‘a people robbed and plundered…trapped in holes and hidden’

I must admit that the list of national observance days and months is overwhelming and often tedious if not down right ridiculous. For instance, January sports National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week and National Handwriting Analysis Week. This month is National Get Organized Month, Oatmeal Month, and National Polka Music Month, among many others. (Ok, my father-in-law would have loved that last one!)

I sincerely hope that today is not one of those days. Today, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Through my church, with my family, and as an individual, I’ve been talking about human trafficking – and working to end it – for several years. We’ve partnered with organizations both international and local (see my list of Abolitionists on the right-hand sidebar). We’ve looked at both sex slavery and labor slavery. We’ve hosted speakers, founded projects, screened films, and shared many inspiring, informative links. But in all this time I’ve been disappointed by the small number of projects and stories regarding modern-day slavery by the United Methodist Church.

The main exception to that lack has come from the United Methodist Women. And they didn’t disappoint today either. Check this out from their website:

A major myth about human trafficking is that most trafficked persons are taken against their will…snatched off the street, thrown into a van. Or that they are runaways or drug users, exhausted of options, of money, and of hope.

Most, at the beginning, are leaving home to pursue a good job abroad. Then they find they have been sold, they owe tens of thousands of dollars and will have to buy themselves back.

Remember that for every victim of sex trafficking worldwide there are nine forced labor and/or domestic servitude cases.

Then UMW offered words of trafficked women, imploring readers to “imagine what that journey must be like.” Take a moment to read their stories.

UMW also shares good information. Here’s a taste:

Why does human trafficking happen?
Our current global economic system continues to reward wealth and exploit the poor. Sexual trafficking is connected to the feminization of poverty. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls, most of whom live in developing countries with limited options available to them. Women comprise 56 percent of the 12.3 million trafficked adults and children according to the Trafficking in Persons Report.

Trafficking of women, children and men
Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we care so much about this? Here’s one reason… In his first public declaration, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He sent me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free… He sent me to liberate those held down by oppression.” (Luke 4:18)

Clearly, the victims of modern-day slavery/human trafficking need to hear the good news that God is with them. They need to hear the good news that God’s dream for their lives is for them to be free.

There is always more to learn and more ways to engage this issue. Two of the best anti-trafficking efforts locally are the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Salvation Army PROMISE program’s Anne’s House.

Anne’s House is still the only local long-term trauma based residential program for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Today, CAASE released their latest research into those who buy sex in Illinois. It is a disturbing read. But important. Here’s why:

CAASE believes that this research can inform more effective ways for law enforcement and communities to address the demand for prostitution. “If we want to adequately and effectively reduce the demand for paid sex, and thus reduce violence against prostituted people, we need to first understand what motivates men to purchase sex,” said Rachel Durchslag, Executive Director of CAASE. “Lara Janson’s report highlights, through johns’ own words, how specific law enforcement responses to prostitution do deter men from purchasing sex.”

The words of Isaiah often inspire work for justice. The title of this post comes from some of those words:

But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!” Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come? —Isaiah 42:22-23

I hope you’ll join us as we continue on this journey. I hope you’ll join us in this modern-day abolitionist movement.

My list of abolitionists is pretty good, I think. But I know there are many more organizations engaged in this work. Who am I missing? What are your stories of fighting modern-day slavery?

Trafficking jam

It has been a very busy day in the anti-human trafficking world!

Most notably, President Obama used his time at the Clinton Global Initiative to deliver remarks about human trafficking, including new initiatives to engage the fight. As the President rightly stated, this issue is important to all of us:

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery. []

It’s a really good speech, worth your time to read in full. The President includes many stories of modern-day slavery and introduced a few survivors present at CGI today. UPDATE: I haven’t yet found a video of the full remarks, but here’s a snippet finally found video of the whole thing (h/t Holly Boardman):

Our friends at IJM responded with pleasure…and a reminder that our work continues.

Then I got a message from the good folks at CAASE. An opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times by Noy Thrupkaew called into question the validity of the end demand movements. So CAASE responded:

Last year, Ms. Thrupakew [sic] spent time with us, and we shared with her End Demand Illinois’ multi-dimensional, survivor-informed approach to the issue. By omitting this information from her piece, Ms. Thrupakew [sic] has left readers with a distorted view of demand-suppression efforts. […]

As you may know, CAASE does great work here in IL and I’m proud to support them.

As if all that weren’t enough for one day, I’ve also discovered some push back against the anti-trafficking movement. Over at her blog, Rogue Reverend, I’ve had some enlightening conversation with Lia Scholl. I encourage you to read her stuff too. I look forward to learning more from her as our dialogue continues.

Learn more about human trafficking (aka modern-day slavery) through any of my Abolitionists links.

Celebrating Freedom

Happy Independence Day to all my USAmerican readers!

It’s been a while since my last post on human trafficking, so what better day to rectify that than today, the national holiday celebrating freedom? Ok, sure, most of us just use today as an excuse to blow stuff up. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to redeem ourselves a little, right?

English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading aw...
English: Photograph of an FBI agent leading away an adult suspect arrested in the “Operation Cross Country II”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most exciting developments in the fight against modern-day slavery came on June 25 when the story of Operation Cross Country broke. The nationwide FBI sting netted two results worth celebrating: 104 pimps arrested and 79 children rescued from sex slavery. Though my friends at CAASE rightly point out that both of those stories I linked to (MSNBC and Chicago Tribune/Reuters) have a language problem: There is no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute.

There are only prostituted children, victims of sex trafficking. Legally that’s the case here in Illinois. But even in states whose laws haven’t yet caught up with reality, it’s still clear morally. Consider this from the Tribune article:

The teenagers, aged from 13 to 17 years old, were being held in custody until they could be placed with child welfare organizations. They were all U.S. citizens and included 77 girls and two boys, the FBI said. One of the minors recovered in the sweep reported being involved in prostitution from the age of 11, according to Kevin Perkins, acting executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch.

Or this from the MSNBC article:

The average age of a child targeted for prostitution in the United States is between 11 and 14 years old, FBI assistant director Kevin L. Perkins told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

If an adult were found having sex with an 11 or 13 year old, would you arrest the child?? Of course not! Because we know that, legally and morally, children can’t consent to sex. So why in the hell would we treat that same child differently just because some pimp is making money off of her?? Clearly our country is still in need of a lot of education about this.

“We asked men in our survey, ‘What would you tell men under 18?'” Durchslag said. “They said, ‘That (buying sex) will change forever how you relate to women. You will never look at a woman as a full human being again.'”

My town of Naperville make for a good example. It seems Naperville was involved in Operation Cross Country, but here it only resulted in the arrest of four prostituted women. No children rescued, no pimps arrested. I hope that means there just weren’t any children here to find. But it seems highly unlikely that there were no pimps involved with those four women. Why were there no arrests of pimps here? Why were there no johns, no customers arrested here? I wish I knew, but nobody seems to be saying.

How about a little good news? Some education is happening. And it is working. I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when the Tribune’s Barbara Brotman wrote a column on CAASE’s prevention curriculum. Last year I participated in a training Caleb led on this curriculum. He is an engaging teacher and it is terrific material. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to share this curriculum in schools out here in the western suburbs, but I still hope to do so. But I have taught it to the teenage boys at my church. Why start that young?

The program arose from its 2008 study of men who had purchased sex in Chicago. More than half of them had started doing so between the ages of 18 and 23.

“So if most of them were purchasing sex in their college years, we couldn’t do a prevention curriculum in college; it would be too late,” Durchslag said. “We had to reach them in high school.”

I don’t have data for the impact on my church kids, but in the schools where CAASE has taught, boys are changing their attitudes.

Probst hears from teachers. After he spoke at one school, a social worker there told him she overheard a boy saying he was planning to wear a “wife-beater” to an upcoming social engagement.

Another boy stopped him. “You mean a tank top, man,” he said.

“It makes you think about those young girls and how bad they have it,” Alejandro Barragan, one of the Rauner Prep students, said after the last session. “I don’t even like joking around anymore. I don’t even think it’s funny.”

How about one more piece of good news? Nestlé did something right.

“Our investigation of Nestlé’s cocoa supply chain represents the first time a multinational chocolate producer has allowed its procurement system to be completely traced and assessed. For too long child labor in cocoa production has been everybody’s problem and therefore nobody’s responsibility,” said Fair Labor Association President Auret van Heerden.

It means Nestlé is the first chocolate-maker to comprehensively map its cocoa supply chain – and can work on identifying problems areas, training and educating workers and taking action against child labor violations.

Read the rest on CNN’s excellent Freedom Project blog.

Crazy cool video!

This video is amazing!

Not sure how long it has been around, but a friend sent it to me today and I had to share. Be sure to watch it all the way to the end.


Admittedly, I’m not familiar with Stop the Traffik, but they seem to be doing good work in Europe. Here’s something all of us can do to stop human trafficking: help end the demand. Stop buying sex. Stop going to strip clubs. Stop listening to radio stations that accept ads from strip clubs.

Stop treating women as commodities to be bought and sold and owned and discarded.

Teach our young people – especially our young men – to treat women well, with respect and dignity.

Every person is of sacred worth. Every person is a beloved child of God.

Let’s act like it.

Be the Response

Big thanks to all who attended our anti-trafficking event this week!

If you were there, I’d love to hear from you: What did you think of the film? What did you learn from the guest speaker? What questions were left unanswered? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The event is over, but of course the work of abolishing slavery continues. So the question is, what’s next? (Not in the President Bartlet, that’s-over-so-let’s-move-on kind of way, but rather the how-do-we-keep-this-going kind of way.)

Or, as Call + Response writer, director and producer, Justin Dillon, asks in the film’s climax:

This is an open source movement. The platform is written, everybody simply needs to write their code on top. What are you good at? What do you care about? Has this issue touched you? What is your response going to be?

What is our Response going to be?

Even if you weren’t able to be at Wednesday’s event, you can sill be part of the Response to modern-day slavery – both globally and locally.

You can:
Fund Care for Local Trafficking Victims: Here is an order form for gift cards to be given to Anne’s House. Giving gift cards provides needed food and clothes for girls rescued from sex slavery – girls now receiving vital care in the Chicago area. Orders due next Sunday, Feb. 26.

Chose an Action: The Call + Response website offers ways to be an abolitionist, including telling companies you want them to produce their products without using slave labor.

Learn More: Learn about the PROMISE program in general and Anne’s House in particular.

Those response options aren’t moving you? Or perhaps you’re not in the Chicago area? Check out my updated Abolitionist blogroll for all kinds of other options.

While I would of course love to have you support the efforts I highlighted here, there are plenty of avenues you can take. Just as long as you take one.

Be the response. Be an abolitionist.

Well said! – Abolitionist edition

8-year-old me: “Dad, why is there a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but no Kid’s day?”

My Dad: “Because every day is Kid’s day.”

It’s an old joke, and it’s just true enough to be a little funny. It can never be more than a little funny though, because, for the estimated 13-15 million kids trapped in slavery (at this very moment!), no day is Kid’s day.

Forgive me the somewhat mawkish intro there. I was thinking about that long-ago exchange with my dad because today is February 1. Meaning National Human Trafficking Prevention Month is over. But, of course, (say it with me now) every day needs to be Human Trafficking Prevention Day. To that end…

The CNN Freedom Project has excellent coverage of child labor slavery in the chocolate industry. There’s even some good news: The Hersey company is finally addressing the issue:

The Hershey company, one of the United States’ leading chocolate producers, says it’s pledged $10 million over the next five years to educate West African cocoa farmers on improving their trade and combating child labor.

The company said in a press release that chocolate consumers will later this year be able to purchase a new version of Hershey’s Bliss brand, which will be 100% made from Rain Forest Alliance-certified farms mostly in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“It’s a start,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “We see this as a welcome first step toward accountability.”

End Demand IL reports another victory: a conviction!

Sex trafficking is a local problem, and today Alex Campbell was convicted in a federal trial for selling women and girls out of a massage parlor in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect. The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation applauds this victory and urges the community to hold purchasers (johns) accountable for buying sex and fueling the sex trade. Campbell recruited and prostituted women using force, fraud and coercion and had his name tattooed on their bodies to claim his ownership.

Sojourner’s offers a rundown of their anti-trafficking work in 2011:

When, as is true today, the richest 10 percent own 85 percent of the world’s wealth and the poorest 50 percent live off the crumbs of 1 percent of the total global wealth, you’ve created a market where slavery will thrive.

What will it take to shut down “Satan’s marketplace,” the global slave trade? Every weapon in the arsenal of nonviolence.

Texas churches rescuing sex slaves, according to Associated Baptist Press:

Faith-based and other organizations are using a variety of methods to discover and “rescue” trafficking victims. By using a private investigator, Traffick911 recently rescued two girls from traffickers, including one who was sold as “Thanksgiving dessert.” Groups like Traffick911 and TraffickStop are training individuals to recognize signs that indicate a person is being trafficked.

Next, groups like Refuge of Light and Traffick911 are attempting to build safe houses where rescued individuals can recover, a costly process that requires a safe environment. Safe houses are rare across the country. For a group like Traffick911 that discovers trafficking victims each month, that must change.

And, of course, my church (Woodridge UMC) will host a screening of Call + Response on Feb. 15 with discussion and action opportunities to follow.

Along with the film’s creators, we believe “the end of modern-day slavery will come from individuals who gather together to push on businesses, media, and governments to support their existing values for human rights. We believe that this is a bottom-up movement that needs dynamic information, sustained inspiration, and most importantly, tactile activation.”

Share your abolitionist activities so we can learn from each other.

#EndDemand in order to #EndSlavery

“I’m not seeing a lot of cases where there’s not coercion,” she added. “The average age where a girl is forced into prostitution is 12 to 14. And most of these 16- or 17 year-olds are being run by pretty vicious pimps.”

National Human Trafficking Prevention Month is winding down, but the actual work of preventing human trafficking continues. Two terrific posts yesterday – one national, one local – demonstrate the need for action and offer ways to meet that need.

Abolitionist and New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, calls out Backpage.com for helping pimps trafficking girls. That’s not a euphemism, I mean girls. As the quote above from Lauren Hersh, “the ace prosecutor in Brooklyn who leads the sex-trafficking unit there,” demonstrates.

Kristof tells the story of a 13 year-old, whom he calls Babyface, who managed to escape from her pimp (read: trafficker). But not before “she was bleeding vaginally…her pimp had recently kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee.”

Why does Backpage need to shut down its adult services section?

Babyface had run away from home in September. Kendale Judge [the man who became her pimp] allegedly found her on the street, bought food for her and told her that she was beautiful. Within a few days, he had posted her photo on Backpage and was selling her five to nine times a day, prosecutors say. When she didn’t earn enough money, he beat her with a belt, they add. (emphasis added)

Further Kristof writes, Backpage “is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.”

It was that line that caught Kristin Claes’ attention over at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE):

That’s not the first time we’ve heard that comparison, and [Kristof’s] sadly very right: When Rachel Durchslag, CAASE’s executive director, interviewed 113 johns in Chicago, one purchaser said: “I usually call for a girl, you know, like a pizza.” There are so many disturbing things happening there–a girl being a commodity, available to order–it’s important to know that johns are a driving force as much as pimps are.

I know it’s easier to avert our eyes from this sort of atrocity. But we must not. Girls like Babyface aren’t just in New York or Mumbai. They are here too. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad:

we [in the Chicago area] are fortunate locally that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Sheriff Tom Dart are embracing the End Demand approach. We’ve seen signs of progress in Illinois, with local stings that led to the arrests of more than 10 traffickers and 27 johns.

Please read Kristof’s and Claes’ full posts. Then pick an action they suggest and take it.

Want a different option? Come to Woodridge United Methodist Church on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:00pm as we screen and discuss the anti-trafficking documentary Call + Response. The event is free, we have plenty of parking, we’ll provide some snacks, and child care is available.

Whatever else you do, be a modern-day abolitionist.

“Rise up, early” to #endslavery

I’m in the midst of planning a screening of the documentary, Call + Response, at my church. National Human Trafficking Prevention Month will be over by the time we show the film on February 15. But, at risk of being cliché, any time is a good time to fight slavery.

While exact figures are exceedingly difficult to determine, our best guess is that there are between 27-30 million slaves in the world today. Human trafficking exists because there is money to be made at it. Lots and lots of money. Human trafficking makes more money than Nike, Google and Starbucks combined. By all accounts, it is the second most lucrative criminal enterprise (equal to or ahead of gun trafficking and behind only drug trafficking).

Given all that we’re up against in the pursuit of justice for today’s slaves, it is easy to get discouraged. And that’s where Call + Response comes in. I found it an absolutely inspiring film. Watching it re-energized my desire to be an abolitionist. That’s why I want to show it to as many people as possible on Feb. 15.

Go check out all the trailers, see if you aren’t intrigued. Also, take a listen to this haunting song which appears in the film. (In the movie, the band was under the working name The Scrolls. They’ve since changed it to Works Progress Administration.)

Does any of this move you? What will your response be? Will you become an abolitionist?

#NHTAD in the midst of #NHTPM

There are as many as 27-30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, today.

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Image via Wikipedia

Today, January 11, 2012, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. But just one day is truly not enough. And, honestly, “merely” raising awareness is just not enough. Fortunately, this year President Obama declared all of January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

It seems to me that the vast problem of modern-day slavery/human trafficking has become much more visible in mainstream media. It’s certainly all over Twitter. (Just search #NHTAD.)

Heck, there’s even an anti-human trafficking opera now!

There are no so many organizations fighting trafficking, so many people engaged in this struggle to end oppression. My blog roll is in desperate need of updating to reflect all the excellent people and groups I’ve become aware of (mostly through Twitter) who are also abolitionists.

Just yesterday I watched Call + Response for the first time. It is an excellent film, mainly for raising awareness – but also for inspiration to, well, respond. Modern-day slavery is (it should almost go without saying) a blatant, disgusting, soul-numbing, mind-blowing, body-paralyzing evil. This film reminds us of that. But it manages not to get stuck in the funk. In fact, it uses the funk to inspire hope! (Trust me on this. Or, better yet, see the film yourself! We’re hosting a screening at Woodridge United Methodist Church on Feb. 15.)

My hope and prayer is that, wherever you are on the abolitionist journey, you will keep learning, sharing and acting to end slavery in our time.

A few ways to respond today, this month, always:

Learn some basics.

Watch videos from Not for Sale’s Global Forum on Human Trafficking.

Read teen author, Zach Hunter’s ideas to end slavery.

Check out retreat resources from United Methodist Women.

Read about The United Methodist Committee on Relief’s efforts in Armenia.

See how educators like Holly Boardman are inspiring – and being inspired by – their students to end slavery.

In the words of Justin Dillon, writer, director and producer of Call + Response:

This is an open source movement. The platform is written, everybody simply needs to write their code on top. What are you good at? What do you care about? Has this issue touched you? What is your response going to be?

The church is my biggest platform. I will continue to challenge the people of Woodridge UMC to fight slavery locally and globally. God dreams of a slave-free world. We long to bring that dream to life. (Plus I’ll update that blogroll.)

What is your response going to be?

Am I an abolitionist?

Hi. I’m Dave.
And I have 46 slaves working for me.

Can I still call myself an abolitionist?

Back in September, Slavery Footprint went live during the Clinton Global Initiative. The demand crashed their servers.

I remember hearing about it in September and I’m pretty sure I even started through the process of calculating my slavery footprint. Somehow I never finished it though. But today I did. It takes a few minutes, and, damn, is it shocking. I don’t want 46 slaves working for me. I don’t want any slaves working for anybody.

It seems like sex slavery gets most of the press attention and all of the movies.* But according to Free the Slaves, there are more labor slaves than sex slaves. They suggest that as many as 20 million of the 27 million slaves in the world are labor slaves. Most of them buried in the supply chains of all the stuff – food, toys, clothes, electronics – we buy.

According to the site, the things that enlarge my footprint most are our electronic gadgets, toys for our kids (especially action figures), my socks and underwear (??) and our cars. Ouch. I need all those things, don’t I?!?

Slavery Footprint grew out of Justin Dillon’s Call + Response project. (Another film I’ve wanted to see for three years now and just haven’t managed to. I think I just discovered New Year’s resolution #1 for 2012: quit stalling and buy that DVD already!) Check out their tumblr blog,** get their smartphone app, go to the website to calculate your own footprint.

But don’t despair! As was said at our Almost Christmas worship service this week: as followers of God in the way of Jesus we don’t believe in hopeless!

We can end slavery. Use all the tools available to you:

  • Spread awareness. (I know, I know. Awareness-raising seems so…lame and inactive. Yet, every time I’ve thought to myself, “Self, we’ve talked about this enough. Everyone at our church must know about it by now.” someone asks what human trafficking is. Awareness still needs to be raised. Let’s just not make it all we do.)
  • use slavery footprint’s take action methods.
  • use your smartphone.
  • screen a film
  • study a book
  • use social media

And believe it or not, Google is an ally in this fight! Slavery Footprint, International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, Not for Sale and others will receive $11.5 million in grants from Google to launch new anti-trafficking projects.

My name is Dave. I have 46 slaves working for me.
But I have hope that will change. I won’t stop striving to be an abolitionist until that number is zero. For me, for you, for everybody.

No person should be for sale.

*Taken chief among them. I didn’t manage to see The Whistleblower. It comes out on DVD January 24. I will see it then.

**Evidence #2368 that I’m old: I don’t really get tumblr. But I know it’s there. That’s something, right? Right?!?