German Teachers Schooled in Forced Marriage Prevention

Last month, a 15-year-old Serbian girl learned from her family that she was about to be forced to marry a complete stranger. So she texted her teacher for help, who was able to contact the authorities and intervene on the girl’s behalf. That story, which became international news, has spawned an innovative new program in Germany: teaching teachers how to identify and prevent forced marriages.

The vast majority of forced and child marriages in Germany occur in immigrant communities, usually of Asian, African, or Eastern European heritage. However, the roots of forced marriage aren’t in any given ethnicity or religion, but in a patriarchal family structure. A common thread in cases of forced marriage are the family’s view that girl children are property, and must marry who the family chooses, when they choose. In some cases, girls are forced to marry young to preserve their chastity and prevent them from being tempted into pre-marital sex as teenagers. Other reasons include financial concerns, political motivations, and family needs. And forced marriages is far from a problem unique to Germany — it happens all over the world.

So to fight forced marriage, German teachers are being given the tools to educate students about relationships, families, and marriage in a new way. Each teacher will be issued a set of guidelines, which encourage and promote discussions about relationships and gender roles in class. They also incorporate the issue into academic subjects, like discussion of universal human rights in social studies classes and the right to make choices about your body during sex education. The goal of the curriculum is to foster open dialogue about marriage, finding a partner, and making educated and empowered choices about their relationships. It sounds pretty awesome. Which means in the U.S., it would probably get banned.



Ghanaian Journalist Celebrated for Trafficking Investigations

Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, whose human rights work has been previously lauded by President Obama, was given a 2010 Excellence in Journalism Award this week. The award recognized his efforts to investigate and bring to justice some of the worst forms of human trafficking taking place in West Africa. And his job might be too tough and dirty for even Mike Rowe.

For more a decade, Anas has gone undercover to investigate human trafficking — in brothels, in fields, and anywhere else people are suspected of being falsely imprisoned. He is generally credited with ousting two major trafficking rings which were forcing young Ghanaian girls into prostitution in Europe. He was even able to record most of his interactions with the traffickers, so authorities could learn exactly how they made fake documents, which routes they used, and how they recruited girls. He has also gone undercover in the cocoa industry, which is notorious for its use of child and slave labor in West Africa. It’s all work Anas calls his “quest to save humanity.”

In a previous job, I provided technical support for someone doing exactly what Anas does — investigating human trafficking in some of the darkest and most dangerous places in the world. Calling these sorts of operations “investigative journalism” sometimes feels a little like calling a 50 foot cliff dive “jumping into a lake.” Investigating human trafficking is dangerous and extreme. The man I was supporting had at least one hit (that we found out about) out on his life from the mob in an area where he’d broken up a brothel filled with children. And when you’re undercover in a brothel or meeting of business executives, there is nothing between you and a group of people often willing to kill to protect their investment in slavery. It’s a dangerous job, and thank goodness there are people like Anas willing to do it.

Anas accepted his prize wearing a mask, to protect his identity. It’s a cautionary measure that may seem extreme to those who have never been in his line of work. Human trafficking is about money, and investigators like Anas often run the traffickers out of business by reporting their abuses to the authorities. Too often, investigative journalists like Pakistani Ghulam Rasool Birhamani end up dead after exposing human trafficking in their country. And we certainly need folks like Anas around to continue fighting against human trafficking at its source.

Photo credit: Billy A Chant


Fight Child Sex Tourism on Vacation Without Leaving Your Chair

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and summer is officially here. For many people, summer means vacations, whether to far off and exotic places, grandma’s house, or the nearest beach. This summer, your trip can do more than just bring fun and relaxation into your life; it can help fight child sex tourism and exploitation around the world. And you never even have to get off your lounge chair to do it.

This summer, consider giving your travel business to hotels, airlines, and tour operators and providers who have signed the Code of Conduct to protect children from sex tourism. Companies who sign the Code agree to take critical steps to prevent the sexual exploitation or sale of children on their properties or through their companies in any way, like training their staff and working with local NGOs. A team of nongovernmental organizations, led by ECPAT International, ensures compliance and helps signatories with training, education, and resources. So far, almost 1000 companies have signed on.

You can get a complete list of all the companies who have signed the Code here.  While several European and Asian companies have signed the Code, in the U.S., only one major hotel chain has: Carlson Companies. Carlson Companies owns Regent International, Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, Park Plaza, and Carlson Wagonlit brands. Other U.S.-based signatories include the American Society of Travel Agents and Amazon Tours. Some of the well-known international signatories include the Palladium brand resorts in Mexico and Accor hotels in Europe and Asia.

When making travel plans this summer, consider supporting those travel and tourism industry companies who have taken a stand against child sex tourism. When we as consumers reward companies who make ethical choices with our business, we encourage more companies to follow suite. And if all the hotels, airlines, and travel agencies in the world would stand against child sex tourism together, then the world would be a much safer place for kids to just be kids.

Photo credit:



Bloods Gang Members Busted for Sex Trafficking Teens

If you’ve heard of any two gangs in the U.S., it’s probably the Bloods and their famous rivals, the Crips. (Sorry, the Sharks and the Jets aren’t really gangs.) The Bloods have earned a reputation for a lot of the same sorts of criminal activities other gangs engage in — vandalism, fighting with other gangs, buying and selling drugs, etc. But they recently branched out to earn some extra cash by forcing teen girls into prostitution. And they just got busted.

Several Bloods members have been arrested for running multiple sex trafficking rings of junior high and high school girls. The girls, who were as young as 15, were each given a quota of $500 a day to earn by selling sex acts. If they failed to meet that quota, they were beaten and denied food. Sitting down to rest on a curb, looking another pimp in the eye, and refusing to have sex also earned beatings. One of the ringleaders kept the girls locked in his house, only permitting them to leave to earn money.

Unsurprisingly, the girls were advertised on the Internet in and around the Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey area — primarily on Craigslist,, and other adult services websites. When they were ordered by a buyer, they were accompanied by a Bloods member or female associate to ensure their compliance. Also unsurprisingly, the girls were recruited not from foreign countries, but from local schools in the area. The use of American girls by gangs is becoming an increasingly common pattern, as its cheaper and safer than importing girls from overseas.


Twin Teen Pimps Arrested in Chicago Suburb

I might or might not have known some boys in high school who sold pot. At the time, it seemed like an awful lot to risk for a few extra bucks. Or maybe it was more than a few bucks — I didn’t ask. I did wonder about the consequences, though, if they were ever to get caught. How much trouble would they be in with the police, the school or — worst of all — their parents?

But selling a recreational drug seems like such small potatoes compared to selling humans, and apparently that’s what kids these days are up to. First we heard about the sale and gang rape of a 7-year-old in New Jersey, and now two teen brothers — twins — from Cook County, Illinois, have been arrested for selling girls for sex. If the charges are true, 17-year-olds Tyrelle and Myrelle Lockett essentially worked as a team of twin pimps.

I guess an honest hourly wage at McDonald’s doesn’t compare to a pimp’s salary. ads allegedly posted by the boys asked for as much as $300 an hour, and you can bet the girls weren’t allowed to keep much, if anything, for the tortures they endured. An undercover officer recovered one victim during Tyrelle’s arrest, and the girl bore “obvious and visible signs she had been a victim of repeated violence.”

Said violence could have easily come from either the seller or the buyer, or both. In at least one case, the “working relationship” between the twins and the girls they pimped out began as a romantic involvement and devolved from there. Gaining trust and love from a girl first and later forcing her into prostitution with physical abuse is a play straight from the pimps’ handbook. But violence on the part of buyers isn’t uncommon, either, and pimps aren’t typically inclined to stop a client from doing pretty much whatever he pleases.


Washington D.C. Unanimously Passes Human Trafficking Bill

Yesterday, 145 years after the 13th amendment outlawing slavery was signed in Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia passed legislation criminalizing human trafficking. It was the culmination of a four year struggle to get the U.S. capital to officially outlaw modern-day slavery and provide crucial resources to combat what is one of the most significant human trafficking problems in the country.

You can read the full text of the bill here. But the gist is that the D.C. law works much like other state anti-trafficking laws, criminalizing labor and sex trafficking at a local level. One of my favorite parts of this bill is that it provides severe penalties for anyone who knowingly benefits from the crime of trafficking, not just active participants. Theoretically, this means that, for example, a strip club owner who knowingly hires children or trafficked women could be convicted under this new law. Talk about a business incentive. The bill also provides resources for victims, access to a victim advocate and safety plan, and a private right of action for victims to sue their traffickers. This bill marks a huge step towards reducing human trafficking in D.C. and assisting people who have been trafficked.

Even though the bill passed the full D.C. Council, the mayor has 10 days to sign or veto the bill (since the District of Columbia isn’t a state, there is no governor). You can urge Mayor Fenty to sign the bill here. Then, if approved, the bill must be reviewed by Congress, which has to approve all legislation in D.C.

Congratulations to all of the people and organizations who worked so hard to have anti-human trafficking legislation in the nation’s capitol. Hopefully, this new bill will help prevent and address the rampant human trafficking in Washington D.C.


How Haitian Teens Will End Up in Your Online Porn

If you download a porn video six months from now, you might want to look out for the Haitian teen who’s in it. That’s because child predators are now descending upon Haiti in droves and smuggling children into the Dominican Republic to be used in prostitution and the production of pornography. But how exactly are underage Haitian teens going to end up in your porn?

In 2005, the world of Internet porn was suddenly flooded with photos and videos of young Thai, Indian, and Sri Lankan boys and girls. And it wasn’t because porn buyers suddenly decided that Asian children were the hot new thing. It was because the 2004 tsunami in those countries left millions of children homeless, orphaned, or otherwise vulnerable. And trafficking entrepreneurs saw a great opportunity to make money: pornography.

Child pornography is often more profitable than sex trafficking or sex tourism after a disaster. Why? Well, wealthy foreigners aren’t likely to travel to a disaster zone and locals probably don’t have the extra cash to be buying children for sex. So a trafficker’s options are to either transport the child somewhere else (like the U.S. or Europe), which can be risky and expensive, or make child pornography at home, which is cheap, makes a huge profit, and can be sold over the Internet. You can guess what the money-grubbing traffickers usually choose.

So that’s how the porn market got flooded with young Asians in 2005, and it’s how it will be flooded with young Haitians in 2010. Local authorities have already found a number of houses along the Haiti/DR border which are used to store children before smuggling them over the border and trafficking them into the porn industry. And children have already disappeared. Several advocacy groups already know where to start looking for those missing kids: in online porn.


MTV: Against Human Trafficking Everywhere But America?

You probably know MTV as the channel which used to air music videos, but which now delivers such stellar reality content as Teen Cribs (in which spoiled 14-year-olds take credit for their parents’ gluttonous wealth), Jersey Shore (which extols the virtues of tanning beds and drawing blood on the dance floor), and 16 and Pregnant (which is pretty self-explanatory). But if you live in the United States, you might not know that MTV is behind some of the most thought-provoking, well-produced human trafficking awareness campaigns ever created. That’s because MTV doesn’t air their EXIT campaign in the U.S., but instead shows programs which oversexualize children and glamorize pimping.

If you haven’t seen any of MTV’s EXIT campaign videos you should check them out. Two of their videos made my list of Top Five Coolest Human Trafficking Awareness Videos of 2009. They’re also responsible for what may be my all-time favorite video (I still get chills every time I watch it), set to the music of Radiohead. And then there’s their newest one, focusing on sex trafficking, which is creepily accurate. In addition to their television campaigns, they host benefit concerts, work with rockers like The Killers and Thievery Corporation to raise money and awareness, and help get information to people at risk for trafficking.  And they do all this in countries around the world, but not in the U.S.

Why the lack of love, MTV? Haven’t we been loyal watchers all these years? When I was in middle school, my friends and I used to sneak down to my basement to watch episodes of Singled Out when my parents were asleep. Why don’t we deserve the same stellar content on-air EXIT Campaign that the rest of the world does? America has a significant human trafficking problem, just like Cambodia, Indonesia, and other places you air EXIT programming. But we’re left out of all the public service information.


World Cup Human Traffickers Alert

Will WC attract human traffickers?

A fierce debate has erupted over claims that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will fuel the trafficking of women from African and other countries to South Africa for sexual exploitation during the cup, which starts on Jun 11.
The “Stop 2010 Human Trafficking” campaign being run in South Africa by STOP, a non-profit Christian alliance, 
predicts that 100,000 women will fall victim to human traffickers during the World Cup and be dragged into the sex industry, writes Miriam Mannak

Dr Chandré Gould, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and author of ‘‘Selling Sex in Cape Town: Sex Work and Human Trafficking in a South African City”, dismisses the campaign’s message. According to her, the figures are severely inflated.

“Prior to the previous World Cup in 2006, 40,000 women were expected to be trafficked to Germany for sexual purposes,” she said at an ISS
public seminar in Cape Town. ISS is a pan-African policy research think tank concerned with human security.

“The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) later found no increase of human trafficking during the event and that the number of
40,000 victims were unfounded. Neither is there proof to link big sporting events and human trafficking.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in South Africa but there is no reason to believe that the situation will differ from Germany. There will be six times less visitors in South Africa compared to the 2006
World Cup but some people still put the predicted number of trafficked persons at double the prediction for the 2006 cup.”

Gould noted that the problem of human trafficking generally is being overestimated. “Many media reports are based on improbable numbers that are built on insufficient data which are repeated in reports.

“If you look at where this number comes from, you realise that it was a mistake made by someone sitting at a desk at the U.S. department of state. This mistake is being repeated over and over again because it looks like a credible number and the media love numbers.” But investigative journalist Mark Thomas questioned Gould’s statements at the seminar, based on his research into human trafficking and the South African sex industry.

“I would agree that nobody truly knows how much is generated by the trade but it is wrong to dismiss any suggested figure out of hand,” he told IPS. Thomas is news editor at the South African investigative news magazine Noseweek.

The gap between the two figures can be explained by the concealed nature of human trafficking, Thomas explained.

“Payments for services associated with illicit activities remain hidden. No single trafficker, some of whom have seemingly legitimate businesses, would ever declare amounts received as a result of illicit activities in their financial records,” he added.

Gould stated that none of the research of the past decade showed an increase in trafficking of women to South Africa. “The IOM over the past six years has found and assisted 315 victims of human trafficking. That is all. That is the extent of the problem as we know

“One needs to keep in mind that the IOM has trained over 10,000 law enforcement officials in Southern Africa to deal with human trafficking and there is a 24-hour hotline.”

Gould’s own research, published in 2008, found 1,209 sex workers in Cape Town, of whom 964 worked in brothels and 245 on the streets. But “not all foreign women that are working in the South African sex industry have been trafficked”, Marlise Richter, associate researcher at the forced migration studies programme at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said at the seminar.

“Many of them come from Zimbabwe or the Democratic Republic of the Congo as economic migrants and out of their own free will. They do not see it as a life-long career but as a way to make some money before returning home,” she said. Thomas also disagreed with Richter’s statements. “You don’t need a gun pointing at your head to be forced to do what you don’t like. The women she mentioned might not have been trafficked but they have been forced into this industry, as is shown by the fact that they see it as the only way to earn income. Most of them don’t do this work voluntary.”


Feds Bust Largest Child Porn Ring Ever

Yesterday, U.S. federal agents broke open what is being called the largest and one of the most complex international child pornography rings ever built. Over 1000 people traded over 1 million sexual images of children through a social networking website for pedophiles. It’s a huge victory for the feds and the thousands of children who were being constantly exploited in those images, but it’s also an indication of just how serious the problem of child pornography is.

The ring was centered around a secure, password-protected website, which members had to sign up and pay to access. There, they could access sexual images of children, talk to each other about fantasies and children they had molested, and share tips on how to find child pornography and avoid getting caught by the police. But the website was more complex than just that; it created a hierarchy among its members. Only the top, most trusted members had access to the full collection of images — over one million. The images were organized in a multi-layered file system, so users could search of browse by gender, age, or sex acts depicted.

So far, at least 26 of the members have been arrested, and 16 of the victims have been identified. But investigators certainly have a lot of work ahead of them, to find both the perpetrators and victims of this international operation. The alleged ringleader of this enterprise is Delwin Savigar, who is currently serving a 14-year prison term in the U.K. for sexually assaulting three little girls. But he is only one of many. There were over 1000 members of this website at its peak, and around 500 when it was broken open.