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.

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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.
http://www.thea21campaign.org/index.php#.Usu6ZltDtqU

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.
http://www.destinyrescue.org/us/

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.
http://freethegirls.org/

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.
http://www.gems-girls.org/

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.
http://madeinafreeworld.com/

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.”

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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. 

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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.

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  • 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.

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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’.”

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The Blue Campaign by DHS

When Janet Napolitano announced her decision in August 2013 to resign her post as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shock reverberated through much of the country.  Created in 2002 by former President George W. Bush as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the third largest department in U.S. politics.  As its first female secretary, she helped oversee a budget of $48 billion, a staff of 240,000 and 22 agencies, including FEMA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Secret Service and cyber security.  It’s no wonder that last year she was named the ninth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine.  Upon her resignation, she also became the first female president of the massive University of California system.  One of the lasting effects of her four year tenure as DHS secretary, however, is her creation of the Blue Campaign to combat human trafficking.

The Blue Campaign was established in 2010 with strong support from the U.S. Department of State and Interpol.  Working in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations, the Blue Campaign strives to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring those who exploit human lives to justice.  DHS is responsible for investigating human trafficking, arresting traffickers, and protecting the victims.  DHS also provides immigration relief to those that are foreign-born victims.  That is especially important since many human trafficking victims are lured to the United States with promises of work and better life opportunities.  Once they come here, however, and are initiated in the commercial sex trade or in the illegal labor force, their international papers and documentation are seized by their culprits and the traffickers use that to control their lives.  Many of those trafficked don’t report their situation to authorities for fear of deportation.  DHS, however, can provide temporary legal status and eventual permanent residency.  They also employ interpreters and victim assistance specialists so victims can communicate effectively and be taken care of.  Forensic interview specialists are also there to help.  Because victims are crucial to investigations and prosecutions, the agency uses a victim-centered approach.  Instead of blaming the individual trafficked, they focus on the ways their perpetrator can be caught and prosecuted.

The founding of the Blue Campaign by DHS is monumental.  Its first accomplishment is that it recognizes human trafficking as a serious threat to national security.  A terrorist can use more than a detonating bomb to terrorize and dehumanize a group of people.  It also brings the issue to the national arena and to the public’s consciousness.  Already they have created several PSAs to warn and educate the public about the signs of human trafficking.  A new alliance with Western Union will help train employees and display posters to raise awareness.  Janet Napolitano also spearheaded the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign and partnered with Wal Mart and other major retailers to encourage shoppers to report suspicious activity to store management.  The Blue Campaign and its inception solidify human trafficking as a domestic issue, not just an international news piece we hear about on CNN.  Human trafficking does take place here and it happens more often than one can imagine.  As many as 100,000 U.S. children are victims of domestic human trafficking, according to estimates cited by a 2013 Congressional Research Service report.  In addition, about 17,500 people are brought by traffickers into the U.S. each year.

With so many different agencies under its command, it makes sense for DHS to highlight this issue and create a task force to tackle it.  Everybody within the department, from border control agents to immigration officers to Amtrack employees, can be instrumental in identifying and rescuing someone from human trafficking.  The Blue Campaign also provides training at the local level.  Just a few days ago, Blue Campaign Chair Maria Odom and Training Advisor Scott Santoro met with Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe to discuss further partnerships.  Los Angeles is one of the highest cities for child sex trafficking.  The more awareness there is the better.  Modern day slavery does exist within our borders and thankfully our Department of Homeland Security has recognized its severity.

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Spotlight: Interpol

“Rosemary/ Heaven restores you in life/ You’re coming with me/ Through the aging, the fear and the strife.”  So go the lyrics to the song “Evil” by indie rock group Interpol.  It’s an eerie song and many fans speculate it was written about Rosemary West, the British serial killer who tortured and murdered 10 young women in the 1970s and ‘80s.  She was finally apprehended in 1994 and is currently still carrying out her life imprisonment sentence in a maximum security prison.  Her arrest could have been made with the aid of the real Interpol, the world’s largest international criminal police organization.  Established in 1923 and with headquarter offices all over the world, 190 countries are proud members.  The organization helps coordinate international police efforts to make this world a safer place.  With their impressive infrastructure of technical and operational support, they battle everything from fighting organized crime to tracking stolen art goods to stabilizing peace and security in recently toppled Arab countries.  They are the only organization in the world that forces law enforcement from different countries to cooperate together in the name of a common goal.

One of their goals is to combat human trafficking.  They have a whole division at their offices committed to preventing and stopping the trafficking of human beings, particularly the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation; trafficking for forced labor; commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism; and trafficking in organs.  Though these are all different types of trafficking, the one consistent aspect is the abuse of the inherent vulnerability of the victims.  They have helped organize numerous raids of brothels in Indonesia, where the child sex tourism trade is dominant.  By coordinating local police efforts, they have helped rescue hundreds of children.

Operation Bia II in May 2011 was also very successful.  .  Interpol joined forces with national authorities in Ghana to rescue child victims, ages five to seventeen, who had been trafficked from other parts of the country to work on fishing boats.  116 children were rescued and 30 suspects were arrested.  A year later, Operation Spartacus, carried out in 13 countries in South America and Europe, resulted in the rescue of 365 victims and 197 arrests.  There was also Operation Tuy in October 2012.  Police in Burkina Faso rescued 400 children who had been trafficked from the region to work as forced labor in illegally-operated gold mines and cotton fields.  Officials arrested 73 individuals connected to the crime.  Just three months ago in August 2013, Operation Usalama took place.  The Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization and the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization with support from Interpol rescued 328 human trafficking victims.  38 suspects were arrested in Ethiopia and 15 more in Uganda.

Interpol functions as a giant crime fighting database available to all member states.  Through their Notices and Diffusions system they can track criminals and suspects, report and locate mission persons or collect information.  Especially relevant is the Green Notice, which countries use to issue warnings about known child sex offenders and other criminals.  Technical solutions known as MIND/ FIND also enable frontline law enforcement agencies, like border police and immigration, to run checks against Interpol’s database of stolen and lost travel documents and receive an instant response.  There’s also the newly unveiled International Disaster Victim Identification project, aimed at creating the first ever global police database to identify and link missing persons and unidentified bodies during times of tragedy, when trafficking could take place.  Also at their disposal is the I-24/7, Interpol’s secure global police communications system, as well as human operatives if needed.  Furthermore, Interpol conducts conferences and workshops in order to raise awareness of emerging issues, promote preventive programs and initiate specialized training. 

Like the United Nations, Interpol is there to encourage global partnerships.  Sometimes its neutrality is called into question and there have been allegations of corruption.  Its existence however is absolutely mandatory.  Human trafficking is a world-wide problem and all countries must participate to collectively solve it.

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