Category Archives: Human trafficking

Is Speaking Out Enough?

In her book, The Road of Lost Innocence, Somaly Mam writes that she knows the clients who pay for child prostitutes and they are mostly ordinary, Cambodian men. She asks the question about why, in Cambodia, men feel justified in treating women and children this way? She also points out that most programs to deal with sex trafficking target the women—by rescuing and helping the victims. While this is important, Mam notes that these initiatives do not do anything to stop the problem. She designed a program to reach out to men and get them talking. She had young girls who had been trafficked talk to the men about the rapes and violence they had endured. She reported that many of the men in the audiences would break down and cry. Many of them had used child prostitutes like these girls, but somehow it never occurred to them or they avoided thinking about, how the girls were being treated. Mam taught the men about what life in the brothels was like for the girls and asked if they would want their daughters to be treated that way by other men.

I was thinking about this approach in light of the current sentencing hearing occurring now for Larry Nasser, the man convicted of abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts. The judge in the case, Rosemarie Aquilina, is allowing the victims plenty of time to speak about and describe the abuses and the effects on their lives, and the perpetrator has to sit and list to them. The judge, taking an unusual role, is also offering supportive comments and advice to the victims, reaffirming that they are strong and can rebuild their lives. So here is my question to all of you: while the act of speaking up and sharing abusive experiences can be therapeutic for those who have been affected, does this process affect the seemingly “ordinary” people who engage in the abusive behaviors? Or does it require more than just speaking up?

Larry Nasser’s abuse went on for years and was enabled by a host of men and women who worked around him and in some cases, by the parents of the victims. These people did report allegations against him, even when required to do so by law, shamed or intimidated some of the victims into silence, or ignored the issues altogether. I am thinking about this in light of the #MeToo movement as well. We are already beginning to see a backlash against it with women being accused of “going too far.” How do we change the hearts and minds of those who engage in sexual harassment and abusive behaviors as well as those who enable such behaviors being complicit or remaining silent?


–Holly Mathews


No Place for Boys

The country’s first shelter for sex-trafficked boys will open Spring 2016! Anna and Chris smith are from Greenville, NC and they have picked a spot for the shelter here in Eastern NC. I was surprised to hear that this shelter will be the first for sexually abused boys. When people think about the sex-trade they forget that boys are victims as well. Chris Anderson, CEO of the support group “Male Survivor” says “We live in a society where ideas about what masculinity is, what a man is, what a boy is supposed to be or become, are influenced in many ways by very toxic, distorted myths,” The Smith couple are working hard to change those myths.

The Smith’s had to prepare meetings to further educate the surrounding neighborhoods on the issue of sex trade affecting boys. Some community members were worried about how the shelter would affect their family members and children surrounding it. However, after their hard work and out reach in educating the community they will be welcoming four boys when the shelter opens in Spring, 2016. Click on the link to watch the video of Anna and Chris working on this amazing project!


Human Trafficking In Our Own Backyard

We all know that human trafficking exists, but we tend to think it’s “over there,” not here in the U.S.  How do you feel about trafficking being a problem in our own backyard?

I just saw this article about Human Trafficking in Charlotte, NC and how it’s becoming an increasingly large problem.  Apparently, as Charlotte puts more and more sports arenas and hotels up – making the city more attractive for visitors – trafficking increases. See the complete story by clicking the link below.

Lest you think that Charlotte is the only place in NC with a problem, the Raleigh area is also a hot spot for human trafficking. And it’s a big issue according to The Salvation Army of Wake County. It runs a program called Project FIGHT (Freeing Individuals Gripped by Human Trafficking).  They’ve seen trafficking cases with women as old as 63 and girls as young as 9.  According to the article below, human trafficking goes on in the Raleigh area (and around the country) right in front of our eyes, but we don’t see it. Is it because we don’t want to?

What has to happen before we have a government crack-down on trafficking here in our state – and in this country?  Why isn’t this issue a HOT TOPIC each night when we turn on our local news? Is it that we believe these women and girls aren’t really enslaved? Can 9 yr old children choose such a life? Does media (and public) silence have to do with the women’s socio-economic status?  Race? Do we believe the women somehow brought this existence on themselves? Why aren’t more women demanding action from our authorities and politicians? I find it incredible that we hear so little about this.

What are your thoughts?

Katie Basile

“Somaly Mam: Saint or Sinner? Does it Matter?”

MamThis past week, our class read and discussed the book, The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam (2005). The book tells the story of her early life, her experience being trafficked into the sex trade, and her efforts to change her life and rescue other young victims in Cambodia. Mam started two foundations, AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) and the Somaly Mam Foundation. She has helped raise millions of dollars to build shelters in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and to rescue hundreds of girls from the sex trade. In May of 2014, Simon Marks, wrote an expose in Newsweek that accused Mam of fabricating some details of her early life, stating that she was a voluntary prostitute, not someone enslaved in the sex trade. He also said that some of the rescued girls had been instructed to lie about and sensationalize their pasts so the foundation could raise more money, and he said that while Mam was charming and charismatic in public, many said she was privately “tyrannical,” “moody,” “eractic,” and “entitled.” The board of her foundation hired a law firm to do an independent investigation and asked for her resignation after the story appeared. Shortly thereafter, the Somaly Mam Foundation closed.
Mam did not grant an interview or attempt to defend herself for six months. Finally, in September of 2014, she spoke with Abigail Pesta for the French magazine, Marie Claire. Mam maintained her innocence and said her foundation board wanted her to sign a statement admitting guilt, which she refused to do. Pesta did her own investigation with many of the same sources used by Newsweek and found many inconsistencies with several sources saying they were incorrectly quoted in Newsweek or denying altogether the conclusions drawn in that article. Mam also noted that she herself often confused dates and times in her early life because things were so chaotic and she did not even know her real birth date. Newsweek essentially called Mam a fraud and Marie Claire called out Newsweek saying, “Of course, people can change the stories they tell…Nevertheless, taken as a whole, my findings raise questions about the picture Newsweek painted of Somaly Mam.” No one disputes the good work that was done by Mam’s foundations or that she has recently sold her home and her car to try and keep them operational.
This controversy raises several important questions for discussion:
(1) Marks asks one of these questions in his article, “She (Mam) has done so much for so many, does it matter that key parts of her story aren’t true?”
(2) Can any of the sources be viewed as reliable in a country where people have a fear of speaking out to officials, where corruption is rampant and many have hidden agendas? What are we to believe?
(3) What do these stories say about our own American notions of gender and activism? It is striking that journalists seem to investigate activists like Rigoberta Menchu and Somaly Mam to try and discredit their life stories yet never deny the good works they have done? Do we just not like heroes or hypocrites posing as heroes or does their gender play a role in our perceptions of the validity of their accounts?     Holly Mathews, January 22, 2016

Sex Trafficking in the United States: Literature Review

Journal by Schauer and Wheaton
Research by C. White
December 6, 2015

Schauer and Wheaton proclaim that most victims of sex trafficking are females from Russia (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:154), 700,000 people are victims of sex trafficking worldwide, and from this number, the US receives between 18,000 and 50,000 sex traffic victims annually. Women and men respectively represent 90% and 10% of the victims and almost 50% (half) of the victims are female and male children. This country is the second (after Germany) largest place to market people in the underground sex trade. The US government considers sex trafficking to be this country’s modern form of human slavery and estimates between 100,000 and 150,000 sex slaves in this country, mostly women and children. Schauer and Wheaton define sex trafficking as slavery because victims unwantedly receive the confrontations of gang rape, loss of human rights and self-will, deception, fraud, coercion, and threats when they begin the sexual servitude. Schauer and Wheaton debate that sex trafficking is the direct result of increasing marginalization of women globally (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:146). He predicts that sex trafficking will surpass illegal drug trafficking and become the top international criminal activity by 2016, because in comparison to illegal drug sales, human trafficking is less risky, has higher profits, it is less risky, and people are easier to transport and hide (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:147).

Schauer and Wheaton debate that men defines prostitution as a job that women willingly volunteer to perform, because women value this sex for money, privileges, or materials “over other boring and low-skilled jobs). Therefore, it is legal to be a prostitute in 3 states, a pimp (prostitute manager) in 9 states and a john (client) in 25 states in the US (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:151). Many researchers agree with this debate and argue that people globally anticipate and accept women to become prostitutes if they desire, because in many poor countries, men dominate women, legitimate work is inaccessible to women, and prostitution is an acceptable, understandable, and normal means of survival to women. Other researchers claim that women willingly become prostitutes because they want to earn and save enough income that would allow the purchase of their own businesses. The researches also claim that women find prostitution as the best available occupation for them (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:157), especially when their counties experience socioeconomic inequalities, “armed conflict”, and a rise in demand for prostitution (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:162).

Schauer and Wheaton blame ineffective responses to combating the problem of sex trafficking on subjective definition of sex slavery. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national governments openly disagree on an objective definition of sex slavery and solutions to the problem (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:148). They equate sex trafficking (involuntary form of sex slavery) with sex smuggling (voluntary form of sex slavery that may lead to involuntary bondage) and sexual exploitation (manipulation to get people to perform sexual activities, whether voluntarily or not). Consequently, there exists discretions in the sex trafficking statistics. Schauer and Wheaton blame the discrepancies on “the perspectives and agendas of those doing the counting” (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:149). He explains that some people with power and positions defines sex trafficking as local, national, and international prostitution, and prostitution is domestic sex trafficking (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:152). Local police officers do not differentiate between sex traffic victims and prostitutes, and as a result, they incarcerate prostitutes and if the prostitutes are found to be illegal immigrants, the police would identify them as “criminal aliens” before deporting them out of the country. Meantime, the traffickers and johns do not experience incarceration and their illegal activities persist. (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:153). To complicate the issue more, political agendas prevent the US government to speak against countries that support sex trafficking, but intentionally stays silent on countries (Saudi Arabia and Mauritania) that has natural resources, such as oil, that serves the interests of Americans yet, support sex trafficking. Also, accusations are made on “middle-class, white, intellectual feminists from the United States and Europe”, that they use sex trafficking “to further their own political agenda and is directed by elite, cultural, racists, and moralistic bias” (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:153).

Schauer and Wheaton find that individual businesses and small groups of people operate sex trafficking everywhere, and in the opinions of some people, domestic child pornography, involving American born children, is also a part of sex trafficking in the US (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:154). Schauer and Wheaton also find that sex traffickers illegally obtain legit documentations to bring the foreign women into the US, and after the sex traffickers take the documentations from the women after their arrival in the US, sex traffickers use the same technique to bring other women in the US. Sometimes, the women receive immunity from inspections if White men escort them into the country, which gives the impression that the women and men are common intimate relationship partners. Once the women arrive in the US, the sex traffickers give them and force them into become prostitutions, who travel around frequently and never receive opportunities to build relationships or friendships with others (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:154).
According to Schauer and Wheaton, disowned, abandoned, and runaway American children are easily led to accept the role of becoming a prostitutes, sex slaves, or anything that involves sex exploitation. Schauer and Weaton identify sex exploitation recruitment on the national crisis of increasingly global misogyny (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:155) and objectification of women (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:157).

Schauer and Wheaton debate that sex trafficking grows from desires of immigrant women who willingly choose to come to the US because they want “more lucrative employment and better marriage partners” and they face high unemployment or poor socioeconomic mobility in their home countries. Some women Also, the presentation of fraudulent documents, contracts, and misleading promises from sex traffickers were overwhelmingly enticing. It is expensive to bring foreign women into the US and consequently, many sex traffickers confront the women with debt bondage, which may likely result in sex slavery (as some may also accept the coercion to work in strip clubs) to repay traveling costs and relocation (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:155-156) To keep sex slaves under the control of sex traffickers, sex traffics would rape, beat, make threats against the women, or take away their means of travel or immigration documentations (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:157).

Schauer and Wheaton recommend that state prostitution laws need revisions so that the removal of “elitsm, sexism, and racism” would allow victims of sex trafficking to receive basic human rights an legal protection (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:166). They find that sex traffic victims need mental healing and witness support services so that they may reintegrate in society. Changes in police training are necessary, because police officers need to reevaluate their opinions of prostitution, and they need more training in working with federal law enforcement to reduce the high rate of sex trafficking. Although sex trafficking has potential for an overabundance of research and practical solutions, it has a confusing subjective definition and current sexist opinions about prostitutes, which prevent the discovery of sex traffic victims (Schauer and Wheaton 2006:146).

Schauer, Edward J. and Elizabeth M. Wheaton. 2006. “Sex Trafficking Into The United states: A Literature Review”. Criminal Justice Review 31:146-169. Sage Publications. doi:10.1177/0734016806290136

Trafficking in Human Beings: Training and Services among US Law Enforcement Agencies

By C. White
November 14, 2015

Wilson et al. (2006:149) recognizes that the US currently has connections to international agencies to eliminate sex trafficking, and it maintains preventive policies and federal victim assistance. But Wilson et al. argues that local law enforcement officers have more access to underground traffickers and prostitutes (as some are sex traffic victims) than federal agents. Wilson et al. (2006:150) debate that 17,784 Americas are full time police officers all over the country and they speak about conclusions in a study which reveals the need for local police (who are on “the ‘frontline’”) to perform federal agents’ work, because the local police become more aware of traffickers and sex traffic victims more often and before federal agents. Therefore, to increase the rate of sex traffic elimination, the local police need more connections with other law enforcement officers.

In a sample of 163 municipal and county police departments (Wilson et al. (2006:153-154), almost half (46%) thought that human trafficking occurred in their geographic area, even less (40%) thought it was a problem in their state, 35% viewed it as a problem for the local police, 18% thought it occurred in their jurisdiction, and 12% felt it was a major problem for their department to confront. Sixty-one percent did not think their department needed to address human trafficking and almost three-quarter (72%) felt that the problem needed to be confronted by federal agents. Three-quarter (75%) thought that the crime of human trafficking was transnational, 64% believed that large, national, organized trafficking networks were a problem, almost half (41%) thought it occurred locally, and even less (39%) assumed that traffickers do not need to be in an organization to sexually exploit women and children. Eight percent were trained to handle human trafficking, 96% were trained in domestic violence, 92% were untrained in human traffic problems, and 55% were trained to handle immigration conflicts. Seven police departments received 2.5 hours of human trafficking training, 80 police departments receive 18 hours of domestic violence training, and 46 police departments received a little over 4 (4.4) hours of immigration training.

So how much do the secretive, human trafficking surface to the public’s attention? Between 2003 and 2006, at least one human traffic investigation was made by 23% (almost one-quarter) of the 163 municipal and country police department in the study by Wilson et al. in 2006. Almost three-quarter (74%) of the 19 departments (14 out of 19) arrested people involved in human trafficking, and 98% of the departments lacked written instructions on how to handle sex trafficking cases (Wilson et al. 2006:155-156). So Wilson et al. debates that local law enforcement agencies need to more involvement in the fight against human trafficking because although the problem is transnational, the US is a top destination for sex traffic children and women (Wilson et al. 2006:158-159).

United States Department of State affirms that between 700,000 and 1 million women and children are victims of human trafficking and from this group, assumingly 50,000 are smuggled into the US. The precise amount is unknown but the victims generally are sent to live in illegitimate businesses and private homes. (Wilson et al. 2006:149-150).

US congress enforced the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to prevent and protect human trafficking and victims, and to punish traffickers (Wilson et al. 2006:150).

Wilson, Deborah G, Sherilyn Kleuber, & William Walsh. 2006. “Trafficking in Human Beings: Training and Services among US Law Enforcement Agencies”. Police Practice and Research 7:149-160. doi:10.1080/15614260600676833

Europe needs to do more to prevent human trafficking

This snippet highlights another consequence of the migration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

According to the article, human traffickers are taking advantage of refugees’ vulnerable state, often smuggling them via “unseaworthy vessels.”

UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, is urging Europe to help trafficked victims through not allowing immigration policies to negatively affect anti-human trafficking laws as this could lead to an increase in human trafficking and exploitation.

Hmong child bride lawsuit in Minnesota

This article is about child brides ie human trafficking of child brides from Laos. In this case, a woman has chosen to speak out and is suing her perpetrator/abuser.

There is apparently a population of Hmong people in St. Paul Minnesota and it is a common occurrence where young girls in Laos are lured with the promise of something like being in a music video or meeting a movie star as was the case with this woman. The community does not openly speak against it because it could mean some sort of physical retaliation.

This woman was taken at the age of 14 (she is now 22) under the promise of an audition to be in a music video. Instead, a relative of the man who initially made the promise to the young girl (and her parents) showed up and raped her. He eventually allowed her to return home, but upon learning she was pregnant, forced her to marry him. Upon bringing her to the US, he kept her passport and immigration documents as well as threatened her with taking their child away if she tried to leave. Eventually, she was able to get a protective order against him and their “cultural” marriage ended.

And now she is suing him “for $450,000, the minimum statutory damages under “Masha’s Law,” a federal law that provides for a civil remedy in the form of monetary compensation in child pornography, child sex tourism, child sex trafficking and other similar cases.”



Federal Plan for addressing sex trafficking in the US

The title of the report is: Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013-2017.

Although it is somewhat lengthy to read, it is worth at least skimming through. Most of our class readings and discussions focus on events in other countries. I believe it is important to keep up on what is going on in the US as well.

This Action Plan, developed by our current administration, delineates strategies and expectations for addressing sex trafficking. It was developed by several governmental agencies and focuses on specific goals to be accomplished over a 5-year period, although the hope is the Plan will be a foundation for long-term goals as well.


It’s A Girl – Gendercide in India and China

The film, It’s A Girl (available now on Netflix watch instantly), casts a light on the way girls in India and China are discriminated against because of their sex. According to the film’s website, the UN estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing because of female infanticide. The film also explores dowry and domestic violence, sex trafficking, issues of reproductive health and control, female suicide, and forced abortions. The film presents some interesting statistics about men and women, including the estimate that there are 37 million more men than women in China today.

Before posting, I wanted to look up some of the statistics. I found an interesting and thought provoking article that looks at the funding and perspective of the film (you can read the Slate article here). The writer found that the film was actually funded and produced by pro-life ministries, yet is being shown and recommended by many pro-choice groups. The article also accuses the film of looking at the people of China and India as being savages, the girls as being victims, and Americans as the saviors.

This critical perspective is a useful lens for viewing the film. The director interviewed social worker, activists, and mothers to get a picture of the cultural issues that allow such discrimination against women to continue. The stories are powerful and the issues compelling. The film ends by stressing the importance of the changes that must be made both within the minds of the individuals and the culture as a whole in order to end the violence. Still, the film fails to give a tangible solution for how this should happen.

Have you seen the film? What do you think? Pro-choice or pro-life? Does it matter? Is it another product of the “white-savior complex?” What could be done to change cultural ideas that devalue girls, causing violence and discrimination?

– Lindsay Cortright

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