CITIZEN JOURNALISM: To end human trafficking Survivors craft, sell products

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson was the keynote speaker at the Human Trafficking Summit hosted by the African Tourism Organization at the National Harbor earlier this fall.

“I cannot think of a better place to have a summit like this,” Mr. Johnson stated. “Our county is very diverse, with many nations represented in our population. Therefore, it is proper that we be at the forefront of the discussion and the fight against human trafficking.”

Mr. Johnson pledged during the Sept. 18 and 19 summit that he would set up special units of local prosecutors dedicated to investigating human trafficking and heightening awareness among police.

“Working together, we can build the foundation for an effort that will ensure that families are no longer separated from each other for such cruel and inhuman intentions, and we can see that those who would use human trafficking as a way to make money are caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Mr. Johnson stated.

According to the State Department’s 2008 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, “human trafficking is a multi-dimensional threat. It deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, it increases global health risks, and it fuels the growth of organized crime.”

The TIP report divides human trafficking, which affects up to 27 million people each year, into nine major categories: forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage and involuntary servitude among migrant laborers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, sex trafficking and prostitution, children exploited for commercial sex, and child sex tourism.

“Human trafficking has a devastating impact on individual victims, who often suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against self and family, and even death,” according to the TIP report. “But the impact of human trafficking goes beyond individual victims; itundermines health, safety, and security of all nations it touches.”

Mr. Johnson isn’t the only one making a difference in the fight against human trafficking.

When Anna Leung was in college at the Rochester Institute of Technology, she watched a documentary about human trafficking and “decided I was going to spend my life working to stop it.”

Earlier this year, she founded a company, Restoring International Justice Imports Green (RIJI Green), to assist trafficking survivors by selling merchandise made by survivors and donating the profits.

“I’ve been an abolitionist for six years,” said Ms. Leung, 25, who lives in Manassas.

Ms. Leung said she had worked with organizations before, and when the time came to make a decision about starting out on her own, her husband told her to pray. When she did, she discovered a Bible passage that read, “The fields are ripe for harvesting.”

“Long story short, that’s how I founded RIJI Green,” Ms. Leung said. “Through my experience working with survivors, through my experiences with all these different human trafficking issues, and through an affirmation from God.”

Because trafficking is “mainly caused by poverty, RIJI Green’s solution to end modern-day slavery is through economic empowerment for at-risk [people] and survivors of human trafficking,” she said.

The products, which include bags and journals,are madeby survivors in theirown countries and shipped to the United States for sale. Ms. Leung said she makes contact with the survivors through organizations designed to help them after they’re rescued from slavery.

In November, RIJI Green partnered with the International Justice Mission (IJM) and donated half its profits to help free people from slavery. The original goal was to raise $45,000, which would have sponsored 10 rescue operations. Though the company did not reach its goal, “we are still hoping to be able to raise $45,000 for IJM by” Dec. 31, Ms. Leung said via e-mail.

She said she chose IJM because of the unique mission of the organization.

“They actually train the public justice system on how to handle trafficking cases, and they also prosecute the traffickers, which is so important,” Ms. Leung said. “Because I believe you can rescue as many victims as you can, but if you do not hold the perpetrators accountable, then this issue will not be able to overcome without putting the perpetrators in jail.”

Ms. Leung also has taken part in Stop Modern Slavery, a group dedicated to ending human trafficking. The group held a walk in the District’s Meridian Hill Park in September with more than 700 participants and raised $40,000.

A stay-at-home-mom to two boys, Ms. Leung said she is very happy with her decision to found RIJI Green.

“I wake up every morning excited,” she said.

While Ms. Leung’s efforts are concentrated mainly in India, other organizations, including the State Department, are concentrating efforts to end trafficking in every country around the world, including the United States.

Tier 1 countries include those that deal with some human trafficking but are not major sources of trafficked people, though they are sometimes destinations for people who are trafficked.

Tier 2 countries are those where trafficking is more widespread but not considered a major problem. Countries also can be placed on the Tier 2 watch list, meaning they are in danger of becoming Tier 3 countries.

Finally, Tier 3 countries are those where trafficking is a huge problem and often a lucrative business.

It is important to realize that no country is immune from the problem and that it can happen anywhere. One country that finds itself in the Tier 1 category is the United States. That doesn’t mean this country is exempt from trafficking problems.

Sean A’Hearn, an author, was with his wife in Atlanta when he saw the “baby stroll,” which is when “kids who have not yet reached sexual maturity are out there earning a little extra money.” He decided to “channel my outrage” into a book.

A successful author of young-adult novels who writes under a pen name, Mr. A’Hearn was outraged when he found out that the “baby strolls” take place “from San Francisco to New York.”

He eventually wrote the book “The Power and the Plunder,” about two young women who escape from trafficking in the Congo. He based his information on countless interviews he did with prostitutes and call girls within the United States.

“You learn quickly not to ask them about themselves,” Mr. A’Hearn said. “They’re happy to tell you about stories they’ve heard. And then you hear stories about abductions and you hear stories of enslavement.

“And I learned not to make notes. I would run back to the car and take notes,” he said. “So it was almost like we were having a little chat, so they wouldn’t get in trouble with their own slavemasters.”

When asked if he hopes the book will influence people to get involved, Mr. A’Hearn responded, “Oh, I know it will.

“It will influence people to contribute It will raise awareness,” he said. “It takes a while to get things done in our country. I remember when MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] got started and it was nothing. And they changed the whole thing.”

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/08/citizen-journalism-to-end-human-trafficking/?page=1

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