Are you looking for some Christmas cards to send to family and friends? I just received my Sanctuary Spring order in the mail today, pictured here. I ordered a mix of cards – some for Christmas and some for other occasions. I am so impressed with the quality! All Sanctuary Spring cards are made by survivors of trafficking and prostitution in the Philippines. Each order includes a write-up about one of the girls, and each card is signed by the person who made it.
At Sanctuary Spring they believe that the same free market that turns women into commodities can be transformed into a force for social good. You as a consumer can choose to buy fair trade items like these cards, knowing that your purchase is sending a vote to the corporate world.
Zirahuen, Mexico. This small, sleepy town of about 2,500 was my home for a month as my husband and I backpacked through Central America. As we wandered the adobe brick streets one afternoon in search for a restaurant, we discovered an open kitchen with tables out front. A delightful woman (pictured here) made us a delicious home-cooked meal of burritos. Her young daughter came and served us. She was 15, at most. And pregnant. Her mother told us she was going to be a grandmother. The girl avoided our gaze.
We ate there a few times, and often saw the girl looking out the window at girls her age playing on the streets. She did not go to school. Her eyes were sad even when she smiled. And despite her missed opportunities, this one at least had a mother with a small business. Many girls find themselves neck-deep in poverty, with no one to turn to. Missed opportunities for these girls are more than just an inconvenience, they are a recipe for exploitation.
My husband and I support young women through Kiva micro credit loans in our attempt to empower those who want to rise above poverty. Giving girls and women opportunities is a key component of reducing systemic vulnerability. The Girl Effect seeks to equip us who have opportunity to empower those who would like to dream. Like Anita from India.
To learn more check out The Girl Effect website. It is through movements like this that we can address the supply side of sex trafficking and spread some hope!
I received the coolest gift in the mail recently. Inside the envelope was a picture of a group of friends celebrating a birthday, and a cheque to to support what I do at Hope for the Sold. I was intrigued. What was this all about?
On the back of the picture was a note from Bec Goodman, the birthday girl. She is part of Birthday Wishes 2010, an initiative started by a group of friends to make a difference in the world. On each person’s birthday, instead of going out for a meal or spending money on a group activity, they pool their money together and give it to an organization that is chosen by the person whose birthday is being celebrated.
Bec explained that while living in Turkey she learned of the plight of trafficked women, and now is passionate about addressing this social injustice. This led her to choose Hope for the Sold on her birthday! I contacted Ben Pavey, who played a key role in starting Birthday Wishes 2010, and asked him some questions about what they are doing.
How did you get this idea and how did you convince 50 friends to come on board?
Last year around Christmas, a group of friends went out to a restaurant for a birthday party after dinner time, but we each still spent about $20 on a meal that we didn’t really need. I looked around and thought, ‘we are supposed to be students with little disposable money, but we clearly aren’t.’ So maybe we could be putting this money to better use. And that’s how the idea of sharing our birthdays with different charities and organizations came about.
How has it changed the way you view and celebrate birthdays a a group?
It’s been really neat to see the guests at the parties grow larger and larger as we’ve gone through the year. We’ve celebrated almost 20 birthdays so far, and have had from 10 to 40 people join in. It’s been great to hear people’s excitement and eagerness to be part of something like this; redirecting our focus onto others rather than ourselves.
Is this something you would recommend to other groups who want to make a difference?
There are so many great ideas out there. People just need to learn how to escape from their own comfort and complacency, and this is how we’ve decided to do that. It’s sometimes unnerving to change things up in your life – afraid of what others might think of you, or whether it will catch on and people will want to follow that movement. But regardless, if you feel in your heart that you should make this change in your life, then do it.
What has been the most rewarding part of this for you guys? Any cool lessons you have learned or stories that have come out of this?
We’ve got a facebook group page for Birthday Wishes which has 50 members, ranging from all different ages and social circles. And this initiative has really brought a lot of these people together. It’s helped to build new friendships and a stronger community.
We always get together at somebody’s house whether for games, a barbecue or a beach party. These things bring people together so much closer than any big dinner party at a restaurant. There is time to dig deeper in conversation, get to know one another on a more personal level, and put whatever money we might have to a much better use! Overall, it’s just been a huge blessing to see this little seed of an idea build into so much more, where 50 young adults are actively giving away their money to charities throughout the entire year (over $4000 to date for the 2010 year), and in doing so building community with one another. It’s pretty awesome.
Wow. I am blown away. What a creative way to make the world a better place. Thanks so much Bec for thinking of Hope for the Sold on your birthday, it is such an honour!
This summer I met with a man who identifies trafficking victims in Ontario, and he informed me of a trend he has observed. After a brothel or massage parlour raid in the area, soon there is a stream of ‘new replacements’ that comes through. Usually these replacements are of the same ethnic background that the previous girls were, as often traffickers exploit and move around their ‘own people.’ Many men who pay for sex seek women of their own ethnicity.
Evidence of this cultural/ethnic trend can be seen from last week’s trafficking ring bust in the U.S., in which 29 Somali gang members were accused of an interstate trafficking ring that sold Somali girls into prostitution. The girls were transported mainly between the Twin Cities, Nashville, and Columbus. One victim was 12 years old.
Here is a picture of those charged, several being leaders of the Somali Outlaws and Somali Mafia gangs. Some of them go by names like “Fatboy,” ‘Forehead,” and “Pinky.” I am saddened to see that there are women involved in this crime as well. Who taught all these men and women to exploit the vulnerable?
This kind of thing frustrates me because it reflects poorly on Somali people in general – criminals and extremists always do their fellow countrymen, most of whom are respectable and would never participate in such activities, a disservice by creating false stereotypes.
On Friday night members of the Somali community met in a Minneapolis restaurant to discuss the allegations. Restaurant co-owner Abdil Ahmed said, “This is not who we are. We are decent people.”
I am glad that this group was caught, and hope that the victims who were exploited will find hope for healing. Sadly, Somalis are not alone in trafficking their own – what can be done to break this global trend?
The snow on the mountain outside my window this morning reminded me of what is just around the corner: Christmas! The consumerism around this time of year makes me feel a little sick to my stomach, not because buying presents is wrong but because greed, overspending, and entitlement are causing our society to rot from the inside out. Not to mention the fact that our beautiful gifts are often made by slaves or workers in developing countries that are exploited and underpaid.
But, because I love Christmas and want to be part of redeeming what our society has corrupted, over the next few weeks I will be throwing up some ethical gift ideas for your Christmas shopping that support victims of human trafficking.
capacity building for more women to enter the care centre
Know someone who loves India, loves PJs, loves social justice, or all three? Read here about the story of Punjammies and shop here for their comfy products! And for more ethical gift ideas, check out this cool online catalogue. (Thanks Joel!)
Road-tripping. California. Meeting new people. Social justice. If this combination of words inspires you, I have a feeling you would get along quite nicely with my new friend Meghan Carr (in middle).
With six other girls, Meghan attended the Not For Sale Global Forum on Human Trafficking in California in mid-October, and I had the opportunity to sit down with her to get the details of her experience.
How did you find out about this event?
Last year my room mate went to see Saskia Wishart from Not For Sale South Africa, and we decided to put together a benefit concert. We then heard about the Global Forum and wanted to attend.
Who did you go to the event with and how did you get down there?
I actually only knew two of the girls, my room mate and a girl we met at camp. The rest ended up being other connections, which was interesting to explain at the border when they asked us how we knew each other! We took I-5 from Canada all the way down, and drove through the night. We would rotate – we had two people at the front so the driver would stay awake, and the rest slept in the back.
How was the event set up?
There was an abolitionist concert on Wednesday night, and on Thursday and Friday we had keynote and breakout sessions. The conference had about 600 people, which is a good size. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t even know what exactly a conference entailed! I love that they set it up in a way that you had a lot of time to discuss things with other people, not just listen to the speakers. We cheered whenever Canada was mentioned!
What breakout sessions did you attend?
We made sure that at least one person in our group attended each session, and later swapped notes. The first session I attended was on law enforcement, where they talked about what Southern California’s task force is doing to combat trafficking. One thing I noticed is that they at least have a task force, while many places do not. Not For Sale has an Investigator Academy that you can attend that teaches the average Joe how to identify victims of trafficking. The biggest thing I took away is: how could we start a task force back in Canada?
The second breakout was on social media. It was mediated by the woman who created the Causes App on facebook, Jason Russell of Invisible Children, Not For Sale’s media guy, and Jack Dorsey, who started Twitter. I thought it was going to be about how we can use it to raise awareness about causes, but it was actually more about the issues of social media. Sometimes using social media for social change can be an excuse for not going further. It should not be a substitute for face-to-face interaction or head-to-head combat. But it’s a good tool. In a world of social media, people are craving face-to-face, so we should plan events too. I went to other sessions as well, one on supporting survivors and one on India.
Was there a speaker that stood out to you?
Kru Nam works with ‘stateless children’ on the Burmese/Thailand border. These kids are not officially from either country, and are very vulnerable to traffickers. She has worked hard and now has 120 of them attending school.
How was the dynamic within your group?
Awesome. We are all very passionate about the cause and the girls were a lot of fun to hang out with. We went to a hockey game and Disney, the roadtrip was great!
How do you feel coming home after a conference like that?
Though I want to become a lawyer, I have learned that I can do things now to fight this as well. I am helping out at a church in Lake Cowichan, in a really troubled community. Even in my own areas there are things I can do. At the conference people were asked to finish the sentence: “I commit to…” For me, it is bringing what I learned back to Canada and learning more.
What tips would you give people who want to attend an anti-trafficking conference?
I wish I had been a bit more educated before I went. Most people who went to the conference were very educated on the topic, and the purpose of the event was more of a think tank than general awareness. So I would tell people to educate themselves before going.
Thanks Meghan for sharing your experience with us! I wish you and all the girls you went with – Jacqueline, Allana, Kathryn, Robyn, Britney, and Ange – the best as you continue to learn and do more!
For those of you who want to attend Not For Sale’s Law Enforcement or Healthcare Academy, you can find the information here.
Lack of freedom. I value the ability to make my own choices more than almost anything else. Not only are victims robbed of their ability to choose whether or not to have sex with several clients a day, but often cannot choose to say no to violent clients or carrying out their sick demands.
Gender inequality. Sex trafficking disproportionately exploits females. Though there are many young boys who are also enslaved, it is girls and women who are usually targeted.
Women as objects. The global over-sexualization of women has created a generation of men who feel entitled to ‘own’ a woman’s body as a commodity. As Victor Malarek says, “money is the ultimate conscience-pacifier.”
Family breakdown. Many men who create demand for victims of trafficking are married with children. Their decision to pay for sex with prostituted girls and women not only harms their own families (ie. bringing STDs back home to their wives, keeping secrets from their spouses, etc.) but also causes society’s degradation as a whole. Healthy families build healthy communities.
Organized crime. Trafficking comes in threes. Drugs, guns, and people. This makes neighbourhoods unsafe.
Physical and emotional trauma. Once they are rescued, many victims of trafficking can only be treated by professionals who deal with victims of torture. Several girls suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Physical trauma from tattoos, electrical shocks, beatings, rape, and re-stitching due to demand for virgins leaves many scarred for life.
Taking advantage of the vulnerable. Just as a lion goes after the weakest in the herd, human traffickers go after those who are destitute and desperate. We should protect orphans and widows, not hunt them down to devour them.
Economic inequality. A sex tourist’s dollars go a long way in developing countries. Money is power, and lots of guys lord it over their victims.
Outrageous profits. Sex trafficking would dry up if there was no demand for paid sex. Imani Nakpangi, Canada’s first convicted sex trafficker, made 400,000 0ff two girls aged 14 and 15 in a 26 month period.
Violation of humanity. Sex trafficking assumes that some in our global community are not humans but animals. And we call ourselves an advanced civilization?
I don’t know about you, but these things make my blood boil and my heart ache.
Photographer Norman Jean Roy put his creative talents to good use in Cambodia in 2008, where he caught on camera the plight of exploited women and girls for his book, Traffik. A 12 minute documentary, narrated by Lucy Liu, was made about the places and people he encountered during his time there. All the photos (like this girl who is on the book’s cover) are of real people; real victims with heart-wrenching stories. Look into their eyes and remember their faces.