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.

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.

We Make Noise…

Due to its geographic location, Venezuela is a major country for transportation of victims. However, due to the current economic crisis, it is extremely hard to capture traffickers. “When we investigate, we find that, in Venezuela, trafficking in persons is invisible like anything else that questions the prestige and effectiveness of public power. However, it is as real as any other crime of which they speak little. In fact, the country has been under international gaze and questioning since it does not openly declare the criminal cases that are investigated and processed in the country against this scourge.”

In front of this reality, the Daughters of Charity of the Province “La Milagrosa Bogota Venezuela” have begun a campaign against this evil and its invisibility. Currently in its second year of offering options for information and prevention, the campaign is called “Let’s Make Noise, Let’s Talk About Trafficking.”

During the first year of this campaign, the goal was to reach more than 3,000 individuals, informing them of the evil that is human trafficking. With support and participation from each sister and members of the Congregation of the Mission, the goal was met! This had never previously been done! They were able to develop a method to measure the decibels of noise created by their campaign.

Today, we can say that there are more places for dialogue on the topic of human trafficking. People have listened, many have made comparisons. Real cases have been shared along with significant experiences. It has been discussed with the most vulnerable people, informing them of the cases and immediate consequences.

Now, entering the second year of the campaign, the new goal is the reach the border states, including Merida, Tachira, and Maracaibo. These places are known to be home to a vulnerable population.

“The work is still incipient but we are firmly convinced that we are doing what we have to do. The more you talk about the problem, the more people can name and understand the methods and recruitment strategies. In the end,  hopefully there will be fewer victims and life will be given and given in abundance.”

 

Example of Trafficking Education Workshops

My goal for the Office of Migration and Modern Slavery is to educate the public about the issues surrounding human trafficking and migrants. Recently, I received a reflection written by Sister Teresa Daly, D.C., informing me of action items that she and others have implemented to learn more on human trafficking. Her example follows.

“We thank God everyday for the wonderful ISP (Ignatian Spirituality Project) team we have here in New Orleans. Together, we facilitate retreats for the women from the Grace House and other entities that provide recovery programs for women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

“For some of us, the topic of modern slavery has been on our minds and hearts for awhile.

“Our ISP team decided to sponsor a workshop on anti-trafficking and invited individuals who have also expressed an interest in this topic as well as a very knowledgeable speaker to address the group. Debbie Shjnskie, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, is helping us to focus a bit on this area. Our desire was to learn more and to deal with some questions such as: How do we know to suspect that someone might be being trafficked? What can we do if this is the case?

“All of us in attendance left this experience more aware and somewhat overwhelmed by the reality that trafficking is in our own society. We thought we need to learn more. This was the start of the idea to hold a day-long seminary on human trafficking that will take place in New Orleans on March 3. Our goal is to raise our own consciousness and awareness of this reality in order to do so for others too.

“As we continue with the ISP retreat program, we continue with hearts aware of this suffering in the lives of many and of our desire to include the victims and perpetrators in prayer.”

It encourages me to see others being proactive and learning more about these important issues. Please feel free to share with me what you have done or plan to do!

Simple Yet Complicated

When I was a little girl, I loved kaleidoscopes. I was fascinated by the colors and patterns. I loved how each time I turned the cylinder, the pattern would change. Sometimes, the patterns were quite beautiful; sometimes, not as much. It was striking how simple yet complicated it all was.

Being engaged in the work of ending human trafficking can be similar to looking into a kaleidoscope. At one turn, you see the 40 million global victims and the need to rescue those trapped in it. On another turn, you begin to wonder “are the people getting their nails done contributing to the $150 billion forced labor industry?” Another turn and you are marveling at the tireless efforts of professionals and nonprofessionals who fight day in and day out to eradicate this crime against humanity. Sometimes I’m visualizing those forced into sex trafficking. Other times, it’s those working in forced labor.

With all of the different  forms of trafficking and views of these individuals, how does one help? One of the greatest tools I have when interacting with those forced into trafficking situations is myself. Being present with someone in their reality is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

So, I will raise my voice for the voiceless. I will give my time and energy working to combat victimization. I will be a responsible consumer and not support companies with unethical or unfair practices. I will remember that if circumstances were different, it could be me praying for someone to consider my suffering as if it were their own.

Those of us who know better have a duty to do our part. We should use our own strengths to fight for those who are trapped in human trafficking. It seems simple–you want to make a difference–but quickly becomes complicated. Some can donate money and other resources, while others can raise awareness. Some can encourage law makers and law enforcers criminalize human trafficking, while others can support those who provide services to those rescued from trafficking. “When you know better, you do better.”

There is one thing everyone can do. If you see a someone that you believe is being victimized, call the police immediately. Although there are usually no bars or fences, the victims are indeed prisoners.

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Use this post to remind yourself of the importance of the issue.