Monday, March 23, 2015

What Is Your Holy Discontent? (Lessons from Nehemiah)

Our current series at church is studying the book of Nehemiah and I have been so inspired!

We started out in chapter 1 where Nehemiah learns that his homeland of Jerusalem is now in ruins.  When he hears this news the bible tells us that Nehemiah weeps.
Neh 1:3-4 ...The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
1.  Lean into it:  God intends to use that stirring
Nehemiah leaned into the pain.  He didn't ignore it or cap his emotions.  He mourned it for days.  Israel being in ruins became his Holy Discontent (a desire to fix something that's broken in the world.)

What makes you weep? 
My Holy discontent is the issue of human trafficking.  Specifically sex trafficking which accounts for about 80% of all trafficking. My heart breaks for any injustice, but this one spoke louder to me than any other.  God can whisper to us in many different ways, but for me God continued to place this issue in front of me over and over and I would feel a stirring each and every time.  I would see an article or hear an interview on the radio or bible verses about injustice would touch me and I would automatically relate it to trafficking.  I just really had a sense that God was prompting me to get involved and it became my “holy discontent”.  The fact that this was happening to women and children across the globe was no OK to me.  I felt like this was something God had layed on my heart. And it was an issue that I could not NOT do something about.
 
What do you notice that breaks your heart?  God wants to use that to spring you into action.

2.  Pray! and be available.
Neh 1:6-7 ...I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Neh 1:11 He prayed " Please grant me success."

Nehemiah did not remain stuck in his pain. He recognized where they had failed and confessed it to God.  He is moved to action and knows that in order to be successful he needs the Lord's blessing.

Most scholars say that Nehemiah prayed for 4 months before acting on anything.

What is the Lord asking you to do?  Draw near to Him and ask Him to direct your steps.  You were designed by God to get involved.  Get off the couch and suit up.

3. Risk Everything
Nehemiah risked everything to go back to Jerusalem. 

Nehemiah worked for the king as the official cup bearer.  This was the person who would taste the king's food and drink before the king would consume it.  In those days, it was quite common to try to poison someone so Nehemiah was the protection for the king should anyone try to poison him. He risks his job.

To be sad in the King's presence was punishable by death.  Not only does he ask for permission to leave his position and go back to Jerusalem, he asks the King for supplies.  He risks his life.
Neh 2:1-3 ... I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?

Nehemiah's actions demonstrate a story of obedience regardless of the cost.

God wants to move your life:
  • From comfortable to compelling
  • From predictable to powerful
  • From timid to tenacious
4. God delights in pouring out His favor for those who step out in obedience
Neh 2:8 "And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests."
Because God went before him things went well. 

If God has put something on your heart, he desires to bless you when you step out in obedience. Include God in your plans and He will be with you every step of the way. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Internet and Mobile Device Safety

When your child is old enough to drive a car would you just hand over the keys and let him go?  No, a car is a powerful piece of machinery and you would first teach him how to drive it and how to navigate various situations that might come up.  You would have boundaries and guidelines in place for when they are driving without your supervision. 

Allowing kids to access the Internet without any safety filters is like putting your child being the wheel of a car without having taught him to drive it.  The Internet is power at your fingertips and your child isn't going to figure out how to handle the internet without some training wheels and guidance. 

The Internet and Social Networking has completely transformed the way perpetrators lure and recruit victims. It provides a free, easy venue for pimps and sex traffickers. We must make teaching our children about Internet safety an important priority.

 Here are some general tips. 

  1. Teach them Internet Safety!   
    • Never give out personal information such as your phone number, address, school name.  Never share team names or after school activities.
    • Follow the NetSmart rules www.netsmartz.org/Parents  

  1. Teach your children to identify inappropriate Internet interactions.  Encourage open dialogue with then so they feel comfortable reporting any improper or uncomfortable online activity.  Role play and ask what they would do if…  

  1. NEVER plan a face-to-face meeting.  People can pretend to be anyone they want behind the anonymity of the computer.  You could be putting yourself in danger to meet someone you’ve “met” online. 

  1. Most mobile devices offer a built in mechanism that allows you to create age brackets for your child’s device that will block unwanted applications from being downloaded and will block inappropriate content on the internet.  These are password protected so your child can not change them without your password. 

  1. You have to know what they are doing in order to be able to guide them. 
      • Supervise their computer use or keep access to computers in an open area of your home.
      • Turn in Cell phones and other devices at bedtime.
      • Know what they are doing on line, who they are talking to, who their friends are, what pictures they are posting.
      • Know the texting lingo and current apps – Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook, etc.
     
  2. Make sure the Facebook privacy settings are set up correctly.  Under Account Settings there are a variety of settings that limit who can view your child’s page and access their profile.  Make sure their date of birth is not visible to viewers.  
7.     Don’t accept friend requests on Facebook from someone you don’t know.  If you aren’t friends in real life you shouldn’t be friends on line.

8.       Always know their passwords and randomly check their emails and other accounts 

9.     Install a Safety Filter such as Net Nanny or K9 for the computer or Mobile Guardian for mobile devices.    

10.  Consider Monitoring software.  This is different than a safety filter in that it actually tracks keystrokes and internet activity. 
 
Websites for internet safety:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Runaway Children are at Risk to Become Human Trafficking Victims

Statistics:

  • As many as 2.8 Million children run away in the US each year.  
  • The National Runaway Safeline estimates that on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living on the streets making them vulnerable to a pimp looking to exploit them 
  • In the USA 1 in 3 Runaways will be approached by a human trafficker within the first 48 hours.

What if… 

You are 12 years old. You couldn't take the abuse in your own home any longer, so you ran away? What if once you hit the streets and started scrounging for food all you could find were scraps in the garbage? What if that nice-looking, sympathetic man offered to feed you, to take care of you, and you went with him because, at 12, you didn't know how else to survive?  This is what puts our runaways at risk.

Homeless kids are particularly susceptible to traffickers who will lure them with the promise of food, warmth, and even false love.  The child who is homeless and in need of food and shelter, can be manipulated into "survival sex,"

 
ASHLAND, Ore. — She ran away from her group home in Medford, Ore., and spent weeks sleeping in parks and under bridges. Finally, Nicole Clark, 14 years old, grew so desperate that she accepted a young man’s offer of a place to stay. The price would come later.

They had sex, and he soon became her boyfriend. Then one day he threatened to kick her out if she did not have sex with several of his friends in exchange for money.

She agreed, fearing she had no choice. “Where was I going to go?” said Nicole, now 17 and living here, just down the Interstate from Medford. That first exchange of money for sex led to a downward spiral of prostitution that lasted for 14 months, until she escaped last year from a pimp who she said often locked her in his garage apartment for months.

“I didn’t know the town, and the police would just send me back to the group home,” Nicole said, explaining why she did not cut off the relationship once her first boyfriend became a pimp and why she did not flee prostitution when she had the chance. “I’d also fallen for the guy. I felt trapped in a way I can’t really explain.”  (Polaris Project)

 

Things for your child to consider:

If leaving home seems like the only answer to your situation, ask yourself the questions below.  If you’re still not sure what to do, talk with a friend or call 1-800-RUNAWAY
  • What else can I do to improve my situation at home before I leave?
  • What would make me stay at home?
  • How will I survive?
  • Is running away safe?
  • Who can I count on to help me?
  • Am I being realistic?
  • Have I given this enough thought?
  • What are my other options?
  • If I end up in trouble, who will I call?
  • When I return home, what will happen?
 

Home Free:

Free transportation home for runaways is provided on Greyhound in conjunction with the National Runaway Switchboard. A youth who calls the switchboard is eligible for a ticket home if he or she is 12-20 years old, is willing to return home to their legal guardian, the legal guardian wishes them to return home, the guardian has filed a runaway report, and the program has not been used by the youth two times before.
 
1-800-RUNAWAY crisis hotline is available 24-hours a day throughout the United States

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

10 Things Men Can Do To Make A Difference

I've attended a variety of forums and trainings on Human Trafficking and we usually see the same demographic at all of them.  The make up of these classes is mostly women.  Perhaps it's because this issue tugs at women's hearts more.  Perhaps it's because men know it's other men who are creating the problem. 

Occasionally though, there will be a few men in attendance and their question is always "How can I get involved." 

A great way to start is just by being a man of integrity.  Vow to be a man that keeps his eyes pure and encourages others to do the same.  Speak out when you hear others speak about women in a degrading or demoralizing way.  Here are some ideas to get you started thinking:

(1) CHALLENGE THE GLAMORIZATION OF PIMPS IN OUR CULTURE

Mainstream culture has popularized the image of a pimp to the point that some men and boys look up to pimps as if they represent legitimate male role models and view “pimping” as a normal expression of masculinity. In reality, pimps play a central role in human trafficking and cause tremendous harm by routinely raping, beating, and terrorizing women and girls to keep them locked in prostitution.

Men can take a stand against pimps and pimping by renouncing the pimp culture and the music that glorifies it.
 
(2) CONFRONT THE BELIEF THAT PROSTITUTION IS A “VICTIMLESS CRIME”

Many men view prostitution as a “victimless crime.” But it is not. For example, women who are involved in prostitution are at a greater risk to be murdered than women in the general population (Potterat, 2004). Research also shows that women involved in prostitution suffer tremendous physical and mental trauma associated with prostitution. Viewing prostitution as a victimless crime or something that women “choose” allows men to ignore the fact that the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 13 years old, and that the vast majority of women engaged in prostitution would like to get out but feel trapped. 

Men should stop viewing prostitution as a victimless crime and acknowledge the tremendous harm and suffering that their participation in prostitution causes.

(3) STOP PATRONIZING STRIP CLUBS

When men think of human trafficking, they often think of brothels in countries outside of the United States. However, strip clubs in the United States and abroad may be a place where human trafficking victims go Unnoticed or unidentified. Strip clubs are places of manufactured pleasure where strippers are routinely sexually harassed and assaulted by owners, patrons, and security personnel. Men rarely consider whether women working in strip clubs are coerced into that line of work, because to do so would conflict with the pleasure of participating in commercialized sex venues. Strip clubs—like brothels—are the most popular venues where the purchase of sexual services from women occurs the most.   

Men can combat human trafficking by no longer patronizing strip clubs and by encouraging their friends and co-workers to do the same. 

(4) DON’T CONSUME PORNOGRAPHY

Pornography manipulates male sexuality, popularizes unhealthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and eroticizes violence against women. Pornography leads men and boys to believe that certain sexual acts are normal, when in fact sexual acts that are non-consensual, offensive and coupled with violent intent result in the pain, suffering, and humiliation of women and children. In addition, a disproportionate amount of mainstream pornography sexualizes younger women with such titles as “teens”, “barely 18”, “cheerleaders,” etc. Targeting younger women socializes men to develop appetites for younger and younger women and creates a “pedophile-like culture” among men. Victims of human trafficking have also been forced into pornography.  

Men can stop the voyeurism of sex and sex acts that fuel human trafficking by refusing to consume pornography and encourage others to do the same. 

(5) TACKLE MALE CHAUVINISM AND SEXISM ONLINE

Contrary to the myth that men do not gossip, men spend a significant amount of time online discussing their sexual exploits. The internet provides many men with the ability to mask their identities while indulging in racist, sexist, and violent diatribes against women and girls. Choosing to be a critical voice online is an extremely important way to educate and inform men and boys about their choices.

Men can change this culture by starting threads in online forums that cause men to talk about their attitudes towards women and how these attitudes and behaviors are linked to trafficking.

 (6) END SEX TOURISM

Men in the United States and other “first world” nations routinely travel overseas and have sex with women in developing countries. When men engage in these practices, they do not acknowledge the fact that many trafficked women and children come from developing countries—even in countries where prostitution is “legal.” Traveling overseas grants men a great deal of anonymity 

As men, we have a responsibility to confront the men that go overseas and participate in sex tourism.
 
(7) TALK TO MEN AND BOYS ABOUT MEN’S ISSUES

The only way to change men is by engaging spaces where men and boys talk and develop their ideas and attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Males spaces such as barbershops, locker rooms, fraternities, and union halls are the real classrooms where boys learn to become men and where men develop most of their ideas about how to interact with women. If men do not feel comfortable talking about these issues in male spaces, they can drop off informational brochures and make themselves available to talk with other men and boys when they have questions or concerns.  

As men, we need to turn male spaces into circles of accountability where men learn about non-violence, social justice, and ending violence against women.

(8) SUPPORT ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING POLICIES

Substantive legislation is required to end human trafficking. Men can educate themselves about the issues by visiting anti-trafficking organizations and by asking their elected officials what they have done to support or sponsor anti-human trafficking legislation.

One of the most important acts men can do to stop trafficking is to support anti-trafficking legislation at the local, state or federal level. 

(9) SUPPORT CREATION OF “JOHN SCHOOLS”

There would be no human trafficking if there were was no demand for it! Strategies aimed at ending sex trafficking must focus on eliminating the demand. “John Schools” are education programs designed to educate customers apprehended by law enforcement who attempted to purchase sex. By teaching the legal and health effects of buying sex and the realities of prostitution, such schools impart knowledge that can reduce demand, making men conscious of how their actions can spur on human trafficking. 

Learn whether or not your local community has a John School. If not, encourage your local prosecutor’s office or city counsel to start one. 

(10) RAISE SONS AND MENTOR BOYS TO CHALLENGE OPPRESSION

No boy is destined to be a “john”, a pimp, or a human trafficker. Raising young men in circles of accountability, to be respectful and protective of all women and children is one of the most important things men can do to stop human trafficking.  

Talk about human trafficking as a modern form of slavery to help convince men and boys to become allies in the fight to end this form or oppression. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Be A Hero - Become A Mentor

Often times, when people think of getting involved in the fight against human trafficking, images of being a hero and breaking down doors to a brothel come to mind. The reality is that scenario is not likely how you would be involved should you decide to get involved.

Being a hero can come in a much different form.  Become a mentor and prevent sex trafficking from occurring in the first place.

Vulnerable youth are much more likely to become victims of trafficking because pimps seek out vulnerabilities to prey on.  These vulnerabilities include low self esteem, domestic abuse, broken family units, drug abuse, sex abuse, loneliness and more.  If a child has something missing in his or her life, the pimp will try to fill that role.

When you build into the life of a child who is vulnerable, hurting or suffering you can decrease their risk of becoming a victim later in life. 

By becoming a mentor you have the opportunity to be a stable and consistent presence in that child's life.  You can show love to a child that may not be receiving it at home.  You can demonstrate what a healthy relationship looks like.  You can show them that they matter.


There are certainly many opportunities to build into these children, but here are a few:

Safe Families - Safe Families provides a safe alternative to child welfare custody.  A Safe Family steps in when the biological family experiences circumstances that makes it difficult for them to care for their children.  The biological parents maintain full custody and the goal is to reunite the family as soon as possible. The average stay can range from 2 days to a year.  Safe Families, the local church, and the referring organization work closely together until the child can be placed back with his or her family.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters - As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children, ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country. We develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people. 

Foster Families - In the US our foster care system is clearly imperfect, but it is the opportunity to provide a safe home to children who are under the guardianship of the state because their home life is unsafe.  The state retains full custody of the child and placement is meant to be temporary. 

Kids Hope USA - These are kids who have been identified by the teacher to be struggling. 
Kids Hope USA develops these one-on-one relationships through the creation of church-school partnerships that pair church members with at-risk kids in supportive, mentoring relationships. Mentors spend just one hour per week, reading, talking, playing and listening to a child at school. By helping the child feel loved and valued, they help that child to learn, grow and succeed.

C.A.S.A. - Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of volunteers who advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care. Volunteers stay with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Does Trafficking Happen In Strip Clubs?

The answer is yes.  I was recently speaking to a group of Moms about Sex Trafficking and one Mom said that seeing strip clubs on the list of places where trafficking occurs surprised her.  Like many others, she thought the women at strip clubs were generally there because they wanted to be. 

Did you know that we have more strip clubs in the United States than any other nation in the world?


Strip Clubs have become so mainstream and accepted in today’s society that many don’t think twice about soliciting the clubs.  Many view strip clubs as harmless and victim-less fun.  However, many victims of sex trafficking are forced to participate in stripping, nude dancing, and to provide additional commercial sex acts to club patrons.

Statistics Snapshot

In the 2008 study “Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution ” conducted by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation:

·        46% of the 113 interviewees had purchased sex at strip clubs. 

·        49% of interviewees believed that there were girls under 18 years of age working at strip clubs.

Victims of both sex and labor trafficking may be found in hostess clubs and strip clubs in the United States.  In situations of sex trafficking, a victim may be forced to provide commercial sex to the club patrons by a pimp, employer, or other controller, in addition to his or her work as a dancer or hostess.  Victims may be U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, or foreign nationals with tourist, summer work, or entertainment group visas. Though the victims tend to be adult women, some of these networks may also exploit minors.

Types of Hostess/Strip Club Networks

Stripping Networks – Women from Eastern Europe and/or Russia are frequently recruited to work in strip clubs in the United States. Once in the United States, a network of drivers transports the women to and from the clubs where they work.  Club owners generally consider these women independent contractors and employees of the driving network, not the club.  The women may be required to pay certain fees to the club, DJ, bouncer, taxi drivers, stage manager, and other parties.  The women often must adhere to extensive, pre-determined schedules and are frequently moved between multiple clubs.  Commercial sex sometimes takes place in the bathroom, VIP, or lap dance rooms.

Hostess Clubs – Also known as “room salons,” these legitimate businesses are well-connected with fake massage businesses.  Clubs may be located in store-fronts, office spaces, and commercial areas.  Clandestine advertisements in ethnic local newspapers allow these "closed networks" clubs to cater to Asian male clientele.  Food and drink are sold at inflated prices, as women accompany and entertain customers.  Commercial sex may take place on- or off-site after hours.

 "Cantinas" – Cantinas register and operate as legitimate businesses that have food, drink, dancing and music, largely catering to a male customer base.  Labor trafficking occurs when female hostesses are forced through threats and violence to meet certain daily quotas of alcohol sales by encouraging male customers to buy beer at inflated prices.  In some situations, sex trafficking may also occur on or off-site.  Unlike residential brothels, the hostesses involved with a cantina do not always sleep on site.

Distinct Traits of Strip Clubs & Sex Trafficking:  
  • Strip Clubs & The Pimp:  Stripping often serves as a training tool for pimps and traffickers. Traffickers frequently force victims to participate in stripping and nude dancing as a gateway into prostitution and other commercial sex acts.  Traffickers sometimes use stripping as a tool to desensitize women to what is expected of them. 

  • Strip Clubs & The John: It is virtually impossible to distinguish if the woman dancing in front of you is a trafficked person or a non-trafficked person.  Because children are being forced and coerced into the clubs more frequently, consumers are more frequently being exposed to children in strip clubs and creating the demand for young trafficked women within strip clubs.
 
  • Organized Crime: Many strip clubs are tied to organized crime.  The corruption within these clubs runs deep and victims may be told that they owe money to the organization and failure to pay this debt will result in harm to herself or her family.
 
  • Daily Quota: Victims are often expected to earn a daily quota generally ranging from $500-$1000.  Traffickers may coerce them into providing additional commercial sex acts within the club in order to meet that quota.  In many cases, most or all of the money is pocketed by the pimp.
 
  • Social Stigma: The negative social stigma attached to stripping and nude dancing can be utilized by traffickers to instill fear or inhibit them from revealing the full extent of the abuse which they have experienced.  They may experience feelings of judgment or differential treatment because of the negative stigma and traffickers can easily exploit that fear.
 
  • Organized Crime – Hostess clubs and strip clubs within specific ethnic networks are often tied to organized crime.  Women are frequently told they owe money to the network, and failure to pay will result in harm to them and/or their families.

When does it become trafficking?

Stripping, nude dancing, and hostessing become sex trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, and/or coercion to compel an adult worker to engage in commercial sex with club patrons.  If the escort is under the age of 18, s/he is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.  Situations of individuals being compelled to hostess, serve drinks, or dance in these types of clubs may also be a type of labor trafficking, if force, fraud, or coercion is used to induce the individuals into performing some form of "labor or services."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ink 180 Documentary

This was the second time I've had the opportunity to meet Chris Baker and hear about the amazing ministry of Ink 180.  The first time was back in 2012 and you can read that post Here.

Chris loves tattoos as is evident by the many colorful tattoos he has on both his arms and legs, but he admits that there are some tattoos that just shouldn't exist and it is the ministry of Ink 180 to remove or cover up those tattoos.

The 2nd time I met Chris was this past weekend to view the new Ink 180 Documentary.

The first part of the documentary focuses on Chris's work removing or covering up tattoos for former gang members.  These tattoos are gernerally in high visibility places like a forearm, neck or face. While in the gang these tattoos are seen as a badge of honor.  But once they leave that gang it is visible anchor still linking them to that gang.  Often these tattoos will make them a target of law enforcement or a rival gang.  It also makes it hard for them to find employment even though they are no longer part of that gang.

The second part of the documentary focuses on the work with victims of human trafficking.  Victims of human trafficking have been subject to both physical and emotional abuse.  Tattoos forced on them by their pimp are a painful reminder of their old life.  It's a delicate ministry.  One that Chris describes like walking on broken glass, but that glass is also on fire.  Most victims are referred to him from a federal agency (like the FBI or Homeland Security) and he requests that someone from that agency be present during the removal or cover up.  Victims of human trafficking have severe trust issues because of what they've gone through.  The agent that has been working with them will have built a certain level of trust with the victim and this will hopefully make them feel a little more comfortable as well as providing the necessary protection for the victim. His shop goes into complete lockdown during the session.

When I first met Chis he had done 508 coverups and removals in just his first year.  He has now done 2000 since opening all at no cost to the individual. He now has 2 mobile units affectionately called Grace 1 and Grace 2.  The mobile units allow him to visit the County jail to remove tattoos for those who can not come to the shop.

But perhaps the most impressionable part to me was the process of closure Chris provides once the tattoo has been removed or covered up. The person is given an 8 1/2 x 11 picture of their former tattoo which they put through the shredder.  This was such a powerful image of saying goodbye to their old life.  From there they are taken to a room that has a mural of a tree on one wall called the Freedom Tree.  Here, the person will cover their hand in paint and place a colorful handprint on the tree to symbolize new life. 
.
Chris says he has to go to counseling because the stories he hears that are so horrific, but he continues on because he says, "God told me to take His word to the darkest of places."  And he gets a front row seat to watch God fix people every day.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the Ink 180 Documentary you can Order Here.