Friday, January 29, 2010

CNN: Child Trafficking & Organ Trafficking in Haiti

On CNN last night Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive talked to the network's Christiane Amanpour about child trafficking and organ trafficking from victims of the earthquake that struck a few weeks ago.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Event: L.A. Marathon with Survivors and CAST

The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) is participating in the L.A. Marathon on March 21 along with survivors of human trafficking. CAST would like to more participants to become involved. They are looking for runners, race-day volunteers, and sponsors. For more details, visit

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery

In his book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Slavery, author Siddharth Kara presents a business and economic analysis of sex trafficking. Though such a study may seem heartless or dehumanizing, Kara argues that analyzing sexual slavery through the lens of economics can reveal short- and long-term solutions to end trafficking, and that, in fact, without this type of analysis intervention attempts may do more harm than good.

Kara, a former investment banker with an MBA from Columbia University, left his corporate career to pursue anti-slavery research and work. He is a board member of Free the Slaves. In his book, he argues that ending sex slavery will necessitate ending the demand for sex slavery, and that the most effective way to decrease demand is to increase risk. He presents suggested ways to increase the risk/cost of slavery to traffickers, and uses basic economic concepts, such as elasticity of demand, to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts.

Many of Kara's findings are more suggestive than conclusive, which he readily acknowledges. For example, he argues that increasing the costs of using sex slaves will dramatically decrease the demand for these slaves due to the elasticity of demand for commercial sex. Though his conclusion aligns with my own beliefs and the beliefs of many NGOs, the analysis is based on an extremely small sample size that may not be representative. While this example points to some of the challenges in conducting research on human trafficking and its causes, it also points to the need for more research and data.

Kara extensively researched sex trafficking around the world, and
he contextualizes his economic analysis within his firsthand interviews with sex trafficking victims and survivors, and his experiences with the market for sex slaves. While many of the most compelling parts of his books spring from these experiences, his analysis of slavery in the United States is somewhat anemic and does not discuss the sex trafficking of US citizens.

Throughout the book, Kara discusses the role that globalization has played in creating situations rife for exploitation and slavery. He demonstrates the ways that governmental policies and corrupt greed help perpetuate human rights abuses and poverty. He argues that vulnerability to trafficking can often be traced to unequal distributions of power and wealth that are only increasing as a result of globalization.

Though his book focuses mainly on sex trafficking, Kara does touch on labor trafficking issues and acknowledges the need for a similar analysis of the business of labor trafficking. Many of his insights about the economic factors that contribute to the demand for slavery and the need to increase the economic costs of slavery for producers and consumers will prove useful in such an analysis. At the same time, the causes of labor trafficking and the factors that fuel its demand are different from sex trafficking, and more research on this form of trafficking is vitally needed.

Kara's research and analysis provide a useful foundation for further efforts to effectively end slavery that is grounded in an understanding of the economic and business realities that fuel this crime.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hans Rosling's insights on poverty

*Fast forward to 10:00 minutes into the presentation.

Researcher Hans Rosling uses his innovative data tools to show how countries are pulling themselves out of poverty. His presentation revolves around globalization, health and economic prosperity.

About Hans Rosling:
Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden's
Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which, he points out, is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Luis CdeBaca, America's Anti-Trafficking Czar

What is one of the most welcomed developments in the fight to end human bondage in 2009? Activists across the anti-trafficking spectrum welcomed the news in May of 2009 that
Luis CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama as the Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Frequently referred to as Lou by friends and admirers alike, deBaca faces enormous challenges in his work to spearhead the US effort to pressure and monitor foreign governments in their efforts to free slaves. There are an estimated 12-17,000 people trafficked into the United States each year and as many as 27 million people living in slavery worldwide.

A Mexican-American who grew up in Iowa, deBaca has long experience both prosecuting traffickers and rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking survivors. Mr. deBaca was a trial attorney for over 14 years, then became a special litigator in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and, subsequently, served as Majority Counsel at the House Judiciary Committee. A highly decorated prosecutor, he has convicted over a hundred human traffickers, updated US anti-slavery laws to help police prosecute traffickers, and received the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for his service as lead trial counsel in a case involving the enslavement of over 300 workers in American Samoa, the biggest slavery case ever prosecuted in the US.

Mr. deBaca’s tireless fight to prosecute traffickers is matched by his determination to rescue and rehabilitate trafficking survivors. According to Benjamin Skinner in a great piece in the Huffington Post in May of this year, Most meaningful to de Baca, however, are his successful rescues and rehabilitations of over six-hundred slaves. That is a record unmatched by any law enforcement official at any level since Reconstruction. And central to his approach has been his deeply felt compassion for the victims. "I always felt safe when Lou was working on our case and I knew we would be okay," said "Katya," a survivor of brutal sex traffickers who Lou helped put behind bars for a total of 21 years. "He is a good man." Too often in the past, law enforcement has dealt with slaves as if they were the perpetrators of a crime against the state, rather than victims of a crime against humanity. But for de Baca, fighting slavery is personal. Those of us who have met slaves, survivors and traffickers know de Baca's passion well, because we feel it ourselves.

Mr. deBaca is keenly aware that the other ally governments have in the anti-trafficking fight is the advocacy community, be they church groups, human rights groups, mission groups, unions or engaged individuals. During the release of the 2009 TIP Report, deBaca stated that he wanted to add a fourth “P” to the anti-trafficking categories: prevention, prosecution, protection, and (now) partnership. This was a move widely heralded by activists as a step forward and showed the US government was making a real effort to work in partnership with others around the world engaged in anti-trafficking efforts. In conjunction with the first ever release of a review of US efforts to fight trafficking that was promised for next year, it helped to lessen the impression that the US was less interested in pointing fingers at others and more interested in joint efforts and engagement.

I believe it’s also important that Mr. deBaca is committed to fighting slavery in all of its forms, from slave labor to sexual exploitation. The previous administration focused its evangelically influenced campaign a bit too much on sexual exploitation to the exclusion of other forms of trafficking. While human trafficking for sexual exploitation is deplorable and an abomination, the ILO estimates it represents about ten percent of those in slavery globally and our approach should be as multifaceted and proportionate as the phenomenon, addressing all types of human bondage.

Mr. deBaca has also shown his ability to contextualize human trafficking within the wider geo-political context. The US-Mexico border has a long history of transnational crime, including drug and human trafficking. The rampant criminality, along with the difficulty the long, porous border represents for law enforcement, has been highlighted by recent events, such as the Mexican sex trafficking ring that was broken up in November of last year by Brooklyn police and the murders of Juarez women. In May of 2009, Mr. deBaca has stated that human trafficking is a area where the US and Mexican governments can cooperate and is hopeful that sharing information on human trafficking cases will strengthen relationships between US and Mexican officials that would in turn strengthen transnational relations that help fight narcotrafficking.

What is also refreshing is that Mr. deBaca’s drive to fight trafficking is holistic. In November of last year, Mr. deBaca stated that "A phenomenal job of fighting trafficking still means that there’s trafficking. Having the best homicide detectives in your city doesn’t mean there’s not going to be murders. The fight against trafficking means that you try to keep it from happening, but also you’ve got cutting-edge tools to address it when it does. And to treat the victims the way they should be, but also to investigate and prosecute cases."

Mr. deBaca is welcome addition as the Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. While his approach is noteworthy and signs so far have been promising, he has to contend with a wafer-thin budget, which could shrink further under the weight of the current economic recession. Additionally, Mr. deBaca will need to build a constituency with the American and international public, as well as with key senators on the Foreign Relations Committee. I look forward to more positive developments in the fight against human trafficking this coming year and I believe Mr. deBaca is up for the challenges inherent in his position.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Behind the myth of the "happy hooker"

HTP Community Comment:

The so-called "nation wide survey" referred to here was conducted by Melissa Farley, IIRC, and has severe methodological problems. To put not too fine a point on it, Farley mostly interviewed prostitutes who were in rescue organizations. A similar analogy would be studying marriage by only interviewing women who were in shelters for battered women.

Prostitution is, in many ways, a bad job. It is NOT, however, synonymous with slavery or trafficking as the author of the above article makes out. Bad and tenacious science which greatly exaggerates the dangers of prostitution does nothing to help us to stop trafficking as it reroutes anti-trafficking resources into, essentially, anti-vice programs.

- Dr. Thaddeus Blanchette, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

From the Global Post:

By Kate Transchel

Generating an estimated $32 billion dollars annually, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world today. It is also the most lucrative. According to a 2005 International Labor Office (ILO) report, just a single female held for sexual exploitation yields an average of $67,200 annually in Western Europe and North America.

A multitude of recent studies try to explain why women get snared into the trade in flesh. Researchers point to poverty, chronic unemployment, domestic violence and drug addiction as the primary “push factors.”

But sadly, there isn’t enough discussion of the real root of the problem — the men. Human trafficking is basically international sexual terrorism perpetrated against women and children on a mass scale by men. It is their demand for illicit or predatory sex that generates huge profits for the slavers and leaves behind the tortured minds and broken bodies of those women and children they violate.

According to a 2008 study by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, the majority of men who buy prostitutes do so in order to obtain sex they are uncomfortable asking for. As one interviewee put it, “I want to pay someone to do something a normal person wouldn’t do. To piss on someone or pay someone to do something degrading.” The same study revealed that johns subscribe to a tremendous amount of denial — 87 percent thought women choose prostitution, “just like any job,” and 64 percent believed that the women they bought were sexually satisfied by the encounter.

Read the full article

Thursday, January 21, 2010

California - Human Trafficking Prevention Month Events

If you live in California, it's not too late to get involved in Human Trafficking Prevention Month, thanks to the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking:

San Francisco:

February 6, 2010 - "Building the Wings of Freedom" benefit dinner for Freedom House, a nonprofit that is opening a shelter for victims of human trafficking. 6:00 pm at Dolores Park Church.

February 9, 2010 - Panel discussion: "In Our Backyard: Recognizing and Combating Human Trafficking in San Francisco." The focus will be on providing ways for members of the public to identify and assist trafficking victims. 5:30 pm at the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library main branch.

Los Angeles:

January 20, 2010 - UCLA Trafficking Awareness Panel Discussion Speaker Event, featuring speakers Dr. Susie Baldwin, Stephanie Richard of CAST, and a CAST survivor advisory caucus member. 6:00-7:30 pm at UCLA campus.

January 21, 2010 - Certain Jamba Juice locations will donate 20% of sales to CAST for those who bring in the flier.

January 23, 2010 - CAST community clothing and basic necessities drive for trafficking survivors. Needed items include bus passes, gift cards, toiletries, laundry detergent, diapers, and children's clothing. Volunteers are also needed.

Friends at a Distance

It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I write this post. I am sad to announce that I will be taking an extended hiatus from blogging for HTP. On the other hand, I am also excited because I have been given a wonderful opportunity to work in Sudan. I will be the Program Manager for a community strengthening project in the Darfur region.

Blogging for HTP has been a challenge and a joy, as well as teaching me a great deal. It has enabled me to keep up-to-date with developments in the trafficking field as well as to engage with and evaluate important events. I have enjoyed your comments and the posts of my fellow contributors and am profoundly grateful for this experience. My hope is to return to HTP at the end of my contract in Sudan in 18 months.

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this conversation and connect with a like-minded community in distributing and sharing information. Awareness raising is a critical step in combating human trafficking and, in the spirit of this understanding, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Gandhi…There is no road to freedom, freedom is the road.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

East West Players Perform Reading on Modern-Day Slavery and Trafficking in the U.S.

On Thursday, January 22nd, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) will host a reading of "The Girls from Afar" by East West Players to help bring awareness to slavery and trafficking in Los Angeles and the US.

According to their press release, CAST is a leader in the fight against human trafficking, and East West Players is one of the nation's premier Asian American theatre organizations. They have joined with a dozen other organizations in Southern California to bring awareness to the fact that 17,000 people are trafficked into the US every year.

The reading is part of the "From Slavery to Freedom" month-long campaign led by CAST "to encourage victims to seek help and let them know they will not be treated as criminals, inform the general public about the existence of modern-day slavery, and to inspire a national movement to eradicate slavery and human trafficking once and for all."

According to the news release, "The Girls from Afar" tells the story of two worlds colliding when a young girl comes face-to-face with two women her parents have kept hidden for many years and have used as modern-day slaves in their home. The reading will be followed by a panel discussion to explore in more depth the issue of slavery and trafficking in the US, specifically Los Angeles, and the steps that are being taken to eliminate it.

The event will take place on Thursday, January 21st 2010 at 7:30pm at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum 111 N. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012, 213-830-1880

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Plea in Hawaii Agriculture Case

*Picture from KHON2

From the FBI:

Two Brothers Plead Guilty in Conspiracy to Hold Thai Workers in Forced Labor in Hawaii

WASHINGTON—Defendants Alec Sou and Mike Sou, co-owners of Aloun Farm, pleaded guilty on Jan.13, 2010, in federal district court in Honolulu, to conspiring to commit forced labor. The two defendants, who are brothers, each face up to five years in prison for their respective roles in a labor trafficking scheme that held Thai agricultural workers in service at Aloun Farm through a scheme of debts, threats, and restraint.

During their respective plea hearings, the defendants acknowledged that they conspired with one another and with others to hold 44 Thai men in forced labor on a farm operated by the defendants, using a scheme of physical restraint and threats of serious harm to intimidate the workers and hold them in fear of attempting to leave the defendants’ service.

“Holding other human beings in servitude against their will is a violation of individual rights that is intolerable in a free society,” stated Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combating human trafficking in all its forms, vindicating the rights of trafficking victims, and bringing human traffickers to justice.”

“Labor traffickers prey on vulnerable victims and their dreams of a better life. Those who conspire to hold workers in forced labor undermine this country's promise of liberty and opportunity,” said Florence T. Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii. “We will continue to hold accountable those who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the freedom, rights, and dignity of others.”

In the past fiscal year, the Civil Rights Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, brought a record number of human trafficking cases, including the highest number of labor trafficking cases ever brought in a single year.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys Susan French and Kevonne Small of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Cushman.

This case was investigated by FBI Special Agents Gary Brown in Honolulu and Tricia Whitehill in Los Angeles, with support from ICE Special Agents Frank Kalepa and Daniel Kenney.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Walmart Won’t Buy Cosan Sugar Amid Slavery Blacklist

From BusinessWeek:

By Helder Marinho and Lucia Kassai

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s biggest retailer, suspended a supply contract with Cosan SA Industria & Comercio after the Brazilian sugar maker was added to a government slavery “blacklist.” Cosan said it won an injunction ordering it be removed from the list.

Walmart is the first retailer to come out with sanctions against Cosan after the sugar producer was added Dec. 31 to a Brazilian Labor Ministry’s list of companies whose workers operate in slave-like conditions. Walmart’s local unit said it temporarily suspended purchases of Cosan’s Acucar Uniao and Acucar da Barra sugar brands.

Walmart “vehemently repudiates any practice that does not respect human rights,” the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said in a statement.

Walmart’s move follows a decision by Brazil’s national development bank BNDES to cut off Cosan from financing. The inclusion on the blacklist means Cosan isn’t eligible for new loans and won’t receive future installments of agreed-to financing, BNDES said yesterday in a statement.

Read the full article

Friday, January 15, 2010

Human Trafficking and the Environment

In December, the world watched the progress of the Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference. While the conference may not have been front and center in the anti-trafficking community, the impact of environmental degradation on slavery and human rights cannot be ignored.

This issue is particularly pressing in light of the recent tragic events in Haiti resulting from a 7.0 earthquake. Haiti already faced extreme hardships and poverty, making the devastation even greater. Haiti also has a significant problem with trafficking of children called restaveks for forced domestic labor, often in situations of extreme abuse and neglect.

Environmental catastrophes, from Hurricane Katrina to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean to a cyclone in Myanmar, wreck incredible damage on people's lives. Sadly, the devastation often impacts the most vulnerable, leaving them even more susceptible to abuse and exploitation. According to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, while it is hard to predict the extent of the consequences of climate change, we can expect more droughts, more flooding, and increased incidence of extreme weather, all of which could negatively impact people's lives in extreme ways.

According to
Linking Human Rights and the Environment, by Romina Picolotti and Jorge Daniel Taillant, "victims of environmental degradation tend to belong to more vulnerable sectors of society - racial and ethnic minorities and the poor - who regularly carry a disproportionate burden of [human rights] abuse. Increasingly, many basic human rights are being placed at risk, as the right to health affected by contamination of resources, or the right to property and culture comprised by commercial intrusion into indigenous lands." Such people are also extremely vulnerable to trafficking.

In The Slave Next Door, Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter make the link between the environment and human trafficking even more explicit with a slightly different perspective. In their discussion of slavery and consumer goods, they point out that trafficking victims are often forced to contribute to environmental degradation to produce products. Bales and Soodalter describe teh horrific conditions endured by slaves in charcoal camps in Brazil: "slaves suffer burns and cuts, the heat is ferocious, and their flesh wastes away. . . Unknowingly, the US consumer provides the incentive for this destruction of both human life and the environment" (146).

A report entitled
Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States by the Southern Poverty Law Center, shows another point of intersection between environmental issues and human trafficking. They highlight a trafficking case where a company exploited guestworkers from India to fill hotel positions vacated by people who evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. Threatened with massive "debts" and unable to leave their employee because of visa restrictions, they were ripe for exploitation.

Environmental degradation and slavery exist in a vicious cycle where people can be trafficked for labor that harms the environment or as the result of environmental issues, and where such environmental degradation places additional burdens on those who are already the most vulnerable to trafficking. Ending slavery and promoting human rights will require addressing this cycle.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Announcement for Volunteer Opportunity at RestoreNYC (Jan. 14th 2010)

Are you in NYC area? Are you interested in supporting human trafficking victims? Are you looking for an opportunity to build your experience with hands on experience in the field? Restore NYC is inviting you to NYC to join their session to be held on Thursday, January 14th. at 7 pm. During the session, Faith Huckel, the Executive Director of the organization will speak about the organization, including its mission statement as well as the organization's plan to combat sex trafficking in NYC. The purpose of this session is to build a safe house for human trafficking victims in NYC.

More on Restore NYC

According to its website, the organization was started in 2004 when three people felt called to serve human trafficking victims in New York City. After receiving training, the organization obtained its nonprofit status in 2006. Since then, the organization has dedicated itself to assisting victims of trafficking to restore themselves from physical and psychological damages caused by their experience in prostitution and sex trafficking. Restore also became the first organization in NYC to provide holistic long-term aftercare services and house care for international women victimized by human trafficking.

If you would like to get involved

The volunteer opportunities include accounting, blogging for its website, case managing, mentoring, supporting with prayers and prayer walk, and assisting with recreational outings and workshop instruction. If you are interested, e-mail Restore at to complete the volunteer application. You are also encouraged to attend the session this Thursday, January 14th at 7 pm. For more information on the opportunity, visit RestoreNYC

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Legislators Work to Improve Laws on Runaways

From The Gainesville Sun:
In Congress, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are moving several bills that would improve how runaways are tracked by the police, increase spending to provide them with social services and promote methods for earlier intervention.

The Government Accountability Office, an auditing arm of Congress, initiated an investigation in December at the request of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, into whether police departments are handling runaways properly.
Lawmakers in at least 10 states have proposed or passed bills in recent months that focus on runaways by extending outreach efforts and shelter options and changing state reporting requirements so that youth shelters have enough time to win trust and provide services before they need to report the runaways to the police.

The bill, co-sponsored by Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also requires the police to provide anyone who reports a missing person with information about the services provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Switchboard. In many cases, the police said, they often did not take reports about runaways as seriously as abductions, and families were often unaware of other resources.


If anyone asks me what would be the greatest accomplishment that anti-human trafficking advocates have made in 2009, I would point to the legislators implementing new laws to better assist runaways and child prostitution victims as mentioned above. The experts and researchers have recognized the close connection between domestic minor trafficking and problems with runaway youths in the U.S. for decades. However, it is only recent that they were able to capture the attentions for the Congress. Often, children run away from their own homes because of feeling neglected. ( For more information on the root causes of runaway youths in the U.S., click

Though the state seldom will be better able to parent a child than the child's own parents. Nevertheless, it's valuable that law makers are paying a little more attention to the needs of the American youths who are at risk of being made human trafficking victims by other greedy and immoral Americans -- and that is a fruit of awareness raising efforts by advocates.

Picture taken by Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

T-Shirt Design Contest from Stop Traffick Fashion

From Stop Traffick Fashion:

It’s 2010 and we’re excited to add T-shirts to our collection of items made by survivors of human trafficking! As you may know, we currently sell awesome jute totes from Freeset in Kolkata, India. We’ll be adding some great new tote bag designs to our website by the end of January but we are also thrilled that Freeset is now making fair trade, organic cotton t-shirts. A Freeset tee sustainably pulls people out of poverty, children and pesticides out of fields, and women out of the sex trade - what a deal!

There’s just one catch - we need some designs! And we’d like the designs to reflect our vision. At Stop Traffick Fashion we have 3 goals:

  • Support the victims and survivors of human trafficking
  • Support the organizations who are rescuing and providing rehabilitation for victims
  • Raise awareness about human trafficking

Think hope. Think change. Think restoration. Think about a design that will get people’s attention and allow you to tell them about Stop Traffick Fashion and the 27 million slaves around the world. You can read more about our vision here.

The design should fit the following specifications:

  • 1-3 colors on front (and back if desired)
  • Black, White, Brown, Blue or Green T-shirt Background (see swatches below)
  • Female or Unisex design
  • PDF and PNG files

We’ll be choosing 1-2 designs to be printed and sold on Stop Traffick Fashion. The winner will receive 1 free T-shirt, a $25 gift certificate for Equal Exchange, plus the knowledge that you’re helping us spread the word about human trafficking and making a difference in the lives of survivors around the world! January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month (more on this later) so what a great way to contribute.

Final Details:
  • Designs are due by February 1, 2010
  • Email your submission to
  • Please provide your email address and phone number so we can contact you!
  • If your design is chosen the final version will be owned by Stop Traffick Fashion
  • If you have any questions you can also email us at

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Slave Across the Street

When people in the US think of sex slavery and sex trafficking, the first image is likely to be of a young woman in another country, perhaps in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. Even people who are aware of trafficking in the US are most likely to picture a sex trafficking victim as someone who matches the traditional signs of being "at risk": a runaway, someone who was abused at home, or someone from an impoverished background. Theresa Flores defies all of these stereotypes.

In The Slave Across the Street, Flores' new book published to coincide with National Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day, she recounts her experiences of sex slavery as a teenager living in suburbia in the Midwest. Flores came from an affluent background that valued education and hard work. Her family moved around frequently to allow her father to advance in his career. Because of the frequent moves, Flores lacked a strong support network when her family moved to Michigan.

When she was 16, she was sexually assaulted by a classmate. The assault was an initiation into the world of sex trafficking. For nearly two years, Flores' classmates used threats and violence to control her as a sex slave. Though she had friends, a long distance boyfriend, and continued to attend school and extracurricular activities, no one ever noticed the red flags or changes in her behavior. Eventually, her family moved, which helped her to escape the situation. Truly, though, it was her own incredible strength that allowed her to survive. In her book, she notes that physically leaving the situation was only one small piece on her journey to healing and true escape.

Flores went on to attend college, and is now a licensed social worker with a master's degree in counseling education. Flores recently founded Gracehaven House, a group home for girls under the age of 18 who are victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. In addition to recounting her experiences, The Slave Across the Street also includes information about domestic minor sex trafficking/commercial sexual exploitation of children (DMST/CSEC), and information for parents, educators, and others who work with youth on recognizing sex trafficking and working to prevent slavery and support victims.

I first met Flores at an anti-trafficking conference in Missouri two years ago. I remain completely awed and inspired by her and her work. As a survivor, Flores has dedicated her life to helping other survivors through sharing her story, raising awareness, challenging stereotypes and complacency, and providing direct support to other survivors. I recently spoke with her about her new book and her perspective on sex trafficking and the anti-trafficking movement.

When I asked her about what needs to be done to ending sex trafficking, particularly CSEC, Flores stated that she believes that US laws are inadequate and misdirected. She pointed out that people who buy sex are not penalized, while prostitutes face arrest, even if the commercial sex involved a minor or someone who was coerced. She would advocate for a model like Sweden's, where the purchase of sex is illegal, thus targeting the demand side of commercial sex.

Flores also noted the extreme need for increased services for survivors, pointing out that there are only 39 beds in the country for DMST/CSEC survivors, though the FBI estimates that 100,000 American children are victims each year and 300,000 are at risk. According to Flores, people wishing to support survivors should advocate for increased services as well as increased awareness. One of the challenges she has faced in telling her story has been the victim-blaming attitudes and comments she has encountered from people. She argues that challenging victim blaming as well as cultural attitudes that glamorize pimps are vital for supporting survivors.

I also asked her about who motivates her to stay involved in anti-trafficking work and what keeps her going despite these challenges. She said, "I do this to save girls who are going through [what I went through]. I want to give hope to other survivors. You can heal from this, there's another life out there. I tell survivors 'that part of your life, when you went through that, is one small part of you, it's not who you are, it's not all of you.' I survived because I was bound and determined to not let them win the rest of my life. I was going to take over my life from that moment on so that they couldn't win."

Flores said that if there is one thing that people take away from her book, she hopes it is that sex trafficking can happen to anyone, and it is happening in the US. As we commemorate National Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day, I hope that her message of awareness, strength, and hope reaches survivors and advocates so that we can end slavery and exploitation.

National Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Friday, January 08, 2010

Slow Movement: Protection of Migrants' Rights in 2009 - Part I

International migration is rapidly increasing, but in many places, including United States, a migrant is still considered an alien or an outsider, if not an enemy. Millions of people are living in countries that are not their own. Sometimes the decision to migrate is voluntary, but in many cases, it is forced, i.e. human trafficking is also rapidly increasing. Many migrant workers are forced to leave their homes to search for better opportunities; some flee from war, some flee from social injustice, and some from poverty. Their goal is simple: survival. Too many migrants are misled about the living and working conditions and are forced to leave their homes and their rights to become a slave in foreign land.

Human Rights Watch published a report based on the research they conducted in 2009 on migrant rights. The report highlights the lack of protection of migrant workers.

"Migrants drowning at sea after being turned away from shore. Children detained with adults and at risk of physical and sexual abuse. Workers cheated out of wages and confined to their workplace. Authorities extorting bribes. Governments denying health care benefits to those who might most need it."

Millions of people are employed as domestic workers. Most of these are women.

[Part 1 of the Report] Women Migrant Domestic Workers :

Millions of people from Asia and African migrate to Middle East. "Labor recruiters in their home countries often deceive these migrants about their employment contracts or charge excessive fees." According to Human Rights Watch, in most places in the Middle East (with the exception of Jordan), standard labor protection policies (such as minimum wage, limits to hours of work, rest days, and workers' compensation) do no apply to domestic workers. Hence, many domestic workers are forced to work 15 - 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Saudi Arabia :
    • "With at least 1.5 million migrant domestic workers, Saudi Arabia hosts the largest number in the Middle East".
    • Labor rights violations and abuse occurs based on spurious allegations of adultery, theft, or witchcraft.
    • Migrant workers also require an 'exit visa' from the employer before he/she can leave the country. This results in many cases of forced labor.
    • In July 2009, Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council passed a law "that requires employers to provide domestic workers at least nine hours of rest each day and suitable accommodation". However, there are still vague provisions because of which sufficient protection cannot be provided to migrant workers.
  • Kuwait :
    • "Over 600,000 migrant domestic workers currently work in Kuwait, making it the second largest host country for domestic workers in the Persian Gulf region after Saudi Arabia".
    • Under Kuwaiti law, a domestic worker is not allowed to leave without the sponsor's permission, even in case of abuse. The employer controls whether the worker can change his job and can file a case against the domestic worker if he tries to leave.
  • Lebanon :
    • "There are an estimated 200,000 domestic workers, primarily from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia in Lebanon".
    • "Human Rights Watch research found that at least 45 migrant domestic workers died in Lebanon in 2008, a majority of whom committed suicide or died while trying to escape in a hazardous way".
    • "In January 2009, the Ministry of Labor finally introduced a standard employment contract that clarifies certain terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers, such as the maximum number of daily working hours, the need for a 24-hour rest period each week, and paid sick leave". However, there are no clear enforcement mechanisms.
  • Jordan :
    • In September 2009, a regulation issued by Ministry of Labor included migrant workers under the protection of Jordan’s labor laws.
    • "Domestic workers now have limits to daily working hours, and a weekly day of rest". However, this regulation still allows employers to control when a worker can leave and a worker cannot leave without the employer's permission, even after working hours.

Next part: Migrant Construction Workers.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Despite Law, Few Trafficking Arrests

From the New York Times:

By Joseph Berger

Despite a highly trumpeted New York State law in 2007 that enacted tough penalties for sex or labor trafficking, very few people have been prosecuted since it went into effect, according to state statistics.

In New York State, there have been 18 arrests and one conviction for trafficking since the law was signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and took effect in November 2007, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. There is one case pending in Manhattan, one in Queens and two in the Bronx.

The situation is not very different in New Jersey or roughly 30 other states with laws against human trafficking — defined as using fraud or force to exploit a person for sex or labor. A federal law passed in 2000 with life prison penalties has resulted in 196 cases with convictions against 419 people, according to the United States Department of Justice.

The scale of those numbers contrasts starkly with the 14,500 to 17,500 people the State Department estimates are brought into the United States each year for forced labor or sex.

Read the full article

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sunitha Krishnan: Anti-trafficking crusader

Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery, a multimilion-dollar global market. In this courageous talk, she tells three powerful stories, as well as her own, and calls for a more humane approach to helping these young victims rebuild their lives.

Sunitha Krishnan is galvanizing India’s battle against sexual slavery by uniting government, corporations and NGOs to end human trafficking.
"The sense that thousands and millions of children and young people are being sexually violated and that there’s this huge silence about it around me angers me."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

President Obama Proclaims January, 2010 National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

On Monday, January 4th 2010, President Obama signed a Proclamation declaring that January, 2010 is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The proclamation, which has been issued just 10 days before National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, will commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. The month will culminate with National Freedom Day on February 1st. In December, the Senate issued a resolution in support of this proclamation.

The proclamation states that "As a Nation, we have known moments of great darkness and greater light; and dim years of chattel slavery illuminated and brought to an end by President Lincoln's actions and a painful Civil War. Yet even today, the darkness and inhumanity of enslavement exists. Millions of people worldwide are held in compelled service, as well as thousands within the United States. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we acknowledge that forms of slavery still exist in the modern era, and we recommit ourselves to stopping the human traffickers who ply this horrific trade."

In addition to acknowledging the realities of the horror of modern-day slavery, the proclamation calls for increased medical and social services for victims, increased training for first respondents, and increased public awareness.

In the proclamation, President Obama states that "Fighting modern slavery and human trafficking is a shared responsbility. This month, I urge all Americans to educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery and the signs and consquences of human trafficking. Together, we can and must end this most serious, ongoing criminal civil rights violation. . . I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the vital role we can play in ending modern slavery."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Trade as One: Fair Trade to Prevent Human Trafficking

From Trade as One:

Our Goals
There are two crises that keep us awake at night. First, the crisis of extreme poverty that defines much of the developing world. Second, the empty consumerism that has left much of the developed world bereft of meaning and purpose. We believe Fair Trade is a way to alleviate both.

Our Story
Our story is of people from all over the world deciding that they want to make the world more fair. It’s not rocket science, it’s just some men and women working together with the audacity to think they can actually change something.

Our Team
We’re diverse, we’re dedicated, we’re experienced, we’re in love (with the idea of a business that brings people together and makes the world better). Some of us are from the United States. Some of us are from the United Kingdom. All of us believe the way to enjoy our own prosperity and freedom is to offer a hand up to others.

Learn more about Trade as One