State Department Projects Progress Against Human Trafficking

It’s been a pretty good decade, but we have a heck of a lot more work to do. That was the core message Luis C. deBaca, Ambassador-at-Large for the U.S. State Department Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, presented at the annual Freedom Network Conference this week. And he’s right. We know a lot more about and have done a lot more to fight human trafficking than back in 2000. But we still don’t know or do nearly enough. The coming decade, the State Department says, will change that.

Arguably, the anti-trafficking movement is little more than a decade old. Many people claim it originated in 2000, with the passage of the first anti-trafficking law in the U.S. and the signing of the Palermo Protocol in the UN. But several NGOs were addressing this issue in the mid-to-late 90s, and people have been fighting against human trafficking under other names for much, much longer. In 2000, much of the global understanding of human trafficking was extremely limited, mostly to the highly visible sex trafficking of young women from the former Soviet Union to Western Europe and the U.S. in the 90s. Since then, we’ve learned a lot.

As Ambassador deBaca pointed out, we now know that modern-day slavery happens in every country, including here in the U.S. We understand that it is driven by demand, empowered by poor legislation and enforcement, and catalyzed by poverty and inequality. “Trafficking” has come to mean “slavery,” not “transportation,” and we recognize both domestic and international trafficking. And as more people are tricked and coerced into forced labor and commercial sex, we know that kidnapping is not the most common way for traffickers to find victims.



Does “Sex Sells” Mean Selling Sex?

Someone scratched out her nipple and I say, right on! Before you think I’m blogging for the wrong website, let me explain: I’m talking about a Diesel ad.

I saw a poster (left) for Diesel’s new “Stupid Campaign” beside my neighborhood park. (I’m not name-calling. That’s the actual campaign name.) The ads urge you to ditch safe and smart for more creative and risky pursuits — Be Stupid. This particular ad was in their “Smart may have the brains, but Stupid has the balls” line. In it, a girl is flashing a security camera. The model is posed so that you can see her nipple. Her giant, poster-sized nipple. On the fence right by the kiddie park. Very responsible marketing, Diesel.

When I passed it again, someone had scratched out the nipple on every single poster. I guess they decided to take responsibility into their own hands.

This got me thinking about advertising, responsibility, and “sex sells.” From Gossip Girl to Caprica, we see adult women playing teen girls, hyper-sexualized and meant to grab the attention of men. Correction, meant to arouse men with images of “teenage” girls. Then there are ads like American Apparel’s — ads that are so porn-like they were sued because of it. The AA ads have spurred an entire campaign against them, including Women’s Rights blogger Ruth Fertig calling for a boycott of AA altogether due to their current “Best Butts” contest.

Is there a difference between these ads, pornography, and selling actual sex? If prostitution is illegal in most states, and if child porn is illegal period, what makes these ads “selling sex” okay? Are semantics like, “But the actress is actually 22 even though she is portraying a 16 year old so it’s fine,” hiding the fact that we are still feeding the demand for sold sex, sometimes sold by minors?

I once turned down a date with a photographer after seeing his website. The site was full of practically naked, 20-something girls in compromising poses. He said it was art and that he was helping these girls to further their careers. All I could think about was the guy who looks at the photos and decides to go out and buy some real action for himself. Supply and demand. What is the line between using sex to sell a product and creating demand for sex as the product?

And yes, I know. In Europe the ads are even racier and available to everyone. Americans are prudes. Europe also isn’t doing so hot on the anti-trafficking front. Now, before you send me a strongly worded letter, understand that I’m not saying “sex sells” leads directly to the trafficking of human beings for sex. I am saying that there should be a greater level of responsibility in advertising. As consumers, we also need to think about what we are consuming and if it is ultimately objectifying sex and women, approving them as items to be bought and sold. Because, let’s be honest, when you respond to one of those ads, you’re not just buying the jeans; you’re buying the half-naked girl in the jeans.

Photo credit: Sarah Parker


Freedom for the Weekend: Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Well, it’s Friday afternoon, and that means the weekend is almost here!  W00t! Perhaps you’re reading this blog because you’re bored at work or school and you’re thinking about what you want to do this weekend. How about spending part of your weekend fighting slavery? Each week I’ll profile a different anti-trafficking nonprofit who you can connect with to help free slaves and prevent slavery around the world. So, spend a couple hours this weekend getting to know this nonprofit through their website, and then get involved!

This Week’s Profile: Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT)

The Bottom Line: FCAHT works to improve and provide outreach and services to victims of human trafficking throughout the state of Florida, developing support programs, networking, coalition building, training, service delivery and referrals to victims in need.

What They Do: They provide training and information about how to better find trafficking victims and arrest traffickers to law enforcement and other audiences across Florida and around the country. They also work with other agencies and organizations in Florida to help prevent human trafficking.

What Can I Do?: They have lots of ideas for how you can get involved with FCAHT as a coalition. You can also get involved with one of their many community partner organizations, all of whom work to end human trafficking in Florida.

Why They Rock: FCAHT has been nationally and internationally recognized for being a well-oiled machine that brings together government agencies, NGOs, law enforcement, social service providers, and other players to provide a holistic approach to combating human trafficking.

So now that you’ve got some basic information on FCAHT, visit their website this weekend and get involved.  And on Monday morning when everyone else is talking about sleeping in and watching TV over the weekend, you can say, “What did I do this weekend?  Oh, just the usual — abolition of slavery.”

Do you have a favorite nonprofit you’d like to see featured here?  If so, let me know!


Burma (Myanmar) military junta shows signs of thaw before elections

The military junta in Burma (Myanmar) is making calculated gestures to loosen its grip ahead of elections next year, the first since 1990. opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet publicly with politicians and for the MTV documentary ‘Traffic’ to be screened.

Bangkok, Thailand

A flurry of public activity by an imprisoned opposition leader and the screening of a US-funded anti-trafficking documentary may signal a tentative thaw in military-ruled Burma, one month after a high-level US diplomatic visit aimed at improving bilateral ties.

On Wednesday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to meet three senior executives in the National League for Democracy (NLD) for the first time in several years. She also met privately with the visiting US diplomats and has stepped up her contacts with the junta while separately appealing her latest 18-month sentence to house arrest. The Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether to hear the appeal.

Analysts say the Burmese military is determined to tightly control a planned political transition next year, when the impoverished Southeast Asian country is due to hold its first elections since 1990. This transition is likely to trump any desire to build common ground with the Obama administration, which has sought to engage with the regime while sticking with economic and political sanctions.

A key question remains the role of Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD in the elections. The party won the 1990 poll that was later annulled. The US and its allies have pushed for Suu Kyi’s release and participation, but analysts and diplomats say her popularity is seen as posing a direct threat to a military-guided process.

This balancing act may explain the air of détente in Burma, if indeed there is room for compromise on the fate of a democracy icon who has been in detention for much of the last two decades.

“It’s hard to say there’s been a real thaw, only that the junta are interested in improving relations with Washington and realize that some gestures towards (Suu Kyi) are essential if this is going to happen,” says Thant Myint-U, an author on Burma’s political history and former United Nations official.

In what may be another such gesture, authorities in Burma recently gave a green light to the broadcast of ‘Traffic’, an MTV documentary that is part of a regional anti-human-trafficking campaign. The 2007 film was funded by the US Agency for International Development, whose logo is prominent in the campaign, and has already been screened nationally and promoted at live concerts across Asia.

The film, which includes a Burmese couple talking off-camera about being forced to work without pay in Thailand, was screened at a ceremony Friday at a hotel in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city. A state broadcaster has agreed to show the film and it will also be distributed on DVD and rebroadcast.

Approval by Burma to screen ‘Traffic’ came within the last month, says Simon Goff, the campaign’s executive director. Censors demanded cuts to a segment on sex trafficking in the Philippines that included graphic descriptions. But the section on the Burmese couple, who were eventually rescued from the Thai factory, hasn’t been changed, he said.

In its annual report on trafficking, the US State Department lists Burma as a ‘Tier 3’ country, the lowest category, due to its failure to tackle the flow of people sold across its international borders. Only a handful of countries are in this category. At least million Burmese are estimated to live in Thailand, including those who have fled from conflict areas and have been resettled in refugee camps, as well as those trafficked into exploitative work.

More concrete concessions by Burma’s regime, including the release of elderly and sick political prisoners and more regular contacts between Suu Kyi and the NLD, would show that it is serious, says Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a campaign group in Thailand. The NLD hasn’t been allowed to hold a party congress in many years and its members have suffered repeated harassment by authorities, he complains.

“We can’t tell if there’s been any progress,” he says.


Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Human trafficking a growing problem, especially exploiting the young

CHINO – La Veda Drvol is a survivor.

And she wants nothing less for thousands of young girls who are trafficked into the United States just to be sexually exploited.

“God saw me through everything that happened to me so I could be of help to someone else in the future,” Drvol said.

Hoping to spread the word about human trafficking, the Chino Hills resident hosted an informational meeting last month at the Mosaic, a faith-based organization that meets in Chino and elsewhere.
A small group of community members sat in silence as the stories of lost childhoods unfolded on the big screen TV.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 defines a human trafficking victim as a person induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud or coercion.

Any minor who performs a commercialis considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was involved.

According to the U.S. Department of State, 800,000 people are trafficked internationally every year, and between 14,500 and 17,500 of them are brought into or moved around the United States.

After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, generating $32 billion in annual profits. UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center reports that between 1998 and 2003 more than 500 people from 18 countries were involved in 57 forced labor operations throughout California.

Prostitution accounted for 47 percent of the cases.

Several types of sex trafficking cases have emerged within the United States including club operations with inflated price schemes, residential brothel settings or pimp-controlled prostitution at truck stops.

“I’m absolutely surprised,” said Carlos Scoltock of Chino. “I’m overrun with numbers. I live five miles from a truck stop.”

San Bernardino County’s District Attorney’s Office has filed 91 prostitution cases in Juvenile Court since January 2005. In one year Ontario police made more than 500 arrests with 300 of them 18 or younger. Most of the 18-year-olds had been prostitutes for at least two years.

Like many children who are forced into prostitution, Drvol was sexually abused as a young child, then raped later on in her youth.

After hearing about human trafficking problems abroad, Drvol wanted to know what resources were available in her community.

“I was horrified how little was known,” she said. “These are people being trafficked for sexual abuse. And people who were supposed to help didn’t even realize the extent of the problem. It’s in our backyard.”

Many victims arrive in California illegally, believing that they have agreed to honest work in legitimate places of employment, and not to virtual slavery in brutal conditions with no freedom to return home or to contact their families, the Human Rights Center reports.

Sometimes na ve or desperate parents will turn their children over to traffickers believing that they are giving them the chance at a new life in the United States.

Once a victim, escape is almost impossible. According to Trafficking in Persons Report 2009, various forms of coercion are used against victims, including threats of deportation, as well as severe harm to reputation or finances that make victims feel they have no choice but to continue in service.

Drvol found out that the only suitable place for sexually exploited children in Southern California is Children of the Night center in Los Angeles.

Ontario police refer children there, but the kids must volunteer for the program, and there are only 24 beds.

The United Nations International Labor Organization estimates that 12.3 million at any time are engaged in forced labor and sexual servitude, including as many as 2 million children.

As if the statistics were not bad enough, the global economic crisis is making more people vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking, the Department of State stated.

“This is modern slavery, a crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with an endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The demand side of human trafficking is also going up. According to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, the worldwide rise in modern-day slavery is a result of a growing demand for cheap goods and services.

In an effort to eliminate human trafficking at home, the federal government designated $23 million in 2008 for domestic programs.

Also in 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Innocence Lost National Initiative led to 486 arrests, 148 convictions at state and federal levels, and the recovery of 245 children. The U.S. courts ordered traffickers to pay restitution awards totaling more than $4 million.

As of April, 42 states, including California, had passed criminal anti-trafficking legislation.

“There are some sick people out there,” said Chino Mayor Dennis Yates. “We have a responsibility to find out where our products come from.”


University of Pennsylvania Law School to Hold Symposium on Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking

Feminist and anti-trafficking activist Gloria Steinem will kick off the symposium with opening remarks and will participate in the Labor Trafficking panel discussion.

( – Nov. 13, 2009
9:30-9:45 a.m. Welcome by Gloria Steinem
10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Labor Trafficking
1:30-4 p.m. Trafficking and Immigration Policy
4-6:30 p.m. International Responses to Trafficking

Nov. 14, 2009
9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sex Traffickinng
12:30-2:30 p.m. Keynote Address by Catharine MacKinnon,
University of Michigan Law School

WHERE: University of Pennsylvania Law School
34th and Chestnut streets

The Penn Law Review symposium will provide a forum for scholars and practitioners on combating human trafficking.

Feminist and anti-trafficking activist Gloria Steinem will kick off the symposium with opening remarks and will participate in the Labor Trafficking panel discussion.


Trafficking in Persons Conference for Potential Bidders

2009 Remarks From the Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Luis CdeBaca
Director, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
November 5, 2009

Remarks as prepared

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you to our third annual bidders’ conference. Before Jane and her staff review with you this year’s solicitation, I wanted to take this opportunity first to thank all of you for the important work you are doing around the world to fight modern-day slavery. You, and groups like yours, have been at the heart of the anti-trafficking movement for more than a decade.

It’s encouraging to see so many familiar faces, and better yet, so many new faces in this room. It’s evidence of how much we’ve grown, and how this issue has captivated more and more people to actively stand up to meet the global challenge of human trafficking. More than 100 organizations confirmed for today’s conference, our largest to date by far.

As we look forward to the next decade and beyond, I want to take this time to share with you broadly some of our policy priorities and objectives which have direct bearing on our international anti-trafficking funding and programming. Since the signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 by President Clinton, and over the past eight years under the Bush Administration, we have accomplished much using our three “P” paradigm of prevention, prosecution, and protection as a guide.

Around the world, new partnerships between police and NGOs have resulted in the prosecution of thousands of trafficking cases, and a new focus on victims’ rights has resulted in assistance for many thousands of victims. A majority of the world’s countries now have criminal legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons, and global awareness has been immeasurably raised.

But there is still much to do. We need to do more particularly in identifying and addressing the root causes of trafficking. This includes reforming practices that contribute to the trafficking of vulnerable populations. Whether it is young girls denied schooling, ethnic minorities denied citizenship, and migrant workers denied basic protections under the law. Our success in the coming years will be measured by our ability to identify these causal factors and encourage governments to implement relevant reforms. It also includes the need for government leaders to begin to address not only the structures that enable slavery to persist—but to actively build new structures to combat it. That means prosecutions and victim services to be sure, but also a more holistic approach to ensure tax, trade, immigration, and agricultural policies are not contributing to the problem.

As Ambassador, one of my goals is to ensure that every country has the laws and systems in place to stem the tide of slavery. And that they incorporate the issue of slavery into all of their policy decisions. It’s not just a women’s issue, or a children’s issue, or even a human rights issue that can be dusted off from time to time. It is an issue that touches virtually every aspect of society. Human trafficking is a multi-dimensional threat. The destructive effects are far-reaching and impact all of us. To not make necessary changes is a threat to the stability and prosperity of every nation, as modern slavery fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, and undermines the rule of law.

As part of our comprehensive effort to tackle this problem in all its facets, Secretary Clinton announced at the release of this year’s TIP Report a fourth “P” in our anti-trafficking strategy: partnership. This includes partnership between governments; between law enforcement and NGOs; between federal, state, and local agencies; and between the public and private sectors. It also means partnership between government and civil society.

This is where many of you come in. Our office is looking for innovative partnerships to enhance our core competencies because we recognize that government can’t do it alone. These partnerships include working with NGOs and international organizations. But it also means engaging lawyers, medical professionals, researchers, and corporations. We are committed to working with you to build sustainable programs. Because together we can help people escape and recover. Together we can attack the root causes of this crime to prevent the enslavement from happening in the first place.

Since FY2001, the USG has committed over $600 million in international anti-trafficking funds. I am proud to say that the United States is currently funding 190 anti-TIP programs in nearly 70 countries. And I am impressed by what our limited amount of funding has been able to accomplish. The programs I am about to mention in particular give us reason for hope and optimism that we can make a difference in punishing traffickers, providing proper treatment and care to victims, and pushing governments to enact proper laws and policies that prevent exploitation and abuse.

In Nepal, the American Bar Association (ABA) is working to enhance the government’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. This is done by building the capacity of the key actors in the country. This includes the Nepal Police Force, Women and Children Service Center, and the Human Rights Commission. They are also working on training of judges through the judicial academy, and at the grassroots level through the Kathmandu law school.

In Burundi and the DRC, the Heartland Alliance is providing critical services for the rehabilitation, recovery, and reintegration of sex trafficking victims, including women and children trafficked in armed conflicts. The services include counseling, psychosocial support, and vocational training.

It’s worth mentioning that the Heartland Alliance will also be establishing the first NGO-run TIP shelter in Iraq. Their work, and the work of many who assist trafficking victims, is what enables victims to become survivors. And it is the strength I see in these survivors that motivates me to work on this issue.

Taken together these programs are just a few examples of how we can target our assistance to produce results that make a real difference in the trafficking problem around the world.

In closing, much remains to be done in this fight. There are still countless victims we haven’t reached. Together we have to face the unfinished work of ending slavery in our time. Each of you is an important partner in this work. It is imperative that we build on our common interests of justice and human dignity to attack this phenomenon in partnership. I look forward to hearing from many of you in the coming month.


Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 8:02 am  Comments (1)  
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10 Things Seniors Can Do to End Slavery


Human trafficking may sometimes seem like the issue dejour for students and young people, but retired people and seniors have a tremendous capacity for contributing to the abolitionist cause. Activism can help older adults stay engaged in their communities both physically and mentally and leader happier, healthier lives. Here are 10 ways for seniors to get involved in the fight to end slavery.

1. Share Your Skills: Anti-trafficking organizations can benefit from a host of skills that older people may have developed. Whether you were an accountant for 30 years or an opera singer, chances are your skill set is valuable to those organizations fighting human trafficking. Get in touch with your local anti-trafficking organization, or even a national one, and find out how your skills can be put to work

2. Inspire Your Community: Reach out to your peers and educate them about human trafficking. Invite friends or family over for a movie night about human trafficking or bring a speaker to your place of worship or community center. By getting other people you know talking, you can help inspire even greater activism.

3. Volunteer: If you’re retired an looking for a worthy project, why not volunteer at an anti-trafficking organization? I used to work at one that had a huge number of retired people on call to do emergency fund raising. They were fantastic fund raisers and had a great time doing it.

4. Mentor a Young Activist: Do you know someone, perhaps a grandchild or other young person, teetering on the brink of activism? Be the one who tips them over the edge and helps them cut their activist teeth. You have so much knowledge and experience to share.

5. Change Your Consumption Habits: I don’t care how long you’ve been buying a certain product, it’s never too late to change. Take a good, hard look at what you buy and where it comes from, and try to make better decisions about what products to support. After all, every time you make a purchase, you vote for that product. And no one wants to vote for slavery.

6. Record History: Human trafficking may be a new movement, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Have you had experiences with what we now call human trafficking before it was known as that? Record those experiences, so we can learn from the past and not repeat its mistakes.

7. Support the Next Generation of Women: Females disproportionately become victims of human trafficking because in many countries (including the U.S.) they lack the same educational and economic opportunities given to men. There are a number of international microeconomic development programs which give opportunities to girls and women, as well as U.S. organizations like the Girl Scouts which can help low-income girls afford college.

8. Raise Funds: Money still makes the world go round, and human trafficking victims need it now more than ever. Work with your community to host a fundraiser using your skills and interests and donate the money to a local anti-trafficking organization.

9. Get Active: If you’re in good enough health, get out and get active by joining a community walk against human trafficking or other such event. If you’re not able to walk, consider working at a water station or check-in table.

10. Change the Laws: Retired people are a powerful voting bloc. Find out if the local anti-trafficking laws in your area need some help and ask local politicans to change them. Politicans may listen to you more than other groups, and actually do something.

Photo credit: aflcio2008


Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 3:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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