Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anniversary of the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act)

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), has now been a law since 2000. For 15 years, this key piece of legislation has increased U.S. ability to protect victims and prosecute traffickers.

The TVPRA stands for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  The TVPA is the centerpiece of all U.S. laws against human trafficking and created the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  It was first introduced in 2000 and signed by Bill Clinton

The TVPA was designed to combat trafficking in the U.S. by increasing the charges of trafficking from a misdemeanor to a felony crime.  It also provides assistance for survivors and visa protection for victims that have been trafficked across international borders. 

It also established a global minimum standard for confronting trafficking and slavery as published in The Trafficking in Persons report.  This report examines the status of 188 countries for both human trafficking violations and efforts to stop human trafficking. Those efforts include passing prohibitive legislation, arrests of perpetrators, and convictions
following arrests.

TIP Report 2015 Summary

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a critical piece of the government’s effort against human trafficking, with over 21,000 trafficking cases reported to the NHTRC Hotline since 2007. The hotline has been established to provide a safe number for victims and survivors seeking assistance, a confidential crisis and tip line, and a national resource and referral center. 

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2015

The U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report for 2015 was released earlier this year. 
What is the TIP report?

The TIP report helps to identify countries where trafficking is most problematic.  It rates 188 countries and gives each nation a tier rating based on their compliance with standards outlined in the TVPA. These tiers are:

  • Tier 1 Countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards.
  • Tier 2 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
  • Tier 2 Watchlist Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; or b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
  • Tier 3 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

What Types of Trafficking are covered in the report?

  1. Sex Trafficking:  When an adult engages in a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, as the result of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion or any combination of such means, that person is a victim of trafficking. Under such circumstances, perpetrators involved in recruiting, harboring, enticing, transporting, providing, obtaining, or maintaining a person for that purpose are guilty of the sex trafficking of an adult. Sex trafficking also may occur within debt bondage, as individuals are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt,” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale”—which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. An adult’s consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative: if one is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, he or she is a trafficking victim and should receive benefits. 
  2. Child Sex Trafficking: When a child (under 18 years of age) is recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, or maintained to perform a commercial sex act, proving force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary for the offense to be characterized as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations alter the fact that children who are prostituted are trafficking victims. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under U.S. law and by statute in most countries around the world.   
  3. Forced Labor: Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities—recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining—involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. Once a person’s labor is exploited by such means, the person’s prior consent to work for an employer is legally irrelevant: the employer is a trafficker and the employee a trafficking victim. Migrants are particularly vulnerable to this form of human trafficking, but individuals may also be forced into labor in their own countries.  Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well. 
  4. Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage: One form of coercion is the use of a bond or debt. Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts. Others fall victim to traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed, wittingly or unwittingly, as a term of employment. Debts taken on by migrant laborers in their countries of origin, often with the involvement of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can also contribute to a situation of debt bondage. Such circumstances may occur in the context of employment-based temporary work programs in which a worker’s legal status in the destination country is tied to the employer and workers fear seeking redress. 
  5. Domestic Servitude: Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in distinct circumstances—work in a private residence—that creates unique vulnerabilities for victims. It is a crime in which a domestic worker is not free to leave her employment and is abused and underpaid, if paid at all. Many domestic workers do not receive the basic benefits and protections commonly extended to other groups of workers—things as simple as a day off. Moreover, their ability to move freely is often limited, and employment in private homes increases their vulnerability and isolation.  Authorities can't inspect homes as easily as formal workplaces, and in many cases do not have the mandate or capacity to do so.  Domestic workers, especially women, confront various forms of abuse, harassment, and exploitation. 
  6. Forced Child Labor: Although children may legally engage in certain forms of work, children can also be found in slavery or slavery-like situations. Some indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child's family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. 
  7. Unlawful Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers: Child soldering is a manifestation of human trafficking when it involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children (through force fraud or coercion) by armed forces as combatants.  Perpetrators may be government armed forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many children are forcibly abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with commanders and male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
The 2015 Report Summary:
  • There are 31 countries that received the highest rating of Tier 1.
  • 89 Countries received a Tier 2 rating.
  • 44 Countries are on the Tier 2 Watch List that could lead to sanctions unless their records improve.
  • 23 Countries received the lowest rating of Tier 3 which means they are found not to be taking the affirmative steps necessary to fight human trafficking.
  • Out of those that received the Tier 3 rating, 2 of those were countries that were automatically downgraded to that rating.  Automatic downgrades were introduced in 2013 to prevent a country from remaining stagnant on the Tier 2 Watch List. After 2 years of being on the Tier 2 Watch List they are automatically downgrades to Tier 3.  The countries downgraded were Belarus and South Sudan. 
For the full report visit: US State Department

If you want to learn more about what human trafficking looks like globally this is a great place to start.  Choose a country (they are all listed alphabetically and read what trafficking looks like in that country.  If you're not sure which country to choose, read the report for the country you live in.  If you're not sure how to read a country narrative This page will help.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Open Letter to Cale Guthrie Weissman, a Brooklyn-based Reporter.

I am writing in response to an article by Cale Weissman titled

Thank you for this article and for highlighting technology that has the potential to have a huge impact in the fight against sex trafficking.  Statistics are as high as 90% of women who advertise for sex are being controlled by a pimp.  The names of the women and the phone numbers used to contact them change frequently in an effort for the pimp to remain virtually untraceable.  Until now.  The technology highlighted in this article will give law enforcement a way to track these ads and potentially the movement of the women to different cities and states at the hands of their pimp. It could be a game changer. 
But there is one glaring mistake in this article.  Cale Weissman states, "This operation was working to find and rescue underage prostitutes."  Mr. Weissman, I wish to inform you and every other person in media and journalism, that there is no such thing as an underage prostitute or child prostitute.  You even state this further down in your article when you quote, "Under US law, any minors working in the sex industry are considered trafficking victims." 

Federal law defines them as victims and we must change the mindset of our culture and those in media to change their terminology to accurately reflect this as well. In a previous post, I talked about the need for accurate terminology and how detrimental inaccurate labels can be.  Labeling a minor child caught in the sex industry, as a child prostitute is harmful to the child and to the mindset of the community around her. 

A 14-year-old girl is not a prostitute.  She is a victim.  A 14 year old isn't legally old enough to consent to sex.  In any other situation, this would be considered child rape, but because money has exchanged hands (most likely into the hands of a pimp) these poor children are being arrested and treated like a juvenile delinquent. Rather than being punished and treated like a criminal they should be supported and offered services.  Our terminology should reflect this as well. 
Currently, there are a number of organizations fighting to end the use of this term.  Just this week, Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell asked his staff to Stop arresting children on prostitution charges and stop saying 'child prostitute'

This petition at addresses this very same issue and it currently has close to 92,000 signatures.  The organizer of the petition, Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew is a survivor and explains it this way:

“I, with the Human Rights Project for Girls, understand it is the media’s job to convey a situation or an issue with precision and clarity.  ‘Child prostitute’ may seem clear because it conveys the fact that money is exchanged for sex, but it is also MISLEADING because it suggests consent and criminality when none exists. Many of us are not even of legal age to consent to sex. I was 10. And girls like me are beaten, kidnapped, gang raped, and tortured into selling our bodies to adults, every night. This is not about choice. This is about abuse and rape.”

The McCain Institute and the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls), with support from Google, have joined forces to launch the No Such Thing Campaign.  Its mission is to make it clear that there is no such thing as a child prostitute. There are only victims and survivors of child rape.

So Mr. Weissman, on behalf of all the children who have been victimized, I ask that you stop using this misleading and inaccurate description to refer to them.

A Suburban Abolitionist

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. 

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
  • More than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year
  • Girls who witness domestic violence and don’t receive help are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence and don’t receive help are far more likely to become abusers.
Domestic Violence can have a devastating ripple effect into the next generation. 
If feel that your partner is becoming abusive or if you are concerned that a loved one’s partner may be abusive, there are a few behaviors that you can look out for.  According to the nation Domestic Violence Hotline these are the warning signs and red flags to watch for:
  • Telling you that you can never do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
  • Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
  • Controlling every penny spent in the household
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
Once the violence begins it can become a vicious cycle that is hard to break free from. 

Why Don’t They Just Leave? 

Perhaps you've wondered this yourself.  It's a question that is commonly heard in both domestic violence and trafficking situations.  Women in these types of relationships can both experience the same feelings of isolation, helplessness, and lack of resources.  Often, their fear of leaving is greater than their fear of staying.  To help get a better understanding of this, I encourage you to watch this powerful Ted Talk where Pam Taylor, co-founder of Dress For Success tells her story. If you want to skip to where she begins telling her story, skip to the 5:06 mark.
One of the tragic things that really stands out in this video is the fact that no one spoke up or stepped up to intervene in the story she tells about being at the mall.  This is heartbreaking.  As Christians we are called to love what God loves, and hate what God hates.  We must refuse to be silent about the things that matter...and women's lives matter. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: Nobody's Girl by Barbara Amaya

Nobody’s Girl is a story that is hard to hear, but is a must read for anyone wanting to learn more about sex trafficking. It is an excellent book for raising awareness of the dangers of runaways and pimp tactics.

Abused as a child and ignored by a mother who refused to believe her, Barbara’s pain is so deep that she leaves home at the young age of 12.  I could not put the book down as I journeyed with Barbara through the horrors she experienced as a child growing up on the streets and falling into the hands of a pimp.  Unfortunately, Barbara is able to educate us on the numerous manipulation and violent tactics pimps use to control their victims because she endured them all. 
But Barbara’s story didn’t end there.  She does find a way out and this book does a great job of showing how difficult it is for someone even after they've been "rescued" or have walked away from The Life.  Several quotes from the book had me in tears as she clearly describes her struggles to live a normal life.

“I never learned how to do basic things like cleaning a house or doing laundry.  I don't remember celebrating any birthdays or holidays.”

“Reuniting with my family during Christmastime was like sitting with strangers in a bus station - or being stuck in an elevator - with people you never saw before, standing in uncomfortable silence and counting down the stops until it's your turn to get off.  The trouble was that I didn't know when my stop was.”

"No one asked me where I had been or what I had been doing for the last several years, not once."

"I had gone from being a child of twelve to a women in her twenties and had missed all those years in between, all the learning and experiences that make a person a person."

Through her own words, we see how incredibly difficult it is to put the pieces of your life back together, to move beyond the pain and trauma, and to learn to trust again. But Barbara has done that.  Her story is ultimately one of hope, courage and strength. And she now uses her story to educate others.  The back of the book contains excellent resources for teachers and counselors, law enforcement, medical personnel, and for the average person who wants to make a difference. 
Thank you Barbara for your willingness to share your story so that others may learn and be moved to action.  You are no longer a victim, but a victor!  You are more than a survivor.  You are an overcomer.  You are incredible.
These previous post were inspired by a talk Barbara Amaya gave:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

12 Tips When Working With A Survivor by Jennifer Unangst

I am not a doctor or a counselor but from my own experience as a trauma survivor and through research and hands on mentorship, I believe these 12 simple tips can aid in the healing process of a survivor. Often times, we can re-victimize or trigger an already broken spirit by our words or actions. My hope is that these simple steps can help us, help them. ---Jennifer Unangst

  1. Don’t say “I understand” to a survivor because you probably don’t.
  2. Don’t give unsolicited advice: Instead, review options with the survivor and then support her decisions. Allow her to take control over their own life, even if you believe you would do something differently or if you believe she may regret her decision.
  3. Don’t gasp or grimace when hearing a traumatic story (and you will). Be prepared to hear possible stories of child rape, torture or even murder.
  4. Don’t over talk a survivor. Its important to let her speak and get her feelings out without us trying to have an answer for everything. She may for the first time in a long time have her voice back, let her use it.
  5. Don’t tell her not to get a tattoo or piercing or cover them up. This tells the survivor she should change and gives her the message you don’t accept her as she is. Tell them their blue hair and black eyeliner is cool! We love with no conditions.
  6. Don’t put down a survivors pimp. Often times there is a trauma bond that we don't understand. She may love her pimp. She will learn over time she was actually victimized by him. This must be a gentle slow process and can be very painful.
  7. DO NOT ask the survivor about her story. Trust me, she will tell you but only what she feels comfortable telling. Don’t ask question like, “why didn't you run? Just don't ask. It’s important to focus on the future. What are her dreams and aspirations?
  8. Try not to call nicknames. Refrain from words like sweetie or honey that may have been used by johns, pimps and abusers and could trigger her. Always helps to ask first.
  9. Don’t grab a survivor’s hand or touch her without permission. Also, you don’t have to lay hands on her to pray for her. Trust me, that’s very uncomfortable the first few times. You’ll get to know who likes hugs and touch and who doesn't. It's important to ask.
  10. Don't press the survivor to report her trafficker to the police. Don't insist that she talk to someone about it. Doing nothing is a valid option and needs to be supported.
  11. Don't be afraid to say no! Its important to instill healthy boundaries. Just because she's a survivor doesn't mean you give her everything and say yes to anything she asks for. It’s a hard thing to do but will teach healthy relationships and instill trust.
  12. Don't treat her like a victim. The minute she leaves or is relocated from her pimp she is no longer a victim but a survivor. Try to focus on her future. Let her counselors deal with the past.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Local Event: ShoeLaPalooza to Support Refuge For Women

Come and shop from our huge selection of New and Gently Used Women’s shoes for all your casual, work and party needs. Accessories and a nice selection of coats and work clothing will also be available. Cash and check only. All proceeds to help Refuge for Women open an after care home for sexually exploited and trafficked women.

Saturday, October 10th

Early Bird Sale
Admission $5
12 – 1 pm

General Sale
$1 admission
1 – 3 pm

Questions can be directed to