We Can End the Illegal Sex Trade

Ambassadors Perspectives

Swanee Hunt (Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Hunt’s May 14, 2015 special to Politico. The article was coauthored by President Jimmy Carter.

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Too often, when we think of sex trafficking in America, we imagine women smuggled here from Asia or Latin America, when in fact we should be picturing everyday girls and women from our own neighborhoods, exploited by pimps and brothel owners in our own cities and towns.

We should think of women like one in Boston, who was abused by her addicted mother’s boyfriend, ran away over and over from foster homes and was recruited when only 13 by her first pimp, who promised to care for her. It took her years to break free.

Fortunately for our society, Washington is waking up. The Senate’s recent unanimous passage of the Joint Victims of Trafficking Act is one expression of this promising turn. Alongside the…

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Local Companies Team Up To Fight Sex Trafficking

WCCO | CBS Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota-based company My Sister is teaming up with a private family foundation in efforts to quell sex trafficking in the state.

From May 14 to May 21 My Sister will match all online purchases dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 to be donated to MN Girls Art Not For Sale.

MN Girls Are Not For Sale is an anti-trafficking program that was started in 2010 by the Women’s Foundation.

Additionally, six percent of all sales will be donated to MN Girls Are Not For Sale and Maiti Nepal.

My Sister works to raise awareness of sex trafficking and modern day slavery. They sell a number of fair trade products, proceeds of which go to help sex trafficking survivors.

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Blacks don’t run. Whites get your guns

So here is what I have learned from Fox News: As Sean Hannity so well put it, black people don’t sell drugs. Funny thing about that under Reagan the CIA brought literally tons of cocaine into the United State and distributed it throughout black communities.   But in Reagan’s defense he was a white president serving a white America. So the destruction of black communities was not only acceptable but necessary.

Than Sean gave another bit of advice don’t run from the police. Because as we know, police are fair honest brokers, that represent the government out in our communities. Well versed in the Constitutions and carry around the Bill of Rights in their back pockets.

Now I also learned from Fox is that if you are white and owe a lot of money to the people of the United States of America it is not only perfectly fine to not pay what you owe, but it is perfectly alright to challenge our law enforcement agencies with guns.  As a matter of fact it is encouraged.  And best of all you will get support from some media outlets. Like Sean Hannity who will give you all the support you need.

 

 

Sex Trafficking: Should All Perpetrators Be Sentenced As Sex Offenders? By Holly Austin Smith

Holly Austin Smith is a sex trafficking survivor. She has written a book, Walking Prey, How America’s Youth is Vulnerable To Sex Trafficking  which I am in the middle of reading for my film research. She also has written a series of articles for the Huffington Post,

 

PROSTITUTION LAW

Recently I was contacted by an organization seeking feedback from survivors regarding a sex trafficking bill. I often advocate that any anti-trafficking efforts should include feedback from survivors, and I’m grateful they reached out to me as well as other survivors. One of the main points of this particular bill was that it would require any person convicted of sex trafficking youth to register as a sex offender. This sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Well…maybe not. When I first began anti-trafficking advocacy in 2009, I believed any person convicted of human trafficking should face mandatory sentences, including registration as a sex offender if the offense involved sex trafficking minors. However, after reading multiple cases, I’ve since changed my mind. I now believe that each case should be judged on an individual basis. And, if you read Wendy Barnes’ recently released memoir, And Life Continues: Sex Trafficking and My Journey to Freedom, I think you might agree or at least be open to the debate.

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Wendy Barnes was 15 years old the first time she met Greg, a sixteen-year-old high school junior who would ultimately become the father of her three children and force her to accept a life in prostitution for 12 years. “All I wanted was to be loved,” writes Wendy in a personal email. “I wanted to be special to someone.”

Wendy grew up in what she calls a “pretty average” home life. She writes: “Considering that ‘average’ is the biggest bulk between horrible and great. We were poor, the ‘working poor.'” Wendy says she was “picked on” by peers and her older brother while in grade school. “I had red hair and freckles and the neighborhood kids were [bullies]…I was quiet and mostly a loner.”

With both of her parents working full-time, Wendy says they were preoccupied. “I had no one to ‘run to’ and hold me when my brother would pick on me and neighborhood kids would tease me. I had no one to comfort me.” Wendy’s parents divorced when she was eight, forcing her mom to work two jobs. “My father moved away and married another woman who had 3 kids of her own,” she writes. “My Dad put me on the back burner to his new wife and kids. Not like he didn’t try at all, but I would mostly say that because of the way my Dad was raised, it turned him into the father he became. ‘Children are to be seen and not heard’ [was his way of thinking].”

“They did the best they could with the lack of parenting skills they each had,” Wendy continued. In her memoir, And Life Continues, Wendy describes a childhood in which she sought love and approval but often experienced feelings of isolation and disapproval. “[My mom] was a yeller,” Wendy says. “She would scream over every little thing. I took her screaming very personally. She was good at giving guilt trips. She wanted to be a good parent. She tried to show us love, but she had her own personal issues and demons which made it difficult for her.”

Life then took a turn for the worse when Wendy turned 11 years old.

“[My] Mom started dating a guy who started sexually abusing me,” she writes. “The experience broke what little tiny sense of self that I had and I learned to hide ‘me’…Although people could see me, touch me, tease me, I hid my true self in the pit of my stomach.” Later, Wendy disclosed the abuse to a counselor, but by then the abuser and her mother had married. Despite a court order banning contact between Wendy and her stepfather, Wendy’s mother moved both of her children back into the man’s home.

As Wendy entered adolescence, she attempted suicide more than once. “[These were all attempts] to rid the world, my family, my mom and dad from the horrible burden I [thought I] had become,” Wendy writes. “I felt that it was all my fault, that my mom had to work two jobs. I thought it was all my fault that everyone was not happy. I felt like a disease and only by my death would the world be rid of this disease.” This was part of the foundation of Wendy’s childhood, and then she met Greg in middle school. In her memoir, she writes:

Every girl at the party noticed Greg, and almost all them were hanging around, gawking at him…Greg didn’t know that I existed, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming of him at night. Looking back, I don’t really know why I was so attracted to him. Maybe that’s just a rite of passage when you’re 15, to secretly fall in love with the popular guy at school, knowing he would never like you in return.

Later in the school year, Greg did notice Wendy. They began a relationship that Wendy was unable to see as unhealthy and exploitative. By 16, Wendy was pregnant; and, by 17, she was trapped in a relationship that had become violent and manipulative. Before she turned 18, Greg isolated Wendy from her family and ordered her into prostitution, using their child as a tool for coercion. In her memoir, Wendy describes the scene — she is broke, living in a shelter with her infant daughter, Latasha, and waiting for Greg to follow through on his promises:

After a short pause [Greg] started to speak. “I know of a way we can make some money…What are you willing to do for Latasha? How much do you love her?” [he asked me.]

It was such an unexpected question. It was hard to imagine what he was going to suggest. This job must be pretty bad, maybe even picking up garbage on the sides of the streets, I thought — but I was more than willing to do even that. All I wanted was for Latasha to be loved and to have the good life she deserved…

Greg wasn’t giving me answers — just questions that weren’t making sense to me.

“I know how we can get diapers and formula. You just have to believe in me and trust me. Do you believe in me, Wendy? Do you trust me?”

“Of course I believe in you, Greg. Of course I trust you.”

Greg instructed Wendy to prostitute. Despite feeling confused and afraid, Wendy conceded. Afterward she writes “my soul was completely empty.” Over the next 12 years, Greg continued to prostitute Wendy while gaining control over multiple other victims, including minors. In the end, Wendy was so fearful and emotionally broken that she was unable not only to advocate for herself but unable to advocate for others.

Wendy was ultimately sentenced to 23 months in prison and was mandated to register as a sex offender. “I was arrested and charged with the same crime as my pimp,” Wendy writes. In her memoir she describes the moments just after she is told she must register as a sex offender:

The words were a knife to my heart…I choked on the thought. A sex offender is my step-father…a sex offender is a horrible person who does horrible things to helpless children. I felt hopeless, knowing that I would be labeled a monster and knowing I couldn’t do anything about it…all I wanted was to wake up from this horrifying nightmare.

So, here’s the question…should Wendy have been held accountable for minors who were trafficked for commercial sex under Greg’s control? And if so, then to what degree? Does Wendy’s lack of action equal Greg’s actions? Should Wendy have been sentenced as a sex offender? If so, should there have been an expiration date based on graduation from the program and presumed rehabilitation? Should Wendy have lost access to her own children? These are important questions to consider, especially as legislators and anti-trafficking advocates across the country push for mandatory sentences against perpetrators, including perpetrators whose actions (or lack of actions) may have been committed under force, fraud, or coercion.

I realize this is a complex issue, but if you’re working to protect victims of sex trafficking then you must hear the perspectives of all victims. I encourage you to read Wendy’s memoir not only to gain insight into the life of a victim of sex trafficking but to gain insight into the mindset of a victim who is arrested and convicted of charges related to sex trafficking minors. You’ll find that Wendy is not looking for pity. Even as a victim, Wendy says that being held accountable was crucial. She believes her prison sentence was not only appropriate but necessary to release her from Greg’s brainwashing. She was fortunate to have had access to what she describes as an excellent in-prison program and compassionate corrections counselors and probation officers. She points out, however, that such programs are rarely available to victims/offenders.

Despite the success she experienced from this program, Wendy says the court-mandated registration as a sex offender created the biggest obstacle to her rebuilding her life. My hope is that, after reading And Life Continues, you will agree that each offender convicted of sex trafficking must be judged on an individual basis with customized sentences. Yes, all perpetrators must be held accountable; however, all perpetrators are not equal and should not be prosecuted equally. Wendy’s story demonstrates that an appropriate sentence, an effective program and counseling, and a second chance at a new life is not only necessary and fair but is in society’s best interest. Wendy is now an author and national advocate for victims and survivors of sex trafficking.

 

Human Trafficking: Are We Effectively Reaching Victims? By Holly Austin Smith.

Holly Austin Smith is a sex trafficking survivor. She has written a book, Walking Prey, How America’s Youth is Vulnerable To Sex Trafficking  which I am in the middle of reading for my film research. She also has written a series of articles for the Huffington Post,

In two recent articles I addressed imagery in advocacy efforts against human trafficking. In the first article, I discussed negative effects from the overuse of images that portray violence in child sex trafficking. In the second article, I addressed the overwhelming objectification of victims. In my online research, I was surprised to find very few campaigns directed at victim outreach efforts.

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One such campaign from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) uses an image on billboards to promote the NHTRC hotline to potential victims. The image depicts a female dressed promiscuously and leaning into a car window possibly engaging with a buyer of commercial sex. “I like it because it’s real,” says Tanya Street, a survivor of sex trafficking and Founder of Identifiable Me. I agree with Tanya — this image captures exactly what I looked like as a so-called “willing victim”, a term which I discuss in my book, Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery. I think this image would have resonated with me had I seen it in Atlantic City, N.J.

The billboard states in bold letters: Is someone controlling you? We’ll listen. We’ll help.

I can’t say if this particular question would have reached me. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t fully understand that I was being controlled or manipulated. Tanya Street agrees: “I think even at 18 years old, I would not have felt like that applied to me. I thought I chose that life in the beginning, then [I believed] everything became my fault because of my choice.” Of course, there are many victims who do understand they’re being forced or coerced against their will.

Many states are passing laws that require posting of the NHTRC hotline in various locations (e.g. strip clubs and public restrooms) with the intention of reaching victims. However, I worry that some of these efforts are ineffective (especially when created without consulting the NHTRC and/or a vetted group of service providers and survivors). For example, I recently stopped at a Maryland rest area and spotted a sign in the women’s bathroom that read:

Are you or someone you know being sold for sex or made/forced to work for little or no pay and cannot leave? Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 for help. All victims of slavery and human trafficking have rights and are protected by international, federal, and state law…

As a 14-year-old kid, I don’t think I would have noticed this sign — it looked more like an inspection notice than a public service announcement. Furthermore, I can’t imagine I would have related with the words “slavery” or “human trafficking”, at least not based on the information provided here. On a different road trip, I came across another sign that instructed me to call for help if I was being forced to have sex without consent. Again, as a teenager, I didn’t understand that I was being forced or manipulated. Without any additional explanation or appropriate imagery to catch my eye or provide some context, I’m sure I would have washed my hands and walked right past these signs.

Polaris, the national anti-trafficking organization which operates the NHTRC, uses two additional images to reach potential victims of sex or labor trafficking. One depicts an ethnically ambiguous female with the quote, “I was caught in the life and I thought there was no way out. Then I found help.” The other depicts a male with the quote, “Forced to work against my will. I thought there was no way out. Then I found help.” The survivors in these images are not objectified as victims; they’re empowered, which is so important. My only feedback about the first poster is that I never heard the term “the life” in my experience as a victim, but I was victimized for a matter of days, not weeks or months, or even years. Those who are in “the life” longer are more likely to know this and other terms.

Another series of victim outreach posters was introduced by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley. This billboard and bus shelter campaign was a collaborative project between the District Attorney’s Office, Clear Channel Outdoor and MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth). Three separate posters depict a different girl, and they each include a different quote:

“When I was in the life, I thought I was alone. Then I found help from other people like me.”

“When I was being bought and sold, all I wanted to do was get high. Now I’m getting my high school diploma.”

“I depended on my pimp for everything and had nothing. Now I have my own apartment, car and money.”

Each poster promises “I got out. U can 2.” Pretty powerful.

The team that created this campaign pro bono included Suzanne Boutilier, Genice Jacobs and Jed Davis. “We used actual quotes from survivors, which were edited by Suzanne… but, they are the words used by survivors,” Genice stated in a personal email. For additional information or advice on how to launch a similar campaign, contact Genice at AbolitionistMom.org.

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I encourage advocates and legislators to consult with survivors directly in their outreach efforts. For example, the national anti-trafficking organization, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), had the opportunity to create a poster with the purpose of reaching child victims of sex trafficking at truck stops. After consulting with survivors, TAT hired survivor and artist, Sherry Dooley, to create the image above which was to be posted in public restrooms. I can say with certainty that, as a 14-year-old runaway, this poster would have caught my eye, and I would have identified with the girl in the image. A quote that might have worked for me: Are you a teen runaway? Are you caught up in prostitution? The National Human Trafficking Resource Center can help: 1-888-373-7888.