Monday, March 26, 2012

Advocacy Workshop, Tyson's Corner, VA

International Justice Mission (IJM) is holding an advocacy workshop on April 15 in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. The purpose of the event is to "to connect with other activists from your home state, and learn how to turn your elected Members of Congress into anti-trafficking champions".  The cost is only $10, so if you're anywhere nearby or feel like taking a trip to the beautiful State of Virginia, then this would be an awesome opportunity.  In my opinion IJM is one of the best anti-trafficking organizations worldwide, and any chance to learn from them is a chance well taken.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Victory for California!

We had 5 months to get 800,000 signatures to get the CASE Act measure on the 2012 ballot...

Chris Kelly and Daphne Phung of California Against Slavery
display the total number of signatures collected - 873,000!
...and how we got there!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prevention: Big Brothers Big Sisters

One of the things I want to stress on this blog is ways the average person can be involved in the preventative aspect of human trafficking.  As Ben Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  With that in mind, this post will be highlighting the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
BBBS is a non-profit organization that seeks to pair adult mentors with children who need them. Their general focus is children living in higher risk situations, such as single-parent homes or children of incarcerated parents. The program seems to be quite successful at building confidence in kids.  As noted on their website:

Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to those children not in our program, were:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school
  • 37% less likely to skip a class
  • 33% less likely to hit someone

So what does this have to do with the prevention of sex-trafficking of minors?  Well, the most at-risk kids in the United States are those living in less-stable home environments.  Children who have less stability are more likely to run away or be lured in by someone pretending to offer love but who are really intent on using them.  Having a stable, loving, trusted adult in a child's life may be the things that keeps him or her from running away; and even if they do run away or get caught in some form of trafficking, the knowledge that there is a stable, loving, trusted adult still waiting for back home can help bring about restoration.

With that in mind, I interviewed one of my bloggy friends, A.C., who has been doing BBBS for 5 years.  Here's a sample of her experience, in case you're thinking of becoming a Big.  Enjoy!

R.A.: How long have you been involved with BBBS?
A.C.: I have been involved with BBBS since March of 2007. My little and I met and became officially matched on March 5 - so tomorrow marks our 5-year "anniversary"!

R.A.: Have you always had the same Little Sister?
A.C.:I have always had the same little. After I went through the application and screening processes, I was given files for two young girls. In a way it was a tough decision... but not too tough. On paper, the other little girl was a "better" fit - an easier fit. We had more things in common and it seemed like she maybe had a less complicated home life. Still, I knew Amber was the one and in less than 20 minutes I told the case manager my decision. I met her in person the next week and the rest is history. =)

R.A.: Have you volunteered with the organization in ways other than being a Big Sister?
A.C.: I served as a board member for BBBS from July 2007 - January 2012. The past two years I served as secretary and finally as Vice President. I also served on various committees and event planning teams.

.:I always knew I wanted a lasting match but it's sort of unreal that we've made it this far:.

R.A.: What made you first want to do the Big Brothers Big Sisters program?
A.C.: I think I first got the idea in college. I'm an only child and thought it would be cool to be a big sister. I didn't get involved in college because I knew I wanted a lasting match and I wouldn't be able to provide that during that time. So once I got married and settled I e-mailed the director for more information. I was a little nervous about the whole thing but once she explained the great need of our community, (there's always kids on a list waiting for Bigs) I knew I had to get involved.

R.A.: Were you nervous when you first started mentoring Amber?
A.C.: I was absolutely nervous. Amber was a third grader at the time and I didn't have a whole lot of experience with kids. She didn't talk to me much at all so getting to know her was difficult. I thought maybe I wasn't cut out for it or that we weren't a good fit. I struggled to think of things to do.

R.A.: In what ways has being a Big Sister met or matched your expectations of what it would be like?
A.C.: I think in the most basic ways it's met my expectations. We hang out, I buy her a Christmas gift, I help her with her homework, we go to the movies... I'm not sure I thought much past that.

R.A.: In what ways has it differed?
A.C.: To be honest, I guess I didn't really know what to expect. Our relationship has kind of blown my mind. The fact that we are still matched amazes me. I always knew I wanted a lasting match but it's sort of unreal that we've made it this far. I think at first, I spent my time on one of two ends of the spectrum. 1) This is great! Everything is rainbows, puppies, and chocolate chip cookies!! or 2) This is so hard - what was I thinking? In reality, like with most things, we fall in the middle of that line. We've had some pretty rough times and some pretty stinkin' awesome times. Just like with every other relationship I've ever had now that I think about it! =)

R.A.: What sorts of things do you do with Amber?
A.C.:When she was younger, we did a lot of arts/crafts-type things and I'd read to her quite a bit.  We've gone swimming, walked my dog, went to movies, had a slumber party, went shopping, made dinner together, baked cookies, I help her with her homework some, rented movies, painted our nails, gone out to eat, play games, etc... but honestly - what we normally do is just hang out and chat... especially now that's she's older. She opens up a lot more to me now and we don't feel the need to constantly be doing something. She feels totally comfortable at my house and makes herself right at home. =)

R.A.: Do you interact much with her family or her teachers?  What is your role in helping her at school?
A.C.: I work at the school district where she attends so it's a slightly different situation that what other Bigs might go through. I don't communicate a whole lot with her teachers but have on occasion in the past. I know and am facebook friends with several of her family members. They are very supportive of our match and seem to be genuinely appreciative of the time I spend with her. As far as school help - I mostly just help her with homework on an as-needed-basis. I've told her plenty of times that if she ever needs help with a bigger project, etc... to let me know.

.:Since we've been matched, Amber has gone from failing to all A's and B's and is currently a nominee for our city's outstanding student of the year award:.

R.A.: How have you grown through being a Big Sister?
A.C.: I've grown in a number ways since the beginning of our match. My relationship with Amber has helped me get an inside look at other family dynamics and I can better understand situations that are different from mine now. She has taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I'm sure I'll pull from when I have kids of my own - I definitely feel a bit more prepared (and a bit more scared, ha!) for those pre-teen years. I've experienced a lot of pride as well as the upset that comes with loving someone, seeing a need, but feeling completely helpless. 

R.A.: How have you seen Amber grow since you began mentoring her?
A.C.: Where do I start!? =) When I first met Amber, she was shy, did not open up easily, when she did talk it was always about someone else and not herself, she lacked manners, confidence, self worth and really struggled with school and respecting authority. Now don't get me wrong, she wasn't a bad kid - she just had some challenges ahead of her. Since we've been matched, Amber has gone from failing to all A's and B's and is currently a nominee for our city's outstanding student of the year award. This is HUGE! Five years ago I never would have imagined. She gets along with her teachers and her parents more (as much as a 14-year old gets along with their parents, haha!) and has friends. She has a good head on her shoulders and is doing much better when it comes to respecting others. She values herself and has much more self confidence. She takes care of herself and smiles all the time. =) I certainly don't take credit for these things but I've loved seeing the changes.

R.A.: Would you/Will you do it again?
A.C.: I would definitely consider being a Big again. In BBBS, you can be officially matched with a child until they are 18 years old. As long as Amber is interested in being matched and as long as our situations allow us to be - I plan to be her Big until she graduates high school. That's crazy for me to think about! I'm sure we'll always keep in touch and have a relationship even after that. Once our match is complete - I don't know... I'll probably take a break for a while and then I think we might consider doing a couple or family match later on.

R.A.: What is the best part about being a Big Sister?
A.C.: Getting to know a great kid is the best part I think. We have different interests, different beliefs... but we can respect each other and be better people for having known each other. That's pretty cool! =)

R.A.: And now for some logisctical questions for those considering becoming a Big.  What is the weekly time commitment like? Monthly? Annual? Long-term?
A.C.: We started out seeing each other for 2-4 hours (usually 2) once a week. That's what is asked of you as a community match. There's an in-school program too that only requires 30-minutes per week. Last summer we started doing every other week. My schedule had gotten more hectic and Amber's getting older. I feel like that's been a positive because it's more like we're friends hanging out... not quite so scheduled and forced. She seems to have responded well to it. Sometimes we may only get an hour one week - maybe just long enough to chat over some ice cream. When that happens, I try to make up for it by spending half a day with her the next weekend or something.

R.A.: Is there any sort of financial commitment?
A.C.: No, there are no fees and in fact - you're encouraged to spend very little on your match. The focus is on spending quality time together and building a relationship. With that being said, I do buy Amber gifts (nothing extravagant but gifts none-the-less) and we go see movies every now and then, and get a coke or dinner together. Oh - and I guess I pay to have a stash of pencils at the house for homework nights!

RA.: The application process for any new venture can be intimidating. What can a person expect when applying to be a Big?
A.C.: The application process was thorough but simple. I filled out a few pages of paperwork (basic info about myself, what my interests are, what type of match I was interested in/preferred, what types of littles and/or situations I would NOT be comfortable with, etc...) They ran a background check on me and once I was cleared, I had a home visit. This wasn't the type of home visit you think of SRS doing... she didn't look around my house or anything... just wanted to see where I lived, meet who lived there with me, and ask me several questions about me and how I might respond in certain situations. I was nervous about that part but it was actually very laid back and I can certainly see how the questions help them make the best matches and placements. Also, I think it's important to note that when I first met my little - a case manager came with me to help facilitate the meeting and serve as a buffer. I think that's very helpful and kind of helps to take the pressure out. Basically - the process is thorough so there is some work and a time commitment involved but all-in-all, it's not bad, it's definitely nothing to be anxious about, and it's totally worth it! =)

.:It's not what you do - it's that you spend time together:.

R.A.: What would you say to someone considering becoming a BBBS mentor?
A.C.: I say go for it - but only if you are willing to commit. So many of these kids have people in and out of their lives all the time. They need stability! I can't emphasize enough how simple it is though. People tell me how nervous they are about thinking of things to do - because they're not creative, etc... don't worry about that! Kids are creative and they will help you find things to do! =) Like I said earlier, we rarely do anything exciting, expensive, or creative for that matter. It's not what you do - it's that you spend time together. Sometimes the "magic" happens when you're not doing anything - just sitting at a table together. We've shared so many laughs over a coke (Mountain Dew for her) at my kitchen table. It really is THAT easy.

If you would like to volunteer with BBBS please visit their website!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Great Saint Nick

Hopefully you got more than just coal from Santa Claus this Christmas!  I got some pretty sweet stuff myself, including a 12 pack of razor blades (it's amazing how our Christmas wishes change with age and necessity). But my favorite Christmas present this year was the Attorney General of California approving the wording of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act ballot initiative on Christmas Eve!  That means that registered California voters can begin collecting signatures to get the initiative on the 2012 ballot.  If you live in California and are interested in helping or signing, click here.

Christmas is a really special time for CAS' little victory, due to one of our best known Christmas figures, Saint Nicolas.   The real man was Nikolaos of Myra, a Greek bishop who lived in the 200s. (Yep - 200s!  And Greek! Somehow I always pictured him in some 17th century German town).  He was renowned for caring for the poor, and one story says that a certain man became very poor and was going to sell his daughters into prostitution.  In order to avert this horrible destiny, Nikolaos threw a bag of gold in through the family's window one night.  Thus the girls were spared, and good ol' Saint Nick became one of the first men in recorded history to save girls out of sex trafficking.  Pretty crazy, huh?  But pretty darn awesome.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Hope your Christmas was wonderful and I look forward to moving into a more just New Year with you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Good Thing About Sex Trafficking

There is a story* about a Holocaust survivor named Corrie ten Boom.  The story goes like this: Corrie and her sister Betsie were in the Ravensbruck concentration camp together.  The concentration camps were cold, harsh, dirty places, and this particular one was plagued with fleas.  The ten Booms were Christians and one day they were praying when Betsie prayed, "Lord, thank you for the fleas."  Corrie would have none of it, "I will pray," she said, "But I can never be grateful for the fleas.  I won't pray that."  Some time later one of the sisters, both of whom had been in a different concentration camp prior to their stay at Ravensbruck, asked why the guards here didn't bother them when they were in their shared living/sleeping quarters - the prisoners even had the freedom to have a Bible study with how little they were harassed.  The response to ten Boom's question: "They don't bother us because they don't like the fleas." So...there was a reason to be grateful for the fleas after all!

As Betsie felt about the fleas, so I feel about sex trafficking.  The truth is, commercial sexual exploitation of girls has taken place forever, only it's always been called "prostitution".  Many, many, many older prostitutes will tell you that they were coerced into it when they were still underage; in the world of Sex for Sale, it is rare that a woman decides on her own and in a position of strength to sell her body.**  Because of the stigma that follows prostitution, many people of my generation have been duped into thinking that prostitution should be legalized*** as a form of empowerment to women because it "gives women the right to do what they want with their bodies".

Empowerment?  Are you kidding me?  When did buying into group think become so important to you that you stopped using the brain in your head?  Prostitution doesn't give women power over their own bodies - there's still a system of pimps and madames and men who hire these ladies because they want to abuse something.  How is that empowerment?

This is why I am grateful for "sex trafficking".  I am grateful that the monstrosity of kids being sold for sex has become a hot-button issue in pop culture, that it has a title and a growing system of laws against it.  I am grateful because it is slowly (so slowly it hurts sometimes!) shifting our societal view of "prostitution".  Slowly, slowly people are beginning to realize that "prostitution" most often begins as trafficking. "Sex trafficking" helps both conservative and liberal people see "prostitutes" in a new light.  A prostitute is not the nasty little whore who lived down the street and was always "asking for it"; nor is she the sexually liberated woman who knows her own mind and gets what she wants.  More often than not she is the victimized girl who needs a chance to get out of her situation and become a truly empowered, healthy, and free human being.  So...I am grateful for "sex trafficking" because it is changing the way we think of "prostitutes". 


*This story can be read in Corrie ten Boom's book The Hiding Place.
**I hate not having statistics or something to cite here, but this is information I've just gleaned over the years I've been informed about sex trafficking.  Once you start reading things about commercial sexual exploitation you begin to understand how prostitution is synonymous (and always has been) with trafficking underaged girls.
***I am for the legalization of prostitution if it looks as it does in Sweden!