A Discussion on Pornography

I recently asked followers of this blog to submit different posts on topics that may concern them. My good friend David wrote one, which is an interesting musing on the issue of pornography, and I would like to share it with everyone here.

This blog post is an opinion post, and it covers a variety of issues that either currently are or could be related to human trafficking. I liked his post because it’s a good discussion starter - he discusses so many different facets of society and life, and one could dissect it for many more blog posts.

I also want to note that guest blogs are not reflective of the views and opinions of I’m Aware, but are the opinion of the writer, and we also ask that you be respectful of the author of the blog. We like to have community contribution and want to provide an opportunity to have your voices heard, but if you disagree with anything on this post, please be respectful.

If you would like to write a blog for I’m Aware, please message us and we would love to consider your contribution.

Pornography, by David D.

So I was asked to write on the subject of human trafficking, sex industry, or really anything pertaining to it. I chose pornography, and today I want to write about it from a couple of different, and maybe fresh, perspectives. Firstly, I am a man. That alone is uncommon enough in the circles of anti-porn that It warrants at least a casual jaunt through my monologue. The other angle I want to approach from, besides personal experience, is that of addiction. Not a popular starting point, I am aware, but to tackle porn, which I believe to be a massive “gateway drug” for full blown sexual trafficking and purchase,  you must look at both sides, and with different glasses.

Let’s start with the different ways we can view this.

First of all, we have the obvious, “porn is bad” idea. Why? Because it is immoral, it is people being paid to have sex, and it is wrong because it falls into adultery. A lot of people think things like this, and it doesn’t go further. Maybe they say things like, “women in porn were probably abused,” or, “that poor girl, she must have not had_____,” or how about, “what a slut.” Lots of opinions, but sadly, I hear very little about why a man is selling himself as well. That is what it is after all, the man and woman are both consenting adults, agreeing on something beforehand (in the more “civilized” pornography), so they are both adults making that choice. What’s the big deal? I don’t know if I can answer from a political stance, as in America at least, freedom is supposedly the ideal. Why can’t these people get paid to have sex? They legally can, but only on camera, which provides a nice double standard. Why is prostitution illegal? Lots of ideas people have on that one, so I won’t go into it, but it raises some questions about peoples standards of morality. It is very well known at this point that the internet separates you from the things you are doing to others. Facebook is rife with insults and arguments, online gaming is full of profanity and hateful speech, pornography online is easy to justify, and hide. So if porn is bad, why is it legal? Well, it used to be nude magazines that where detached and acceptable, but going to the strip club may have still gotten you in trouble. Now, whether housewives or outwardly stand-up men may look down on porn, a staggering number of men and women watch it. It is very easy to hide, maybe easier than a magazine, and your kids can’t pick it up from under your bed. But strip clubs are still looked down on, and many men who condone porn would never be caught dead in a strip club. Perhaps because they know they could be. That’s my first point. Men, and even women will do what they can successfully get away with. It is not new, or exclusive to sex. If there were no laws, men and women alike would run rampant, until someone became powerful enough to create laws. So my first point really is, morality is not what this is about. It is what some say it is about, but in the end, it is about what people can get away with ultimately. If it was socially acceptable for married men to go to strip clubs, they would.

Let’s pause and question my credibility. I am a man, I have been hooked on porn, and started at around thirteen. I knew of it because my dad told me how bad it was, and I found it because I knew. I knew it was “wrong” according to another’s definition, and it felt good anyway, which led me to question my parents. The same went for drugs, and everything else my parents told me was bad. I no longer watch it, but it is insane how available it is now, and how acceptable. I can pull out my phone, and watch endless pornography for hours for free. Why would it be free? Because it is a gateway, and there is more money to be made in a strip club, and for that matter, if we track it all the way, sex slaves.

On to point two: Victims. This is a slippery slope. I see three main ideologies about this in the public. The first is that there are clear lines between full blown victims and predators, and they are different.

Second, that there can be victims, such as a child born in a war torn country with no means to leave, but that for the most part, personal choices must be taken into account. So if I walk around the inner city, shirtless, with a swastika tattooed on my chest, and I a victim? In a slight way. Idealism says I should be able to do that, and as long as I am not hurting anyone, it is my right and freedom. Realism says, we all know what happens. So I can pretend to live in a world that does not exist, or I can live. Extreme case yes, but that’s the middle. Thirdly, there are those that say there are no victims, only volunteers, and this is usually based on spiritual ideals, such as reincarnation, karma, after-life philosophy and beliefs, and the like. So for the sake of staying reasonable and coherent for this, we will adopt number two. If there are victims, but most must take some sort of voluntary action, who are these people in this web of the sex industry? Everyone, for the most part. Small girls, children, women kidnapped, we will remove them. Women who were abused and later chose to work in the industry, we will include them, with the disclaimer that they were at some point victims. Women who never had that happen, and choose to involve themselves, they are not victims. Men, who choose to act on impulses, they are not victims. But let’s draw a distinct line here, they make choices which place them in a mental and emotion and even physical place to be further victimized. The women who pay for school by working in a strip club, or doing mild porn, they start there, but the pressure to go further and continue is staggering, and at that point, willpower, mental fortitude, and conviction all start to be worn down. Anyone reading this probably is very familiar with these ideas, so let’s not dig too deeply. More, I want to address what I see as a very large problem in the world: viewing humans as objects.

Men are usually seen as perpetrator. He is, and there is no way around that, but it is more fragile than that. I wish life was as black and white as sometimes we all try to make it, but it is not. So let’s talk about what is done in this case. Usually, men are branded as bad, and women as victims. This implies that men are stronger than women mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, which is false. Boys grow up thinking they are bad, and women, that they are objects. But the end result is the same; men are objects to the sex industry, and in porn, just as much as women. I won’t be ridiculous here and say that woman’s pain and suffering does not outweigh the men’s in this sick equation, so that’s not where I am taking this. But if we trace the use of porn, to the strip club, to the hooker, to the sex slave, to the child molester, we find a pattern. Men are cows, to be milked. For what you may ask. For money. Women are cows to, to be eaten, so the consequences are far greater. But to stop women from being consumed, we can fight and fight to stop men from doing this to them with force, or we can cut off the consumer. It sounds like cannibalism, and rightfully so. These boys, from young age, are told what a “man” is supposed to be, to look like, to speak like, and to act like. Now it looks like six pack abs and a bruiser mentality, but more than what they are told is what they see: Sex, everywhere; their fathers, telling them one thing, doing another; their peers, telling them they are weak for not having done the same things, basic peer pressure. So what happens when peer pressure changes from daring a kid to jump off the town bridge into the river, to daring that kid to look at his dad’s 1960 playboy, to watching porn, to coercing a girl to kiss him, to collage date rape? Not that this sequence is mathematical, but it’s a vague idea of the different things these kids get pressure to do. The bottom line is, these boys are trained by an entire society of consumers, to view women as a product. Let’s even get audacious here and ask why men are not only expected to, but shamed, if they do not buy a proper wedding ring, house, and Valentine’s Day gift? Is there anything loving, thoughtful, or compassionate about those things? Sure, for a lot of people, but for a lot of others, nothing at all, it is status, and it feeds it. Men are taught to purchase women, even in casual dating. He didn’t buy her flowers? He only got her a ring with one diamond? He didn’t take her to Ruth’s Chris? Now I am all about chivalry, but only when done from the heart, and not in a condescending way. So women are taught to treat themselves like objects. If they don’t look good enough, they won’t get the date, or the right ring. They must act a certain way, be something they are not, to satisfy a sickening and self-loathing feeling in a man who somewhere in his gut knows that he doesn’t really want those things. But after you see so many clean shaven, anal loving, fellatio enthusiasts who only beg for more, it becomes very hard to desire a real woman.

Let’s talk about Psychology 101 for a moment.

Men!! As a biological creature, what is his primary directive? Well, find food, find water, and find a way to perpetuate his species. Obviously we are a little more complex than a wolf, so our mating season, calls, and cues are very different based on everything from culture to religion to morals to size to personality. So it’s not so cut and dry, but it is traceable. Men in cultures past were closer to soldier ants. They had no guns, or electricity, so they spent their considerable energy, speed, strength, and strategic minds completely to fulfill some basic prime directives. Imagine a clan of almost prehistoric humans. The men hunted, or fished, or herded, which meant they must constantly be alert of newer grazing lands, hunting grounds, and stocked waters. They had competitors, other tribes that they must fight or parlay with, giving them a beautiful outlet for aggression, energy, and mental need for conquest. That’s psych 101. Men always find something to be good at, unless in modern society they crumple themselves into a ball and hide. But while men were doing all of this, the women were making very tough choices back at camp. Which children get to live, was actually common. Was there sickness, and how do we deal with it. How do we make fine instruments? They allowed men to run things externally, but like lions, the men needed to look large, intimidating, and in control. But the old saying that the man is the head, and the woman is the neck that turns him goes a long way here. Let’s fast forward to a time when hunting, fishing, and farming are done with ease, and you now have Renaissance. Then more, to combine farming and machines doing almost everything. It seems to me that all of men’s prime directives are in the bag, and he has lost a lot of use. Now I’m not talking about scientists and doctors, I’m talking about the average working man. He suddenly had lots of spare time and energy. Where should it go? Well, opinion here, but I think men turned that aggression and energy towards women.

Back to the point.

Porn eats men and women alive. Men are not all strong willed when it comes to this, in fact, the wonderful drive to make babies is now saturated and watered down beyond recognition, and the energy that once made children and built empires, is now directed towards satisfying primitive needs. A few men are intellectuals, and they choose not to live in baser things, but let’s not pretend that they are the majority. I don’t know a whole lot of men who can turn down such masterful instinct manipulation. In fact, few people. McDonald’s is very good at triggering all of those, when you see all that salt and fat and sugar and your body says, “Well, this is all of the best stuff in nature, right here.” Most people don’t get far enough to know they are being tricked. And speaking of Tricks, why are men called that by the sex industry? Because they are 50% of the game, maybe more. Probably more. How many men have been crushed, families ruined, because of this. How many women, bought and sold. How many slaves were? Well, it’s easy now, you don’t have to look in their eyes until you get jaded enough and saturate yourself to the point where you have no compassion. And that IS the result. The sex industry and all of them for that matter, abuse humans. It’s not fair to say that the guy running a porn factory is worse than the guy who makes an executive and removed decision to destroy a mom-and-pop shop, or the guy who sells diabetes to the common folk. They are all hurting humans, for profit. The people who allow this, receive what they want, on a primitive level, instant gratification. But I don’t believe for a second that this is what people truly want. So if we don’t look at that, how can we look at Trafficking? This is not only about sex, in fact, it has almost nothing to do with it. Sex is simply a very easy thing to sell. And it takes only a few generations of supporters and justifiers to bring us here, where porn is acceptable, and drinking raw milk is not.

So my point is, in a nutshell is, instead of attacking the people involved, we should focus a little more on helping all of them, and when you shift public opinion, done one small innocent boy who pulls a girls hair to tell her he likes her, or a small girl who wants to play outside at a time, then you start finding results. You can try to cut off limbs, but this is a monster we are dealing with, you have to not only remove its food, you must teach its food to fight back. In fact, the first step is convincing the victims that they are food in the first place. And no living thing wants to be food.

These girls are being sold as wives to members of Boko Haram for $12 each. This is such a heartbreaking incident, and just one more example of how females are considered property to be bought and sold. I am hoping that these girls will be rescued soon, and that the UN actually does something about this issue.

Full story here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/05/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/

Human Traffickers Exploit Typhoon Haiyan

Hurricane Katrina took everybody by surprise.  There had been storms before and many Louisiana and Mississippi natives didn’t think twice about remaining where they were.  Nobody could have predicted the chaos and fear that followed in the hurricane’s aftermath.  How could such a powerful country be so unprepared to help its citizens?  Then President George W. Bush hastily hustled the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into action and many wondered why there was a delay in the first place. The agency buckled and rap artist Kanye West famously called them and the president out for not doing more for the people that need help the most.  FEMA’s readiness was again called into question two years ago when Hurricane Sandy plowed through much of the Northeast and left many without heat or electricity.  No country is immune from natural disasters and though, some question FEMA’s efficiency, its existence is mandatory and other countries should create similar departments if they haven’t already.

The case in the Philippines is especially heartbreaking.  As a small coastal country, they are exclusively susceptible to natural disasters and they have, in fact, weathered many in the past.  It would be ludicrous by now not to have a national protocol as to how to proceed when a disaster strikes.  And yet that is exactly what happened when tropical Typhoon Haiyan hit the country on November 8, 2013.  Pure anarchy ensued.  The country simply wasn’t ready for the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record.  With winds up to 147 mph, it was one of the strongest storms ever recorded at landfall.  More than 6,000 people died, and nearly 2,000 are still missing.  Millions were displaced when their homes were destroyed or washed away.  Almost three months later the authorities are still struggling with the simplest tasks, such as clearing away debris, rebuilding houses and burying the dead.

The biggest crisis, however, has already taken place.  Thousands of victims, especially children, have already been human trafficked.  Left homeless and exposed, many are vulnerable to traffickers who prey without fear of prosecution.  In the aftermath of natural disasters, whatever pretense of rule of law existed before, it is completely destroyed along with promises of later justice.  Authority is reserved only to those who have more means than you.  Looting, rape, and violence are all too common in the dark hours following the storm’s wake.  Those who can get away with their crime do.  Traffickers, especially, use this disorientating time to select and bribe their victims.  They promise food and shelter, perhaps a job.  “They were recruited to work as sales ladies in a Manila bakery, but what kind of bakery is open only from 6pm until midnight?” asked Shirley Vastero, the anti-trafficking project officer for Plan International Philippines.  Her agency is seeking help in finding five high school girls who were trafficked shortly after the typhoon.

Though traffickers look for victims who will not be missed, sometimes they even bargain with families.  “They will try to talk you into selling your oldest child so that you’ll have enough money to feed the other four,” said Reverend Ron Davidson, President of the nonprofit Gleaning for the World, which focuses on disaster relief.  As someone who had witnessed the same phenomenon in Haiti and Sri Lanka, he is adamant that child sex traffickers are the first feet on the ground in many countries following a major disaster, exploiting those families left homeless, without food, or water.  “If they don’t have these things, they’ve got to make that choice; of either selling their child or letting all of them die.  That’s not a decision I think any parent should ever have to make.”

Getting aid supplies to victims as soon as possible, therefore, is of upmost importance and one that was tragically hindered by the incompetence of the Philippine government.  As countless aid agencies deployed to help the typhoon victims, few could even enter the country due to the disorganized national infrastructure.  Many have criticized President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his administration for the apparent lack of preparation and coordination in the outcome of the storm.  Up to five days after the typhoon struck, survivors continued to struggle with basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter, and several towns continued to be isolated from aid efforts.

I’m clueless as to how the Philippines have functioned so far without a central and efficient natural disaster emergency agency, especially given their vulnerable geographic location.  In addition to being more prepared to handle inevitable natural threats, they should also do more to raise awareness to their citizens about the human trafficking that takes place afterwards.  It is in those bleak times that most traffickers strike.

Sources Used:

January: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

“Over a century and a half after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, millions remain in bondage—children forced to take part in armed conflict or sold to brothels by their destitute families, men and women who toil for little or no pay, who are threatened and beaten if they try to escape.  Slavery tears at our social fabric, fuels violence and organized crime, and debases our common humanity.

Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 2014 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1.”

No sweeter words were spoken than to have the recognition and support of our President as we continue our fight against human trafficking.  In observance of January being named National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, I would like to highlight five other organizations, who like I’m Aware, share a common goal of educating the public, aiding the victims, and eradicating the existence of human trafficking around the world.

The A21 Campaign
The A21 Campaign is a nonprofit aimed at “abolishing injustice in the 21st century.”  They focus on combatting sex trafficking in Eastern Europe and provide services such as medical and psychological treatment as well as legal and vocational assistance.  They have offices in Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, Australia and the United States.  Founder Christine Caine was recently featured with musician Matt Redman in the single “Twenty Seven Million”, which was written in light of the estimated 27 million worldwide slaves.

Destiny Rescue
Destiny Rescue is dedicated to rescuing children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation.  They also help protect vulnerable children from being trafficked.  They offer them financial assistance, vocational training, and education.  They are doing amazing work mostly in Asia in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), India and Mozambique.

Free The Girls
Free The Girls is a nonprofit organization that provides job opportunities for survivors of sex trafficking.  They collect gently used bras and donate them to the women as starting inventory for their own bra selling business.  Second hand clothing is a profitable market in many countries around the world and bras are sought after items.  In partnership with CNN’s Freedom Project, they’ve collected and shipped thousands of bras to Mozambique.

Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)
GEMS’ mission is to empower girls and young women, ages 12-24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop their full potential.  They provide educational opportunities, transitional and supportive housing and court advocacy.  Their founder and CEO Rachel Lloyd is a nationally recognized expert on the issue of child sex trafficking in the United States and played a key role in the successful passage of New York State’s groundbreaking Safe Harbor Act for Sexually Exploited Youth, the first law in the country to end the prosecution of child victims of sex trafficking.

Made In A Free World
They are the nonprofit organization and design team behind slaveryfootprint.org.  Founder and CEO Justin Dillon directed Call+Response, a documentary filled with famous politicians, philosophers and musicians giving their take on stopping human trafficking.  The U.S. State Department took notice and together they launched the innovative website that simply asks “How Many Slaves Work For You?”  The project allows consumers to visualize how their consumption habits are connected to modern day slavery and also provides them with an opportunity to have a conversation with the companies that manufacture the goods they purchase.  President Obama acknowledged this organization in his speech on slavery to the Clinton Global Initiative that we’ve covered in an earlier blog post.

In the words of President Obama, “This month, I call on every nation, every community, and every individual to fight human trafficking wherever it exits.  Let us declare as one that slavery has no place in our world, and let us finally restore to all the people the most basic rights of freedom, dignity, and justice.”

Sources Used:

Caged Birds Today

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

Maya Angelou was 41 when she penned her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969.  She had already had a teenage pregnancy, two husbands and an illustrious career as a dancer and calypso singer.  She also made her mark in history as the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco.  Her friends included Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and she was active in the civil rights movement.  But instead of lauding the many personal and professional accomplishments she had achieved thus far, she focused her first autobiography on her childhood and the memories she had growing up with racism.  When she was eight years old, her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, sexually abused and raped her.  When she confided the atrocity to her brother, Mr. Freeman was later murdered by her relatives.  Fearful his death was her doing, Maya refused to speak for almost five years.  Books became her sole companion and the written word was what ultimately saved her.

Dr. Angelou borrowed the title of her famous book from nineteenth century African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who often wrote about the weight of slavery.  The caged bird is a symbol of the chained slave, who unable to escape can only scream his agony and misery.  Survivors of human trafficking are not unlike the caged birds Maya Angelou and Paul Lawrence Dunbar allude to.  In fact, it is a perfect metaphor.  Human trafficking is often called “the invisible crime” because it is so hard to detect and identify the abuse taking place.  As a result, victims do feel like their cries for help echo in silence and that they are trapped in an endless cycle of intimidation and violence.  Caged birds long for their freedom and so do they.

Once victims are rescued, however, their road to recovery is no less arduous.  On top of the self-blame they already feel, more blame may come from law enforcement and relatives.  In fact, many human trafficking victims get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Just like soldiers coming back from the war trenches, survivors can experience flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, depression, irritability and intense anxiety.  Going to counseling is strongly recommended and many turn to writing just like Maya Angelou did.

Expressing your thoughts through writing has long been part of the cognitive therapeutic process.  What you can’t communicate to others, you can articulate on lines of paper.  When writing, no one is there to judge you or there to pretend they understand what you’re going through.  You are only addressing yourself.  And that’s why when human trafficking survivors and others choose to share their innermost self with the world, it is so monumental to their healing process.  It signals the barbarity that they experienced will not define the rest of their life.

Holly Austin Smith is one such person.  Trafficked at just 14 years old, she is now an anti-trafficking advocate and the author of the upcoming Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery.  She is joined by another child trafficking victim, Carissa Phelps, who in 2012 founded Runaway Girl, an organization that provides resources to human trafficking survivors.  Carissa has also published a book about her horrid experience titled Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets.

In 2011 mtvU launched their Against Our Will Campaign, which aimed to educate their massive viewing public about the perils of modern day slavery.  It now includes a section dedicated to poetry written by human trafficking survivors.  Alicia Keys, Pink, and Jada Pinkett Smith have made videos of them reading the poems with titles like “Pimps”, “Children of the Night”, and “I Remember”.  One includes the lines:

I believed his stories, which turned into lies
He was a smooth talking master of disguise.
I was left with broken dreams… court date after court date
I started living this life at the age of sixteen.

Looking back now I see I was a victim of
Circumstance in this life on the streets.
My only advice for other girls is be careful who you meet.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is noteworthy in that it not only chronicles the life of an extraordinary woman, but it also highlights the transcendence literature can have on the soul.  Through prose, wounds can be healed and life can be restarted.  She persevered despite the many obstacles in her way.  She’s a survivor. 

Sources Used: 

Beyond the Fame: Celebrities Against Human Trafficking

When the trailer for Fast and Furious 7 came out, more than a couple of eyes were rolled.  After six movies already in the franchise, what could they possibly do that they haven’t done before?  The entire project, however, is currently in hiatus as everyone involved in the movie deals with the tragic loss of actor Paul Walker, who played one of the main characters.  He died late November in a twisted car crash.  And as fans and colleagues came together in their grief, Walker’s life outside of the movies came to light.  Though he is best known as Brian O’Connor, the undercover cop who enjoys drag racing himself, Paul Walker also quietly led a life of a great humanitarian.  Always humble about his commercial success and cognizant of the problems in the world, in 2010 he established the non-profit organization Reach Out Worldwide, which provides assistance during natural disasters.  Eulogy after eulogy highlighted Walker’s big heart, his constant willingness to help and his generosity.  He truly believed his purpose was to aid others and he dutifully tried to fulfill it.

Celebrities enjoy an outreach many of us wish we had.  They are the trend setters, the supporters and critics, the ones with the power to get issues noticed.  Human trafficking is one that needs desperate and relentless attention.

Jada Pinkett Smith has been at the forefront of the fight with her amazing foundation Don’t Sell Bodies.  At first, she, like many others, did not believe that human trafficking took place on American soil.  She knew about it, but she always thought it happened in other places like Latin America or Africa.  One day, however, her young daughter Willow challenged that conviction and Smith did a quick internet search.  The results stunned her and her organization was born soon after.  In her fight to combat human trafficking, she has testified in front of Congress about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and attended numerous academic conferences.

Three years ago Demi Moore and then-husband Ashton Kutcher launched a foundation to fight child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.  Today the organization continues under the name Thorn, with a refined focus on the role technology plays in crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children and the potential of technology to help stop the trade of children on the Internet.  When Moore was asked what individual story stayed with her as she continued her charity work, she said, “I met a young girl from the Los Angeles area who was taken in by her trafficker at 11 years old.  He promised her McDonald’s and trips to the mall.  Her trafficker was called ‘Daddy Day Care’ because he was known for keeping such young girls.  Her trust was quickly betrayed and she was given a nightly quota of making $1,500.  If she did not deliver her quota, she was put into a tub of ice or physically beaten with whatever large object was close by”.  The Thorn Technology Task Force is composed of more than 20 technology companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook.

Another organization aimed at stopping child trafficking is the Ricky Martin Foundation, created by the Latin pop singer Ricky Martin.  He says he was moved to join the fight after rescuing two girls from being trafficked on the streets of India.  In partnership with the University of Puerto Rico and the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, his charity has researched and published a report titled “Trafficking in Puerto Rico: An Invisible Challenge”.

A slew of other celebrities have also used their status to bring consciousness to the issue.  Academy award winner Mira Sorvino starred in last year’s thriller Trade of the Innocents, highlighting the sex tourism trade in Thailand.  Her support for immigration rights has also brought attention to those most vulnerable to trafficking.  In turn, Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who’s appeared on CSI: Miami and Weeds, has helped raise awareness about trafficking in Latin America.  She starred the documentary Invisible Slaves, which featured individuals who endured exploitation and abuse in Mexico and Guatemala.  There are also the numerous celebrities headlining Call+Response, another documentary aiming to end human trafficking.  They include Talib Kweli, Imogen Heap, Ashley Judd, Julia Ormond, Cornel West, Switchfoot, Moby and Madeleine Albright.

Celebrities and all the fame that comes with their very being can be a great tool to emphasize humanitarian causes.  In many ways, they have the biggest podium in the world and the ones mentioned above are doing their part to combat modern slavery.  I encourage you to follow them on social media and learn about their projects.

Sources Used:

  • Free the Slaves—this anti-trafficking organization includes high-profile fans like Camilla Belle, Desmond Tutu, Helena Christensen, Jason Mraz and Esperanza Spalding
  • https://www.freetheslaves.net/

Tor, Bitcoin, and Their Impact on Human Trafficking

Is online privacy dead?  Tailored ads created by your online searches follow you as you go from website to website.  Facebook can track your location based on your restaurant pictures.  Personalized email offers from retailers flood your inbox.  As data collecting becomes more and more mundane (and inevitable), whether for marketing purposes or by the National Security Agency, keeping your online profile anonymous has become a struggle.  So much of our identity is tied to what we do online and no matter how many times you delete your browsing history or erase your cookies, your individual thumbprint still remains.

It didn’t always used to be like this.  Through much of the 1990s, the Web promised people a second life.  They could be whoever they wanted to be online, with almost no consequences.  With the arrival of social media, particularly Facebook, however, our online persona once again mirrored your real life.  Perhaps predicting this, in 1996 the U.S. Navy established a system within the Internet where users could browse the Internet completely anonymously.  They called their idea “onion routing” because of the layers of encryption that surround and obscure the data being passed back and forth.  Nowadays, it is simply known as Tor and just like Spotify or Dropbox, the program software is free to access and it takes less than three minutes to download and install.  With this tool, you can enter the Deep Web, going entirely off the grid.

Technically the Deep Web refers to a collection of all the websites and databases that search engines like Google don’t or can’t index, which in terms of the sheer volume of information is many times larger than the Web as we know it.  In fact, the Web we know is only 19 terabytes.  Everything else is 7,500 terabytes.  And Tor allows users to surf it without leaving a trace.  In essence, the creation of the Deep Web and Tor is a blessing and a useful tool for law enforcement.  The police could use it to solicit anonymous tips online, set up sting operations and explore illegal websites without tipping off their owners.  Military and intelligence agencies could use it for covert communications.  The State Department could train foreign dissidents to use it.  Indeed Tor is downloaded 30-50 million times a year.  There are 80,000 daily Tor users—a jump of 20% in the past year.

But Tor also offers an electronic haven for thieves, forgers, peddlers of state secrets and loose nukes, assassins, child pornographers and human traffickers.  Human trafficking is already known as “the hidden crime” and exchanging human bodies online in an untraceable way makes it even more heart wrenching.  It’s the work of a minute or two to find weapons or child pornography on the Deep Web.  In August, the FBI took down Freedom Hosting, a company specializing in Deep Web sites, alleging that it was “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet.”  Its owner, a 28-year-old named Eric Marques, remains in Irish custody and has a potential prison sentence of 100 years.  Two months ago, the FBI cracked down and arrested another notorious Deep Web figure.  Known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts, Ross Ulbricht, was the owner and administrator of Silk Road, a wildly successful online bazaar where people bought and sold illegal goods—primarily drugs but also fake IDs, fireworks and hacking software.  Dubbed “the Amazon.com of illegal drugs” or “the eBay for drugs” this underground website offered user reviews and was insanely popular.  Part of its appeal was that unlike its similar counterpart The Farmers Market, which also sold illegal drugs, Silk Road used bitcoins.  Bitcoins is a form of digital currency.  Users can transfer them from one digital wallet to another without banks brokering the transaction or imposing fees.  The currency is completely decentralized and is based on sophisticated cryptography.  Bitcoin is fundamentally cash for the Internet, virtually anonymous and extremely difficult to counterfeit.  And when you purchase something off Silk Road or another Deep Web site, the products simply arrive by regular mail to your home address, just like any other online order.

Like Tor, Bitcoin has legitimate reasons for existing and is in fact, used by regular websites such as Howard Johnson, OKCupid, Reddit and WordPress.  NPR recently did a piece on how carpet merchants in U.S.-sanctioned Iran use bitcoins to sell their products around the world and make a living.  So it does have some benefits.  But overwhelmingly, criminals use Tor and bitcoins to engage in illegal activities.  As a human trafficker, I can safely secure fake passports and fake IDs for the people I’m trafficking.  I can even take pictures or record them, sell it as porn, or straight up sell them online.  In return, I’m paid in completely undetectable digital currency that’s regulated by no one.  I don’t have to worry about exchange rates or finding a safe place to store it.  It simply exists in my digital account.  I can buy drugs to make my victims complacent and weapons in case they try to escape.  If a competitor moves on to my turf, I can hire a hit man and take care of it.

Though the Deep Web offers reprieve from the constant scrutiny most of us suffer daily as we surf the Internet, it must be supervised, at least in the name of the countless victims it exploits.  Tor can access 6,500 hidden websites and counting.  It takes the FBI months to even get a whiff of a perpetrator’s true identity in real life.  Though it was created by the U.S. government and receives funding from the State Department and the Department of Defense, Tor is unbreakable and uncontrollable.  Silk Road 2.0 already went up as if nothing happened.  Congress is in talks about regulating Bitcoin, but more needs to be done.  Human trafficking will continue to be a hidden crime as long as Tor continues to exist.

Sources Used:

President Obama’s Initiatives to Abolish Modern Day Slavery

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

                                                          —President Barack Obama

One year ago, President Obama announced the Administration’s commitment to lead the fight against human trafficking during a seminal speech at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York.  His speech was passionate and he implored everyone to help.  To highlight the issue of human trafficking not only to the Clinton organization, but also to those in attendance, and to the press was significant.  He didn’t choose climate change or food security or AIDS.  He chose human trafficking and within his speech, helped introduce new initiatives to further combat the epidemic. 

Recognizing that trafficking victims often move through the healthcare system while seeking treatment for injuries or medical conditions resulting from trafficking, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a national campaign to strengthen screening, increase training, and develop service protocols for healthcare workers to better identify trafficking victims and provide assistance.  They want to furthermore implement a database to help identify potential victims and link them to appropriate, trauma-related organizations that can help with counseling and housing.  Awareness is key and educating more people about the issue is paramount.  Had the nurse known about the horrific domestic servitude Ima Matul was experiencing, her rescue would have happened sooner than it did.

Also earlier this year, the U. S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Allegiant Air, Silver Airways and North American Airlines, created Blue Lightning—a voluntary training program aimed at educating commercial airline flight crews and other airline staff about human trafficking indicators they may encounter on the job and how to report them to the proper authorities.  It’s estimated that 17,500 people are bought to the United States each year for the purpose of being trafficked.  Can you imagine if even one of those individuals was intercepted and helped before they even got off their plane?  Just one.  It could make all the difference. 

Another of President Obama’s initiatives was to strengthen awareness and response to child trafficking, which according to the recent report by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has showed increase.  Its national hotline has received reports of 9, 298 unique cases of human trafficking across the United States since its inception five years ago.  Children were referenced in 2, 668 of them.  Callers reported children in 33% of sex trafficking cases and 20% of labor trafficking cases.  It also exposed that a significant portion of child victims of trafficking interacted with the child welfare system in some capacity.  Training and education are necessary so our children can be saved from the horrors of exploitation and slavery.  At the President’s urging John Hopkins University has signed on to study and investigate the best treatment for child victims and already held its first symposium in May.  Similarly the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council have released reports summarizing existing research and evidence on the topic and recommending approaches for addressing this issue in the future.

Additionally, anti-trafficking “TechCamps” were launched by the U.S. Department of State.  The TechCamps take place in locations around the world, emphasizing vulnerable regions with historically high rates of trafficking.  They are designated to bring together expert technologists and civil society organizations that are working with victims on the ground to discuss and strategize effective solutions.  They are not traditional conferences or workshops.  There are no panel discussions; only applicable case studies of how technology has worked in other regions, interactive small group brainstorming, and concrete tech-solutions that emerge at the end of two days.  To date, the U.S. Department of State has hosted 23 TechCamps, training 1,400 civil society groups from over 90 countries.  Each event is geared toward a topic: Open Government, Youth Empowerment, Social Inclusion, Internet Freedom, Education, Crime and Security, and Disaster Response.  This initiative is important since traffickers engage with many of their victims online first.

Combating human trafficking is hard, but many people believe that President Obama’s speech on September 25, 2012 was the longest speech about slavery since President Abraham Lincoln’s abolition of it in 1865.  Like he says, “For we know that every life saved—in the words of that great Proclamation—is ‘an act of justice’; worthy of ‘the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God’.”

Sources Used: