Human Trafficking Awareness Month–Targeting Buyers

trafficked girl w teddy bearHere it is January again. And once again it’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The problem hasn’t gone away and like most of this nature has most likely gotten worse.

When I started volunteering as Twitter account manager for StreetLightUSA, a local provider of comprehensive services for sex trafficked girls, in 2014, the emphasis of the anti-sex trafficking/stop child rape movement was getting the justice system and society to stop referring the human merchandise being bought and sold as prostitutes and throwing them in juvenile detention centers like their adult counterparts get sent to jail.

Education and awareness have changed this*. This girls and boys are now considered victims because it’s become clear that these young people do not willingly sell their souls to pimps who in turn sell their bodies to buyers, but they were coerced into it and coerced to remain. The pimps prey on basic human needs like food and shelter for runaways, love, and acceptance for kids who don’t feel that at home or are rebelling against it. Pimps play with the minds of their victims like experts of the human psyche. Drugs, rewards, punishment, fake love and more keep these now damaged children hostage. Some don’t realize they can escape and those that do fear for their lives if they leave.

Who would knowingly enter into a life like that, to be raped 10, 20, 30 times a day, to be beaten and drugged and manipulated in the most inhuman ways? All states and many countries now have decriminalized minor victims of sex trafficking, keeping them out of jail and placing them with services for recovery and restoration, although this system needs much improvement.

A more recent focus to eliminate selling our children to be raped is reducing demand or making it more dangerous and less worth it for men who pay to rape children. Many states and municipalities have introduced laws meant to discourage men from soliciting sex with children. In Phoenix, AZ and it’s surrounding cities, such a man is faced with heavy fines, sex school, his picture being published online and being labeled as a sex offender with all the ramifications that go with that.

Just as we’ve thought of child victims as mini-prostitutes who want to do what they’re actually being forced to do, we want to think of the sex buyers of these children as creatures so disgusting the only way they can get sex is to pay for it. This is false. These men are professionals, or businessmen or men with decent jobs, often married with children. Most now solicit and arrange for sex with children using the internet. They are the men we see every day in our professional and business dealings. For some of us, they are our family members.

One way police are capturing these people–mostly men–are by sting operations. They place an ad, set up in a hotel and arrest the men coming to them expecting to find a teen, or even younger. But they find the police and handcuffs and arrest and shame. This is one way of reducing demand.

But it’s just a drop in the bucket. Some traffickers still work by word 0f mouth, some sell their children, young relatives, their girlfriend’s children out of houses and apartments. These people need to be caught, too.

Increasingly, traffickers arrested and convicted are facing many years in prison, but the buyers do not. The risk of getting caught and the current punishments for buyers aren’t fearsome enough to deter them from paying a few dollars to rape a child. Without a market, a commodity is no longer needed, the business goes out of business.

We’re a long way from the perfect society where sex does not rule the minds, bodies and souls of many people. We’re a long way from respecting each other when it comes to sex. Until that day arrives when there is a worldwide epiphany and we understand how we hurt each other and determine to change our behavior, we must keep making progress to protect out most vulnerable citizens and punish and hopefully rehabilitate offenders. We must educate, and when that fails, prosecute. Otherwise, our society is doomed.

*SharedHope International 2015 Protected Innocence Report

Follow my Pinterest page for occasional news and articles about sex trafficking awareness

Follow StreetLight USA on Pinterest.

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You Found A Picture of My Child Where?

smudged for blog 2While I’m on the topic of parenting, what are your thoughts about posting pictures of your kids on places like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.? This wasn’t an issue when my kids were small. The internet was a baby itself that most people had no idea that such a thing even existed. The most instant photography we had were Polaroid cameras which developed special film in the camera and spit out crappy pictures. Everything required film and sending it off for developing and if you wanted far away people to see the pictures, you had to have prints made and snail mail them. (I still have rolls of undeveloped film from when my kids were younger.)

Now, we snap a photo with our phone and tap the screen a few times and everybody you want to see can see it. Depending on the privacy settings on your social media, maybe many more than you imagine can see it.

In researching this, my main concern was that pedophiles can easily access photos, download, and share and sell them with other like-minded creeps. And this is true. Some investigators believe this doesn’t happen that often. Other have seen that even innocent looking family photos can attract unsavory attention. There are websites where predators interested in exploiting children can place orders for the type of photos they are looking for, specifying age, gender, race, etc. Others of the ilk send/sell what they have. Some will even go out and take pictures at playgrounds, etc.

There are also “less” frightening incidences of people digitally kidnapping children by reposting photos of kids and claiming them as their own, creating a fantasy life with other people’s children and posting on Facebook, etc. as if it is real. There are also cases of photos of children stolen from posts that appear in ads without the permission of parents.

smudged pic for blogPersonally, I understand the desire to share photos with family and friends. My husband and I have mostly lived in other states than our siblings and parents and have missed out on getting to know our nieces and nephews as they grew up. And now they are having kids. The best way to stay in touch is by Facebook. I love seeing the newest members of our families, and my friends grandkids and the kids of my kids’ friends I drove around when they were younger. It’s their choice to make these available to me, trusting me to respect their privacy.

A few things to consider:

  • Some parents don’t post photos at all on the internet. Others are more trusting of human nature and post whatever they want. I would bet there many who haven’t given it much thought.
  • Be aware of the privacy settings you use on social media sites. I am most familiar with Facebook where you can set up lists of specific people you selected to receive a post. You can also change and audience after you post something.
  • Remember it’s possible for someone to download a photo, even if you disabled sharing. It only takes a couple of extra steps.
  • Be careful who you chose to share with. Maybe you connected with a friend at a recent class reunion and you’re now friends on social media. But you don’t know what this person has been up to or become in the intervening years. This even holds true for relatives and co-workers, unfortunately.
  • If you chose to post pictures of your kids with other kids, be aware other parents may not want their kids to appear on the internet.
  • Resist the urge to post locations of photos. This feature can be disabled on apps.

In my volunteer work with StreetLightUSA, I come across much information about the numerous ways that children are exploited. The internet makes this so much easier today, in many cases bringing the victim right to his or her exploiters/pimps/ johns. I haven’t even touched on the apps that make it easier for teens to meet the wrong people.

All this to say, be aware of what you do online, especially where your kids are concerned. You’re the first and best line of defense between them and the nastiness or even careless stupidity in the world.

More articles on this topic:

How to Protect Photos Online via Parents

Photos of Kids You Shouldn’t Post Online via Parenting

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (“COPPA”) FTC

Putting Children’s Pictures Online: What Are the Rules CNN opinion

Family Photos Could Be Pedophile Targets and Facebook privacy tools via Battle Creek Enquirer

Human Trafficking, continued.

jan_trafficking_month

Good grief, January totally got away from  me!

We had the Super Bowl here in Phoenix this year. The highlight of that for me was I got to see The Thunderbirds fly directly over my backyard on their way to fly over the University of Phoenix Stadium which is like 4 miles from my house! Now, I’m glad the whole thing is over and the news can return to the usual shootings, traffic accidents, and other stupid human behavior.

thunderbirds

Not my photo, but the Tunderbirds looked just like this, blue seky included, flying over my back yard.

However, as volunteer Twitter account manager for a residential center for teen victims of sex trafficking, StreetLight USA, my month was filled with promoting their activities. Rallies, plays, prayer meetings, art display.

And all month, I wondered how many girls and boys were imported into the Valley of the Sun by their pimps, their sellers. Not only did we host the Super Bowl, but also the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a stop on the PGA tour AND the Pro Bowl AND the annual Jackson Barrett Auto Auction which auctions off expensive cars. So the valley was rife with affluent men spending money on leisure activities.

For some of them, their activity of choice is raping young girls.

One lie these men tell themselves is that the girls they rape want to be there, that it’s their choice. 

Um, NO! You, sir, are a child molester.

The typical female victim of sex trafficking is 13 years old. That means some are older. That means some are younger.

She might be a runaway, and most likely was sexually abused by someone in her past. Often, her home life was unstable. Probably, even if she didn’t run away from home, she was vulnerable (what teenage girl isn’t?) and fell prey to some male older than her who “groomed” her by being kind to her, giving her things, affection, a place to stay, nice clothes, meals…drugs.

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The Scarlet Cord, an art installation was on display in Phoenix in January. Read about it here: https://www.artprize.org/pamela-alderman/2014/the-scarlet-cord

Some of these males then might sell her to someone else to sell to johns, or they might pimp her themselves. They tell the girls they have to pay them back for what the girls believed was offered out of love for them. These girls endure multiple beatings, verbal and emotional abuse, even drug addiction. Many are branded with tattoos that mark them as property. They become psychologically and physically dependent on the brutes who hold them hostage. Many trafficked kids are able to walk away, but they don’t see that. They believe they are helpless apart from the people that sell them.

Some kids, even very very young kids, are pimped by their parents. Some by friends of the family. For me, as a daughter from a loving home, and as a mother, I can’t imagine even thinking that thought–trade my child’s innocence, their mental and physical health for money.

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Kids in the life are sold an average of 10 to 20 times a day. An estimate of 100,000 kids IN THE USA ALONE are believed to be living this life. Another 100,000-200,000 kids are at risk. Mostly girls, but boys, too. When a kid enters this life, their future extends, on average, only a mere 7 years unless they are rescued or somehow manage to leave. Drugs, beatings, and disease are the most common causes of death.

One result of hosting the Super Bowl for the good was that the City of Phoenix enacted tougher penalties for buyers of children for sex.. Mandatory arrest and jail time, cars impounded, fines, mandatory education. Before, jail time and education was optional at the discretion of authorities.

Personally, I think these men should be treated as sex offenders with all the social stigma that goes with that label.

Maybe it’s a good thing the month flew and I didn’t get any other posts up. The spotlight may be off Phoenix, but kids are still being sold for sex.

Here.

And where you live.

January and Human Trafficking Awareness Month may be over for 2015, but the problem didn’t go away at midnight on February 1.

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What can you do? Probably not go out and rescue a girl, bring her home and restore her. You can educate yourself on the issue and figure out where you fit in. Maybe it will be as complicated as a career, or as simple as donating money or spreading awareness by following organizations and sharing on social media. The more we do, the louder we say this has got to stop.

Follow these two organizations on social media:

http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/sex-trafficking-in-the-us

http://sharedhope.org/

A couple articles about trafficking.

http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/enslaved-in-america-sex-trafficking-in-the-united-states/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/15/human-trafficking-month_n_4590587.html

The Scarlet Cord

https://www.artprize.org/pamela-alderman/2014/the-scarlet-cord

You can help the girls at StreetLightUSA by going to their wish list on Amazon and purchasing items that will be shipped directly to the facility. Check the left side for several lists to choose from.

 

 

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Photo thanks to Shared Hope International

Shared Hope International

Here in America, because we like to think we abolished slavery. And we did, to an extent. We made it illegal for one person to own another. But like every other thing made illegal, those intent on making money from it find ways to do it secretly. Or in plain sight.

Technically, slavery has been abolished everywhere in the world. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country to make slavery illegal. Modern slavery is often referred to as Human Trafficking. It’s estimated that up to 1,000,000 individuals are enslaved to others, the vast majority being female.

I became aware of this disturbing issue via Facebook a few years ago. A friend posted something from Shared Hope International, probably the foremost voice against sex trafficking in the country. As I read and researched the topic a little, I realized I was shocked and saddened that such a thing exists, but not at all surprised. Slavery has been a boil on the butt of humanity since the dawn of time.

Sex slavery is nothing new, either. But that doesn’t make it less appalling, especially since it’s flourishing here in the US, and its victims are teens, even young children. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 thousand teens are being held in captivity to be sold for sex as I write this. Some are “owned” by pimps, some are sold by their own parents.

Does this knowledge not break your heart?

After I started following Shared Hope International and receiving their email updates, I was made aware of StreetLightUSA, which is an non-profit in the Phoenix, AZ area that provides transitional housing and services for teen girls leaving sex trafficking as well as victims of sexual abuse. Besides housing, they provide counseling, education, mentors, activities and other essentials to help these young victims recover from the life they were forced into. This is funded largely through donations of time, money and practical items. StreetLightUSA is the largest facility of its kind in the US. They have big plans to meet the ever growing need.

I have the privilege of volunteering as the manager of StreetLightUSA’s Twitter account. It’s been very educational, as well as rewarding as I help spread awareness of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking and its impact on the lives of the young victims.

January has been proclaimed as Human Trafficking Awareness Month by President Obama. As one concerned about this, I’ll up my blogging this month to provide information and resources to help my readers become more aware and possibly decide to take action against modern-day slavery in whatever form makes sense to you.

When one person is abused, the entire human race is diminished. As individuals, we can’t end this horror, but educated and united, we can.

Do Something! Click on the links to Shared Hope and StreetLightUSA and see what these two organizations do. Like their Facebook Pages and follow on Twitter to show you support their work and to keep updated in the work against sex trafficking.

Read: http://borgenproject.org/seven-facts-modern-day-slavery/

Sharing is Caring

Today, December 31, is the last to donate to non-profit organizations and have it count as a deduction toward your 2014 income tax. Here in Arizona, donations of up to $400 for an individual and $800 for a couple count as tax CREDITS. Meaning it’s like you paid the state that much money already in taxes. You can even get that money back as a refund if you qualify for one. Does your state have something like this?

We here at the Munroe residence are not drowning in cash. Far from it. But every year we give regularly to the church we belong to. This year we also gave to a couple of non-profits near and dear to our hearts. One is a non-profit started by my brother. The other is a local entity.

download (1)IT4Causes is a new start-up by my brother, Tom Anderson. His idea is to utilize volunteers to create and maintain IT for small to medium size non-profit organizations. See the website for more information.

 

 

downloadThe other is StreetLightUSA, which provides transitional housing and help for teen victims of sex trafficking and abuse. It’s the largest facility of its kind in the country. The need is great and they hope to expand. I also volunteer time for them.

I’m not really wanting to toot my own horn, or even suggest you donate to these entities, even though if you’re at a loss where to send your money, please send it to one or both! The important thing is to share with some place that is doing good. Even if it’s only a few dollars. Maybe it won’t mean much on your taxes, but it will mean so much to the staffs and people helped by the places you help.

downloadI personally have been helped by donations to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society which funded research to treat Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, which somehow I managed to develop. Instead of chemo and transplants, I just take a pill a day to keep funky white blood cells away.

What’s near to your heart? Veterans? Homeless people? Hungry people? Abused women and children? Places that don’t have clean water? Abused animals? Cancer research or cancer victims? Mental health issues? Disabled people? All you need is a credit or debit card and a place’s website.

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Doing good is good for your heart and soul. The universe smiles on people who share. Who doesn’t need the universe to smile on them once in a while?