From Survivor to Surviving

We hear many things about survivors. How brave they are, how it’s a miracle that they are still alive, etc. Whatever the situation was, this person is here to tell their story. But what happens after their story is told? Over and over again. There is another level of survivor that they now must go through, the level of survivng. Mental traumas lead to mental breakdowns, PTSD becomes a lifelong struggle and the world is not a kind place for someone who fights with these issues.  Imagine being afraid just to go to the grocery store on the corner because you know there are look outs waiting for the chance to see you alone to re-victimze you. The slightest glance from a stranger can send you into a frenzy and someone accidently brushing your arm turns into a full blown attack. These are triggers, triggers that a lot of human trafficking survivors must survive if they are to continue to live a full, independent and purposeful life.
Encouraging a survivor to constantly relive their nightmare by speaking of their story on a continuous basis sets them up for severe trauma. How are they supposed to move on if no one is allowing them. This is used by countless organizations for funding purposes with little regard for the survivors well being because, “it’s okay you know, we’re giving them counseling.” No amount of “counseling” is going to release them from the constant pain that they feel every time they tell they’re story. It makes me think of the Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped by Isis and turned into sex slaves. These women have suffered severe trauma on many fronts. When they tell their stories-which are incredibly horrific-they cry uncontrollably. There’s a reason for that.  They don’t want to remember, they just want to move on. But yet here they are on almost every international news media station telling their story-yet again being re-traumatized. They have escaped and survived Isis, now they must learn how to keep surviving when the onslaught of media, NGOs and society come pounding on their door.
If there is one thing that I have learned doing this work is that no matter where a survivor is from, they are all treated the same. Governments, NGOs, Non Profits and even well intentioned Activists all play a part in re-victimizing them. Sickening enough, some of them know what they are doing is wrong but they keep doing it because it makes them look like a “Good Person.” There are programs that will sheild and offer safety, but they also create dependence. It’s like if you want us to help you, you need to do something for us so you will continue to get our help. Too many survivors know the familiarity of this statement. Give something to get something. This is not the way to help survivors and try to end human trafficking because this method will more than likely push them back into slavery. Co-dependence, overworked and underpaid counselors, services that do not meet their needs and dealing with a lifetime of depression are just some of the elements that will push them into being re-trafficked.
Once a person has made it to survivor they must learn what that actually means and the current definition is not doing it justice. It’s not enough to be a survivor, you must learn how to survive so that you will not be re-victimized.

Struggling To Help The Undocumented

I love what I do-seriously, even though I maybe struggling financially at the moment I will always have a passion for helping women and girls all over the world who are suffering. Having said that, my work brings me to places of fear, desperation and uncertainty. It can be difficult and challenging when you are working with someone who isn’t legal and needs immediate assistance, coupled with being undocumented and your government just wants then out. My fear for these women is that ICE will break into their place of residence and drag them away kicking and screaming and there is nothing I or any other organization can do because we are now told  immigrants are not welcome. There is little if any wiggle room to work with where we can make them feel some sense of security with the current administration.  It’s impossible.
My question is, why does the White House have a human trafficking task force when a good portion of the women and men who are trafficked  from other countries are at high risk of getting deported and there case never looked at? I guess first daughter Ivanka Trump thinks that only white women get trafficked. Well, here’s a fun fact, white women & girls account for a very small 1% of women in the US being trafficked. There rest are women & girls of color and foreign women, and that’s pretty much the way it is. To put a false image on the issue and not know what your doing at all is very dangerous. There are survivors of color and diferent ethnicities on the White House Task Force but sadly, they are not shown anymore or given a voice at all. Not only is it disillusioned, it’s fake news of the worst kind.
Whatever they’re doing in the White House when it comes to human trafficking, they should be talking about undocumented survivors and how they can be protected. Part of the issue is that when let’s say for example a raid happens. The women are taken into custody by the police as a criminal now with a criminal record in the US. This gets put in a database where homeland security & ICE are scrolling through to see who they need to deport as per executive orders by the president. Even though this survivor is getting services and is in a shelter, the second they step outside for anything, they are a target for ICE. Even though the lawyer assigned to their case is working on a T visa for them, it doesn’t matter. These stories are just as heartbreaking and enraging as when families are split or wrongfully deported.
The game has changed. We are no longer a country that provides sanctuary, no longer a place for dreams and a better life. Our government has basically said you are not welcome, you don’t belong here and you will never make America  great. I still don’t understand how we got here but it does seem inevitable. We are not an old country that has been around for as long as the rest of the world. This country has now grown from a toddler to a narccisistic, spoiled, arrogant,  materialistic, racist teenager that will never mature at this rate. No one wants to hang out with us anyore and have formed war cliques waiting for our downfall. Part of what makes this country great is diversity, culture and race. That’s exactly what made New York the Mecca of the US.
C’mon ‘Merica, when are you going to grow up?!

Is Legalized Prostitution A Good Thing?

I recently came back from Europe where I spoke at a university in Tubingen, Germany. In front of a U.S. Criminal Law class of bright, idealistic students from many different countries, I explained my work and the dark side of the laws and legislations that are supposed to protect women and girls from human trafficking. Being that this was a working crimanl law class where there was a “mock” lobbying exercise to show students what it means to argue both sides of the law in order to get the legislation you’re lobbying for passed. The topics ranged from should the death penalty be legal (taking into account the mass incarceration problem in the U.S.) to should everyone have the right to bear arms to should prostitution be legal.
The topic of lobbying to legalize prostitution surprisingly, was not a big hit with the students. In fact some didn’t even realize that Germany had recently legalized prostitution. Hamburg boasts to be one of the biggest Red Light districts in Europe with legalized prostitution-never speaking about trafficking. Despite the fact that they had to find the pros of legalizing it, all they could think about was the cons of making it legal or a viable job for that matter. This is a hard subject to debate let alone lobby for. The young ladies in the group found it especially hard because they understand that a lot of young women their age are forced into prostitution and trafficked. How could they possibly lobby for something that will hurt them and many others their age. But again this is a “mock” lobbying exercise so it’s not real. But it sure felt real.
This is also a debate that has been discussed in the U.S. There is signifigant backlash to legalizing it and massive support for the Nordic Model implemented by Sweden. But our research turned from the U.S. to Gemany very quickly once it was found out prostitution was legalized in their country.
Studies done by German scholars show that there are signifigantly larger reported incidences of human trafficking where prostitution is legal. They say that this is the case regardless of the model being used to come to this conclusion. The same outcome is reported overall and is not specific to a particular region in the world. Even if prostitution resides in a legal status, it can still operate illegally thus increasing the supply and demand which in turn will increase legalized prostitution with no clear evidence of human trafficking taking place. Legalization will also push Pimps and Traffickers to recruit more local or national women or foreign women without legal residency.  Conversely there will be an insufficient supply of national and foreign individuals who are “willing”  to work in prostitution making trafficking more attractive to the Pimps and Traffickers. In the end, none of this will reduce the numbers of trafficked women.
Clients to patronize this industry have specific tastes and they are always looking for something “exotic” from a remote area of the world, this is the perferred demographic. Keeping up with this demand makes it more and more unlikely that women coming into the country will have legal status which leads them directly into trafficking. Germany has a tough stance on women being in their country illegally. If they are not willing to testify against their pimp and recount their story, they are immediately deported back with no services or resoures of any kind. Research on a study of Denmark and Sweden shows that in 2004 Denmark had 2,500 individuals who were trafficked into their country vs. 500 individuals in Sweden where the Nordic Model was introduced. This is according to a global data report.  Denmark, however, is signifigantly larger than Sweden and has 6,000 women in prostitution which is three to four times larger than Sweden. Despite this, the two countries have their fair share of trafficked persons whether prostitution is legal or illegal. Sweden’s Nordic Model is continually reducing the demand by arresting those who buy sex and forcing them to pay penalties.
Unlike Sweden, Germany is more liberal with their prostitution laws. Today in Germany prostitution is regarded as a “regular job” that is subject to taxes and available to any woman that is “willing” to take the risks and dangers that come with the job. Based on a global data report Germany has one of the largest prostitution markets in Europe with 150,000 people working as prostitutes.The number of prostitutes in Germany is more than 60 times that of Sweden regardless of their population of 82 million. According to the ILO, in 2004 the estimated number of trafficked victims in Germany was approximately 32,800-about 62 times more than Sweden. It’s not clear what that number is today, i’m inclined to say it has tripled but there is nothing to support that at this time. Germay legalized prostitution to not only regulate it but to increase profits for the country without any-if at all-regard for those individuals who will be trafficked as a result. More and more they are starting to see that this was a mistake, one that they can’t take back-that would probably start a riot with men who feel they are entitled to a woman’s body no matter the cost.

We're Not Just Fighting Against The Slave Trade

We put all of our effort into changing laws, policies and the minds of society while we are battling the sex trade industry. But there are others that are fighting against us. We are not all “united” in this war in ending human trafficking, in fact we have leaks that have turned into gapping holes. With so many women and girls caught up in the commercial sex industry, their voices are being stifled by the shouts of women’s sexual empowerment and entitlement that do not fit every situation. The world of feminism seems to be selective. Then again so does the world of fighting sexual slavery. When posters go up to bring awareness and education to communities about human trafficking, they’re often depicting a young, skinny, attractive white girl. This young woman is either on a floor or a bed, scantily clad or just plain naked. And if that doesn’t make you understand, let’s wrap some heavy chains on her wrists and ankles, that should make anyone want to support the cause. Right? Wrong.
More often than naught the young women that are entrapped in human trafficking are girls of color and they did not get picked up from a model shoot. These are REAL girls, as real as they come. No matter what age they are, they look like your sister, cousin, aunt, mother and grandmother. They’re bodies are not toned and perfect, these are women who have been used over and over again. How toned and perfect do you think a woman will look after been treated like an animal and deemed useless to the world? There has been scrutiny expressed towards these types of awareness campaigns, but to no avail. I still see them everywhere and it’s like people have given up on trying to change that image and all other images that depict human trafficking as a certain “type” of woman. It’s probably because there are those of us that feel it’s better to help the actual girls instead of getting involved in what some think is a petty issue. But that petty issue can poison society as to what a human trafficking victim looks like or how she is treated and in the end my friends, that will make our job that much harder.
Enter Hollywood. This has been the bane of my existence ever since I started working closely with this issue and the women and girls involved. I sometimes have a hard time watching television or even some movies. In just about every tv show there is some inappropriate reference to a woman selling herself and to a man buying her and a “Badass” woman revealing she was a Madame and had girls under her, because you know, it’s funny and cool. And the there’s Hollywood movies. I say this with the most heaviest of hearts and loudest of sighs, Taken 1, 2 and maybe even 3. (I’m sure there gearing up for that so some out of work actors can make a comeback & think they’re fighting a social issue).  The blatant inaccuracies and inequities of these movies are stunning. The only slightly (and I mean slightly) good thing these movies do is open up society’s mind to the issue, albeit not realistically but somewhat none the less. When someone says to me that they saw a movie about trafficking called Taken, first I cringe but then I realize it’s not their fault, then I begin the re-education process. Some get it and some just want to live in the fantasy Hollywood created. Some Hollywood actors who need an image boost or just attention in general, will take up the cause of human trafficking and swoop in as if they are the hero and the ONLY one who can stop the modern day slavery epidemic.  We see people such as Ashton Kutcher speaking on panels he really has no business being on, talking statistics he has no justification for and basically falsifying information that was not approved by law enforcement all the while never hearing survivor voices. Because it’s all about him and look what he did! Some may argue that he’s getting the message out to the generation that doesn’t know. But what kind of message is that exactly? There are grassroots, boots on the ground professionals that actually WORK on the issue filling schools and places where young people are to educate them on human trafficking. Also, survivors are speaking more and more. This is where they should learn about human trafficking. Ashton Kutcher will not be able to tell young girls that they are more at risk for being trafficked and how to avoid it. He doesn’t have the capacity to give workshops on trauma, PTSD and violent relationships. Really? This is where you want young people to get there information from? That’s like a young person learning about love watching pornography. It’s not real and it will damage you severely.
Music Industry. There is a lot to say about this and almost none of it is good. It’s important to understand that women who chose to be an artist don’t necessarily sign up to be a sexual object. But that’s the price of fame right? You want to be popular, on everyone’s mind, sell a lot of music and sell out shows so you have to sell yourself as well. Of course it’s not the same for men, they get to wear clothes. Depiction and image has a lot to do with product. If it’s a female music video with a woman singing or rapping she is rarely dressed with other girls wearing even less around her and are considered “less than” compared to her. Image is not the only thing, what she says is just as important. It’s empowering for a woman to talk about how she can sexually please her man while he degrades her and how she’s above all other women. The male music video paints a much darker picture. The women are practically naked and at their feet as is popular with rappers like PitBull, while they talk about how worthless she is and that she is only there to satisfy his twisted sexual desires. And that is just about EVERY music video now. The dehumanization of women and girls in the music industry has gotten more lascivious over the decades. All of this fuels the idea that it’s cool to act like these women in the videos and that they’re really happy. This marketing strategy is not only geared toward young women, it’s young women of color especially those that come from dysfunctional families and poverty. It doesn’t stop at the music, the way the girls are dressed or not dressed in the videos are being sold as fashion in stores. Girl’s are buying it because they want that look, they feel it makes them look beautiful because they’ve never known their own worth. Through no fault of her own she can find herself in a situation of entrapment and not know how to get out. She thinks she looks beautiful but traffickers see something else.  They see a young women who puts all of her worth in her body and using that for attention, so they will look to capitalize off of that. Unfortunately, they usually do.  Fashion and music have been a couple since inception, this pair has become toxic.
Pornography. I think this should be self explanatory. If it’s not then talk to a marriage that has been destroyed by it or a child whose parent, religious leader, family member or friend  molested them because of it.
In this fight we are not just up against a $150 billion industry that is selling the bodies of women and girls, we are fighting systems put in place to feed this machine. It’s a battle to the death.

Students of Criminal Justice & Trafficking-Germany

I will be traveling to East Berlin, Germany to speak with students at a university who are studying criminal justice and other social ills that plague our world to better understand how to fight them. Discussions will consist of how the legal system in the US is treating victims of human trafficking to re-exploitation and re-victimization of survivors through non profits and agencies who use survivors as  funding sources. This is a huge problem in Amercia, the same issue that is keeping women, girls as well as boys and men in bondage is the same thing that keeps survivors dependent on these non profits that say they are “helping” them. If haven’t already fingured it out-it’s money. Federal and State funding sources have created a human rights competition between, non profits, NGOs and government agencies for funding that will keep them running and their services going.
When I travel to other countries I find that’s not always the case. I mean sure there are some state entities in those countries that are very closed off to other organizatons, but that’s because they’re usually getting funded by-you guessed it-the United States. I find that there are many organizations that want to mirror the United States because they feel what we do works. But when you are working closely with survivors who went through one of these programs, there is a different picture painted. It’s important that other countries see what’s really happening in America and it’s also important that we listen to survivors. What ever is being shown to them is in stark contrast to what is really going on. Our criminal justice system in dealing with trafficking victims is not perfect and often times doesn’t seem to get it right. So now they’ve created a new program called the Trafficking Intervention Courts. In fairness this is a pretty new program but it is not without it’s flaws. It’s not certain if the flaws are being recognized so that they can be fixed or that the crininal justice system sees nothing wrong with the program.
Every Friday morning bright and early, young women are arraigned in these Trafficking Intervention Courts to determine if they were actually a victim of trafficking. In the courtroom there are various non profit agencies vying for the attention of the judge and the survivor to provide services. It’s like a virtual turf war. The young lady has just come out of a horrific situation and now has to deal with programs that she is not sure are right for her. The problem with these Trafficking Intervention Courts is that everybody and I mean everybody is looked as as a trafficking victim. That’s not always the case. A young woman who is picked up is assumed that she has a pimp and is being trafficked when in reality she chose it. Now there could be a number of reasons as to why she did but the most common one is, economic instability. Giving this person the same services as trafficking victim receives is misguided and harmful. The agencies that provide these services should recognize this as well but they’re looking for clients because more clients equal more funding.
This will be a lesson that a Germany and many other countries should be aware of. It is understood that Human Trafficking is the biggest global scourge of humanity-no doubt about it. But if we don’t look at the complexities as to why so many are pushed one way or another into the commercial sex industry we will be missing out on key factors that show the differences between a trafficking survivor or someone just trying to survive. One thing that must be stressed, especially in countires that have a legal red light district, is that selling your body should NEVER be an option as a viable job for a woman. You will be signing her death certificate, literally. Instead create good sustaining jobs so that they can live a life of freedom and humanity, it’s just good common sense.