Scotland’s Vulnerable Witnesses Bill Unanimously Passes in Parliament – Victim Support Scotland reacts

Today (10 May 2019) legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament to ensure more child witnesses are able to pre-record evidence ahead of a jury trial, preventing the traumatic experience of presenting in court.

The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve the quality of evidence given for the most serious offences.

In response, Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:

“We welcome the passing of this Bill, which we believe is a crucial step forward in protecting and supporting children and families who have been involved in serious crime. It is well known – as we have seen through our own Witness Services from throughout Scotland – that the process of giving evidence in criminal trials can have adverse mental, physical and psychological effects on child witnesses.

“Victim Support Scotland agrees moving to pre-recorded evidence for child witnesses is one way of avoiding such trauma. Further to this, we believe that this should elicit better evidence from victims and witnesses of crime and outcomes for everyone involved in the justice sector.

“We are also heartened by the £2 million funding which the Scottish Government has committed to enabling the creation of a specialist evidence suite for children and vulnerable witnesses in Glasgow, as well as upgrades to support facilities in Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Victim Support Scotland is looking forward to supporting this initiative on the ground as part of putting victims and witnesses first in Scotland’s criminal justice system.”

About Victim Support Scotland

Victim Support Scotland is an independent charity providing support and information services to around 200,000 victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland each year.

We manage a national helpline and community-based services in courts and every local authority area in Scotland. We also provide specialised training programmes and work to raise awareness of the impact of crime on individuals, communities and society.

We have around 130 paid staff and around 500 active volunteers, working from our 30 offices as well as 40 courts across the country. Our expenditure in 2017/18 was £4.5m with the majority of our funding coming from the Scottish Government and local authorities.

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.

APA Offers Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence

Constant news reports about the shooting in Las Vegas can cause stress and anxiety for people, leaving them with questions about the causes of and solutions to gun violence. Resources on the American Psychological Association’s website can help people with both issues.

One APA resource offers tips for managing feelings of distress in the aftermath of a shooting. “You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions,” it says. “Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead.”

Talking to children about the shooting isn’t easy but parents or teachers shouldn’t completely shield them from violence or tragedies. APA offers a series of tips to parents and other caregivers on how to guide the conversation in a proactive and supportive way. “The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure,” according to the resource available in the APA Help Center.

Parents should also watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.

For those who feel too overwhelmed to use the tips provided, APA suggests consulting a psychologist or other mental health professional.

“Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen your resilience and persevere through difficult times,” it says.

There is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act, according to a report issued by the APA in December 2013 entitled Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy. There is, however, psychological research that has helped develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through primary and secondary interventions.

Written by a task force composed of psychologists and other researchers, the report synthesized the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.

“The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics, and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness and violence, including gun violence,” according to the report.

Gun violence is estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical, legal and other expenses, not to mention the psychological toll. That is why the government needs to approach it as a public health problem, according to APA acting Executive Director for Public Interest Clinton Anderson, PhD, writing in a blog post entitled No Silver Bullet: Why We Need Research on Gun Violence Prevention.

“Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm,” wrote Anderson. “While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.”

No one policy will prevent gun violence, writes Anderson. “It will take a multi-faceted approach. Funding research that explores these horrific, impulsive acts can help us all inform and adapt our policy approach.”

In another blog post, clinical psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, warned against unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill by immediately jumping to the conclusion that most shooters have a mental illness.

“Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness,” he wrote. “What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis.”

Additional resources:

Talking to Kids When They Need Help

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando

Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting

How Much News Coverage is OK for Children?

Gun Violence Prevention

APA Initiatives to Prevent Gun Violence

Bullying – A Dirty Word

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Bullying is a ‘dirty word’ nowadays. Dirty are the people who use bullying to control you to please themselves because of their own lack of self-worth. Dirty are the actual words and/or the actions the bullies dish out. Worse yet, dirty is how they make victims feel. It’s time to clean up the act.

Whether you are a bully or the poor soul who’s been attacked or abused by one, you can do something to help with the cleanup. Yes, anyone can so why not you and I. It may be in the school ground, on social media, at work or even your own home, but there is never a better time to act than the present.

Bullying is a physical or verbal and emotional assault on another person that is repeated over time. The victim is usually a soft spoken or timid individual as they are easy targets. I say, emotional assault for good reason because no matter whether an attacker is calling someone names or physically harming them – both types of abuse causes emotional harm.

All victims of significant bullying find themselves with low self-esteem or self-worth. This is the aim of the bully. Why? Because he’s self-esteem is low too and he doesn’t know how to better himself in practical, useful ways, so s/he takes it out on others to bring them down to their level – all under the cover of an all high and mighty mask though of course. They’re usually the last ones to admit their own mistakes.

Many bullies have been victims of it themselves in the past and rather than believing they are undeserving and better than that, some go onto becoming bullies themselves to cover up their own pain. They try to cover it up with a false sense of macho-ness.

It’s time to clean up our act…. it  starts with bullies, victims or mates of bullies and victims – so no matter who you are – you can help take part and do your bit.

If you are a bully yourself and you’ve just owned up to the fact, in your own mind at least, then thank you – thank you for being honest and taking the first step to cleaning up the mess.

If you’ve been a bully or still are being bullied, well guess what? – no more! If you’re a mate of either a bully or a victim – it’s also time for you to act.

It can start today, right now. How you ask? Well, if the reason behind bullying is low self-worth (which I believe it is), then it’s time to build up your self-esteem and appreciate who you are, what you stand for and how you deserve to be treated.

Even if you believe you’re a bully because you witnessed your parents fighting with each other, or with yourself for that matter, it still comes down to low self-worth as a result of the violence. If you are willing to take a good, hard look at yourself you will be cleansed in no time.

New Technology Provides Support for Sexual Assault Victims

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Recent surveys have revealed that 85% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault promptly to appropriate authorities. When they later do report, their credibility is often questioned.  The authorities ask “Why now? Has your story changed?”

The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App is the first app of its kind to allow a victim of sexual assault to confidentially record contemporaneous evidence (with video and audio) of an incident. The evidence is double-encrypted and stored offline. The app also, utilizing geo-coding technology, stores information about where the user was when he or she recorded the video. As a legal safeguard, the video record that the user creates is only available through appropriate authorities (i.e. legal, health, school) or by court order and is never directly available to the user.

Should an unfortunate event occur, the I’ve-Been-Violated App is there to help. The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App eliminates most of these credibility questions and allows victims the peace of mind to know that reporting to authorities is fully within their control.

Instructions for a victim to run the I’ve-Been-Violated™ App:

  1. Get to a Safe Place: As soon as possible, get to a safe location before starting the app.
  2. Activate and Run the App: Turn on the app and begin to tell your story by following the on-screen instructions. The app will prompt you on what to say while recording video and
  3. Recording Encrypted & Stored: An encrypted record of your story is created and stored for future retrieval through the proper channels (not available directly to the user).
  4. Authorities Access Evidence: When you are ready to do so, contact the appropriate authorities and they can access the video recording. The fact that it was recorded contemporaneously with the violation helps a victim’s credibility be

The I’ve-Been-Violated™ App is part of a suite of apps provided by the Affirmative Consent Division of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE.edu) to help change the context and conversations around sexual consent on college campuses. (See for more information). The suite is available for individual download and on a group basis for schools or school based organizations. The app suite is designed to assist schools to improve their Title IX compliance efforts.

Because it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to help the victims of sexual assaults, ISCE.edu is making the I’ve-Been-Violated™ App available for free, and it is available for download on iTunes.

ISCE.edu is presently running no-cost pilot programs at selected institutions across the United States to demonstrate and potentially improve the efficacy of the entire app suite. These pilots include educational outreach and student uptake efforts designed help schools improve their Title IX compliance programs. ISCE.edu has a few slots remaining for schools who wish to run a similar no cost pilot program.

Improving Protection for Victims of Forced Labour and Human Trafficking

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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.

Victims, Their Families, and the Death Penalty

At 1.52pm on the 23rd July 2014, Joseph Wood was injected with lethal drugs on the order of the State of Arizona. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, and her father, Gene Dietz in 1989. Lethal injection is currently the U.S.A.’s method of choice for administering the death penalty which is supposed to be quick and relatively painless. The argument is that lethal injection is more humane than most other methods.

syringeHowever, Joseph Wood’s execution, which should have lasted no longer than 20 minutes, saw Mr. Wood desperately gasping for air for 1 hour and 57 minutes before he finally passed away. His death was so slow that after an hour, his lawyers began a request to the  Supreme Court to have the procedure stopped on the grounds that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Before a decision could be made, Mr. Wood breathed his last breath.

It is hard to comprehend how, not only allowing, but causing a human being to go through such a horrific ordeal can constitute justice. It may be many other things: pay back, punishment, pain relief, but it is not justice. When asked about his feelings towards the botched death of Mr. Wood, Debbie Dietz’s Brother-In-Law responded: “This man conducted a horrifying murder and you guys are going ‘let’s worry about the drugs.’ Why didn’t they give him a bullet? Why didn’t we give him, Drano, a corrosive drain cleaner?”

My heart breaks when I read quotes like this. Not only am I sorry for the initial ordeal the family had to experience, but it also pains me to know that they live that ordeal over and over again, every moment of their lives. The Dietz family have had to carry 25 years of anger, hurt and hatred. They deserve peace.

There is a Buddha quote which says: ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ The death penalty ultimately does not solve anything. Whilst it may even the scorecard, it does not clear it. We need a justice system which enables the families of victims to recover and which removes the burden of anger and hatred.

Eradicating the death penalty will take a lot of work from a lot of people. It requires reforming our schools, our communities, our housing and our prison system, so that victims can have faith in the fact that rehabilitation of offenders can and will work. We need to create a victim support service which successfully helps families recover from trauma so that they no longer feel the need to see another human being die in order to feel better. None of these are easy feats.

The death penalty is the easy and lazy option, and It does not stop people from murdering others. It is a quick way of appeasing people’s pain with no regard for the long-term impact. Families who have lost loved ones in the most horrific of circumstances deserve better than a quick-fix. They deserve an outcome which means no one else will ever have to suffer what they suffered. The death penalty cannot provide that outcome.

The death penalty is an affront to love, truth and justice, which are the three ideals that most victims’ families are in desperate search of. Our justice system cannot be ruled by vengeance. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The ideals of love, truth and justice need to underpin every part of society, not just our justice system, because then, and only then, will we have any hope of eradicating the heinous crimes which cause so much grief.

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.

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