Friday, March 13, 2009

Introduction: Erin Albright

This is my first blog post. Ever. I feel a little nervous about that - so bear with me if I start to wander. I am many things - a humanitarian, a feminist, a (soon to be) lawyer, an avid blog reader, and a hundred other labels I won't bother to list. Human trafficking speaks to each and every one of these parts, and perhaps more importantly, it offends each and every one of these parts. I feel a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction in being able to devote my entire self - with not even one small part sitting by in silence - to the issue. This is why I've chosen to dedicate my time and career to combating human trafficking.

I join this blog because, as I said above, I'm an avid blog reader. As my list of daily reads grew longer over the last few years, I also watched our culture change such that blogs became an enormous source of power and an important platform for education, for activism, and for support of each other's efforts as well. Because trafficking is such an invisible crime, and surrounded by so many taboos, it is important to me that I not be silent, that we not be silent.

My journey to now began while studying abroad in 2002. I remember one of my professors asking us what year slavery ended. "1865!" someone yelled out, much to the delight of the professor who proceeded to lecture us for 20 minutes on Americans and their narrow world view and sense of history. The lecture was annoying and mildly insulting, but the point was not lost on me, and the topic - human trafficking - caught my attention. Over the next few years I read the occasional article on trafficking and tried to educate myself on the issue as I finished college and tried my hand at the real world. It wasn't until law school that I really began to immerse myself in the issue and decided to devote my career to anti-trafficking. So here I am. In my work thus far I have done very interesting things, met some amazing people who are also doing very interesting things, and generally learned just how much more is needed to effectively combat human trafficking.

And so, from here on out I will be blogging on a regular basis about trafficking. I am interested in pretty much everything related to trafficking, and I hope that between the people at HTP, and all of you who read HTP, we can create a real presence and conversation, sending the message that we won't be silent.


  1. Anonymous11:16 AM

    Hi Erin,

    Isn't that an Irish name?

    When you said that you consider yourself to be a feminist but are at the same time trying to fight human trafficking, my first impression is that the two cannot go together... so please forgive me if I will say something that may sound offensive to you.

    I would like to first say, one of the things I have learn over the years and which I also often keep forgetting is that there is two sides to a story, for example we may feel very strong about something but we are not necessarily seeing the other side of the story.

    You probably have seen this happening before when you/someone writes about something, and unintentionally someone else is either offended or has a more plausible explanation then what was written.

    My first impression about you, because of the statement where you consider yourself to be a feminist but feel very strong to want to tackle the human trafficking issue is that you may not truly understand what being a feminist is... or at least what I consider a feminist to be (The word feminism means many things to many people)... What matters is that you seem to be a person with moral values... feminists to me are part of the human trafficking problem as they are persons who do not yet have moral values but what to impose their individual values/goals onto others... and this is very dangerous for society.

    I would love to expand on this but I don't want to scare you away, as you stated that you consider yourself to be a feminist, so what I would like to say in hope that your feminist heart listens/learns more about the truth is this, people are not necessarily bad people (being it a feminist, a criminal, etc), however they may never been been exposed to other points of view, (for as sadly or frustrating that it may be for some of us, like me) for people like feminists to being exposed to other point of views may in fact never happen due to their nature of wanting to be a feminist (goals), I would hope such people would try to be better listeners and tried to absorb other points of view, however is not as easy as that, because our minds (like a six sense) immediately have other barriers that stop us from listening or even consider certain things/facts that our minds perceive as good or bad...

    As I said I would love to expand on the topic of feminists versus moral values but that is another matter, that people have been arguing for a long time.

    With regards to the real issue here on the matter of human trafficking which you are trying to tackle, while I probably know as much (or even less) about this topic as any other typical person out there, there is other moral issues which are very much of interest to me, I guess in the end of the day we are all doing what seems right for us to do based on what we have been exposed to, some people believe money will be the key to make then happy, others have other believes... just like feminists have their own goals, just like Adolph Hitler did not consider Jews to be fully human, however it does not mean all our goals or values are compatible/best for society... so while we may not agree with what these goals are for a better society or life style or while we may try to blame each other for the problems in society, the bottom line is for as much as we would like/fight we truly cannot impose our values/goals onto others. All we can do is continue to dialogue about the issues and do our best not to be deceptive about the truth, but even that is something that in a world without a GOD is something that could be considered questionable (in other words without GOD there always will be a chance of deception for other reasons, such as financial gain).

    Dealing with the real issue, in a recent event(to deal with Religious Freedom and Elimination of Human Trafficking) attended by 56 foreign ministers of the OSCE, held in Helsinki (4/5 dec2008), archbishop Dominique Mamberti, stated some interest facts about this issue:

    Turning his attention to the "scourge of trafficking in human beings", he affirmed that "the root causes of this phenomenon include economic factors, such as the imbalance between rural and urban wealth levels and the desperate desire to escape poverty. Juridical and political factors also contribute to the problem, such as the absence of legislation, and the ignorance of parents and trafficked persons of their rights under the law".
    "Globalisation and the increased movement of people can also make vulnerable groups, such as women and girls, easier prey for traffickers, who clearly have no regard for the dignity of the human person, and who view people as mere commodities to be bought and sold, used and abused at will.
    "There is", he added, "a further aspect which must be acknowledged and collectively addressed if this abhorrent human exploitation is to be effectively confronted. I am referring to the trivialisation of sexuality in the media and entertainment industries which fuels a decline in moral values and leads to the degradation of men and women and even the abuse of children".
    He concluded by underscoring "the commitment of the Catholic Church to uphold the dignity of every human life, especially the most vulnerable", and assuring "full support in efforts of the OSCE to eliminate the scourge of trafficking, in particular of women and children, prostitution, and forced labour".

    That to me very much sums up what the current problem is.

    To tackle poverty you need to tackle the current financial system, that causes people to migrate in the first place, and part of the problem is to do with how money is printed (own rich we are), our financial system prints money based on debt, basically you go to a bank to borrow money to pay for your house, the bank approaches the central bank and that money is printed into circulation, the more the borrowing we borrow the more rich the country becomes (the more the economy grows), when we have the world bank lending money to poor countries in exchange for their natural resources, is literally impossible for such countries to pay such debts when our growth is based on our debt, they will never be able to catch up and be able to pay, so to resolve human trafficking the financial system need to be reviewed so that people no longer need to migrate in search for a better life. If you would like to understand how the current financial system works, please take a look at the following video

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  3. Hello Anonymous -
    Thanks for commenting - I love being able to have a conversation and share ideas this way! I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate the tone of your post, and the latitude you afforded my beliefs - and I hope you read my response (and respond!) in a similar light and as part of the important dialogue process that you mention. Now, as far as a response, first let me say that I think you brought up a lot of good points regarding the causes of trafficking and what needs to be done to stop it. I do want to clarify that when I said I was a feminist, I was not trying to imply that my beliefs do not mesh with fighting trafficking - in fact, I think that being a feminist is an important part in my personal fight against trafficking. I will spare you an entire dissertation on what feminism means to me (although, after having composed what comes below, maybe I haven't really spared you at all) - but as far as it relates to trafficking, I believe that women deserve equality and a life free of exploitation, especially based on their gender/sex. The commercial sexual exploitation that happens to women who are trafficked is so fundamentally wrong there aren't enough negative words for me to use in describing it. (please note: I'm not ignoring labor trafficking - simply focusing on sex trafficking for the moment, although there is for sure overlap). I want to respond to your comment in 2 parts - first on feminism and trafficking, and second on the more substantive issues of trafficking that you mentioned.

    First - I know that feminism and moral values is another matter, but I do want to address your statement that feminists are part of the human trafficking problem because they do not yet have moral values and want to impose their individual values/goals on others. As I mentioned above, I think that for me and probably many others who would identify as feminists, the belief in the rights of women is an important part of the drive to fight against trafficking. So the question is, how does that belief end up being connected to trafficking in a negative way as part of the problem?

    To answer that, I think that sometimes feminism and the idea of women's rights - namely personal autonomy (which is at the core of my feminist beliefs) - can often get confused with the idea of sexual liberalization and the separate idea of promiscuity and immoral sexual activity. I think that all of these terms (which, for this sentence at least I take no position on) can get caught up in a polarized moral debate and produce an outcome where feminists stand for the idea of frequent, careless, and meaningless sex. This in turn can lead to a belief that feminists are all pro-prostitution, pro-abortion, and in general espouse beliefs that some consider immoral. (Again - I take no position on this for the moment - and I hope I am managing to set out the argument in objective, if overly simplistic, terms.) From that standpoint, I can understand how feminism could be part of the problem of trafficking - the argument would be something along the lines of feminism promoting a more open and embracing attitude of sex and sexuality for women, which leads to more sex and possibly more meaningless sex and 'hookups', which is not only immoral but also contributes to moral debasement in society, and in turn contributes to both the supply and demand of things like prostitution an pornography, which are forms of trafficking. All together then, these things create a cyclical relationship and an ever enlarging problem with trafficking.

    Now, having stated what a potential argument could be that connects feminism and trafficking, let me make one point, and then I will leave the feminism/morality debate for another day (although I would still love to talk about it with you - I am very open to hearing what you have to say). Firstly (and I do realize that this is sort of a blanket statement so there are bound to be numerous problems, from all sides, with it), I think that the idea that feminists in general support promiscuity and immoral sexual activity, that in turn feeds supply and demand for trafficking, must necessarily fail because it does not take into consideration the fact that trafficking is a nonconsensual occurrence. Even if one accepts that feminists do promote that sort of thing, and that promiscuity is bad and immoral, that one instance of immoral behavior on the part of a woman does not excuse any subsequent immoral and illegal behavior on the part of another person wherein she is a victim and not a willing partner, and it certainly does not mean that she deserves to be a victim of someone else's immoral or illegal behavior. A related point to this is whether you can have consensual prostitution - or whether all prostitution is in the end a form of trafficking (which all depends on your definition of consent. On that subject, I think Catharine MacKinnon makes an excellent point when she asks whether an act of prostitution or participation in pornography was truly consensual, or a result of lack of choices). I will leave that point for a later post or discussion.

    Basically what I am saying is that even if feminists do try to impose their view on others, and even if their view espouses immoral behavior as far as sex, it still does not excuse the immoral and illegal behavior on the part of the traffickers, pimps, and johns who create the supply and demand for trafficking. Thus making a connection between even a feminism that does espouse such views and trafficking doesn't work in my mind. The underlying goal here - which I believe is a goal of feminism - is personal autonomy. People should have control over their own bodies, and do not have the right to infringe on anyone else's autonomy. When a woman is forced into prostitution or any other form of trafficking, her personal autonomy is violated.

    Now, for the second part of my response I will keep it short. As far the substantive issues on trafficking that you brought up, I would say that I agree with you entirely. I think that the Archbishop summed up the problem quite well in the quote you included. I have made similar statements on my own many times. Trafficking is a symptom of a much larger problem (and maybe even more than one problem). From my perspective trafficking is intimately tied to poverty as well as the increasing levels of sexually graphic material that we are confronted with in everyday media and the commodification of women. Women and children who grow up in economic poverty have historically been much more vulnerable to exploitation, and these days with the rise of the internet and the bombardment of sexually explicit images everywhere you look, the scope trafficking victims is widening to include people that many would never suspect such as middle class suburban teens. All of these things are topics I plan on posting on in the future, and I welcome your feedback/comments/dialogue and hope others join in too.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful initial comments and response to "Anonymous," Erin. Another answer to the question, "can an abolitionist also be a feminist?" is yes: see, for example, Angelina Grimke, her sister Sarah, and the host of other fierce, pious, Quaker women who fought tirelessly for both causes in the 19th century (when we saw the first waves of the abolitionist and feminist movements, whose membership overlapped, whose efforts fed each other, and whose rationales were very often Biblically based). Grimke felt it was not only her right, but her God-given duty to speak out publicly against the evils of slavery, but the proposition of a woman speaking to an audience comprised of both women and men was so scandalous in 1838 that when Grimke spoke boldly about the sin of slavery and the justice of the Lord, her mere presence behind the lectern at Pennsylvania Hall incited an angry mob. Despite their rock-throwing and the rage that drove them to burn down the hall in protest of her speech, Grimke stood her ground, praised the work of British women abolitionists and implored: “Let the zeal and love, the faith and works of our English sisters quicken ours -- that while the slaves continue to suffer, and when they shout deliverance, we may feel the satisfaction of having done what we could.” Read Grimke’s full address here and learn more about her and the interconnections between abolition and feminism in Stephen H. Browne’s book, Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination.

  5. K.V. -
    Thank you for giving another perspective on feminism and abolitionists! Angela Grimke and her sister are true inspirations in the feminist fight against slavery. (Also, I'm originally from Pennsylvania and I have ties to the Quaker Community near Philadelphia - so I feel a little bit of pride and awe in thinking that she walked the same grounds I do, fighting for many of the same things I fight for).

    Drawing your story back to what Anonymous was saying, Angelina Grimke is a great example of someone who was an abolitionist and a feminist. I don't think Anonymous would disagree with that (Anonymous - if you are around - please feel free to chime in). I wonder if Grimke was criticized for being immoral at the time (I'm guessing she was). To that criticism I would hope that people now would say that it is not immoral for a woman to speak to an audience, or speak out on something she believes in. I think that that underlies my point in responding to Anonymous, that feminism at its core is about personal autonomy and equality. It is the belief that women and men should be able to speak to an audience, it is the belief that women and men should have control over their body (which, let me say right now also means being responsible for the personal choices you make), it is the belief that no one can force you to stay silent or force you to sell your body.

    I'm curious about what other people might think on these issues. If you agree, disagree, or have any examples of inspiring women such as K.V. pointed out - please comment!