Human Body as Currency

Lucie Amrhein’s mother was 22 years old when she responded to a “help wanted” ad for a nanny and left her home in Belgium to serve a family in the United States. Unaware of the need for a visa upon departure, she realized after arrival in her new country that she didn’t have legal status. The couple exploited the situation. They forced her to work long days and to remain on call 24/7. They took payment for her rent and food from her inadequate wages and psychologically abused her. Fortunately, she escaped the situation with help.

Lucie became passionate about human rights and helping people who were exploited. Putting together lessons from her mother and studies at American University, Lucie coined the phrase, “human body as currency.”

While the value of the human body can be viewed in numerous ways (the worth of its chemicals, how beautiful it is perceived to be, how much energy it can expend, etc.) the dark side of the human body as currency—a commodity that can be traded or exploited for someone else’s gain of money, goods, services or anything else of value—includes forms of human trafficking. For example:

  • A husband selling a wife for sex to support his drug habit.
  • An unscrupulous business owner trading substandard wages, food, and a place to live for a family struggling to survive loss after natural disaster or war, then keeping the next generation enslaved in debt bondage because of interest schemes that can never be paid back.
  • A broker arranging the harvest of a kidney from a poverty-stricken parent who cannot read a contract in order to made a handsome profit from a wealthy organ recipient engaging in medical tourism.

Lucie says she sees a need for a large-scale societal shift in attitudes about consent as one of many smaller solutions that will help end modern slavery/human trafficking. Throughout history, people have used and taken advantage of individuals because of their race, identity, vulnerabilities and different abilities, she continued, citing the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, early pornography, and recent labor trafficking cases and illegal organ trade. “Without true and informed consent, it’s exploitation,” Lucie asserted.

Please help stop the demand that fosters exploitation. Talk about full, true and informed consent for sex, business deals, medical procedures and other ways that use the human body for its value. Ask yourself: how do I view and use the human body as currency?

Written by Carol Hart Metzker.

Listen to Survivors

We often wonder how best to continue the fight against human trafficking. Education and training are two very popular ways this is happening. But, for too long, we’re been ignoring the most obvious solution—listening to the survivors.

No one knows the ins and outs of the horrors of human trafficking better than the victims and survivors. ECPAT-USA and DHS have recently recognized this and have given survivors critical roles to play in combatting trafficking.

ECPAT-USA, the nation’s leading ant-child trafficking organization, has replaced their Advisory Council with a Survivor’s Council, a council comprised of one male and six female survivors of sex trafficking. Their role will be to work in current and future ECPAT-USA initiatives to “ensure the efficacy and sensitive of programs, reports, and materials.” By sharing their experiences with those best able to help, survivors offer insight, hope, and justice for other survivors, as well as the ability to help shape policy and programs to assist in fighting human trafficking.

A similar program known as the Blue Campaign (a program of the Department of Homeland Security) is helping survivors find their voice. Broadly, the Department of Homeland Security’s goal is to help to recognize human trafficking in our communities, arrest the traffickers, and help the victims. Specifically, it offers a voice for survivors and recognizes that, without the help of these individuals, the cycle will never end.

Many survivors want to share their story in hopes of helping others in the same position. So why not take advantage of this knowledge? Who better to teach others the signs of trafficking? Who better to help shape the laws and policies than those who lived through the horrifying experience?

From Slavery to Freedom

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking survivors.

Josephine was born in 1869 in a small village in Darfur. While still a young girl, she was kidnapped by slave traders and sold into slavery.

For over a decade, she was bought and sold many times and endured horrendous experiences, including torture by her various owners. She suffered branding and beatings on many occasions. It is said that once, her owners cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to make sure that the scars remained.

Her captors asked her name, but in her fear as a result of her trauma, she was unable to remember the name her parents had given her at birth. Mocking her, they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate.”

In 1883, Josephine was eventually taken to Italy where she served a family as a maid. While there, she came to know the Canossian Sisters of Venice.

It was during Josephine’s time around the Canossian Sisters that she began to learn about God and Catholicism. This was an experience during which she learned about the Gospel.

At the age of 30, Josephine was baptized into the Catholic faith on January 9, 1890. She took the name Josephine Margaret. Jospehine’s warm demeanor persisted up until her death on February 8, 1947. Pope Saint John Paul II canonized her on October 1, 2000.

The Vincentian priests sponsored the cause to canonize Josephine Bakhita. Father Bill Sheldon, C.M. served as the Postulator General in Rome and worked on her cause during his tenure. He confirmed that there was an affiliation between the Canossian Daughters of Charity and the “Vincentian Family.”

Josephine held no bitterness toward her owners. In fact she once said, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

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.

Recovering from ISIS Captivity

Coping with the effects of sexual assault and rape is overwhelming. It is a complex form of trauma that breaches the physical, mental, and spiritual trust of a person against their will. Due to high levels of stress caused by abuse, a person can experience chronic fatigue and many other symptoms.

Two weeks after her rescue, Souhayla, a Yazidi native of Iraq, was still experiencing many of these symptoms. She could not sit up. Her physical injuries were significant, but fortunately, not life-threatening. The sixteen year old’s near unconsciousness was the result of severe shock after three years of serial rape as a captive of ISIS.

Souhayla’s village was raided by ISIS in 2014. Citing a defunct statute of Islamic law, ISIS deemed the Yazidi ethnic minority eligible for enslavement. Soulhayla was held as a prisoner is Mosul, Iraq where she was raped time and time again by multiple men. She was later moved to an area of Mosul that was riddled with armed conflict. It was here that her captor was killed in an airstrike, destroying much of his house. She found the strength to climb through the debris to an Iraqi checkpoint. She was later reunited with her family.

Now back home, Souhayla is slowly recovering, as is common for women who have suffered this type of abuse. Almost 90% of these women slip into a coma-like shock after their rescue as a way of dealing with the psychological trauma they have endured. At first, many show an alarming amount of indoctrinate, unable to abandon their ISIS ideals.

3,410 Yazidi people remain captive or unaccounted for as the conflict in the Middle East continues. Souhayla and her family hope that their story will raise awareness of this abomination of human rights and bring rescue and healing to girls like her.

You can read more of Souhayla’s story here.

Girls Suffer in Guatemala from Lack of Education

Imagine being pregnant and not knowing how it happened. Not knowing what you did to make a baby.

This may sound crazy…everyone knows where babies come from. But this isn’t the case in Guatemala. Angela, a Guatemalan teenager, had her first child at the age of 14 before she knew anything about it.

“I [knew] they would come from your belly, but I didn’t know how you could make them,” she says after finding herself pregnant with her teacher’s child.

This isn’t uncommon in her country. In fact, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy due to lack of sex education. Many new mothers don’t even know the correct terms for their own body parts.

In 2014, there were more than 5,000 pregnancies in girls under the age of 14 in the country. This number is assisted by the high rates of sexual violence against young girls. Many of the previously mentioned 5,000 pregnancies were from a close family member.

By 19, most Guatemalan women have two children. They’ve dropped out of school to care for them and struggle to make ends meet. Many times, the women are forced to marry the father of their children, despite domestic abuse in the relationship. All of these factors reinforce the cycle of poverty and violence throughout the country.

You can read more about how the Guatemalan government is working to improve conditions for women and young girls here.

War Child

Ishmael was just 12 years old when the Sierra Leone armed conflict was in full swing. He recalls a simple and happy childhood, one filled with family and normalcy.

One day, he took a trip with friends to participate in a talent show a couple of miles down the road from their town. While gone, their town was attacked. Upon returning home, the boys were faced with an amount of devastation no child should experience.

“We saw men carrying their dead children in their arms. I saw a man cry for the first time in my life…We decided that we can’t go back home anymore and decided to wait. Hopefully to see our families come through, but they didn’t come.”

Ishmael and his friends spent the next year traveling from village to village looking for food, water, and shelter. Ishmael eventually learned of his family’s whereabouts and went to meet them. Upon his arrival at the village, he saw the town aflame, his family gone. Ishmael now knew his family was gone for good and lost all hope.

The boys found a nearby village run by government soldiers. They received food, water, shelter, and were able to return to a normal life…for a while. Eventually, they were told that, in order to stay at the village, they must fight. When some tried to leave, they were killed.

So Ishmael fought.

“First, you know, you get your own weapon and everything and the magazines and the bullets, and then you give you drugs. I was descending into their hell so quickly, and I just started shooting and that’s what I did for over two years basically. Whoever the commander said, ‘This guy is the enemy,’ there were no questions asked. There was no second guessing because when you asked a question and you say, ‘Why?’ they’ll shoot you right away.” Ishmael had been turned into a killer by taking away everything he knew.

Two years after being forced into fighting, Ishmael was saved by workers at the United Nations. Now, he advocates for children affected by war. You can read his full story here.