Victims, Advocates Help Pull Human Trafficking Out Of The Darkness

When she was 12, Brianna Williams was a driven, young entrepreneur who wrote a 30-page business plan for her future party-planning endeavor. But by the time she was 15, she was being trafficked by a man more than twice her age and had forgotten all the dreams she once had of owning her own business.

“I know people have this stigma that human-trafficking victims come from a bad background, but I came from a pretty good background,” Williams said. She never imagined she would be sold for sex or that human trafficking was even something that existed in the United States.

“I knew nothing about it until it was too late,” she said.

Human trafficking has been a problem for decades in the United States, with California leading the nation in reported incidents. But only recently has the issue come to the forefront.

“I think it is like any of the crimes against people, like domestic and child abuse, it takes a little bit of time for people to recognize it,” said Carol Shipley, executive director of the Stanislaus Family Justice Center.

Experts say changes in state and federal law and people like Williams coming forward to tell their stories have spotlighted the issue, resulting in more government funding and the creation of nonprofit organizations to combat the problem.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first comprehensive federal law to address the trafficking of people, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It was five more years before California enacted its first human-trafficking law, which since has been expanded and beefed up with tougher penalties under voter-approved Proposition 35.

In 2011, Debbie Johnson, who founded the anti-trafficking nonprofit group Without Permission, held the first training in Stanislaus County on identifying the victims and the perpetrators of human trafficking. It was attended by more than 50 officials from local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“Thirty days from that training, we opened the first human-trafficking case in Stanislaus County,” Johnson said.

She said the issue gained momentum from there as she continued to train law enforcement in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. She said law enforcement would identify or rescue a human-trafficking victim within a week of the trainings during the first four years they were held.

To read the full story by Erin Tracey on the Modesto Bee: Click Here

How The White House Can Join The Fight Against Human Trafficking

You never forget the stories.

Teenagers tricked into forced prostitution. Men who travel halfway around the world for a good job, only to be deceived into forced labor.  Advocates who spend their entire lives fighting to help survivors.

Human trafficking is a terrible stain on our society. As I said earlier this year, it’s an issue that many of us hear about, but don’t fully understand.

Attaching names to the stories can help. Kayla suffered years of abuse from her trafficker, being forced from location to location. At 29, she returned to her home country of Romania, but couldn’t read or write. Today, with the care of specialists and volunteers, she’s thriving.

Harold came to the U.S. on a visa to work at an Indian restaurant in Ohio. But Harold and his family were treated like slaves and needed help from law enforcement and non-profit organizations to escape. Harold is now a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

Kayla and Harold are now making big strides in life, but they couldn’t have done it alone.  They needed help.

At a recent White House meeting with President Trump, I and others in the anti-trafficking field sought to strengthen efforts to provide that help and stop human trafficking. Participants included leaders from the International Justice Mission, the Human Trafficking Institute and Hope 4 Justice, as well as survivors themselves. I was joined by the head of United Way’s Center on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Mara Vanderslice Kelly.

At the meeting, the President committed to putting the full weight and force of his administration behind anti-trafficking efforts. He called it “an epidemic.” Now, it’s time to turn words into action.

To read the full story from Brian Gallagher of United Way: Click Here

Freedom A La Cart Helps Human-Trafficking Victims Learn New Skills

What started as a seasonal food cart has blossomed into a successful catering venture that helps victims of human trafficking get their lives back together.

Freedom a la Cart is coming off of its most fruitful year yet, earning $255,768 in gross receipts through Dec. 14. That’s a nearly 43 percent increase over last year.

Paula Haines, executive director of Freedom a la Cart, said that while the organization has social services as its goal, the food is not a second thought. She calls it superior in quality and competitively priced.

“It’s exceptional,” Haines said. “Our goal is to keep (customers) coming back.”

Boxed lunches come in “signature” or “traditional” versions, with sandwiches or wraps as the centerpiece. (Salads also are offered.) They’re rounded out with sides, a salty snack and a sweet treat. Catering services cover everything from breakfast foods and dinner menus to appetizers and “displays,” including charcuterie plates.

Some of the fare is considerably chef-driven, such as the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese, smoked salmon cucumber shooters, braised-pork sandwiches and scratch-made hummus.

Virtually everything is homemade, including relishes, spreads and dressings. Haines said it’s nothing fancy, but “we try to add something a little unexpected to make it special.”

The group operates out of the Van Buren Center, 595 Van Buren Drive, on the West Side. The facility is owned by the Community Shelter Board and managed by the YMCA.

The program began as Doma International, to provide supportive services to providers of human trafficking. Officials added a social enterprise, a food cart, that was rolled out every summer between 2011-14.

The initiative was rebranded, which came with a name change, but the food-related workforce-development component remained.

“The training goes beyond food, although that’s the main ingredient,” Haines said. “It’s more about workforce training and getting them useful skills.”

Chef Jessica Bryant oversees the culinary aspect of the program. Bryant, who trained at the Columbus Culinary Institute at the Bradford School, formerly worked at Pistacia Vera in German Village.

Now a certified health coach, Bryant wanted to move beyond the daily grind to something more personal.

“This isn’t just being a chef; you’re a mentor to the ladies,” she said. “I need to do something that that gives me purpose. It’s beyond perfect. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.”

To read the full story by Gary Seman Jr. at the Columbus Dispatch: Click Here

Survivors Present Recommendations On How To End Human Trafficking

NPR’s Kelly McEvers speaks with Evelyn Chumbow, a survivor of human trafficking, about the report she and other survivors put together for the U.S. government with their recommendations for how to stem human trafficking in the U.S.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: 

Today the State Department is releasing new recommendations on how to end human trafficking, what they call slavery in the 21st century. And here’s what makes the report different. It’s written by 11 people who survived human trafficking and are now members of the U.S. Advisory Council on human trafficking.

Earlier today I talked to one of them. Her name is Evelyn Chumbow. She was born in Cameroon. When she was 9, a woman came and told her uncle that Evelyn could move to the U.S., live with a family and go to school. And at first she told me she was excited.

EVELYN CHUMBOW: I was told that I was coming to America, and the first thought in my mind was, woo-hoo, I’m going to come marry Will Smith (laughter). And…

MCEVERS: You’re going to come marry Will Smith.

CHUMBOW: (Laughter) That was my first thought, you know, because back in Cameroon, I used to watch a lot of television show, and I assume that is how America was. You know, I was watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Cosby Show,” “90210,” you know? So I just was, like, just imagining myself being in that lifestyle that they were living. But when I came here, that’s not what happened.

To read or listen to the full interview by Kelly McEvers of All Things Considered on NPR: Click Here

Polaris and Clear Channel Outdoor Americas Launch Anti-Human Trafficking Digital Billboard Campaign Across Minnesota

Congressman Erik Paulsen and other Minnesota Leaders Endorse Campaign to Alert Human Trafficking Victims About How to Reach Out for Help

MINNEAPOLIS, MN—Polaris and Clear Channel Outdoor Americas (CCOA), a division of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CCO), together with Congressman Erik Paulsen, today unveiled an anti-human trafficking awareness campaign to run on 53 digital billboards throughout Minnesota. The new campaign, launching today and running for three weeks, will alert victims how to reach out for help through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) (1-888-373-7888), as well as raise awareness about the true nature of modern slavery.

A collaborative effort between Polaris and CCOA, the Out-of-Home (OOH) media campaign, which is estimated to deliver approximately 6.5 million impressions, is designed to reach trafficking victims who may be unaware that resources exist to help them and residents who can help identify suspicious activity with raised awareness that human trafficking is a major problem in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. 365 days a year. CCOA is donating ad space across its digital OOH media platform in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan areas for the campaign.

The estimated $150 billion a year trafficking industry forces approximately 20.9 million people worldwide to live in modern day slavery. In just the first six months of 2016, human trafficking was reported in all 50 states, with 37 cases of human trafficking reported to the NHTRC from Minnesota, already a 12% increase over all of 2015. The top cities that received reports in Minnesota include Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, St. Cloud, Blaine and Moorhead. In total, the NHTRC has received reports of over 265 cases of human trafficking from Minnesota since 2007.

In a news conference earlier today held at the Minnesota State Fair, Congressman Erik Paulsen, Ramsey District Attorney John Choi, Kyle Loven, Chief Division Counsel, FBI – Minneapolis, Washington County Attorney Imran Ali, Executive Director Patina Park of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Polaris National Hotlines Director Caroline Diemar and the President of CCOA-Minneapolis/St. Paul Susan Adams Loyd joined local and state law enforcement officials to speak with an audience of reporters and supporters to underscore the need for preventing and combatting human trafficking across Minnesota and the country. Also in attendance to endorse the campaign in solidarity were representatives from Uber, Mysister.org and the Hennepin County – No Wrong Door Initiative and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

“We must do all that we can to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking – too many young girls and boys, and their families are affected by this heinous practice,” said Congressman Erik Paulsen (MN-03). “This awareness campaign is an important and meaningful step in accomplishing that goal. By coming together, educating our communities about available resources, and empowering others to play a role in combating human trafficking, we can all contribute in this fight.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who could not attend today’s event said, “Raising awareness is critical in the fight against human trafficking. This campaign, which educates and empowers people to join the fight against trafficking, has the power to help prevent children from being victimized and help those who have fallen victim to this heinous crime get the support they need to get their lives back on track. I was proud to lead the effort to pass the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that is helping law enforcement further crack down on human traffickers in communities across the country while bringing about greater restitution and justice for victims. We must continue to ensure that children who are sold for sex are treated as victims, not criminals.”‎

“People exploited in forms of modern slavery are receiving help and services to rebuild their lives every day in America, including here in Minnesota. From the domestic worker provided with her visa, to the young girl sold online for sex who now has counseling and therapy support, survivors are reaching out to the national human trafficking hotline more than ever,” said Caroline Diemar, Polaris’s National Hotline Director. “Too often, though, survivors aren’t aware the national hotline exists or that they can be connected to a network of support across the country. Minnesota’s awareness campaign is critical to ensuring survivors of sex and labor trafficking get the help they need.”

“Our digital OOH campaign has the power to reach many victims of human trafficking across Minnesota and let them know that there is help and way out of this modern slavery,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President, CCOA-Minneapolis/St. Paul. “What is also important about this campaign is that we are reiterating to residents that human trafficking is a real, crucial issue that needs a call to action immediately. Together with Polaris, and with the support of Congressman Paulsen and Minnesota law enforcement, our goal is help these victims gain back their freedom and ultimately decrease the number of cases of this heart-breaking crime.”

Polaris and CCOA have forged a national partnership to combat human trafficking with campaigns in cities across America. CCOA launched its first anti-human trafficking campaign alongside Polaris in Philadelphia in 2012 and has since supported campaigns with Polaris and/or local partners in Baltimore, Iowa, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and across the entire state of Texas. This is CCOA’s 20th anti-human trafficking campaign and data show that the campaigns drive calls to the hotline, including tips and requests by victims for help.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is operated by Polaris, and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other private donors. The NHTRC (1-888-373-7888) is a confidential, multilingual hotline that connects victims and survivors of all forms of human trafficking to nationwide available services to get help and stay safe. It also provides the anti-trafficking community with actionable tips and insights. By offering a robust 24/7 infrastructure and sharing data and resources, the NHTRC unites local efforts into a national movement that is helping survivors restore their freedom and eradicating human trafficking at scale.

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Press release from the Polaris Project: Click Here

Fort Bragg Summit Focuses On Prevention Of Human Trafficking

Shamere McKenzie had big plans for her life.

She was going to be the next Marion Jones. An Olympian. The fastest woman alive.

A high school track star, McKenzie earned a full college scholarship. But then, her dreams fell a part.

When McKenzie shared her story to more than 400 people at Fort Bragg on Monday, she had no stories of Olympic glory.

In spite of her bright future, life dealt McKenzie a rough hand.

Instead of racing around the track, McKenzie was one of countless women who was forced to work the track, a nickname for anywhere victims are sexually exploited.

For more than a year a decade ago, McKenzie was held against her will as a prostitute.

Sometimes the bonds were physical – a hand around her throat, a fist to her face or a boot to her side.

But mostly, the bonds were psychological – formed by a fear not only for her own life, but for her family’s.

“Human trafficking was my life for 18 months,” McKenzie said at Fort Bragg’s Special Victims Summit. “That’s 18 months of what I describe as severe torture. Torture in every sense of the word torture.”

McKenzie, who now runs the nonprofit Sun Gate Foundation dedicated to helping survivors of human trafficking, told her story as part of an annual event that brings Fort Bragg and surrounding partners together under a common goal of helping the most vulnerable.

This year’s event had a focus on human trafficking and a goal of bringing community and military leaders together to tackle the issue, said officials from Womack Army Medical Center who organized the event.

Dr. Sharon Cooper, a staff forensic and developmental pediatrician at Womack, said that in military communities in particular, officials must keep their eyes open for sometimes subtle signs of the horrible crimes.

“The research shows that wherever you have a military community, you will have businesses that foster labor and human trafficking,” Cooper said.

To read the full story by Drew Brooks at the Fay Observer: Click Here

For Trafficking Victims, Leaving Is Never Easy

Anti-trafficking advocates say “normal” becomes “abnormal” for victims of sex trafficking.

OSHKOSH – Oshkosh Police detective Paul Frey paints an ominous picture of the sex trafficking trade in the Fox Valley.

“The pimps are predators. They are literally human sharks,” Frey told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “There’s a ton of money to be made in this so they actively recruit young girls and women. Some just get tricked or sucked into that and before they know it, they’re in over their head.”

Often, victims of sex trafficking had been sexually abused, said Lyn Beyer, executive director of Reach Counseling, a Winnebago County agency that provides an array of services for victims of sexual abuse.

Others are runaways who are targeted by traffickers who know what it takes to get them into “the life.”

Since the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 13, victims are deprived basic life experiences, and girls who want to get out of prostitution typically don’t have the necessary job skills, education or family support, counselors say.

“How can we expect them to just make that leap without any help?” Beyer said.

Trauma’s twist on the mind

Those who lack a complete understanding of the world of sex trafficking tend to wonder, Why don’t victims just leave their pimps?

The short answer? Trauma.

“The most significant injuries sex trafficking victims have are often not visible,” said Nancy Irizarry, social services director at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and chair of the Prevention and Public Awareness Workgroup for the Wisconsin Human Trafficking Task Force.

Trauma physically alters the brain, she said, citing a video from the Manasseh Project Trauma Recovery Center in Michigan, which works to end sexual exploitation of children.

The video depicts how trauma affects the brain. Scans of a brain that has experienced trauma show it has been injured. The injury causes short-term memory loss and it can lead to a “fight or flight” response.

Sex trafficking victims are constantly in that state of mind, which makes “normal” feel “abnormal,” said Nicole Tynan, a trafficking survivor who now advocates for sex trafficking victims with Reach Counseling.

To read the full story by Noell Dickmann, on USA TODAY NETWORK: Click Here

New USAID Program Aims to Protect Victims of Human Trafficking

new-usaid-program-aims-to-protect-victims-of-human-trafficking“To support this stronger focus on human trafficking and irregular migration challenges, President [Barack] Obama announced USAID’s comprehensive, five-year plan of action,” White House officials said in a statement.

The U.S. Agency for International Development plan will commit $12 million in the first year to protect and compensate victims of human trafficking — an issue that experts and workers say is often overlooked when authorities focus on prosecution.

Matthew Smith, co-founder of the human rights organization Fortify Rights, says Thailand in particular lacks policies that ensure protection for victims.

To read the full story from Big News Network: Click Here

September Monthly Reflection

Who Is God For Victims And Survivors Of Human Trafficking?

By Jeanne Christensen, RSM

As persons of faith, our prayer calls us to respond to the needs of the world and our response in ministry leads us back to God. We are called to integrate contemplation and action. Who is God for each of us?

Who is God for victims and survivors of human trafficking? How does their endurance of daily repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuses shape their image of God?   The trauma which trafficking survivors experience is very complex and complicated. How do we help victims understand the love of God and that they are spiritual beings worthy of being loved by God?

Ponder these questions for a few moments.

Here is what some of the exploited women served through The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City said about God:

  • God is my protector
  • God is good all of the time
  • God is REAL love…not fake love
  • God always found me when I was lost
  • God is a spirit who always loves me when nobody did
  • I used to think God was punishing me but now I know I just didn’t let him help me
  • Without God, I would be dead

Which of these descriptions of God most strikes you? Why?

Prayer handsConversation with the women also brought out that they don’t like the God-name “higher power” because it’s too abusive. They might consider “deeper power.” Their Native American transgendered person talked about the native belief that God is everywhere, takes all forms, has many names and is in all of us. The belief that God is always with them, but that they have the choice of what to do was voiced by almost everyone. The overall belief is that God is a loving God, but that God is very capable of, in their term, “kickin’ your ass”.

What do these women’s reflections about God say to you?

As so often happens, these victims and survivors amaze us and we receive more than we ever give. We have no idea or experience of the horrendous treatment they survive, so we are amazed at their courage in making the transition out.   To fully respond to our calling for ministry with them, we must simply walk with them until we understand. It is a slow and arduous journey – let us begin!

And, let us pray:

Compassionate, tender God, you desire that all might have fullness of life and you invite us to care for all persons you have created.  God, we know you are present and we are in awe of your grace which strengthens us as we hear the call to confront the tragic reality of human trafficking. May we respond as You would. AMEN.

Source: Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM (Justice Advocate – Human Trafficking, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, North Kansas City, MO) and the women of The Justice Project’s Willow Tree in Kansas City, Missouri USA. To learn more, visit http://www.thejusticeprojectkc.org.

 

Nashville Human Trafficking Court Honors First Graduate

For years she was trafficked, sold to others for sex by her husband. The woman said she used drugs, leading to an addiction, and was stabbed several times during an attack.

“I couldn’t even walk out of my house without being high because I was so afraid,” she said.

On Tuesday the woman began a new chapter, becoming the first graduate of Nashville’s human trafficking intervention court.

The program works to identify people who are arrested for crimes such as prostitution or drug offenses but who prosecutors say are sucked into a lifestyle they learned because they are victims of human trafficking. The court program provides resources and puts a focus on treatment.

“I was given a choice and an opportunity to come into this program and I came in with fear and trepidation, but also honesty, open mindedness and willingness,” the woman said.

Prosecutors and the woman asked that the woman’s name not be published out of concern for her safety, saying the man who trafficked her is not in custody. Her story was corroborated by General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland, who oversees the program.

There are a dozen women participating, Assistant District Attorney General Tammy Meade said. The program began earlier this year amid ongoing efforts in Nashville and statewide to combat the crime.

“The women who come to Nashville, live in Nashville, are just passing through Nashville, who are caught in the cycle of prostitution and human trafficking, we owe this to them,” Meade said.

To read the full story by Stacey Barchenger on The Tennessean: Click Here