Here’s Your Chance to Support Some Fantastic Riders!

by Michelle Brock on September 29th, 2011

Ride for Refuge LogoHope for the Sold is taking part in this year’s Ride for Refuge, where people hop on bikes to raise funds for the displaced, vulnerable, and exploited. The money raised for Hope for the Sold is going towards this important project.  If you are not riding yourself, this is an opportunity for you to support some that are!  Here are the teams that are still looking for support:

  • Almost There – London, ON >>>Sponsor them here!
  • The Funks – Vancouver, BC>>>Sponsor them here!
  • McCraes - Red Deer, AB>>>Sponsor them here!

Most rides are taking place on October 1st and October 15th.  If you want to ride for Hope for the Sold, check to see if your city is hosting a ride and register here.  Time is running out quickly though, so you must act fast!

Michelle Brock

"Sold" Performed by Kevin Boese and Amy Klassen

by Michelle Brock on September 26th, 2011

This beautiful song was written by a friend of Kevin Boese.  Here Kevin and Amy from the Ignite the Road to Justice team perform “Sold.”

Powerful. Thanks to both of you for using your talent to share stories and spread awareness.

Michelle Brock

Ride for Refuge Fast Approaching – Will You Ride for Hope for the Sold?

by Michelle Brock on September 22nd, 2011

Ride day is fast approaching in cities all across Canada!  This year Hope for the Sold has joined up as a RIDE partner and we are still looking for more people to hop on a bike and get their friends/family/co-workers/neighbours to ride with them.  It’s not too late, register today!

What are you supporting by riding for Hope for the Sold?  Find out here.

Here is the list of RIDE locations:

  • Ajax  October 15
  • Aylmer  October 1
  • Brampton  October 1
  • Calgary  October 15
  • bike12Guelph  October 1
  • Hamilton  October 15
  • Leamington  September 24
  • London  October 1
  • Malagash  September 24
  • Markham  October 15
  • Montreal  October 1
  • Muskoka  September 24
  • Niagara Region  October 1
  • North Bay  October 1
  • Ottawa  October 1
  • Parry Sound  October 1
  • Red Deer  October 1
  • Saskatoon  October 1
  • Vancouver  October 15
  • Waterloo  October 1
  • Winnipeg  October 1

There are teams riding for Hope for the Sold already in London and Vancouver, so if you live in the area you already have a team you can join!  For the rest of you, the process is very easy to get a team signed up – register here.  But time is of the essence, so don’t wait…sign up today!

Michelle Brock

The Whistleblower Movie Review

by Michelle Brock on September 21st, 2011

whistleblower rachel w1I recently went to see The Whistleblower with my husband Jay and some abolitionist friends.  The movie is based on the book (my review here) by Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn, about Bokovac’s real life experience working for a US military contractor in Bosnia. There she uncovers that peacekeepers from several international agencies are involved in sex trafficking.

The film is gritty.  My husband came very close to throwing up in the theatre.  The film is heartbreaking.  I wept as I watched.  At the end when the room was clearing out, I saw two elderly women at the back, sitting in a stunned silence from what they just saw.  I asked two of my friends who saw the film to share their thoughts.  Heather Sheppard wrote the following:

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Heather Sheppard

Last weekend I watched the film The Whistleblower, and have spent every day since attempting to decipher my sentiments on Kathryn Bolkovac’s story, as told by authors Kondracki and Eilise Kirwan. Moved does not begin to describe how I felt after watching the film, a true story of an international police task force (IPTK) who utilized their power, abused trust and facade of legitimacy in order to perpetuate the horrific realities of an Eastern European sex trafficking operation.

I am no expert on the topic of human trafficking. I have read The Natashas by Victor Malarek and learned briefly about it throughout my undergraduate degree in International Development, (mainly that it is the third largest source of profits for international organized crime, after only drugs and weapons). On a trip to Kosovo in 2009 I was made aware by social workers how the sale of (mostly) women for sexual enslavement is a reality they are often forced to face in their field. I was however, never fully aware of the complicit role of the United Nations and the security companies which they utilize in the perpetuation of modern day slavery.

Post-conflict regions face vulnerabilities of many kinds, and when the very people entrusted to guide the transition from conflict to peace are directly involved in the kidnapping, cross-border smuggling and sexual enslavement of innocent victims, true peace will never be achieved. I admire Kathryn Bolkovac’s courage and her willingness to blow the whistle on such blatant injustice, when in all likelihood it meant giving up any future employment opportunities in the often-corrupt world of IPTK.

Since watching The Whistleblower I am motivated to become better informed, learn the stories of survivors and remember that in order for any illegal trade to thrive, a demand is required. No level of demand in the sale of human beings is appropriate; may Bolkovac’s example set precedence and prove to be an ongoing deterrent.

Jennifer Lucking, who saw the film with us, writes the following.

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Mark and Jennifer Lucking

For myself, this is not the first exposure I’ve had with human trafficking; I have done a lot of reading, seen various films, and have done work with human trafficking survivors, and I also plan to write my thesis on some aspect of human trafficking.

For my husband, being married to me he has obviously heard about human trafficking, but on a much smaller (and toned down) scale. His exposure to human trafficking has mainly come from how it affects me, hearing my passionate (and often angry) rants and seeing how affected I am after meeting with a human trafficking victim. It was interesting to see how the movie moved him. He left feeling angry. Anger at individuals who could inflict so much pain on other human beings. Anger at politicians and officials who do not do enough to prevent it. Anger at people who turn a blind eye. And I could empathize with him, because I too felt that initial rush of anger at the beginning of my journey. It was almost refreshing to see his anger, to see that first spark of raw emotion that most of us feel the first time we really understand and see the ugliness of modern slavery.

As for myself, I felt sadness. It took all I had not to break down in tears as I watched the film. For those who have not seen it yet, please be forewarned that will likely push you out of your comfort zone no matter what kind of experience you have with human trafficking. It is raw, and it is real. And the realness moved me.

My husband and I talked about the movie all the way home, and we wondered how the actors felt after filming scenes filled with rape, humiliation and brokeness. How do the actors deal with that kind of emotion after the director yells Cut!? I couldn’t help but watch those scenes and think of the survivors I have come into contact with. And it brought me to tears. Believe me, the anger was still there as I watched the scenes. The anger at injustice. The anger at individuals who are filled with so much evil. But after the anger comes hope. Hope for change and hope in people who are working so hard to make a difference.

You can read the rest of Jen’s review on her blog.

It frustrated me that the security contractor Bolkovac worked for has a different name in the film.  I am assuming that DynCorp threatened another lawsuit if their name was mentioned.  How can the truth be told when those who need to be held accountable hide behind their cash and power?

For those of you who want to see a political thriller you can eat popcorn to, this movie might not be suitable.  However if you want to catch a glimpse into the raw reality of what some people are experiencing in this world, The Whistleblower is one to see.

Michelle Brock

In Pictures: Free-them Freedom Walk

by Michelle Brock on September 19th, 2011

Free-them put together a FANTASTIC walk to raise money and awareness to fight human trafficking in Toronto!  It was great to meet some of you who follow this blog in person, and to join together to do something that really matters.  Here are some pictures from the event. Enjoy!

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”   ~Margaret Mead

Michelle Brock

 

 

 

 

The Not So Glorious Road: A Rant Sparked by Basketball

by Michelle Brock on September 16th, 2011

glory roadI recently watched Glory Road, the inspirational true story about a basketball coach who defied status quo in the 1960s when he recruited black players onto his college team.  The movie shows how the team fought exhaustion, racism, personal differences and social pressure, resulting in one of the most remarkable college ball seasons in history.

I love movies like that. I am always inspired by those who see mountains of impossibility as challenges to overcome, and oceans of uncertainty as opportunities to spread big sails.  But I can’t help but feel frustrated when I watch sometimes, for the following reasons:

In real life there is no sound track. There is no music building to a crescendo when a person is about to reach success but doesn’t know it yet.  The string instruments that romanticize a difficult moment are replaced by silence.

In real life the journey takes a long time. If a movie is an hour and a half in length, that provides the character with about an hour’s worth of struggle to work through.  The rest of the film is filled with glorious moments or snapshots of fun or comedy that allow the viewer to relax and grab a handful of popcorn.

In real life it is harder to catch the artistic beauty of your surroundings.  A camera can zoom in on a mother’s tears, a leaf falling to the ground, or light breaking through a window.  It can make run down buildings look epic and the freezing cold look perfectly comfortable.

In real life you can’t practice a scene to get it perfect.  You don’t get to choose the ideal person for a role.  You can’t pick and choose what parts you want to keep and those you wish to leave out.  You can’t simplify a story line for an audience but instead have to wrestle through complexities and messy situations.

When a person is living a life worth making a movie about, it does not always seem like a ‘glory road.’

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For those who are trying to make a difference in this world, terms like glory, success, and triumph are often replaced by words like tedious, discouraging, and exhausting.  I wonder what it was actually like to be William Wilberforce when his poor health did not permit him to get out of bed, or Mother Theresa when her feet were sore, or Thomas Clarkson writing late into the night when everyone else had long gone to bed, or Nelson Mandela as he sat for decades in a cold prison cell.

I wonder.

I think of today’s abolitionist movement to end slavery and exploitation.  I think of those who are busting down doors of brothels only to have business return to normal the following day.  Those who are trying to help victims they’ve rescued, only to see those same girls and boys return to life on the streets because true inner healing is so hard.  Those who are raising awareness wondering if anyone even cares or remembers what they say.  Those who work hard all their lives to serve others and no movie is ever even made.

I struggle too.  I feel small an insignificant, untalented and ineffective.  Too unorganized and fearful. Not driven enough, productive enough, dedicated enough.  Fighting resistance is hard.  Fighting for justice is going against the current, and the current is strong.

We need each other. We all need encouragement and support.  We need reminders that this is worth it, that people’s lives are at stake, that we have been given a stewardship.  We need to take time and look for beauty around us, in the old run down buildings, the eyes of a mother, or a crisp fall day. And maybe, just maybe, we need to take world changers off their pedestals so we can identify with them as real people that can show us how to overcome adversity without an orchestra playing in the background.

Michelle Brock

An Escort’s Story

by Michelle Brock on September 12th, 2011

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Escort Service Recruitment Ad

Ruhama, an organization that helps women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland, published a report last year with statistics and stories. I will summarize their findings in another post, but wanted to share one story from an ex-escort.   I’ve included the piece of the report that sets some context below, followed by the story.

One of the greatest myths about prostitution is that there is somehow a difference between prostitution generally and escorting, where it is claimed that men are paying for a woman’s company and time. This is  dispelled powerfully by the testimony, published in this report, of Amy* who was an escort and who reveals exactly what the experience was like for her. This is her own personal story in her own words; however, the themes echo those of many of the women Ruhama works with and we have chosen to publish her entire testimony as a part of this report with her permission. (*the only word changed in this first hand testimony is the name to protect confidentiality).

I began escorting officially when I was 20, although technically it began when I was a teenager but I didn’t really know that was actually what it was. When I was 16 I had met a man in his thirties that paid me to do things for him and his friends but never said it was prostitution or anything. He had me totally in his control, psychologically, so that I would do anything for him and be extremely worried and anxious about not making him happy. This went on for a few years. When I finally got rid of him, I began escorting on my own.

I could say this was a choice, it was, a freely made one. However considering the background of rape and sexual abuse that lasted about three years, looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was and how I was emotionally not stable enough to be making that kind of ‘choice’. I thought being a prostitute would help me regain my sexual power over men. I never had any control and I thought this was the answer, and a way to ‘get back’ at the man who raped me and the other man who manipulated me into being his plaything, basically. Also because of these experiences I had put all of myself worth into my sexuality and how I looked and judged myself on how much I attracted men.

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Without this experience there is absolutely no way that I would’ve become involved in the sex industry. When I started escorting on my own, it felt okay at the beginning; I liked the feeling of being in ‘control’ of the men, and ‘using’ them for their money, but I soon started realising that my plan to be in control had backfired, that actually the men were in control and had the power, and they weren’t afraid to show me that they were the ones in charge. I felt disgusting after most times I met with a punter. They pressured me into doing things I didn’t want to do by promising me more money. They used language that both made me want to please them and disgusted me at the same time.

You could say that I could’ve stopped at any moment. That is true, but I didn’t have the emotional tools to be able to stop. My past had the biggest hold on me and I hadn’t even started processing it. At that stage I still didn’t think of it as abusive behaviour.

For me, I needed the attention of men to make me feel more ‘okay’, I needed to feel wanted in that kind of way, I needed the constant (but short lived) ego boost that it gave me. I was in a vicious circle of having a rock bottom self esteem and hating what I was doing, but needing the attention at the same time to make me feel better. I had an extremely skewed view of myself. I attempted suicide twice.

I got sucked into the online world of escorting and felt like what I was doing was normal. This went on, and off, for about four years or so. I was pretty shy, but pretending to be super confident and I think the punters could see through that most of the time. Now, looking back, the scariest thing is the punters and how they treated me and talked to me. I am disgusted to think back to the 40 something year old men would happy pressure me into doing things, knowing that I was only 21, knowing in their hearts that it isn’t normal or healthy to buy sex.

I was pretty naive and the guys all just think that you’ve been doing it for ages and you’re ‘used to it’. They have no idea how dangerous and scary the escorting world is, they are all deluded by the few ‘happy hookers’ that talk on the websites all the time, they think these girls are the only type of girls that exist.

young man at computer460That men will write ‘reviews’ of their time having sex with a girl is the most disturbing part of the whole thing, apart from the fact that they are punters in the first place of course. That it is apparently normal on the website to tick girls off in relation to the way they have sex is insane. The men write things like ‘she was a bit mechanical’, and ‘she wanted me in and out as fast as possible’ and they give her a bad review because she wasn’t ‘into it’. Did they ever stop to ask themselves why she wasn’t into it? That maybe she didn’t want to be there? Instead of asking the girl if she is okay and why isn’t she happy, they run home to their precious internet to tell all the other punters about the terribly trauma of visiting a prostitute who hates her job. It’s so sad. It’s just a bunch of pathetic men showing off to each other online. If you tell a lie that others want to believe then they’re going to use that and delude themselves and each other. This is what all punters and the escorts that use the websites do. Everyone is lying to each other and it’s easier to believe the lies than question what they are doing. When you tell punters about the reality, they get suddenly very defensive and don’t want to talk to you anymore.

Finally I had a punter that verged on behaving in an illegal way and it was the reality check I needed to stop properly. It was the worst I’ve ever been treated, but I’m glad it happened, because there were no lies I could tell myself about that encounter, there was no way to justify it, so I had to admit honestly to myself that the reality of the situation. To this man I wasn’t even a human. I wasn’t just ‘unlucky’, being treated like that was a daily threat and most of the punters treated me in a similar way.

On the website I used to advertise on, the punters were often giving out about ‘Ruhama’, I had never heard of it before. I went on the Ruhama website and sent an email, within hours I got a phone call back and a couple of days later a phone call from a case worker to arrange to meet. I felt such relief to meet with her and talk to someone that truly understood my experience that I was nearly crying the entire time.

Now I’m avoiding any relationships with men, it’s been a year and a half since I stopped but I’m not emotionally able to have any kind of a relationship. I don’t trust men. I worry that all new men I meet have visited prostitutes, or are okay with the idea of prostitution. I have great male friends, and I’m so thankful for having them, but when it comes to sexual relationships, I still use sex to get what I want (ie, love) and I still am not secure enough at all to be on equal terms with a man. I’ll always think there’s a catch to his affection.

I read somewhere that two thirds of prostitutes have pasts of abuse, emotional abuse, incest or rape. How could an industry that mostly attracts that kind of damaged person be socially acceptable? Women and men will never be equal as long as prostitution exists, it shouldn’t be acceptable to buy women for sex, not if we care about each other, and not if we care about what we want our society to be like.”

I certainly agree that if we actually thought about what we want our society to look like and cared more about each other as human beings with dignity and worth, prostitution would not exist.  You can read Ruhama’s full report here, and get info on the documentary we are making about the prostitution industry here.

Michelle Brock

Are Women the Only Ones Being Trafficked?

by Michelle Brock on September 9th, 2011

Last week I received an email from a reader that said this:

I have noticed part of your site reads “if it were your daughter, girlfriend, sister or wife …..What would you do?” I am just curious as to why you have limited this statement to describing female victims when there are male victims of sex trafficking as well?

This is a great question and one that I’d like to address on the blog for everyone to read, because I think it is very important and not talked about enough.  I emailed Brian McConaghy, a friend of mine from Ratanak who works with children in and teenagers in Cambodia, and this is what he had to say:

From what you’ve seen in Cambodia, what ages are the boys that are trafficked for sex?

Initially trafficked and abused from the age of about 8-9. This later develops into an older form of trade with teenage boys who often, being totally gender confused as a result of earlier abuse, become ladyboys and male prostitutes.

Who is buying and selling these boys? I am assuming it’s generally men, not women, who pay to abuse them?

Largely International pedophiles and as the boys grow older into Lady boys and male prostitutes the customers are homosexual/ bisexual international sex tourists. There is some domestic abuse of boys but it is limited.

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Brian McConaghy & Family

When my husband Jay and I made our first documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, we interviewed Brian.  Before the camera started to roll, he told us that one boy that came to their kids club could not even physically sit when doing the activities because of the abuse he was being forced to endure each night.  That is why Ratanak and Hagar International partnered together to build a high security safe house specifically for boys.  Brian and his wife have also adopted two Cambodian boys, in an effort to give them a life that would prevent them from falling prey to such abuse.

Overall though, boys and men are trafficked for sex in much smaller numbers than girls and women. They are trafficked in large numbers for labour though, and can be found on fishing boats, cocoa plantations, coffee farms, construction sites, and brick factories.  The horrific conditions in these ‘work’ environments strip them of their dignity and livelihood.  Can you imagine your brother or father being forced to work in a dangerous, grueling industry for no pay?  Heartbreaking.

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End Slavery Now image of a brick factory

Hope for the Sold focuses mainly on sexual exploitation, and women and children are the most vulnerable for this.  But the experience of men must not be overlooked.  Do we ever check to make sure that what we purchase at the store is not supporting slavery?  Thanks Elizabeth for such an important question.  We have a long way to go if we are to truly end slavery in our world.

For some informative articles on this, check out:

**If you haven’t heard already, we’re making another film!  Find out the details here.

Michelle Brock

In Pictures: Ignite Justice GTA

by Michelle Brock on September 7th, 2011

This weekend marked the end of the Ignite the Road to Justice tour, led by Miss Canada Tara Teng. Here are some pictures from the Toronto Area events.  Photo credits go to Helena Kube from the Ignite Team and Patrick & Yifan from Voices of the Broken.

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Hope for the Sold booth at Ignite Mississauga

Ignite Trafficking Routes

Map of Global Sex Trafficking Routes

Ignite Canada Map

Jennifer Lucking Prepping a Station

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Time is of the Essence

Ignite Sound board

Helena and Anna, Two Energetic and Passionate Abolitionists!

Ignite Discussion

At the Ratanak Booth with Jessika Mak

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Tara Teng Telling Stories & Challenging the Audience to Fight for Justice

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Michelle, Tara, Nicki, and Jen...fighting for justice together!

 

 

Ignite Barrie

Ignite's Fantastic Music Team at a Park Event in Barrie

Ignite Tshirts

Ignite Merch!

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Tara Sharing in Barrie, Along with Local First Nations Women

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Join the Conversation

We need more events like this.  Events that remind us that we are part of a movement together. That promoting justice is our responsibility and stewardship.  That slavery is REAL.  That there is hope.

You can read Jessika Mak’s reflection of the events here.

Michelle Brock

 

 

Labour Day Ponderings

by Michelle Brock on September 5th, 2011

relaxToday in Canada is a day of rest.

A day for family and friends.

A day to get ready for the fall season.

A day to look back on summer’s memories.

A day to live, to read, to savour.

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Today for victims of trafficking is a day of work.

A day full of customers and their demands.

A day to get ready for the busy night ahead.

A day to look back on life as it was before.

A day to cry, to despise, to survive.

As we rest, play, and spend time with loved ones today, let us not forget those whose Labour Day is filled with toil and torture.

Michelle Brock

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