Teens Lured into Human Trafficking Online

Every day in my email I read about teens who are lured into relationships with predators posing as teens in chatrooms. Sometimes the teens are talking into sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves to the “teen friend” who promises that the picture is just for him/her.

Of course, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The pictures are received and then shared with other predators on the internet, often on the “dark web.” The teen is then blackmailed into sending more and more pictures as the predator threatens to forward pictures to the teen’s parents and friends if the teen doesn’t comply. The teen is caught in a no-win situation, at times ending in suicide as the teen sees no other alternative. And once a picture is on the web, even if deleted, it is there forever!

In the case above, the teen’s relationship is through the computer chat room but does not get to the next level of meeting the “teen friend” at the mall, park, restaurant, etc. As we know, teens are very vulnerable and easily influenced by others. Some of these online relationships do get to the next level and the teen secretly meets the person on the other end of the line. When this happens, the teen is in danger of being taken and forced into trafficking or groomed to agree to participate “willingly.” This is a very dangerous situation for these teens.

As parents, teachers, relatives, and friends, how can we protect our vulnerable youth from falling into this trap? The first thing we must do is to educate ourselves on how to talk with our youth in an intelligent, clear, and nonjudgmental way. Then, we must take the time to talk with them and listen to them on a regular basis. It is important for parents and schools to use filtering and monitoring software and tools on all devices to which children and teens have access. There are numerous software programs (like this one) out there to help adults keep children safe.

Please do your part and educate others on how they can protect our precious youth from predators.

Click here or click here for some internet safety tips.

Masterpieces of Broken Pieces

A few years ago, residents, volunteers and I painted rocks to surround a garden at Dawn’s Place, a home for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. A resident painted, “We are all masterpieces of broken pieces.”

It inspired the name and concept behind an art project for survivors from Dawn’s Place, The Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking Program and other programs. Survivors and their allies create glittering mosaic candleholders and beautiful ornaments from broken jewelry, unwanted plates and discarded books.

By participating in the “Masterpieces” project, local survivors learn and practice work skills, make decisions, express ideas and think creatively. Survivors earn gift cards to buy what they choose; community members’ purchases of “masterpieces” enable survivors to earn more gift cards. One woman found that the relaxation and focus the activity provides can help her fight insomnia and PTSD episodes. Others experienced a boost in self-esteem when Penn State’s Henry Art Gallery included their “masterpieces” in an exhibit.

The pieces displayed at the “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces: A Labyrinth of Light and Hope”—a glittering, meditative walk among the survivor artwork and candlelight during January’s National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month—help labyrinth participants connect with survivors’ success stories and their deeper sense of compassion.

The “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces” project reminds us all that although we carry scars from life’s difficulties and we are imperfect, we are all the more valuable, beautiful and unique for having survived.

Written by Carol 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?

Are We Asking the Right Questions?

The late Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Rose McGeady saved the original New York Covenant House from closure in the early 1990s. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the runaway youths in this country, including those who often end up trafficked. Her efforts to serve the country’s homeless youth dramatically helped expand the reach of Covenant House throughout the world, with 16 locations currently open in the U.S.

But there is always more work to be done. Surveys have shown that around 88% of human trafficking survivors saw a healthcare provider at least once during their time as a victim. While many healthcare providers are being trained more extensively on the signs of a trafficking victim, researchers at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. created a tool that may also help to identify these victims.

This tool, which takes the form of a questionnaire, is being pretested at the Covenant House in Houston. It directly asks respondents a variety of questions including if anyone has ever forced or pressured them to perform sexual acts, forced or pressured them to take pornographic photos and/or videos, and if anyone has ever put their photo on the internet to find clients.

After being pretested at locations in four states, 25.8% of respondents answered “yes” to one or more sexual exploitation screening questions.

“The key takeaway is that there are reliable tools that can improve our ability to identify human trafficking victims to help navigate them to services that can help them recover,” said Diane Santa Maria, University of Texas Health School of Nursing professor.

You can read more about this new tool here.

Weekly Vatican Conference: Pope Francis on Human Trafficking

Pope Francis highlighted human trafficking at the Vatican conference this week. In a later interview regarding the Pope’s talk, Monsignor Robert Vitallo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), reported that the Pope condemned “trafficking in human beings as one of the most dramatic manifestations of the commercialization of others, a crime against humanity that disfigures both victims as well as those who carry it out.” The Pope stressed the importance of networking on an international level in order to eradicate this crime. Monsignor Vitillo spoke on the importance of global level advocacy in the “shaping of international policies that have been already prepared, but still need to be implemented by the governments, as well as, new policies that need to be developed.”

Lindsey King speaks on the problems connected with the implementation of the existing international laws, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air in her article “International Law and Human Trafficking” from Topical Research Digest: Human Rights and Human Trafficking. Enforcement of these laws is problematic, in part, due to the crime transcending borders and jurisdictions. Furthermore, there is a lack of law enforcement training and awareness, language barriers, and the hesitancy on the part of victims to speak out against their traffickers, just to name a few.

There is no simple solution to eradicate this crime against humanity. However, as a world community, we must work diligently to urge our political leaders to spend time, energy, and resources to enact the existing laws as well as to create new laws and policies that protect all human beings from being used as objects. In working together, we can enact change and save countless women, men, and children from those who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

Click here to read about Monsignor Vitillo’s thoughts.

Click here for the Topical Research Digest: Human Rights and Human Trafficking.

 

Blessed: A Reflection on the Border Experience

When walking the halls of Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., I made it a point to speak or make eye contact with those I met. I would pass many people, presumably patients, who could barely navigate. When I would inquire how someone was, I often received the answer: “I’m blessed.” This is my predominant thought when I consider my time in El Paso working with the newly-arrived migrants seeking asylum.

I worked at the shelter at Pastoral Center of the Diocese of El Paso, under the umbrella of Ruben Garcia and Annunciation House which has sheltered migrations for 40 years.

The migrants I encountered during my three week stint were mainly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. There were adults, most often the mother or father, who were accompanying minor children ranging from infants to teenagers. I saw only a few complete families.

When asylum seekers first arrive legally through a port of entry, they are placed in detention centers until their paperwork is completed. This paperwork includes the name of a sponsor and a date to appear in Immigration Court. When they arrive at the Pastoral Center, there was a brief orientation followed by a meal as all were very hungry when they arrived. Then, they begin the intake process wherein their sponsor(s) who is responsible for their transportation, are notified of their arrival. They can then access a complete change of clothing and toiletries from a large supply of donated items. They are also given access to a shower.

Three meals and snacks are provided each day. The sleeping quarters are simple canvas cots and blankets in a large room–men are on one side and women are on the other with their children. Those requiring minor medical care are treated and those who need more care are either transported to a hospital by ambulance or driven by a volunteer. The stay at the shelter is usually between one and five days. At the end, they are driven to the airport or bus station by a volunteer.

How was I blessed by this experience? First, I received the grace to leave my comfort zone to respond to this need in a small way. I observed firsthand, adults and children who had travelled hundreds of miles, most often by foot, to pursue a better life for their families. I was gratified by the irrepressible exuberance of the children who saw a pile of toys in the corner of the first room they entered and joyfully ran to start playing. I saw in the eyes of the adults, the exhaustion that was palpable, but still with the determination to continue this difficult journey.

I was constantly amazed at the inexhaustible generosity of the people of El Paso who donate food, clothing, personal items, and time week after week. These volunteers come from parishes, volunteer organization, and surrounding cities. I even met a local St. Vincent de Paul Society who had provided some needed shelving. The volunteers from other states whom I met were mostly grey-haired sister like me from various communities of religious women.

I was blessed by the realization that I have not yet, and probably never will, endure the hardships these migrants have endured on their journeys. It is an impossible-to-ignore reminder that I need to thank God every day for the blessings showered upon me. I continue to be blessed by the memories of this experience which remind me that I have no good reason to complain about inconsequential irritations.

Written by Sister Mary Powers, D.C.

Massage Parlor Trafficking

In recent weeks, the media has focused a lot on the case of the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, and the charged brought against him for soliciting sex from a prostitute. The charges were part of an investigation by several law enforcement agencies that ended in raids and multiple arrests connected to nearly a dozen businesses in the area.

According to Polaris, “Human trafficking in massage parlors is the second most common type of trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.” A study done by Polaris in 2018 showed that “there are more than 9,000 illicit massage businesses (IBMs) – fronts for selling commercial sex – spread across every state in the United States. For a sense of scale, consider that Starbucks now has approximately 8,222 company-operated stores in the United States.”

In order to recognize these businesses, one must know the signs that differentiate them from a legitimate massage therapy establishment. The following signs will help one to recognize an illegal massage business.

  • Advertised prices are significantly lower than below market level (for instance, $40 for a one-hour massage in a city where $80 is the norm).
  • There will often be a back or side entrance to the establishment where clients need to be buzzed in.
  • Often covered windows (or no windows at all) and excessive security cameras are present.
  • One may notice a steady flow of primarily male clientele at all hours of the day and night.
  • One rarely (or never) sees the workers leave the location.
  • One can Google the name and location of the business to check if it’s posting sexually-suggestive advertisements online.

The best way to end this form of human trafficking is to pass strong laws across the country that standardize regulations for the massage therapy industry. Presently, 46 states have some regulations for massage therapists, but often the business operation and ownership do not have to follow of set of regulations.

Click here to read more about massage parlor trafficking.

Click here to read an account of a victim of massage parlor trafficking.