Monday, January 16, 2017

Are you spreading Myths or Facts?

January is human trafficking awareness month. In recognition, we are re-posting our 3 part series on myths about human trafficking that are frequently stated but always wrong.

When we know better we do better. When we perpetuate myths about human trafficking we harm victims.  

Myth #1: Human Trafficking = Sex Trafficking

Truth: The phrases "human trafficking" and "sex trafficking" are not synonyms. When you use them synonyms you make labor trafficking victims invisible.  Human Trafficking can take different forms including labor trafficking and/or sex trafficking.

At its core, human trafficking is a form of compelled service. It is the use of force, fraud or coercion to control one person by another. It may entail physical or psychological violence. It may include hard or dangerous labor for little or no pay; and it involves economic exploitation - traffickers profit off of victims.

Myth #2: The "Perfect" Victim

It is a myth that there is such a thing as a "perfect" victim. The myth suggests that real victims always accept help, don't return to their traffickers, and will quickly recognize us as their rescuers. This myth is dangerous because it suggests that victims who don't fit this profile are not real victims, that they made a choice. By continuing to hold this myth, we re-victimize victims by telling them "you are only a victim when you do what we want you to do." 

TruthAll individuals who have been compelled into service are victims. This includes minors in the sex industry and individuals who were forced, coerced or fraudulently tricked to provide labor or sexual services. By definition, victims have been exploited, and it is this exploitation that makes them victims, not their behavior during the exploitation or after. Further, when children are exploited there is never any possibility of consent.

Myth #3: "Our" kids are taken from malls and movie theaters

What do we signal when we add the modifier "our" before kids? Don't ALL children have the right to be safe and free? Don't use "our" carelessly when you talk about kids. It suggests that some kids are not ours. Movie theaters and malls are not uniquely hotbeds of human trafficking and most victims are not kidnapped from public spaces. This idea perpetuates sensationalist media myths and also encourages the "perfect victim" narrative above.

Truth: This does not mean that child trafficking is not a problem. It is a problem that minors are being exploited for labor and sold for sex. We just need real facts and there is no nationally representative, comprehensive sample of what victims look like. Traffickers prey on vulnerability in their victims. These vulnerabilities cross barriers of age, race, sex, class, gender, ethnicity, religion and nationality, as well as other differences. Kids can be victimized by people they know, who pretend to love them and who promise them a better life.

The bottom line about human trafficking is really quite simple: It is wrong to buy people and it is wrong to sell people. We just don't do it and no one should. Anyone who is bought, sold or exploited is a victim. All victims have human dignity and deserve our care, help and respect.

TAKE ACTION: Now that you know these myths, be sure that you don't perpetuate them.  Share these myths with other caring individuals who are working to fight human trafficking.

This blog was written by Carrie Booth Walling (MHTTF) based on the work of Bridgette Carr, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the University of Michigan Law School's Human Trafficking Clinic.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TraffickCam App: New Tool for ALL of US to Fight Human Sex Trafficking!

TraffickCam is an innovative free app that is designed so that anyone with a smart phone can join the fight against human sex trafficking. All one needs to do is upload pictures of their hotel room (no people!) and leave the rest to TraffickCam and law enforcement.

Hotels are often venues for commercial sex trade, too many times involving minors. Traffickers often post pictures of their victims posing in hotel rooms for advertising. These photos can be used to help find the victims as well as for evidence against the perpetrator if police can find where the pictures were taken from.

TraffickCam is a free app designed to help law enforcement in this fight. It can be downloaded for free onto any smart phone. From there, the public is asked to upload four pictures of their hotel room at various angles according to instructions, as well as the name and room number of the hotel. No personal information is collected.

The app verifies the location with GPS and adds the photos to a very large database of hotel images. Features of the room are converted into a series of data points that can be matched to online photos advertising sex trafficking using image analysis technology.

So far, the app has been downloaded over 90,000 times! There are over 150,000 hotels in the database including over 1.6 million photos. Let's all do our part and help law enforcement.  With this app, help requires very little effort and potential rewards are great.

Take Action: Download TraffickCam for Adroid devices at Google Play. Download TraffickCam for iPhone and iPad at the App Store.

Next time you stay at a hotel, use the app to take and submit photos to law enforcement to help fight sex trafficking.

Friday, October 21, 2016

It Happened to My Family - It can Happen to Any of Us

The worst phone call that any parent can receive is that their child is missing.  This is the call that I received in the Fall of 2011 from a relative that I had entrusted to care for my child.  The call went like this, "Your daughter did not come home yesterday. She left and got in a car with a man who was parked down the street.  She was very disrespectful." My immediate response was to ask whether or not the police had been called.  Instead of a yes, I received an explanation as to why the police had not been called and why they did not go looking for her.

At that moment, 5 hours and 300 miles away, my body went numb and my vision blurred.  How do I call my partner and share that our daughter is missing from my relative's home? How do I share that they are not looking for her? That they have not called the police? I think my heart stopped beating. I have never been so terrified in all of my life. I had to call my partner.

My partner and I immediately called the police at which time they informed us that because she had left the house voluntarily, we needed to call back in 24 hours if she had not returned home. At this point, she had already been gone for 18 hours; a point that fell flat as the police were not willing to search for her.  Again, I went numb.  We made a "missing person poster" and headed to Ohio.

Once in Ohio, we contacted the police again. They still were not helpful so we created our own search team consisting of other family members and began looking for her ourselves. After 5 days of not hearing from her, my daughter finally called her older sister from an unknown number. Her sister informed her that we were looking for her and my daughter gave approximate directions to her location.

When we got her in the car, upon looking at her, my soul shattered.  I knew what had happened to her without her saying a word.  She possessed a bag that only contained baby oil, a razor and shaving cream, lingerie type underwear and a disposable minute phone. She was dressed in clothing that I had not purchased. She was wearing makeup that I had not purchased. She was being sex trafficked.

My child had only been sixteen for 2 days before she went missing. She went willingly with this strange man because he said that he would be her friend. She had met him at a gas station where he was employed. During the time that she was gone, her address had been changed, she had been issued an Ohio ID, and had been held captive in a place she did not know. The man threatened to harm both her and our family. She was only supposed to be going to a carryout when she reached out for help.

I took her to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program to receive confidential and expert care. This is where I learned the details of her assault. Her points of vulnerability were exploited. She was a young female of color, with a history of being a runaway, mental helath issues and a past victim of sexual assault in a city that was unfamiliar.  All of these things that I knew about her should have alerted me to not let her stay with relatives; not even temporarily.  After all, I train and facilitate on these issues for a living.

My daughter was one of the fortunate ones. She had supportive people who were actively looking for her. It is essential for families to remain a viable option of unconditional support for a victimized child as she may be told that no one cares and that the perpetrator is the only person who "cares".

When a child is victimized, the family is victimized as well. It is imperative to provide the family with the tools and resources necessary to provide a supportive environment to the child who was victimized. So what can you do to help? Find out what programs exist in your area. Volunteer at an organization that is providing services. Donate to an organization. Becomce equipped to recognize vulnerability and become an educator in your community.  There is something we can all do.

TAKE ACTION: Learn how to end child sex trafficking in your community. Help to raise awareness. Read, share and post this fact sheet about child victims of human trafficking through your social media, personal and professional networks.  We must work together to protect our children.

Chéree Thomas is Program Director at the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Friday, September 9, 2016

An A-MAZE-ing Race to Fight Human Trafficking

You are invited to the 2nd Annual "Shine A Light on Human Trafficking A-MAZE-ing 5K" - Michigan's 1st Corn Maze 5K

Thursday, October 6 at 6:15pm
Barbott Farms Greenhouse
7155 Cleveland Avenue, Stevensville, MI.

This is a fall family friendly activity.  The 5K walk/run is not a timed race and costumes and strollers are welcome.  All of the proceeds from the event go to anti-trafficking efforts in southwest Michigan and state-wide.  This includes professional training and community awareness outreach.

You can register for the event here. Pre-registered participants will receive a NiteBeams LED glow cap.

$25 early registration on or before September 29
$30 late registration
$35 race day registration
$15 for children 12 and under
strollers (and their riders) are free.