Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Immigrant Maids Flee Lives of Abuse in Kuwait

From The New York Times on August 1, 2010:

By Kareem Fahim

KUWAIT — With nowhere else to go, dozens of Nepalese maids who fled from their employers now sleep on the floor in the lobby of their embassy here, next to the visitors’ chairs.

In the Philippines Embassy, more than 200 women are packed in a sweltering room, where they sleep on their luggage and pass the time singing along to Filipino crooners on television. So many runaways are sheltering in the Indonesian Embassy that some have left a packed basement and taken over a prayer room.

And in the coming weeks, when Ramadan starts, the number of maids seeking protection is expected to grow, perhaps by the hundreds, straining the capacity of the improvised shelters, embassy officials say. With Kuwaiti families staying up into the early hours of the morning, some maids say they cook more, work longer hours and sleep less.

Rosflor Armada, who is staying in the Philippines Embassy, said that last year during Ramadan, she cooked all day for the evening meal and was allowed to sleep only about two hours a night.
“They said, ‘You will work. You will work.’ ” She said that she left after her employers demanded that she wash the windows at 3 a.m.

The existence of the shelters reflects a hard reality here: With few legal protections against employers who choose not to pay servants, who push them too hard, or who abuse them, sometimes there is nothing left to do but run. The laws that do exist tend to err on the side of protecting employers, who often pay more than $2,000 upfront to hire the maids from the agencies that bring the women here.

The problems in Kuwait, including a lack of legal protection, are hardly unusual or even regional; this summer, New York became the first state to grant workplace rights to domestic employees in an effort to prevent sexual harassment and other abuses. But human rights groups say the potential for mistreatment is acute in several countries in the Middle East, especially those with large numbers of migrant workers who rely on a sponsorship system that makes employers responsible for the welfare of their workers.

That system is particularly entrenched in Kuwait, where oil riches allow many families to have several servants, human rights advocates say. And conditions for some workers here are bad enough that the United States Department of State in a 2010 report singled out Kuwait, along with 12 other countries, for failing to do enough to prevent human trafficking.

The report noted that migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, but “upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor by their sponsors and labor agents, including through such practices as nonpayment of wages, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports.”

Read the full article here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Craigslist and Sexual Services

In January I attended a non-profit leadership conference where Lynn Lukow, the Executive Director of the Craigslist Foundation, spoke about the charitable contributions made by the website’s partner foundation. He focused his lecture on how Craigslist believes that strong communities are the cornerstone for a better society, how their company wants to do the most good for the most amount of people, how advocating for fair wages and decent jobs should be the focus of what they labeled themselves as the “independent sector.” Lukow also mentioned how Craigslist asks themselves over and over, “Are we doing the right thing?” He said if they find that they are not, then they need to regroup.

During the question and answer period at the end of his speech, I nervously stepped up the microphone and asked why, with all their attempts at building strong communities and their focus on “thinking holistically,” did they continue to allow the buying and selling of sexual services on their website? Did this really fit into their goals toward community development?

For years Craigslist has been under fire for allowing erotic services to be posted on their website. Most recently, the website has been blamed for the creation and growth of prostitution rings – some involving underage girls and boy - in several cities, including my most recent place of residence, Kansas City, Missouri.

Lukow replied, extremely flustered might I add, that Craigslist does not allow illegal activity to be sold on their website. But if illegal services are offered, there is very little they can do to stop the activity because so much is being bought and sold on Craigslist that it is nearly impossible to censor everything.

I asked if this was a moral dilemma for a foundation that prides themselves on utilitarian ideals. He said that Craigslist believes that communities can decide for themselves what should be bought and sold in their communities.

This comment was insinuating – hopefully unintentionally- that if a community decides that it is permissible to sell the sexual services of boys, girls, men and women then they should be allowed to do this through their website.

As one might expect, Lukow was regarded as a complete flop after these rushed, almost incoherent and false statements. His responses were counterproductive and caused an entire conference of 700 young people to think twice before visiting his website.

All across America, people are learning more about the injustices spread through Craigslist. They are boycotting it, using other websites like www.kijiji.com as a replacement. This movement has taken root and is beginning to make profound change.

Today in the news, there is a movement to stop the “Adult Services” portion of the website.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Setting the Record Straight

Last week, the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales, and Northern Island issued a report that found that nearly 10% of prostitutes in the UK are victims of human trafficking (that figure jumps to 15% for migrant women.

Release about the report:

The report, called Setting the Record, involved a widespread collaboration between a number of law enforcement agencies, non-government organisations and has been independently academically reviewed. It also has the support of government as providing the most comprehensive estimate of the levels of trafficking for sexual exploitation.


It found that around 17,000 of the estimated 30,000 women involved in off-street prostitution in England and Wales are migrants. Approximately half come from Eastern Europe and a third from Asia. These women were grouped into three categories: those who were trafficked, those who are vulnerable and those who meet neither threshold.

Of the 17,000 migrant women identified, 2,600 were deemed to have been trafficked and a further 9,200 were deemed vulnerable migrants who may be further victims of trafficking. Most of those trafficked (2,200) are from Asia, primarily China.


ACPO lead on migration and associated matters Deputy Chief Constable Chris Eyre said:
“Human trafficking for sexual exploitation involves the most extreme abuse of individuals in our communities.

“We recognise that Project Acumen focuses on only one area of trafficking, but it clearly sets out the scale of the problems that those in law enforcement, victim support, social care and border protection, collectively face.


“It provides us with a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of how migrant women are involved in prostitution - how they are influenced, controlled, coerced, exploited and trafficked. “The publication of this report represents not the end of a process, but the start. We now have a better picture of the extent of trafficking and will look to support from Government to ensure we work effectively with all agencies to make the UK a more hostile environment for traffickers, to shut down trafficking routes into the UK and to prosecute those who are exploiting women for their own gains.”

Read the full report here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

State Attorney General's Call on Craigslist to Remove Adult Services


From the Associated Press State AGs: Craigslist should drop adult services

HARTFORD, Conn. — State attorneys general nationwide are demanding that Craigslist remove its adult services section because they say the website cannot adequately block potentially illegal ads.


Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Tuesday that he and colleagues in 16 states have sent a letter calling on the classified advertising site to get rid of its adult services category.
The attorneys general say Craigslist is not completely screening out ads that promote prostitution and child trafficking. The site creators pledged in 2008 to improve their policing efforts.

Other states joining the effort are Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Craigslist's so-called Adult Services Section drew new attention in early August with an open letter from the Rebecca Project: "Craig, I am AK. In 2009, I met a man twice my age who pretended to be my boyfriend, and my life as an average girl—
looking forward to college, doing my chores, and hanging out with my friends—ended. This “boyfriend” soon revealed he was a pimp. He put my picture on Craigslist, and I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels, 10 hours with 10 different men every night. This became my life.

Men answered the Craigslist advertisements and paid to rape me. The $30,000 he pocketed each month was facilitated by Craigslist 300 times. I personally know over 20 girls who were trafficked through Craigslist. Like me, they were taken from city to city, each time sold on a different Craigslist site —Philadelphia, Dallas, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. My phone would ring, and soon men would line up in the parking lot. One Craigslist caller viciously brutalized me, threatening to dump my body in a river. Miraculously, I survived.


Craig, I am MC. I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28 year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold many girls my age, his house was called “Daddy Day Care.” All day, me and other girls sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist, he made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock —and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car.


I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren’t of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths.

Craig, we write this letter so you will know from our personal experiences how Craigslist makes horrific acts like this so easy to carry out, and the men who carry out, and men who arrange them very rich. Craig, we know you oppose trafficking and exploitation. But right now, Craigslist is the choice of traffickers because it’s
so well known and there are rarely consequences to using it for these illegal acts."

The saga continued, first with Craigslist's response arguing that "We work with law enforcement to bring to justice any criminals foolish enough to incriminate themselves by misusing our site, and want to make sure everything possible has been done in your cases. . .
craigslist is used by more than 50 million Americans to facilitate billions of interactions each month, and criminal misuse of the site is quite rare. . . craigslist is one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation." This was followed by the Rebecca Project's question

"Where is your outrage? . . . Craig, if this were a bar and children were being raped in the basement we would close the bar down to protect the children. We are asking you to do what’s right, close down the adult services section until you have an effective solution that ensures children will not be bought and sold online."


Today, 17 state attorney generals called on Craigslist to shut down the Adult Services section.
"Ads for prostitution, including ads trafficking children, continue to be a grave problem on Craigslist," said [Maryland Attorney General] Gansler. "While the company has made progress in blocking such ads, it is unfortunately not enough. More must be done to combat the human exploitation that these ads foster."

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Slave Next Door: EATING, WEARING, WALKING AND TALKING SLAVERY

Excerpt from The Slave Next Door. Reprinted with permission.

CHAPTER 6: EATING, WEARING, WALKING AND TALKING SLAVERY

Slavery probably crept into your life several times today, some before you even got to work. Rolling off your bed, standing on that pretty hand-woven rug, maybe you threw on a cotton t-shirt. In the kitchen did you make a cup of coffee, spoon in a little sugar, and then kick back with a chocolate croissant and your laptop to check the headlines? After a shower, maybe you drove to the station. Waiting for the train, perhaps you made a couple of calls on your cell phone.

All in all a normal day, but slavery was involved in almost every step. Hundreds of thousands of rugs are hand-woven by slaves in the “carpet belt” of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Cotton is grown with slave labor in India, West Africa, and Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest producer. Coffee cultivation also encompasses slave labor, mainly in Africa. Enslaved Haitian workers harvest the sugar in the Dominican Republic, the largest exporter of sugar to the U.S. The chocolate in that croissant can also be the product of slavery, from the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast. Even the steel and iron in your car can be polluted by slavery. From a quarter to a half of all U.S. imports of raw iron in different forms come from Brazil.[i] In that country slaves burn the forests to make charcoal, which in turn is used to smelt ore into pig iron and iron into steel. In America, the single largest consumer of Brazilian iron and steel is the automotive industry, though the construction industry also uses a large amount. Pressed against your ear, that cell phone keeps you connected to friends and family, but also to slavery. Cell phones (and laptops and other electronics) just don’t work very well without a mineral called tantalum. In the Democratic Republic of Congo poor farmers are rounded up by armed gangs and enslaved to dig tantalum out of the ground. Every one of us, every day, touches, wears, and eats products tainted with slavery. Slave-made goods and commodities are everywhere in our lives, but, paradoxically, in small proportions. The volume is unacceptable, but rarely critical to our national economy or quality of life. And slavery in our lives is not restricted to cotton, coffee, cocoa, steel, rugs, and cell phones. The list goes on and on, with new commodities and products turning up all the time. Some of them, such as shrimp, might surprise you.

Huckleberry Finn it ain’t

If there is an archetypical picture of rural youth, it is the barefoot lad with the fishing pole over his shoulder. The dusty riverbanks, the lazy heat, the straw dangling from his lip, it all says that halcyon days are possible in our youth. Today even this picture out of Mark Twain is shot through with bondage. Across Africa and Asia children are enslaved to catch, clean, package, and dry fish. They feed a global demand for everything from shrimp cocktail to cat food. One of the world’s largest consumers of seafood is Japan, but the U.S. isn’t too far behind. Americans imported 2.5 million tons of seafood in 2006, worth over $13 billion.[ii] And when it comes to shrimp, the US imports significantly more than the seafood-loving Japanese. Americans love shrimp, and the little crustacean that was once an expensive specialty food is now as ubiquitous as chicken. More than three million tons of frozen shrimp were imported to the U.S. in 2006.[iii] The huge demand for shrimp in the U.S. and other rich countries has generated a gold rush along the coastlines of the developing world. From India to Bangladesh, from Indonesia to Ecuador, Guatemala and Brazil, coastal forests, mangrove swamps, and natural beaches are ripped up to build hundreds of thousands of acres of shrimp farms. In all of these places adults and children are enslaved to cultivate and harvest the shrimp.[iv] In some cases whole families are caught in debt bondage slavery, in others children are kidnapped and hustled off to shrimp and fish farms on remote islands. Children are regularly enslaved in fishing and shrimping, since kids can do the work and they are easier to enslave and control.

In Bangladesh, boys as young as eight are kidnapped and taken out to remote islands like Dublar Char off the southwest coast. Sold to the fishing crews for about $15, they are set to work processing fish on shore for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. If the boats return with a large catch they might work several days with no sleep at all. Like robots they clean, bone, and skin fish; shell mussels, shrimp and crab, and wash squid to remove the ink. Other children sort, weigh, check, and load the haul, processing and preparing the fish for freezing and shipment. The slaveholders sexually abuse the boys and beat them regularly. They get little food, no medical care, and sleep on the ground. If they sicken or are injured and die, they are thrown into the ocean.[v] Dublar Char was raided and the children freed in 2004 when researchers linked to the US anti-slavery group Free the Slaves discovered the situation. They worked with the State Department’s anti-trafficking office to bring diplomatic pressure on the Bangladeshi government, which led to a raid by military police. (The local police were on the take from the gangs running the island).

No one knows how many other remote islands conceal such slave camps. Much of the fish and shrimp from these islands enters the global markets and then comes to the U.S. Dublar Char is just one example of the slave operations that supply our hunger for seafood. Around the island of Sumatra in Indonesia the sea is dotted with what appear to be ramshackle rafts. They are actually fishing platforms, crudely lashed together and moored up to twenty miles off the coast. There are some 1,500 fishing platforms in this region, each holding three to ten children whose only avenue of escape is a twenty-mile swim. Promised a good job, they are left on the platform to cast nets, catch fish, and clean and dry the catch. In heavy weather the platforms can break up, children can be swept overboard, or they might simply fall through the holes in the rough bamboo deck. On irregular visits, the boss collects the fish and administers beatings to increase productivity. As in Dublar Char and so many other places, the children are sexually abused, and if they become ill, there is no relief. If they die of illness or injury, they are simply rolled into the water. The revenues from Indonesian fish exports reached $5 billion in 2006; America is one of the top destinations for frozen shrimp, canned tuna, tilapia and sea crab from that country.[vi]

________________________________

[i] See: Michael Smith and David Voreacos, “The Secret World of Modern Slavery,” Bloomberg Markets, December 2006.
[ii] See report of National Marine Fisheries Service, at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/trade_and_aquaculture.htm. Accessed Aug. 2007.
[iii] Shrimp imports also reported at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/trade_and_aquaculture.htm.
[iv] See for example, “Dying for your dinner” Environmental Justice Foundation, accessed at http://www.csrwire.com/PressRelease.php?id=1932; and Report No. 32 on Forced Labor in Burma, International Labor Organization, accessed at http://burmalibrary.org/reg.burma/archives/199809/msg00281.html.
[v] Report on Indonesian Fishing Platforms, Anti-Slavery International, 1998.
[vi] See: http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-779909/Indonesia-hopes-to-increase-fish.html#abstract. Accessed Aug. 17, 2007.


Free the Slaves is very happy to announce the upcoming publication of the paperback edition The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today’s America

By Ron Soodalter, co-author (w/ Kevin Bales) The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today

The American humorist Will Rogers once said, “It ain’t that we’re so dumb; it’s just that what we know ain’t so.”

Certain things we know to be true. We know that the South kept slaves, and the North fought a righteous war of liberation. We know that the slave trade was legal right up to the Civil War. We know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves, and that the United States has been slavery-free ever since. These things we know – and none of them are true.

On the other hand, most of us do not know that slavery not only exists throughout the world today; it flourishes. Slavery is legal nowhere, yet it is practiced everywhere. With an estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, this is twice as many people as were taken in chains from Africa during the entire 350 years of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. In seeking to place blame, we’re tempted to point to the “emerging nations” as the culprits, whereas in fact slavery exists in such “civilized” countries as England, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, China…and the United States. Most Americans are clueless that slavery is alive and flourishing right here, thriving in the dark, and practiced in many forms in places you’d least expect.


As a student of history, I’d always assumed that slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment. Some years back, I had written nearly an entire book on the pre-Civil War slave trade when I stumbled on an account of slavery – in present-day America! My first response - a common one, as it turns out - was denial: “No way. Slavery has had no place here since the time of Lincoln.”


Only after extensive research did I discover that slavery has always existed on this continent, from the days of its European discovery right up to the present day. Christopher Columbus enslaved the Taino Indians, setting a precedent that was followed by every European power to claim land in the New World. Slavery became the social and economic order. After the Civil War, and for decades right up to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, planters practiced a form of debt bondage known as peonage, binding workers and their families to the land in an unending cycle of slavery. For over sixty years, our own government has enabled worker abuse and slavery through the mismanagement of its “guest worker” program. And now, with the global population more than tripled since World War II, and with national borders collapsing around the world, people - in their desperate quest for a way to survive – have become easy targets for human traffickers. And once again, America is a prime destination.


So how many slaves are we talking about? According to a U.S. State Department study, some 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved each year. Some victims are smuggled into the United States across the Mexican and Canadian borders; others arrive at our major airports daily, carrying either real or forged papers. The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the Jumbo Jet. Victims come here from Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and the former Soviet Republic. Overwhelmingly, they come on the promise of a better life, with the opportunity to work and prosper in America. Many come in the hope of earning enough money to support or send for their families. In order to afford the journey, they fork over their life savings, and go into debt to people who make promises they have no intention of keeping, and instead of opportunity, when they arrive they find bondage. They can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working as farmhands, domestics, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers, and victims of sexual exploitation. These people do not represent a class of poorly paid employees, working at jobs they might not like. They exist specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By definition, they are slaves. Today, we may call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.


Nor are native-born Americans immune from slavers; many are stolen or enticed from the streets of their own cities and towns. Some sources, including the federal government, estimate in the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens – primarily children – at risk of being caught in slavery annually. Although these figures may be uncertain, even inflated, the precise number of slaves in the United States, whether trafficked in from other countries or enslaved from our own population, is simply not known. The simple truth is, we’re looking at a crime that lives in the shadows; it’s hard to count what you can’t find.


What is particularly infuriating is the fact that this is a crime that, as a rule, goes unpunished. For the moment, let’s accept the government’s estimate of about 17,000 foreign nationals trafficked into slavery in the United States per year. Coincidentally there are also about 17,000 people murdered in the US each year. The national success rate in solving murder cases is about 70%; around 11,000 murders are “cleared” annually. But according to the US government’s own numbers, the annual percentage of trafficking and slavery cases solved is less than 1%. In 2007, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division obtained 103 convictions for human trafficking, with an average sentence of 9 years.


And to further complicate matters, when they are rescued, slavery survivors often deny their situation. There are several reasons for this: the language barrier, a deep sense of shame, fear for their lives and those of their families in their country of origin, and a sense of obligation to pay their debt. In addition, the traffickers work to brainwash them to fear the police and immigration officials. And in some instances, they come to identify with their keepers.


We don’t yet know how President Obama will respond to the human trafficking crisis; it’s too soon to tell. But we do know that the response under the Bush Administration was inadequate on any number of levels. In a speech on trafficking, Bush once stated, “We're beginning to make good, substantial progress. The message is getting out: We’re serious. And when we catch you, you’ll find out we’re serious. We’re staying on the hunt.” Strong words. But the unvarnished truth is, with less than 1% of the bad guys apprehended, and less than 1% of the victims freed, the flow of human “product” into America continues practically unchecked.


Finding out about the slave next door is the kind of knowledge you can’t “unlearn”; the only question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? It’s a question we must all answer for ourselves. We tend to think of our America as the country where slavery has no place; the dire truth is, we are pretty far from freedom, and it will take a lot of work and dedication – by the government, and by us - to make it so.


by Ron Soodalter, co-author (w/ Kevin Bales)
The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today Websites: Ron: www.RonSoodalter.com Kevin: www.freetheslaves.net

Free the Slaves is very happy to announce the upcoming publication of the paperback edition "The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adventures in Delhi’s Largest Prostitution District

Part of the Human Trafficking Students' series on HTP

By John Christopher Frame

We know it as a curse word—the worst one you can think of. But to this man, it was just a word for doing business. This stranger randomly approached me and repeated the word twice, perhaps to ensure I heard him, before he rattled off words that were mostly unintelligible.

“Beautiful call girl,” I half-understood, as the man using a dull gray blanket to keep warm on this chilly January afternoon listed as fast as he could the regions and areas the girls were from. “16 to 20 years old. Kashmir, Nepal…” The list went on. “1000 Rupees for an hour.” That’s about $20. Did he say two girls? I continued walking. He followed me.

Of all the pimps I met that day he looked the poorest, and was the most persistent. They all were persistent, though, assuming I wanted something that only a few dollars could “buy.” Face it. Why else would the only white guy in the whole vicinity be walking up and down the hottest red light district in Delhi?

But I was exactly where I wanted to be. I had heard so much about sex trafficking in India and had been learning about it in seminars at school, that I needed to see it for myself. And it was only a short walk from my hotel.

I walked down the busy street divided by a two-foot wide concrete boulevard. The buildings on both sides of the road were plastered with large business signs and billboards, some in Hindi, some in English. The left side of the street was lined with closed storefronts in dilapidated buildings, parked auto rickshaws, and trash. The right side had a longer stretch of old, bland-looking buildings with hardware stores on the ground level, brothels on the top. Because it was Sunday, nearly all the businesses were closed, securely shut with large metal garage doors that created a cold, dangerous feel to the area. The lack of business activities on the ground level belied the activities going on in the brothels above, easily accessed by unencumbered stairways, some of which had special lighting or were painted pink.

Men eagerly went up the stairways like cats pursuing their prey. A group of five or six young and jovial men piled down one stairway chatting amongst themselves and smiling. One adjusted his pants as he scurried with his friends down the covered sidewalk next to the closed-up shops. I assumed they were locals; maybe they were regulars.

A variety of pimps offered me a variety of women. Most of the dozen or so women I saw standing outside near the stairways looked like they were in their thirties and forties and were dressed in traditional Indian attire. However, the pimps were offering me girls and younger women.



I had been in Delhi for twenty days. Many men on the streets had tried to get my attention with toys and gadgets to buy. Countless men had asked me to ride their rickshaws. “Oh, America. Very good country,” business owners or travel agents trying to sell me a tour or taxi service would say in a thick accent after they asked me where I was from.

Interestingly, I found the pimps even more anxious and zealous about selling their “products” that help them survive—sex from girls and women—than the men who tried to sell me merchandise or transportation services I was not interested in. “Please come, son,” one pimp in his twenties pleaded with me. He wanted me to just look at the girls, and if I did not like them, I could just pay him a few cents. Then he said I would not have to pay him anything for just looking.

When the pimps solicited my business, they concentrated on what they were offering, not who they were offering. They offered the girls and women to me as products, not as people; as impersonal utilities, not individuals. The pimps never told me the names of the girls and women. Of course they did not tell me about their families who loved them, or the fact that maybe no one loved them. No, all of those considerations were left out of the sales pitches. Relationship with a “product” always has the potential to disrupt its sale.

I met one man who did not try to sell me anything. After I told him where I was from, he shook my hand and said, “Oh, my friend,” putting his hand on his heart. He was obviously fond of the USA, although I was suspicious that he was a pimp trying to make a sale, too. I later conjectured that he was not. Yet our conversation could have fooled any eavesdropper:

“You married?” he asked me.
“No,” I replied.
“You come for prostitution?”
“No, I’m just taking a walk,” I responded.
We met again moments later. He warned me not to go down the road any farther.
“Bad element,” he said. “Bad element.”

But I was undeterred and continued walking. It was interesting that he was so accustomed to prostitution in his neighborhood that, in his mind, it was normalized; perhaps something he even appreciated as a local commodity.

It is startling that human beings today, just like in days of old, are treated as property—as slaves. And it is sad that some women may even think of themselves as commodities. But that is not because they want to. My guess is that the woman who offered me “fucking” for 500 Rupees (about $10), or the one in bright yellow who nodded at me from the window of her second floor brothel, probably would not be offering themselves on the sex market if they were given another lot in life. A chance. An opportunity.

A former Boston prostitute told me once how hard it is for women to get out of the prostitution business. I imagine that the struggle is even greater among the poor in India.

Walking through the red light district in Delhi contextualized the sex trade for me. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon and only a few women were outside, I saw the sex trade up close. I met pimps who were desperate for business. I observed gleeful young men who had just enjoyed their time in a brothel. I talked to women who were willing to sell their bodies to me for a few bucks. I inferred from a man in the neighborhood that this enterprise was, dare I say, appreciated.

I spotted a police officer near the red light district and chatted with him. His outlook was grim. Prostitution exists “in every country, in every place,” he told me. Sexual exploitation is especially disturbing when its ubiquity normalizes its existence, and when its existence negates any consideration of its demeaning and illegal status.

I had traveled to Delhi at my own expense to work on a project involving food and poverty issues for a class back at Harvard. Given that a main research interest of mine is human trafficking, I stayed in India beyond the time needed for my project and visited The Emancipation Network in Kolkata, an organization that supports women who were, or are susceptible to being sexually exploited. They create jobs for women and teach them how to make items such as note cards, bags, wallets, and jewelry. Through empowerment and education they seek to help rehabilitate women so they may more easily reintegrate into society.

I had learned about sex trafficking from Restore International’s founder, Bob Goff, who came to my alma mater, Anderson University, two years before I went to India. He spoke to a captive audience about sex trafficking and the work that he and his organization had been doing to prosecute people who were exploiting women in Southeast Asia. I was impressed and inspired by Mr. Goff’s work in matters of fighting injustice around the world. He was making a difference. Could I ever do anything that would make a difference like him?

Let’s be honest. It is daunting to think about how we can be part of the solution to such a formidable and nefarious crime like sex trafficking. We wonder, How and where do I begin?

I propose two launching points: education and relationship. Learning about the realities of injustice and world atrocities is a natural first step to begin learning how to get involved in stopping them. And this educational process can be enriched if it is rooted in relationships with those for whom we wish to offer support and advocacy.

Building relationships with certain marginalized people, though, is not always practical, especially those who live in far away lands. There may be people in our local communities, though, who are victims of sexual exploitation from whom we can learn. Relationship contextualizes injustice because we learn not just about the what, we learn about the who.

I am thankful for my time at The Emancipation Network. It was there that I met women and children who deal every day with memories from, and issues involving, the sex trade. I ate with my new friends. I laughed with them. I heard about their struggles. They taught me Bengali words. I saw the beautiful goods they made and the sewing room where they made them. We made bracelets together and I tied the poorly made bracelet I had spent two hours making onto the wrist of a young woman who tied her beautifully made bracelet onto mine. Building relationships with those who have been de-humanized is an important component to making a difference in their lives and learning where we best fit in.

Similarly, it is also helpful to build relationships with others who are interested in learning about human trafficking issues. There is joy in meeting others who share similar concerns about important matters in the world. They may know about resources that can benefit our own understanding of injustice. They become an important community with whom we learn, serve, and grow together.

The world is filled with de-humanized women and the people who de-humanize them. But it is also filled with people who are interested in working to bring resolution to a problem that seems to have no resolution. Let’s meet one another. Let’s join forces. Let’s pursue education and build relationships as we begin our work to fight injustice.



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John is a recent graduate of the Divinity School at Harvard University. Beginning October 2010 he will be pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy at the University of Oxford, researching how religious organizations are seeking to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking among vulnerable females in India.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Human Trafficking Project and Human Trafficking Students


The Human Trafficking Project (HTP) and Human Trafficking Students (HTS) are partnering to help increase student engagement in raising awareness of modern slavery by jointly publishing the HTS Series as regular contributions on the HTP site. Moving beyond the horror of the story of modern slaves, the HTS Series publishes critical engagement pieces that emanate first and foremost from student interest.

The Series is peer reviewed in a way that supports new writers, posts high quality submissions, and enables the creation of a disciplined and diverse community-of-practice. Posts will range from creative writing and poetry to policy reviews and quantitative assessments.


HTS exists to advocate for further academic take-up of the topics of modern slavery and human trafficking. We also believe that students are and will be playing a central role in bringing these topics to light. To that end, we work hard and engage our network to support students in conceiving of, developing, editing and sharing their blog posts.

The first HTS piece will be published on 8/18/2010.

Monday, August 16, 2010

India's Garment Challenge

Indian apparel exporters jittery over US allegations of child labour26 Jul 2010, 0624 hrs IST,Shramana Ganguly Mehta,ET Bureau

The Economic Times

HMEDABAD: The worst fears of Indian apparel exporters have come true. Big Brother US, which accounts for 30% of India’s apparel exports worth $10 billion, has labelled India as a country that uses child labour in garment manufacturing.

The stand poses huge reputational risk to India that supplies garments to the likes of Wal-Mart, GAP, H&M, Diesel, M&S and Levi’s, all of which swear against child labour. With this, India’s status as an exporter is reduced to the likes of Argentina and Thailand, countries far lower in ranking. However, India still has some hopes as yet another list on countries employing forced child labour is up for review in September, and Indian authorities expect to convince the US counterparts by then.

Indian garment exporting industry shot into the limelight for all wrong reasons in 2007 when child labour was found working on GAP’s contracts in New Delhi. A year later, shutterbugs captured child labour at Tirupur, the knitwear apparel cluster in South India, working on UK retailer Primark’s orders.

The US Department of Labor on Monday put garments from Indian origin in the Executive Order 13126 list, thereby labelling them as “products, by country of origin, which the Department of Labor, State and Homeland Security believe might have been mined, produced or manufactured by forced or indentured child labour”. Even as India pulled up its socks to prove innocence to the US through diplomatic & legal channels, it was perhaps too little, too late to prevent the damage.

The recent move by the US has left the exporters unsettled, just two months before they go under yet another scanner, namely The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act. Both the lists have something in common — the use of child labour by the garment industry.

That India finds mention along with Argentina and Thailand in the list and with Nepal (in case of embroidered garments) has shocked the apex body of apparel exporters, Apparel Export Promotion Council. AEPC knows it too well now that it will have some serious persuasion to do with the US authorities who are due to review the TVPRA list in September.

While AEPC has already come up with a draft common compliance code (code of ethics) for the industry, it has also entrusted the Northern India Textiles Research Association to submit a report on forced labor in the industry shortly. AEPC has maintained that the information relied upon by the US Department of Labour is outdated and inaccurate and that the Indian garment industry should not be included in the lists.

However, its attorney in the US Brenda Jacobs representing the Sidley Austin LLP would have some serious persuasion to do with the US authorities. AEPC chairperson Premal Udani is learnt to be flying to Washington DC on August 19 to hold meetings with US officials concerned.

Udani told ET that the Common Compliance Code would be in place by August, by which time AEPC would hold a series of seminars pan-India to educate not just the exporters, but also their sub-contractors about the code of ethics. “We also intend to reach out to all apparel clusters in the country so that they get their basics right,” he said. Majority of AEPC’s 8,000 members comprises SMEs.

Although the EO list is valid for one year, India is banking its hopes in the next meeting when it would try to impress upon the US about its seriousness to deal with child labour to get off the TVPRA list. “If we are able to get India out of the TVPRA list, we should hope to get off the EO list in future,” Udani added.

**********************************************************************

In September, the United States listed India’s garment industry on their Executive Order 13126 Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor List, meaning that the garment industry in India is not free of child and forced labor. India is currently under a new round of examinations in which they hope to have their name cleared. Companies such as Wal-Mart, GAP and Levi’s have all made commitments against child labor, but these same companies also source from India. Many within the Indian garment industry are worried that continuing to have their name on the list of products with child labor will hurt the industry in the country and since the US is responsible for a third of the garment exports from India, there is reason for concern.

In 2007, child labor was discovered in Indian factories contracted to make garments for GAP. A year later, child labor was discovered at another factory with contracts from a UK company.

The Apparel Export Promotion Council of India (APEC) has written a code of ethics known as the Common Compliance Code by which the industry is to abide and expected to train exporters and their subcontractors on the code of ethics by August. The Northern India Textiles Research Association is expected to produce a report for APEC on child labor soon. India is convinced that the US’s decision to place them on the list is due to outdated information.

While APEC seems to have made steps towards ending child labor within the industry, particularly through the creation of industry standards, it is likely to be a difficult battle to have their name removed from the list so soon. Even if India were removed from the list, would the rest of the world be convinced that child labor in their garment industry is no longer a problem? Likely not.

Photo by Kay Chernush for the US Department of State

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tobacco's Other Dirty Secret

From the Independent:

Tobacco giant Philip Morris sold cigarettes made using child labour: Marlboro manufacturer admits 10-year-olds worked on Kazakh plantations


By Shaun Walker in Moscow
Thursday, 15 July 2010 Tobacco giant Philip Morris has been forced to admit that child workers as young as 10 have been subjected to long hours working on tobacco farms with which it has contracts in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, migrant workers at the farms, mostly from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, were subjected to conditions that often amounted to forced labour, as employers contracted by tobacco farms that sold their produce to Philip Morris International had their passports confiscated and were often made to do additional work for no pay. The company, which sources tobacco from Kazakhstan for cigarette brands sold in Russia and other former Soviet states, said it was taking "immediate action" to stop the abuses. In many cases families were expected to pay back unrealistic debts to intermediaries who had arranged for their journeys to Kazakhstan, in schemes that bear all the hallmarks of people trafficking.

The report also documented 72 cases of children working on the farms.
Philip Morris produces brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield in over 150 countries around the world, and purchased 1,500 tonnes of tobacco from Kazakh farms in 2009.

The company issued a statement yesterday saying it is "grateful" to Human Rights Watch for raising the issues, and "is firmly opposed to child labour and all other labour abuses". The company says it is implementing a range of measures to ensure the abuses end, such as working with local government and NGOs to ensure school access for children of migrant workers, and implementing a system of third party monitoring to ensure tobacco farms comply with strict guidelines.


Jane Buchanan, the report's author, blamed the Kazakh government as well as Philip Morris for the abuses. She said yesterday that progress had been slow with the authorities in discussions over bureaucratic hurdles and the need to provide schooling for migrant workers' children.
"The commitments from [the government] have been very vague," she said. "It has been a lot of work to get them to accept the idea that migrant workers, even if they are working illegally, still have fundamental rights." According to Ms Buchanan, Human Rights Watch had first approached the tobacco conglomerate with the allegations in October last year, and there has been a "regular and constructive dialogue" since. "However, we have done some more research recently, and it's clear that not all the things they promised have been fully implemented yet," she said.

One woman told the report's authors that young children had developed red rashes on their necks and stomachs after working with the tobacco, and there were also cases of dangerous pesticides being stored in living areas. During a single work day, tobacco harvesters can be exposed to a similar amount of nicotine as would be found in 36 average-strength cigarettes, and workers are at risk of contracting Green Tobacco Sickness, where nicotine is absorbed through the skin from contact with tobacco leaves. The illness causes nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle weakness and dizziness, and children are particularly susceptible due to their small body size. Migrant workers come to Kazakhstan from impoverished neighbouring countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan where there are few job possibilities. They are allowed to enter for up to 90 days without a visa, and the complications in securing official work permits mean that many end up working illegally, and are thus at their employers' mercy.

In one of many such stories, Almira, 45, travelled to Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan with her husband and two children last year. They were promised by the intermediary who drove them to a tobacco farm in rural Malybai that they would be paid a minimum of $2,300 (£1,500) for their work over the season. However, when they arrived they were told they would have to work off debts from the journey, and had their passports confiscated by the landowner.
"He treated us really badly," recalls Almira. "We couldn't defend ourselves, since we were on his land after all. We worked for 11 to 13 hours a day. The work was really hard." The family contemplated running away, but this was impossible. "Our passports were with the landowner, and we had no money. If we left, then all of our work would be for nothing. And without money, how would we even get back home from there?"

__________________________________________________

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, Hellish Work, Philip Morris has benefited from child and forced labor through contracts it holds with tobacco farms in Kazakhstan. Migrant workers from neighboring countries, come to work in Kazakhstan’s tobacco fields and occasionally bring their families. In total, Human Rights Watch found 72 children working in the fields, some of whom were as young as 10.

Additionally, there were incidences of passport confiscation and workers not being paid. Workers face unsafe conditions such as exposure to pesticides, and levels of nicotine equaling around 36 regular cigarettes in one day. Workers are also at risk for contracting Green Tobacco Sickness, which causes symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting and headaches; children are particularly vulnerable.

Some workers owed large debts to recruiters who arranged their travel and therefore felt unable to leave. Philip Morris promised immediate action, and committed to working with NGOs and local governments to ensure the children of migrant workers are in school. They also pledged to develop third party monitoring systems to ensure that strict policies are followed in the fields. Human Rights Watch is skeptical since they provided information from their research to the company last fall and recent research shows that conditions still have not improved.
Since the story broke, the United States Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce has asked Philip Morris to hand over any information it has about allegations of child or forced labor in the production of the tobacco it uses, as well as any allegations of document confiscation or unsafe living conditions. The committee also requested information on what the company has done to address these issues. It is unclear whether Philip Morris will respond to these requests, but the committee has asked them to provide the information towards the beginning of next month.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Human Trafficking Action & Events

Polaris Project is requesting action to support Ohio HB493, which would be Ohio's first law to criminalize human trafficking. Ohio is one of five states that still does not have a law addressing human trafficking.

The Not for Sale Campaign is accepting registrations for the Global Forum on Human Trafficking, which will be held in Yorba Linda, CA from October 14-15. Register now and receive a free t-shirt or gift certificate to the Freedom Store.

Change.org is asking for signatures on letters requesting that Hilton prevent child prostitution in its hotels by signing the EPCAT Code of Conduct.

Change.org also has a petition asking Craigslist to "make REAL change" in its adult services section, and providing several suggestions.

NOW-NYC is holding a Trafficking Action Network meeting on August 11, at 6:30 pm. For more information, click here.

On September 12, a member of CAST's survivor caucus will be speaking at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.

Image credit: Avital Gertner

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guestworker Teachers Defrauded in International Labor Trafficking Scheme

From CNN:



From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

SPLC Fights for Guestworker Teachers Defrauded in International Labor Trafficking Scheme

Hundreds of Filipino guestworkers lured to teach in Louisiana public schools were cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars and forced into exploitative contracts by an international trafficking ring run by labor contractors, according to a class action lawsuit filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Covington & Burling LLP.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 350 Filipino teachers working in Louisiana under the federal H-1B guestworker program. It accuses officials of two labor contractors – Universal Placement International, based in Los Angeles, and its sister organization, Manila-based PARS International Placement Agency – of human trafficking, racketeering and fraud. The suit also names the East Baton Rouge Public School System, several school district officials and a California lawyer, Robert Silverman, based on their roles in the fraudulent trafficking scheme.

"The outrageous conduct by the companies that recruited these teachers and those who assisted them in carrying out their scheme is part of a larger pattern of exploitation that we've documented in guestworker programs," said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer, author of the 2007 report Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States. "It's clear that the very structure of the program lends itself to pervasive worker abuse. Guestworker programs should not be the model for immigration reform."

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the home state of Universal. Included as defendants are Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, owner and president of Universal; Hothello "Jack" Navarro, a director at Universal; and Emilio V. Villarba, a representative of PARS. In 2000, Lourdes Navarro was convicted of defrauding California's MediCal program of more than $1 million and served a year in Orange County Jail. Villarba, Navarro's brother, was also charged in the scheme but was never apprehended and is now in the Philippines. In 2003, Lourdes Navarro also pleaded guilty in New Jersey to money laundering.

Public schools across America are increasingly turning to the H-1B guestworker program to fill teaching positions. According to a recent report by the AFT, the number of overseas teachers brought to the United States increased by nearly 30 percent between 2002 and 2006, from 14,943 to 19,393. The five states with the most overseas teachers are Texas, New York, California, Maryland and Louisiana, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

"For more than two years, we have been working toward this moment," said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. "The practices described in this lawsuit are disgusting, unacceptable and, frankly, un-American. We are very pleased to have the SPLC and Covington & Burling as partners in the pursuit of justice for these teachers and to put an end to these abuses."

About 200 of the teachers were assigned to the East Baton Rouge school system; others were spread among the Caddo Public School District, Jefferson Parish Public School System and the Recovery School District as well as other school districts in Louisiana. Only the East Baton Rouge district was named as a defendant.

The teachers began arriving in the United States in 2007 after each paid about $16,000, several times the average household income in the Philippines, to obtain the jobs. The H-1B guestworker program, administered by the Department of Labor, permits foreign nationals with special skills to work in the United States for a period of up to six years.

"These teachers have been victimized in ways reminiscent of the worst abuses students learn about in history class: labor contracts signed under duress and arrangements that remind us of indentured servitude," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "The goal of this lawsuit is to put an end to this exploitation, which should have no place in 21st-century America."

Nearly all the teachers had to borrow money to pay the recruiting fees; the recruiters referred them to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent interest per month. Teachers were forced to pay these exorbitant fees because they had already made substantial financial investments that would not be returned and because the recruiters confiscated their passports and visas until they paid. The teachers were also forced to sign away an additional 10 percent of the salaries they would earn during their second year of teaching. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and losing the thousands they had already paid. The recruiters also charged fees for arranging substandard housing and threatened teachers who complained or sought to move to a new location.

Ingrid Cruz said she and the other teachers were deceived into selling property, resigning from jobs, borrowing money and leaving behind children and friends in search of a more secure future. "We were herded into a path, a slowly constricting path, where the moment you feel the suspicion that something is not right, you're already way past the point of no return," Cruz said. She added that the teachers consider Louisiana their home and have a strong commitment to the state's children.

Under the guestworker program, workers facing exploitation generally must either continue working for the employer that brought them to the United States or return home. Because they often are left deeply in debt from exorbitant recruiting fees, they typically have little choice but to remain on the job.

"These teachers thought they were buying a piece of the American dream but instead were put in a nightmarish financial bind by labor contractors who operated a fraudulent trafficking scheme," said Dennis Auerbach, an attorney with Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C. "They've bravely come forward to correct this injustice and expose the abuses that many other guestworkers are undoubtedly also facing."

In a 2009 report, the AFT called on federal, state and local governments to take more vigorous action to monitor the hiring of migrant teachers by U.S. school districts. Among the steps needed is the adoption and enforcement of ethical standards for international recruitment of teachers, as well as better access to government data needed to track and study international hiring trends.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Judiciary Committee Approves Wyden-Cornyn Legislation to Combat Sex Trafficking


Follow up to Take Action on the Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act.

News Release . . .

United States Senate

Judiciary Committee Approves Wyden-Cornyn Legislation to Combat Sex Trafficking

Bill provides aid for sex trafficking victims while taking a hard line on the pimps and traffickers who exploit underage girls

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee sent a message to the perpetrators of modern sexual slavery today when it approved legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). The FBI estimates that each year more than 100,000 underage girls are exploited for commercial sex in the United States. The Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act will put forward a model for rescuing these young women by providing block grants for a six state pilot project that will give law enforcement enhanced tools for cracking down on the pimps who orchestrate sex trafficking while creating shelters and providing treatment, counseling and legal aid for the minor victims.

“Today’s bipartisan vote sends a clear message that sexual slavery will not be tolerated in the United States,” Wyden said. “Putting a real end to sex trafficking means doing more than just locking up those involved. A serious effort must also be made to address the factors driving the cycle of exploitation. Our approach will do this by focusing law enforcement on the real criminals – the pimps abusing underage girls for profit – while giving these young women the tools they need to escape their abusers.”

“These young victims pose unique challenges to law enforcement and service providers,” Cornyn said. “Their cooperation with authorities is often impeded by the victims’ fragile psychological state, and further complicated by the threat of physical violence posed by the evildoers who exploit children for profit. Our bill is aimed at developing collaborative programs to help victims begin the physical and mental healing process. Providing these services will dramatically increase the chances of a victim’s cooperation and help law enforcement bring down sex-trafficking rings, which are often associated with international criminal syndicates and street gangs.”

Block grant locations would be chosen by how they rate on criteria such as the presence of significant sex trafficking activity; demonstrated participation by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers; and a workable plan to provide comprehensive, wrap-around services to sex trafficking victims, including the establishment of a shelter facility.

Each block grant would be funded at $ 2 - 2.5 million per year and could be renewed for two additional years. Items to be funded by the block grants would include:

· A shelter for trafficking victims;

· Clothing and other daily needs in order to keep victims from returning to the street;

· Victims' assistance counseling and legal services;

· Education or job training classes for victims;

· Specialized training for law enforcement and social service providers;

· Police officer salaries - patrol officers, detectives, investigators;

· Prosecutor salaries, and other trial expenses;

· Investigation expenses - wire taps, expert consultants, travel, other "technical assistance" expenditures; and

· Outreach, education, and prevention efforts, including programs to deter offenders.

The bill will also help boost prompt reporting of information on missing and abducted children to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. More timely reporting will help law enforcement identify repeat runaways, who are statistically proven to be more likely to be lured into prostitution.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Susan Sarandon Campaigns Against Prosecution of Child Sex Slaves

From the Huffington Post on 3 August 2010:
Susan Sarandon has joined other celebrities and activists -- including Somaly Mam, a sexual slavery survivor and major force in the fight against child prostitution -- in calling for legislative action to protect children forced into sexual slavery.

Though children under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sex anywhere in the U.S., they can still currently be sentenced to juvenile hall for prostitution. Without the protection of Safe Harbor laws, children involved in the commercial sex trade can be prosecuted for their own abuse and exploitation in almost every U.S. state. Only N.Y., Conn., Ill. and Wash. state have put in place protective sanctions around children under 16 to keep them from being criminally charged with prostitution.

Read the full article here:

The Body Shop's Child Trafficking Petition

The Body Shop just started running a petition in the United States, to promote the passage of "safe harbor" laws which would prohibit prosecution of children under 18 for prostitution, and to instead provide resources for child victims. To sign the petition, click here or on the widget below:

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Human Trafficking Films

Many people first encountered human trafficking through the Lifetime film released in 2005. Others saw Slumdog Millionaire or Born Into Brothels. From mainstream films like Despicable Me and The Girl Who Played with Fire that use human trafficking in service of their plots, to documentaries like Playground, The Price of Sugar, and Very Young Girls, to fictionalized representations of trafficking like Holly and Svetlana's Journey, many filmmakers have presented human trafficking in a variety of different contexts for different purposes. This month, we take a look at some of those films.


Taken, released in 2008, was the first major American motion picture about human trafficking. It highlights the real and present danger that threatens people across all socioeconomic classes. In that respect, it deserves much credit. The film opened up discussions about an issue that has long been silenced. However, Hollywood was the overdramatic and far fetched facilitator in these discussions. Taken, although well intentioned, was a far too unrealistic film that promoted excessive violence and idealistic plots. Bryan, the main – and seemingly indestructible - character played by Liam Neeson, spends the entire movie trying to retrieve his teenage daughter back from traffickers after she was kidnapped in Paris during a vacation with her friend. Bryan attempts to navigate his way through a deep and intricate Paris trafficking ring almost solely on his own force and a few loose connections with French authorities. And of course, as in all similar vigilante justice movies, he dodges all the bullets, punches and explosions to emerge the victorious hero. Yes, the movie clearly suggests the danger that inevitably follows every aspect of human trafficking in the real world. But it fails to mention that it is not encouraged for one man to take on an entire human trafficking ring by himself – even if he is a former CIA paramilitary operative. The movie is so over the top dramatic that the audience is left with little more than exciting action packed scenes akin to Jason Bourne, Man on Fire, Braveheart – and come to think of it – every Denzel Washington movie ever made. What is grossly unfortunate, however, is that the storyline of women and children trafficked into prostitution is only a means to another man-on-a-righteous-rampage flick. In my opinion, Taken was a missed opportunity to educate Americans about a very dangerous and heartbreaking reality.

In just 23 short minutes, the movie Not For Sale by Marie Vermeiren attempts to demystify the deceptive forefront to a better known, and more widely accepted human trafficking industry- prostitution. What this documentary-style movie lacks in glamour and special effects, it makes up for in the hard facts that it constantly throws at the viewer in bold, large typeface. Survivors and women in politics use the film as a speaking ground against prostitution, using their own experiences as evidence to the exploitation of women and children involved. One of the main concerns of the film is the impending legality of prostitution worldwide, which they believe in affect legalizes the abuse, violence, and violation of human rights enacted on those involved. Educational and straightforward, this film is a perfect introduction into the reality of prostitution, its conventional misconceptions, and the psychological consequences of being treated as a sexual commodity. So mute the commercials during your favorite show or watch this on your iPhone on your commute to work, 23 minutes is all it takes to realize the horror of this issue, thanks to this short film. Go ahead, watch it online for free.

In 2008, Justin Dillon released the film Call + Response. After learning about human trafficking, he felt called to join the anti-trafficking movement, and decided to do it through his skills as a musician and artist. The "rockumentary" brings together commentary from many of the fields luminaries, including Kevin Bales, Madeline Albright, Nicholas Kristoff, Julia Ormand, and Cornell West, as well as musicians ranging from Cold War Kids to Natasha Bedingford and Imogen Heap. The film uses the first abolitionist movement of the 19th century as inspiration and to contextualize its thesis that "Music is part of the movement against human slavery. Dr. Cornell West connects the music of the American slave fields to the popular music we listen to today, and offers this connection as a rallying cry for the modern abolitionist movement currently brewing." The film aims to be a call/inspiration that demands a response in the form of action from it audience. Recently, Call + Response released various tool kits for hosting screenings. As Cornell West reminds us, "Justice is what love looks like in public," which is a call that certainly necessitates a response.

At least once a week someone asks if I have seen a particular movie on human trafficking. It is always awkward. Despite having studied and worked in this field for several years now, I intentionally avoid movies on the topic. At first, I did not really understand what made me reluctant to do so. I have trouble sitting still. I do not watch many movies in the first place, but my willingness to watch movies on human trafficking is less than normal. One day, I realized each film about human trafficking is meant to evoke strong emotions in the person watching, whether it is a drama or a documentary. I am person who takes on other people’s emotions easily and understands things the most when it is represented visually. In other words, movies on the topic of human trafficking shake my core and keep me up at night. When I first realized this, it was liberating. Since then, I have met others who share my sentiments. Working in the field of human trafficking can be emotional and daunting. Everyone has days where they want to quit. It is vital in this field that each person makes boundaries in order to avoid burn out. This is my boundary. I try to avoid movies on the topic of human trafficking because for me they are too emotionally draining and it threatens my ability to work effectively in the field.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Reaching Out to Youth: Comic Book on The Stories of Trafficking Survivors


HTP Readers - We have a special post for you! Olga Trusova, a Fulbright Fellow who researched issues of trafficking, education and prevention in Ukraine and Dan Archer, a comics-journalist from California and founder of www.archcomix.com have teamed up to produce Borderland, a comic book based on the stories of trafficking victims to help raise awareness particularly among youth. Please see more information from the authors below as well as a way to get involved!

Borderland comic is coming soon!
As many of you know, we have been working on a comic called Borderland over the past year. In Borderland, we wanted to explore the human trafficking equation from a new perspective—to challenge our understanding of this complex issue. Borderland tells seven stories about human trafficking based on real testimonies from survivors. From a pastry maker in Warsaw to a waitress in Istanbul, the underground world of human trafficking touches every aspect of modern life. Often in surprising and unlikely ways. We are thrilled to announce that Borderland will be printed and distributed to schools and youth in Ukraine by the International Organization for Migration this fall. Now we are looking for ways to reach a similar audience in the United States. Please, take a speak peak at the first story from Borderland on our website: http://www.borderlandcomics.com and pre-order your full copy on Kickstarter: http://kck.st/dfcJUS

Support Borderland on KickStarter
By pitching in you can help us raise $8,000 on KickStarter to support and complete this project. We have two goals: to print and distribute a hard copy of the comic in the U.S., complete with extensive footnotes, research notes and further links; and to create an interactive iPhone/iPad app to promote awareness of the issue to a younger, tech-savvy U.S. audience. By pledging as little as $5, you can help make this happen and, as a bonus, will get various goodies such as a signed hard copy of the comic book, posters, behind the scenes pack, your name in the acknowledgements page, and more. Go to http://kck.st/dfcJUS and pledge!

About the Authors
Olga Trusova, a Fulbright Fellow from Stanford University, spent a year conducting research and collecting authentic stories told by victims of human trafficking in Eastern Europe. Dan Archer, a comics-journalist from California, a founder of www.archcomix.com and 2010 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow, has turned these testimonies into comics to create a comic book anthology project titled Borderland. The project began with a belief that as consumers of various goods and services, people should be aware of where those goods and services come from and at what cost. The U.S. government has tremendous influence on foreign governments and their policies, therefore it is important to bring its citizens' attention to such a powerful issue through an innovative combination of comic art and interactive technology. By reading Borderland, you help make the change!

I also had a chance to interview Olga Trusova, one of the co-authors, about this effort. Here a few of her responses:

EG: What about your research in Ukraine led you to believe that a comic book would be a good way to spread the message about trafficking?

OT: About a year ago I came to IDEO's Social Impact Lab with a question of "How might we prevent human trafficking?" that I was trying to answer as an upcoming Fulbright Fellow in Ukraine. A lot has happened since our initial brainstorm and I'm glad to share that one of the solutions proposed by IDEO folks back then has now become a reality! I decided to focus on comics and interactive storytelling as a way to engage with young audiences in order to raise awareness about this issue. It will be printed and distributed by the International Organization for Migration in 136 schools across four regions of Ukraine in the first pilot this Fall.

EG: Even though it is through a comic book medium, do you feel young students are able to understand human trafficking despite the complexity and difficulty of the material?

OT: I've conducted a number of focus groups with students in Ukraine and found that they were very excited to see comics about Ukrainians in Ukrainian. A lot of them were familiar with manga and American comics, so it was an easy medium for them to understand. I was also glad to see how many discussions sparked after the feedback session (with "Lera's Story" in particular, students were wondering why Lera felt unhappy in the end, how she got her job, why she wanted to find her mother in the first place, and so on). That is really the point of this comic - to promote an open dialogue about a taboo subject in a society that is highly affected by this horrific issue. While NGOs put together comprehensive materials with statistics, hot line info, and case studies, youth don't really relate to such dry documents and often prefer to read comics and play video games. Yet they are the ones who will be making life changing decisions soon. My goal was to start a mind shift in how we think about human trafficking in addition to teaching kids tips and tricks on how to avoid it.

EG: Will the stories be redone in any way for a U.S. audience compared with the Ukrainian series?

OT: In Borderland, I wanted to explore the human trafficking equation from a new perspective—to challenge our understanding of this complex issue. The comic will be available in Ukrainian, Russian, and English for a wider reach. This way it'll be used as a preventative tool among youth in Ukraine on the one hand, while on the other - it'll serve as a way for spreading awareness in the West.