Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Leadership of Faith Communities and Human Trafficking

Last December, religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican to call for an end to slavery by 2020. The leaders said it was a "human and moral imperative" to wipe out human trafficking, forced, labor, prostitution and organ trafficking. They committed to do all they could to free the millions of people enslaved across the world. 

"Modern slavery...fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity. We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored."

While leaders proclaimed the rootedness of human dignity and justice from their traditions of faith with their calls for a moral response from all the faithful, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Webley suggested some tactics that we could employ:

"We can end slavery by creating "slave-free" supply chains, and not investing in companies that enslave. We have the will, we have the common purpose, this can be done; may God bless our action together."

Pope Francis in his 7 page message on the Celebration of the World Day of Peace (1/1/15) also addressed human trafficking.  In his statement, which he directs to all women and men of the world as well as to heads of states and other religious leaders, he describes human trafficking as a "growing scourge of man's exploitation by man (which) gravely damages (our call to) respect, justice and love." The document explores the Biblical/cultural reality of slavery, the current reality and its causes, and a shared commitment to end slavery.

Why is it important to us that the Pope and other Faith Leaders care? Why is it important that they speak in a harsh and commanding language with an expectation that we are listening and will respond?  One of the great "scandals" of many faith traditions is that our justice teachings are "our best kept secrets." Certainly, in the realm of human "depravity" we have been quick to be condemning, blaming, and ostracizing persons caught in the throes of addition, abuse and exploitation.  We have been known to tell them "Just say no!", "Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps!", and "There will be pie in the sky when you die!"

It is fortunate that among our leaders and at our grassroots, we are moving beyond such distortions to realize that social sin impacts the personal lives of victims and they they often have little power or control.  Yet, too many institutions - religious, political, civil - do not hear either "the cries of the poor," or the Call to faith and justice.

Why is it important for our Faith Leaders challenge and console us?  One reason (among many) is that combining the vision and understanding of faith leaders with the day-to-day experience with suffering victims that direct service providers have, can help us collectively to build a bridge of hope, authority and community and to impact and change the institutions to recognize their compassionate responsibility. 

Words of leaders may be forceful and effective or they may be symbolic and supporting. They may simply be declarations of love like those we hear in Fiddler on the Roof: 

Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And i suppose I love you too.
Both: It doesn't change a thing but even so, after twenty-five years, it's nice to know.

Take Action:  Study and learn more about faith traditions and their views on human trafficking by searching "church statements on human trafficking" through google or another search engine.  Learn more about slave free supply chains and how your purchases can either contribute or fight against human trafficking by taking the Slavery Footprint Survey and by visiting Fair Trade USA, an organization that audits and certifies transactions between US companies and their international suppliers to make sure that the workers who create the products you purchase are justly compensated.

Sister Mary Brigid Clingman, O.P., M.S.W. is a promoter of Justice and a member of the the Dominican Sisters, Grand Rapids.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What is the Percentage Chance?

Jennifer Fopma, a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force recently published the following column in the Battle Creek Enquirer.  We re-post it here. Visit, "Counting Statistics is Not Always Wise," Battle Creek Enquirer, May 15, 2015 to read the original.

When my children were both in elementary school there was a tornado warning in our town.  The school sounded the alarm and the students all left their rooms and lined the halls and bathrooms, sitting on the floor with their arms over their heads.  It wasn’t a drill.  My daughter was scared.  My son was terrified.  Now, nearly seven years later, as soon as spring arrives he turns into a meteorologist.  He pays attention to the weather.  If the conditions are right, I am not greeted with a “good morning” when I go to get him up.  Instead, he asks, “What is the percentage chance of a tornado?” 

I love statistics.  They can drive home a point when I’m doing a presentation.  I especially love a really powerful and shocking one.  I will say it.  Pause for dramatic effect and then repeat it again using slightly different words to evoke even more emotion.  Did you know that lethality increases by 75% when a domestic violence victim leaves their assailant? – pause – Let me say that again because it is really important.  A woman’s chance of being murdered increases by 75% when she leaves!  Bam!  I’ve got their attention now.  The statistic is important, but I use it to support that domestic violence is an important issue that requires their attention.  All true.

But, as powerful and helpful as statistics can be to support a point, they don’t often make a point.  Nor should they.  Researchers use statistics to prove or disprove a hypothesis…not to create a hypothesis.  In fact, using inaccurate numbers – numbers that are poor or misleading – can create roadblocks and result in bad decisions and unintended consequences. 

In 2013 the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report estimated that as many as 27 million men, women and children are trafficking victims at any given time.  In 2014 this same report stated that 20 million are trafficked.  In one year the number declined by 7 million!  Wow.  We must be doing great work!  Or not.  In 2013 the Global Slavery Index estimated 29.8 million persons being trafficked.  In 2014 the GSI listed the number at 35.8.  That is an increase of 6 million people! 

The headline that sends angry chills down my spine, however, is that Michigan ranks No. 2 for human trafficking sex trade behind only Nevada.  Wrong again.  We are not number two.   How do I know this?  Because it can’t be substantiated in any way with any number.  We don’t count cases.  There is a lack of hard evidence, data and research on numbers in modern day slavery.  Human trafficking is a hidden crime so data is scarce.  Definitions vary. Some definitions require movement  - not just force, fraud, or coercion.  That makes data collection even more difficult. 

There is an old joke that anything can be proven with statistics, except the truth.  Here is the truth.  Here is what we know.  We know that trafficking is such an egregious crime that every single country in the world has made slavery illegal.  It is a violation of basic human dignity.  It needs attention.  Survivor stories will send chills down the spine of the most hardened hearts.  Something must be done.  It is happening.  It is happening here.  In the United States.  In Michigan.  In Calhoun County.  In every county.
When my son tells me that he can’t go to school because there is a 51% chance of a tornado today, I ask him what is the source of his information?  It is a fair question – and one we need to ask whenever we see statistics, especially statistics that seem to be for the purpose of grabbing headlines.  As a co-worker tells me when she goes on a “break”, cigarettes are the leading cause of statistics. 

Statistics are important.  But they should be used to increase our understanding and draw real attention to real issues that help us better understand our world and live safely in it.  Now, I better hurry up and go mow my lawn – there’s a 51% chance of rain tomorrow.

Take Action: Ask Questions.  When you read statistics in the newspaper or hear them expressed in public settings, ask for the source of the information.  Statistics can help us understand and make public policy but they also can be a barrier to understanding and appropriate policy. Try to confirm data before spreading it.

Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization.  To learn more go to and “like” us on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Task Force Members Invite You...

On the Voices of Change Blog, we like to invite our readers to Take Action.  Every personal story on this blog ends with a simple action item - a step that you can take to break the silence about human trafficking and effect change in your own community.  Today's post is all about sharing opportunities for taking action - in Birmingham, Detroit and Kalamazoo.  If you live in or near these communities, we invite you to stand up against human trafficking by attending these events.

1) Join Edee Franklin at the formal launch of Sanctum House, an organization that will provide a sanctuary for women survivors of sex trafficking and empower them with life skills to achieve a sustainable and independent lifestyle.  Learn more about the needs of trafficking survivors, share your ideas and give your moral and financial support to this important effort. 

Thursday, May 14 from 6:00-8:00pm
34977 Woodward Avenue, Birmingham, MI 48009
Light Hors d’oeuvres & Cash Bar

For more information contact:

2). If there was no demand then there’d be no sex trafficking.  You are invited to MAN UP! to end the demand for sex trafficking.  Soroptimist International of Grosse Point and Greater Macomb, Wayne State University’s student organization Not For Sale and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women present the 7th Annual Human Trafficking Event, Ending the Demand for Sex Trafficking.

Saturday, May 16, 9:00am-Noon
Wayne State University, Student Center Ballroom
5221 Gullen Mall, Detroit, MI 48202

Speakers include Victor Malarek, award-winning journalist and author of The Johns, Leslie F. King, a survivor of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and D/Sgt. Edward Price, a Michigan State Police detective.

For more information visit,

3). Do you work with victims of crimes? This training is for you. Human Trafficking: A Guide to Identification and Care of Victims is a training workshop presented to Victim Service Providers by Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and YWCA of Kalamazoo.

Friday, June 12, 2015
8:30am registration, 9:00-4:00pm

Lawrence Education Center
Borgess Medicall Center
1521 Gull Rd.
Kalamazoo, MI 49048

Cost: $10 (Social Work CEU’s available)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Want to make a Difference? How about with 12-Steps!

I have been an active member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force for well over a year.  Initially I contacted them because of my desire and passion to open a safe house for survivors of human trafficking.  I am delighted to report that Sanctum House is becoming a reality.  However, on the journey to that dream, I found another one...or rather it found me!

It is not a secret that I am a woman enmeshed in recovery from addition for 27 years.  When you are approached by Jane White, Director for the MHTTF and asked to do something, well, it was not only difficult for me to say "no" was impossible!  We had had many conversations about the services made available for victims.  The question became, "What are we doing to help the victims help themselves?"  Because of my involvement and 1st hand knowledge of twelve-step programs, we discussed the possibility that a program modeled after the mother of all 12 Step programs be created (the Task Force agreed).  The successes of Alcoholics Anonymous is unprecedented all over the world and with AA's approval Human Trafficking Anonymous Step Forward has been birthed!  Our committee is creating an online support program to reach those affected by either sex or labor exploitation.

At first blush we thought it was to be a local program...the reality...this will be an international program!  When you are an internet based program, you are available to the world.  We labored over every word of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.  The 12 Promises of the program speak for themselves and breathe life into The Mission: "Step Forward seeks to help people who have been trafficked who desire to move from powerlessness and victimization to hope and strength."

12 Promises of Human Trafficking Anonymous Step Forward (HTASF)

  1. We will finally know freedom, happiness and serenity.
  2. We will remember the past at last and walk freely away from it.
  3. We will comprehend the word "safety".
  4. We will know sleep without fear.
  5. No matter how terrible the trafficking, nor how devastating its effects, we will recover and become whole again.
  6. That feeling of hopelessness and self-condemnation will disappear.
  7. We will lose our sense of toxic shame and gain self-respect.
  8. Revulsion will slip away.
  9. Our perpetrators will no longer have any power over us.
  10. We will live free of guilt, shame and fear.
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that we are alive, valued, whole, and safe.
Are these extravagant promises...we think not.

TAKE ACTION:  We are building a program to help survivors help each other through their personal experience, strength and hope.  If you are or know of a survivor of sexual or labor exploitation, we need mentors.  If you have knowledge of twelve-step programs, online meetings, website design or if this project appeals to you and you want more information, please email - let's get a conversation started.

Edee Franklin is Chairperson of Human Trafficking Anonymous Step Forward Committee with the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.  She is Executive Director and Founder of Sanctum House and Associate Broker at Max Broock Realtors - Birmingham, MI.