Friday, February 17, 2017

Fighting Hunger to Fight Sex Trafficking

To understand human trafficking, it is important to understand the underlying causes and risk factors. In September 2016, the Urban Institute released a study, "Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America." The report reveals a link between food insecurity and sexual exploitation. Teens suffering from hunger, mostly girls, are exchanging sex for food or for money to buy food.

The study included teenagers from low-income families in 10 communities. The teens, ages 13-18 years old, participated in 20 focus groups. One of the most consistent findings showed that teens engaged in risky behavior due to food insecurity. Hungry teens begin to strategize on how to save food - from regularly eating at a friend's house to going without food themselves. Oftentimes, teens would engage in criminal behavior - from stealing food to selling drugs - to help feed their families. The teens reported that they would much prefer to earn money through formal employment than engage in criminal behavior but employment opportunities were hard to come by given their young age and their geographic concentration in high poverty areas.

Finally, in all 10 communities, researchers learned that teens (mostly girls) exchanged sex for money or food. Oftentimes, this was discussed in terms of a "transactional dating relationship," where the line between dating and prostitution was blurred. "Dating" frequently occurred between young girls and much older men. Such behavior was normalized in high poverty communities where teens witnessed their mothers making these same choices, and children saw teenagers doing it as well. Though risky, it may seem safer than the perceived alternative of stealing or selling drugs. Other exploitative behavior such as offering sexual favors to strangers and stripping were reported in 7 out of 10 communities.

The study concluded with strategies to help alleviate hunger and steer teens away from illegal behavior. These include increasing food benefits to families at home and at school, and offering more job opportunities for youth. The report calls for additional training for educators and criminal justice officials in recognizing trauma to provide trauma-informed interventions to treat girls who are sexually exploited so that they do not end up in the criminal justice system.

Take Action: Get educated. Learn more about the link between food insecurity and sexual exploitation.  Support policies that help fight hunger. By fighting hunger we also help to prevent sex trafficking.

Kimberlee Hicks is a representative of the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force membership committee. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Gift for Teens

Happy Valentine's Day! Celebrate the holiday by purchasing a special-rate ticket ($10) for a teenager to attend the anti-trafficking production, Among the Darkest Shadows, on Sunday February 19 at the Wharton Center. Your gift will be appreciated and could help keep a teenager safe. 

If you would like to sponsor a teenager to see this powerful performance, please mail your contribution to MHTTF,  PO Box 81163, Lansing, MI 48917.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Among the Darkest Shadows

"The human spirit is a pretty remarkable thing because it is so breakable. And yet we also have the power to heal ourselves."  
                          - Jose Cruz Gonzales, playwright
                            Among the Darkest Shadows

Among the Darkest Shadows is an unconventional play that addresses the far too common problem of human trafficking. Written by playwright Jose Cruz Gonzales and performed by the Inlet Dance Company, this performance offers a different lens for viewing the Director, Bert Goldstein calls "our new civil rights issue." According to Goldstein, art is a powerful vehicle for helping survivors tell their stories.

The performance is the result of collaboration between the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creative Education, playwright Jose Cruz Gonzales, law enforcement officials, human trafficking survivors, members of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force and its director, Jane White.

Created in the style of "magical realism" the production uses movement, images and music even more than dialogue to convey the real life nightmare of the lived experience of trafficking, which so often transcends our understanding of reality. The story follows the story of two teenagers - a young woman, Pinta, who runs away from home to escape her alcoholic parents only to fall for a pimp who enslaves her in the sex trade; and Lodi, a young Spanish-speaking man who is smuggled into the US by a coyote and the becomes a victim of labor trafficking. The performance vividly introduces the audience to their struggle for survival in the world of human trafficking.

The production plans to reach over 3000 middle school and high school students in Michigan and Iowa with its strong anti-trafficking and anti-drug message. It seeks to caution student audiences to seek help if home is not a safe place and to be cautious of those who might try to exploit you. 

TAKE ACTION: Attend a public performance of Among the Darkest Shadows at the Wharton Center. Performance times are Thursday, February 16 at 7:30pm and Sunday February 19 at 1:00pm Members of the MHTTF will receive a 20% discount on tickets when they use the promo code: INLET. An insight preview will take place 45 minutes prior to the performance. There will be an after chat following the performance.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What Are We Outraged About?

Deborah Gibbs recently wrote a compelling opinion piece for The Hill in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Gibbs reminds us that U.S. law defines trafficking as labor, or the exchange of sexual acts, for something of value - under the conditions of force, fraud, or coercion. "Trafficking" refers to the act of buying and selling, not the crossing of state or national boundaries. And if the trafficking involves minors under the age of 18, force, fraud and coercion are not necessary.

The victims of human trafficking come from a variety of backgrounds but common underlying factors of vulnerability include:

  • poverty and the inability to access basic needs;
  • history of abuse and neglect; and
  • absence of emotional and practical support.
Within the U.S.A., studies show that childhood maltreatment, sexual abuse, poverty and gender nonconformity are overwhelmingly common among identified trafficking victims.

Gibbs argues that if we are outraged about human trafficking, we should be outraged at the conditions that make people vulnerable to it. Gibbs calls on us to mobilize against the underlying causes of trafficking - poverty, discrimination, and the gaping holes in the U.S. domestic safety net. We should focus on causes of trafficking and not just symptoms or effects alone. She suggests that we honor survivors best when we advocate for resources that meet basic human needs for safety, well-being, self-sufficiency, and social-connectedness.


Take Action: How can your work or advocacy help t address one of the common underlying factors of human trafficking?

Deborah Gibbs is a senior social policy analyst in the Violence and Victimization Research Program at RTI International. She has more than 30 years of experience leading studies related to child welfare, violence against women, and children’s health, including several studies addressing domestic human trafficking.  Questions about this post? Email mhttfblog@gmail.com