Thursday, July 26, 2012

How Are Girls Trafficked?

Movies like "Taken" have done for sex trafficking, what "Pretty Woman" did for prostitution. Many of us have seen Julia Robert's play the down-on-her-luck prostitute who is swept off her feet by a good looking, wealthy businessman who is looking for love and woos her into a fairytale life where everything is good. This single piece of media has had an impact upon our understanding of prostitution and exploitation of women...but that is another story...

Certainly, "Taken" is not a love story; it is an action packed thriller intended to entertain us. Action movies are great and Liam Neeson is great actor too! As a whole, the movie is a lot of fun to watch. We love the idea of a hero who has unlimited skills, unlimited resources, and can save a girl from being sexually trafficked and exploited. Unfortunately, there are not many people like Liam's character. Nor are there situations that turn out quite the way this film portrayed.

Liam Neeson's character coming to the rescue.
In fact, many of the movies about trafficking have very little basis in reality. They are created by film makers and film companies looking to sell tickets, not abolitionists looking to end global slavery. The abolitionists that have made films have had a hard time getting them funded and watched by the masses. As a result, many of these mainstream films major in sensationalism. They seek to shock, appall, and in some cases educate and even challenge us. But, ultimately these films are there to entertain us.

So, what does this have to do with how girls are trafficked? Well, a lot actually. In the discussion of whether art imitates life or life imitates art, we are confronted with the fact that films about trafficking have given us a false sense of reality about the world of trafficking (or at least a skewed view of it).

At conferences, meetings, and speaking engagements we are regularly greeted with phrases like "Oh, it is so horrible - the thought of girls being kidnapped and trafficked to other countries.", "I always tell my daughter to be looking out for strange vehicles that might grab her off the street and traffic her.", or "It is horrible how girls can just be nabbed up and taken away to something so awful." But, is this really how it happens?

Maggie Grace in Taken - just before being kidnapped.
We were wondering if these kinds of thought processes are really the kinds of thoughts that live in public consciousness about sex trafficking? Do we really believe that sex trafficking occurs because there are predators seeking to kidnap pretty girls and sell them into the sex trade? The answer is yes. Sex trafficking is an emotionally heavy issue that is often challenging to process. The idea of people being enslaved, abused, exploited, and thrown away is difficult. We often have to dispel belief in order to accept the fact that this horrible crime exists.

Yet, it does really exist. So, it often makes us feel 'better' (used loosely) to think of cruel men pulling up in a black van and kidnapping a girl than it is to consider that most traffickers never need to lay a hand on a girl (initially) in order to traffic them. Most girls, in fact, go willingly. In the counter trafficking world, we use the term push and pull factors to understand how trafficking happens.

Push factors are the general reasons why many victims want to leave their home country, and the Pull factors are the reasons that draw them to their destination. But, if we expand this definition to a more micro-level, we see something significant at work. A push factor can also be poverty, dysfunctional family, domestic violence, abuse in the home, lack of opportunity, and other things that tend to 'push' people out of situations and place them in more vulnerable ones. Pull factors on the other hand can be job opportunities, the offer of money, the offer of love (a pimps most classic ploy), or another factor that seems better than the push factor circumstances.

While violence is certainly employed against victims of trafficking, there is very little need for this on the part of traffickers, who can use much more effective means of drawing people into their traps. The offer of a better life or better circumstance drives people to put themselves in precarious situations where traffickers, pimps, etc. can develop control.

Why is all of this relevant? First, because it helps us frame how girls are really trafficked. When we realize that many victims were already 'at risk' before being trafficked and that many of them put themselves in situations where traffickers were able to gain control of their lives, we can begin to understand the mindset of victims and develop effective programs to help them find healing. Second, when we have a more realistic view of traffickers methodology, we can help educate vulnerable populations, train law enforcement, and create more effective laws and policies to address the problem.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What is Sex Trafficking?

As a part of the series of videos that Transitions has done on sex trafficking and the work we are doing with survivors, we wanted to create a forum for dialog about some of these key issues. We would like to invite you to post comments, questions, and information that would help us all in the fight to abolish child sex trafficking.

The first question we posted was "What is Sex Trafficking?" A very basic question, but one that we felt should be first. So much gets lost in much of our conversation about this issue. Sexual slavery was the first term that was used for what happens to girls who are sexually exploited globally. In the early 2000's, the term was changed from 'slavery' to 'trafficking', via the US State Department and other large organizations looking for a more technical term to give better understanding of human slavery.

The change of terminology also came as a result of not wanting to denigrate the slavery endured by African men, women, and children during the 18th and 19th Century in Europe and the United States by using such a strong word. Certainly, in many situations, modern day slavery does not look the same as chattel slavery, but there are other aspects to consider. First, the price of slaves has steeply dropped. In the 1860, the cost of a slave was just over $1,600. In today's currency, this would be tens of thousands of dollars. Slaves were kept for years and often generations. Yet, today's slavery looks differently.

Today, people are bought for less than $100, which is less than much of the world pays for their cellphones. Girls are purchased in Cambodia for $300-500, but will be sold over and over again to customers for commercial sex at $5-50 a time (more for the virgin trade). Girls, women, and boys are not kept long, as sexual exploitation takes a harsh toll on victims' physical appearance and their longevity in the trade.

There are other aspects, which will be addressed in future videos, but we want to hear from you? Is sex trafficking slavery? What is your definition?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fear The 'Fad' of Sex Trafficking

Transitions' girls making 'worry dolls' with Naropa art therapy students.
When Transitions began its journey to see young girls find hope and healing from being sexually trafficked in 2006, we had one fear. That fear was that this issue would become a fad, which would fade from public popularity and move on to the next big thing. This issue for us, is about the girls - real girls with real needs to find restoration in their lives and a revival of their dreams. This is not something we did when it was popular. In fact, we began this journey in 2004, when the word sex trafficking was an anomaly to the general public.

Eight years into our journey, we are seeing significant progress - more awareness, more education, and a growing body of foundations, funding agencies, and people that realize the critical need for services to the survivors of this horrible crime. The world of aftercare, treatment, and reintegration is just now beginning to mature to a place that we are having meaningful conversations about what success (in working with survivors) looks like.

Worry dolls created by the girls at Transitions' Dream Home.

But, there is a problem. For a large percentage of people, this issue is something that captures their attention for a time and then they move on to the next big 'cause'. In fact, even within our own field, we are seeing a shift. Major organizations, like IOM (International Organization for Migration) have shifted their focus from repatriation and services to looking at migration in regard to climate change! This shift was due to the interest of donors and an increase of funding for climate issues instead of trafficking. But, we are seeing a movement to no longer focusing on sex trafficking to look at other issues.

The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) emphasizes that the 'new' issue is labor trafficking and not sex trafficking, which is deeply disturbing. Sex trafficking has not disappeared, nor has it been curbed; rather, sex trafficking has become more complex and pushed further underground. This means that we are making progress, but we need to adjust the methodology for investigating and rescuing victims. The fact that criminals have become more complex in the way they are trafficking and exploiting victims should not dissuade us from making the effort or changing focus to something else.

We certainly can't believe that sex trafficking has gone away and that now traffickers are only exploiting human beings for labor? Yet, by the shift in attention, you would be led to believe that sex trafficking (particularly of minors) has been greatly eliminated. Yet, we see an increased influx of foreign men in Cambodia (Southeast Asia as a whole) and the 'chatter' online would also give the impression that sex tourism is on the rise.

Survivor at Transitions doing sand tray therapy.

We need to maintain our resolve to persevere in our efforts to identify, rescue, and restore the lives of survivors - girls, women, and even boys are counting on us to stay our course. We cannot allow sex trafficking to become a trend, like skinny jeans or dub step. These are human beings crying out for us to see them, hear them, and help them. In order to do this, we need to find innovative ways to engage the global community to stay involved.

Transitions is committed to the long-term effort of restoring the lives of young girls rescued from sex trafficking, through the power of a dream. We believe in giving survivors a new future and providing them with the services and tools they need to begin a new life. This means that we need people (like you) to continue to care and keep your attention on the precious lives that have been affected by sex trafficking. One of the most powerful ways to do this is through sponsoring a girl. Project Every Girl gives you the ability to make a tangible impact in the lives of survivors. You can also advocate with your friends, church, school, and community to get involved.

We also need new and innovative solutions for keeping a focus on this important and critical issue. This is where you come in. If you have ideas for how Transitions can increase awareness of the work we are doing with survivors, let us know. Comment here or on our Facebook page!

All photos by Lauren Huntley 2012