsider supposed to see that she was being coerced and toiled with? And to prosecute, witnesses are required. Who is going to testify against his or her own family members? It becomes a he-said-she-said situation, convoluted and usually too complicated to successfully punish the perpetrator. When human trafficking occurs behind the closed doors of someones’ home, detection is close to impossible.

People are also often lured by recruiters in their home country. They trust people who are from their same background– they speak the same language, share customs and beliefs, and have no reason to doubt their motives. In Egypt, a wealthy couple planned to moved to the US. They approached the parents of a destitute young girl, offering to take her abroad with them. They promised to give her a home, an education, food– a better life than the one she had. With no seeming alternative, her parents felt obligated to sell their daughter, thinking that it would benefit her. They sold her for $30. THAT is the price of a human being.

Once she arrived in the US, she was forced to sleep on a mattress on the cement floor of the couple’s basement in their extravagant new Malibu home. She was deprived of heating and cooling, and was only allowed to eat the leftovers of her masters’ meals. She did their chores, day in and day out. When she tried to wash her laundry along with theirs in their washing machine, she was beaten and told that she had to do her own washing in a tin bucket outside. This girl was stuck in domestic servitude from the age of nine until she was seventeen, when she was finally rescued by ICE  agents.

Some women are bought online as mail- order brides and literally shipped overseas to their awaiting husbands. They are degraded to the status of a package-  purchased, transported, and ripped open, to be used at the will of the recipient. Some girls and women are forced into arranged marriages, only to become the slaves of their new husbands and mothers in law. They are raped by whoever enters the house and wishes to take their turn.

One woman in the Bay Area was told that she was going to be given a job. She was dropped off at the house of a man in his 60s and essentially told that she was his slave. He asserted the utmost degree of coercive control upon her. He beat her, raped her, abused her mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “The only thing I felt was fear,” she says, “fear all the time.”

One of the most prevalent myths about human trafficking is that it is an issue that rages solely overseas. It is very blatantly splashed across the pages of our seemingly easy West Coast world. There are slaves in our own backyards. They are in our neighbors homes. And most of us don’t see them.

 

2. DEATH

Most of the individual stories that we hear are those of girls who have escaped, of people who have found a way out. But those people are the exception. They are not the rule. When it comes to sexual trafficking in the US, the average entrance age is twelve years old. The life expectancy is seven years from that date. Seven years. Most of these girls endure the turmoil for seven years. And then they die. Death is the end of the story for most victims– not services, not rehabilitation, not freedom. Death. A client of Missy, an organization rescuing and rehabilitating children in Oakland, said “If I were not here because of Missy, I would be dead.” That is the reality. Humans are expendable. Children who have been trafficked by sales crews, forced into vans and dropped off at street corners to sell things from dawn until dark, have been found dead in overturned vans on the side of the road, abandoned by their perpetrators. When the traditional form of slavery was alive and well in the United States, slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property. They may have been abused, but their masters recognized their worth- at least their economic worth. Modern day slavery has tainted even that conception. Humans are worth nothing. In Haiti, a young boy can be bought for less than $2. 60 an hour. And when humans are cheap, the next step is that they can be disposed of whenever their trafficker sees fit. Some are abandoned like the children in the vans. Others are killed. Still others are literally worked to their death.

 

3.  VISAS EXPLOITATION

 

We are trafficking and killing our own children. 72% of those trafficked in California are actually identified as US citizens. Yet, the other 28% are smuggled from abroad. Some come in legally or with fraudulent documents. Others are snuck in by way of the coasts

Visa exploitation is one of the most common methods of fraudulence used by traffickers. Many have recruiters in the home countries of victims who promise to pay the travel expenses to bring people over to the US. However, once they are here, their documents are taken, the agreed upon debts are skewed and the people are forced into harsh conditions of slavery. Some of the most commonly manipulated visas are the H-2A Certification, the JI Student Visa, and the R Visa. The H-2A Certification allows for employers to bring over an unlimited number of labor workers to work their agricultural fields if they “anticipate a shortage.” Many of these laborers are brought over and offered work, only to be abused, unpaid, and trapped. JI student visas are dangerous in a different sense. Student with these visas are typically impressionable, young, and want to earn money– making them a very at- risk population. Recently, a group of Chinese girls arrived in the San Jose airport with JI Student visas, claiming to be going to school on the East Coast. In actuality, they were driven to Fremont and sold into brothels. And the third, and possibly most dangerous visa is the R Visa. This is delegated to those traveling with religious organizations, yet can be exploited by traffickers. The R visa does not require worker compensation, it allows for housing and food to be provided as sufficient payment, and is the longest running visa– maxing out only after five years. For a nun traveling abroad for service work, this visa is ideal. For a girl from Vietnam who thinks she is being given a job in the United States, a visa like this can be used by a trafficker for extended entrapment.

 

I can only begin to touch upon the new trove of information I have been exposed to. It is as if every time I peek my head into the world of human trafficking, new horrors are unsheathed. Yet I hope to teach you. Together, we can fight this most atrocious crime.

 

A National Concern

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“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it…”

–President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012

The Moments After

The Freedom Exhibit– a Post- Reflection

August 3,  2013  12:00 AM

I am high off of the excitement of advocacy. There is so much power in talking to people about the things that drive me, and having them care. I felt the sparks of awareness flying tonight. I feel as if I have lowered a rope into a pit of ignorance and hoisted some people out of it. I think I may have even flung some of those people from the flat ground of awareness into the realms of action.
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 Over the last couple months, I have become more and more competent in my abilities to discuss human trafficking with people that share the same passions. I preach to the choir like a pro– I have had many a car conversation, many a dinner table education with my parents. But when I try to talk to people who don’t share my passion, I have felt tongue tied. I haven’t known how to breach the topic, and once I do, I don’t know where to start. Tonight, that changed.
I completely overwhelmed the first woman I talked to. I overloaded her with way too much information about every organization I could describe on our “Learn” table. I could see the stars coating her eyes, the confusion clouding her vision. When she stopped me and asked, “Wait… what is human trafficking?” I knew I had to take a different approach. I had spewed word vomit all over her, and really not brought her any closer to an understanding of human trafficking.
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That was when I realized that I could use the scene I had created as a presentation tool. My art piece provided me with a catapult to educate, something I had really been lacking. I brought people in, at first one on one, and then as groups and told them this:
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~ First look at this mattress, this graffiti, these papers. What do you see? What do they make you think about?
Now when people think about human trafficking, their minds immediately jump to sex. People know about brothels, about people being trafficked across borders in other nations to provide sex to customers. But human trafficking is truly a multifaceted issue. This bed could be the bed in a brothel, but it could be inhabited by so many different people.
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This is the bed of a boy, who is arisen every morning, thrown into a van with six other guys, handed a couple dozen crates of strawberries, and dropped off at a street corner. He is told he has to sell all of the strawberries or be beaten. He goes out, selling strawberries all day. You have seen this boy, sometimes outside Costco, sometimes outside Safeway. You may even have bought strawberries from this boy. In the evening, he is picked up in the van by his pimp. He has not had a lunch break. He has not been able to go to the bathroom. Today, he hasn’t even sold all of his strawberries. In punishment, after handing the money he has made to his pimp,  he is raped. This is the bed he goes back to and cries in.
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Or this is the bed of a girl whose family is abusive. Her parents are drug abusers or they beat her. Maybe she doesn’t have parents at home at all. She runs away from home, and while walking the streets is picked up by a boy. He takes her in; he gives her gifts. He tells her he loves her. He fills a gap that has been empty; he makes her feel special. She falls in love with him. He calls her his girlfriend. After a little while, though, he tells her she needs to make up her share of the income. He tells her she can’t just sit home all day. So he drops her off on the streets to pick up customers. This is the bed that she brings five, ten, fifteen men a night to, selling her body to make money for her “boyfriend”.
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Or is this is the bed of a woman who has just immigrated to America from Cambodia. She wants to start a new life in the land of opportunity. She is offered a job at a nail salon, but is told that instead of payment, they will give her a room in the back. She is not allowed to leave the salon unsupervised. The only time she is allowed out of this room, is when she is painting nails. She doesn’t know her rights. She doesn’t know she is entitled to more than this. This is the room that she spends her days and nights in.
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This bed represents the millions of people stuck in human trafficking today. And splayed across it are diary entries, prayers, poems. On the walls are cries for help, all scribbled across the oppressive graffiti that surrounds the people contained within its walls. These are written pleas for help, because so many of these people do not have the use of their voices to ask for help. They are scared. Women do not want to be arrested for prostitution. Girls are so in love with their pimps, that they do not realize that they are being manipulated. Their emotions are so toyed with, so disjointed that they do not know who to trust or where to turn for affection. Illegal immigrants trafficked in the agricultural industry don’t want to be deported. Legal immigrants do not know their rights. People who have been trafficked into the US do not realize that they have rights to trafficking visas. People are blocked by language barriers, trust barriers, emotional barriers.
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And it starts so young. The average age of a trafficking victim in the US is 12, but people are weaned into it from even earlier. Children are burdened by emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. They are neglected by their parents. They are not raised with a sense of self- worth or confidence in their abilities. They seek love anywhere they can find it.
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The system is so skewed. There are more people in slavery now, in 2013, than there were during the entire length of the transatlantic slave trade combined. And back then, slavery was legal. It was in the public eye. It was contested by some, but accepted by most. Now, it is an underground criminal industry. Not just any criminal industry, but a particularly profitable one– the 2nd most profitable criminal industry, netting about $32 billion a year. Once a person sells a gun, that gun is gone. But a person can sell a girl again and again and again and again. A person pimping four girls can make about $600,000 a year. There is a demand for it. It is consumed in mass quantities. With inflation calculated in, a slave back in the 1800s was worth about $30,000. Now, a slave can be bought for $90. Our sense of human worth seems to have plummeted by a long shot. And this is just the beginning of the story. ~
Now, I talked and people listened… really listened. People asked questions… good questions. They started recognizing the signs. People told me about situations that had before not seemed odd, but now seemed like signs of human trafficking. They disclosed information about family, neighbors, friends who had been involved in the issue. They wanted to know how to pinpoint the indicators, how to act, what to look for, and how they could get involved. They wanted to know about the children, about the laws, about the numbers, about the history; I could tell them.  I have done so much research- speaking to people, listening to stories, watching documentaries-  that I was able to truly advocate. I was able to back up my fictional  (yet completely plausible) pieces with hard numbers.

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And I was not alone in my advocacy. I was joined by two truly inspiring women. Julia Wood, the girl who had kickstarted the concept of an art exhibit and collected the art pieces, and I worked off of each other with the most collaborative chemistry. People would ask questions, and we were able to teach together, to fill in each others’ gaps in knowledge, and to combine our separate insight into a truly comprehensive understanding of human trafficking. Most notably, I was joined by Regina Evans, a survivor of the Life, who has since channeled her complex emotions into poetry and a one woman play.
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She shared her story, her passion, her pain, and her love. She lured people into the back room with the bed setup and performed a rhythmic telling of her story… She started with an almost abstract poetic description of a girl being raped, abused, sold on the streets. “She’s somebody’s baby. She’s somebody’s child,” was her haunting refrain. But as her tale escalated, the pronoun turned personal, and the audience was drawn further into her tortured eyes, and her trembling hands. “I’m somebody’s baby,” she whispered, her voice cracking, “I’m somebody’s child.” At the end of her performance, she turned to the numbers, warning of the 300,000 children at risk of trafficking in the US alone. She called people to action. She appealed to them to stand by no longer. As people walked out of that room, the reactions were chilling. Some simply stared ahead in a horrified trance. Some had red eyes, wet with teardrops. Some had hands clasped in fists of anger. I knew that we had changed these people.
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People don’t know, and quite honestly don’t WANT to know about human trafficking. The information is too hard to handle; the reality too repulsive. It is much easier to distance oneself, than to contemplate the truth. With this event, I strove to awaken people to the world around them, bit by bit, so that more people will join their voices in combatting the crime. And I feel as if we accomplished that goal.

Link

A Raid Across the Country for Child Victims of Human Trafficking

From the FBI website:
“Operation Cross Country

Recovering Victims of Child Sex Trafficking

07/29/13

Operation Cross Country—a three-day nationwide enforcement action focusing on underage victims of prostitution—has concluded with the recovery of 105 sexually exploited children and the arrests of 150 pimps and other individuals.

The sweep took place in 76 cities and was carried out by the FBI in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as part of the Bureau’s Innocence Lost National Initiative. It is the seventh and largest such enforcement action to date.

Strong Partnerships

Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was created in 2003 by the FBI in partnership with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), to address the growing problem of domestic child sex trafficking in the United States.

The program brings state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers from around the country to NCMEC, where the groups are trained together.

“Operation Cross Country demonstrates just how many of America’s children are being sold for sex every day, many on the Internet,” said John Ryan, NCMEC CEO. “We are honored and proud to partner with the FBI, which has taken the lead in tackling this escalating problem.”

“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”

Since its creation in 2003, the Innocence Lost National Initiative has resulted in the identification and recovery of more than 2,700 children who have been sexually exploited. Behind those numbers are the stories of real victims.

Alex was one such victim. At age 15, faced with a difficult family situation at home, she decided to leave and stay with a girlfriend and then an aunt. When that didn’t work out, she found herself on the street—with an abusive boyfriend who wanted to pimp her out.

“You learn quickly that the only people who are really willing to feed you, clothe you, and shelter you are your parents,” she said. “So I had to figure something out.” (See video.)

Two years later, Alex bravely contacted the FBI, and her cooperation helped us send two pimps to prison and facilitate the recovery of other underage victims. Today, with support from the Bureau’s Office for Victim Assistance, Alex is turning her life around. She earned her high school diploma, is living on her own, and has plans to attend college. She wants to become an advocate for young victims of sexual exploitation.Alex was 16 years old and desperate. She turned to prostitution and later fell under the influence of a pimp and her family. “At first it was terrifying, and then you just kind of become numb to it,” she said. “You put on a whole different attitude—like a different person. It wasn’t me. I know that. Nothing about it was me.”

“What happened to me happened, and I can’t change it,” she said. “I can only change my future.”

Special Agent Kurt Ormberg, who helped recover Alex and put her pimp behind bars, explained that children who are most susceptible to sexual exploitation have a void in their lives. “That void might be related to family, food, or shelter, but it’s a void that needs to be filled, and pimps fill it.” And after they nurture their victims, he said, they sexually exploit them. “Too often,” Ormberg added, “these young victims don’t think they have anywhere else to turn.”

“I was very lucky to be able to walk away,” Alex said. “I never got hurt, so I’m really, really lucky. I’m one of the few that can say that.” Without the help of the FBI, she added, “I probably would have ended up dead.”

Forty-seven FBI divisions took part in Operation Cross Country VII, along with more than 3,900 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers and agents representing 230 separate agencies.”

–http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/july/operation-cross-country-recovering-victims-of-child-sex-trafficking/operation-cross-country-recovering-victims-of-child-sex-trafficking