New Center to Combat Global Human Trafficking

Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked globally, though the true number may be higher. In a quest to arm officials and stakeholders around the globe with more accurate and trusted data to better understand and address this global problem, the University of Georgia has established a new interdisciplinary center to combat human trafficking through research, programming and policy development.

The Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach will be housed in the School of Social Work, and David Okech, an associate professor at the school, will serve as the center’s first director. This collaborative effort aims to identify better ways to measure the prevalence of trafficking while crafting real-world solutions to best equip nongovernmental organizations and policymakers with the tools and information they need to combat trafficking.

Joining Okech in driving research and program development at the center are Nathan Hansen, a professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Tamora Callands, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Jody Clay-Warner, professor in the department of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Lydia Aletraris, an associate research scientist in the School of Social Work. They have been part of the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery, known as APRIES, which is providing the foundation for the transition into a center.

“Science is always a building block,” Okech said. “You build it up, and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, but you keep building. Through the center, we want to let the research speak for itself. If particular research or methodologies work, good, and if it doesn’t, then we need to think about what else could work because right now we don’t know what really works well in terms of estimation methods and generating reliable data that can inform anti-trafficking policies and programs.”

Faculty members across campus from law, political science, psychology, public health, social work and sociology as well as postdoctoral research associates and students all will be active in advancing the center’s mission in enhancing the science around measuring and monitoring the prevalence of human trafficking and implementing plus evaluating evidence-based programs and policies to reduce the problem.

“Human trafficking and modern slavery are large, complex problems that require solutions from multiple perspectives to address,” Hansen said. “Thus, a multidisciplinary center allows a variety of disciplines to work together on these problems. Further, locating this center at the University of Georgia allows access to the broader university community, including many talented and motivated faculty and students, who can contribute to finding solutions to these issues.”

“Having a center will enable us to take all of our collective expertise, knowledge and skills, and package it in a way where we can get this information out to those who need it,” Callands said. “This will be a center that will benefit from the connections we have, the work we’re doing and the lessons learned, enabling it to be successful. That means sharing information with others, and providing trainings, programming and other resources to advance this important work.”

It’s the culmination of a years-long effort by Okech and his team to advance efforts to not only better understand and track global human trafficking and human slavery, but also curb this epidemic of cruelty.

Estimating the Prevalence of Trafficking

Okech has been instrumental in guiding the success and growth of APRIES, securing close to $24 million in implementation research funding from the Program to End Modern Slavery at the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons since 2018. Research, policy and programming work is being done in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. In Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania and Tunisia, the center is collaborating with U.S.-based and local  researchers to test and validate the existing methods of human trafficking prevalence estimation through the Prevalence Reduction Innovation Forum program.

“As far as we know, this is the first time that researchers are applying and comparing more than one method to measure human trafficking prevalence on the same population,” Aletraris said. “The results from the Forum should be able to provide guidelines on which methods work best and why. This will be extremely helpful, not only for research on human trafficking, but for research on other hidden populations as well.”

By rolling APRIES into the center, its work will benefit from greater collaboration and an infusion of funding to help Okech’s team better monitor prevalence, while also developing effective interventions that are appropriate and customized for those who have been trafficked. The center will also expand its focus to include domestic trafficking, including trafficking here in Georgia as well as in other parts of the U.S.

Crucial to that work is eliminating that knowledge gap when it comes to prevalence. Without a practical understanding of the severity of the problem, it is difficult to craft solutions.

And while Okech said one distinct measurement of success for the center is a drop in the prevalence of human trafficking, he noted an initial increase could also be interpreted in several ways, including more public awareness leading to more reporting. This would indeed be a good thing but ultimately, efforts should lead to measurable and drastic reduction in human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a multidimensional and complex problem,” Okech added. “It is important to address the root causes of trafficking by focusing on the drivers and facilitators of the phenomenon.”

Preparing Future Researchers

Also crucial to the center’s success is preparing the next generation of anti-trafficking researchers and advocates. As such, the center will offer an immersive learning experience to students across the university. Okech noted many programs and centers of study offer ample opportunity for research, but he and his team envision integrating students into nearly every facet of its operations.

“They’ll be involved in writing manuscripts for publications and grant applications. They will be involved in engaging with various stakeholders so they can grasp the problem holistically as well as the array of solutions to mitigate the problem,” he said. “They’ll be involved in meetings with local government officials so they can understand how policy is made. They’ll be involved with our programs so they can see and experience how such initiatives are run.”

Congresswoman Karen Bass Leads Passage of “Put Trafficking Victims First Act

On February 7, 2019, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), lead the passage of the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act”, which ensures that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed. The bill was approved by a vote of 414-1. Watch her remarks below:

REMARKS AS PREPARED:

I introduced H.R. 507, the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act,” with my colleague the gentlelady from Missouri, Ms. Wagner.

Ann, thank you for your hard work over the years on this important legislation.  We are here today because of your dedication and willingness to work, in a bipartisan manner, to address the problems faced by victims of trafficking. We both recognize that Congress must do more to combat this heinous crime.

HR 507 is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Second, this legislation addresses the tremendous need for expanded victim services, improved data-gathering on the prevalence and trends in human trafficking, and effective mechanisms to identify and work with victims in an effective and respectful manner.

It directs the Attorney General to form a broadly-representative working group to assess the status of the collection of data on human trafficking and recommend best practices, conduct a survey of survivors regarding the provision of services to them, as well as prepare a report to Congress on Federal efforts to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking, the effectiveness of current policies addressing victim needs, and analyzing the demographic characteristics of trafficking victims and recommendations on how to address their unique vulnerabilities.

The bill also directs the Attorney General to implement a pilot project testing the methodologies identified by the working group and requires the Attorney General to report on efforts to increase restitution to victims of human trafficking.

With this type of information in hand, Congress can provide appropriate oversight of efforts to combat human trafficking, and researchers, advocates, and law enforcement agencies will all have a shared resource as they continue to develop innovative approaches to stop traffickers.

Finally, the bill expresses the sense of Congress that States should implement trauma-informed, victim-centered care for all trafficking victims.

Forced labor and human trafficking are among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises. Globally, these inhumane practices generate an estimated $150 billion a year in profit.  That’s three times the amount that the top Fortune 500 company made in 2016.  Criminals are profiting from the systematic abuse of vulnerable people around the globe. Sadly, women and girls represent approximately 71% of these victims.

The U.S. State Department estimates that between 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into our country from other nations every year. These victims are part of the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of trafficking, currently living within our communities.

My home state of California has the 9th largest economy in the world. It is also one of the nation’s top four destinations for human traffickers, especially for child sex trafficking.  In 2018, of the 5,000 reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 760 of them were from California.

As the Founder of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I am very aware of the risk to vulnerable youth. Foster youth, along with runaways and homeless youth are at the highest risk of being sex trafficked.   Experts agree that the foster care system is yielding a disproportionate number of human trafficking victims.  Nearly 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system.  We cannot allow this to continue.

Washington, DC is home to the most powerful government in the world. Yet, even in DC, women, and girls are being trafficked.

Organizations like Courtney’s House are working to improve the outcomes for sex trafficking survivors

Tina Frudt, Director of Courtney’s House (right here in DC), asserts that African American and Latino communities are not immune to human trafficking. Her organization provides trauma informed services to sex trafficking survivors between the ages of 12 and 19.

Tina is also a child sex trafficking survivor.  As a 9 year old in foster care, she was sex trafficked.  By the time Tina turned 14, she became one of the 2 million children who run away from home each year. Nearly 200,000 of them will be sex trafficked.

In Tina’s case, her adult abuser was more than twice her age and forced her to become a child sex worker. It took her years to escape.  Now, Tina helps children, like her recent client, a 12-year-old girl, whose 25 year-old abuser called himself her “boyfriend” rather than her trafficker.

H.R. 507 will improve the implementation of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.  Trafficking victims, like the girls at Courtney’s House, face many challenges even after they are freed from trafficking rings, ranging from access to social services and utilizing assistance programs.  Survivors face difficulties navigating social services and assistance programs.

What’s more, survivors may face criminal charges, possibly even convictions for prostitution, loitering, or indecent exposure.  The threat of prosecution may lead trafficking victims to avoid contacting law enforcement for help, even as they face horrific trauma on a daily basis.

This bill is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Another component of H.R. 507 encourages law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to make every attempt to determine whether an individual has been a victim of human trafficking before charging them with offenses that are a result of their victimization.  This is of particular concern to communities of color. According to the FBI, African American children made up 57% of all juvenile prostitution arrest.

In Los Angeles, we changed how children were treated. Today, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution, which means children are no longer being placed in handcuffs when it’s the adults who are abusing them who are the real criminals.  There is no such thing as a child prostitute. I strongly support efforts to recognize children as victims rather than criminals.   In this bill, we encourage treating victims as victims and providing them with the necessary supports.

I am reminded of a case in Tennessee that has been in the news recently, involving Cyntoia Brown.

Cyntoia was only 16 years old when she was abducted by a drug trafficking ring, repeatedly drugged and raped, and sold to a child predator for sex.  In a moment of desperation, she fought back against her trafficker and killed him.  She, the victim, ended up with a life sentence.  Mercifully, Cyntoia was granted clemency last month, by the Governor of Tennessee after having served 15 years—for defending herself.   Victims of these horrific acts, like Cyntoia, should not have to hope for grants of clemency 15 years later.

Although much of the focus of human trafficking is on those who have been sex trafficked, those who have been trafficked for domestic labor should not be overlooked. There was a story a few years ago in The Atlantic entitled “My Family’s Slave.”  The author shared an intimate account of the life of a Filipina woman who for years was forced to work for a family as a domestic laborer in the U.S. from dusk till dawn.  An estimated 21 million men, women, and children are forced into labor around the world.  There are cases all across the United States.  We are working towards eliminating human trafficking in the United States.

Mr. Speaker, Congress’ intent is clear:  Protecting victims from the heinous crime of human trafficking is of utmost concern.  I am proud to have worked across the aisle with Congresswoman Wagner on this important legislation, and I urge our colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 507 supports efforts to stop human trafficking.   We are making progress in protecting those who have been caught up in this horrific criminal activity, and this bill is a great example of what we can accomplish when we focus on helping the most vulnerable among us.

We have an obligation not only to end human trafficking but to support people who undergo horrific experiences like these.  This bill is yet another step in the right direction.

Once again, I would like to especially thank Congresswoman Wagner, for her efforts in this regard.  I was very pleased to team up with her again on this legislation and hope we can continue to work on these issues in the future.

For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill today.

Indigenous Women Trapped in Human Trafficking in North America

The subject of human and sex trafficking has been popular in the media recently. From the recent exposure of celebrities involved in trafficking and sex rings to the implementation of SESTA/FOSTA by the Republican party. Headlines focusing on celebrity figures and politicians silences the voice of vulnerable populations who are predominately impacted by human trafficking such as Native and Indigenous women on Reservations across North America.

Human traffickers prey on individuals who are socially oppressed, marginalized within their family and community, and vulnerable due to poverty. These circumstances create the perfect recipe for human traffickers when oil drilling corporations are interested in geographic regions near Reservations.

Corporate America has created the ultimate vehicle and tool for human traffickers to generate a business based on the exploitation of Indigenous girls and women. The scariest aspect of all is that the Johns/potential buyers within the encampment are not utilizing websites like backpage.com or craigslist.com.

Human traffickers are exploiting unsuspecting girls and women by transporting them directly to the oil drilling encampments. In other words, the implementation of SESTA/FOSTA by the Republican party fails to protect Indigenous women, men, and children trapped in human trafficking.

The Indigenous population of North America is 2.5 times more likely to experience violence in comparison to other neighboring populations. The statistics on violence and trauma becomes increasingly alarming because a majority of children on Reservations are exposed to violence before the age of 5. The high rates of violence on Reservations is a result of widespread poverty, Western colonization, and low job employment or opportunities. The impact of poverty and colonization has had devastating consequences on the Indigenous population residing on Reservations in South Dakota.

According to the 2010 census, the Pine Ridge River Reservation only consisted of 3,308 individuals. By 2014, almost 50% of Indigenous women and men reported experiencing violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence. These statistics indicate that 4 out of 5 Indigenous folks have experienced some form of violence at least once in their lifetime. In fact, statistics and rates of sexual violence may be higher due to under-reporting. These instances of violence increase based on non-native intervention, poverty, substance abuse, and childhood exposure to violence.

The high rates of violence, poverty, and substance abuse play an active role in the widespread occurrence of human and sex trafficking on Reservations. For Indigenous folks in North and South Dakota, instances of human trafficking have become increasingly problematic with oil drilling. The corporate interest in oil drilling has a negative impact on the Indigenous community by intentionally placing large groups of non-natives in close proximity to Reservations.

The promise of gaining monetary compensation for drilling has rebranded North and South Dakota as the new Western Frontier. Human traffickers and pimps benefit from the large oil drilling encampments because they are utilized as a one-stop-shop for marginalized Indigenous girls and women. This indicates that interests in corporate oil drilling have caused the onset of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women across America.

Over spring break, I had the opportunity to visit the Pine Ridge River Reservation and Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota with an Immersion Program offered by the University of Southern California. However, an encounter during our last night in Rapid City made extremely aware easy someone can become a victim of human sex trafficking.

After dinner, we were approached by a young girl who proposed that her male friends wanted to meet and sit with us. We immediately declined the invitation, but that did not stop her male friends from approaching us. We recognized the red-flags of the situation and safely removed ourselves from the establishment.

We were only able to recognize the signs of human trafficking because we are privileged. As USC students, we are privileged with money, power through name recognition, and education. We have been trained to spot dangerous situations and problem-solve solutions on the spot. We have the money to afford the education and have been trained to recognize these red-flags. In addition, we might not be as vulnerable to human trafficking due to our socioeconomic status in America.

This close encounter with the young woman and group of men resembles Allison Mack’s role as a recruiter for the NXIVM group. Allison Mack exercised her privilege as a trusting and recognizable celebrity figure to lure and entrap unsuspecting women into human trafficking. Mack’s role as a female recruiter for NXIVM is a common tactic utilized by human traffickers.

Indigenous women and children do not share the same experiences as non-natives. As a matter of fact, 7 in 10 Indigenous children are expected to graduate high school and only 17% pursue higher-education. The risk-factors and barriers to completing and pursuing higher-education increases based on poverty, the absence of parents in the home, exposure to trauma and abuse, and substance abuse. These risk-factors place Indigenous women and children in a vulnerable position to be lured and swayed by the promises made by human traffickers.

In 2017, the #MeToo movement gained immense popularity in mainstream America, although the movement was originally created by Tarana Burke in 2006. The colonization and erasure of WOC is a topic that isn’t foreign to Indigenous folks on the reservation. Indigenous girls and women continued to feel excluded by the blatant disregard for native voices in the #MeToo movement.

In order to raise awareness surrounding the missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women across America, Senator Heidi Heitkamp drafted Savannah’s Act in 2017 and created the alternative hashtag for the movement: #NotInvisible. Savannah’s Act aims to fill the service gaps found in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide safety and protection for Indigenous women and girls. Since Savannah’s Act has been introduced, the movement has not gained much traction based on America’s proficiency to erase and silence things that do not make us feel comfortable.

What exactly can we do about human trafficking on Reservations across North America? First, let’s beat down the virtual doors of our government officials by tweeting and sharing facts and statistics surrounding human trafficking on Reservations.

Continue to share it with your friends, family members, and colleagues. Heck, bring it up over Thanksgiving dinner this year! The most important factor is raising awareness and advocating on behalf of Indigenous folks across America and Canada. Indigenous folks have asked again and again for visibility through education, advocacy, and public awareness.

As non-natives, let’s create a platform where they can stand on our shoulders and share their experiences across America and Canada. Together, let’s continue to rally for marginalized individuals on Reservations across America.

The Intersection Between the Worldwide Refugee Crisis and Human Trafficking

Bilal Hussein/AP

The worldwide refugee crisis, largely spurred by the historic mass migration of people from war-torn Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, are seeking refuge around the world. Many of these individuals are unaccompanied minors and are at even greater risk of exploitation with no social support from their family and sometimes no support from the host country where they are seeking refuge. Some of these individuals have been targeted by human traffickers who are taking this opportunity to exploit their vulnerability.

Many unaccompanied refugee youth have entered the sex industry in Greece as a result having no other means to support themselves. Many are teenage boys, a group often overlooked as potential sex trafficking victims, are trading sex to meet their basic needs. Many of these youth have nowhere to stay and no way to support themselves. This is a commonality with many runaways in the United States that are lured into the sex industry with the promise of a having some place to stay. CNN also reported there are around 1200 unaccompanied minors living on the streets of Greece with no place to stay—but it is believed to be much higher.

Other reports suggest approximately 10,000 unaccompanied refugee minors are unaccounted for and may have been trafficked by underground criminal networks. The United Kingdom is proposing to halt unaccompanied refugee minors entry into the country after only accepting 350 of them. Advocates fear this move will lead to an increase in human trafficking while leaving them with no formal support system and no ability to stay in their war-torn home countries.

Meanwhile, in the United States unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America and other countries are also at risk. In 2014, several unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America were accidentally released by a shelter to human traffickers and forced to work on an egg farm in Ohio where traffickers threatened to kill them if they left. When historic numbers of unaccompanied minors entered the US in 2014, there was an increase in trafficking visas issued to children as traffickers once again exploited this vulnerable population.

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been targeting the religious minority Yazidi, forcing them to flee as refugees. Many of the women and girls have been captured by ISIS militants and forced to ‘marry’ or are used as sex slaves for the men. Again, like other victims of human trafficking, the women and girls are systematically raped and traded among ISIS fighters. The New York Times estimates that 3,144 Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive. One courageous Yazidi woman escaped her captivity and has been telling her story to bring awareness of the
others that are still being held captive.

Human trafficking is an exploitation of vulnerability and refugees can be among the most vulnerable populations. As a result, it is necessary that providers be aware of the potential risk factors leading to trafficking, be able to identify and assess for trafficking, and be able to provide trauma-informed care to those that may have been trafficked. This is a clear issue of social justice and re-emphasizes the humanitarian necessity of assisting vulnerable refugee populations—particularly children. Likewise, policy can be crucial in providing the resources to
support refugee populations that may be at risk.

With the scale of the problem being so vast, complex, and multi-faceted, it can feel like any effort at combatting this issue cannot possibly make an impact. Yet, social workers are at the intersection of mental health, the medical field, the justice system and the school system as well as various social service agencies. Social workers may likely be the first to identify a trafficking victim which places us in a unique position to make a real difference for this population.

What can you do to help?

    • Educate yourself on the issue of human trafficking and let others know what you’ve learned. Attend a workshop or training on this issue.
    • Learn how to assess whether an individual may be trafficked. As a social worker, you may be the first person to identify a potential trafficking victim.
    • If you think someone may be trafficked report a tip to the Polaris Project hotline: at 1888-373-7888.
    • Host a film screening on the human trafficking to raise awareness, such as A Path Appears.
    • Make a donation to an agency working with survivors. Tangible needs for survivors of human trafficking may include: clothing, toiletries, money for rental assistance/getting a first apartment, bus passes. This can include international agencies working with survivors.
    • Survivors of human trafficking also have long-term needs in order for them to become self-sufficient. This may include GED classes or ESL classes, medical services, counseling services, job placement services and immigration services. Consider whether your agency may be willing to help provide some of these services for survivors.
    • Become a mentor for a survivor. Continue to advocate for vulnerable refugee populations around the world, particularly unaccompanied minors who may be at the greatest risk. Educate others on the worldwide refugee crisis and our responsibility as social workers to take a role in addressing this issue as one of social justice.

While it is an audacious goal, we must aspire to end human trafficking in our time and renew our commitment to serving vulnerable refugee populations. As abolitionist William Wilberforce is quoted as saying, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Four Tips to Help Communities and Churches Battle Human Trafficking

WACO, Texas – Super Bowl festivities in Houston will be in full swing this week as the nation gears up for the NFL’s premier event on Sunday. Thousands of people will pour into the city. Unfortunately, those crowds will include those involved in human trafficking.

“We can expect to see an influx of out-of-town victims and trafficking solicitations during Super Bowl weekend. Much of that will take place online,” said human trafficking expert Elizabeth Goatley, Ph.D., assistant professor in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

Goatley said large-scale national events like the Super Bowl draw attention to human trafficking, and it’s an appropriate time to make people aware of the epidemic, which victimizes hundreds of thousands of people within the United States each year. Globally, an estimated 20.9 million people are victims of human trafficking, resulting in a $150 billion industry, according to the International Labour Organization.

“Communities can make a difference in combating human trafficking,” Goatley said, “but it takes knowing your neighbor and your neighborhood and doing for the ‘least of these.’”

She offered the following tips to help communities better understand and combat human trafficking.

1. People must understand that human trafficking includes both sex and labor trafficking.

Human trafficking is the bartering or transactional engagement of a person for sex or labor, through the use of force, fraud or coercion, Goatley explained. Most communities and congregations focus on the “commercialized sex” part of human trafficking and often neglect those who are trapped in labor trafficking.

2. Human trafficking is cultural and contextualized to specific environments.

“When people say, ‘Tell me what human trafficking looks like,’ my response is always to reflect on how those in poverty are surviving in that community,” Goatley said.

In urban areas, she explained, it may look like the commercial sex industry (strip clubs, online ads, local prostitution tracks or brothels) or like day laborers who are financially exploited. It may look like childcare workers who never get days off, no breaks and little pay for labor; or it may look like a teenage runaway who needs food and barters sex for a meal or place to stay and is not allowed to leave.

In rural communities, she said, human trafficking may look like agricultural workers who are refused breaks and payment, or those working in toxic conditions and sweatshops. It may look like a family member bartering sex with a child to pay a bill.

“To best address human trafficking, people must know what’s going on in their communities,” she said.

3. Human trafficking is no respecter of race, gender, class or religion.

“There is no ‘type’ of person that can be lured into human trafficking,” Goatley said.

In a recent column Goatley penned for Ethics Daily, she provided the following examples of those who’ve fallen victim to human trafficking.

“Through my work in trafficking, I’ve heard stories from the 15-year-old competitive swimmer from the elite swimming club who fell for a guy she met on the Internet. When he asked for a meeting at the local mall to “hang out,” she didn’t hesitate. She told her mother that she was meeting friends at the mall, left home and didn’t return,” Goatley wrote.

“I’ve listened to a mother describe the struggle of providing for her family in her native country and the decision she made to sacrifice everything for a chance at a better life in America. She paid a coyote (smuggler) to help her cross into the United States, but upon crossing the coyote refused to let her go without a $10,000 ransom. She was forced to have sex with strangers until her debt was paid,” she wrote.

“I will never forget the story of the migrant worker who ‘followed the crops’ to provide for his family. He worked long hard hours in the fields picking a plethora of fruits and vegetables, pulling tobacco and tending to stables where he wasn’t allowed breaks and paid a dollar and a half a day,” Goatley wrote.

Fortunately, she wrote, all of those stories are of survivors who were assisted by local churches and other human trafficking organizations.

4. Get involved.

“Get to know the needs within your community,” Goatley said.

Is there a local school that needs adopting? Goatley said that research shows that third- and fourth-grade literacy rates have great predicting values on the path of a child’s life.

Is your church located in an immigrant community? Consider offering English as a Second Language courses (ESL), Goatley said. Research shows that immigrants that have better understanding of the English language are less likely to be exploited in the hiring process.

Is your church located within a community that experiences homelessness? Consider adopting a homeless shelter, Goatley said. Research states that runaways, throwaways (children whose families have put them out) and newly homeless persons are at a higher risk for human trafficking within the first 48 hours on the street.

“Additionally, people should pray and support anti-human trafficking organizations and advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation,” Goatley said.

The national hotline number to report any case or suspicion of a case is 1-888-373-7888.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Join the Fight

The mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.  As a Department, we work to combat the heinous crime of human trafficking each day because it robs people of their freedom  It makes our homeland less secure, and it stands in stark contrast to our American values.

By Presidential Proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. DHS employees can take a stand against human trafficking by recommitting ourselves to the fight to end human trafficking in the United States. But you don’t have to be a homeland security professional to combat human trafficking.  This January, learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking, and where to report suspected instances. We need you to help end trafficking in your community.

January 11 is the Blue Campaign’s “Wear Blue Day”, a day where we can all pledge our solidarity with victims of human trafficking and raise awareness about, and work to end, this heinous crime.  You can participate by wearing blue and contributing to the campaign on social media using #WearBlueDay.   Help us bring trafficking out of the shadows and into plain sight.

DHS created the Blue Campaign in 2010 to serve as the Department’s unified voice to combat human trafficking. By prioritizing the fight against human trafficking and improving our coordination across the Department on this important issue, we embarked on a concerted effort to raise public consciousness of human trafficking, protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.  Please join us in this important fight.

Improving Protection for Victims of Forced Labour and Human Trafficking

HRC-victim-human-trafficking-566x318

Children, women and men should be protected from forced labour and human trafficking which are two serious human rights violations. The latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimatesindicate some 20.9 million people around the world still being subjected to forced labour, and 880,000 in the European Union. Among these victims, 90% are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or private companies. Within this group, 22% are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 68% of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing.

An overview of the country reports of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) clearly shows that Europe is not immune to human trafficking and that certain groups, including women, children and minorities, are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. As illustrated by a study, the practice of human trafficking has a disproportionate impact on Roma, a group already suffering widespread discrimination and marginalisation.

The figures mentioned above, which are generally considered to be underestimates, are even more striking when we recall that slavery, servitude and human trafficking are clearly prohibited by international and European legal standards. Of particular relevance are Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (anti-trafficking Convention), which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The latter has now been ratified by 42 out of 47 member states of the Council of Europe –all but the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Russian Federation and Turkey – and by one non-member state, Belarus.

It is important to keep in mind some fundamental distinctions. Forced labour is any work or service which is exacted of someone under the menace of a penalty and for which that person has not offered him or herself voluntarily.

A victim of human trafficking is a person who has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received within a country or across borders, by the use of threat, force, fraud, coercion or other illegal means, for the purpose of being exploited. Importantly, a child is considered to be a victim of human trafficking if he has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received within a country or across borders for the purpose of being exploited, regardless of whether any of the aforementioned means were used.

In the context of human trafficking, exploitation is to be understood broadly so as to include: sexual exploitation; forced labour or services; slavery or practices similar to slavery; servitude; the removal of organs.

To give some concrete examples, I was informed by the Austrian authorities that the most frequent human trafficking was for sexual exploitation, forced labour as well as slave-like situations of domestic workers of foreign diplomats. In Belgium, numerous cases of trafficking for labour exploitation have been documented, including the case of several Moroccan workers exploited by a construction company. In Italy and nearly all European countries, Nigerian women have been found to be trafficked for the purpose of prostitution.

Other widespread forms include cases of exploitation where children or persons with disabilities are forced to beg by traffickers. For instance, cases of trafficking of Roma children for forced begging were reported in France. Forced committing of petty offences is another emerging form of exploitation, as in the documented case of Vietnamese youths trafficked in theUK to work in cannabis farms.

A new international legally binding treaty to protect the rights of victims of forced labour

The 2014 Protocol to the 1930 ILO Forced Labour Convention provides victims of forced labour with similar rights as the Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Convention establishes for victims of trafficking. The Protocol, which has so far only been ratified by Niger, requires that states parties take effective measures to prevent and eliminate the use of forced labour; provide protection and access to appropriate and effective remedies to victims, such as compensation, irrespective of legal status in the national territory; and sanction the perpetrators of forced or compulsory labour. All member states of the Council of Europe should swiftly ratify and fully implement this new instrument in addition to the anti-trafficking Convention

The importance of distinguishing human trafficking and people smuggling

Trafficking in human beings is very often closely linked with migration. Migrants, in particular when undocumented, are among the groups at high risk of exploitation. However, the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings should not be confused.

While the aim of people smuggling is unlawful cross-border transport in order to obtain a financial or other material benefit, the purpose of trafficking in human beings is exploitation. Furthermore, trafficking in human beings does not necessarily involve crossing a border. For instance, In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority of victims of trafficking identified by the authorities were trafficked within the country.

Now more than ever, the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking” are employed interchangeably in relation to migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea or using the Western Balkan routes. Many states claim that they are taking measures against networks of “human traffickers” or even against “modern slavery” whereas such measures target in fact people smugglers. This discourse has been severely criticised by over 300 scholars from around the world as an attempt to “twist the ‘lessons of history’ to authorise unjustifiable violence”.

It is also important that measures taken against people smuggling do not have a negative impact on action against human trafficking. Referring to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean region, GRETA recently called upon states parties to “ensure that migration policies and measures to combat migrant smuggling do not put at risk the lives and safety of trafficked people and do not prejudice the application of the protection and assistance measures provided by the anti-trafficking Convention”.

Clearly, military actions against boats used to transport smuggled migrants and the closing and militarising of borders should never be presented as solutions to the problem of human trafficking. On the contrary, in the absence of suitable legal migration solutions, these measures are likely to increase the vulnerability of those fleeing wars to exploitation by traffickers, including because they need to find money to pay smugglers for increasingly dangerous – and therefore expensive – ways to reach Europe. When it comes to preventing trafficking in a migratory context, the real solution is to open channels for legal (labour) migration and always protect the rights of migrants.

The need for a child-sensitive approach to combating forced labour and human trafficking

The economic crisis has had dire consequences on vulnerable groups, especially children. During my country visits, in particular to Spain and Portugal, I noted with concern that an increasing number of children are dropping out of school to find employment and support their families. This raises serious human rights issues, including the risk of the re-emergence of child labour, which hinders children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage.

Children are often considered as perpetrators of petty crime by law enforcement officials, when they are in fact victims of exploitation by the real criminals. Child victims of trafficking should always be identified as such by law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges. This means that one should look beyond appearances in the field of juvenile justice, in order to be able to apply the non-punishment provision of the anti-trafficking Convention (Article 26) to victims of trafficking who have been compelled to act illegally by their traffickers. Still, this is not sufficient. Child victims of trafficking should also receive adequate assistance tailored to their specific needs. In this respect, I find it disturbing that, as I witnessed in Bulgaria, some trafficked children are placed in juvenile justice institutions instead of being given the full assistance they need. In the current context of migration, it is also worrying to note, as in Denmark, reports of disappearances of children from accommodation centres for unaccompanied migrant children. This is not acceptable. Children without parental care who have been confronted with exploitation must be protected and receive all the support they require in full compliance with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

The need to involve all states and non-state actors in the action against forced labour and human trafficking

Exploiters and traffickers for the purposes of forced labour are mainly private persons (individuals or companies) exploiting other private persons. This means that the prevention of forced labour and trafficking should be geared at all parts of the supply chain in industries at high risk of exploitation, such as in the textile, agriculture or tourism sectors. National and transnational companies should be made accountable in case of human rights abuses, including through effective and appropriate penal sanctions, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, regardless of whether exploitation takes place in Europe or in other parts of the world.

However, the European Court of Human Rights has made it very clear that states have a positive obligation under Article 4 of the ECHR to prevent forced labour and trafficking, to protect the victims and to prosecute the exploiters and traffickers. Member states of the Council of Europe should therefore live up to their crucial responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all victims – or persons at risk of becoming victims – of forced labour and human trafficking.

Without Papers But Not Without Rights: The Basic Social Rights of Irregular Migrants

Refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais, France © Matt Sprake
Refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais, France © Matt Sprake

Those who think that irregular migrants have no rights because they have no papers are wrong. Everyone is a holder of human rights regardless of their status. It is easy to understand that the prohibition of torture protects all people but we should also be aware of the fact that basic social rights are also universal, because their enjoyment constitutes a prerequisite for human dignity. Therefore, member states of the Council of Europe should stand by their obligations to protect the basic social rights of everyone under their jurisdiction, and this includes irregular migrants.

Migrants can be in an irregular situation because they have entered a country, or stayed in a country, in an unauthorised way. Their situation may become irregular because they overstay an authorised period which can last several years. Due to the very nature of irregular migration, it is difficult to estimate the number of irregular migrants currently living in Europe, though the figure undoubtedly runs into the millions.

Barriers placed by states to the exercise of basic social rights

In my work, I have been confronted with too many situations where the social rights of irregular migrants have been deliberately denied by authorities, in contradiction with international and European law. In other countries where these rights are recognised in national legislation, practical obstacles to their exercise have unfortunately proved to be numerous.

The criminalisation of migration and repressive policies of detention and expulsions of foreigners seriously affect the protection of the basic social rights of irregular migrants, not least because they create a general climate of suspicion and rejection against irregular migrants among those who are supposed to provide social services.

Migrants in an irregular situation are too often seen as cheats, liars, social benefits abusers or persons stealing the jobs of nationals. In such a context, law enforcement officials in charge of countering “illegal immigration” often have difficulties in recognising an irregular migrant as a victim of human rights violations and in need of protection.

In some instances, the police are placed under official pressure to attain quantified targets of “repatriations” – I noted this to be the case until 2012 in France. This policy can be particularly harmful to irregular migrants’ access to social rights, because it forces them to live clandestinely and avoid contact with social assistance providers for fear of being arrested, detained or deported. According to a June 2015 study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the main reason for victims of exploitation not reporting their cases to the police is the fear of having to leave the country.

The criminalisation of migration through establishing an “offence of solidarity” against those who try to assist migrants by providing minimum access to shelter, food and healthcare is another unacceptable measure taken by some states in recent years. To guarantee access to basic social rights for irregular migrants, basic service providers such as medical staff should never be placed under an obligation to report irregular migrants to law enforcement authorities.

Access to basic social rights can also be impeded by protracted situations of legal limbo such as that experienced by rejected asylum seekers who cannot be expelled in Denmark. I consider that in situations where return is impossible or particularly difficult, states should find solutions to authorise the relevant person to stay in the country under conditions which meet their basic social needs and respect their dignity.

As indicated in a recent study on the impact of the crisis on access to fundamental rights in the EU, undocumented migrants are among the groups disproportionately affected by austerity measures imposed in the field of healthcare. In Spain, access to healthcare for irregular migrants in most regions was significantly reduced in 2012, until the government recently decided to restore primary health care access, mainly because of the disastrous impact the restrictions had on the national healthcare system. It remains to be seen if the right to access to healthcare of irregular migrants will also improve in practice.

Right to basic social assistance, shelter and food

In some countries, restrictions on access to social rights rest, more or less explicitly, on immigration policies aimed at sending back irregular migrants, including by forcing them into destitution, in order to deter other would-be migrants from coming. States may be tempted to link access to some basic social rights to the residence status of the migrant. In the Netherlands, while the law grants irregular migrants access to emergency healthcare and education, the government has attempted to deny access to shelter, food and water. As noted in my report on the Netherlands, I could witness some of the difficulties experienced by irregular migrants due to this policy during a visit carried out to a disused church in The Hague in 2014, where some 65 irregular immigrants had taken shelter.

As unrestrictedly recognised in many international legal instruments, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and shelter. Under the European Social Charter, as emphasised by the European Committee of Social Rights, the minimum guarantees for the right to housing and emergency shelter apply to irregular migrants too.

Shelter must be provided even when immigrants have been requested to leave the country and even though they may not require long-term accommodation. The Committee has pointed out that the right to shelter is closely connected to the human dignity of every person, regardless of their residence status. It has also stated that foreign nationals, whether residing lawfully or not in the country, are entitled to urgent medical assistance and such basic social assistance as is necessary to cope with an immediate state of need (accommodation, food, emergency care and clothing).

Protection from exploitation and human trafficking

Everyone, including irregular immigrants, should be protected from labour exploitation and trafficking in human beings in full compliance with Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting slavery, forced labour and by extension human trafficking, and with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

While in many European countries a residence permit can be granted to victims of trafficking or severe forms of exploitative work staying irregularly on the territory, too often, this applies only under the condition of co-operating with the police. In 20 country evaluation reports, the Group of Experts on action against trafficking in human beings (GRETA) has urged the authorities to ensure that in practice access to assistance for victims of trafficking is not made conditional on their co-operation in the investigation and criminal proceedings: Article 14 of the anti-trafficking Convention allows parties to make the issuing of a temporary residence permit conditional on co-operation and it seems that in some cases this blocks unconditional access to assistance for foreign victims.

States have an obligation to sanction employers exploiting the vulnerability of irregular migrants. From a human rights point of view, what matters most is not that a state fights against “illegal work”, but that irregular migrants are protected and compensated for the human rights violations they have suffered as a result of their exploitation. Foreign domestic workers, because of their isolation, are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse.

Right to education of children in an irregular situation

Many international and European human rights standards, including the European Social Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, require that access to education be ensured for children regardless of their immigration status. However, too often, schools or other administrative authorities place barriers to irregular migrant children’s right to education by unlawfully asking for documents such as birth certificates as a condition to enrol the child.

Measures to be taken by states

To create an environment favourable to ensuring irregular migrants’ access to inalienable basic social rights, states should not only refrain from criminalising migration but should go further:

  • Consider policies, including regularisation programmes and increased possibilities for legal channels to immigrate for work, so as to avoid or resolve situations whereby migrants are in, or are at risk of falling into, an irregular situation.
  • Ratify and implement international and European treaties relevant for the protection of the rights of irregular migrants, including the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and the Revised European Social Charter and its collective complaints mechanism.
  • Train police officers, labour and immigration officials and basic service providers on the human rights of irregular migrants and victims of trafficking in human beings and exploitative work.
  • Inform irregular migrants about their rights and ensure full and equal access to justice for irregular migrants who are victims of exploitation and other human rights abuses by encouraging them to report this without resulting in their prosecution or expulsion.
  • Enable NGOs and trade unions to defend the basic social rights of irregular migrants, including before courts with the victims’ consent.
  • Ensure irregular migrants’ equal access to victim support and assistance mechanisms adapted to the needs of each individual and that are confidential and free of charge.
  • Never call migrants in an irregular situation “illegal migrants” as this would be inaccurate and harmful as stressed by the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) in its campaign “Words Matter!”, promoting alternative words to this expression in several European languages.

Background documents

  • European Committee of Social Rights, Collective Complaints Decisions on the merits:
    • Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 90/2013
    • European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 86/2012
    • Defence for Children International (DCI) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 47/2008
    • International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) v. France, Complaint No. 14/2003
  • Press Unit, Registry of the European Court of Human Rights: Factsheet on Trafficking in Human Beings
  • Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Website
  • Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Resolution 1509 (2006) on human rights of irregular migrants, 27 June 2006
  • Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Recommendation 1985 (2011) Undocumented migrant children in an irregular situation: a real cause for concern, 7 October 2011

Female Poverty is on the Rise: Protecting Women’s Rights

Women and men entered the economic crisis on an unequal footing. The crisis and resulting austerity measures have hit women disproportionately and endangered the progress already made in the enjoyment of human rights by women. A gender-sensitive response is necessary to halt and reverse this trend of poverty.

Female poverty on the rise

In most of the countries affected by the economic crisis, an increasing feminisation of poverty has been observed. A study conducted in 2013 on access to food banks in France revealed that the primary beneficiaries were women women_in_poverty_2between 26 and 50 with at least one child.

This is emblematic not just of the vulnerability of lone parent families, but also of the gender implications of the crisis. In Europe there are on average 7 times more lone mothers than lone fathers. Moreover, as indicated by Eurostat, “single women over 65 are at substantially higher risk of poverty than single men of the same age”.

In Spain, as recently highlighted by Human Rights Watch, women have been disproportionately affected by housing foreclosures related to excessive mortgages following the housing crisis. In fact, women, and especially younger women, have become more visible among the homeless of Europe as reported by FEANTSA.

These concerns have been further reflected by both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, which have also stressed that women in poverty or at risk of poverty are more likely to work in low-paid, precarious and informal jobs, including in the field of domestic work, and face the risk of exploitation and trafficking in human beings.

Negative impact of austerity measures

Regrettably, these warnings have largely remained unheard. Many European governments have in fact implemented austerity measures which have exacerbated the negative effect of the economic crisis on women. For instance in the United Kingdom and Greece, a significant number of jobs have been cut and salaries reduced in the public sector, where female workers form the majority.

In addition, as women rely more than men on social benefits, budget cuts in the welfare system have further endangered the enjoyment of social and economic rights by women. An independent audit by the UK Women’s Budget Group has concluded that the total cuts in government spending “represent an immense reduction in the standard of living and financial independence of millions of women, and a reversal in progress made towards gender equality”. This risk of retrogression of women’s rights, and especially social rights, has also come to the fore in other countries, for example in Greece regarding women’s access to health care and in Ireland regarding childcare benefits.

The stagnation of pension rates under austerity puts older women at a higher risk of poverty as women live longer and more often alone than men, as I observed in my report on Estonia.

Women’s rights are also jeopardised by financial cuts made to programmes and infrastructures promoting gender equality, as was the case for instance in Spain where the Ministry of Equality was eliminated in 2010.

Lastly, action against gender-based violence is yet another field negatively impacted by the combination of the crisis and ensuing austerity measures. While demand for assistance among women victims of violence has been on the rise in a number of European states, some women’s shelters have had to close due to budgetary cuts.

Protect women’s rights and empower women

It is time that states put an end to this disturbing “gender-blindness of public cuts”, as described in a 2013 report published by the European Commission.

In responding to the crisis, European governments should guarantee women’s equal access to human rights, including the rights to decent living conditions, work, healthcare and education. They should ensure that all women can enjoy social protection floors guaranteeing the minimum core levels of economic and social rights at all times.

There are internationally agreed standards that can contribute to the protection of women’s rights: for example, alongside the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Council of Europe Conventions on violence against women and combating human trafficking, as well as the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers are all relevant texts to help ensure better protection of human rights, including women’s rights. Council of Europe countries which have not ratified these instruments should do so and implement them without further delay.

Moreover, European states should combat discrimination on the grounds of sex in all fields of life, in line with Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Revised European Social Charter. In particular, they should ensure that none of the austerity measures that they adopt has a discriminatory impact on women, including migrant women, young or elderly women, women with disabilities or those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.

There is a clear need for systematic assessments of the impact of the economic crisis and the recovery measures on gender equality in all fields of life, including through the collection of gender disaggregated data. Gender-sensitive policies should be devised, including by taking into account the gender perspective during the budgetary process (gender-budgeting), as stressed in the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)17 on gender equality standards and mechanisms.

The agenda for empowering women and achieving gender equality in all aspects of life should not be lost to the crisis. States must take into account the impact of austerity measures on women and ensure their active participation in recovery policies.

Why I Became A Social Worker: Story of a Sex Trafficking Victim

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It is a question that is often asked of me nearly every single day, and one that I am not sure how to answer. If I were to answer it truthfully, it would surely unnerve many of my clients. At the same time, I am not one to lie and make up a silly excuse. So right now, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and respond with a laughing “I do not know.”

But, that is a lie also. I do know why I became a social worker, and it has to do with one particular woman who made me realize so many things on what not to do as a social worker.

In May of 2004, I was working in a summer camp when I suddenly began having seizures. I was in Boston at the time and was taken immediately to a local emergency room. It was there that I met a social worker who informed me that the doctors and nurses had found suspicious bruises around my body and were concerned that I was being abused.

I remember bowing my head and telling her that no, they had it all wrong. In tears, I told her the true story of where the bruises and cuts had come from. After I was done and after I had cried for nearly thirty minutes, she remained silent before she stood up, looked at me, and told me I was lying. She walked out after that and did not return.

I never spoke of what happened again for another five years, and I did not speak of the horrific trauma for that long because of the consequences. I became depressed, scared, paranoid and finally got to the point where I was willing to take a risk and talk about “it” again.

I met Deborah in August of 2010 after being on a waitlist for nearly a year. She was a counselor at a nearby rape crisis clinic, and I remember the first time we met she asked me why I was so angry and so afraid. I couldn’t answer her, the truth was I didn’t know. I hated her at first, but forced myself to keep going back. Until finally one day, eight months in, I cried, and I told her what had happened to me six years before.

I told her how I had been abducted at gunpoint from my own home, and how three strangers had ambushed me as I tried to get into my home. The safest place I knew. I described how those awful people took me just three miles down the road and sold me into a human trafficking ring. My dignity and my self worth  was carelessly traded for my abductors to gain what they wanted. In exchange for me and my freedom, they each got one dime bag.

 Slowly, my counselor and I developed a stronger rapport. It took a long time, but again, I found myself being able to talk to her, even though I remained guarded about my experience. It was in December of 2010, when things got even worse for me.

I began recovering memories on a daily basis, horrific memories that left me unable to do anything but cry. Deborah saw the difficulty and began asking me to come in twice sometimes three times a week for counseling.

As our talks progressed, I revealed to Deborah one thing that I had not said yet, and it was the game changer. I told her how during those four days and nights, it was not just one or two men who raped me, it was close to a hundred.  Each time someone did, they would have to pay my handlers. I remember the exact phrase I used when Deborah connected the dots. I told her that money was exchanged for me. It was the beginning of the next session she held my hand and told me what she suspected.

I thought that I had been through the worst of it, and I had finally accepted that I had been kidnapped and raped. Now, she was telling me that my situation, while it encompasses sexual assault, it was something else altogether. She sat with me as she explained what human trafficking was and that everything I had mentioned to her aligns with that crime.

I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. While it was just a phrase to me, being a victim of sex trafficking was so much harder to accept than that of kidnapped and raped. I fell into an even darker depression, one where I honestly became scared of myself and my memories.

It was in November of that year, I was asked to meet with some federal agents regarding my case, and the wonderful people at my counseling center offered up their space so that I did not have to be at home. It took three hours to detail everything that happened, I told them at length about my abduction, about how I was sold and tortured in a shed, how I witnessed the death of another woman, and how I escaped.

That interview changed me, and it turned everything around for me. I learned right then and there that I am my own best advocate. During those three hours, when I was reliving the worst four days of my life, I felt myself growing stronger. I felt myself turn from a victim to a survivor.

Since that day, I have done a ton of interviews with law enforcement, both local and federal level. I have learned so many things and been able to educate so many people about the reality of human trafficking. There are few things that are an absolute need to know.

The first. I am an American citizen, I am a white woman living in a middle class neighborhood in the United States. In all of the media I have watched, there has never been a victim of human trafficking that resembles any part of me.The victims are always foreign, unable to speak English, or a child. All this is doing is creating stereotypes. This crime happens to everyone, regardless of color, nationality, age, sex, religion, etc. One of the main reasons I was unable to get help for so long is because nobody was able to see me as a victim of human trafficking. I did not match the picture that the media has given us as the typical victim.

Second. Like every other survivor, I deal with my trauma in my own way. I do get defensive, I do get scared, I do not share every second of that hell. What I do is make sure I am giving it my all. A good example of this is during one of my counseling sessions, Deborah asked me to draw a map of the locations I had been. I hated that map. I would only use black color and would only draw X’s. I hated it, it made this so real for me. One day, I got a hold of it and simply ripped it to shreds right there in her office and yelled at her. I told her to quit pushing me to do that, I hated it. It was the first time I felt emotion in years.  Listen to your survivors, they know what they can and cannot do. Pushing me into drawing a map made me despise going to therapy and I quit for a bit because of it. No means no.

Third. I describe atrocious acts that happened to me, and while it might not seem real to you, the sad fact is, it is my reality. I have the bullet scar on my arm where I was shot at, I have a burn on my backside where a man tortured me. I do not need to prove that these things happened. If I am telling you this, even if you do not believe me, know that I am telling you for a reason.

Fourth: It is hard. Overcoming is hard. And when you are the victim of human trafficking there are very little resources available. There is little support available and very little chance of justice.

Fifth: I think this one is the most important. As a counselor, therapist, doctor, nurse, etc, you never know the change you can make in a person’s life.  You never know how much you can help or hurt one person. Remember that the next time someone approaches you with what sounds like an unrealistic story. Deborah and her ability to listen to me saved my life. She saved others too, because without her I never would have gone to the FBI, my information may have helped solve a missing person’s case. But none of it would have ever happened if someone did not think outside the box and think that maybe, this client in front of you is telling the truth.

I became a social worker because the first social worker I ever met refused to help me. She did not believe me and because of her, I vowed that none of my clients would ever hear those words.

My name is Lauren Obermeier. I am an LMSW and the Director of Social Services at a psychiatric nursing home. My caseload, on average, is 190 people. I am a gymnastics coach, a daughter, an advocate. I am a survivor.

Modern Day Slavery in the UK

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Oscar-winning picture of the year 12 Years a Slave by accomplished British Director Steve McQueen attempts to tell how the brutal enforced capture of human beings was something that society at the time did not quickly recognise as wrong. However some of the critics of 12 Years a Slave have a negative view of the re-telling of a period in history which views people in this negative way.

But in reality slavery has not gone away and so this film is not a re-telling but a snap shot in time about something being reported currently as affecting many people. The autobiography of Solomon Northup represented in 12 Years a Slave; a person kidnapped and sold into slavery is an experience some people  are unfortunately experiencing currently. Today is better known as “trafficking” but the details of the terrifying actions and enforcement tell us that it is Modern Slavery.

The media may only recently be bringing the issue to light, but ‘Modern Slavery’ or ‘Trafficking’ has been a steady and significant issue in the UK for many decades.  It is seen as a serious crime in the UK, with new legislation being developed now in order to tackle it. With Social Work supposedly at the front line of this issue, how is it that Modern Slavery information and guidance is not provided, not mentioned and not prepared for across the board for social workers?

Adults and Children are trafficked into the UK on a daily basis and for many different reasons. They may be brought here from overseas for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude or even to be a criminal- forced to engage in benefit fraud, etc. Many adults and children already live in the UK and are taken from their towns and cities to work elsewhere- in the UK and the rest of the world. This serious problem is a reality for so many, however even those lucky enough to escape their captors face further troubles from the Police or Border Agencies.

Those who contact the authorities for help are often arrested for being Illegal Immigrants, treated like criminals and not offered support and advice on what has happened to them. The brain-washing and disorientation of Modern Slavery means many people find it difficult both physically and psychologically to leave their captors, and even more difficult to understand that they are a victim.

The problems lie in the lack of information and awareness provided not only to the public, but to the agencies who deal with immigration and trafficking, especially those in Social Work. The shocking truth is that no Modern Slavery appears in any Social Work curriculum before graduation, and no training is provided thereafter. How we can be expected to tackle these issues with no information as a simple answer- we cannot.

Social Workers need training to be able to identify the signs of abuse and should be provided with more in-depth training to tackle Modern Slavery when they encounter it. The ‘Widespread Ignorance’ of the National Referral Mechanism must be acknowledged and changed. The Mechanism is the National Framework for ‘identifying victims of trafficking and providing appropriate support.’

Current recommendations from the reports released suggest that additional training must be provided to all involved, including social workers, border agencies and police. Modern Slavery must be added to the curriculum of study for all graduates of Social Work and also that a Modern Slavery Act needs to be established to abolish the mistreatment of those who have suffered and protect them from prosecution if they have been brought into this country by force. Read The Draft Modern Slavery Bill  published in the UK on 16th December 2013

Boys: The Under-mentioned Victims of Child Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a national conversation has begun on the horrors of human trafficking. However, the majority of this attention has been given to female victims of sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in New York City estimates that as many 50% of the victims of sexually exploited children in the United States are boys (Curtis, Terry, Dombrowski, & Khan 2008).

BoysIn April 2013 End Child Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) USA released a ground breaking report calling attention to an aspect of a social problem that gets very little attention. Below is an excerpt from ECPAT-USA’s newly released discussion paper “And Boys Too.”

“While there has been some increased awareness about sexually exploited boys in the U.S. over the past several years, most law enforcement and services providers often miss them entirely or view them as too few to be counted or not in need of services. The little notice given to boys primarily identifies them as exploiters, pimps and buyers of sex, or as active and willing participants in sex work, not as victims or survivors of exploitation. Discussion of boys as victims of survivors of CSEC is frequently appended to a discussion about commercially sexually exploited girls. A panel discussion about commercial sexual exploitation often ends with these words: “…and boys too.”” (ECPAT USA 2013 p.4)

ECPAT USA’s study discovered four key factors that have led to the lack of identification of male victims of CSEC and sex trafficking.

  • The unwillingness of boys to self-identify as sexually exploited due to shame and stigma about being gay or being perceived as gay by family and community.
  • A lack of screening and intake by law enforcement and social services agencies rooted in the belief that boys are not victims of CSE.
  • Outreach by anti-trafficking organizations to areas, venues and tracks known for male prostitution.
  • Oversimplification of the reality that boys are not generally pimped hides the needs and misinforms potential services.

ECPAT USA’s general findings led to several recommendations moving forward: the urgent need to raise awareness about sex trafficking, CSEC and boys, and the need to develop male specific victims’ services and outreach methods targets specifically towards male victims. The report emphasized that more research is needed to better understand the specific needs of male victims of sex trafficking and CSEC, in order to help law enforcement better identify them and to assist social service agencies in developing services to meet their specific needs.

Currently, there are no shelters for rescued male victims of domestic minor sex trafficking and CSEC, and the study suggested few current providers of services to girls are equipped or willing to serve male victims. With up to 300,000 children estimated to be trafficked and sexually exploited in the US each year, and an estimated 50% of them being boys, means there are up to 150,000 boys in the US that could benefit from a shelter designed specifically to meet their needs.

Restore One, a non-profit organization in Greenville, North Carolina, recognized that gap in services for boys and is poised to open the first shelter solely to serve male victims of sex trafficking and childhood sexual exploitation. Their shelter named “The Anchor House” will be a licensed residential care facility in the state, and will provide holistic restorative services and clinical therapy for up to 4 boys ages 12-17. Anna Smith, the Executive Director and Co-Founder, hopes to open the doors to the “The Anchor House” in January 2014.

“Restore One is extremely hopeful in our efforts to provide long term shelter care specifically for young men who have been sex trafficked. Anchor house will provide individualized trauma focused care to a small group of young men ages 12-17. Our hope is that once Anchor House is open, we can then assist others in serving this population [male victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation] through rehabilitation and restorative care.”
(Anna Smith, Executive Director and Co-founder, Restore One)

Social workers in all areas should be educated on human trafficking, CSEC, and on the societal and institutional factors that lead to the victimization of children, including boys. Social workers can be key mechanisms for raising awareness in their communities and amount other professional. Other ways social workers can fight trafficking and CSEC is to volunteer time or professional services to an anti-trafficking organization, join a human trafficking rapid response team or a human trafficking task force in your community. The more agencies, and law enforcement understand that sexual exploitation is not just a female issue, the more they will begin to look for male victims, which will lead not only to the identification and rescue of male victims but to better comprehension of the specific needs of services for male survivors, that will aid in the development of effective services for them.

MTV Fighting Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery

MTV Exit Live in Myanmar is a collaborative production with leading humanitarian foundations around the world who are fighting to end human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Myanmar also known as Burma is a small country in Southeast Asia that has been under military rule since 1962 until it began to transition into democracy last year.

On December 16, 2012, Jason Mraz will be the first international artist to perform at an open-air concert in front of the 2,600 year old Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. President Obama and Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton, also made history today because no sitting United States President has ever visited the country.

The President has lifted some economic penalties that have been levied against the country which is now allowing for new opportunities such as MTV Exit Live in Myanmar. The President has pledge to support Myanmar in their efforts towards democracy as well as an appointing an Ambassador. However, some human rights groups feel the country has done enough to warrant a presidential visit because of the hundreds of political prisoners being held and ethnic violence.

Simple Plan - This Song Saved My Life (Simple Plan + MTV Exit)

Fighting Sex Trafficking From the Front Lines: The People Who Inspire Series: Sarah Elizabeth Pahman

Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian’s “The People Who Inspire series” highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.

Today’s post features Sarah Elizabeth Pahman, Treatment Foster Care Social Worker, and advocate for women and girls.

Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work?

My passion for trauma work originally began in a class I took at my alma mater, UW-Madison, where I learned about sex trafficking and began doing research on Somaly Mam and her non-profit organization in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – rescuing young girls enslaved into prostitution. I learned about 8-year-old girls being sold for high prices to men with AIDs who believed they could be cured by raping a virgin. These young girls were sewn back up again and again, resold as virgins to make large profits for their captors.

This modern form of slavery opened my eyes to the most pressing issue of our time, sex and labor trafficking – and led me to get involved in organizations in my city that focused on trauma.

I interned as a trauma counselor for sexual abuse victims in a domestic violence agency, and again did trauma therapy in a non-profit focused solely on supporting survivors of sexual abuse and sexual violence. This is where I began to connect the dots about domestic trafficking, and saw it is not just an international issue, but an issue on our own streets in the United States.

Although not all prostitutes are sex trafficking victims, ALL sex trafficking victims are pimped out as prostitutes, on the streets, in brothels, escort services, and in massage parlors. As I became more aware of this issue I began to volunteer at outreach programs in my city that focused on harm reduction and education for prostituted women.

We got in an old, beat up van with the entire backseat filled with bagged lunches and rapid HIV tests, and we drove the blighted neighborhoods where street prostitution and survival sex is known to be happening. We handed out food, condoms, gave HIV tests, “bad date” sheets (information for women in the sex trade that gives crime information, for example, the description of a John who beat a girl, or raped her, or didn’t pay her, and what street it happened on), and resources. Witnessing the reality of street prostitution made me realize just how inadequate harm reduction is – a band-aid on a gaping wound.

During my graduate field work I also began seeing how young girls end up in coercive situations. Vulnerable children and teenagers looking for a place to belong, and in need of guidance from parents and family that weren’t able, or simply not willing to provide it. Girls within foster care, involved with the child welfare system, are finding themselves on the streets and willing to do anything for a man who pays attention, shows love, care, and concern. These girls, due to their yearning for love, are easy victims for a pimp/trafficker with a slick mouth and a knack for business.

After I graduated I knew I wanted to stay on the frontlines, and I knew trauma was where I belonged. Taking the knowledge I’d gained from my field work I got involved in Treatment Foster Care Social Work in order to stay involved with a vulnerable population I am passionate about: teenage girls, most from abusive backgrounds, who are involved in the system. Being a strong role model and consistently present, supportive, and assertive force in a teenage girl’s life is a preventive measure. It is a preventive measure that can help keep girls away from prostitution, and the risk of being pimped, trafficked, and enslaved. This is how, and why, I got involved in my current work.

I know that you’re very passionate about trauma work. Can you tell us what that means to you?

Trauma work, for me, equates to being up to date on current research on trauma informed care, and applying it to direct practice. Trauma work is about asking people what happened to them, not what is wrong with them. Trauma work is about addressing underlying causes, and understanding that addressing the root problem can help cure present symptoms. Trauma work is about believing people’s stories, not trying to figure out what is a lie, and what is truth.

So many times we approach people with suspicion, and distrust in them – when the truth is it is not the stories making sense that should matter so much to us, but the message the person is trying to send us about themselves by telling us their stories. This is where trauma work lives, in the messages behind the stories.

In your view, what do you think are some necessary elements that are needed to be effective in this kind of work?

Sarah at a
Take Back The Night event for survivors of sexual violence.


To be effective in this kind of work one needs, first and foremost, to be able to connect with people who have every right, and reason, not to want to connect.

Many times in this field people have had previous experience with social workers, and it can leave them with quite a negative view of what we do and what our purpose is in their lives. Sometimes people view us in the same negative light as they view the police, or they had a bad experience with a social worker and have stereotyped us in a certain way.

Social work has quite negative connotations in some communities. My job as a social worker is to remain mindful of this truth, and respectful of this truth – while also remaining consistent in my work. In this field one must align their thoughts, feelings, and actions and be deliberate and honest in their intentions in order to be effective. “Being real” and authentic with people is key. Being able to have those hard conversations is a must.

We have to master the art of gentle confrontation, and be able to word harsh truths into a conversation that people are willing to have with us. We have to prevent shame by remaining open, honest, compassionate, and free of criticism and judgment. These are the essential ingredients for this type of work. We cannot “try” to be these things, we have to BE these things. For myself this is where the spiritual mixes with the real world.

Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?

My life’s purpose is the pursuit of social justice for women and girls who have been marginalized by family background, life circumstance, economics, culture, society, and the systems we have in place.

My purpose is being a presence, a witness & a voice in the deepest trenches of women’s oppression. For me, the frontlines for social justice lie in the streets of the sex trade and in addressing trauma in people’s lives. So many times it is sexual, physical, emotional abuse that is the root cause of drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, low self-esteem, and undesirable behaviors.

My purpose is to get to the roots, and not reject that darkness when it is pulled up in people’s lives.

What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?

What I find most enjoyable is seeing people acknowledge that they are stronger than they may have thought they were. Seeing kids who have every right to give up, and yet they persist. I enjoy witnessing a kid begin to recognize their emotions, and to name them. I enjoy watching kids and adults begin to link their trauma to their behaviors. I enjoy challenging kids to problem solve with me, and to take responsibility for themselves.

What aspects do you find challenging?

Apathy is the most challenging part of my work. Having kids who just do not want to take an active role in their own lives. Seeing adults make promises they cannot keep to children who have already been so let down is another challenge, because it is hard not to feel helpless when we see children being hurt.

You also share some of your thoughts though your blog: Rooted In Being. How did your blog come about? Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might want to start their own thoughts for social justice in terms of transforming their ideas to action?

Fostering Community

My advice for those interested in social justice is to find a focus, and stick to it. We cannot change the world by taking on the entire world, but if we can take on one aspect of social justice that really moves us and gets us fired up, then we can produce change.

Turning words into action involves getting involved in our communities. It is about understanding the issue on a macro scale and then finding out how that issue affects us locally. The next step is jumping in feet first, acknowledging that we are not the experts, allowing the discomfort of being immersed in something challenging – and remaining self-aware.

What/Who Inspires you?

Somaly Mam inspires me, Gloria Steinem inspires me, Melissa Farley’s research inspires me, Mona Eltahawy inspires me – as do so many of the activists in my city that I have learned and gained so much from.

What have been the Keys to your success so far?

I know that my success so far has come from being able to see how beauty and tragedy is intertwined. Being able to witness immense forms of emotional pain day in and day out, and still ponder the trees, and the universe – and its immense beauty.

I can remember having an especially difficult time when I first began interning as a trauma counselor, and my saving grace was catching the bus home with my headphones on every night – and looking up at the stars in the night sky, taking a deep breath, and accepting that I do not have control, nor understanding of how and why the world is such a painful, exquisite experience.

Acceptance of not knowing, and being fully present in the moment – has been my key.

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