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.

A Boy On The Streets

I make up 50% of child sex trafficking victims.

I’m not looked for or included in the statistics of anti-trafficking groups. The lack of publicity for my issue makes boy sex trafficking attractive to criminal networks, because they know law enforcement won’t hunt them down. We are the unspoken statistics that fill the pages of sex and pornography magazines.

I am only 13 years old. I know others who start at 11 or 12 years old.

Resources aren’t allocated towards us. We aren’t considered as a “high risk group” to be included in research, outreach, and rehabilitation services. I’m forgotten. I think I actually feel alone. I hate admitting to this vulnerability, and I don’t know if I should feel this way. I’m a man. I’m supposed to be tough. I’m supposed to practice this ideal that the media expects me to abide by. There are too many “I”s in this statement that make me feel there is no one here for me to talk to.

I have a “mama”. She’s my grandma. She tells me I need to work and make money for the household. There’s violence at home, but I’m used to it. I get hit from time to time, but I know how to position myself so the blows won’t hurt as much. Mama doesn’t pay much attention to me unless it has to do with work.  I contribute, so I get a place to stay; and when I’m referred to buyers, I get a substantial share of earnings. It’s somewhat “curious” and “fascinating”, but still strange. Is that what boys my age are supposed to do? I don’t know a life other than this. Some boys have told me about the “fee-for-service drive-by-pimp” which has a guy drive his car, ask a boy if he wants to make money for the evening, and then “pimp” him out. I’ve also heard of cases where families “pimp out their boys to support their drug addiction”. It’s a common occurrence to have boys in their late 20s continue to have pimps, and rent an apartment with other boys who work for them in exchange for them to get shelter.

Some of us enter the system as runaways or to escape the criminal justice system. Not a lot of us speak about the past, but brief moments of eye contact show a guarded expression. We’re broken spirits with tales to tell, but with no incentive to tell them.

I am a child. I am boy. One day, I will be a man.

/End.

The above was an attempt monologue to share the “day in the life” account of a typical male sex trafficking victim. Boys generally start at a young age; and eventually, there is the high possibility that they will become pimps themselves. This is mostly due to the fact that the “pimp” lifestyle is the only one they’ve known, and one that has influenced their masculinity. These males adopt the same behaviors that influence the cycle that continues through generations.

Male trafficking victims only get attention if the news breaks out as a local or national scandal. Other than that, the attention paid to them is scant. There seems to be a “gender construction” in being a victim. And while Hillary Clinton has famously dubbed “Women’s rights are human rights”, I can’t help but wonder what the public reaction would be if someone said “Men’s rights are human rights”. Public perception pictures girls as victim turned survivor turned leader; in other words, girls have hope for a better future. Boys, on the other hand, aren’t openly received as victims. They are only known to be the perpetrator, and their “normal male behavior” is to purchase sexual acts because that is deemed socially acceptable in terms of masculinity and peer pressure (Yen). Also, they aren’t encouraged to speak out when something happens; they are shunned to the side because of the belief they are more self-efficient and take better care of themselves. Men are put under the cloak of invisibility regarding topics on male sexual exploitation that has them as victims – such as male rape, domestic violence, and trafficking. There are countless of research materials on how to deal with female trafficking victims; but when it comes to male trafficking, the results don’t event count to half the results of female trafficking. When were these gender divisions put into place? What does it mean to have equality and justice when we practice this obvious gender bias in victim-hood?

While the image to the left does not pertain to male trafficking, the reaction a male trafficking victim would get would be the same if someone knew a man had been raped. Photos courtesy of Buzzfeed: http://bzfd.it/1bCDbYF.

While the image to the left does not pertain to male trafficking, the reaction a male trafficking victim would get would be the same if someone knew a man had been raped. Photos courtesy of Buzzfeed: http://bzfd.it/1bCDbYF.

It’s imperative to have stories of male trafficking on the news and show support. Male survivors can be supported by diminishing the shame factor and telling them that it is not their fault. We shouldn’t approach these men with pity, because that degrades their masculinity and leads into gay baiting. Mental health services should be provided to people who experienced trauma so that they can re-purpose their lives and not pass it down. That way, survivors can step up and become leaders. Survivor led and ran programs are the best as they understand the complexity involved in male trafficking; not only will they be given the confidence boost, but also the initiative for themselves to know and to teach others how to obtain long-term stable housing, education, job-placement, and compassionate behavioral health and medical care.

Sources:
Gummow, Jodie. “Demystifying the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys – Our Forgotten Victims.”AlterNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
Yen, Iris. “Of Vice and Men: A New Approach to Eradicating Sex Trafficking by Redusing Male Demand through Educational Programs and Abolitionist Legislation.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 98.2 (2008): 653-86. Print.

Human Trafficking: Would You Know It If You Saw It?

thirteenth_amendment

It is with regret that I inform you of the reality in the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. “Slavery” and “involuntary servitude” still exist in the USA today, but in more covert forms than before. One of these forms is human trafficking. It is an issue that not only covers an international base, but strikes close to home as well.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is:

“The recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Human trafficking is an umbrella term for illegal activities that fall under its definition, such as sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is when people are sold for work in brothels and sex clubs. It can also include forced labor or services. At times, people are tricked into thinking that they have found a decent job, but are made to work in inhumane conditions (e.g. factory or construction work). Cases also show that many become victims of organ removal for black market sale. Most individuals would think they are aware of sex trafficking. They would not consider, however, the multiple activities listed above as part of the human trafficking umbrella. According to the Polaris Project, human trafficking affects an estimated 700,000 to 2 million people of the global population every year.

As with any complex issue, there are numerous facts and perspectives to consider; below are the top 5 common human trafficking myths identified and deconstructed for the purpose of shifting one’s perspective.

Myth #1: “Women are the only victims of human trafficking.”

Truth #1: Contrary to gender stereotyping, men, young boys, and transgender people are trafficked across borders too, normally for sex work or forced labor. They appear “invisible” in trafficking reports because some are too ashamed too talk about what has happened to them, and avoid law enforcement. Additionally, the United States Department of Justice estimates that boys are less than 10 percent of the victim population – not a large number, but one that deserves attention.

Myth #2: “The victim of human trafficking is to blame for their own involvement.”

Truth #2: Various victims may be aware that advertisements for these activities may be a scam. However, their decisions are influenced by their economic conditions and desperation. In most scenarios, victims are taken from recruitment locations to a brothel and stripped of their documentation. To earn their documentation back, victims need to work their way to earn the required money needed to retrieve their documentation. They are allowed to return home after they recruit new victims to take their place. This vicious cycle makes traffickers rich while sexually exploiting victims. Families also sell young children to recruiters to work on farms or in better economic conditions. They are unaware that they are being trafficked. We need to stop blaming the victims and recognize their circumstances.

Myth #3: “Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same thing.”

Truth #3: The difference between trafficking and smuggle is force. Human smuggling is when a person gives his or her consent to cross borders. This is normally the case of someone entering a country illegally. Trafficking involves perpetrators using coercion and exploitation to move a person against their own will, which renders them helpless.

Myth #4: “Most traffickers are gangster squads that also illegally trade drugs.”

Truth #4: Politicians and law enforcement often manage trafficking activities. Ventures can only be maintained with high profits and a consistent supply of people. Organized crime networks use corrupt law enforcement to complete border leniency. They also  pay bribes for law enforcement: for example, a German diplomat in the United Arab Emirates was arrested for human trafficking charges.

Myth #5: “There is nothing anyone can do to help prevent human trafficking.”

Truth #5: By taking small steps into advocating awareness, human trafficking can slowly be destroyed. Many trafficking victims possess similar characteristics such as lack of education, illiteracy, and poor economic conditions. We can also educate communities about this issue and help push for legislation and restrictions. We should focus on educating younger generations about human trafficking. This way, they will be able to join our fight to end trafficking in the United States.

Josh Holt, a senior at Wofford College in Atlanta, uses his artwork to raise awareness on human trafficking. Above are a few of his pieces. Read more about his artwork here: http://bit.ly/1bwyJLS.

Hello from Nelli & Eli!

Welcome to The Anti-Trafficking Independence Project – A.T.I.P. for short. This is Nelli and Eli, your resident bloggers.

We started this blog due to our mutual passion on human trafficking and the desire to create a non-profit organization in the future. We are currently college students attending Pace University in New York City, though we both have different majors. Eli is an Accounting Major, while Nelli is a Political Science & Women’s Gender Studies Major. Though we study completely different things, what we’re learning now will help us create our future non-profit organization.

Why the interest in human trafficking? Unknown to many, human trafficking is one of the world’s most complex and misunderstood issues. It is slavery that still happens in the United States where its history textbooks claim that “slavery was abolished”. Obviously, textbook writers need to double check their facts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry (just behind drug trafficking). Incidentally, the United States is the third largest destination country in the world for human trafficking (Jones). Women, children, and men are treated inhumanely and sold between borders to fulfill their handler’s money deals. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates it’s a $32 billion industry, with half coming from industrialized countries.

We were just as shocked as you were upon discovering those basic facts. From there, we were prompted to learn more and discover the injustices and myths that plagued human trafficking.

And that’s where this blog comes in – as an outlet to share information with you and to foster awareness on human trafficking. Our focus is human trafficking in the United States. We don’t identify ourselves as experts on human trafficking, but rather as anti-trafficking advocates. Moreover, we are not affiliated with any organizations; hence the “independence” component of our blog name.

We hope you’ll stick with us for the journey, or that you’ll check in from time to time. Let us know what you think by commenting on our blog posts – we would be love to hear from you.

– Nelli & Eli

Sources:
Jones, Samuel Vincent. “The Invisible Man: The Conscious Neglect Of Men And Boys In The War On Human Trafficking.” Utah Law Review 2010.4 (2010): 1143-1188. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.