Guest Post on Restore One’s Blog

Nelli wrote a guest blog post for anti-trafficking organization Restore One, “a ministry that seeks to open shelters that offer faith-based residential recovery programs, free of cost to American boys who are survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking.” Nelli writes about how she became involved with anti-trafficking initiatives and what keeps her inspired.

Click the link below to be redirected to Nelli’s blog post, and be sure to leave a comment and/or share the post!

Nelli’s Restore One Guest Blog Post 

#FlashbackFriday: Take Action! To End Human Trafficking Event

the twitter convo that started it all

It was this Twitter conversation with Pace University’s Center for Community Action and Research (CCAR) that started it all.

The “Take Action! To End Human Trafficking Event” hosted by CCAR was the first petition event I semi-organized and actively participated in. I’m usually the person who signs petitions and talks to friends about it; and there was that one time in my freshman year I sat behind CCAR’s petition table and asked people to sign the petition to raise awareness on the illegal use of coltan (a mineral used in the production of electronics) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I can’t remember how I felt about that experience since that was early into my first semester of freshman year. That experience must have had a positive impact, though, since I came back a year later to work with CCAR to make this event happen. CCAR and I decided to use the International Justice Mission’s (IJM) “100 Postcard Challenge” as the petition, since each postcard asks Congress to be accountable in making efforts to end human trafficking in the USA and other nations. Additional petition sheets were made and addressed to Senator Gillibrand; those were titled “Take Action to Help Strengthen Child Welfare Response to Trafficking.” That second petition specifically asked Senator Gillibrand to cosponsor the relevant bipartisan version of the “Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2013” (H.R. 1732 and S. 1823), as many state and local agencies need to improve their ability to protect children from trafficking and exploitation.

1551780_10152143676225606_710230365_n(1)When I think back on the day of the event, the first thing that comes to mind is the people who did not listen to me and/or who did not want to sign the petition.  When I approached people, some walked away (whenever that happened, I told myself that they must have been so affected by what I said they needed a moment to recover), others listened for a bit but felt uncomfortable signing the petition, and others came up with excuses to not sign the petition. Excuses ranged from admitted laziness to “having an appointment” (yes, eye-rolling to friends while saying that to me is very mature and honest), and to saying “I really don’t care. Human trafficking doesn’t affect me at all.” That last excuse was the most offensive thing said during that one hour of petitioning, and it took a lot of will in me to not react negatively. It was a male who had said the “I really don’t care” quote to me; therefore, taking inspiration from his sandwich, I launched into an appeal as to how the tomatoes in his sandwich could have been harvested by trafficked labor workers from Mexico. However, I didn’t finish explaining the full scenario as the guy abruptly turned around and left. At that point I was completely infuriated with him, since he wasted 10 precious minutes which I could have used in getting other signatures. (I complained about that guy for about a week to my friends; at that point, they were completely over this guy and felt bad for him and annoyed at me. It wasn’t until Professor Nayak gave us a paper of “Some lessons about activism” excerpted  from “Karachi feminist” that I realized I had been doing the wrong thing. As stated in point 11, “Stop bitching about people. Bitch about the positions they take. Stop overpowering the debate by problematizing everything and everyone.”)

On a positive note, I remember excitement in having three friends sign up to table the event; two of them went to the library and cafeteria to ask people to sign the petition, while my other friend manned the table with CCAR. I covered the front lobby, the honors lounge, and school hallways (starting from the second floor all the way to the sixth floor), talking to people who were loitering and eating lunch. Since this was my first time going up to people and asking them to sign the petition, I was extremely nervous the first few times and embarrassingly stumbled upon my words. But after talking to people after a few minutes, the words came out easier and I was more fired up than ever to not get shut down.

One of the many responsibilities as an activist is to advocate for causes in a way that IJM postcardsdoesn’t demonize people or insult their intelligence. The issue also has to be presented in a way that is relatable to people for them to make connections to their personal life. That is one of the hardest things you have to do as an activist, especially if you were not personally affected by the issue. It has me question my role as an activist and wonder if there is any validity to what I am advocating for. After all, “The privilege of continued visibility and having a voice is immense, but also tyrannical as you get older. Embrace responsibility with wisdom.  Don’t be a dinosaur who won’t shut up.” (“Some lessons about activism.”) My friends and I walked into this event not knowing what to expect since this was our first time doing active petition work; we just approached this thinking “What happens, happens.” We were fueled by our passion for anti-trafficking initiatives and excitement in having this event come to life. I found it interesting that my two friends who asked people in the library and cafeteria didn’t meet so much resistance as I did while I walked around the front lobby and school hallways; though of course, the library and cafeteria environments foster a more dynamic “academic” group setting compared to the school hallways and front lobby.

I don’t think there is a quick way to measure the impact petitions have on enforcing policy changes, since it usually takes awhile to accumulate the number of petitions required to get the government’s attention. But petitions are a great way to bring attention to issues that are otherwise ignored or stay under researched. Of course, one can’t help but wonder if the person who signed the petition will remain interested in pursuing the issue. I think that the success of a petition event stems from the amount of people power put into it, especially the proactive measures taken to ensure a large amount of acquired signatures. If my friends and I had not approached people, we would not have gotten our total result of 150 signatures – and while that may seem small in quantity, that is actually the highest number of signatures CCAR received for a petition event. I feel as if I’ve been through some “right of passage” or “initiation” having participated in my first petition event for anti-trafficking measures, and I’m excited to do similar events in the future.

take action to end human trafficking ccar event

CCAR’s Take Action! To End Human Trafficking Event was covered in the March 2014 issue of Pace University’s Pforzheimer Honors College newsletter. The article was written by petition volunteer Victoria Gonzalez, and it can be accessed here on pages 4 and 5.

Sources:
Some lessons about activism.” Oil is Opium. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2014.

UPDATE: Anti-Trafficking Reads for Summer 2014

I shared the previous blog post below in the anti-trafficking LinkedIn groups I am a member of, as well as on my personal Twitter account. On Twitter, I tweeted several organizations and people involved in the anti-trafficking movement; I was a bit hesitant to do so since I wasn’t sure if people or organizations would get back to me, but they did! I’ve received an overwhelming amount of responses from people (anti-trafficking campaigners and non-profit/non-governmental representatives) commenting on my LinkedIn group post or replying to me on Twitter. I am literally shaking in excitement just thinking about the books and movies I’ll be accessing this summer!

A screenshot of one of my LinkedIn group discussions:

LinkedIn antitrafficking literature responses

If you have any recommendations for anti-trafficking literature, please leave a comment. I would love to start my library on anti-trafficking resources and build it as a community since it will be a lengthy process.

Anti-Trafficking Reads for Summer 2014

The last week of April hints at the dreaded final exam week in May. But after that comes summer, which is always pleasant to think about. While I am still unsure as to how I will be spending my summer, one of the things on my Summer 2014 bucket list is to immerse myself in anti-trafficking literature. Below are books that will be my starting point.

Note: Since I have never read the books and I discovered them by chance, their book summary comes directly from Amazon.com.

Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery

Walking-Prey-Cover2“In Walking Prey, advocate and former victim Holly Austin Smith shows how middle class suburban communities are fast becoming the new epicenter of sex trafficking in America. Smith speaks from experience: Without consistent positive guidance or engagement, Holly was ripe for exploitation at age fourteen. A chance encounter with an older man led her to run away from home, and she soon found herself on the streets of Atlantic City. Her experience led her, two decades later, to become one of the foremost advocates for trafficking victims. Smith argues that these young women should be treated as victims by law enforcement, but that too often the criminal justice system lacks the resources and training to prevent the vicious cycle of prostitution. This is a clarion call to take a sharp look at one of the most striking human rights abuses, and one that is going on in our own backyard.”

I follow Holly Smith on Twitter, as she responded to me a few times during a Don’t Sell Bodies Twitter chat hosted last summer. She is very active on social media and is a frequent “Tweeter”;I often find out the latest news and reports on anti-trafficking efforts from her Twitter feed. I am quite excited to read her book as she has been promoting at least a few months before it was released in March 2014.

The Destiny of Zoe Carpenter 

“The Destiny of Zoe Carpenter follows the invincible Zoe Carpenter and morphing sidekick Carl as they2940148880455_p0_v2_s260x420 each discover their purpose in life and fight crime, including human trafficking.  Book aims to teach and start a conversation about human trafficking, real facts about the subject are included in the book.” 

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of an illustrated book to educate readers on human trafficking, and I’m hoping it won’t have too much or any sensationalized information as a way to keep readers interested.

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir

GLU_flatimage“With the power and verity of First They Killed My Father and A Long Way Gone, Rachel Lloyd’s riveting survivor story is the true tale of her hard-won escape from the commercial sex industry and her bold founding of GEMS, New York City’s Girls Education and Mentoring Service, to help countless other young girls escape ‘the life.’ Lloyd’s unflinchingly honest memoir is a powerful and unforgettable story of inhuman abuse, enduring hope, and the promise of redemption.”

I actually read Lloyd’s book two years ago for the final project for my Introduction to International Relations class. However, it made it to this list as several details of the book remain vague and I would like a refresher. It was The New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and Lloyd who sparked my passion for anti-trafficking initiatives; I am honestly waiting for the day I get to meet them and tell them how much their work has inspired me. I’m going to purchase my own copy of the book since I think I’ve borrowed (and extended the borrowing time) enough times from my university’s library to know that I need my own copy of the book.

Besides starting summer off by reading the three books mentioned above, I’ll also be reading Professor Donna M. Hughes‘ research papers on human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts. Professor Nayak recommended her when we talked about sources for me to consult while writing my policy brief on female perpetrators in human trafficking. If all goes well with my policy brief, concept paper, and briefing memo I wrote for Professor Nayak’s Advanced International Relations class, I might email Professor Hughes to ask her a few questions about female perpetrators and their role in human trafficking.

Do you have any suggested book titles to add to my summer 2014 reading list? If so, please let me know. I won’t be taking any classes this summer because I want to focus on writing weekly for this blog and expanding its presence.  Summer will grant me almost unlimited time to read as many anti-trafficking materials as possible, and I want to take advantage of that before the 2014-2015 school year begins.

“Forum Theater” to Combat Human Trafficking

When it comes to advocating for anti-trafficking awareness, theater is the last thing that comes to my mind. I can envision online campaigns, petitions, tabling events, and any other type of public outreach happening on a day to day basis. Theater, for me, was reserved for one room spaces with big crowds dressed up for the night’s performance and sitting rather stiffly. That is an old-school way of looking at theater influenced by my love for classic black and white films from the 90s. So, I was rather surprised to see the above video from Moldova  as one of my Google search results when I typed in “human trafficking theater.”

This video focuses on a new type of theater called “forum theater”, which is a  “method of participatory theater, where spectators are asked to change the outcome of the play.” (Presse) In the video, audience members participate by raising their hands to answer questions and/or are given the chance to join the actors on stage and reenact a scene to provide an alternate ending and a solution.  This is a refreshing way for viewers to get educated about an issue, especially for a nuanced topic that can be difficult to portray. I think that storytelling through theater and having the audience engage with actors and actresses during the performance brings a level of realism to the issue which thus convinces the audience of the issue’s seriousness.

Brysk states in her book, Speaking Rights to Power: 

“The politics of persuasion have an affinity to theater. Theater has been a privilege of human rights critique since Antigone, while the key ‘secular’ human rights vehicles of trials, truth commissions, and public protest all take theatrical forms. Theatrical treatments of human rights include documentary or historical theater, participatory ‘street’ or community theater, allegories and politicized restagings of classical tales, and psychodramas like Death and Maiden (Rae 2009).”

It’s funny because now that I’ve finished writing this blog post, I’ve realized that I’ve actually heard about and talked to someone (quite briefly though, in my defense) about human trafficking in theater – specifically with Ashley Marinaccio of Girl Be Heard. We didn’t delve extensively into that conversation, however, as I had just met her in passing through a mutual friend. I am a HUGE fan of Girl Be Heard, especially how they utilize public space to act out their scenes and monologues. Pace University’s GENERATION WHY does an excellent job in doing that as well, though I’m not sure if they’ve done a performance piece on human trafficking. Either way, social justice issues being portrayed through theatrical means provides whole new level of understanding for actors and actresses since they have to personate their character’s experiences while learning about the specific issue assigned them. It’s not an act of simply memorizing lines, but channeling the behavior and attitude of their character while making sure to separate themselves (particularly their opinion) from the issue. I think the understanding gained from doing this gives the actor or actress a unique perspective of the issue that develops one’s understanding of it and how it began.

Sources:
Presse, Agence Frances-. “To fight human trafficking, Moldova troupe rewrites own tragic endings.” globalpost. N.p., 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.

Vatican Against Human Trafficking

It’s perfect timing to share the articles linked below, as Easter just occurred and this event happened a few days ago. With support from the U.S. government, the Vatican has declared human trafficking as a “crime against humanity”. Usage of the term “crime against humanity” reminded me of the International Law & Human Rights class I took last semester, and how the sound of it elevated the importance of human trafficking. The Vatican has recognized the international influence of human trafficking and its connection to other global issues; it has partnered with  a leading Muslim institution and the Anglican Communion to end trafficking by 2020. Creation of that agreement produced the Global Freedom Network, which is an “open association” of various religious leaders who wish to eradicate human trafficking.

I have yet to delve deeper into the history and mission of the Global Freedom Network; but so far, I’m liking the involvement of the Catholic Church and other faith groups to fight the injustices of human trafficking. Human trafficking is an international issue, but I think that now with the involvement of religious/faith groups, people and organizations around the world will be more united and have a more streamlined approach to tackling human trafficking. Furthermore, the involvement of Pope Francis not only sheds light 0n the issue, but also popularity and endorsement since he is an internationally acclaimed and well-liked person around the world.  I am quite pleased with USA’s Secretary of State John Kerry’s round-about mention of male trafficking in his Boston Globe piece: “a boy forced to sell himself on the street, or a man abused on a fishing boat.” Kerry should have made the distinction that trafficking explicitly occurs when victims are taken across borders, since he only focused on the aspect of modern slavery. A much clearer explanation could have been made in his article to connect slavery with human trafficking; but I’ll save that rant for another blog post.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s Boston Globe Op-Ed

Catholic News Service

Question

“Human trafficking terrifies me. I think it’s the scariest thing to be kidnapped and not know the language and place.”

The above words from a friend were said to me while I took a break from doing homework.

Fear is a negative form of power that induces shame. We can never truly understand one’s fear unless we go through the same experience they go through. Even then, do we really know how that person felt in that situation? We assume we know, or we can admit that we have no clue. There seems to be a certain type of privilege that comes with acknowledging the issue, expressing concern over it, and producing research and solutions that supposedly solve and make someone an expert on it. It makes you stop and think, “Do we know what we’re talking about?

Something to ponder on tonight.

Victims are people, too.

Those lines from Star Wars get me every time.

While the mission of this blog is to educate and foster awareness on human trafficking in the United States, one thing that needs to be emphasized is how to be a good anti-trafficking advocate. Most people assume that talking about the issue is enough to generate awareness. It is a fundamental part of the process, but in many ways it can be also be a misleading type of advocating. The way we speak about issues needs to be framed in a way that doesn’t sensationalize survivors and their story, but rather treats them as a fellow human being.

“There seems to be a pervasive belief that if you are interested in fighting human trafficking then you have the carte blanche to be as sensational as you like (FYI, you don’t). There also seems to be an incessant demand to ‘hear your story’ despite the fact that for people already working in the movement the benefit of repeated listening to graphic details is at best questionable and at worst voyeuristic. When allies are questioned or critiqued for their tactics, the ‘but we’re just trying to raise awareness’ defense is frequently invoked.  In fact, it’s often seen as poor form to voice these concerns , especially to do so publicly, even if the hurt or humiliation we experienced was public.  Critiquing actions of individuals and organizations within the movement  we’re often shamed by those same people for somehow not being grateful, that are responses are only because we’re still struggling with our own trauma, or laughably as if our commitment to raising awareness or fighting the issue is somehow far less valid than the organization that’s ‘just trying to help’.  Our concerns are frequently dismissed with comments about how ‘serious’ this issue is, as if hurting survivors isn’t serious, or that we’re wasting energy when we should be focusing on the ‘real’ problems. All of these responses simply minimize the damage that’s done and survivors are left feeling guilty, ‘over-sensitive’ or questioning their own healing and recovery.” (GEMS Founder, Rachel Lloyd)

To read Lloyd’s full piece on the above, click here.

Tomorrow in my International Activist Politics class, we’ll be doing a “campaign practice” on a sex trafficking case study. I haven’t read tomorrow’s class readings yet, but they all seem to present fascinating views on feminism and anti-trafficking movement. I’m challenging myself to think outside the box during tomorrow’s class and to keep Lloyd’s words in mind while we brainstorm ways on how to create awareness for victims of sex trafficking without “demonizing/pitying” them.

LOVE 146 – #RememberTheGirl

Hey World!

The blog has been quiet for awhile, and Eli and I apologize for its lack of activity. We’ve been going crazy over school and other responsibilities that we haven’t had time to even sit down and talk about the blog and its future. We’re in the second half of our spring semester, so school activities are picking up for us – and so will A.T.I.P.! There is a lot to update you on, it’s unbelievable that so much has happened since we started A.T.I.P two months ago.

A.T.I.P.’s past blog posts focused on male victims of human trafficking; and while I consider it important to highlight them, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m disregarding female victims. They are equally important as male victims, but they receive more support and attention. The above video (shared with me by my dear friend Alvi) focuses on female victims of human trafficking from the non-profit organization LOVE146.

If you are familiar with famous YouTubers, then the mention of make-up guru Michelle Phan should ring a bell. Michelle is teaming up with LOVE146 to support victims of human trafficking in the Philippines, and she created this beautiful animation to show her support and provide background on LOVE146’s origins. Phan did a wonderful job with her animation in explaining why she is involved with LOVE146; it had a personal touch that wasn’t overly sensationalized. However, one thing that sparked my attention (as well as Alvi’s) was Phan’s use of the word “fragile”. Alvi and I thought that a much more empowering word could have used, since “fragile” suggests that the object it is referring to can be easily broken. We thought the word “delicate” would have been better to use since it presents alternative meanings of “gentle” and “exquisite”, which dispels the stereotype of girls as weaklings.

Towards the end of her video, Phan says, “This salute is to remember the girl. … Love the girl inside of you, the girl who’s waiting for you.” It’s great that Phan finished her video with the idea that we (the privileged viewers) can help the children of LOVE146 get a better life by supporting them with our donations. But it made me slightly uncomfortable that at no point throughout her video, Phan didn’t mention the victims having their own sense of agency in overcoming what they’ve been through. I am by no means bashing Phan’s video since I sincerely enjoyed it, but I’m just providing a critical lens to analyze her video. It’s easy to be captivated by the fantasy and beauty of videos that are just as compelling as Phan’s; but that shouldn’t take away from understanding the messages that come across through media outlets. So, while we “#RememberTheGirl”, we should also “#RememberTheMessage.”