Posts made in January 2020

Rescued Children Aren’t Rescued, When There’s “No Room at the Inn”

Are you up for some seriously disconcerting statistics? Kristi Wells from the Safe House Project can deliver. Read her answers to some important questions:

  • How many children are trafficked for sex in the United States each year?
    • “According to the FBI,” says Wells, “the answer is 300,000. If you take all the children who are trafficked in the US each year, they would fill 50 aircraft carriers.
  • How many of those 300,000 sex-trafficked children are rescued?
    • “According to International Labor Organization, 1% is rescued or makes it out each year.”
  • Of the roughly 3000 children who are rescued, how many will be re-trafficked?
    • “Without a safe place to go and heal upon escape or rescue, eighty percent of those children end up back in traffickers’ hands and being revictimized, according to the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative.”

Why Children Are Re-trafficked

In 2017, Wells learned these statistics and was horrified. She also learned a major reason so many children end up being re-trafficked. Relative to the need, provision for rehabilitating children is almost non-existent.

As she researched the facilities that were available for helping sex-trafficked children, she discovered that there were only a handful of restorative care facilities. Altogether, there were less than 100 beds available for long term care.

For her it was no wonder that so many rescued children return to being trafficked. With no place to go, with no education and with only the most limited repertoire of life skills, returning to being trafficked often turned out to be their only option.  

Understanding this situation turned out to be life-changing for Wells and Safe House Project co-founder, Brittany Dunn.  They realized that, “The only thing standing between slavery and freedom for these children was having a place to heal. Their freedom required our action.”

 To deal with this enormous problem, Wells and Dunn founded Safe House Project as a non-profit and the founders left jobs in corporate America to dedicate all their time and resources to increasing the capacity for long term restorative care for these children. The plan wasn’t to create the increased capacity on their own, but rather to help existing organizations do this work.  

In 2019 Safe House Project added 32 beds to the national landscape for Child Sex Trafficking Victims to receive care. In 2020 Safe House Project is adding 160 new spaces, systematically doubling the existing capacity and they will not stop until there is a safe house network in every state.

  Safe House Project Impact

How has this effort played out in actual practice?  Take the example of “Alice.”

Alice (we’re not using her real name) was sex-trafficked from age six to age 11.  What may seem astonishing to those of us who don’t normally deal with child abuse, the man who trafficked Alice was her own uncle. 

Not only that, her parents colluded with it. They got kickbacks for allowing their daughter’s exploitation.

“Each night,” explains Wells, “Alice’s uncle would scoop her out of her bed and take her next door to his house where she would be sold to men throughout the night.”

“She was a young girl dreaming of loving and protecting her babies, from beneath a man who didn’t care that she was one,” said Wells.

“Eventually her uncle was caught and did hard time,” says Wells.  “However, after her rescue, Alice didn’t get any treatment. She was only 11, but she became suicidal, and was addicted to the street drugs she used to blunt the pain she was feeling.”  

But then things changed. With the help of a restorative care home, Alice began receiving medical care, detox, therapy, and education in the life skills she needed to start her life anew. 

She now has a chance at a close-to-normal life. Without this intervention, there’s a good chance she’d be dead.  

The Need is Acute

Although Wells rejoices in stories like Alice’s, she knows that of the estimated 3000 rescued children each year, 99% of those children will not receive the care that they need.

Wells recently spoke with the CEO of an organization that facilitates the rescue of sex trafficking victims who told her, “I can walk out this door right now, and I could rescue five girls, but I’m not going to do it. There’s no place for them to go, and they’ll end up right back with their trafficker.”

This operative looked Wells straight in the eye and stated, “I can’t do my job until you do yours, I need you to give me places to place them and help them heal.” 

The need Kristi Wells and Brittany Dunn have uncovered is acute and heartbreaking. The Safe House Project Team, operating across America, are doing everything they can to help meet that need.

If you’d like to join her in this effort, visit her website at: https://www.safehouseproject.org

 

Learn to Code! In the Human Trafficking World, It’s a Great Idea!

 

We’ve all heard the snarky advice, usually given to people in the media whose jobs have disappeared: “Learn to code!”  But for those who have survived human trafficking, this normally unkind advice turns out to be almost unbelievably useful and valuable.

Survivors of trafficking today can have $90,000 a year jobs, thanks to learning to code. Jessica Hubley and Laura Hackney, co-founders of a coding training program and the software development company, AnnieCannons, pioneered this approach to helping survivors of trafficking. 

For a trafficking survivor, programming skills can bring economic security. And this means they’re no longer attractive prey for a trafficker.

The story behind AnnieCannons is interesting.  Hubley and Hackney met at Stanford and found that they shared an interest in combatting human trafficking. As part of their research efforts, the two women got to know the deeper reality of survivors of trafficking.

Hubley and Hackney quickly realized that any job training available to the women they met in the shelters was way below what many of the trafficked women were capable of.  

The two women realized that many of the trafficking survivors they met had two of the most important characteristics of successful coders: grit and smarts. The two friends calculated that if the survivors could learn to code, they could be making $75 an hour – or even much more. 

And yet too often, the only vocational training available to the trafficking survivors were $15 an hour jobs, such as cooking.  Hubley and Hackney decided to try to change things. With help from a couple of visionary philanthropists, they set up a coding bootcamp, taking formerly trafficked women from digital illiteracy to proficiency in coding and web design. 

Commercial coding bootcamps cost about $25,000 for about 10 weeks of instruction. AnnieCannons needs about a $10,000 donation to take a survivor through a 6 month bootcamp, but after completing it, a survivor can make $60,000 a year and, through practice and advanced workshops, increase that income to well over six figures.  Even better, 90% of the women who start the program complete it and end up with jobs, most of them working for AnnieCannons.

Learning to code isn’t for everyone. However, as Hubley points out “Almost everyone with an IQ of 130 or more can do it.  Someone who’s been a B-plus student can generally do it. The big requirement is sticking with it and practicing.”

In Hubley’s experience, survivors have already demonstrated grit in abundance just by surviving. “They were hacking life just to continue living. They survived when people were telling them every day that they were worthless. The grit that it took just to get through any day makes them extraordinary.”

However, grit by itself wasn’t enough to escape a life of being trafficked.  Hubley discovered  that, “Every single person sitting in one of our classes had already been rescued and sent to a shelter three to seven times. They’d tell us they had been rescued, sent to a shelter, and had ended up re-trafficked because they believed their traffickers, who said that they were worthless. When they faced zero viable economic opportunities, they had no reason to believe otherwise.”

Knowing how to code interrupted this cycle. Hubley points out that, “When they have economic stability on their own, all this changes.”

In the six years that AnnieCannons has been in existence, 51 survivors have gone through the program and are now economically independent. They can now think of themselves as professional women, not trafficking victims. Coding helps give them their lives back.

 In 2020, AnnieCannons is tripling the number of classes they teach.

If you or your business needs coding services, including web design, visit https://anniecannons.com.  If you’d like to sponsor a survivor scholarship, you can make 501(c)3 donations at anniecannons.org. Either way, you’ll be helping a trafficking survivor begin her new life.  

Molly Gochman: Using Art to Combat Trafficking

Can art combat human trafficking?

You already know the answer. 

Art has the power to reach beyond our rational brains.  At its best, art has the power to reach to the very core of what makes us tick. It can make us see ourselves differently and it can inspire us to action. When we say that art “moves us,” this is actually literally true; art can not only make us more aware, it can inspire us to behave differently. 

Meet Molly Gochman

There may be artists who are a better example of art moving us to take action, but in the anti-trafficking field, there aren’t many who are more effective than New York-based artist, Molly Gochman.

Her particular genius is, she translates the commonest of experiences, something that is a part of everyday life, into something transcendent. She creates something that once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. 

After learning about the metaphor you’re about to read, your world is going to be at least slightly different. The world as a whole will be at least slightly better.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

The metaphor begins with cracks in the sidewalk. Any sidewalk. Anywhere.  Cracks in the sidewalk are part of everyday life, and we hardly ever notice them. 

Gochman’s artistry, her ability to make connections that the rest of us don’t see, resulted in her thinking one day, “We don’t pay attention to sidewalk cracks. They’re in plain sight, just like human trafficking!”

She knew that 40.3 million people live as slaves. “There are overlooked populations,” she says, “and these include refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people of color, indigenous people, people with disabilities, women and girls, and children, and they are at risk of being enslaved, spending their lives being exploited for the profit of others.”

Like most of us, the idea of doing something about a problem so huge was daunting. For her, almost the biggest part of the problem of changing the conditions of those who are most vulnerable is, these individuals are there, but no one sees them.

Wanting to do something about what she considered almost unimaginably horrible, she asked herself, what could she, one individual, do?

Her answer was, as an artist she could help raise awareness. 

She started small.

She began pouring red sand into cracks in a sidewalk in Miami, at an art fair. She was doing this initially as a way to start a conversation with the people who were walking by. As she expected, people were curious about the strange sight of a grown woman pouring bright red, blood-colored sand into cracks in a sidewalk.

“Why are you doing this,” people would ask.

“It’s an art project to raise awareness about modern day slavery.” 

“I thought slavery had ended!” was a typical response, and pretty soon, a robust conversation was underway.

This initially small project grew. It touched a nerve. The more people learned about Gochman’s 

Red Sand Project, the more the idea of pouring red sand in sidewalk cracks spread. Other people began doing it.  

Today, Red Sand Project is a participatory artwork that uses sidewalk interventions and earthwork installations to create opportunities for people to question, connect, and take action against vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation. 

As Gochman puts it, “We do this to recognize those who are overlooked. We invite individuals to take the time to fill a sidewalk crack with red sand and to then document their sidewalk transformations on social media using #RedSandProject. 

“The intention is to encourage us all to not merely walk over the most marginalized people in our communities—those who fall through the metaphoric cracks.”

And where is the project today? With the help of Stardust Arts Foundation, in this past year alone the Red Sand Project team has mailed more than 22,000 Red Sands Project toolkits, and supported over 45,000 people doing Red Sand Project events. Since its founding in 2014, “more than a million people have come into contact with it,” Gochman says, her voice seemingly registering amazement at this fact.

It’s reached a million people, and the project continues to grow.  For more information, visit the website, https://redsandproject.org

Mitzi Perdue is the founder of the anti-trafficking organization, WinThisFight.org and author of 52 TIPS FOR PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Contact her at Mitzi@WinThisFight.org or call her at 410 860-4444.

 

Looking for an Education about Sex Trafficking? Here’s an Answer

Would you like an overview of human trafficking in America? Would you like a report that manages to be not only comprehensive, but also brief? And that has the most recently available information and statistics?

Jeff Keith from Guardian Group has an answer for you. He and his colleagues designed the 15-page report, 2019 Human Trafficking in America, and according to Keith, they did it, “To create a tool that enables people to get information in one place without having to seek it out. We sourced it from well-done research projects and then added to it our own analysis of the problem based on 10 years of experience.”

He goes on to say, “Our goal was to make it human and personal, and not just about statistics.  We wanted to avoid ‘paralysis by analysis,’ where you get so many statistics that you take away the person behind it.  This report isn’t just statistics, it’s about someone’s loved one, or maybe a community member.”

Keith also had another goal.  “We wanted to re-educate people and show people what’s really happening. People may watch the movie Taken or Pretty Woman, and think that’s how it happens here, but typically that’s not the case.”

To get a feeling of how different trafficking is likely to be from what you see in those two movies, read this quote from page 4 of the report:

“The pimp/traffickers monitor social media or dating sites for potential victims. They look for a vulnerability or a problem they can solve. Posting “my mom is the worst” on your Facebook page offers a predator the opportunity to swoop in and become the victim’s hero. They may also recruit victims at places teens hang out such as: parks, malls or outside shelters for runaway and homeless youth. Pimp/traffickers view humans as a product to be sold.”

In creating this report, Guardian Group members wanted not only awareness, they wanted impact.  Keith is pleased to report that already there have been amazing impacts.

“For example,” Keith says, “within a few weeks of a training session where a lot of the information in the report was communicated at a local hospital, members of the staff in the Emergency Department experienced a truly impactful result.”

Keith goes on to explain that shortly after the training session, there was a motor vehicle accident that occurred. The woman that was in the car accident had to be put on an automatic 24-hour hold due to her injuries. During that time a nurse and social worker both noticed several red flags.

  • The young woman’s story changed various times.
  • She would not make eye contact.
  • She was very afraid of the man that had been driving the car.

The hospital staff notified Law Enforcement and a multiple jurisdictional trafficking case was opened. The young woman was returned safely to her family.

Keith believes that the more people who read this report, the more impact it will have. To download a .pdf of 2019 Human Trafficking in America, go to Guardiangroup.org, click on Community under the Training tab, and then scroll down to Human Trafficking In America Report.

 

Elizabeth Peyton-Jones

A Threat in the Fashion Industry–and What Can Be Done about It

 

The Jeffrey Epstein case brought to light one of the ugliest secrets of the fashion world. In too many cases, a pretty girl is offered a glamorous and lucrative career in modelling and ends up being trafficked.

Traffickers Use Modeling as a Lure

That’s what happened to at least some of the young women who ended up servicing Epstein and his friends. In the view of Elizabeth Peyton-Jones, founder of Responsible Trust for Models (RTM) “Fashion is a global industry with no borders and no controls, and this makes it is easy to use and abuse the system.”

Peyton-Jones has an impressive and effective approach to addressing the issues in the model industry which are hiding in plain sight, like the abuse of power and the ability for predators to use model agencies as scammers or worse, trafficking and money laundering.

As she puts it, “The modeling industry attracts children who wish to work as models. They are self-employed which means they fall through the cracks. It is not up to them to change the abuse; it is up to the adults in the industry to see what is wrong and change it.” 

She goes on to say, “We at RTM wish to aid in protecting the vulnerable within the industry by creating a globally recognized standard, one that’s  awarded to model agencies, and that will allow  ethical agencies to step up and show best practice and alert brands as to which agencies are best to source their models through.”

Abuse Hiding in Plain sight

We’ll get to Peyton-Jones’s ideas on improving the safety of models in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at a typical case of how models can be exploited. It’s the case of Larisa Popova. That’s not her real name, but the events described did happen.

“At age 16,” begins Peyton-Jones, “Popova was a young, beautiful, eager and impressive Russian girl.”

Her fabulous looks attracted a European scout who was in Russia looking for ‘new faces’ for their internationally renowned brand. “They loved her look so much they decided to sign her to an agency in NYC with the intention she would be their next new prodigy,” says Peyton-Jones. This young girl had a ‘Mother Agency’ in Russia who was supposedly taking care of her.

Popova, who arrived in NYC did not speak a word of English, needed some serious guidance, which the agency in NYC gave her. She was given a tutor for English and her career began to take off. She made a significant sum of money, but the ‘mother agency’ refused to open a bank account, which meant Popova had to take wads of cash home to Russia each trip.

The agency became suspicious when, even after several months of asking, no bank account was opened. Popova had also started hanging around people taking drugs and alcohol. The US agency gave the mother agency in Russia an ultimatum, “Get your model away from the bad element, open up a bank account or the police will become involved.”

At that point, Popova disappeared.

When the agency looked into things further, they discovered the truth: The mother agency was a prostitute ring and the model agency had been a front for a criminal gang, which meant that the brands had inadvertently sourced a model who was legitimizing a criminal activity. If this ever got out, the brand’s reputation would be destroyed as it is directly their responsibility and their supply chain.

This obviously does not end well for anyone. The US agency is wondering what they could have done better, and it’s hard for the  brand to pursue this because of the negative press it would attract.

Peyton-Jones won’t speculate on what happened to Popova. All she knows for sure is that the fashion house or model agency was never able to locate the girl.

What Can Be Done

Peyton-Jones knows that because of the glamourous nature of the industry and indeed models, this is a difficult story to tell and gain sympathy. However, the fact that any person can approach anyone in the street, mall or online, whether legitimate or not, and there is no method of knowing who the good guys are, means that everyone is vulnerable. If you have a child who is easily led, she is a potential victim. This is so even if she never set her sights on fashion.

The resolution to this is simple and positive and will allow for positive change in an industry which is calling out for better, more modern governance and operational behavior.

It begins with an industry-led and curated kite mark of best practice. A good house-keeping mark, if you like.

  1. 1.A global standard, respected and recognized by industry professionals championed by model agencies, allowing for best practice, professionalism and labor rights for models.
  2. 2.A piece of research to show that this abuse exists, mapping countries and profiling for patterns.
  3. 3.A training and educational program for models which will allow them to understand their career value and teach them about finance, contracting, social media rights and public speaking.

Funding at this point is important for the research piece. For philanthropists who would like to see a measurable outcome and want to shift the dial on modern slavery, this is an opportunity.

For more information, go to https://www.modelstrust.com or @models_trust. Or contact Peyton-Jones on sue@modelstrust.com

Mitzi Perdue is the Founder and President of Win This Fight and author of 52 Tips for Combatting Human Trafficking. Contact her at Mitzi@WinThisFight.org.