Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Soroptimist International - Our Fight Against Human Trafficking

The word itself “Soroptimist” seems to be hard to pronounce for a lot of people.  But it’s actually quite easy -- Sor and Optimist.  Soroptimist means “best for women.”  It is a global women’s service organization began in 1921 in California and spread like fire throughout the United States and then to Europe.   Soroptimist now has four federations, namely:  Soroptimist of the Americas, of Great Britain/Ireland, of Europe, and of the South West Pacific.  Most recently, women from all over the world converged on Istanbul, Turkey, for the 20th international convention, with approximately 1,500 Soroptimist members attending from July 9 to 12, 2015, including me.   Workshops held at the convention included “Slavery in the 2lst Century” and “The Power of a Second Chance for Women.”    

My specific area is the Midwestern Region which encompasses the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky, and we are all members of Soroptimist International of the Americas.  There are approximately 721 members in those combined states as part of 32 clubs.  Currently, my position is Governor-Elect of the Midwestern Region.   In April 2016, my position will change to Governor of the Midwestern Region for a two year term where my duties will be to lead Soroptimist members of the Midwestern Region in their efforts to improve the lives of women and girls locally and globally through programs leading to economic and social empowerment for women and girls.

Soroptimist members have been educating themselves about the problem of human trafficking for approximately 10 years.  It all began at a Soroptimist meeting in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where I met a survivor of human trafficking.  Back then the term “human trafficking” was just coming into existence.  The story I heard that night was a story I had never heard before - of a young girl being trafficked as a child.  You could hear a pin drop the entire time this young woman spoke to a roomful of Soroptimist members.

Since then, I have made it a point to attend as many events regarding human trafficking as possible.   What affects me the most are the stories told by the survivors.  The stories are real.  The stories are believable yet unbelievable.  The stories told by young women and girls is heart breaking and heart wrenching.  How can this happen to our girls and women? How can all of us prevent these things from happening to our girls?   What can we do?  The answer is that we must address the problem of trafficking at both the global and local levels.  The Soroptimists Stop Trafficking program can help you!  Here you can find a variety of resources to educate yourself and to help you educate your community about human trafficking and how you can take action to stop it. 

Take Action:  

Vivian Walczesky is a Legal Assistant, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children, current Governor Elect of Soroptimist Midwestern Region, a Mediator with the Michigan Southeastern Dispute Resolution Services, and former Board Member for Friends of CASA and Monroe County Community College Alumni.   

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Break the Silence! Highlights from our upcoming Conference, Human Trafficking: A Closer Look

Here are some highlights for our upcoming Human Trafficking Conference.  Join us at the Dearborn Convention Center on October 15th-16th.

Survivors Speak Out--Labor and sexual victims who started the long journey to survival will recount their experiences.  They’ll describe what was of value to them along the journey and what was not as helpful.

Coleen Owens from Washington DC will be a key note speaker addressing the chronicles of labor traffickers who commit crimes against workers in agriculture, domestic work, hotels, and construction.

Becca Stevens from Thistle Farms-Magdalene, in Nashville, Tenn. will also be a key note speaker. She is one of the premiere speakers in the United States working with communities of women who have survived human trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.

Bridgette Carr Professor and Director of the world-wide renowned Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School will be speaking at the Conference on "Myths surrounding human trafficking and how this harms victims".

To register for the conference, visit www.michiganprosecutor.org.  Click on training and then human trafficking.  The cost of registration is $125 although applications for scholarships for police officer and survivors are being accepted.  For more information or assistance registering, call 517-881-8013.

Please note that the conference is MCOLES approved.  Social work CEs will also be available at no extra cost.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You are Invited! Human Trafficking: A Closer Look

Break The Silence!  Join us at the Human Trafficking: A Closer Look conference to be held on October 15th and 16th at the Royal Dearborn Hotel and Convention Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

Co-Sponsored by the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, conference participants will benefit from engaging presentations and conversations with national and state experts on  human trafficking.  Together, we'll explore what is being done about human trafficking and what more needs to be done.  We'll identify unmet needs, focus on the urgency of research, highlight innovative community endeavors, learn from survivors and explore how new data collection processes might foster new approaches.  Whatever your background, whether you are an expert or a concerned community member this conference is for you.  All that matters is that you are committed to becoming a voice in the anti-trafficking effort.

Who will be at the conference?  The conference reflects the collaborative efforts of law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, victim service providers, community members, faith based groups, medical and rescue personnel, businesses, university faculty and trafficking survivors.  Presenters and attendees share the vision of advancing a victim-centered approach that builds awareness, supports prosecution, and advocates for the children, women and men who have suffered the consequence of trafficking.

To register for the conference, visit www.michiganprosecutor.org  Click on training and then human trafficking.  The cost of registration is $125 though applications for scholarships for police officers and survivors are being accepted.  For more information or for assistance registering for the conference call 517-881-8013.

Please note that that the conference is MCOLES approved.  Social work CEs will also be available at no extra cost.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When Human Trafficking Survivors Have an Attorney: Victim Advocates

This blog entry is the second in a series offering a few tips for working with human trafficking survivors who are represented by an attorney. This entry discusses attorneys as victim advocates. (The first in the series posted on 8/23/15 and was titled “When Human Trafficking Survivors Have an Attorney: Confidentiality”).

Often the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic clinic serves as a victim advocate for survivors.  This includes helping victims to aid in a law enforcement investigation of their traffickers, serve as a witness at trial, make a victim impact statement at sentencing, and request financial restitution.

While law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices may have staff who serve as victim advocates or volunteers might play that role (all providing valuable help to survivors!), lawyers can play a different and, hopefully complementary, role. Attorneys have a confidential relationship with clients so that they can listen to clients’ concerns and advise them about various options, without disclosing those counseling conversations to anyone else in the case (unless they have the clients’ permission). And, attorneys are trained to prepare witnesses for trial and to advocate for their needs before the court.

Communications between survivors and staff members or volunteers are not usually legally protected as privileged communications. Victim advocates from law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices cannot promise to keep communications confidential; indeed they may have a duty to report new information to their supervisors. Although a volunteer advocate might promise confidentiality, the promise is not legally enforceable.

Giving survivors access to confidential legal representation can actually benefit both survivors and law enforcement. Survivors have immediate access to a professional who represents only the survivors’ interests. When attorneys are present at an initial interview of someone identified as a possible victim of human trafficking, we, and law enforcement officers, quickly tell the survivor that the lawyer does not work for the law enforcement agency or for the court: that we are independent of the decision makers and we will advocate for only the survivor.

It is not difficult to imagine why this is helpful to survivors, but how does it aid law enforcement in the investigation? One of the greatest fears our clients express is the worry that they are in trouble, and that they are the subject of the investigation – that if they tell the truth, they will end up in jail or deported. This concern has typically been the threat made over and over again by their traffickers to keep them trapped. When they finally escape, they have difficulty trusting that law enforcement is there to help, not prosecute, them. 

Also, some survivors come from countries where law enforcement and the courts are corrupt and cannot be trusted to protect victims. The attorney for survivors can help them understand that the trafficker is the true target of the investigation and reassure them that the attorney will be by their side throughout the investigation to help explain the process and to protect their rights. This often allows victims to cooperate freely with the investigation by giving law enforcement information that can support prosecution of traffickers.

Attorneys are trained to prepare clients for testimony, so attorney victim advocates can help to reassure a worried client-witness, and can provide valuable guidance about the client’s concerns to the prosecutor. This works especially well when the attorney has a respectful relationship with the prosecutor and stays in the role of victim advocate, not interfering with the prosecutor’s work.

Also, attorneys who serve as victim advocates can participate in developing victim impact statements for survivors, advocating for restitution, and collecting it on behalf of clients. In one of our cases, the Clinic worked with a client who cannot speak English to develop a victim impact statement for the Court. After her trafficker was sentenced, the clinic advocated for an award of restitution, which was granted. The trafficker appealed the restitution order and the clinic has recently submitted a brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to defend the District Court’s award of financial restitution. Much of this work, and the ability to file an appearance and brief with the Court, could only be done by an attorney victim advocate.

As in most work in which a variety of people are trying to be helpful, one of our biggest jobs is to stay inside our appropriate role and to be respectful of each other’s work. The survivors with whom we work will be much better off if they can obtain the coordinated and complementary support of volunteer advocates, staff victim advocates, and attorneys while they attempt to navigate the complicated world of the criminal justice system.

Take Action: If you or someone you know wishes to contact the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic for legal advice and/or possible representation, please call 734-615-3600.

Suellyn Scarnecchia is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Women at Risk, International

In the fight against human trafficking, it can be hard to know exactly where to begin. At first, the enormity of this injustice can be overwhelming. Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) understands this. But, believe no matter who you are, or where you are in life, you can be a voice for the voiceless.

The U.S. government estimates that hundreds of thousands of American children are at risk of being sold into sexual slavery. This is not an overseas problem. It reaches across gender, age and demographics. It is a heart problem.  

Three major components guide WAR, Int’l in its fight against human trafficking. Our goal is to 1) rescue, 2) restore and 3) empower at-risk women, as well as women who have already been exposed to the dangers and traumas of sex trafficking.

WAR, Int’l understands the power of team work and community, which is why we have developed a network of relationships and resources with 170 different organizations around the world in 40 countries. We truly believe in sustainability for the women we work with by providing funds for micro-loans so women can start their own businesses and break cycles of poverty. 

As an organization, we personally believe you don’t have to hop on a plane to Thailand to help those engulfed in sexual slavery. While there is a time and a place for that, something as simple as mentoring at-risk kids in poverty right in your community can be a very powerful thing.

Learning about human trafficking in its entirety is also of utmost importance. The reality is that human trafficking is here in our state. Educating yourself on what it looks like in Michigan could actually save a life.
In our fight to rescue, restore and empower, we recognize the need for our community to be alert so we can wrap arms of love and protection around those who need it most.

So, the first step in providing survivors proper care is to get educated. Find out what trafficking is. Then, volunteer your time, talent and treasure to a local organization fighting this injustice.

While this issue continues to grow, we hope that as you seek to empower women around the world, you would personally be empowered to educate yourself, and take action against this injustice.

Take Action:  Reach out to us if you have questions about how you can use your talents to end human trafficking.  Contact us today at info@warinternational.org. We would love to connect you with the resources you need to get started. 

Brittany Jacobson and Jennifer Roberts work for Women At Risk, International – an organization that unites and educates women to create circles of protection and hope around at-risk women and children through culturally sensitive, value-added intervention projects. WAR, Int’l address 14 different risk issues in more than 40 countries, bringing a voice to the voiceless. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

What Do We Do? Meet the Native American Affairs (NAA) Office

The Michigan Department of Health and HumanServices (MDHHS), Native American Affairs (NAA) office provides a broad range of services to protect, preserve and strengthen American Indian/Alaska Native families both on and off tribal lands.
Native American Affairs (NAA) assists Michigan's tribal population of approximately 130,000 with various services provided in partnership with Michigan's federally recognized tribes, historic tribes, urban Indian organizations, federal government and other community and state organizations.
These services include, but are not limited to:
  • Tribal consultation; 
  • Training/technical assistance to state employees, customers and the general public regarding cultural competence and Indian child welfare; 
  • Advocacy on behalf of American Indians throughout all levels of government and among the general public; 
  • Direct services through Indian Outreach Workers; and 
  • Providing and/or assisting the department/private agencies with meeting the mandates of the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978)/Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act (2013).

Indian Outreach Services are provided in the counties of Baraga, Chippewa, Emmet, Gogebic, Isabella, Kent, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, Van Buren, and Wayne.  These workers provide direct assistance to tribal families requesting services or are referred from the court, tribes, and private agencies for child welfare/direct assistance to mediate family concerns.

Human Trafficking: Native American Affairs (NAA) assists human trafficking survivors and direct service providers through referrals to local state and tribal experts for case management and referral services including but not limited to: 
  • traditional medicine practitioners; 
  • tribal sexual assault and violence advocates; 
  • tribal safe havens/shelters; and 
  • MDHHS Indian Outreach Services/Children’s Protective Services/Adult Protective Services case managers and contractors as appropriate.

Take Action: Reach out to MDHHS and NAA for any of your support and referral needs.
  • MDHHS protects human trafficking victims through its implementation of the abuse and neglect Human Trafficking Protocol and Michigan’s newly amended human trafficking legislation (MCL 750.462 (a)-(i)).
  • If you are concerned about a potential abuse or neglect of a child or adult in Michigan, make an anonymous complaint to report incidents or concerns by calling 1.855.444.3911. 
  • NAA and other MDHHS Policy Manuals are available for free download.
  • For more information, contact Native American Affairs (NAA) at 517-335-7782 or visit the website.  Email your policy questions for Native American Affairs (NAA) to: DHS-NAA-MIFPA@michigan.gov.

Stacey Tadgerson is director of Native American Affairs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) and serves as a state expert on American Indian Alaska Native service linkages and case consults specifically pertaining to Indian child welfare and generally as liaison to Michigan tribes and urban Indian centers.  She is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and she holds a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Michigan University. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Would you Know What to Look For?

I wanted a pedicure before I left on my trip, but had forgotten to make an appointment at my regular nail salon.  I decided to try a walk-in nail salon instead. 

The storeowner looked up as I entered and asked me how he could help.  I responded I would like to get a pedicure.  He invited me to take a seat; I would only have to wait a few minutes.  He was right, about five minutes later he escorted me to the back of the salon and pointed to the technician’s station.

The woman smiled at me, motioning with her hand that I should take a sit and then lowered her head, intent on my pedicure.  I tried to be friendly and with little success attempted to carry on a conversation.  She seemed to speak minimal English and never made much eye contact.

I started thinking to myself:  “Is this lady all right—she is very quiet?  Does she want to be here?  Oh, I hope I am not getting a pedicure from someone who is being trafficked!  What are the signs I should be looking for?  I am not even for sure!”

While getting my pedicure, I vowed to myself that I was going to learn the signs that someone might be a victim of labor trafficking.

I did some research online and found that reading the tips on the websites raised a lot of questions.  Who would be able to remember all of this information?  Would the average person have the expertise to observe or address some of the points shared? Would someone like myself be seen as suspicious and overly aggressive if I asked some of the recommended questions—scaring the person into silence?

A bit frustrated I decided to take parts of what the experts had said and blend the information together to create a checklist of observations or simple questions that were usable for me—an average citizen – to identify instances of possible labor trafficking.
  • Does this person and/or other employees seem fearful, anxious, depressed or tense?
  • Is s/he avoiding eye contact? Are others?
  • Is someone else in the store closely watching this person and other employees?
  • Is there freedom of movement for employees?
  • Is the price for the service much lower than normally would be expected?
  • Is the person not allowed to personally receive a tip?
  • Does the establishment have opaque windows, bars on the windows, or does there seem to be an unusually high level of security?
I decided that if I was concerned I could ask the following questions:
  • Where do you live?
  • Did you grow up around here?
  • What other salons have you worked at?
  • How long have you worked here?
  • You seem very busy: do you have time to take breaks throughout the day?
  • Do you even have time for lunch?
  • If I want to come back, what are your working hours?

One website instructed readers to trust their instincts.  While I somewhat agree a person’s perspective is not always correct.  What I do agree with is if you are uneasy about what you have observed contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 and discuss your concern with them.  Ask them what you should do next.

When I reflected back on my experience at the walk-in salon, the only possible concerns were the lack of direct eye contact and the technician’s minimal use of the English language.  But she did not seem tense or nervous. The other nail technicians in the salon were very friendly and appeared to enjoy what they were doing.  When they finished doing someone’s nails, and no customers were waiting, the technicians would freely go from and come back to the salon.  As I was receiving my pedicure, other technicians stopped by and spoke good-naturedly to my technician.  She would nod her head and smile in response. 

The store owners also were giving manicures and pedicures and were concentrating on their own customers or a new customer who walked in to the salon.   There didn’t appear to be any special security.  My charge for the pedicure was an average price, and I was directed to give the tip directly to the technician that did my pedicure.

By doing some research I learned that my concerns were unfounded and I now feel better prepared for the future, plus I received a great pedicure!

Vicki Kloosterhouse is a concerned citizen who serves on the MHTTF and lives in Oakland County.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Journey of Learning

From the moment we are born, we begin to learn.  What and how we learn changes over the months, days and years.  We go from learning how to count on our fingers, to singing the ABCs, to learning how to add and subtract.  As we age and our interests mature from Looney Tunes to Leo Tolstoy, we move on to college and pick a major, a focus for our future careers outside of school.  For me that focus was social work.  I learned about therapeutic techniques, the history of welfare laws in the United States, and how to use the DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  It was not until several years after I began working at Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit that I learned what human trafficking is.  

The international survivors of human trafficking with whom I have worked in our region have helped me learn not only what human trafficking is and how it is “defined.”  They have also helped me learn about people who have involuntarily left lives behind, and have had to learn what it means to create a new life in a strange land.  I have learned about Ethiopian tea ceremonies.  I have learned about food customs and dishes from the Togo.  I have learned about religious practices in French Guinea.  I learned about care-giving traditions in the Philippines.  I have even learned the “correct” way of giving a hug in Rwanda.  Most importantly however, I have learned to remain positive, despite the challenges someone may face.

All the survivors with whom I have, and continue to work with never agreed to, chose or expected to find them involved in an illegal form of work or to be sexual exploited.  They found themselves suddenly removed from their villages, cities, and countries-their homes- that they had known their whole lives due to a false promise of a “better” way of life.  Reflecting on the conditions that these survivors endured and yet survived; and realizing that through the support of my agency, and many other agencies in Southeastern Michigan, they were able to leave those situations; I cannot but admire the strength of them all.

In addition to showing strength, each survivor has shown such hope and positivity for the new life that they unexpectedly have to now make in a foreign land.  They express no doubts at being able to overcome obstacles.  Together, we discuss what they want this “new life” to look like and what support my agency and others can provide to help create it.  There is never a question of “will this happen” or “can I do this?”  They only have the thought: “I can do this.” My job is to see how we can help. 

I have seen survivors go from being unemployed with no income, to finding a full time job in two weeks.  I have seen survivors with little English skills be able to express to me their desires and fears in correct English within a few months of practice.  I have seen survivors enroll in higher education and succeed.  While I play a role in helping survivors learn the steps and the logistics of reaching their goals, I have learned that the belief “it will work out” comes from within them.

If survivors who have gone days without food and sleep, have remained locked in rooms while raped repeatedly, have worked for many hours for no pay, can view their lives in the United States as ones of hope and possibility how can I accept the negativity and allow it to creep in?  If they can overcome all that, smile, and remain positive in life for all that is to come, I (and we) can certainly do the same.

TAKE ACTION:  As we work to learn to focus on hope and positive in life, I ask you to consider what else is out in the world for us to learn where, and how does the tragedy that is human trafficking play a role in our lives, personal or professional?  What can we learn about those who are currently in such situations and who are in need of supports to leave?  On what aspect of this work can you focus on so our learning never ceases?  What will you learn today about human trafficking?

Julia Kessler-Hollar, LMSW Family Case Management Supervisor at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit has been working since 2012 with international survivors of human trafficking in partner with the Northern Tier Anti-Trafficking Consortium of Heartland Alliance in Chicago, IL.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

When Human Trafficking Survivors Have an Attorney: Confidentiality

This blog entry is the first in a series offering a few tips for working with human trafficking survivors who are represented by an attorney. This entry discusses confidentiality.

Our work in the University of Michigan’sHuman Trafficking Clinic (HTC) is, at times, complicated by our clients’ relationships with volunteers and other professionals (e.g. law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, social workers, and therapists). We do not doubt that volunteers and other professionals are good-hearted people who want to help our clients. But, as in all interdisciplinary work, when more than one “helper” is involved there can be challenges.

Attorneys are legally and ethically bound to maintain a confidential relationship with clients. When an attorney and a client talk, their conversations are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Attorneys must keep those privileged conversations private unless the client or some other law permits the privilege to be broken. This is important for a few reasons.

First, a conversation between an attorney and client is not considered a privileged conversation if someone else is present. If a support person (e.g. a friend, relative, or volunteer advocate) wishes to be present for a client meeting, the conversation will not be privileged even if the client consents to the person being there. If you are asked to accompany a survivor to a meeting with an attorney, you should assume that it is fine to go along and wait outside the meeting to lend support. Generally it is best for support persons to exclude themselves from attorney meetings.

Attorney confidentiality also restricts our ability to share information with others. If you are helping a survivor and you need information about a legal matter, the client must give the attorney explicit permission to share information with you. Advocates call us and ask about the status of a client’s case. Please do not be offended if we cannot share information with you. If clients choose to share information and waive confidentiality, they may. Of course, no one should be pressured to waive confidentiality as it allows the client and attorney to speak honestly with each other about information that a client may not choose to share with anyone else.

Finally, attorneys may not reveal the identity of their clients without the clients’ consent. So, if our client has not publicly acknowledged HTC as his or her attorney, we will not confirm or deny to you whether or not we represent a survivor. We cannot even tell our current clients the names of our other clients without explicit consent from each client. So, you could have a conversation with one of us about a survivor and be surprised to later learn that we represent that survivor. Please do not be offended that we didn’t inform you during the conversation! Our rules require us to keep that information confidential.

TAKE ACTION: If you or someone you know wishes to contact HTC for legal advice and/or possible representation, please call 734-615-3600.

Suellyn Scarnecchia is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

United Nations Declares Today as World Day Against Trafficking in Human Persons

Every country in the world - including our own - is affected by the heinous crime of human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to "raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and the promotion and protection of their rights."  See the reprint of the insightful editorial by Yury Fedetov, Executive Director of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime below to learn how YOU can help:

"Conflict, terrorism, economic turmoil, natural calamities, disease: we are living in an era of unprecedented crises and troubles, as the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned. Record numbers of people are fleeing war and persecution, and the international community is grappling with acute migration challenges in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, in the Andaman Sea, Latin America and Africa.

For human traffickers, these hardships represent business opportunities. Many millions of vulnerable women, men and children are being cruelly exploited - coerced into working in factories, fields and brothels or begging on the street; pushed into armed combat or forced marriages; trafficked so their organs can be harvested and sold.

More and more detected victims of trafficking are children, especially girls under the age of 19. No place in the world is safe: the latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the trafficking victims identified in 124 states were citizens of 152 countries. And the traffickers are getting away with it. Over the past decade there has been no significant improvement in the overall criminal justice response to this crime. In the period covered by the Global Report, some 40 percent of countries reported less than 10 convictions per year. Some 15 percent did not record a single conviction.

The world is facing many grave challenges, and our  resources are strained. But we cannot allow criminals to exploit these crises and take advantage of desperation and suffering. You might wonder what one person can do about an entrenched pervasive crime like human trafficking. But we can all do our part.

  • As a first step, you can educate yourself about human trafficking and help others become aware of the problem. You can find out more on our website for World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
  • You can urge lawmakers and businesses to take this crime seriously, and to take action. For governments, that means joining the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking, and putting these frameworks into action in national legislation. Effective implementation of the Convention and Protocol - backed with the necessary resources - can help to protect trafficking victims, promote cooperation between countries, and ensure that criminal traffickers, wherever they are, are brought to justice.
  • As a consumer, employee or business owner, you can advocate for measures to prevent the use of forced labor in operations and supply chains, and eliminate abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices that may lead to trafficking.
  • Finally, you can encourage governments, companies and individuals to support the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. 
Financed solely through voluntary contributions, the Trust Fund works with NGO partners across the globe to identify women, children and men who have been exploited by traffickers, and give them the assistance, protection and support they need. Since 2011, the Trust Fund has helped some 2,000 victims annually, providing shelter, basic health services, vocational training and schooling, as well as psychological, legal and economic support. 

The Trust Fund has been able to assist girls like Skye, who was trafficked to India when she  was just thirteen. After escaping back home to Nepal, she sought help from NGO ShaktiSamuha. She went after her trafficker in court and went back to school. Skye won her case and graduated, and now works as a staff member at ShaktiSamuha, helping other trafficking victims become survivors. There are many more young girls and trafficking survivors like Skye who need and deserve our support.

July 30 is United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons, established to raise awareness of the plight of human trafficking victims, and promote and protect their rights.  This Thursday, let's take this opportunity to give hope to trafficking victims and pledge to do our part and help end this terrible crime."  

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, UN's Office on Drugs and Crime

What is Living Better?

Earlier this year while driving within our great state of Michigan, I saw the slogan 'Save Money. Live Better.' on the truck trailer of a large retailer. The slogan really bothered me because I just kept thinking, "What does that mean?" Is this what we have come to in the U.S. - saving money makes life better? What is the cost to our society in general if this is what we believe? Do people care that believing this way, acting this way, shopping this way is hurting other people?

I just recently had the great fortune to attend the Answering Pope Frances' Call: An American Catholic Response to Modern-Day Slavery at the Catholid University of America.  There I heard Gerardo Reyes Chavez speak about his experience as a farmworker in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW harvests tomatoes in Florida. Mr. Chavez did a wonderful job of describing exactly what I was thinking about when I read 'Save Money. Live Better.'

Florida produces 90% of the tomatoes produced in the U.S. and the CIW found that wages of the farm workers producing tomatoes were decreasing over time. CIW started a campaign aimed at the companies that buy tomatoes in order to show them how the low prices being paid for tomatoes effect people down the supply chain. The CIW wants companies to recognize that the artificially low prices that they create lead to basically poverty pay for farm workers.  They want companies to recognize that farm workers are people who need to support themselves and their families. Even more important, they want people to see the farm workers as people - human beings as equally as important as any other people in the world.

Mr. Chavez said the CIW started its campaign out of necessity for farm workers' lives and because they are "fighters because we have no choice." They have won many battles in their fight:

  • 7 court cases regarding labor trafficking;
  • 1200-1500 workers liberated;
  • 15 bosses prosecuted;
  • several multi-billion dollar companies signing Fair Food agreements; and
  • $15 million added to farms' payrolls in the past 4 years.
Fair Food agreements include a provision that the retailer must pay a small premium on each vegetable which is how the millions of dollars have been added to the farms' payrolls. What about that large retailer with the slogan that made me question what we as Americans really want? They signed a Fair Food agreement just last year!Hearing Mr. Chavez speak was very powerful to me because it demonstrates the reasons we all must continue this fight against human trafficking and that success is happening - lives are being liberated. 

Most of us might not have the same reasons to fight as the CIW - we have more choices - but if we choose humanity and dignity for all then we must fight. We need to eliminate the possibility of slavery by fighting for what is fair and right.

TAKE ACTION: You can help stop labor trafficking by telling your retailers and the restaurants you frequent to sign Fair Food agreements.  Visit the CIW or the Fair Food Program for more information and to participate in current actions.

Renee Gonzales, M.S.W. is the Permanency Planning Director at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. She has been a social worker for 17 years in the child welfare field and has held a variety of positions at MDHHS.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

At A Crossroads: The Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force

The Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force is at a crossroads today. It's been in existence, formally meeting as a group, for almost three years.  In that time, we've developed a five year plan with a vision, milestones and strategic priorities. We've established a dues structure. We have committees and officers, a facebook page and a number of activities in place. We meet monthly and we have quarterly educational programs open to the general public. We've had enough discussions to know what we agree on and where we still have differences of opinion.

But there are two main challenges right now, probably inter-related: 1) sustaining our energy level to maintain and even ramp up that work; and 2) getting resources in place for victims and for sustaining the work of the task force.

Fortunately, several individuals and/or organizations have really stepped up and moved ahead with innovative ideas. One member of the Task Force, who is also a court referee, has worked with a local judge to form a Girls Court for adolescents at high risk of trafficking. They've figured out the procedures, developed partnerships, have found some resources and are really making progress. It is the first such court in Michigan.

Another founding member of the Task Force, and a member of several statewide groups has led an amazing public awareness and community outreach committee, reaching thousands of people over the past three years. The committee brings in national, state and local speakers and has focused on key target audiences from medical professionals to schools and law enforcement. 

The University of Michigan-Flint's Women's Center has really embraced trafficking issues and has held numerous presentations and educational sessions for students and the community. A local pastor, also a member of the Task Force, has held several educational workshops, bringing in national speakers to raise awareness about trafficking. A new Task Force committee is working on developing a county-wide protocol for suspected trafficking victims, similar to the inter-agency agreement in place for child abuse investigations and interventions. 

Several organizations have been planning how they can ramp up the services they have and offer more for victims.  These include winning grants for street outreach, ministries in strip clubs, more overnight short-term beds in shelters, case management, and building a new residential program from the ground up.

These are just some of the examples of the great work going on in Genesee County.  But all of this is being done by volunteers and that means that other priorities from their "day jobs" may take them away from focusing on trafficking issues, or they just may have other personal priorities that change. One key agency partner of the Task Force recently closed although most of its programs have found new homes. The next focus for Task Force leadership is finding resources, ensuring focus on all forms of trafficking and making sure that there are places to refer victims, as awareness builds and victims are identified. What we have is still a long way from the vision but we are decidedly making progress to fulfilling our vising of having an effective, unified community response to human trafficking in Genesee County by 2019.

TAKE ACTION: To learn more about the GCHTTF, visit our facebook page or contact Polly Sheppard, Task Force Secretary, to be added to our email list at sheppardsconsult@aol.com or 810-938-3020.

Polly Sheppard is an independent consultant focused on building capacity in the nonprofit sector. She represents the Weiss Child Advocacy Center Board of Directors on the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force and has served as Secretary of the Task Force since its inception.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Power of Mindfulness

You learn something new every day.  Some days can be exhausting. When working with people that have survived traumatic situations, you have to be careful not to take on the weight of their stress. It can be difficult. One particularly challenging day my intern asked me if I practiced "Mindfulness".  I am sure that I replied with a statement about the lack of time in my life. Wise beyond her years, she reminded me that I cannot help others if first I do not help myself. I stopped, ordered some books and began my practice. It has been a great help to me.  We started discussing the benefits of Mindfulness for trauma victims.  She did some research and together we wrote the information below.

Trafficking Survivors and Mindfulness

It is necessary to be aware of the routines that were formed by trafficking victims during the traumatic events they experienced.  During times of trauma, the part of the brain that makes decisions has been put on the back burner. When performing activities that have become habit, the decision-making brain becomes less active. This leaves the trauma victim stuck in the same mind-set of what was enduring during her or his time of being trafficked. Treatment offered to trauma victims should include bringing the victim's attention back to the present moment. Practicing Mindfulness allows a trauma victim to be present in the moment and make decisions rather than relying on habit. It keeps the victim from falling back into the fight, flight or freeze mode.

Practicing Mindfulness brings clarity and awareness that will help an individual reduce stress and contribute to overall well-being. Being able to focus distinctly on the present moment, at any given time, returns the control of thought to the victim - something that was taken from them in their trafficking past. Being able to focus on "the now" gives a trauma victim better understanding and acceptance of her or his emotions. This allows the trauma victim to feel more "at home" in her or his own body.

Obviously Mindfulness should be practiced together with other medical and psychological treatments. Once one learns to bring their thoughts to the current moment, the awareness brings non-judgmental and purposeful thoughts. This can be a powerful supplement to traditional medicine, creating an easier transition from victim to survivor.

I often become frustrated with society's inability to help crime victims. The justice system is often difficult to navigate and when first introduced to it, very much overwhelming. The ability to help victims take it moment-by-moment has been beneficial to both the trauma victims and to myself. Mindfulness helps me not to lose myself as I attempt to help them navigate the system. It also reminds the victim that trafficking does not define who they are as a person but is something that happened to them in the past. Mindfulness helps victims learn that they are in control of their own thoughts.

TAKE ACTION: Learn about the power of Mindfulness by exploring the available resources online, including Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Pennman.  Other sources used for this blog include Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence of Salutary Effects by Kirk Warren Brown and J. David Cresswell and Self-Regulation and Mindfulness by Gernot Hauke.  A variety of sources by these and other authors are available on Amazon and can be ordered for you by your local bookseller.

Kelly Castleberry, Pendulum Restoration Project with Andrea Rumler, Senior at Sienna Heights University.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Human Trafficking Law Clinic: What do We do?

The University of Michigan Law School’sHuman Trafficking Clinic (HTC) was established in 2009 by Clinical Law Professor and Director Bridgette Carr. HTC has three faculty members (Carr, Suellyn Scarnecchia, and Elizabeth Campbell). We are licensed attorneys who supervise student attorneys. The law school pays us to teach our students through our cases and the students receive law school credit for their work. So, we are able to provide free legal services. All of our clients are victims of human trafficking.

HTC usually has about 65 clients at any given time. Some of our clients stay with us for several years because they have a variety of legal needs. Many of our clients are referred to us by law enforcement officers who discover victims when they are investigating traffickers and from the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. We also receive referrals from prosecutors, foster care agencies, and domestic violence/sexual assault service providers. We can take client referrals from any source. Our clients are foreign nationals from all over the world and U.S. citizens from all over the nation. They are adults and minors, male and female, and they have experienced labor and/or sex trafficking.

Our goal for each client is to provide him or her with comprehensive legal services for the legal problems that stem from the trafficking. Our clients often need a variety of legal services and we try to provide them all or we find another attorney to help them. Here are some of the ways we help clients:
  •  Advocate for a victim-centered approach to a criminal investigation and prosecution, to try to avoid re-victimizing clients in the criminal justice system and to seek restitution; 
  • Apply for temporary and permanent legal immigration status for clients and their families, including visas to bring relatives to the U.S. to reunify clients with their families;  
  • Apply to set aside criminal convictions that arose from the trafficking;Apply for services and benefits that are available to victims;
  • Handle family, housing, consumer, and tax law issues;
  • Locate an attorney to file a civil case against the trafficker(s); and 
  • Assist a client who wishes to “go public” with his/her story to navigate the media, legal system, and other public challenges.

This work requires us to understand the trauma many of our clients have experienced and to represent them in a trauma-informed manner. It also requires us to work in cooperation with many other professionals and volunteers in the client’s life to maximize each client’s chance for a better life after escaping and surviving human trafficking. Finally, we look out for our students’ and our own reactions to our clients’ experiences for signs of secondary trauma and teach best practices for healthy practitioners in this and related fields.

Take Action:  If you or someone you know wishes to contact HTC for legal advice and/or possible representation, please call 734-615-3600.

Suellyn Scarnecchia is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

No Excuses - We Now Know Better!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some sheltered upper middleclass woman that was protected from the evils of this world. I practiced medicine for decades, traveled and provided medical care in some of the poorest areas in the world but it was my experience as the Medical Director of the Juvenile Justice Department during the 1980s-1990s in Michigan where I saw ignorant miscarriage of justice in young victims-the victims of human trafficking. In the 1980s we had just started learning about HIV and AIDS. The data was pretty plain at that time that male-male sex and IV drug use were the two main high-risk behaviors. It soon became clear to me that many females were soon going to be at risk even if they were not using IV drugs.

Around 1987 a 16 year old female was remanded to a correctional facility for committing a “crime” when the health clinic staff found her to be infected with three sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). She was tested subsequently for HIV and found to be positive for her 4th STD. This child now had a death sentence as no treatment was available at that time. Now, the real story of her “crime” – prostitution – was ascertained!  Her story was sad but not uncommon then or even now. Her “boyfriend” - who was twice her age and bi-sexual - had trafficked her and was the likely source of her HIV infection. This story began to be repeated as we saw other HIV positive females. They were young and always with older “boyfriends” and some young males were being trafficked as well.

But it’s 2015 and we know better and do better now than we did in 1987. Those under 18 years of age are juveniles, children, and they are understood to be victims. Right? So, we don’t lock them up in jails and prisons anymore. I hope. They do not have felonies and misdemeanors relating to being trafficked put on their records forever anymore. Right? They get multi-modality and specialized treatment for their health, mental health, and addiction issues by trained professionals. They get individualized education, employment training, appropriate housing, and mentoring services. Yes? Clearly, we have made some progress in the last 30 years. Recent Michigan legislation is having an immediate impact on what is happening in the courts.  Courts are now viewing these children as victims even though the youth do not see themselves as being victimized. This is a great accomplishment but more needs to be done.

We need more effort in the prevention arena and that must be done at home and reinforced in the schools. Many parents need help in effective parenting and information about the easy access predators have to their children through internet sites like “backpage”. Sadly though, many of the youngest victims are trafficked by a relative. While we say that any youth is at risk, the data is clear that runaways, foster care youth and gay/ bi-sexual and transgender youth are more at risk. All the factors that may lead to the higher risk of LGBT youth are not clear to me but many are without stable housing and more easily preyed upon.

The laws in Michigan are being quickly updated and police officers are being trained but much remains to be done in prevention, detection (especially by healthcare personnel) and the treatment of our traumatized youth. My personal crusade is that all health care providers be trained to recognize the victims! No excuses for missing the victims that come into ERs and clinics. I am working to develop a screening tool that may “flag” likely trafficking victims when they seek health care. No excuses! We know that we need more safe houses for victims. The perpetrators are ruthless and have been known to track down their “property” across the country. No excuses! As we become better at detection, we need appropriate supportive services in place to ensure healing for victims.

Take Action: During your next health care visit ask your health care professional to post the national human trafficking resource hotline number in the office (1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BEFREE (233733). Invite them to attend a human trafficking training geared toward health professionals so that they can learn the warning signs of trafficking.  

Dr. LaClaire Bouknight M.D., is the director of Eaglevision Ministries and the International Dreamcenter of Lansing. She heads the Capital Area Anti-Trafficking Alliance, a part of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Bouknight who practiced for several years adult and adolescent Medicine for the Juvenile Justice system for the State of Michigan, is certificed in Addiction Medicine and in the last ten years has administered employment services for youth /adults with barriers to employment.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Silent Tears

Silent Tears
By Amanda Smith

shh...listen don’t you hear
I’m crying but they are silent tears
I’m crying on the inside so you can’t see
All the pain running through me
I cry for you I cry for me
I cry for the times I can’t
so if you listen you may hear my silent tears.

In a Charleston church almost 200 years old, destroyed often in years of hatred, where nine African-Americans at a prayer meeting, secure in their faith and in refuge, died in a violent act of racism by a young white man so full of hatred and bias for those who actually welcomed him that evening to join with them…  right now, today, I can only react with grief for all of us.  Tomorrow, what then? 

Jane P. White is the Director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.  She served as a member of a team of law enforcement trainers in developing and working with police agencies in “Recognizing and Investigating Hate Crimes” with racism listed as the largest number of reported cases.  These numbers still continue.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Human trafficking is not just an issue faced outside of the USA.  Unfortunately, it is a real issue in our own communities.
Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project began shortly after professional staff at Wedgwood Christian Services helplessly watched as a child they knew and had cared for was trafficked and exploited in Grand Rapids. Despite all our efforts to find her and offer aid, we were unable and ill equipped at the time to address her needs and trauma.

Unwilling to have this happen again, we began to research the issue of Sex Trafficking, both globally and locally, while developing relationships with anti-trafficking organizations and law enforcement agencies in West Michigan, and from there, Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project began.

To address this growing trend in West Michigan, Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project was developed to both aid victims and to educate the community on human trafficking. Providing awareness and education around this topic is one of the many steps necessary to ending sexual exploitation of children.   

Our public awareness strategy has 3 components:

1.  We educate social workers, and educators, and members of the judicial system (judges, probation officers, police officers, etc.), on this issue. We see these public servants as first responders.

2.   We empower our youth to recognize sex trafficking in their community through education on this issue, thus reducing their risk for victimization. We also focus on educating high-risk populations through special groups.

3.  We invite churches, local social groups, organizations, institutions of higher learning, and businesses to raise awareness and funding for anti-sex trafficking programming and we collaborate with these groups to find solutions for our community.

Take Action: Help us Stop This Traffic in one of the following ways:

1. To report a trafficking victim, please call the National Trafficking In Persons Hotline at: 
888-373-7888 or Text "Be Free" to 233733

2. For more resources and information on this topic, or to offer your support, visit the Manasseh Project

3. To request a speaker/workshop or to volunteer in the Grand Rapids area, please contact: Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator Nikeidra DeBarge

Nikedira DeBarge is the Project Coordinator for the Manasseh Project of Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids.