Check out our new Ride for Refuge video!
Register a team or sign up as a rider here!
Check out our new Ride for Refuge video!
Register a team or sign up as a rider here!
This year’s Ride for Refuge is fast approaching, but there is still time to sign up, dust off your bike, and get ready for ride day!
Ride for Refuge is a fantastically fun, family-friendly bike-a-thon supporting charities serving the displaced, vulnerable, and exploited. It’s taking place on October 4 in 30 locations across the country, and is a great way to support organizations like Hope for the Sold.
The fall always feels like the beginning of a new year, and as I write, teachers and students in Canada are wrapping up their first week of school. I have the privilege of knowing some incredible teachers, who not only care about information transfer and test scores, but also about the students themselves. Some of my teacher friends have become mentors, helping kids through difficult issues like bullying or abuse in the home. They may be the only ones who notice a student struggling with an eating disorder, loneliness, or, in some cases, something as serious as human trafficking.
The Texas School Safety Center recently came out with an article about recognizing the signs of human trafficking in schools. As I read the article, faces of trafficking victims flashed through my mind. I met one girl who, at the age of 15, met some older guys on facebook. The exploitative nature of the relationship progressed to the point to where she’d go to class during the day and be sold for sex at night. Her parents had no idea. In Vegas I learned that grade 12 boys were pimping grade 9 girls out of bathroom stalls at school. Due to cell phones and the internet, traffickers can have access to students all day long without even having to enter school premises.
Teachers, coaches, and other school personnel are in a unique position to spot warning signs. Here are a few to keep an eye out for:
Though these signs can point to a variety of issues, not just trafficking, it is good for teachers to be aware. Here’s some more pointers:
1. Have a relationship with the school liaison police officer, and ask if they have been educated/trained on human trafficking. If so, they may be able to help you with a specific situation and give you ideas for local resources.
2. Build a relationship of trust with your students. In many cases, a trafficking victim won’t identify themselves as a victim, so it takes trust to help them. Jennifer Lucking, a good friend of mine who has worked extensively with survivors of exploitation, explains that unless teachers have an incredibly close and trusting relationship with their students, a victim of trafficking will likely not listen to a teacher’s concern.
It may be better for a teacher to ask some challenging questions that will really help a victim identify for themselves that their situation isn’t ideal. For example instead of a teacher saying “he’s a pimp, not your boyfriend, you shouldn’t be doing that,” a teacher could ask “what does he do to make you feel cared for? What does he do that makes you feel uncared for? Do you think you deserve that?” At the very least, you are establishing that you are a safe person if the student ever decides to reach out.
You can read the entire Texas School Safety Center Report here.
It’s my hope that we can work together to traffic-proof this school year, and make schools safe zones where kids can learn and grow without fear of exploitation.
In June, we wrapped up a cross-Canada film tour with our documentary, Red Light Green Light. Here are some road highlights from the last 8 months:
While Canada has been our focus to date, trafficking prevention is something that every country needs to be discussing. This fall, we will be headed across the border to do a U.S. film tour! We want to plant seeds of awareness with the hope that each state will adopt laws and initiatives that prevent commercial sexual exploitation. We hope to partner with local organizations that are already doing important work, and believe that Red Light Green Light could be a valuable tool to rally up support for anti-trafficking efforts across the country. So here’s where you come in. Do you know anyone in the U.S. who would be interested in hosting a screening of Red Light Green Light? Our plan is to hit the following states:
Upstate New York (ie. Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Utica/Syracuse)
New York City NY
Jacksonville/Daytona Beach/Orlando FL
San Antonio/Dallas TX
Las Vegas NV
San Diego CA
Los Angeles CA
Santa Barbara/Monterey/Santa Cruz/San Jose CA
San Francisco CA
Sacramento CA/Redding CA/Eugene OR/Salem OR
Spokane/Missoula/Helena/Butte/Great Falls MT
Colorado Springs/Denver CO
Kansas City MO
Gary/Kalamazoo/Grand Rapids/Lansing/Ann Arbor/Indianapolis MI
Cincinnati OH/Dayton OH/Columbus OH/Pittsburgh PA
Akron OH/Cleveland OH/Toledo OH/Detroit MI
Take some time right now, or in the next few days, to contact your American friends and encourage them to host a screening of the film in their community. If you know folks on our route that might be willing to jump on board (and who might have the connections and capability to pull off a good event), we’d love for your to connect us!
The easiest way is for you to shoot an introduction email their way and CC Michelle (email@example.com), and she will follow up with more details. Here’s a sample you can personalize and email to your friends (be sure to include the links so they can check out the website and trailer):
Hi ___________, I’d like to introduce you to Michelle Brock, the co-director of Red Light Green Light, a documentary about sex trafficking. Michelle and her husband Jay run a charity called Hope for the Sold, and went to 10 countries to examine the best ways to prevent commercial sexual exploitation. They just finished an 85 city cross-Canada tour with the film, including a Parliamentary screening for government officials in Ottawa, as well as a bunch of churches, universities, and women’s crisis shelters.
Jay and Michelle are currently planning a film tour in the U.S., and are looking for schools, churches, and other groups that might be interested in hosting a screening in the fall. I’ve CC’d Michelle on this email, and she will send you a follow up email with some more details. In the meantime, you can check out the film trailer and synopsis right here.
Excited to bring Red Light Green Light to the U.S. of A!
When most of us think about war and conflict, we tend to picture soldiers, guns and bombs. If we watch a lot of movies, we may even envision hand-to-hand combat, underground torture chambers, and chemical warfare. But there is another factor that is tragically common in the context of conflict: sexual violence as a weapon of war.
The current crisis in Iraq is no different. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) – otherwise known simply as IS (Islamic State) – a militant Sunni jihadist group that is advancing through the country, is strategically raping and kidnapping women and children along the way. Historically on a global scale, rape and pillage have been common, opportunistic practices in the context of conquest. But in recent decades, sexual violence has become known as a strategic war tool, intentionally and systematically carried out to undermine and fatally wound local communities.
According to two United Nations officials, about 1,500 women and children may have been forced into sexual slavery in recent weeks. The victims are mostly from minority groups within Iraq, consisting of Yazidi, Christian, Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys. What is the purpose of this? Dr. Nazand Begikhani breaks it down:
As Major-General Patrick Cammaert puts it:
This is not an easy fix situation, and the history of the area plays a huge role in its complexity. But but below are some links to organizations that are requesting your activism and generosity (please note that some of these are international organizations and may not be able to provide a Canadian tax receipt, but don’t that that stop you from giving):
Yesterday I watched a VICE undercover documentary (42 mins) about the situation in Iraq and Syria. Please set aside some time this week to watch, learn and pray. But before you do, remember that this is an extremist group, and most Muslims are just as horrified as the rest of us at what is happening. Considering that many Iraqis and Syrians who currently live in North America or Europe still have family and friends stuck in the midst of this crisis, now is the time for us to reach out to our neighbours and offer support and kindness.
I am reading a really good book. It’s called Man’s Search for Meaning, written by holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. Whenever I’ve studied the holocaust or the trans-Atlantic slave trade, I’ve assumed that being freed from such horrific bondage would be the best feeling in the world. And momentarily, it probably is. But as Frankl points out in his book, being freed is actually more of a process than a moment, and there are many challenges along the way:
“Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being. The way that led from the acute mental tension of the last days in camp (from that war of nerves to mental peace) was certainly not free from obstacles. It would be an error to think that a liberated prisoner was not in need of spiritual care any more.
We have to consider that a man who has been under such enormous mental pressure for such a long time is naturally in some danger after his liberation, especially since the pressure was released quite suddenly. This danger (in the sense of psychological hygiene) is the psychological counterpart of the bends. Just as the physical health of the caisson worker would be endangered if he left his diver’s chamber suddenly (where he is under enormous atmospheric pressure), so the man who has suddenly been liberated from mental pressure can suffer damage to his moral and spiritual health.
During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became instigators, not objects, of willful force and injustice. They justified their behaviour by their own terrible experiences.
This was often revealed in apparently insignificant events. A friend was walking across a field with me toward the camp when suddenly we came to a field of green crops. Automatically, I avoided it, but he drew his arm through mine and dragged me through it. I stammered something about not treading down the young crops. He became annoyed, gave me an angry look and shouted, ‘You don’t say! And hasn’t enough been taken from us? ‘My wife and child have been gassed – not to mention everything else – and you would forbid me to tread on a few stalks of oats!’
We had to strive to lead them back to this truth, or the consequences would have been much worse than the loss of a few thousand stalks of oats.”
Why is it that so many girls return to their pimps after they’ve been ‘rescued’? Why is it that some people who have experienced child abuse end up abusing their own kids? Why is it that service providers experience violence at the hands of the very people they are trying to help?
Because freedom isn’t a moment, it’s a process. With courage, boldness, and patience, we must strive to walk alongside those who have been hurt, enslaved, and exploited, and foster sustainable, healthy liberty.
“Heyy thanks for adding me your very pretty would you be interested in a job making easy money.”
“hey sexy how you doing im rico…i just wanna say you sexy and I will love for you to come get this money with me i see a lot of potential in you.”
“What up Bri? Call me soon as u get this love so we can chop it up and get better acquainted..”
“I LOVE trapping on the weekends. #$Money Making Mission.”
These are some facebook status updates and messages taken from court documents, showing how pimps recruited girls into prostitution by making initial contact online.
A couple years I met a girl in the Oakville area who had accepted a friend request on facebook from some “cute older guys.” They told her they could hook her up with alcohol and get her into all the parties. She was in high school at the time, and had no idea these older boys were traffickers on a mission to recruit. As the relationship developed, she was gradually groomed into prostitution. (I recently came across a similar story online – you can listen to Nina’s story here).
This is happening all over the world. In Indonesia, 27 of the 129 children reported missing to its National Commission for Child Protection are believed to have been abducted after meeting their captors on Facebook. The internet has no cultural or socio-economic boundaries. While many trafficking victims have traditionally been lured or abducted from marginalized or impoverished communities, the internet has opened up the playing field to include middle and even upper class homes. Teenagers and children are curious and hungry for compliments regardless of socioeconomic status, and traffickers can easily access them via facebook, twitter, and texting at all hours of the day.
For parents, this is a poses a real challenge. Cell phones, the very thing that parents often want their kids to have for safety purposes, may be the tool that undermines their safety in the worst way. Social media, which is supposed foster good relationships, sometimes acts as a breeding ground for toxic ones instead. So what’s a parent to do?
The FBI has identified some warning signs that your child may be at-risk online:
Here is a list of tips for parents regarding internet safety that could be quite helpful. Instruct your children:
The most powerful way to traffic-proof your child is to have a strong relationship with them. This starts at the youngest of ages. Maybe it’s time to make regular family dinner a bigger priority. Or to get a new job that allows for more quality time with your kids.
Investing into your kids when they are young can pave the way for a healthy relationship when they are teenagers, and that is a challenging hurdle for pimps to overcome.
I heard my mom’s laughter upstairs. “Michelle, come take a look at this!” I bolted up the steps and saw her pointing at the large stuffed animal mouse that stood in the corner of her bedroom. Its face was covered in lipstick, the red marks concentrated primarily on the lips and eyes. We considered the culprit – my little sister, who had just learned how to walk – and wondered how she’d managed to find a lipstick and create such a masterpiece during her short nap.
After some investigation, we figured that my sister had crawled over the guardrails on her bed, pushed aside obstacles that were supposed to keep her out of my mom’s drawer, picked out the lipstick and used it on the mouse, returned the lipstick in its rightful place in the drawer, and crawled back into bed as if nothing had happened. My mom tried to her best to reprimand my sister without breaking into a smile, and we both thought her plan was ingenious and adorable.
I remember marvelling at the keen awareness of a two-year-old. Whether she had seen my mom put on lipstick, me put on lip gloss, or a commercial advertising eye shadow, my sister understood the basic premise of make-up. While at her age it came down to mere curiosity and wanting to imitate the women around her, in our appearance-obsessed society there is a point where, for many young girls, curiosity can switch to insecurity.
During our documentary film tour this spring, I met someone who told me of a tactic that some traffickers were using in their area. They would go to a place where teenage girls were hanging out, like a mall or park, and strike up conversation. They’d find ways to compliment each girl in some way, whether it was about her hair, her eyes, or her body, and strategically gauge their reaction. Some girls would ignore them entirely. Others would respond with “thank you.” Some would immediately gush out “no I don’t” or “I’m so ugly,” and these were the girls that would be selected for the grooming process. A little attention goes a long way for a girl starved of self worth, and traffickers would merely pose as boyfriends, showering them with gifts, compliments, and affection, while gradually grooming them into a life of prostitution.
Those of us who are adult women have a responsibility to set an example for young girls. Are we masking our natural beauty because we are insecure? Do we complain about our bodies in front of our children, our nieces, our sisters? What are the possible repercussions of living out of fear? Let’s examine our hearts and our minds, so we can empower the younger generation to live with contentment, gratitude, and courage. It’s a subtle way to guard our children from predators seeking to exploit insecurity.
This video says it so beautifully:
Good news from MP Joy Smith:
I am delighted to share with you that Bill C-36 has been adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
In September when Parliament resumes, the Chair of the Committee will report the Bill back to the House of Commons where it will go through Report Stage and Third Reading.
Today’s clause by clause study of Bill C-36 was an important opportunity to address concerns by witnesses that the proposed changes to section 213 of the Criminal Code were too vague and would allow prostituted women to continue to be broadly criminalized. Our government put forward and adopted an amendment that significantly narrowed the offence to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish:
Original proposed offence in Bill C-36:
213. (1.1) Everyone is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who communicates with any person — for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services for consideration — in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a place where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present.
New wording of offence in Bill C-36:
213. (1.1) Everyone is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who communicates with any person — for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services for consideration — in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a school ground, playground or daycare centre.
RESULT: This puts a focus on discouraging solicitation from three specific places where youth should be able to be free from sexual commodification and objectification.
The second significant amendment to Bill C-36 adopted was put forward by the NDP and supported by the Conservative government was the following:
REVIEW AND REPORT
45.1 (1) Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee of the House of Commons as may be designated or established by the House for that purpose.
(2) The committee referred to in subsection (1) shall, within a year after a review is undertaken pursuant to that subsection or within such further time as the House may authorize, submit a report on the review to the Speaker of the House, including a statement of any changes the committee recommends.
RESULT: This will allow the government to see the impact of Bill C-36 and fine-tune it where necessary. The NDP suggested a review within 2 years and our government changed this to 5 years to allow for more information to be gathered.
I will continue to keep you updated!
Joy Smith, B.Ed., M.Ed.
Member of Parliament
If you’d like to watch Hope for the Sold’s testimony before the Committee from last week, you can do so here (starts at minute 12:30).
We’ll keep you posted on how this develops and what you can do as the bill make progress!
There was a story from India in the news a couple weeks ago that I still haven’t been able to shake. Two cousins from the impoverished, “low-caste” Dalit community, aged 14 and 15, went outside in the evening to use the toilet. Indoor plumbing is still considered a luxury in many parts of the country, and it is quite common for a family to use a field or outhouse to relieve themselves. Tragically, these two girls were attacked by a group of men. One of the girls was raped, both were strangled, and their bodies were strung up from a mango tree.
The community was in an outrage. Some men were caught and arrested. In India, rape is common and rarely punished, but gruesome, high-profile cases have been making the news in recent years. This specific case may have even been an honour killing. The state’s Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan dubbed rape as a “trivial incident” and said the crime should “not be blown out of proportions.”
Though it’s true that indoor plumbing would have prevented this particular incident on that particular night, it’s absurd to argue that the lack of an indoor bathroom is what killed these girls. No – what killed them was men who have been brought up in a society where women (especially women from the Dalit “untouchable” caste) have little value, and rape is a man’s right. If every family in that community had an indoor toilet, India would still be dealing with a rape crisis because men would simply get more creative.
In the last few days, Canada has been having a very heated discussion about our prostitution laws. In a nutshell, bill C-36, the proposed prostitution legislation that was tabled by Justice Minister MacKay, makes it illegal to purchase sex, to benefit from someone’s exploitation (ie. pimping), and to advertise the sexual services of another person. In an effort to address the vulnerability of many of those selling sex while also touching on community protection, the bill simultaneously makes it legal for a person to sell sex, as long as they are not doing it in an area where children could reasonably be expected to be present (read more about my thoughts here). An advocate from a sex work group made a statement about the bill, saying that “sex workers will die because of these laws.”
The argument is that making any part of the prostitution transaction illegal pushes it into the shadows and makes it more dangerous for sex workers. While isolated areas can in some cases be more dangerous than well-lit, public areas, there is a misconception that location is to blame for the violence. Trisha Baptie, who used to be in the sex industry, puts it best:
People selling sex experience violence and death at significantly higher rates than the average citizen. This is the case regardless of what prostitution laws are in place. The law isn’t what is killing and abusing women in prostitution, it’s men paying for sex who are killing and abusing women in prostitution.
While making a documentary on prostitution and sex trafficking, my husband and I met a woman who had worked in legal brothel in Switzerland.
She experienced horrific violence at the hands of johns despite being in a legal establishment. In some legal regimes, sex workers have panic buttons in their rooms and train each other how to get away from violent clients. While not every john is violent, it’s not unreasonable to say that violence is inherent to prostitution because it thrives on anonymity, preys on vulnerability, and seeks to fulfill a one-sided fantasy. While harm reduction efforts are vital and should continue, we should stop kidding ourselves by thinking that the industry will no longer have violence if we decriminalize the purchase of sex. Perhaps it’s time to stop asking if prostitution is violent and start asking why it is violent.
“The relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you’re capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it’s a problem, because you can’t objectify them anymore.”
“…it can be very satisfying at the moment, but inevitably leads to a lot of stress and anxiety… I am supporting an industry that is exploitive and unfair and potentially harmful to myself and all parties involved…they are getting paid for it, but you are being a patron to an industry that is very dangerous…”
“Being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out.”
“I have to admit that at one time I did think of women merely as sexual objects. And I‘m not proud of it. I was a product of my environment, and that‘s what was going on in the society I grew up in. I think prostitution degrades women and it treats all sexual relationships as cheap sex and not as a respectable loving relationship with intimate feelings for one another.”
We collectively have an opportunity to decide which direction we want our society to head. Laws, if enforced adequately, don’t merely have penal effects but also normative ones. India’s attitude toward women has had horrific manifestations, like rape culture, honour killings, and female infanticide. Do we honestly think that installing indoor toilets, lighting up isolated streets, and teaching women to travel in large groups gets at the root of the problem? Of course not. These efforts are vitally important and can save some lives, but the core issue is men’s entitlement. India’s long-term strategy should include holding men to account and shifting cultural values, and until that happens, we will continue to hear heart-breaking, gruesome stories in the media.
While decriminalizing the purchase of sex in Canada may have an illusion of empowering women, in reality it leads to a deeper entitlement for men. A couple years ago, a stripper from Montreal contacted me. She explained that when the laws changed and Montreal strip clubs started going from a “no-touch” policy to a “full contact” model, she found that men were no longer satisfied with just watching. In a sense, the law empowered men to go further than before. She thanked me for advocating against legalizing prostitution, because “men will just want more.”
While some women would no doubt make plenty of money by running escort services or choosing a few well-paying clients, the majority of those in prostitution do not have that kind of relative bargaining power. And considering that we share a border with the U.S., not only will decriminalization lead to increased demand from Canadian citizens, but also from our southern neighbours.
No law is perfect, and prostitution and sex trafficking are complex issues. But now is the time to ask ourselves what we value as a country. Bill C-36, if implemented properly, serves as a good start if we are serious about holding the purchasers of sex to account. The other alternative is decriminalization, which sends a very different message. Let us seriously consider what direction we want our society to head, and what is the best option for the common good.