Archive for the ‘About slavery/human trafficking’ Category

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As many of you know, we try to be frugal: food from Grocery Outlet (discount store), clothes from Thrift Town, baby clothes from friends, (one) car from eleven years ago. But even after our year overseas, and the re-evaluation of our lifestyle, there are still a few things we’ll spend top dollar on: chocolate, coffee, and Christmas cards.

Why those? Because they can all be bought fair trade, meaning that unlike cheapo Hallmark cards or Hershey’s chocolates,* the people making them are guaranteed a fair wage and livable working conditions.** They don’t grow cacao or coffee at Samaritana, but they do make greeting cards. These are a great way to broaden awareness of the human beings on the other side of every purchase, while also investing in relationships with your family and friends. At Samaritana, each woman signs the card after she makes it, and it also includes a few sentences about how the purchase helps that woman build a new life.

We saw the difference fair trade makes firsthand during our time in Manila. Although the Samaritana women are also trained in catering, house cleaning, jewelry making, and sewing, the card business is their best income source. Two of the women we knew not only fed their children this way, but also paid for electricity to be connected to their parents’ rural home. For a few dollars more than the generic brand, these products helped an entire family—and that, in short, is the power of fair trade.

Granted, five dollars a card might seem like a lot–but it’s comparable to other handmade cards you’ll find at specialty stationery stores, and not that much more than customized photo cards you get online. But best of all, every card you buy is a step toward the kind of world we want to raise our children in.

Cards (Christmas, holiday, and general greeting) made by Samaritana women are available at Samaritana’s US partner, Sanctuary Spring.

–Nate

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*Historically, Hershey’s has been a notable violator of fair-trade practices. They recently committed to certifying 100% of their cocoa in the future, but have been vague on which certifications they will adopt. The upshot is, whether it’s Hershey’s, Nestle, Dove, or any other brand, unless you see the black-and-white Fair Trade logo on the wrapper, it was likely produced using slave labor.

**We’re happy to report that most of the major coffee chains now sell a fair-trade variety, including Caribou, Dunn Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peets, Starbucks–and even Costco and Wal-Mart! For a longer list of shops selling fair-trade coffee, plus other fair-trade foods, you can scan this guy’s blog post. (Just remember that you have to ask for the Fair Trade coffee, since in most cases these places won’t automatically serve it.)

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What kind of world will our sweet little boy grow up in?

This is our son Gabriel. He’s three months old. My hope for him as a parent is that by the time he’s ready to have children of his own, human trafficking won’t be the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. That the threat of being trafficked won’t loom over countless young women in developing countries. That jobs and justice will both be more prevalent in places like the Philippines.

A sea change in society won’t come about with us simply carrying on with our regular lives, and this is why I write today. Some of you may already be familiar with Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform for creative projects: someone has an idea, sets a funding goal, and if you’re interested you can pledge online to support it. (The nice part is, your pledge only goes through if the goal is achieved–and it works through the Amazon e-commerce system, so it’s easy and secure.)

I’m hoping you can spare a few clicks, and a few dollars, for Hello Forever, a movie being made by some high-profile Hollywood talent in partnership with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. CATW is a great NGO that has worked with Samaritana on anti-trafficking initiatives in the Philippines.

Let’s take a small step together toward the kind of world I want my little boy to grow up in: a world where women are valued, respected, and have just as many opportunities as he will.

–Nate

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It was 5:00 p.m. Nate was behind the wheel inching through traffic, I was putting on makeup in the passenger seat, and Gabe was squalling in the back. After six months of planning, five weeks of being new parents, and a very long week of polishing our presentation for The Slave Next Door, we were exhausted.

Earlier in the week, only about 100 tickets had been purchased (for a venue that fit 700). Several event partners had backed out at the last minute. With a Project Peace ace planning team that hadn’t stopped working since November, we believed that the event would still be a great one–Kevin Bales alone would have made it that way. But in the minutes leading up to the event, the possibility of anticlimax was looming.

Friday afternoon we asked many of you to pray with us that God would make the event a success–and he did–in bigger ways than we could’ve imagined! By the time the first speaker took the stage, nearly 400 people were there. In a reception beforehand, 35 leading anti-trafficking agencies were able to hear directly from Kevin Bales. Nate and I were able to shake his hand and tell him that his book Disposable People played a large role in our year in the Philippines.

Local trafficking survivor Minh Dang kicked off the evening, sharing her story of being sold by her own parents. She urged us to resist putting survivors in the “victim” box, and instead focus on the hope and new life that is possible for women like her. She is currently getting her PhD in trauma care, and speaking to groups all around the Bay Area.

Kevin Bales started his talk by saying “I didn’t know it was Minh I was waiting for, but I’ve been waiting fifteen years to meet Minh,” he said, comparing Minh to Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. He affirmed the work she was doing, saying that the world needed more people like her–not more white male professor-types like him.

That same combination of expertise, humility, and grace characterized the keynote address Dr. Bales gave, the most inspiring talk on modern-day slavery that we’ve ever heard. His research illustrates both the magnitude of slavery and how to address it. His work has informed the national governments in both Britain and the U.S. He showed us multiple pictures of slaveholders with slaves, and noted “these people are free now,” thanks to his organization, Free the Slaves.

The speaker portion of the evening ended with a call to action–first through us sharing a bit of our story (which you can watch on the 5-minute video below), and then with a passionate panel of anti-trafficking experts including Bales, Oakland Police officer Holly Joshi, Trade as One founder Nathan George, and Tashina Manyak from MISSSEY. Officer Joshi and Tashina talked about Oakland, which is a major hub for sex trafficking girls, and encouraged the audience to vote for politicians who support anti-trafficking measures, volunteer locally, and help shift our culture away from sexualizing girls and women, and toward holding men accountable for their use of prostitution and pornography. Officer Joshi emphasized that the perpetrators are often “regular” guys–coworkers, friends, neighbors, and husbands. (We were encouraged to learn that at the end of the evening, MISSSEY’s volunteer sheet was completely full!) Nathan George and Kevin Bales encouraged people to buy fair trade, to make a daily investment in freeing people from poverty and modern-day slavery around the world.

The night ended with a fair trade bazaar, where people could sample fair trade chocolate and buy everything from greeting cards to purses to coffee. They could also talk with people from 35 anti-trafficking organizations and learn about volunteer and donation opportunities. There was so much enthusiasm that we had to kick people out at the end of the night when the janitors needed to lock up.

We left asking ourselves how we could work for Kevin Bales, our new hero. We commented on the energy, on the  standing ovations, and the dozens of people who wanted to get involved. After a night of hearing about modern-day slavery, we didn’t feel depressed; we felt exhilarated, excited, hopeful. We couldn’t stop thanking God for blessing the night so far beyond our hopes. Most of all, we felt humbled and honored to be a part of something so special, so big. When we were called up to the stage with the other speakers, we felt unworthy to be standing with people like Minh Dang, Kevin Bales, Holly Joshi, Nathan George, and Tashina Manyak. We’re just regular people, after all.

And that’s the point, I realized: this isn’t just an issue for heroes; we’ll put an end to modern-day slavery when we realize this is an issue for all of us.

–Laura

p.s. If you couldn’t make it or are reading this from across the country or world, we’ve included links to a few videos below to give you a snapshot of what you missed:

Kevin Bales’s TED Talk: How to combat modern-day slavery (18 minutes)
Trade As One: Just One (Narrated by Nathan George) (2:27)
NBC Interview with Minh Dang (3:50)

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“Most of the time I don’t even pay them; all I need to do is show them my baby blues. Sometimes I just give them bus fare home.”

Bob was the stereotype, the guy we all love to hate: tubby, white-haired, sunburnt, and dressed like a beach-bound slob. The guy you hoped didn’t share your nationality. I’d seen him in fast food restaurants, night clubs, videoke bars, and even aboard airplanes headed to vacation destinations. Always beside him there was a beautiful Asian woman—sometimes two—young enough to be his granddaughter. He was the Sex Tourist.

Prior to leaving for the Philippines, I’d spent over a year reading books and articles on human trafficking, and almost all of them were filled with sad victim stories. I’m glad for every person who picks up Half the Sky, Not for Sale, or Disposable People, and I wish more people were reading them. But if we want to understand the complex, sophisticated human trafficking machine, we need to understand how it works–and what fuels it.

The Low-Flying Dove, the novel that came out of my year in Manila, is my attempt to do that. The narrative follows not just trafficking victims and those trying to help them, but a pimp, a bar owner, a former stripper, and two customers. I knew that writing this kind of book would mean interviewing customers, or Johns, and I dreaded talking to people I was sure I’d hate.

But at last I enlisted the help of an NGO worker who had formerly been a sex tourist himself; I told him my objective (to get a real picture of why these guys did what they did) and within a couple of hours, I had a half a dozen meetings set up with guys of all ages and backgrounds.

But let’s get back to Bob.

I’d secretly hoped that all of the guys I interviewed would be like him: easily villainized and blamed. But the truth was a lot closer to home. Yes, there were some despicable, unrelatable sex tourists, but more frequently the men I talked to were surprisingly . . . normal. Likeable, even.

One middle-aged man from Boston sat with me for almost two hours and told me how heartbroken he was when his wife of forty years left him. He came to the Philippines looking for a wife and a second chance, and found her in the form of a 23-year-old bar girl. He met her by paying her for sex, but was indignant that men like Bob abused the girls. He thought sex trafficking was terrible.

I talked to several twenty- and thirty-something guys who had come to Asia to travel and see the world–not sex. They wouldn’t pay for it back home, so why would they in another country? But then they arrived in Manila/Hong Kong/Bangkok/Singapore/etc. and met another foreigner who took them out to a red light district, had a few drinks, and ended up at a strip club. Or they got a great deal on a massage, where their young, pretty massage therapist abruptly offered them extras.

“Normal becomes a pretty relative term after a while,” one guy told me. He’d been stunned the first few times he’d found himself in some of the situations above. But after a while, the things that had shocked him suddenly began to feel commonplace. “Guys do things here that they would never do at home,” he said. “Back home they might look at porn, but they would never go looking for a prostitute.”

Some of the men I met were traveling for work; they had wives and children whom they loved and missed. Many of them knew about sex trafficking and thought that it was atrocious. Not a single man I talked to believed that he was contributing to it in any way. Many times the girls who had convinced my interviewees that they were having a great time confided in me that they had been trafficked and were deeply ashamed of the life they were living.

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, but thanks to our friend Anna Broadway, Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples this year. Anna understands that sex trafficking and prostitution will continue to exploit growing numbers of women unless we turn our attention to the demand for sex—to the customers, or Johns.

All across the country, churches, groups, and individuals are joining Anna in praying for the Johns. We are too. You can read more about Pray for the Johns Day here, and also read an article where Anna interviewed me.

Would you join us in praying for the Johns tomorrow? You can find specific ways to pray on the PFTJ website. We’d love to hear about your experiences here, so please comment and let us know that you’re joining us!

-Laura

In the hills of northern Thailand live minority tribal communities that are also spread across neighboring Laos, Myanmar and China. The Thai government recognizes nine (Akha, Hmong, Karen, Khamu, Lahu, Lisu, Lua, Malabree and Mien), but there are more as well. They are some of the poorest people in Thailand, but beyond that, they live without something most Americans couldn’t imagine living without any more than they could imagine living without a car, fast food, or cell phones: basic citizenship rights.

These tribespeople have been living in Thailand for generations (so they’re not refugees; they are entitled by birth to be Thai citizens), but being at the geographic and economic periphery of the country, they’ve largely been left to fend for themselves. Chiefly farmers in former times, they scrape out a living by guiding treks, selling crafts and the like, but what happens when the tourists don’t come?

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The problem is, when you’re only given short bootstraps, you can only pull yourself up so far—and when the bootstrap breaks, what then? The tribespeople generally don’t have their citizenship documents, so they only have access to elementary education and limited health care. They’re also prohibited from traveling beyond their small district, so finding work can be difficult to impossible out on the margins of Thai society. Thus out of desperation they fall prey to traffickers, who use men for construction work, and women for prostitution.

This is where IJM Chiang Mai stepped in. Previously IJM had been focusing efforts on rescuing and rehabilitating trafficking victims (as they do in the Manila office, where I help), but they concluded that they could have a much greater impact addressing the supply side of the problem: all these people without proper documents (and hence opportunities). Each year since shifting focus to documentation, the Chiang Mai office has helped over 800 tribespeople take this crucial step into full-fledged citizenship and away from the dangers of trafficking. For an encouraging summary of one family’s story, see this article on IJM UK’s web site.

What I found pleasantly surprising and encouraging (and I hope those of you who might consider volunteering with IJM will too) is that unlike with most of IJM’s other offices, the work in Chiang Mai doesn’t necessarily require a legal or social work background–and also, as this post from a current intern observes, simply having a college degree and English proficiency can serve an important function in this office’s work. So if you have a sense of adventure, enjoy beautiful tropical places, and get pumped about eating real Thai food, IJM Chiang Mai might be able to use your help! Check out IJM’s fellowships and internships here.

— Nate

I’ve worked in advertising for over six years, and when I’m employed, it’s the best job I’ve ever had: I get paid to learn new things, keep up with technology, surf the web, brainstorm ideas, and write. But if you asked me, “So Nate, can you look me in the eye and say that advertising makes the world a better place?” I’d probably have to say no; scads of ads contribute to the epidemic of female objectification. Sex sells, right? Ditto MTV; whether it was the old days of actual music videos, or the current crop of commendable cultural institutions like The Real World or Jersey Shore, MTV has been a major purveyor of women as sex objects.

All of the above makes the following video all the more remarkable and commendable: turns out there are some people in advertising and MTV with both big hearts–and great creative skills! A team at NY ad agency Y & R teamed up with the MTV Exit campaign to produce this fresh, evocative video, which in two minutes of haunting music and imaginative illustrations depicts the typical story of a woman being trafficked:

To see the rest of the campaign, including downloadable materials, general trafficking info, other organizations to get involved with, and more, head over to their site here. (Available in multiple languages to pass along to your overseas friends!)

— Nate

Whether you’re a Cheesehead, Steelers fan, or just watching for the ads, here’s something we can all get behind: stopping the buying and selling of women and children during our nation’s biggest sporting event. Take a few minutes in the third or fourth quarter (when the ads are all repeats, and the nachos are reduced to multi-colored crumbs) to read this, and keep our country’s women and children in your thoughts and prayers today.

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What can you do to help? Several things, right from the comfort of your own internet connection:

  1. Sign this petition to the Super Bowl host committee.
  2. Sign this petition on IJM’s web site to President Obama.
  3. Paste any of these links as your facebook status.

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If this isn’t your first visit to Free Is a Verb, you probably know by now that human trafficking victims, like a flesh-and-bone version of the Matrix, are a secret hidden all around us: on big farms, in small restaurants, high-class escort services, low-rent massage parlors, and lots more. These victims may have been moved within a country, or–to trap them further behind a language barrier–across a regional or national border. They may be men, women, or children, Asian, American, or European, but one thing most of them have in common is this: they’re poor–and not just poor in money, but poor in education, opportunity, and hope, which is why they grasp in desperation at the bait traffickers dangle, of jobs and better lives elsewhere. But where do these folks come from? We’ve read the books and articles; we’ve watched documentaries; we’ve heard presentations from NGO’s. But it was time to see for ourselves.

In the Philippines, many trafficking victims come from Samar, a poor island both geographically and mentally on the nation’s fringe. So when we say poor, how poor are we talking? Well, the Philippines as a whole is in the bottom third economically of countries worldwide, then Samar’s three provinces are in the botton fifth in the Philippines. What this means in practical terms is that a family of six in Samar limps along on the $1,600-1,800 a year or so that a rice farmer or fisherman makes, many people cook over wood fires because they can’t afford gas, and almost half the teenagers there drop out of high school because they have to work. So when we ask ourselves why any responsible parent would risk their child being trafficked, the answer isn’t that they’re stupid or uncaring–it’s that they aren’t offered a better choice.

Before we went to Samar, we secretly wondered if all of the stories we’d encountered in our research over the past few years were just the worst-case scenario.  Only in Samar did we realize that these stories were not exceptions, but rather the norm.

The stories we heard were sadly familiar: a friend-of-a-friend or visitor to the village tells a girl about a job in the big city.  She can make good money as a katulong (Tagalog for “helper”, i.e. maid), a waitress, or a nanny.  She and a few of her girlfriends take the bait, often with the blessing of their parents, and before they know it they are on a bus or boat to Manila, Cebu, Angeles City, Malaysia, or beyond.  When they arrive, their cell phones are confiscated and they are delivered to a bar or house that exists to provide prostitution to the local clientele.  They are told that they must work as prostitutes to pay off their transportation fee, but are never paid a peso or told how much of their debt remains.  Unless they are rescued by concerned parents, NGOs, or the police (who are sometimes among their customers), their dreary existence stretches before them until they get sick from STDs or simply get too old to be useful to their owners.

During our one-week visit (graciously hosted by the IJM Samar office staff), we interviewed trafficking victims, their relatives, NGO workers, a human rights lawyer, and a few government workers who worked in the department of social welfare and development (DSWD).  We recorded a number of stories, all of them confirming what we’ve read before.  We came back to Manila with a new love for this forgotten province and its people, and a deep desire to see things improve for them.

Thanks largely to International Justice Mission’s tireless work, every one of the girls we interviewed was a success story.  While all of the girls had been trafficked, and many of them had spent at least a week as prisoners in bars, all of them were rescued before they were raped or forced to work as prostitutes.

One of the girls shared with us a story of how she was finally forced by the mamasan, or pimp, to go out with a customer.  She was only fifteen years old and was terrified.  The customer took her to a hotel, but when she cried and told him that she and her little sister had been tricked into coming to Manila and had no idea they’d be working as prostitutes, he had compassion on her and didn’t force her to have sex with him.  He even offered to help her escape, but she refused since her sister was still back at the house where the girls were kept.

At the same time, the girls’ mother had contacted both IJM and the DSWD as soon as she realized her daughters were gone.  Even though she’d received a phone call from them saying that they were in Manila and that everything was okay, she suspected they were in danger because someone immediately took the phone away from her daughters before they could finish the conversation.  After a 30-hour bus+ferry ride to Manila, she helped identify the house based on her daughter’s description, accompanied the police and IJM staff on the raid, and the girls were set free.

It was inspiring to meet these girls who were so brave, and so grateful to have been rescued from what might have been.  Thanks to organizations like IJM and various aftercare partners, they are receiving an education and counseling, and some of them are even attending college.

But for every girl we talked to who had a happy ending, we heard about many whose fate was not so fortunate. Our work in metro Manila reminds us daily of how important appropriate aftercare is for women who have suffered the trauma of prostitution; our visit to Samar taught us just how essential it is to work to prevent trafficking in the first place.

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So what can you do to help?  A few relatively simple things:

1. If you’re in the Philippines,  write a quick note or make a phone call to the political or economic sections of the U.S. Embassy here. Send an email to the director of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation thanking them for the work they’ve done fighting trafficking and closing bars employing minors for prostitution.

2. If you’re in the U.S., call or email the chairs of the following government committees responsible for U.S. foreign aid:

House subcommittee on state, foreign aid, and related programs

Senate state, foreign operations & related programs subcommittee.

3. If you’re on the internet, become a fan of the Manila U.S. Embassy on facebook or follow them on Twitter, and comment thanking Ambassador Thomas for the time he’s spent supporting IJM’s work in Samar and other anti-trafficking efforts.

-Nate & Laura

*** Warning: the following post may reduce your guilt-free consumption of internet porn ***

Fun-loving web surfers, have you ever paused on your merry way to ask yourselves the question “Boy, where does all that porn come from?” Perhaps not. It’s a question we’d probably rather avoid, right? We just want to complete our transaction, if you will, and move on. (Like eating fast food: don’t ask what’s in it–just fill your appetite.)

In the course of our research leading up to this year abroad, and also in the first three months of our stay in the Philippines, however, we’ve been confronted (to continue the analogy) with the ingredients and the supply chain of this sector of the economy that makes the fast food business look wholesome. Now I believe that there are some women who subsist by selling their bodies who are self-actualized and emancipated, catered nutritious foods, treated respectfully, never been abused, enjoy good health, are paid a dignified salary and 401(k), and go home to loving partners, families, and proud communities. I also believe that it’s possible to be attacked at random by a Great Northwestern Spotted Ferret Bat.

What this video dramatizes in four arresting minutes is a story that is all too common, a story that plays out in apartments, condos, and motel rooms everywhere from California to Calcutta, Miami to Manila. It’s not graphic, but it may be disturbing; don’t watch if you don’t want to see what goes inside this proverbial can of Spam.

-Nate

“We made connections between men’s demand for and socialization through pornography and the rape, woman battering, and sexual harassment we had a decade earlier begun to mobilized against . . . . although many of us believed that we were protesting images of violence, in reality we were protesting violence documented. The rape was not only on paper. The images were mostly photographs of actual women, with histories of horrific abuse, whose bodies were bought, sold and violated for the benefit of sex industry profiteers . . . it was a sobering revelation: the sex industry defenders we were pitted against on TV talk shows were the most brutalized sex industry victims.”*

Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Co-Executive Director
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

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* For more on the link between pornography and prostitution (and for an excellent history of the fight against sex trafficking), read CATW Dorchen Leidholdt’s complete speech here.  It’s long, but well worth the complete read.

The U.S. State Department has an Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and since 2001 they’ve released an annual report summarizing efforts on the issue. We’ve copied here former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s introductory letter from 2007, which is especially well-written.

Read the full Trafficking in Persons Reports here.

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June 12, 2007

Dear Reader:

Two hundred years ago, the British Parliament outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade, culminating a decades-long struggle led by William Wilberforce.

Trafficking in persons is a modern-day form of slavery, a new type of global slave trade. Perpetrators prey on the most weak among us, primarily women and children, for profit and gain. They lure victims into involuntary servitude and sexual slavery. Today we are again called by conscience to end the debasement of our fellow men and women. As in the 19th century, committed abolitionists around the world have come together in a global movement to confront this repulsive crime. President George W. Bush has committed the United States Government to lead in combating this serious 21st century challenge, and all nations that are resolved to end human trafficking have a strong partner in the United States.

The seventh annual Trafficking in Persons Report documents efforts by foreign governments to prevent human trafficking, prosecute criminals, and protect their victims. The report probes even the darkest places, calling to account any country, friend or foe, that is not doing enough to combat human trafficking.

The power of shame has stirred many to action and sparked unprecedented reforms; and the growing awareness has prompted important progress in combating this crime and assisting its victims wherever they are found.

Defeating human trafficking is a great moral calling of our day. Together with our allies and friends, we will continue our efforts to bring this cruel practice to an end. Thank you for joining the new abolitionist movement. Together we can make a difference, and together we can build a safer, freer, and more prosperous world for all.

Sincerely,

Condoleezza Rice