Archive for the ‘Sex Trafficking’ Category

Policeman Says ‘SORRY’ to Human Trafficking Victim

by Michelle Brock on September 26th, 2012

Timea Nagy, human trafficking survivor and founder of Walk With Me, an organization that provides aftercare to victims of trafficking in Ontario, regularly trains law enforcement on the issue of human trafficking.  She recently gave me permission to share this story on my blog.   In her words:

“I was speaking yesterday in Simcoe for a mixed audience of social workers and police officers. One police officer came up to me at the end and couldn’t hide his tears. He said he remembered me…He was working around the motel where I was kept in 1998, they were doing a lot of drug arrests.  He said he remembered my group, and remembered me.  He saw me with my traffickers leaving the motel every day….he was constantly clearing his tears, and he said, ‘if I only knew what you were going through at the time… I am really sorry I couldn’t be the one to save you.’”

Below is a picture of the moment he said this to Timea:

T with police officer

For those of you who are police officers, be encouraged.  Though human trafficking has been going on for a long time, only now awareness is spreading far enough for you to get equipped and trained to deal with it.  Regardless of what you may have missed in the past, you are now in a unique position to find victims and spot traffickers.  I cannot thank you enough for your efforts.

I am grateful that this police officer had the courage to share his heart with Timea.  I can only imagine how hard that must have been, but how much relief he must feel today.  I feel so blessed to live in a country that is taking this issue seriously, and that there are many in law enforcement who have both compassion and courage on the front lines.

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Sex Trafficking Push Factor: Poverty

by Michelle Brock on April 23rd, 2012

The multi-billion dollar industry of human trafficking is an economic equation of supply and demand. The demand side that fuels sex trafficking consists of (mostly) men who pay for sex, watch pornography, and go to strip clubs.  Without them there would be no monetary incentive to traffic women, boys, and girls into the sex trade.

push factorsOn the flip side, the supply side consists of women and children whose circumstances often make them vulnerable to exploitation.  In The Natashas: The New Global Sex Trade, Victor Malarek talks about this vulnerability in terms of push factors.  What circumstances enable a person to become a victim of sex trafficking?  I believe that the number one push factor is poverty.

Traffickers will often target impoverished villages where jobs are hard to come by and families are desperate.  My husband Jay recently sent me an online survey called SPENT, which outlines how difficult survival can be even in the United States.  Those of us who have been raised in middle class families often do not understand how many economic or social barriers there are to getting a job, or eating healthy, or finding a safe place to live.  For some of you, this survey reflects what your life is like now.  Please be encouraged to keep pushing forward and know that I am cheering for you!

I took the survey and had run out of money in 17 days.  I could have manipulated my answers to get a better score, but I wanted to be honest.  If that is how difficult making ends meet can be for many in the United States, where there is a lot of opportunity, I cannot imagine the barriers that exist in many other countries around the world.  It reminded me that desperation pushes people into vulnerable situations, like a teenager taking a job at a “modelling agency” in another country which ends up being a brothel, or a single mom allowing a boyfriend to sell her to his friends so that she can put some food on the table.  Obviously not everyone whose circumstances are dire end up being trafficked or exploited, but poverty is a common thread that runs through the stories of many victims.

Want to take the survey?  Keep in mind that these questions are based on life in a “land of opportunity,” and that life in chronically impoverished countries can be even more challenging.

 

Take the SPENT Challenge Now!

click here to start

Maybe this is an opportunity for many of us to develop some compassion and understanding, and learn to withhold judgment when we see people who are down and out.

Michelle8

 

 

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Slavery Close to Home

by Michelle Brock on March 9th, 2012

map hamiltonWhen Jay and I got married, our first apartment was on Mohawk Road in Hamilton, Ontario.  It was more of a glorified attic really, but after cleaning, painting, and furnishing the place, it felt like home.

It had a grocery store, a bakery, and a library nearby.  High school students walked past it on their way to and from school. It was on a major bus route.

It was also on the same street as a house in which human trafficking victims were being held in the basement.

Brother and sister Attila and Gisela Kolompar were recently sentenced in Canada’s largest human trafficking case to date, for keeping labour trafficking victims confined in their basement and forcing them to work in construction seven days a week for no pay.  As this Spec article explains, they ate scraps, had their identification seized and were instructed to make false refugee and welfare claims. They never saw their benefit money or wages, and were punished when they tried to escape.

Ironic. There Jay and I were, preparing to make our documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, while down the street labour trafficking victims were being exploited.  I can’t even express how sick I felt when I found out that human trafficking, the very thing we were trying to expose, was taking place within walking distance from our little apartment.

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When Jay and I hit the road to make our film, one of the people we interviewed was Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who was in the process of writing a book entitled “Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.”  He had first been exposed to sex trafficking in Cambodia, but discovered upon his return to Calgary that victims were being exploited just a few blocks down from his favourite childhood restaurant.  In Perrin’s words:

“It wasn’t in a seedy area of town.  It was in a house, a residence like any other.  You would have no idea driving down the street that there were victims of modern day slavery in that neighbourhood.”

Another story – when our friend Tara Teng was 18 years old, she lived with her family in a middle class Canadian neighbourhood in Langley, British Columbia.  As she got to know her neighbours, she learned that their daughter had been trafficked as 14 years old by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend. This incident, which deeply affected people Tara knew and loved, sparked a fire in her to abolish human trafficking – and even led her to win the title of Miss Canada 2011 so she could use that as a platform to raise awareness about this horrendous crime.

Is slavery happening in our backyard?  Absolutely.

This is just one of the reasons we need to get to know our neighbours.  To be on the lookout.  To be alert when we go about our daily lives.

neighbourhoodIn Canada, you can call Crime Stoppers at  1-800-222-8477 to report a tip, and if you are a victim of sexual exploitation and need to talk, call Canada’s national hotline at       1-866-528-7109.

If you are in the U.S. and want to report a tip, call 1-888-373-7888.  Don’t know what signs to look for?  Here are some ideas.  If you are want further training, consider attending the Not for Sale Abolitionist Academy in San Francisco.

I long for the day where human trafficking, abuse, exploitation, and injustice is not longer taking place in my backyard, don’t you?

NOTE: Today the kingpin of the trafficking ring that exploited the construction workers is going to court. Here is what the trafficking ring looks like in a chart, and below is the info for the court case if you can attend.

press release

Michelle1

 

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What is Human Trafficking?

by Michelle Brock on March 5th, 2012

human trafficking picture1Human trafficking has become a buzzword in recent years, and for good reason.  The concept of slavery in a so-called “civilized” modern world is so appalling and repulsive that it makes us either stick our heads in the sand in an attempt to ignore it, or arm ourselves to the teeth to declare war upon it.

In order to make that decision, we must have an answer to the question: what is human trafficking? Here is a summary for basic reference.

Human Trafficking Definition

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Article 3 paragraph a) defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

What is Human Trafficking…In Simplified Terms

Human trafficking is modern day slavery.  Exploitation is the key element, whether a person is moved across a border or not.  People are trafficked for sex, labour, servitude, or the removal of organs. Victims are unable to leave due to physical factors – like being locked up or having a drug dependency, or mental/emotional factors – like fearing punishment or fearing for their family’s safety. When a person exploits another’s vulnerability in to abuse their power and make a profit, it is considered human trafficking.

Human trafficking United Nations

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

 

Pull Factors: Causes of Human Trafficking

Push Factors:  What Makes People Vulnerable

  • Poverty
  • Economic inequality
  • Broken families
  • Abuse in the home
  • Cultural norms and prejudices

 

human trafficking recruitment

Learn More About Human Trafficking

Video on Human Trafficking


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Mixed Up Priorities

by Michelle Brock on January 13th, 2012

people vs things

How true is that?!

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If New Year’s Was a Blank Page…

by Michelle Brock on January 3rd, 2012

blank page3 300x240I love writing each year’s first journal entry on January 1st.  The new year always feels like a blank page to me, its emptiness full of possibilities and promises not yet broken.  Jay and I spent the weekend at a friend’s cottage up in beautiful, winter wonderland Ontario, and as I sat by the window – with tea and journal in hand – watching the snow fall outside, I pondered what surprises awaited me this year. When someday I read the journal entries from 2012, what will I have experienced then that I don’t even know about yet?

I always like to imagine that the year will be full of good surprises.  Great opportunities.  Fulfilled dreams.  Deep relationships.  New friends.  True contentment.  Exciting challenges.  Personal growth. Wild successes.  Memorable adventure.  Knowing full well that life also has its share of dark, mournful, and difficult times, January 1st becomes a strange mix of reflection, hesitation, and hopeful anticipation.

2012

These thoughts have led me to the realization that victims of sex trafficking also have blank pages that lay before them.  Some of these victims have not yet been trafficked but are vulnerable, and 2012 will be the year their nightmare begins.

Others are currently enslaved, forced to endure a horrific existence of exploitation and abuse.  Do they even know a new year has begun?  What is the hope that keeps them alive?  Their blank pages are being violently filled in for them, without much they can do to reclaim their pens, their lives, their voices.

Fortunately, for a portion of these, rescue or escape is on the horizon.  The count down is on, though they are unaware of this.  Tomorrow might be their day of freedom.  Or tonight.  If they only knew that they were days, hours, minutes away from their prayers being answered.  That their next page was truly a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to live again.

holdingoutpen1Here’s the cool part: right now each of us holds a pen in our hand, with the opportunity to be part of writing into the stories of others.  Sometimes we only contribute a word, or a sentence, or a paragraph. But our actions can also fill pages, shaping the fates of the ones who are vulnerable, or enslaved, or trying to heal.

Will you join me by picking up your pen and get serious this year about ending modern day slavery and exploitation? My next post will be a 12 point guide to how you can get started, so make sure to check back this week to get some ideas.

Let’s make this year count by writing beautiful stories together. Who knows what we will get to reflect on come January 1st of 2013!

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Pinkwashing: Undermining Our Own Efforts to Fight Cancer, Global Starvation & Human Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on December 22nd, 2011

Nail polish.  Eye liner.  Lipstick.  If it has a pink ribbon, it means that your purchase is supporting the fight against breast cancer.  I came across an interesting article this week, about something called “pinkwashing.”  This video clip explains the term:

Ironic isn’t it? Companies that knowingly use cancer-causing ingredients are joining the fight against the very thing their actions are perpetuating.

green revolutionReminds me of how the Green Revolution of the 70′s, which promised to grow crop yields and reduce starvation through super seeds and synthetic fertilizers, ended up impoverishing farmers who lacked capital, ruining soil due to unsustainable practices, and harming the health of millions through toxic chemicals and decreased food nutrition.  The very thing that the Green Revolution claimed to fight – starvation – was in fact facilitating poverty and undermining health.

It also brings to mind the many ways that foreign aid has failed due to a double standard.  Many Western countries, like Canada,  provide aid to other countries.  But often this takes the form of “tied aid,” which is essentially aid with strings attached, such as economic agreements that end up benefiting the rich and crumbling the livelihoods of the poor.  Once again, something that is seemingly helpful is in fact increasing vulnerability.

This has had me thinking about how effective our actions are to curb trafficking.  There are some who claim that legalizing prostitution would make women in the sex industry safer, when in reality this only promotes increased demand for paid sex and subsequently the supply of trafficking victims to fill that demand.

Many men are willing to stand behind anti-trafficking initiatives and even provide financial support to organizations on the front lines, but in reality support the pornography industry significantly more through their personal habits.  Not only are trafficking victims often used in pornography, but as author Victor Malarek points out, “pornography is the trigger that send men into the night following the direction of their erections.”

I think of the decisions of governments – how some are fully on board to fight trafficking in terms of punishing offenders but do nothing to provide opportunities for people to lift themselves out of the poverty that threatens to push them into exploitation.

As the Whistleblower movie demonstrates, peacekeepers from Canada, USA, Germany, France, and a host of other countries are sent out to conflict or post-conflict zones to help stabilize the environment and provide some semblance of safety for the people, but their very presence can create a trafficking-based sex industry in regions where it has never existed before.

coffeeI also think of our North American spending habits.  We often give ourselves a pat on the back when we make a donation or help someone in need.  But do we know where the stuff we purchase and consume comes from?  Like the chocolate we eat?  Or the coffee we drink?  Or the clothes we wear on our backs?  Several men, women, and children experience forced or exploitative labour to produce much of our furniture, trinkets, jeans, treats, fruit, tea, and coffee. Exploitation takes many forms, and our demand for stuff can truly hurt others around the world.

Depressing?  I know. This is probably not fun to read.  But if we truly want to be effective in ending modern day slavery and exploitation, we have to stop looking at ourselves through rose coloured glasses and face the reality that we are contributing to the problem.

Please let this be a challenge to you this coming year to live intentionally, give generously, act consciously, and love abundantly.  Let’s stop pinkwashing our lives and start making choices that radically change the world.  And don’t get overwhelmed, no one is perfect.  I am still learning so much myself.   Just take it one step at a time and celebrate the victories as they happen one-by-one!

What do you think of pinkwashing?  Do you think we live lives of double standards?  What are you doing or want to do to ensure that you are not undermining your own efforts to fight injustice?

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The Day I Felt Violated

by Michelle Brock on October 28th, 2011

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My Grade 4 Class in Ethiopia (I am on the front left with the smirk and purple sweater)

My family moved from Finland to Ethiopia when I had just finished grade two, and many of my childhood memories reside in the Horn of Africa. They were very good memories – of chasing hyenas, having a dozen nationalities represented in one classroom, and taking horse riding lessons to the sound of prayers being recited through the booming loudspeaker of the nearby Orthodox church.

I saw Africa through the eyes of a child, and it was wonderful.  The abandoned tanks I saw in the fields were merely big toys to climb on, and the small, ornate wooden boxes I saw for sale on the streets were just decorative pieces of furniture (I didn’t know they were children’s coffins until years later).  We moved to Canada when I was 12 years old, and all through high school I had a strong desire to go back and see Africa through the eyes of an adult.

namibiaAfter graduation I had the opportunity to volunteer in Namibia, and through it was on the other side of the continent from where I had had my childhood adventures, it was good to be back in Africa.  The smells and sounds brought memories rushing back, and I savoured them. But I was an adult now, and got to see and experience the brokenness and pain that were also part of the continent’s fabric.

I held a baby who had been born with AIDS, drew pictures with street kids whose only source of income was selling wire hangers, and sang songs with eighth graders whose chance of contracting HIV were greater than that of graduating high school.  But because none of these issues affected me personally, I was able to keep my distance emotionally.

One day my friend Sarah and I washed our clothes and set them out to dry in the backyard.  It started to rain, but the Namibian sun had a way of drying things quickly so the clothes were left on the line through the storm.  Or so we thought. Someone came into the yard while it was raining and stole every last article of clothing, right down to our underwear!  I was angry.  We felt violated. We kept looking for people in town wearing our T-shirts, skirts, pants.  I hoped that it had at least been someone with a real need for clothing and not someone with malicious intent.

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That is the most violated I have ever felt in my life. Many of you read this in disbelief, because you have been violated much more profoundly.  I cannot even imagine what is must be like to experience physical, sexual, or verbal abuse.   My heart goes out to you if you are one suffering or have suffered through this.

I recently watched Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, and excellent documentary about the global sex trade. In it a woman explains how she got into prostitution at a very young age.  She had been sexually abused as a child by a family member, and when she was in her early teen years, a man offered her money for sex.  She thought, “What?  Someone is willing to pay me for what someone else is already taking from me for free?” That began her life in prostitution, which robbed her of so much more than clothes off a line.  It breaks my heart that so many women in prostitution have sexual abuse in their pre-prostitution past, and it demonstrates that being violated can lead into a cycle of abuse and exploitation.

What is our role in ending abuse in homes?  What can we do to ensure that people do not violate others?  Asking these questions is important if we are to stop the downward spiral of exploitation and trafficking.

Michelle Brock

 

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In Pictures: Ride for Refuge

by Michelle Brock on October 25th, 2011

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Ali Moore ready to start pedaling!

Hope for the Sold was a Ride for Refuge partner this fall, and some amazing people hopped on bikes and rode to support our documentary project! It was great to see representation from cities across the country – Vancouver BC, Red Deer AB, and London ON.

These riders raised $2,510 for Hope for the Sold, and I am happy to announce that thanks to their efforts (as well as others who I will write more about later), our film is now over 10% funded! This is a milestone for Hope for the Sold, and those of you who raised support through the RIDE played a big part in that.

I asked those who took part in the RIDE to send in some pictures from RIDE day.  Here they are!

 

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Channing & Kim McCrae ready to hit the road in Red Deer

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Love, Sweat & Gears!

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Byrdie & Bev Funk after the RIDE in Vancouver

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Riding through the fog

 

Arron Vickery, one of the riders from London, didn’t have pictures but summarized how positive of an experience the RIDE was for him:

“The ride went really well, big turn out, good weather, and lunch was amazing. Whoever the volunteers were they should open their own restaurant. Myself and another member rode the full 100 Kms. I’ve never peddled that far before in one go, but it was a very rewarding challenge.”

To all of you who rode for us in Vancouver, Red Deer, and London, I can’t thank you enough! You sacrificed your time and your energy because you have a heart for the vulnerable and exploited.  I can only imagine how they would feel knowing that someone like you had them in mind as you raised support and put on your helmets.

Michelle Brock

 

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An Agonizing Essay & Some Big Questions

by Michelle Brock on October 11th, 2011

war12In university I took a political science class called “Conflict & Conflict Resolution,” in which we studied global security issues, war, and threats to peace.  The question laid before us was this: what causes conflict? What is the primary cause of war?

My professor spent the first week convincing us that conflict is mainly caused by issues of security. One country builds its weapons arsenal because it is afraid of its neighbour, who in turn feels threatened and points its guns right back.  The feeling of having one’s security threatened eventually leads to war.  We read articles and had debates.  Yes, indeed security (or lack thereof) seemed to be the number one reason for conflict.

The following week the same professor had us wipe our memory clean of what we had just learned, and went about convincing us that the primary cause of war is greed.  Money is what motivates people, and there would be no conflict if the love of money did not exist.  This also seemed reasonable.  After all, so many of the worlds violent conflicts have been over diamonds, spices, oil.

Can you guess what happened the next week?  The main cause of war was no longer security or greed, but ran along ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. We read story after story of conflicts sparked by groups of people hating other groups of people because of such differences.  How else can the bloodbath between Serbians and Croatians be explained? Once again I felt compelled.

Finally on the fourth week, we learned that the root of conflict really comes down to the most basic environmental resources. Israel and Palestine fighting for water rights in a desert.  Communities in impoverished countries rising up against multinational corporations that were destroying the environment that kept them alive.  As I sat in class I could only imagine what people were willing to do out of desperation when someone else hoarded the natural resources that they relid on.

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After all this, our professor asked us to write a paper answering the question: “What is the main cause of conflict?”

Brilliant. I have never agonized over a paper so much in my life.  My professor had clearly made a point that war and conflict are complicated, and those trying to bring peace to these areas need to realize that the issues are all connected somehow.

That class taught me so much about the world, and I have been able to apply what I have learned in various other contexts.  Lately I have been thinking about how these same variables could affect, motivate, spark, or foster human trafficking.

gun threat11Security. Boys whose fathers and uncles are involved in the flesh trade might find themselves in a precarious position if they don’t join the business. Their future and personal security could be at stake if they do not meet expectations. Traffickers who want to quit the trade or cooperate with authorities fear for their safety, as traitors are not treated with grace.

Girls who have been trafficked are also affected by concerns for security.  Many are threatened with the safety of their families back home if they do not cooperate.  Traffickers are particularly crafty at manipulating young mothers by saying they will kill their child if they do not perform.  And they often do.  Security is definitely a variable that keeps the cycle of trafficking moving.

Greed. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Traffickers capitalize on lust to make a buck, and many drug traffickers switch over the the sale of humans because the profit margin is so much higher.  You can sell a weapon or drugs once, but you can sell a woman’s body over and over again.

Ethnicity. The way that each culture views women plays a huge role in trafficking.  In North America a strange scenario is at play, because music videos, TV, and advertisements often portray women as sex objects even though the workplace and academic world is getting progressively more equal.

Men who pay for sex often justify their actions through ethnic stereotypes.  Author Benjamin Perrin was once interviewed on a radio station and the host referred to Aboriginal women as “just hookers.” Many guys convince themselves that Asian girls love to fulfill their sexual fantasies because they are “submissive by nature.”  Traffickers who have wives and children at home have no problem selling girls from other families, especially if they are of another nationality.  Ethnicity is absolutely wrapped into the flesh trade.

Environment. My friend Tara recently went to visit the floating village slums of Cambodia.  An estimated 1 to 2 million people live on the river in little shacks that float on the water, and they technically do not exist according to the government.  To help wrap your mind around this reality, you can read Tara’s article describing her experience.  She explains that because the river has become so toxic, the men can no longer find fish and have to travel upstream for their food.  The lack of accessible food makes these families extremely vulnerable, and many are selling their daughters so the rest of the family can afford something to eat.

Security.  Money.  Ethnicity.  Natural resources. They spark wars and perpetuate exploitation. They make countries bomb other countries and traffickers manipulate the vulnerable.  They lead to bloodshed and rape, pillage and brothels.  But I believe that fear and greed are the the common themes that weave themselves into each of these factors.  Ultimately this is a heart issue, isn’t it?

What do you think is the strongest factor in sex trafficking?  Are there other variables that are missing?  How are we perpetuating trafficking?  How is our society perpetuating it?  And what can we do to reverse it?

Michelle Brock

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