In the News: Kenneth Klassen Receives Canada’s Harshest Sentence to Date for Sex Tourism

by Michelle Brock on July 29th, 2010

kenneth klassenOn the surface British Columbia’s Kenneth Klassen appears to be a pretty average guy. He is a 59 year-old divorced father of three and an international art dealer.  But Klassen’s travels were not just for business – which was discovered when customs officers seized a suspicious package from the Philippines that he had sent to himself.  It was commercial child pornography.

Some of the DVDs police found had titles such as “First Timer” and “Child Abuse,” and showed him having sex with young impoverished kids between the ages of 8 and 18.  He had hired a woman to take a computer course so she could blur out his face from the clips, but these attempts to hide his crimes did not work.  Klassen was arrested when he came to pick up the package.  When searching his house and a storage locker in Vancouver, the police found 21 DVDs containing more than 200 images of child pornography, with girls as young as three years old, which he had purchased overseas.

Crown Counsel Brendan McCabe said that Klassen “said he was attracted to women that were extremely thin and that he had tried to find thin women, older women, but in Canada he found that impossible.”  Klassen also told the police that he targeted his victims because they were extremely thin, cheap, and easily available. As the Montreal Gazette reports, one of his 11 year-old victims agreed to have sex with him so she could buy herself a new set of clothes for her 12th birthday.

gavel 300x300His was the third sex tourism case that has been heard in a Canadian court, and yesterday the judge handed him the harshest sentence to date: 11 years. Ten years for having sex with 14 underage girls in Colombia and Cambodia, and one year for for importing child pornography.  The first case involved another British Columbia man, Donald Bakker, who was given a 7 year sentence for sexually exploiting young girls in Cambodia. The second case involved two Quebec men who received 2 and 3 year sentences for sexually exploiting boys at an orphanage in Haiti.

Though Klassen claimed to be sorry from the bottom of his heart, he also tried to challenge Canada’s sex tourism law by arguing that the incidents happened in other countries where Canadian courts have no jurisdiction. Hmm.  Sounds like a truly “repentant man.”

I asked Brian McConaghy, founder of the Ratanak Foundation (which operates safe houses in Cambodia for rescued victims) what he thinks of the outcome, and he had this to say:

“While this is the longest sentence handed down in a Canadian court we are still short of where we need to be. I want sentences of 18 to 20 years for this. We may get there eventually but it will take time, more public awareness and political will. So we are on the right track but still need more work.”

In other words, this is a bittersweet victory.  However it demonstrates that these cases are coming before Canadian courts more regularly, which will hopefully begin to discourage predators from victimizing children abroad.  Unfortunately there are numerous sex tourists that are not caught like the four individuals who have now been successfully sentenced in Canada.  We are moving slowly, but at least it is in the right direction! For all those involved in this investigation, I applaud you for your hard work.

For more information on the Klassen case, check out the following links:

B.C. man gets 11 years for child sex tourism by CBC News

CBC Video News Report on Klassen

B.C. Sex tourist gets 11 years for abusing girls by the Montreal Gazette

Sex tourist Kenneth Klassen sentenced to 11 years by the Globe and Mail

Michelle Brock

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Ending Sex Trafficking One Cell Phone At A Time

by Michelle Brock on July 28th, 2010

cell phone africaIn university I took a class on African politics, and one of the readings we did was on how cell phones are changing the social landscape of Africa.  People in rural areas who have never had the opportunity to communicate through a regular phone (due to the lack of land lines and other factors), now can use cell phones for a low cost to stay connected.  Me being the kind of person who does not own a cell phone and never want to, I initially shrugged off this phenomenon as another Western trend that is invading the developing world.  But as I read the article and discussed it in class, I began to see that maybe, just maybe, cell phones can do some serious good.

An article I recently found online says that in Tanzania 97% of people said they can access a mobile phone while only 28% could access a land line.  In high conflict areas, people are using cell phones to warn communities about riots and rebels roaming through the countryside.  Farmers now have cheap access to information on things like crop prices and legal protocol for land ownership, and the ability to call or text can save huge amounts of time and travel costs for those living in rural areas. Corrupt officials can be bypassed when people can contact the people they need to directly.

So, what does this have to do with eradicating sex trafficking? In Africa and other parts of the developing world, it is often difficult to get crucial information and resources to at-risk communities. Survivors Connect has launched a campaign called Phones4Freedom, which takes your old cell phones and recycles them through The Wireless Source.  Phones4Freedom will receive credits or points for every cell phone you send in, which then allows them to purchase appropriate phones for their anti-trafficking advocates and networks around the world.

Survivors Connect uses text messaging (Frontline SMS – Short Messaging Service) to help those who need it.  It is a guaranteed way to reach all mobile phone users and is cheap to send and receive information.  It makes it possible to have two-way communication, send information to several people at once, provide a discrete and safe way to interact, reduce the time and money wasted on travel, and enable communication without requiring internet connections.

In addition to responding to texts from people who need immediate help, Frontline SMS will use mobile phone communication to:

  • Change attitudes and perceptions about women’s issues, child rights, human rights, and labour standards of community members and police
  • Empower community watch groups with a technological tool to enhance existing awareness efforts
  • Empower citizens to report human rights violations as they occur, which counters a common attitude that standing up for justice is pointless
  • Provide police with data on hotspots that can increase their presence in a given area and reduce trafficking

cell phoneSurvivors Connect is literally preventing trafficking one text at a time! Phones4Freedom is currently accepting phone donations from the U.S. and Canada.  If you have an old cell phone you would like to donate to the cause and you live in the U.S., click here to print out a pre-paid shipping label and mailing instructions. For those of you in Canada wishing to donate a phone, Phones4Freedom has requested that you email hello@phones4freedom.org for specific instructions.

What an innovative way to fight sex trafficking and exploitation while getting rid of ‘junk’ at the same time!

Michelle Brock

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Sex Trafficking is…Sexy? How Buzzwords Get Our Attention

by Michelle Brock on July 27th, 2010

exploitedSex trafficking seems to be the trendy term nowadays, and automatically we picture girls being kidnapped off the street and sold across international borders.  What is interesting to me is that neither individual citizens nor the media really cared about the issue of sexual exploitation and prostitution until sex trafficking became the hot buzzword.  In other words, sex trafficking is ‘sexy.’ It’s cool to talk about the trafficking of human beings, and people are listening.

However, we have to be careful not to be selective when trying to help victims of forced prostitution and trafficking.  Does our compassion extend to girls who are in love with their pimp and sell their bodies to please their ‘boyfriend?’  Or does the victim literally have to be chained up before we consider them legitimately trafficked and worthy of our help?  Do we ignore those who are on drugs?  What about those who perhaps knew they were going to work in a strip club but then realized too late that they would be forced into performing sex acts on the side?  If we are going to put an end to sex trafficking, we need to put and end to sexual exploitation. Period.  Our compassion must extend beyond the box we try to fit the ideal trafficking victim into.

Here is a clip that portrays the progression of exploitation of girls in New York City. After you have watched it, I would encourage you to check out the GEMS website to see what they are doing to help these girls in NYC.

Michelle Brock

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As Part of Our Peacekeeping Mission, We Will Feed You, Clothe You, Help Your Government, and … Rape Your Women

by Michelle Brock on July 26th, 2010

Tuzla downtown city centreThis is an excerpt from Victor Malarek’s The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade.  It serves as an introduction to today’s post on the crimes of international peacekeepers, development workers, and army personnel in conflict zones.  Malarek interviewed a young woman named Olenka who was held as a sex slave in the northern Bosnian town of Tulza (as seen in picture), whose story is as follows:

“I went with between eight and fifteen men a night.  I did not want to have sex with any of them.  If I did not do as I was told, my owner said I would be beaten to death.  This man was cruel and vicious.  You did not cross him.”

In the moments she was held captive, Olenka figures she was raped more than 1800 times.  The men each paid the owner $50.  The never saw a penny.  On one particularly harrowing evening she was passed around to a dozen soldiers.  The men were rambunctious, celebrating a birthday in the bar.  One of their buddies had turned twenty-one.  She was the birthday present…for the entire platoon.  Whatever the peacekeepers wanted, she was forced to give.

“The entire time, I must smile and make them believe I am enjoying this humiliation,” Olenka said in a barely audible whisper.  “These men were animals.  They cared nothing that I was there as a prisoner.  They simply wanted sex.”

She doesn’t know the names of any of the men who used her over that period, but she remembers the uniforms and the inisginias emblazoned on their shoulder – American, Canadian, British, Russian, French.  Many were soldiers.  Some were police officers with the UN.  Others were among the thousands of workers – with either the myriad international agencies or the UN – that flooded the region after the conflict.  Many times, she would plead for help.  Some of her international ‘patrons’ had cell phones dangling from their belts.  She asked them to let her make just one call.  They all refused.

“We Serve to Make the World a Safer Place” is ironically one of the slogans of DynCorp, which employed many of these peacekeepers in Eastern Europe who bought and sold trafficked women.  DynCorp’s employees whose actions made this slogan a cruel joke were never even prosecuted for their crimes.  This is a sad reality in many conflict zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

An eight-year-old U.S. policy that forbids government contractors and employees to engage in sex trafficking in war zones has been nearly impossible to enforce, due to limited investigative resources, questions of jurisdiction, and the difficulty in differentiating between “voluntary prostitution” and “sex slavery.”

According to an article by Dayna Fransesca Haynes, 90% of sex workers in the Balkans are estimated to be trafficked.  Though it is extremely difficult to prove this statistic due to the clandestine nature of trafficking and prostitution, it is safe to say that men who pay for sex in the Balkans have a fairly good chance of ending up with a victim of trafficking.  Considering that countries that had never before been destination countries for trafficking victims suddenly see an influx of these girls and women when international workers set up shop in an area, it is quite clear that demand is being created by guys who are supposed to be promoting peace.

What message does this send out?  Haynes says is best:” governments working to ‘democratize’ developing countries do not really care about eradicating trafficking.” It is hard to set a good example of peace and freedom to local authoroties if those supposedly spreading it are guilty of the opposite.

For more information on the current situation in Afghanistan, check out U.S. Policy a Paper Tiger Against Sex Trade in War Zones by The Washington Post.

Michelle Brock

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Wanted: Submissions for a Design Contest to Give a Voice to Trafficking Victims

by Michelle Brock on July 22nd, 2010

artDo you like graphic design? Are you an artist?  Are you passionate about human rights?  The Blind Project is running a contest called Be A Biographer for those of you who want to put your skills to good use.  The website tells the story of three trafficking victims, and your job is to create a design based on one of their experiences.

The winner’s design will be included into fashion items, printed for gallery exhibitions, and shown in advertising campaigns.  Not a bad way to get your creative work out there!  Here are some of the submissions so far.  The submission deadline is September 15th. Voting takes place from September 16th to Ocotber 7th, and the winner is announced on October 21st.  If you do submit some work for this contest, please let me know so I can show your creative creation on this blog as well!

Check out the Be A Biographer website, and Mandy Van Deven’s interview with the Blind project’s Kevin Kim for more info.  It’s time to put your creative skills to good use and give a voice to those who are suffering.

Michelle Brock

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Book Review: Priceless by Tom Davis

by Michelle Brock on July 21st, 2010

priceless1 196x300I just finished reading Priceless by Tom Davis, a novel about sex trafficking in Russia.  American photojournalist Stuart Daniels is the main character, whose job is to educate people about social injustice taking place around the world.  The following is an excerpt from the back cover:

Daniels’ next assignment carries him back overseas and into the heart of Russia, where an old friend persuades him to help save two girls from a desperate situation involving the Russian mafia.  Soon, he becomes a key player in a dangerous campaign to rescue helpless girls trapped in the sex-slave industry.  What Daniels encounters during his journey will shake his faith, test his courage, and even threaten his life.  Yet as Daniels travels deeper and the stakes become higher, he discovers that hope can be found in the darkest of places.

When I bought the book, the first thing that caught my attention was the title.  Victims of trafficking are bought and sold like product, and traffickers determine each girl’s monetary value.  This makes the title absolutely perfect.  Human beings cannot be assigned monetary value, and the girls entrapped in the trade are indeed priceless.

Davis weaves Russian culture, history, and language into the pages of this book.  It is obvious that he loves Russia and is passionate about helping its orphans.  The story is easy to follow and is ideal for people who don’t know a whole lot about trafficking and how it works.  In an interview at the end of the book, Davis explains that about 80% of what takes place in the book is based on true events.  At the beginning of the book, the main character finds himself in a situation that Davis himself experienced on a trip to Russia.  Here is a clip of the author telling that story:

I would definitely recommend this book.  It made me ask the following questions:

  • How do we rescue girls without just buying them, which merely feeds the criminal industry?
  • What types aftercare programs have the most long-term success?
  • How can we stop girls from being openly offered for sex in Russian hotels?

For more reviews you can check out those by Nora St.Laurent, Deborah, and Carole Turner.  You can also check out the official Priceless website, an interview with Tom Davis, and Children’s Hope Chest for more on the book and on sex trafficking.

Happy reading!

Michelle Brock

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In the Spotlight: Lilya 4 EVER

by Michelle Brock on July 20th, 2010

Lilya 4 ever posterI am always on the lookout for films about sex trafficking, and finally had the opportunity to check out Lilya 4 EVER (2002), a movie about a 16 year-old girl from the former Soviet Union whose mother abandons her to move to the U.S.  It is loosely based on a true case and sheds light on the sex trafficking of Eastern European girls to Scandinavia and Western Europe.

I generally place movies in one of two categories – those I can eat popcorn with and those that I cannot.  Lilya 4 EVER falls into the latter.  My stomach is in a knot as I watch this young girl’s abandonment and the vulnerability that she experiences.

We often like to think that trafficking victims are beautiful, middle-class girls from healthy families that are kidnapped and robbed of their innocence. This is what movies like Taken portray, probably because it is easy to fight for these types of girls.  But what about the girls who come from impoverished families? Girls whose lives have been destroyed by drug use?  Girls who, out of desperation, have sold their bodies on the streets before being trafficked into forced prostitution?  Do we still have compassion for them? Or do we consider them to be tainted and not worth fighting for because of poor choices they made before they were trafficked?

This movie brings this questions to the forefront.  In my mind, it is a realistic storyline that shows trafficking for what it is.  It is ugly and violent.  It targets those who have fallen through the cracks of society.  It has reminded me that there are many hurting kids with no parents who need a loving home.

You can watch the full version of the film below.  Please be warned that this is NOT for children and has violence and nudity. I have battled with myself whether or not to post this, but have decided to leave it with our readers to have discretion whether this is something they want to view or not.  For those of you who do watch it, I would love to hear your response to the film.

Michelle Brock

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In the News: Spain to Ban Sex Advertisements from Newspapers

by Michelle Brock on July 19th, 2010

Spains newspapers

The president of Spain announced last week that the government wants to ban sex ads from the nation’s newspapers.  The classified sections of Spain’s newspapers are currently full of explicit advertisements, bringing in about 40 million euros to the struggling print media industry.  El Pais alone, one of the countries leading newspapers, makes 5 million euros from sex ads.  Banning these is part of the government’s anti-trafficking strategy, and there is quite the storm in the media about it.

In a BBC article, the president is quoted as saying, “As long as these advertisements exist, they contribute to the idea of this activity as normal.”

Currently, prostitution accounts for 60% of Spain’s classified ad market.  According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, 90% of those engaged in prostitution in Spain are victims of forced prostitution, controlled by organized criminal networks.  If this is indeed the case, it makes sense that newspaper sex ads are not generally placed my individual women but by the mafias, largely from Romania, Nigeria, and several Latin American countries.  Recently in Madrid, one of these networks was discovered by police who followed the newspaper sex ads.

It is sad that traditional print media in Spain is surviving only because of sex ad profits.  This has to change.  I believe that the president is making the right move by proposing a ban on something that traffickers have manipulated in their favour for way too long.  The government and newspapers should come up with a creative agreement to bring in money when sex ads are no longer providing profit. Your thoughts?

Michelle Brock

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The Resiliency of Trafficked Children: Cambodia vs. the West

by Michelle Brock on July 16th, 2010

Ratanak prevention

When HFTS was making its documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, we met and interviewed a man named Brian McConaghy who runs an organization called the Ratanak Foundation.  Ratanak works in Cambodia with child victims of sex trafficking, and several kids have been rescued and put into Ratanak’s safe houses to receive counselling, love, and skills to build new lives.  The first sex tourist to be convicted in Canada, Donald Bakker, abused 7 little girls when he was in Cambodia, and video-taped himself in the process.  6 of the 7 girls have since been rescued out of the trade and put into Ratanak’s safe house.  They have grown into beautiful young women with a passion and a zest for life. A picture of hope.

Ratanak transition

When we asked Brian about the recovery process for these Cambodian kids, he has this to say:

“These kids are extremely resilient.  They have been brought up in a culture and environment that tells them they are worthless. So when someone rescues them out of a life a slavery and abuse, they all of a sudden feel worth, thinking, ‘someone cares about me enough to come rescue me, therefore I must be worth something.’”

trafficked sadBrian is not saying that a lot of trauma has to be worked through, which is difficult and painful.  But their attitude helps in the healing process.  On the other hand, in Western countries where everyone has “rights” and knows about those rights, girls who are violated (whether they are raped once or sold commercially), have a much more difficult time resuming a life of purpose and meaning after they are rescued.  Instead of the thought being, “someone rescued me so I have worth,” the thought pattern is more likely to be “someone violated my rights and my body, so I must not have worth.”

Therefore it is crucial that cultural attitudes and norms are taken into consideration when dealing with rescued victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. Approaches that work in Cambodia may not work in North America, and vice versa.  Brian and his team have done their best to understand Cambodia’s social, political, and cultural climate so that their work is effective, and we would all do well to follow their lead.

Michelle Brock

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The Booming Escort Service Industry: Another Reason Why Legalization of Prostitution is a Bad Idea

by Michelle Brock on July 13th, 2010

escort adAccording to an article by Sheila Jeffreys,

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the prostitution industry is changing. In the Western world, brothels are being replaced by escort services which use the internet and cell phone to connect women with buyers. This has huge implications for policy-makers who are trying to curb trafficking. Why? Because traditional strategies are no longer valid.

Some policy-makers promote the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, arguing that it makes sex workers safer and combats organized crime. But Jeffreys says that “these assumptions are based upon the idea that prostitution will take place in brothels which can institute health and safety codes, and enable easy identification of the illegal brothel industry which can be closed down.” The escort sector, which operates through cell phones and delivers women to private houses, hotel rooms, and cars by the roadside, is beyond regulation.

In Queensland, Australia, where prostitution was legalized, 75% of prostitution is composed of outcall or escort services. The Queensland PLA annual reports state clearly that legalization has failed to discourage illegal prostitution, mainly because of the development of the escort sector. In both Queensland and the Netherlands, the illegal sector is larger than the legal sector.

Escort prostitution used to be seen as fancy, even classy. But it has grown to include a broad bottom layer that consists of mostly foreign women and girls who are extremely vulnerable. The so called “safety advantages” of legalization only benefit a small minority of women; it can only apply to brothel prostitution since there is no way of monitoring or preventing risks in the escort and street prostitution sectors.

Therefore, legalization of prostitution is an out-of-date strategy, and policy-makers should focus on other solutions if they are serious about reducing sex trafficking.

To read Sheila Jeffrey’s full article, “Brothels Without Walls: the Escort Sector as a Problem for the Legalization of Prostitution,” it is available for purchase here (students can gain access through their college/university online journal archives).

Michelle Brock

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