I am back and that is what it is.

19 Sept 2016.

So I am coming back to writing. There is so much I want to cover: The elections. sex trafficking and sexual violence, foreign policy, “terrorism, veterans issues,  society and matters of war and peace.   I have had so many issues living in my head and I have to talk about them. Plus, a lot of people want me to get back to writing.

See a lot of ignorance as well that I have to call out. We have the least qualified presidential candidate to ever run for president tying in the polls with arguably the most qualified candidate to have ever run.  Sex trafficking and violence hasn’t gone anywhere and  Black Lives Matter is talking about serious issues that need to be discussed. You all know how much I love talk about war and peace as well as foreign policy  and there is so much to cover there. I also need to talk about the great American freak out that is called terrorism:   Be afraid of the boogie man boys and girls.

So yeah, I am back here. I hope to write here at least once a day though would like to write more than that. I am also getting back to my other blogs My Journey into Film and Schroyboy so I have a lot of writing ahead. I want writing to be apart of my everyday life. I want to be known for my writings and the only way to do that is to write and write well. I know a lot of people want me to start again and I know this is what I am suppose to be doing.

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Congress needs to put veterans first

Today, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hear testimony on the Commission on Care’s final report on reforming the Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Service Organizations and the Department of Veterans Affairs were not invited to participate in today’s discussion. That’s too bad — the VA and the VSOs could have provided compelling details to back up the commission’s call for congressional action.

From my perspective, the report is overall a validation of the course the VA has been on since I took the helm over two years ago. The president and I agree with 15 of the report’s 18 recommendations, and the VA has already accomplished or has been working on 12 of these through our ongoing MyVA transformation. That includes the report’s main recommendation: building a high-performing integrated health system combining VA care and VA-purchased community care. We are already moving in that direction, and our efforts are already improving veterans’ access to healthcare.

Last year, veterans completed nearly 4 million more appointments than the previous year. In March, they set a record for appointments completed at the VA: 5.3 million, 730,000 more than March 2014. That same month, the VA issued 268,000 authorizations for care in the community — twice as many as March 2014. In July, 96 percent of appointments were completed within 30 days of veterans’ preferred dates, 85 percent were completed within seven days and 22 percent were completed the same day.

The average wait time is around five days for primary care, six days for specialty care and two days for mental healthcare. Ninety percent of veterans we’ve surveyed are “satisfied or completely satisfied” with the timeliness of their care. Just 3 percent say they are dissatisfied. That’s still too many, and we won’t be satisfied until no veteran is dissatisfied.

I doubt there will be much mention of these achievements at today’s hearing. I also doubt there will be much discussion of the commission’s finding that VA care compares favorably in clinical quality to care in the private sector. The Independent Assessment came to the same conclusion, but some people have more to gain by ignoring the facts than by a full and open examination of them.

The commission did not recommend privatizing VA healthcare. Neither has any VSO. Privatization would be a boon for private-sector healthcare companies, including those represented on the commission, but as seven leading VSOs told the commission in April, it “could threaten the financial and clinical viability of some VA medical programs and facilities,” which would “fall particularly hard on the millions of veterans who rely on VA for all or most of their care.”

I strongly disagree with the commission’s recommendation of an independent VA board of directors. The Constitution won’t allow it, and, to me, as a business executive, the idea doesn’t make any sense. It would only make matters worse by complicating the bureaucracy at the top and spreading the responsibility for veterans’ healthcare so that no one knows who’s ultimately responsible.

The fact is, we already have a board of directors: Congress. If Congress worked the way it should, nobody would be talking about adding another layer of bureaucracy.

Veterans need Congress to do its job as a board.

Last week, I sent the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees a detailed letter outlining urgent actions needed just to maintain current levels of care. These include approving the president’s 2017 budget request to keep up with rising costs and medical innovation; extending authorities to maintain services like transportation to VA facilities in rural areas and vocational rehabilitation; fixing provider agreements to keep long-term care facilities from turning veterans out to avoid the hassle of current requirements; and ending the arbitrary rule that won’t let the VA’s dedicated, conscientious medical professionals care for veterans for more than 80 hours in any federal pay period.

Only Congress can fix these problems, just as only Congress can modernize our antiquated claims appeals process. We have submitted to Congress a modernization plan developed with the help of VSOs and other veterans advocates. We have also submitted a plan to consolidate our many community care programs to make community care easier for veterans, providers and the VA.

We need Congress to act on these proposals.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has at least approved a budget nearly equal to the president’s request, and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has unanimously approved the Veterans First Act. The act isn’t all veterans need. It doesn’t address appeals. But it’s a start.

The act is aptly named. It’s time to put politics, ideology and special interests aside. It’s time to put veterans first.

McDonald is the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Free tuition and how Sanders fails at communicating this.

Free tuition is one of the best things we can do for this country. It just makes economic sense and it pays for itself.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is really bad at communicating ideas. This being one of them. Tuition free college pays for itself because the people that go to college get jobs and pay taxes thus paying back their tuition.

Also, it isn’t about redistribution. It is about fair distribution. The reason you are not making a good money is because money funnels to the top. This is what trickle down economics look like. You work hard for little so that the top become wealthier. This is why the Republicans have not had any new ideas on economics since Reagan.

Also, about taxes and why I am for the wealthy paying their fair share; which they do not now: Those of benefit the most from society should pay the most. It is that simple. They benefit from the military, infrastructure, our courts, labor, security and I could go on.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders Is has been terrible at communicating that. He just runs around saying he is going to tax the rich. Which taxing them just because they have money without cause would be pretty unfair. But they benefit the most from America so they should pay the most.

So it is a good time to start working on this blog.

So with everything that is going on in the world and here in America, I think it is time that I start writing on here in Notes from Outpost 187. This is a blog about politics, foreign policy and social issue blog, and there is much to write about. For those who know me know I have opinions and thoughts  on a wide range of topics. I try my best to be thoughtful and take a Socratic approach to things. I also have a great interest in our world, and I want to share them with you all.  I am merely trying to add to the discussion and contribute to our democracy.

I also would love to hear your opinions and thoughts. Please try to thoughtful and polite, but if you can’t be, I forgive you.

We are failing at being number one. Post 1

We fail at being number one.

We refuse to spend the money required to be a great nation. And yes, the means big government.
Why? Because we do not want to tax the people and corporations who BENEFIT
the most from our society. Instead you are asked to pay the bill for these freeloaders.
Yes, the rich and corporations are freeloaders who also receive money from us: the citizens of the United States.

trains csadasdsa

Amnesty International Sex Worker Policy.

I support Amnesty International Sex Trade policy. As you know I am making a film about sex trafficking. I have an unflinching hatred for pimps and traffickers, and feel that law enforcement does not do enough to prevent it. Putting women ahead sex traffickers is a no brainer. So I would not support any policy that would help pimps and traffickers.  As it stands right now we leave women and children vulnerable to sex traffickers and pimps. Women have no recourse because prostitution is illegal.  Now we know that when the sex trade is legal, women do have recourse through law enforcement because they are no longer engaging in an illegal activity. New Zealand decriminalized the sex trade, now women go to the police and work with them when they are raped or assaulted. This is where we need to go.

Also there has been a lot of talk about traffickers having rights and that it will lead to more trafficking. This is not Amenity’s position Let me say this, there needs to be a full out  assault on pimps and sex traffickers by law enforcement from around the world. As it stands women and children are exploited by pimps and traffickers, yet they feel, and for good reason, that they cannot go to the police, for they, by being a prostitute, are engaging in an illegal activity.   This is a simple fact. Amnesty deals with the exploitation of women and children.

This is putting women first. And here is the new Amnesty International policy on the sex trade.

The International Council

REQUESTS the International Board to adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalization of sex work, taking into account:

  1. The starting point of preventing and redressing human rights violations against sex workers, and in particular the need for states to not only review and repeal laws that make sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations, but also refrain from enacting such laws.
  2. Amnesty International’s overarching commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s rights.
  3. The obligation of states to protect every individual in their jurisdiction from discriminatory policies, laws and practices, given that the status and experience of being discriminated against are often key factors in what leads people to engage in sex work, as well as in increasing vulnerability to human rights violations while engaged in sex work and in limiting options for voluntarily ceasing involvement in sex work.
  4. The harm reduction principle.
  5. States have the obligation to prevent and combat trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to protect the human rights of victims of trafficking.
  6. States have an obligation to ensure that sex workers are protected from exploitation and can use criminal law to address acts of exploitation.
  7. Any act related to the sexual exploitation of a child must be criminalized. Recognizing that a child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law, and that states must take all appropriate measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
  8. Evidence that sex workers often engage in sex work due to marginalisation and limited choices, and that therefore Amnesty International will urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will or is compelled to rely on it as their only means of survival, and to ensure that people are able to stop sex work if and when they choose.
  9. Ensuring that the policy seeks to maximize protection of the full range of human rights – in addition to gender equality, women’s rights, and non-discrimination – related to sex work, in particular security of the person, the rights of children, access to justice, the right to health, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the right to a livelihood.
  10. Recognizing and respecting the agency of sex workers to articulate their own experiences and define the most appropriate solutions to ensure their own welfare and safety, while also complying with broader, relevant international human rights principles regarding participation in decision-making, such as the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent with respect to Indigenous peoples.
  11. The evidence from Amnesty International’s and external research on the lived experiences of sex workers, and on the human rights impact of various criminal law and regulatory approaches to sex work.
  12. The policy will be fully consistent with Amnesty International’s positions with respect to consent to sexual activity, including in contexts that involve abuse of power or positions of authority.
  13. Amnesty international does not take a position on whether sex work should be formally recognized as work for the purposes of regulation. States can impose legitimate restrictions on the sale of sexual services, provided that such restrictions comply with international human rights law, in particular in that they must be for a legitimate purpose, provided by law, necessary for and proportionate to the legitimate aim sought to be achieved, and not discriminatory.

The policy will be capable of flexible and responsive application across and within different jurisdictions, recognizing that Amnesty entities may undertake work on different aspects of this policy and can take an incremental approach to this work (in accordance with and within the limits of this policy) based on assessments of specific legal and policy contexts.

The International Board will ensure that, following the release of the final research report, Sections and structures have an opportunity to review and give feedback on the final draft policy before it is adopted.

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.

To Human Traffickers, Runaway & Homeless Youth Are Walking Prey by Holly Austin Smith

Holly Austin Smith is a sex trafficking survivor. She has written a book called 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 articles for the Huffington Post, and this is the first article of three.

Holly’s Twitter account.

To Human Traffickers, Runaway & Homeless Youth Are Walking Prey

It is hard to think of a more despicable crime than the buying and selling of other human beings, especially children. Yet we know that it is happening right here in America, every day. Each year, thousands of children are bought and sold for sex. That should keep all of us awake at night.

Many of these young people are homeless or have run away and are fighting to survive on the streets. They are forgotten by society, but they are walking prey to traffickers. They are young and vulnerable. Thirty-nine percent of the homeless population is under the age of 18, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, and according to the National Network for Youth, the average age at which a teen first becomes homeless is 14.7 years old. The homeless youth population has more than doubled since 2007. Many are running away to escape physical and sexual abuse. Others have been ordered out of the home by parents who reject them. Still others have been lured away by adults who want to exploit them.

We must do all we can to hold traffickers responsible and to help survivors of trafficking rebuild their lives. But if we are serious about addressing this problem, we must also act to prevent this devastating crime from happening in the first place. And that means making sure that all our children have a safe place to sleep. As the Senate prepares to consider legislation to combat the scourge of human trafficking, Senators must support the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, S.262.

This bipartisan bill supports housing, education, and job training for homeless youth. It ensures that no child is turned away from services because of her or his sexual orientation or gender identity, and it offers training to service providers who are working on the front lines to protect homeless teens every day. It has earned broad support from advocates for trafficking victims and homeless youth, along with more than 25 Senators from both parties.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who serve on the Judiciary Committee, are championing efforts to protect victims and hold traffickers accountable. So are Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the longest serving woman in Congressional history, and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the most senior Republican woman currently serving. Both of them recently testified before the Judiciary Committee about the importance of prevention.

Senator Collins told committee members: “Homeless youth need access to safe beds at night and services during the day so that they never have to choose between selling their bodies and a safe place to sleep.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also implored the Committee to focus on preventing more of our kids from becoming victims of human trafficking. They were joined on the Senate floor this week by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who called for the Senate to take a comprehensive look at the issue of trafficking.

We couldn’t agree more. Diverting kids from a lifetime of victimization will save lives and encourage the development of successful, productive young adults.

Jayne Bigelsen directs anti-trafficking initiatives at The Covenant House, which serves more than 56,000 young people in 27 cities. A 2013 study by the Covenant House in New York found that 1 in 4 homeless teens became a victim of sex trafficking or was forced to provide sex for survival needs, such as food or a place to sleep. Of these victims, about half reported that the number one reason they had been drawn into commercial sexual activity was because they did not have a safe place to sleep. As Jayne testified, “To prevent trafficking, we must understand the pipeline between homelessness and the commercial sexual exploitation of young people.”

Holly understands this because she lived it. She was one of those runaway teens lured into sex trafficking. At the age of 14, she was sold by a man who pretended to care about her, and promised her a better life. This horrible trauma nearly destroyed her life, but now she is an advocate for others who have been trafficked. As she testified last week, “There needs to be more awareness in communities that this is happening in states all across the country.”

As Holly knows from personal experience, and as Jayne knows from the front lines, homeless and runaway kids desperately need our help. Human traffickers view them as walking prey. Lawmakers, advocates, and survivors must stand together with the most vulnerable kids on the streets and protect them from being trafficked. We hope you will join us to urge Congress to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.