#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.

Male Human Trafficking: Unseen & Unacknowledged

In the world of trafficking, men are mostly regarded as the “bad guy” or the “predator” – the pimp who sells females between borders and brothels; the one who benefits off this business of selling bodies. Rarely have I seen an advertisement concerning human trafficking that did not show a man as the victim. Looking at the images below, you’ll notice that all but one of them feature women.

These ads were plastered on the streets and subways of New York City.

Amnesty International Human Trafficking Promotion: “Woman in a Suitcase”. Read more about the campaign here: bit.ly/1cnkR3q.

Labor trafficking advertisement of a man on a bus.

One thing that bothers me a bit about these advertisements is how women are mostly used at the forefront of these campaigns. While it is common knowledge that human trafficking targets the most vulnerable populations (females and children) it is still disturbing to note the gender disparity regarding this issue in the media. It’s as if constantly portraying women is a self-accepted bias or stereotype that has become “normal.”

It is understandable that sensationalized images sometimes make for great advertising to capture the viewer’s attention. But I find that in most cases, the truth of the situation becomes obscured. If we are to really understand the nuances of human trafficking, we need to take it upon ourselves to know the facts and evaluate them fairly. That being said, here are some statistics regarding male trafficking:

  • An alarming statistic produced by the United States State Department reports that between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of adult trafficking male victims jumped from 6% to 45%.

With those statistics in mind, human trafficking should be recognized as an issue that happens to both genders. However, the media focuses on the female and children perspective. That could be because the advertising tactic of using women and children generates an emotional appeal to viewers; men are perceived to be “contemptuous or condescending. Commentators note that ‘less than 20%’ of media descriptions of men are positive.” (Jones)

Our skewed perception on male masculinity contributes to the larger issue of human trafficking more than we know. Men are born and raised with the idea that they must display ideal characteristics of masculinity: one must display strength, wield power, show emotion (but not too much for fear of being ridiculed), and not act in a feminine way that would have someone question their sexuality. These stereotypical characteristics are strictly enforced in our society and pressure men in our life more than than they would admit. In the words of American sociologist Michael S. Kimmel, men are “under the constant careful scrutiny of other men.” One’s manhood is always under inspection and competition, unconsciously and consciously done by fellow peers and family members. We assume that men behave the way they do to attract people of the opposite gender; but in fact, they do that to evaluate their own masculinity. An argument that presents itself here is to say to claim “Masculinity as homophobia.” (Kimmel)

How can masculinity be homophobia? As stated by Kimmel, “Homophobia is the fear that other men will unmask us, emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do not measure up, that we are not real men. We are afraid to let other men see that fear. Fear makes us ashamed, because the recognition of fear in ourselves is proof to ourselves that we are not as manly as we pretend, … Our fear is the fear of humiliation. We are ashamed to be afraid.”

Being unmanly brings about undeniable shame. Nothing hurts a man more than having his pride damaged, displaying weakness, or losing power. “Like female victims, males are forced to participate in sex acts against their will, controlled through brutality, psychological manipulation, and routine drug use and addiction.” (Clymer) Through this exchange, dealing with repetitive accounts of losing power and/or control crumbles their self-esteem and has them doubt their masculinity. An ECPAT study revealed that boys are reluctant to declare themselves as victims or report incidents of exploitation to avoid the potential stigma associated with being viewed as gay.

It is interesting to note that while men are recognized to be trafficking perpetrators and victims, they are hardly ever featured as rescuers and activists. While we blame the media for having a large influence on this, the bigger problem is how masculinity is constructed in society. With the idea of a dominant patriarchal society in mind, we tend to view men on the violent spectrum of situations rather than on the nurturing side. Violence is associated as the prime example of displaying manhood. Being called a “sissy” or “faggot” carries gendered meanings open to interpretation and which become the case for judgment. There’s a certain type of stigma attached to being called a “sissy” or “fag”. For example, “When a boy calls another boy a fag, it means he is not a man but not necessarily that he is a homosexual.” (Pascoe) This fluidity of interpretation is something men can waver in between; but it is also a grey space they do not want to get caught in as it challenges their masculinity. Already, there is the strong stigma of emotional and physical expression that tugs on a man’s self-esteem and prevents him from expressing his feelings, especially accepting vulnerability. Men are trained to put on a certain act so that they won’t be deemed “unmanly”, or even worse – laughed at. (Kimmel)

Since men are taught to hide their feelings, male trafficking victims find it difficult to ask and get help. Male human trafficking is often unacknowledged that it comes to no surprise that there are a lack of services and attention for male victims. Men aren’t the focus of trafficking research or statistics; according to the United Nations 2009 human trafficking report, “Trafficking in males – adult men and boys is rarely represented in official national statistics.” (Jones) Even the Department of Justice recognized that “‘data on men, boys, persons who are trafficked for other work (e.g. agriculture, sweat shops, domestic work, servile marriage), and those who are trafficked within borders are excluded [from trafficking estimations].” (Jones) Admittedly, there is only a very small percentage of people who look for them and make them a priority in outreach and healing programs.

I find this interesting in how gender and society’s labels influence the male population. We are told to “be ourselves” and to not conform to anyone’s expectations, eventhough the opposite message is being portrayed. It seems like we are all slaves to something. As pastor Eddie Buyn said puts it,

“There are many slaves in the sex trafficking battle: The pimps who are slaves to greed, the johns who are slaves to lust, and those who are physically enslaved.” (Conaway)

Sources:
Clymer, Beth. “Why Human Trafficking is a Men’s Issue.” Meet Justice. N.p., 25 May 2011. Web. 8 Dec. 2013.
Conaway, Cameron. “Human Trafficking: The Other 20%.” The Good Men Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec.
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.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Masculinity as Homophobia.” PDF.
Pascoe, C.J. “‘DUDE, YOU’RE A FAG?’ Adolescent Male Homophobia.” PDF.

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.