Thursday, February 19, 2015


The complexities of human trafficking are considerable and the vulnerability of children within Michigan’s foster care system is even greater.
How can we protect all of our Michigan children from traffickers, including those in foster care? How can service providers support, guide and really help youth who already have been exploited in many ways?

Vista Maria’s specialty program supports the intricate needs of girls with trafficking-related traumas. Our Wings program symbolizes the freedom to believe in self-worth, to heal, and to achieve lifelong success.  This is only a stepping-stone on the girls’ journey and walking this journey is never easy. However walking together is most important.

At Vista Maria we have learned that establishing a genuine rapport is essential when working with children. We implement what I call the “Vista Maria Difference,” which involves quality, supportive care and empowerment through education. We also practice unconditional acceptance, which builds the foundation for trust. It is this “trust” that provides an atmosphere of comfort, honesty, and the willingness to share thus ultimately achieving the greatest feeling of all…to be loved unconditionally.  

As we reflect on last month’s awareness, training and prevention activities surrounding National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month, we have to ask the question, are we doing what it takes to protect our youth, including our foster youth? 

If you are reading this post then you must have an interest in human trafficking and what is happening to children.  Let us join together to be a champion for the cause, because modern day slavery at the expense of our children must end!

Take Action:  Engage and educate the youth that you know about the realities of human trafficking.  Demonstrate to the children, no matter their background, that you believe in them! Celebrate their strengths and talents so that they know they are valued, worthy of respect and most importantly loved.

Meredith Reese, LPC, is Vice President of Treatment Programs at Vista Maria, a non-profit organization established 130 years ago by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  The organization provides program services for youth within residential and community based care. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I was never a big fan of James Spader.  I saw him in Stargate back in the ‘90’s and just didn’t really care for him.  He kind of gave me a weird, creepy vibe so I never went out of my way to watch anything that he was in…until now.  It seemed that everyone was talking about the show The Blacklist.  So I rented Season One.  Now I love, love, love him!  Can’t wait to see him as Ultron in the next Avengers movie – but I digress.  

In The Blacklist he plays a bad guy turned good – sort of.  He helps the FBI solve crimes but you never know if he is doing it to benefit himself and if he is really a good guy or a bad guy or a little of both.  What I like best is that every episode has a twist.  In one episode he tips the FBI to a hired assassin who is going to kill a wealthy philanthropist that has spent her life fighting human trafficking and helping rescue victims.  In the end, the assassination attempt is successful but we discover that all the while she was standing on a podium accepting awards for her work she was selling young girls and trafficking them herself. Boom!  Did. Not. See. That. Coming.  What a twist!  I love a good twist – or at least I used to…

Fast forward to this week.  I was on a panel discussing human trafficking when an audience member asked why we just don’t do something about the men who buy girls.  Excellent point!  Human trafficking is an economic crime.  People don’t do it to be mean to people…they do it to make a profit.  Not only is it a horrific crime, but it is a fundamental violation of human dignity.  New awareness campaigns exist and new laws are being written, but as long as there are those who purchase sex or products made from slave labor what are the real deterrents for the traffickers?  Take away the demand and you go a long way to eliminate the issue.  Makes perfect sense.  But there is a twist – and this one is not so good.  You see, I am guilty of being on the demand side of human trafficking.  And guess what?  You are too. 

We know that children as young as 5 years old are forced to work in cocoa fields and that many, by the time they are 10- or 12-years old, have hands that are permanently deformed from arthritis…but that chocolate is soooo good!  

We’ve all heard about slave labor in the garment industry…but did you see how cheap that shirt was?  

Prostitution is the oldest profession.  What’s the harm?  It’s a victimless crime.  But here is the truth- my organization serves prostituted women.  It is a crime that hurts a person in every way that they can be hurt: physically, emotionally, economically and psychologically.  I see the pain, guilt, shame, anger and trauma.  I have yet to see it as a victimless crime.

You could say that you didn’t know your products were made using slave labor.  You could, but not anymore.  The website Slavery Footprint will ask you a series of questions about the products you own and then tell you how many slaves you have, in essence, working for you.  So, now that you know you are part of the demand side of human trafficking what will you do? 

Take Action: I’m not saying you have to give up chocolate (yikes!) – but you can purchase fair trade products as often as possible. You can write to your favorite companies and tell them that you will stop buying their products if they don’t commit to purchasing from vendors that do not use slave labor.  And you must still call for harsh penalties for those on the demand side of this crime. 

When I train I often end the session with a challenge to participants to complete the sentence, “If I do nothing…”  But instead, I am going to challenge you to complete a second sentence, “When I do something…” You have the opportunity to be part of a historic movement that helps to end this horrific crime.

Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Don’t miss the opportunity to see how art helps us view trafficking through the victim’s eyes.

Michigan State University (MSU) will be hosting two art exhibits, plus the opportunity to meet and listen to award-winning photographer, Kay Chernush.  Chernush will speak aboutHuman Trafficking: A Photographer at the Intersection of Art and Human Rights.

Chernush has extensive experience photographing human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.  She has addressed the subject of human trafficking through eight major exhibitions.  Many of her images have grown out of one-on-one sessions with survivors of human trafficking. 

Two exhibitions of her photographic work will be on display at MSU from February 17th through March 19th.

Bought & Sold will be exhibited at the MSU College of Law Library. 
It is a set of photographic collages created collaboratively with survivors and speaks to the experiences and suffering of the millions of men, women and children caught up in slavery's web. The exhibit asks the public to look outward through the victims’ eyes.  Challenging us to imagine the daily horrors, tedium, desperation and ambiguities of their lives -- and to take action.

Of Bought and Sold, Chernush says: “My goal with this exhibition is to prompt a re-consideration of the commodification of human beings and the de-humanizing social interactions that make it possible for slavery to exist today, in every country, 150 years after we thought it has been abolished.”

A digital slide show also will be running on the video kiosks in the Mosaic Multicultural Center in the MSU

Borderless Captivity will be exhibited at MSU Global's Innovation Gallery.  It is a wide ranging set of images focused on labor trafficking in a global context.  Chernush states:  There are roughly 27 million slaves in the world today, bringing slaveholders and traffickers about $150 billion in annual profits, a criminal enterprise that rivals only arms and drug trafficking.”

Chernush’s exhibits and presentations are the start of a series of events building to a symposium at MSU in the spring of 2016 that will involve arts performances and educational and research presentations.  We hope this will become an annual gathering that will connect researchers and artists and a wide range of practitioners working against slavery and human trafficking.

Take Action:  Visit Chernush’s art exhibits at MSU and participate in the “Meet & Greet” and her presentation on March 17 at 3:30 pm (information below).

Chernush also launched a prominent organization of artists “Artworks for Freedom” – which supports artists who have created a broad body of works focusing on ending contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking. 

Kay Chernush’s Art Exhibition at MSU
February 17th through March 19th

Bought and Sold
MSU College of Law Library

Borderless Captivity
MSU Global's Innovation Gallery

MSU Global Innovation Circle & Meet & Greet’ the Artist
March 17, 2015

3:30 pm – MSU College of Law 4th Floor Atrium
Artist “Meet & Greet”

4:00 pm – MSU College of Law Boardroom

Kay Chernush presents: About Human Trafficking: A Photographer at the Intersection of Art & Human Rights.”

Mark V. Sullivan is associate professor and director of the computer music studios at the Michigan State University College of Music.