Monday, October 31, 2011

U.S. Tour

U.S. for Abolition will be hitting the road in summer 2012 to do a video documentary of the work of abolition all the way across the U.S.  Please keep updated on how to support the trip and email any suggestions of places or people you'd like to see interviewed:

Restoration: Volunteer

A lot of anti-trafficking organizations involved in the restorative end of the movement are just small, non-profit recovery homes that don't have large budgets.  Places like this can always use volunteers.  Be prepared though: when you offer your services you may not always be working directly with the children or women in the home.  It is just as likely they will have you answering telephones, sorting through clothing donations, or cleaning the toilets.  The thing about abolition work is that you need to be willing to work where you're needed.  Romantic fantasies about rescuing kids, mentoring them back to emotional health, then releasing them back into the wild are all well and good, but they are not reality. Even the counselor sitting across the table from a rescued girl or boy is as likely to see him or her choose to go back to an abusive lifestyle as to move forward in healing.  We can only offer ourselves, we cannot guarantee that our offerings will be accepted.  So.  If you call the local women's shelter and they say they have enough people working with the ladies but that they need someone to put stamps on their bulk mailing once a month - do it.  It may not be glamorous, but it's important. Places that directly deal with people who've been trafficked and where you can volunteer:
  1. Recovery homes for rescued victims
  2. Abused women's shelters
  3. Homeless shelters
  4. Prison or juvenile detention ministries

Restoration: TIP Training

TIP stands for Trafficking in Persons.  As mentioned in my post on rescue work, us ordinary laypeople should never try to rescue trafficked victims by ourselves.  Instead, we need to call the proper authorities* and let them handle it.  That said, many anti-trafficking organizations offer TIP training, which prepares you to know a trafficking situation when you see one.  If you would like to attend a TIP training in your area, please visit the links page and contact anti-trafficking organizations in your state to find out where and when the next one is being held.  Please note that not all organizations will refer to it as TIP.

*If you see something that appears to be a trafficking situation, please call 1.888.3737.888 and report it.

Restoration: Rescue Work

The first time you heard about trafficking didn't you just want to go straight to the streets of the nearest big city and rescue kids from their pimps?  Yeah...I would fall asleep at night thinking about kicking gangsta tail.  But don't do it.  Just...don't.

Rescue work is dangerous.  While we do still have unjust laws regarding human trafficking, things are getting better and the police force is slowly beginning to understand the problem.  If you see an instance of what appears to be human trafficking, do not confront the supposed trafficker on your own.  Observe what's going on and get as much information as possible: make, model, and license plate of any car being used by the potential trafficker, approximate age, race, height, and build of the traffickers and victims, along with any apparent johns.  Then call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.3737.888.  Describe to them what you see and hear and they will tell you what steps to take next.  Remember that traffickers do not work alone - going up against a guy who looks like a pimp is a serious issue, because that guy has 10 more guys behind him.  If you try to take him out yourself you're liable to end up hospitalized or dead.  Call the authorities; do not - DO NOT - try to handle it yourself.

If you like the thrill of the chase and putting yourself in situations where you could end up dead, then consider joining the police force where you can be on the front lines of this kind of work.  Also get in contact with your state or county Human Trafficking Task Force and find out what you can do to be more actively involved in rescue missions.  But do not, do not, do not try to go out there yourself and do it alone.   The best way for you to be involved in rescuing trafficked kids is to memorize the National Hotline (again, 1.888.3737.888) and be willing to use it if you ever see a potential instance of human trafficking.

Preparation: Discuss

While I was initially frustrated at the word "awareness" that I kept running into when I first learned of human trafficking, I have since realized its important place in abolition.  There are still so many people who don't know about the problem who would otherwise be doing something to help stop it.  So as you begin to think about anti-trafficking work, start discussing the problem with your friends and family.  Find information and pass it along.  Brainstorm with friends who care about the issue and come up with ideas on how you can get involved in your community.  Link this or other informative websites to your facebook or blog in order to help spread the word. The more you talk about it the more ideas will begin to formulate and the more you'll begin to understand where you fit into the puzzle.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Preparation, Prevention, Restoration: Pray

(Note: if you're non-religious the things I say here may not mean much to you.  But please be kind about it!)

As a Christian, I believe prayer is the most important thing any of us can do ever.  It is in prayer we find peace, though the world rage around us.  It is in prayer we find direction when there are 100 voices telling us what to do.  And it is in prayer that we find a Loving Parent who listens, who loves, and who acts accordingly.  I believe that the work of abolition is ultimately God's.  We are called to contribute where we can, but as Jesus says, "Ask the Lord of the field to send workers into the field..."  We cannot do any of this on our own strength.  We need to ask God to go before us, to change minds, open hearts, break the locks off doors and the chains off feet.  We petition God and He prepares the way.  If you are religious and are interested in abolition work but are not praying about it...then how interested are you in it, really?  Do you believe God is bigger?  If you believe this, then you will be praying about the issue of human trafficking.  Prayer needs to be part of our process from beginning to end - from the time we first start thinking about human trafficking to the moment we're sitting across from a child who's just described the first time he or she was gang-raped.  Prayer prepares our hearts to handle the heaviness we're going to face as we learn more about what really goes on in trafficking circles.  Prayer sustains us when we're in the thick of it.  And prayer restores us when we've reached our own beds again at night, weary beyond words from the battle we've just fought.   Pray, pray, pray.  Prayer is our doorway to peace.

If you haven't had much experience praying, here are a few good books on the subject:

Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer
Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Preparation: Examine Yourself

Examining yourself is a big issue.  We all have false motivators that we need to work through in order to be healthy people.  Our actions may unwittingly be driven by a need to feel important and loved, motivators that will only hurt us and those around us in the end.  My suggestion is that before you jump into abolition work you take some time - a week, a month, half a year, whatever it takes - to examine yourself.  Journal.  Be real with yourself about your addictions and motivators.  Ask trusted love ones the hard questions like, how do I handle criticism? What are my strengths?  What are my weaknesses?, and be willing to hear the answers. Get a therapist.  Get a mentor.  Get a spiritual director.  You can't successfully go into this type of work unless you've already dealt with the crap in your own heart.  This is a life-long process, but we can find a lot of freedom and healing even if we're not perfect.  Here's a few things you may want to consider while examining yourself:

The Messiah Complex
I'm speaking from experience on this one.  I tend to be the vigilante-save-the-world-leap-first-look-later type.  I want everything to be right, I want everything to be healthy, I want everyone to be happy.  But there are a few things you need to know going into it: you can't save everyone.  Today a child caught in sex trafficking died.  You and I will never know the child's name.  You and I will never know the child's story.  This is the reality.  We're fighting a battle that is not yet won and there will be a lot more casualties before it's over.   So pray about it, do some journaling, tell yourself that you can't save everyone and that's okay, and try to live in the reality that doing your part is enough.  I've come to have peace about this.  You may or may not be religious, but for me it really helps to know that God knows.  God knows.  It's also helpful to look at your motivators: why do you need to save everything?  In trying to save the world, what are you trying to save in yourself?

Sex Addiction
What is it?  Porn?  Constant masturbation?  A string of significant others used for your own sexual gratification?  We live in an era that doesn't consider this type of behavior wrong.  But the truth is, an addiction is an addiction.  It doesn't matter if it's drugs, anime, or alcohol - if you're being driven to it as some form of escapism, chances are it owns you.  Do a simple Google search on "addiction" and you'll find that addictive behavior alters your brain pathways.  That is, when you start turning to something as a stress reliever it begins to alter the pleasure pathways of your brain, habituating you to that action and creating a need.  When you try to break the addiction - whether it's a substance or a habit - you become irritable, restless, and absent-minded, thinking almost constantly of the thing you can't have.  In my mind one of the big issues about a sex addiction in particular, as opposed to alcohol or something, is that it begins wearing down your respect for humanity.  If you're engaging in porn or using people for your own sexual pleasure you're objectifying them.  This, in fact, is the very thing traffickers do to their victims, objectify them.  So if you want to get involved in the fight but yourself are a sex addict, you have some mindshifting of your own to do first.   Get help.   It's imperative before you get involved in anti-trafficking work, because the temptations are everywhere.   You don't want to become a john while you're trying to stop them.

Other Addictions
As stated above, research shows that addictive behaviors can create pleasure pathways in the brain, developing in us a need to continue that particular behavior.  When trying to break a habit or addiction a person often becomes irritable, irrational, and reactive.  Addiction just isn't good for you.  My belief is that the worst part about addiction is that it's reactionary: you are turning toward something for a reason.  Addiction is a form of escapism: I feel better about myself if I drink, when I'm full of self-hatred eating makes me feel better, etc.  If you're living out of addiction, you're not healthy.  I think every person is looking for peace, but continuing in your addiction is not going to produce it.  So as you examine yourself look for places where you might have unwittingly developed an addiction.  Work through it.  Get a counselor, talk to a trusted friend.  It may feel like a long road sometimes, but you can overcome.

Prior Responsibilities
Don't go divorcing your husband and leaving your 3 children at home so you can move to Thailand to work with trafficked girls.  Look realistically at your life stage.  Are you finishing college?  Are you over your head in debt?  Do you have kids at home that need tending to?  As I hope you find out on this blog, there are many ways to get involved in anti-trafficking work and not all of them require that you sell your firstborn child to do so.  Something as simple as mentoring a child through Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a substantial contribution to the cause, and it doesn't ask that much of your time or financial investment.  So look at your life, be honest about what you can take on at this stage knowing that it may change down the road, and move forward in it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mainstays: Shop for the Cause

There are an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide, 21% of those being coerced into forced labor.  With everything from chocolate to cotton being affected by the illegal slave trade, nearly everyone who reads this page will have handled or purchased something that was made by a modern-day slave.  Many anti-trafficking organizations are combining aftercare for victims with production of goods in order to give survivors of both sex-trafficking and forced labor a means of sustainable income, else they're liable to fall back into slavery again.  Humanitarian organizations also provide industry for low-income areas that are at risk for trafficking.  So how you spend your money can help in both prevention and restoration.  Essentially, how you spend your money matters!

Places to Shop On-line

Miscellany (bags, jewelry, home decor, etc.)
Beauty Care Products
Food & Drink

    Note: Though this list is extensive, it is by no means comprehensive.  If you know of other organizations working to provide fair trade commerce, please email me at

    Prevention and Restoration: Careers

    As there can be a lot of crossover between the preventative side and the restorative side of abolition, I have combined the posts into one.  First note that for a lot of these careers you'll need further education. While God can and does use uneducated people, working with people who have experienced extreme trauma, like trafficking victims, usually requires special training. Here are some ideas of which training or degrees to pursue if you want to go further:

    • As a social worker you might work in the court system, with a non-profit, in the hospitals and schools, overseas, and have many other doors opened to you that would not otherwise be available. As an MSW you can also be certified in therapy so in the end it's like an MFT plus plus plus. As a social worker you can be involved in either the preventative or the restorative end of abolition; working with foster-care kids you'll encounter a variety of life stories and backgrounds.  In my non-expert, unprofessional opinion, an MSW is like gold in the fight against human trafficking. 
    • An MFT is a Master's degree in marriage and family counseling.  This is mainly helpful on the preventative side because the children most at-risk for being trafficked in the U.S. are abused children, those in the foster care system, and runaways.  
    • I don't know a ton about psychology, but I do believe you can have emphasis in different fields of psychology that will prepare you to specifically work with trafficked victims.   If it's something you've always been interested in anyway, then it's worth doing some research on.
    • I'm not a huge fan of pills and modern medicine (What did you say the side effects of that medication were?  And you still want me to take it??), however, if a person has been trafficked he or she may have acquired some chemical and mental imbalances due to emotional trauma, physical trauma, and/or forced substance abuse.  As a license psychologist you would be able to provide medical help for the whole-person-healing of a trafficked victim.
    • In my unprofessional, non-medical-person opinion, endocrinology is one of the most important medical fields in dealing with trauma victims.  Stress puts a lot of pressure on our endocrine system (our hormone regulating system, like our thyroid), and too much stress can make it begin to fail.  This is why stressed people begin to lose their hair or gain weight, etc., because their hormones are no longer balanced since their endocrine system cannot handle the stress.  A thyroid specialist I once spoke with said that 80% of the women who came to him on anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication had been misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist and actually had a thyroid imbalance.  I have personal friends and family who have had direct experience with this type of situation.  So considering the level of stress a trafficked victim has gone through, it is my belief that the field of endocrinology could be extremely helpful in restoring them to not just physical, but also emotional (hormonal) health. 
    The Medical Field
    • Aside from psychiatry and endocrinology, other areas of the medical field can be beneficial to trafficked victims also.  Just use imagination!  A girl who has been trafficked for 5 years and was forced into drug usage probably has some dental issues she needs dealt with.  A boy trafficked for sex is gonna need good proctologist.  And E.R. doctors and nurses can be on the front lines of reporting incidents of human trafficking when prostitutes are brought in for various reasons.   The possibilities are endless - if your parents have always pushed you to go to med school, maybe it's time you started listening to their advice. 
    Judiciary System
    • Straight up, our laws on human trafficking are not strong enough.  Though there are federal laws against human trafficking, most states prosecute under state law, which is often weaker than its federal counterpart.  In fact, there are 4 states in the U.S. that don't even have anti-trafficking laws in place.  We need lawmakers - lawyers and judges and governors and lobbysists - who will work toward more stringent laws for perpetrators and more lenient laws for victims.  Another need we have in the judiciary system is judges who understand the realities of human trafficking who will send prostitutes to recovery centers rather than to prison and give traffickers the harshest sentencing possible in order to keep them off the streets.   Though we try, our legal system is far from perfect.  Uncle Sam needs YOU to help make it better!
    • We all know who the PoPo are and generally have varying levels of fear, respect, or dislike for them.  No matter what your feelings toward the police may be, we need more people educated on the realities of human trafficking to sign up for the force.  In my opinion, two of the biggest issues that keep trafficking in place are piss poor laws and a police force uneducated on the realities of modern-day slavery.  The problem lies in our mentality: prostitutes are dirty girls doing a dirty job who need to be taken off the streets.  Reality: most prostitutes were lured into the trade when they were still underage by a pimp who threatened them, beat them, and tried to kill them if they tried to run away.  Though I don't have any link or stat to throw up here, I have heard countless stories about prostitutes being arrested over and over while their pimp sat in a car 10-feet away.  Why didn't he get arrested?  Why is it always the prostitute?  We need police on the force who are going to arrest the pimp and get the prostitute to a recovery home.
    Your Job
    • What is it you do?  Accounting?  Data entry?  Construction?  To fight human trafficking we need people with ALL types of skills.  The person crunching the numbers at IJM is just as important as the field worker rescuing kids out of sex work.  Ministry cannot run without logistics, so rather than running off and obtaining a new degree so that you can work in abolition, first take a look at your own skills and think about how they can be plugged into what is already going on.  If there's a particular organization you're interested in, ask what their needs are and see where you fit.

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Prevention: Education

    Woops!  Sorry guys, this page is still under construction.  I didn't realize I hadn't completed it before launching the blog.  I'll get to it as soon as possible!

    Education (kids and parents so they can provide for themselves [look for links like vocational training, tutoring, language acquisition, etc.)

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Prevention: Equality Training

    The simple truth: end demand, end supply.  The one and only reason that sex-trafficking exists is because some men like the idea of having sex with a prostitute or with a young child.  As long as this entitlement-based mentality is out there, there will be children who are victims of sexual abuse and potentially sex-trafficking.  While most men you know are probably not out looking for a 13-year-old to sleep with, there is still a rather too-prevalent idea that women are asking for it.  One friend of mine once commented about the Roman Polansky case that the 13-year-old girl Polansky molested had probably seduced him.  Say what?!  Women aren't "asking for it"!  If the "good" men around us are living in the mentality that an abused woman "wants" to be used sexually, what hope have we for the "bad" men?  Let's work on stopping this mentality here, now, with us and then take our message to the broader world:

    1. CAASE: A Chicago-based organization that "offers a curriculum for high school boys to help them end sexual exploitation in their own lives."  Unhealthy gender stereotypes and abuse begin at an early age and need to be addressed at an early age. The classroom is an excellent place in which to do this.
    2. A Call to Men: A male-led organization that "through seminars, workshops and other educational vehicles, A Call to Men  challenges men to reconsider their long held beliefs about women, in an effort to create a more just society. We achieve this by encouraging change in the behaviors of men through a re-education and training process that promotes healthy manhood."
    3. Triple X Church: This organization seeks to help men and women out of their pornography addictions.  While we live in a generation that unabashedly defends porn, there is an undeniable link between porn and sexual violence.  Porn gives a person a sense of entitlement: "I deserve to get whatever I want sexually."  Porn distances us from healthy sexuality: "I get to use people for my own pleasure."  Porn keeps women in bondage: "A woman is an object that exists solely for the sexual satisfaction of men and should, therefore, do whatever is asked of her sexually." Let's educate ourselves on the realities of porn, stop using it, and help others out of their addictions also. 
    4. The Pink Cross: another anti-pornography organization seeking to change our beliefs and attitudes toward the problem. 
    5. Christians for Biblical Equality: even within the church men sexually abuse women.  They use pornography, they hire prostitutes, they molest their kids. The only reason a person feels okay abusing another human being like this is because of a mentality.  CBE seeks to change the unhealthy thought-system we have about women and restore their equality as image-bearers of God and co-heirs of our inheritance in Christ.  Only when we have done this will sexual violence against women and children end. 

    Prevention: Sexual Abuse Awareness

    An estimated 1 in 4 children is sexually abused, a number  that is both staggering and heartbreaking. Children who have been sexually abused are the most at-risk for being trafficked.  Since most abusers are someone close to the child, many children are afraid to or unable to speak about it.  It is our responsibility as adults not just to look out for sexual abuse victims, but to create a safe place for children to talk about it.  There are two organizations I know of that you might volunteer with:
    1. Just Tell.  This organization encourages kids to speak up when they've been abused so they can get help and healing.
    2. A Quarter Blue.  AQB is an organization that goes into the classroom and talks to students about sexual abuse.  The goal is to help empower kids who have been abused by letting them know they are not alone and by providing a safe person to talk with about it.   

    Prevention: Youth Work

    Who invested in you when you were in jr. high?  High school?  I'm sure you still remember words they spoke over you and time they took just for you. When we reach our adolescent years it is highly important we have people other than our parents taking time out for us.  Parent-child communication is often falling apart at this stage in our lives and to have other, trusted adults pouring in to us can be the link that holds us to reality when the fantasies of the world seem so alluring.  This can be especially important for a child in a bad home situation.  It seems to me mentoring youth is one of the key elements in preventing sex-trafficking of minor, so if you're willing to invest your life in some kids around you, here are a few ideas:
    1. Youth Group.  If you go to church, you probably have a youth group.  Talk to the youth leader about what his or her volunteer needs are.  Ask what prayer needs they have and spend a few months in prayer over the group.  Then, when you're ready and the church has approved (most groups have some sort of application and background check process), jump in!  
    2. Boys and Girls Club. Volunteering with and mentoring potentially at-risk youth.
    3. Big Brother, Big Sister.  Volunteering with and mentoring potentially at-risk youth.
    4. CASA. Court Appointed Special Advocate.  This is a great way to work with foster kids without going through the pain of foster parenting. From the website: "Volunteers get to know the child by talking with everyone in that child's life; parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them."  Working with CASA you may just be the person who gets a child out of an abusive foster home or prevents him or her from going back to a dangerous biological one.
    5. Volunteer at your local jr. high or high school.
    6. Be a friend. As simplistic as it sounds, be a friend to your friends' children, your younger cousins, your nieces and nephews, etc.  Abuse happens everywhere, even in the lives of those you may be closest to.  Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to the kids around you and be a safe place they can come to if need be.

    Prevention: Foster Care and Adoption

    We've all heard the stats - in the United States the most likely victims of sex-trafficking are runaways and kids who've been pushed through the foster care system.  Though there is some debate about it, a simple Google search of "foster care and abuse" indicates that most studies show a higher rate of child abuse in foster homes than in the home of the biological family. A home environment, whether foster or biological, may be so bad that a child feels anything would be better than staying in the abusive situation.  In fact, one girl caught in the sex trade says that to this day she would choose the life of a trafficked victim over being in a foster home where "at any moment a man could walk in the room and start touching me and I had to call him dad." 

    For this reason, it is my strong belief that the best action step the Church can take in the prevention of sex-trafficking in the U.S. today is for strong families to become foster and adoptive families. After all, what is the central message of the Gospel?  Love.  What does love do?  Restores.  Reconciles.  Sacrifices.  Heals.  Comforts. Provides for.  Protects.  James reminds us that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..."  How are we doing, Church? 

    Of course I don't pretend fostering is easy, and if your spouse isn't on board (yet) then don't do it (yet, but you can pray for a heart happens).  Before you even think about fostering you need to examine yourself.  What are you hanging on to that needs to go?  What issues in your marriage need to be resolved before hosting a child?  My suggestion before you take steps toward adoption or fostering is seek out a personal and marriage therapist to work on things you've been unwilling to let go of or change.  You cannot help heal and restore ANYONE if you have not allowed God to work healing and restoration into your own life first.  

    Okay, so you've examined yourself and you feel ready to start moving forward.  What next?  Ahhhhhh...yeah...the foster and adoption laws/process vary, sometimes dramatically, from state to state so here are my suggestions for getting the ball rolling:
    1. Pray.  Always.  In everything, pray.
    2. Start reading foster and adoptive parent blogs.  You will learn waaaaaaaaaaaay more from them than probably any other source. 
    3. Find a good agency!  Your agency is everything.  I cannot stress this enough. I've had quite a number of friends foster in the last year and a half and it can be a HUGE headache if your agency doesn't have its act together.  So don't just settle on the first agency you find; do some research, talk to some other families who've used the agency/ies you're considering, and pray, pray, pray for direction.
    4. Be real with what you can handle.  Special needs are special needs and we're not all special enough to handle them on a 24-hour basis.  There are many decisions to be made when bringing any child into your home, such as age, special needs, and longevity of the child's stay.  Above all, when considering these questions, BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF AND WITH YOUR SPOUSE.  You're not a bad person if you know you can't take on an autistic child (or ADHD, or HIV-positive child, etc.).  You're a much better person if you admit to what you can and cannot handle.  Parenting takes a lot, and fostering even more so.  It's no easy road; it is, however, much easier if you are honest from the beginning.
    5. Get trained.  There are a lot of resources out there for foster and adoptive families.  A good agency will direct you toward some of them, but go on Amazon and buy books, do a Google search of trainings in your area, meet up with people who've already walked the road and can advise you.
    6. Good luck!  You'll do fine.  Parenting of any kind is heartbreaking, difficult, risky, and will stretch you to your limits.  I came from an incredibly sheltered, homeschooled, conservative background and once we reached adulthood half the kids raised with me turned out to be dope-smoking, single-parent atheists.  Just saying...sewing your own seed and raising them in a box is not a guarantee they'll turn out how you like.  Parenting is not an issue of's more like a grand experiment in trust.  Trust God.  He knows.