The Widdershins

Posts Tagged ‘Human Trafficking

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Eudocia Tomas Pulido (“Lola”), ages 18 and 82

Hello Widdershins,

This will be a short post today! In part because I would like you to take some time and instead of reading my nonsense, read a feature story in The Atlantic instead.

In March I wrote a post here discussing human trafficking.  When we talk about slavery too many of us think of by-gone eras. But slavery exists today and not just in far-off lands. It exists right here in the United States, perhaps involving our next-door neighbors. Nearly 21,000,000 human beings today are victims of human trafficking.

One of the stories I recounted in my post, told by Sister Joan Dawber, who runs a safe-house for victims of human trafficking in NYC, involved a young woman from Africa who came to NYC by family with the promise of going to school. Instead the family enslaved her for 5 years. She escaped eventually with the help of a suspicious neighbor. But how many do not escape?

In the harrowing and heart-breaking story published in The Atlantic, called My Family’s Slave by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Alex Tizon, Tizon describes his family’s slave – gifted to his mother by his grandfather. The woman they called Lola served the family for 56 years, right here in the United States. She cooked and cleaned for the family, she raised the children. She was not kept in physical shackles. And yet – she remained their slave. Tizon’s shocking realization as he got older than his parents kept the woman who raised him and his siblings as a slave is heart-breaking. Lola’s story is not unique and it needs to be told. (In a sad addendum, Tizon died suddenly on March 23, 2017 at the age of 57.)

Mom would come home and upbraid Lola for not cleaning the house well enough or for forgetting to bring in the mail. “Didn’t I tell you I want the letters here when I come home?” she would say in Tagalog, her voice venomous. “It’s not hard naman! An idiot could remember.” Then my father would arrive and take his turn. When Dad raised his voice, everyone in the house shrank. Sometimes my parents would team up until Lola broke down crying, almost as though that was their goal.

It confused me: My parents were good to my siblings and me, and we loved them. But they’d be affectionate to us kids one moment and vile to Lola the next. I was 11 or 12 when I began to see Lola’s situation clearly. By then Arthur, eight years my senior, had been seething for a long time. He was the one who introduced the word slave into my understanding of what Lola was. Before he said it I’d thought of her as just an unfortunate member of the household. I hated when my parents yelled at her, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they—and the whole arrangement—could be immoral.

“Do you know anybody treated the way she’s treated?,” Arthur said. “Who lives the way she lives?” He summed up Lola’s reality: Wasn’t paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters. (Her designated place to sleep in each house we lived in was always whatever was left—a couch or storage area or corner in my sisters’ bedroom. She often slept among piles of laundry.)

 

This is an open thread.

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Over the weekend I edited a short fundraising video for organizations that help victims of human trafficking. These are all religious institutions and the women interviewed were all nuns. One from NYC, one from London, and one from Mombasa, Kenya.

Human trafficking is the 2nd largest crime industry in the world, only behind drug trafficking. It generates hundreds of billions of dollars in profit – at the expense of human lives. And it is also the fastest growing “industry” in the world today. In 2012 it was estimated that as many as 20.9 million people around the world were victims of human trafficking. Imagine what those numbers are in 2017. Human trafficking includes sexual exploitation (including sexual slavery), forced labor, organ harvesting. The International Labour Organization (a United Nations agency) last compiled their statistics in 2012. Some excerpts:

90% are forced to labor for private economies or corporations

22% are in forced sexual exploitation

55% are women and girls & 45% are men and boys

26% are under the age of 18

Sister Jane Kimathi, from Mombasa, speaks of victims as young as 4 years old, forced into prostitution. Many, she says, come to their safe houses unable to speak because of the trauma. Some stay with the Sisters for as long as two years, as they try to rehabilitate them and find new homes. While their order is Catholic, they welcome all victims and their prayer room is nondenominational. She mentioned that Mombasa is a popular tourist destination. But the “tourist destination” designation is people who come there specifically searching for young children to abuse. Because of the many conflicts in Africa, the number of refugees spikes the numbers of slaves. They are people looking for ways to support their families. Nobody is looking for glamour or prestige in the sex trade, Sister Kimathi says. “It’s poverty and desperation.” Some of the children were sold by their parents into slavery. Some are orphans and some are runaways who were promised happiness by relatives, who then exploited them.

It’s a story the Sister from New York, Joan Dawber, picks up on. Sister Joan runs safe houses in Queens. She described one woman’s story: She came to New York to be a student, sponsored byp1562069350-3 an extended family. When she arrived, the family forced her to become their slave. She never attended school. She was forced to take care of the family, including raising their young children. She was forced to eat off the floor. Not just having her plate on the floor, she didn’t have a plate. Whatever food she was allowed to eat was put on the floor. If she was hungry and snuck any food out of the fridge, she was punished. She was her family’s slave in Queens, NY for five years. Her salvation came in the form of a neighbor who suspected something odd based on the young woman’s behavior in public. She tried to speak to her repeatedly, ask her how she is, only to have the young woman run away. Eventually the neighbor gave the woman a cell phone with pre-programmed numbers for the police and safe shelters. The young woman finally found courage to escape, using the cell phone to call for help. She has since finished school and lives in New York.

Sister Dawber points out that human trafficking exists in every state of the USA. It is not an issue that only happens out there somewhere. It exists all around us. It could be the waitress in a restaurant, or a manicurist at the nail salon. They could be of any age and any race. It can be almost impossible to know that this person ringing up our groceries is indentured to someone.

Sister Lynda Dearlove runs a safe house in London. Their organization primarily helps prostitutes. The interesting thing is that their mission isn’t strictly to “rescue” the women from prostitution. It is to offer them a safe home and counseling when in need. Many only come to sister-lynda-dearlovespend the night, take a shower and eat. Some then return to the streets. The Sisters there never force anyone to stay. Many women have been coming to them for years for a night or two of peace. The Sisters hope that by offering women a shelter and offering them counseling they can help them enable themselves. Sister Dearlove passionately says that the can not force anyone to do anything. The best they can do is show the women that there is hope and they need to find it for themselves. Maybe not today, but possibly tomorrow. “They are valued and they are loved, and if anything happens to them we want them to know that we will miss them.” She says that people blame women for becoming prostitutes and that it is one of the biggest challenges we as a society face: The need to understand that if any of these women choose prostitution it is only because they are fleeing abuse, or drugs, or so many other possible traumas. Many are trying to support families and stay alive. They must never be judged or condemned, she says. They must be offered hope.

Note: Sister Dearlove was appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind fellow Widdershins?

Courtesy of Gawker, 11/2008

During the 2008 campaign, we all had to endure the ludicrous spectacle of Barack Obama claiming to be every revered past President in the canon. His claim to be Lincoln was perhaps the most persistent; after all, he is from Illinois and was a Senator, just like Abe. And, since he is African-American, the idea that his Presidency would help “free” black Americans to believe that they, too, could become President one day, seemed to lend the idea more resonance.

Well, if Obama is Lincoln, why doesn’t he free the 21st-Century slaves?

It is a comfortable myth that slavery in America ended with the Civil War. Human trafficking is what it’s called today, and it persists. But since it’s “only” wimminz who are the victims, no one appears to notice. In fact, surprise surprise! They aren’t considered slaves in many cases…and they are often blamed for their horrible situations. Can you imagine if the prevailing narrative about slavery was that the Africans were to blame for it? This is what Americans tend to think about the sex slaves they see on the street.

…Teenage girls on American streets may appear to be selling sex voluntarily, but they’re often utterly controlled by violent pimps who take every penny they earn.

From johns to judges, Americans often suffer from a profound misunderstanding of how teenage prostitution actually works — and fail to appreciate that it’s one of our country’s biggest human rights problems. Fortunately, a terrific new book called “Girls Like Us,” by Rachel Lloyd, herself a trafficking survivor, illuminates the complexities of the sex industry.

(snip)

Americans often think that “trafficking” is about Mexican or Korean or Russian women smuggled into brothels in the United States. That happens. But in my years and years of reporting, I’ve found that the biggest trafficking problem involves homegrown American runaways.

Typically, she’s a 13-year-old girl of color from a troubled home who is on bad terms with her mother. Then her mom’s boyfriend hits on her, and she runs away to the bus station, where the only person on the lookout for girls like her is a pimp. He buys her dinner, gives her a place to stay and next thing she knows she’s earning him $1,500 a day.

Lloyd guides us through this world in an unsentimental way that rings pitch perfect with my own reporting. Above all, Lloyd always underscores that these girls aren’t criminals but victims, and she alternately oozes compassion and outrage. One girl she worked with was Nicolette, a 12-year-old in New York City who had a broken rib and burns from a hot iron, presumably from her pimp. Yet Nicolette was convicted of prostitution and sent to a juvenile detention center for a year to learn “moral principles.”

Our system has failed girls like her. The police and prosecutors should focus less on punishing 12-year-old girls and more on their pimps — and, yes, their johns. I hope that Lloyd’s important and compelling book will be a reminder that homegrown American girls are also trafficked, and they deserve sympathy and social services — not handcuffs and juvenile detention.

Read the rest of this entry »


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