A Graphic Tells the Story: Prostitution Statistics

by Michelle Brock on January 31st, 2011

statistics1I am usually wary of statistics about prostitution and sex trafficking because organized crime and clandestine behaviour are difficult to measure. But I recently came across this Online Schools infographic (below) about prostitution and couldn’t help but share it with you.  The sources, some more reliable than others, are listed on the bottom.

I personally don’t like the language that is used.  40 million prostitutes at work implies that 40 million women and girls chose their profession, while in reality most want out but have no exit strategy.  I am also disturbed that the majority of people arrested for solicitation are women, while johns create the demand.

What do you think about these statistics?  Are you surprised by any of them?  Are there any you find hard to believe?

Side note: Tara Teng, a passionate abolitionist and advocate for victims of trafficking, just won the title of Miss Canada this weekend!  Check out my recent interview with Tara to see why her accomplishment is so good for the vulnerable around the world.

Michelle Brock


Source: www.onlineschools.org


More Than a Beauty Queen: Meet Miss BC Tara Teng

by Michelle Brock on January 28th, 2011

TaraTengThis week I had the opportunity to go to a showing of our film at Trinity Western University, where my husband Jay and I did Q & A with the students afterwards.  The event was hosted by Tara Teng, a beautiful and vibrant student who is passionate to end modern day slavery and exploitation.  In addition to being a student, she is the president of the social justice club and has two jobs.  Did I mention she also happens to be Miss BC?

My interview with Tara was delightful – her passion to fight human trafficking is contagious!  This girl is determined, motivated, and full of energy, but she is also humble, compassionate, and others-focused.  I hope this interview is able to capture some of that!

How did you get involved in the fight against human trafficking?

When I was younger, around 10 years old, I was fascinated with the underground railroad and the transatlantic slave trade.  In my early teens I kept running into the topic of human trafficking…documentaries, articles etc.  I got to the point where I started to actually look for it instead of just coming across it.  Tho whole thing terrified me. It’s dangerous, and let’s be honest, I’m not the toughest person out there!  It got to the point where I thought: I am tired of being too afraid to to be the person I was born to be.  I can’t keep this to myself.  Now you can’t have a conversation with me without talking about this.

tara teng abolitionist1What are you currently studying and how do you see that playing out in the future?

I’m studying Education, with an English and Spanish language focus. I want to use education as a rehabilitation and prevention tool for human trafficking.   Knowledge is power. Education provides resources for people to traffic-proof their lives, especially those living in poverty. Whether I actually end up being a teacher or not – who knows where life’s curve balls will take me! But I know that my career will in some way be connected to abolition.  It is to be determined how that plays out!

Miss BC 300x199How have you been involved in the fight against trafficking so far?

Telling everybody I can. Social media is amazing. Facebook, Twitter, my blog. As Miss BC the opportunity to spread the word has been amazing! Now I am doing public speaking on a regular basis, and they always start off with ‘why did you do the pageant’ and ‘what do you hope to do now as reigning Miss BC?’ Human trafficking is what I’m talking about. That’s when the magazine interview really starts to go somewhere!  I’m doing about 4 interviews/speaking engagements a month.  I had never even done any public speaking before the summer and everything is crash course learning!

MissBC 300x201What is the response when you do these interviews?

At first they come in with their preconceived idea that I am just going to be a ‘pageant girl.’  They ask me all the time if I want world peace, and I say: “No, I’m here to declare war! War on injustice, war on greed…!”  And they say…’okay that’s pretty cool!’ I had never done a pageant before.   Pageants are not my focus. I always say that I’m not a beauty queen, I’m an abolitionist.  That is the heart of it for me: social justice, human rights, ending exploitation, speaking out for the oppressed and the marginalized, and raising awareness of ending modern day slavery.  The title is just a platform and avenue which to do it.

guatemala 300x225Our world gives us a very one-dimensional version of beauty.  It is all about sex appeal. What is your definition of beauty?

I always say that the world needs to know that they were wrong about beauty. And that’s something that is really important to me. Beauty is not a contest. Its not a skin colour or a size or a style. Beauty is the legacy we leave behind, beauty is grace, beauty is compassion, beauty is justice. Beauty is in the moment doing what you know is right, beauty is impact.  ‘Beautiful’ girls are a dime a dozen, and you’ll find them all over the place. ‘Beauty’ tarnishes and wrinkles and it’s skin deep, but the thing that is really beautiful is the way that we love one another and the way that we stand up for one another…that is the thing that will really make an impact. People miss that because they want to comform to the popular idea of beauty.  But I don’t want to waste my time and my life on that. I want to be brave enough to be myself, because that is something that is beautiful.

How does our society’s contorted view of beauty play into sex trafficking?

Everyone has insecurities, and thats how you prey on the weak and vulnerable. If I had grown up in a different home with different parents, I could have been so different because I had my days, as a 13 year old girl, where I just wanted people to love me. And if that somebody is the wrong person, you are vulnerable. You want to be desirable and cherished and that is used against you.

antitrafficking 300x225What is the one question you wish people asked you?

Any question that leads to justice. I hate it when people compare me to Miss Teen South Carolina and that girl who got that maps and Iraq question wrong. I just think, “I’m so not like her!” This is my heart. I wish people asked me where they can sign up, what they can do.  Because that is when we will really start to see a change.

What are your hopes for Miss Canada?

Of course everybody wants to win, but for me it’s about national awareness and the opportunity to make this message international. This is what I was born to do. Those are my hopes for Miss Canada. I will know by Saturday what the outcome is, but going into it, I know what I stand for, and if that’s not what they are looking for that’s okay.  Because another door is going to open, and the message will get out.  I’m not going to compromise or water it down, play the game so I win the title, because this is what I am called to do. Those are my hopes around it.

MissBC with Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Shortly after this interview Tara won the title of Miss Canada 2011! You can follow her blog here.Thanks Tara for being so committed to fighting human trafficking and using your platform to do some serious good.

Update: Tara just won the title of Miss World Canada 2012, and she will be heading to Mongolia to represent Canada for the Miss World 2012 Pageant.

(photo credits Danny Hiaso Photography & Jessica Teng Photography)



Should the Punishment Fit the Crime?

by Michelle Brock on January 24th, 2011

IMG 61201 768x1024This weekend I read an article in the Globe and Mail by Kirk Makin about mental illness and Canada’s Criminal Justice System.  The article first describes the conditions of over-populated prisons that are not equipped to deal with the mental health issues of many inmates.  It then talks about the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville, Ontario, which takes a different approach to dealing with convicts.

Health care professionals account for 70% of the staff and security accounts for about 30%. There are 30 programs available, including ones for anger management, self-esteem enhancement, yoga, psychotherapy, relaxation therapy, medication management, and group therapy for sex offenders. Less than half of its ex-patients re-offend, compared with 92% at other institutions that house similar individuals.

Though the article focuses on mental illnesses like schizophrenia, I began to think about the role of correctional facilities for convicted traffickers, sex tourists, pimps, and other sex offenders.

solitaryI am torn, you see. Part of me wants these people to suffer the cruelest of penalties. Solitary confinement.  Gruesome labour. The chair. I want a punishment that fits the crime. But what if that is not enough? What if such punishments do more harm in the long term?

What do you think will happen when a sex tourist like Donald Bakker gets solitary confinement for 7 years, and then is released back into society?  He will have had 7 years to conjure up more sick fantasies instead of receiving help to sort through his (very serious) issues.

Should convicted traffickers and sex offenders have access to counselling and programs like the ones mentioned earlier?  If so, should it be covered by tax dollars? What is a suitable punishment for crimes so monstrous?  How do we measure long-term impact of prison conditions on society?

Perhaps we all need to read Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice by Howard Zehr.

Michelle Brock


2011 Off to a Good Start in California: Sara Kruzan Granted Clemency!

by Michelle Brock on January 20th, 2011

Back in July I wrote a post about an American victim of sexual exploitation, Sara Kruzan, who received a life sentence without parole for killing her pimp.  She was 16 years old, and psychologists have argued that she suffered from Battered Person Syndrome.  Here is the video clip that told her story:

For those of you who signed the petition to get this sentence reduced, you will be happy to know that on January 2, 2011, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger granted her clemency right before leaving office.  That is the kind of power that a full mailbox with letters from activists can have!  Her sentence has been reduced to 25 years with a possibility for parole. Sara has been in prison since 1994.

Democratic Senator Leyland Yee said this regarding Sara’s original sentence:

Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release… It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst.

Though it is fairly common for governors and presidents to grant clemency at the end of their term, it is nice to see that this one was not given to a political cronie or rich friend.  I am so thankful that Schwarzenegger took the time to hear Sara’s story.  I also commend Change.org for organizing a movement to help this young victim.

What do you think? If a victim of forced prostitution kills her captor, how should the justice system deal with them?

Michelle Brock


A Call for Volunteers: Counsellors for National Trafficking Hotline

by Michelle Brock on January 14th, 2011

crisis hotlineDo you have mental health training? Are you currently living in Alberta? Are you passionate about ending human trafficking?  If so, this volunteer opportunity is definitely worth checking out.

I just watched an interview with Jacqui Linder, executive director of the Crysalis Network.  They have just launched a human trafficking crisis hotline in Canada, which is the first of its kind in North America.  It’s about time we had something like this!

Linder explains that currently law enforcement is burdened with the psychological issues of the trafficking victims they encounter.  She wants to relieve these officers of this burden by creating a hotline where victims can receive professional counselling over the phone.  This will allow law enforcement to focus on their areas of expertise while mental health professionals address victim needs.

Victims of trafficking feel isolated and ashamed, and those who do not know English find it even more difficult to know where to turn for help.  Linder hopes that this hotline will provide continuity and guidance for people whose lives are being destroyed by enslavement and abuse.  The goal is to make this hotline 24/7 by the spring.

To volunteer, you must be a resident of Alberta (as that is where the hotline is based), and have some kind of mental health training.  They are specifically looking for people to cover the day shift. There is an urgent need for people who speak different languages (including French).


crisis call2Email [email protected] or call 1 866 528 7109 and get more details about volunteer opportunities.  In your email, please include a bit about your background, education and counselling experience.  If you are a law enforcement officer or a victim who needs help, that is the number you can call as well. Though the hotline is Alberta-based, you can call for help from anywhere in Canada. Help is being offered to female and male victims of sex or labour trafficking.

1 866 528 7109

And of course, if you have a desperate need to get rid of some cash, I am sure Linder would love the help as this is currently funded out of her own pocket.  Email her if you wish to donate.

We have a trafficking hotline!  How exciting is that!? For more information, check out this PAA Announcement & video interview.  Please pass the link to this post to any friends you think might be interested.

Michelle Brock


Abolitionist Longings for 2011

by Michelle Brock on January 12th, 2011

microphone11“There is a space between man’s imagination and man’s attainment that may only be traversed by his longing.”

-Kahlil Gibran

I asked some fellow abolitionists what the following question: What do you long for in 2011? Here are their responses.

Perrin2“My hope for 2011 is that more Canadians will respond to the growing awareness about human trafficking, marshalling their unique talents, skills and resources. Abolitionists have to be more organized, more motivated, and more innovative than the traffickers for us to turn the tide against modern-day slavery in our country.”

Professor Benjamin Perrin, author of Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking

Abolitionist Brian McConaghy1“In general terms I long to see in 2011 ordinary Canadians recognize the reality of modern day slavery. Not as an intellectual exercise but as a precursor to action and involvement that we, as a nation, would be regarded as those who value the voiceless and take on challenges too great for us as Wilberforce did. I have always believed that Canada is a country that should be punching way above it’s weight class.

In specific terms (very specific) I long that in 2011 I will see the rescue of a Cambodian girl named Sung. She was sold when she was 10 years of age. I have been searching for seven years. She is still out there.”

Brian McConaghy, Founder of Ratanak International

Mp Joy Smith“I long to see increased awareness of human trafficking and more public education about human trafficking. I also would like to see Canada adopt a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking to support victims and provide a comprehensive response. Finally I would like to see Canada adopt the Nordic model of prostitution so we can target the market and ultimately eradicate sex trafficking.”

Joy Smith, Member of Parliament Kildonan-St. Paul

JOosterman“I hope to see a national response to human trafficking where the federal government and provincial governments commit funding and resources to stopping human trafficking. I would like to see a stronger focus on the market for sex trafficking, holding the johns accountable. Also, we need to make sure those who want to escape the sex trade have the support systems necessary to do this. Finally, I hope to see an awakening in Canada that would grip our nation with the brutal reality of modern day slavery. That Canadians would ‘get it’ that sex trafficking and forced labour is a significant problem here, not just abroad.”

Joel Oosterman, Chief of Staff, Office of Joy Smith, MP

Seth11. More awareness of the issue. It still amazes me how many people I talk to that have no idea that slavery still exists. We need people to be made aware! Once that has happened they quickly need to be moved to action. Often times, in our North American culture, we think that being aware of an issue is the end all… I often hear people speak of their activists friends. They brag on what others are doing and say it as if they are living vicariously through their friends actions. I wish people had a better understanding of the fact that they can be world changers as well! You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to do it all yourself… But you do have to do something… in order to make a difference. Simply being aware will not change lives.

2. I long for more money. Often I tell groups that I feel crass saying that and boiling such a horrific crime against humanity down to dollars and cents. However, the traffickers are in a 44 billion industry. That is 44 with nine zeros at the end. They are in this for business, while I see a lot of people that are on the other side, in the anti-trafficking fight, as a hobby or a feel good “calling” that ebbs and flows with the daily struggles of life. I would be hard pressed to believe that in the last ten years we have even raised 1% of what traffickers make in a year, to fight it. Groups that are effective in this fight, must have funding to fight harder!

3. Community. Personally for me I long for community in NE Florida that will rally together to join this fight with me! This fight is a dark one and can be lonely at times. It is so much better to do this with a group of incredibly committed individuals. I am extremely appreciative of people that come out to an event, or make a one time donation…. but there is something about being in the trenches with people who want to eradicate slavery!

Seth Johnson, Transitions Global

Thanks for sharing your hopes and dreams for the year with our readers!  In these first weeks of 2011 I have longed for organized crime to experience disorganization, division, and confusion, and for traffickers to have a radical change of heart.

And now a question to all our readers: What do YOU long for in 2011?

Michelle Brock


Capitalism & Sex Trafficking: My Musings on the Communist Manifesto

by Michelle Brock on January 10th, 2011

communist manifesto

In an attempt to give my brain some exercise, I recently picked up a copy of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.  Published in 1848, this important political document popularized the term capitalism, which characterizes today’s global economic system.

YOURE AGAINST CAPITALISM YOU MUST BE A COMMUNIST 300x300If I had written an article on this a couple of decades ago, there is a good chance I would have been bombarded with verbal attacks, strong opinions, and perhaps even an accusation or two of being a communist.  But today “terrorist” is the fashionable insult to hurl and the Cold War feels like ancient history.

Despite the fact that the Communist Manifesto is now collecting dust on many shelves, I found myself captivated by the passion with which the authors wrote and intrigued by the truth in many of their observations and predictions.  Communism is clearly flawed as a political system and I do not consider that to be the answer to humanity’s woes.  However Marx and Engels do raise some good points. One quote in particular had me thinking about commercial sexual exploitation:

[The bourgeoisie] has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.  It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – free trade.  In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

While I do not believe that capitalism is the cause of prostitution and sexual exploitation, I do think that it contributes to it.  Here’s why:

  • Under capitalism the means of production are privately owned and operated for private profit. Trafficked women and children are privately owned and put to work for the profit of their pimps, brothel owners, and traffickers.  This is capitalism at its ugliest.
  • Capitalism creates classes of haves and have nots, and the survival of the haves depends on the exploitation of the have nots.  This system makes it very difficult for those at the bottom to rise up and leave a life of exploitation.
  • Adam Smith’s invisible hand has undermined the ability of developing countries to “compete” in the global market, whereas wealthy nations had time establish themselves before laissez faire economics entered the picture.  Sex tourism, which relies on the purchasing power of the dollar in impoverished countries, thrives within this global structure.
  • A system that is based on greed will never protect the vulnerable.
  • A capitalist mindset reinforces the idea that it is okay to pay for sex (because it is a service like any other), and that it is acceptable to treat the prostitute however you like (because you paid for it).
  • Humans are dispensable, and their bodies are commodities that can be used for profit.

capitalism3 300x187Capitalism, therefore, exacerbates sex trafficking and prostitution on two levels. First, it creates a global structure in which wealthy countries, corporations, and individuals get wealthier by exploiting the rest of the world.  This creates groups of vulnerable people who are easy for traffickers to target. Second, it breeds entitlement and greed, which ultimately push men into the night to pay for their fantasies.

Be it capitalism or communism, greed is at the root of sex trafficking.  What must we do to break the hold that greed has on us as a society?

Michelle Brock


Vacationers: Watch Out for Pedophiles in Bali

by Michelle Brock on January 7th, 2011

I read an article recently about Bali, Indonesia, which is a popular vacation destination for Australians and other wealthy tourists. Here is why this island paradise is attractive to pedophiles:

  • Living costs and real estate are going up, widening the gap between the rich and the poor
  • There is a cultural acceptance of child sex. Sexual abuse is seen as normal
  • Bribery results in lighter sentences for offenders
  • In tourist areas, children are allowed near hotels
  • Law enforcement officers do not actively investigate trafficking cases but wait for children to report the crimes first

bali orphanage1 300x225Men are often seen buying kids toys, paying for their education, or even teaching English. The payment for these things come in the form of sex. The Eastern part of the island is specifically targeted, as it is impoverished and desperate for ‘white man’s money.’

Canada’s Criminal Code Section 7 (4.1) prohibits child sex tourism, and Canadian citizens caught doing this in foreign countries can be charged and prosecuted in Canada.

Though it is expensive to investigate such cases, Canadians are increasingly receiving prison sentences for taking advantage of vulnerable children in places like Cambodia, Colombia, and the Philippines.

If you are taking a trip to Bali or another tropical destination,

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here are a few things to consider:

  • summer vacay1Do not pay for sex, even if it is with someone who claims to be over 18.
  • Leave the resort and allow yourself to see the poverty that the real Bali suffers from
  • Keep your eyes open. If you see a white man with a bunch of local kids, take note. Â If you see a Canadian sexually exploiting children, call Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-8477) or contact the consulate.

Let’s all do our part so locals can experience paradise in their own backyard, instead of allowing pedophiles to ravage the lives of their children.

Michelle Brock



Two Little Girls: Short Film About Sex Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on January 3rd, 2011

A fairytale gone wrong.

In my opinion, this is a very creative and tastefully done clip about how forced prostitution can happen. I found a conversation online about this video, which kicks off with this comment:

Whilst I’m very sympathetic to the plight of females caught up in the appalling sex trafficking industry, I want to criticise the film for mis-representation. This wasn’t the story of two little girls, it was the story of two young women – they weren’t trafficked as children. And as normal young women, they should perhaps, have some skepticism about men’s promises – even accompanied with such assurances as “trust me”. – Marc Cheyne

In response to this comment, a woman named Sally Moss says the following:

It seems more proportionate to me to focus first on those responsible for the business of trafficking and enslaving others, rather than starting with the lesser “crime” of “being too trusting/desperate for an escape from poverty”…

What you advocate above, Mr Cheyne, is the old, old strategy that goes like this: “expect men to be untrustworthy, and expect women to solve men’s untrustworthiness by taking responsibility for being ever watchful and ever to blame if they are not watchful enough.” If that strategy was going to solve our social ills and make people happy, it would have done so by now.

There is a lot going on here.  First, Marc makes the assumption that normal young women know to be wary of men.  That implies that trafficking victims are somehow abnormal.

trustTraffickers have perfected manipulation, creating invisible chains that hold girls in their clutches.  They know which girls to target – usually ones who do not have healthy relationships or families.  Yes, educated middle class girls who come from good families generally learn to be wary of men, but poverty, abuse, and desperation make people much easier to manipulate. So no, victims of trafficking are not abnormal; they simply make decisions based on a shaky foundation.

Another commenter adds his two cents:

I think you’re over-simplifying some of the issues and the reality is that the more people need to trust others the easier and more attractive prey they become.

Is trust a good or bad thing?  Is there a difference between trust and dependency?

What do you think – should victims be blamed for trusting traffickers too much?  If so, how can this be changed?

Michelle Brock