Flippin’ (Pancakes) for a Cause

The Daughters of Charity at St. Louise House in Albany, NY have been raising funds to assist building a safe house for trafficked women in the area. The first event fundraiser was a pancake breakfast and 50/50 drawing.

This collaborative project began as the sisters listened to the personal dream of their invited speaker, Debbie Fowler. Debbie spoke of her years in Kuwait where her husband was on a work assignment. It was in that desert country that she learned of maids who had been lured there from their native countries. They had gone to obtain employment but quickly had their papers taken away, finding themselves working for little or no pay and being beaten and sexually assaulted. After volunteering in a shelter for these women, Debbie returned to New York and, upon further research, learned of the great number of women being trafficked just in the United States. That is when she decided to take action.

Debbie was brought to us to speak after meeting Linda Rivard, activities coordinator for the Albany campus of Daughters of Charity, during their time as volunteers at Her Treasure Box, a creative arts thrift store. The thrift store provides “creative arts with a purpose–to provide hope and healing” for women survivors of human trafficking.

I follow the anti-trafficking effort via our local Coalition to End Human Trafficking, which is made up mostly of faith-based and religious here in the Albany area. We are in support of both Her Treasure Box and Eyes Wide Open, another local start up. We are beginning to partner with the Homeland Security arm, The Blue Campaign, and other state agencies for the purpose of education via leafletting at public events and other options yet to be developed.

Written by Sister Faith Colligan, D.C.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2018

Recently, I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2018 which focused on the uprootedness of our world and the needs of our brothers and sisters who are migrants, refugees, or displaced people.

As people of faith, we can do more. We believe God is with Dreamers, the migrants, and the outcasts. We believe He calls us to create places of sanctuary to offer hospitality to the stranger and to welcome all, regardless of their faith, race, gender, or nationality. We believe he calls us to break down the dividing walls that separate us.

During these days, the emphasis was placed on analyzing current policy and envisioning ways to more fully and justly respond to the global and local needs of displaced communities. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, and networking, we prepared and analyzed policy changes that advance hope and overcome the devastating impacts of conflict, climate change, and corruption of God’s people. We learned, through worship and theological reflection, how to strengthen our Christian voice and mobilize for advocacy on a wide array of domestic and international policy issues.

The interactive plenary sessions and workshops addressed specific issues on a global scale, including focuses on Africa, Asia-Pacific, Domestic US, Eco-Justice, Global Economic Justice, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Peace and Global Security. The conference includes a Lobby Day conversation with members of Congress and the Senate, during which we were placed in advocate groups based on geographic location. The legislative act around which this conversation was held was carefully prepared by policy experts to help us to articulate solid policy rooted in our common Christian social justice traditions.

Federal Government Seizes Backpage

By now, you’ve probably heard that, on April 6, the federal government has seized and disabled Backpage.com and affiliated websites. This is a huge step forward as the nation recognizes sexual exploitation as intolerable; however, there is still much work to be done.

Over the past several years, Backpage and other websites have posted an online environment where it is as easy to purchase a human being for sex as it is to order a pizza. Buyers will no longer be able to easily access such websites and the rates of exploitation of vulnerable people will sharply decline.

“Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange. “It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday’s enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”

Currently, Backpage is the world’s second largest classified advertising website. It is valued at more than $500 million and is operating in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Backpage is involved in 73% of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public. In the words of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, “the vast majority of prosecutions for sex trafficking now involve online advertising, and most of those advertisements appear on Backpage.”

Last year, the NCMEC reported an 846& increased from 2010-2015 in reports of suspected child sex trafficking which they surmised to be “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex,” said Amy Zimmerman in the Daily Beast.

I applaud those who have helped in any way to accomplishing this feat! This is one giant leap forward in the fight against modern day slavery!

Survivors Are Victims

Human trafficking survivors are just that–survivors. They were, and still are, victims. They should be treated as such. Rather, a lot of times, our justice system treats them as criminals. They are thrown in jail for their roles as “prostitutes” even though it wasn’t a life they chose for themselves.

Even children are treated this way. They are called “child prostitutes” and judged for selling their bodies at pre-pubecent ages. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.

Rather than treating these victims as criminals, we need to treat them as the survivors that they are. How? Here are some tips for treating human trafficking survivors.

  • Provide support and encourage self-sufficiency for survivors. Many survivors don’t have training to hold a job. Giving them access to vocational training and other longterm support is vital to their future success.
  • Focus on the individual and use a trauma-informed approach. It’s important to remember the trauma they’ve experienced in order to avoid re-traumatization.
  • Utilize their experience. Survivors are the only ones with true firsthand experience. They are experts on the topic of human trafficking and their knowledge should be put to use to help others. Survivors also deserve to be compensated for this expertise and their confidentiality should be respected.
  • Don’t force them to do anything. Self-sufficiency should be encouraged and forcing a survivor to participate in activities or programs takes that freedom away.

You can read more tips on treatment of survivors here.

Explanation of New Senate Bill

March 21, 2018 marks a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking and commercial sexual exploration. In a 97-2 vote, the Senate voted to pass a combination of the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” (“FOSTA”), H.R. 1865, and S.B. 1693, the “Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act of 2017″ (SESTA”) which will amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”), 42 U.S.C. § 230, to ensure that prosecutions and civil suits against corrupt website owners who knowingly facilitate trafficking will not be blocked by so-called “Good Samaritan” immunity.

This bill makes two major changes that will aid prosecutors in their fight against online human trafficking. First, FOSTA/SESTA will amend the United States Code by adding in  a new statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2421A, which criminalized “using a facility of means of interstate or foreign commerce…[owning, managing, or operating] an interactive computer service…or [conspiring or attempting] to do so with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” thus, under this new statute, when companies use their online platforms with the intent to promote or facilitate commercial sexual exploitation or human trafficking, they can now be held criminally liable. This amendment closes a significant gap in the existing law. Currently, companies with online platforms were virtually free to engage in as much promotion or facilitation of trafficking as they pleased because they were shielded by the CDA’s immunity provisions.

For years, companies with online platforms, such as Backpage.com, have been actively involved in the exploitation of others, all the name of their bottom line. Despite these blatantly irresponsible and immoral practices, these companies were often shielded from suit under §230(c),  which has been interpreted to provide immunity from liability for website owners who engage in screening methods, taken in good faith, to reduce illegal content on their sites. This “good Samaritan” immunity provision, however, has been missed by companies like Backpage.com to create a shield behind which they can actively engage in the facilitation of trafficking. For further information about Backpage.com and their illegal activities, see the Senate Investigatory Committee’s report and the CSE Institute’s policy paper supporting the SESTA which was introduced prior to FOSTA.

The proponents of FOSTA/SESTA recognized this fatal flaw in the CDA and, consequently, sought to amend it. Therefore, the second, and perhaps the more important, change that FOSTA/SESTA will make is to the CDA itself is to include a specific exception to this immunity under §230(e) which will permit both prosecutions and civil suits to proceed under the federal trafficking laws, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591 & 1595, and their state analogs. This change will effectively ensure that there are no more cases like Jane Doe No. 1 v. Backpage.com, LLC, 817 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2016), where the court recognized that Backpage was complicit in the exploitation of the plaintiffs but could not provide any remedy for the plaintiffs under the law.

The passage of FOSTA/SESTA trough Congress signals that Congress is willing to take aggressive steps in bringing the extant law up-to-date to fight the issues that have arisen in today’s internet-drive society. The CSE Institute applauds their work in this area and wants to thank Senators Portman and Blumenthal and Representative Wagner for their tireless work on this issue. Now, more than ever, we are hopeful that Pennsylvania’s legislature will amend 18 Pa.C.S. § 3011 “Trafficking in Individuals” to include “advertises” as one of the predicate criminal acts to enable our Commonwealth’s prosecutors and plaintiff’s attorneys to sue under state law. This amendment would allow the state law to target trafficking where it happens most, online.

Written by Rhea Rhodes Esq., Director, CSE Institute, Villanova University.

Avoiding Trafficking in Lent

The Lenten season brings about an increase in seafood consumption as many Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. This increases not only the demand for seafood, but also the demand for human trafficking.

The seafood industry always ranks high on lists of industries where modern day slavery takes place. The fishermen and women who catch the fish and other seafood are often forced into that “job.” But if you thought the inhumane treatment of persons ended there, you’d be wrong. Rather, throughout the entire process–catching, processing, and shipping–human trafficking is present.

This stigma around slavery in the seafood industry has forced companies, such as Red Lobster, to launch “sustainable seafood campaigns” in which they reveal the origin of each catch.

What can you do? Know where your seafood is coming from! If the restaurant, wholesaler, or retailer does not have the information readily available to you, there’s a chance their process could involve trafficking. You can find more tips on how to stop human trafficking in the seafood industry here.

So, next time, before you buy your seafood of choice, ask yourself if you know where it came from. You can help put an end to modern day slavery!