International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?






Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators

19 10 2009

What was rolling farm land in east Tennessee, the city now known as Oak Ridge was quickly transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to become one of the four places that worked on the Manhattan Project and birthed the atomic bomb. Because of the plentiful and cheap hydroelectric power provided through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge was the place where uranium was enriched. At one point, the Oak Ridge plants consumed one-sixth of the electricity in the entire United States…more than New York City.

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility, part of the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Life)

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility (Photo: Life)

What workers were doing in Oak Ridge was so secretive that not even the governor of the state knew it. The city was not on a map and was referred to as the Clinton Engineering Works.

Today three of the four major facilities used for wartime bomb production are still in use and owned by the Department of Energy. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the DOE’s largest science and energy lab in the country. It is home to over 4,300 scientists and staff, 3,000 guest researchers annually, a $1.4 billion budget, two of the most advanced neutron scattering research facilities in the world, and the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the world.

They do research there in the fields of nanosciences, biological systems, energy, advanced materials, national security, chemical sciences, electron microscopy, nuclear medicine, and physics.

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

According to the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), “the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest, and most important, challenge since the legendary World War II Manhattan Project.” Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL Applied Software Engineering Group Leader Dr. Tom Potok, and Y-12 (one of the remaining Oak Ridge facilities) National Security Complex’s Steve Payne, are partnering with the Knoxville Police Department, PROTECT, and PROTECT development director and actor David Keith to develop software to help track and prosecute child molesters and pedophiles who traffic in child pornography.

An example of how efficient and effective this software is? An estimated 10,000 Tennesseans traffic in child pornography. Manually sifting through just one of those 10,000 computers takes 40 hours of work. The software developed by Dr. Potok’s team does it in just one hour. Knoxville Police Department is in a pilot program with this software now; if the program is successful, it could become a national law enforcement standard per WBIR.com, a Knoxville news station site.

PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks says that the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 was a major step forward that the federal government made, but technology has not been forthcoming. He said:

There’s been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it’s somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America’s finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way.

I wrote a blog post about the need for technology to stop human trafficking on 6/5/09 entitled Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking? As a member of PROTECT, I received an email on 8/14/09 about what is now being done with technology to stop predators and that’s how I heard about the ORNL project.

I am so impressed with the work that David Keith is doing. He is using his celebrity as an actor…in An Officer and a Gentleman, The Rose, The Great Santini, Firestarter, and many more movies…to bring awareness to sexual abuse and the trafficking of children, and to rescue children from the hands of sexual predators.

David Keith

David Keith

He speaks to groups to enlist help in his quest and tells them how there are 750,000 traffickers of child pornography in the U.S., child pornography is a multi-billion dollar global industry, 50% of the worldwide market for child porn comes from the U.S., 96% of cases of child sex abuse are committed by a member of the child’s family or a trusted acquaintance, and how child molesters assault 27 children on average.

PROTECT operates on only a $400,000 annual budget. So much more is needed. Consider joining PROTECT at http://www.protect.org and donating to help them do this very important work. Here is PROTECT’s mission from their website:

PROTECT is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association. We are founded on the belief that our first and most sacred obligation as parents, citizens, and members of the human species is the protection of children from harm. We are committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that this must be done through a determined single-issue focus, a meaningful mainstream agenda and the use of proven modern political strategies.

I have a personal connection with this story. David’s father is a neighbor of my mother and sings in the men’s chorus she accompanies and leads. I met David’s father at one of their chorus performances recently and he told me that he’s most proud of his son (even more than his acting) David for his work to stop child predators and rescue children in their throes. I am from east Tennessee and lived in Oak Ridge for five years and even wrote a weekly business column for a year for the local Oak Ridger newspaper.

To commemorate the 50th birthday of the city of Oak Ridge…the city that was created to develop the atomic bomb…dedicated on May 3, 1996 a Japanese bell (also called the International Friendship Bell) to exemplify theOak Ridge Peace Bell theme of the celebration of Oak Ridge’s birth: “born of war, living for peace, growing through science.” I was privileged to play piano for the chorus that sang at this prestigious dedication, which was attended by many dignitaries and also by representatives from Oak Ridge’s sister city Naka, Ibaraki, Japan. It was a moving experience.

Oak Ridge is a town that was quickly and secretly assembled to build the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 1945 and on Hiroshima, Japan on August 9, 1945, facilitating the end of World War II. The very labs where such destructive power was created is now creating the means to rescue children from the destructive power of child predators and to stop them from ruining any more children’s lives. The peace bell is a fitting symbol…a place, people, facilities, technology, and tremendous brain power are now being used to create peace in the world and stop those who would use their own horrendous power against innocent children and devastate their lives and the lives of people who love them.





Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





Teens Making a Difference – Bravo!

28 07 2009

Remember summers when you were a teenager? Going to the movies or the pool with friends, gossiping or talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone, hanging out at the mall, etc.? Three Houston siblings…Stephen (18), Melanie (17), and Dianna (14) Muldrow…have much bigger things on their mind this summer. They have organized a concert to be held at Houston’s Jones Hall on August 29th to benefit organizations that work to combat human trafficking.

The concert features renowned musicians: 3 pianists, a clarinetist, 2 violinists, and one viola player. You can find more information about the concert at www.BrokenCords.com.

Houston is one of the major corridors of human trafficking. I wrote a blog post about cantina workers being trafficked there.

Muldrow Family

Muldrow Family - Credit: http://www.BrokenCords.com

The Muldrow children are home schooled and quite accomplished. Their parents have obviously instilled in their children a sense of compassion, caring, and desire to help others.

From their website:

“Part of a family of 10 children born and raised here in the Houston area, Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna encourage all young people to stand up and use this time in their lives to make a difference in the world around them!”

They have a Facebook page if you’d like to join their cause and be kept up to date. They also welcome donations and/or you can purchase tickets to the concert on their Broken Cords web page.

Bravo to Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna for the work you’re doing to help victims of trafficking! You are real heroes.





Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking?

5 06 2009

I got a glimpse of the underbelly of fraudsters and organized crime a couple of years ago when I worked at a company that created software for online retailers to help them process good payments and weed out fraudulent ones. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world I hadn’t been exposed to and only knew about peripherally.

Hands and feet in Chains from iStockPhotoOnline fraud started out as pranksters or one-off transactions…individuals trying to get something for nothing. There’s still that happening, but online fraud progressed to being perpetrated by large organized crime rings, with a lot of it coming from eastern Europe and western Africa. Why the change? Organized crime can hide anonymously behind a computer, and with their organizations being so spread out geographically and across many jurisdictions, most law enforcement groups are not able to catch them. It’s an easy crime for many of them.

Analysts from my previous company monitored chat rooms where criminals sold stolen credit cards…or the information on your credit card or social security card… for $10 each. They got inside the criminals’ territories and learned the tricks of what they were doing…hiring waiters to take skimming machines and run credit cards through them to capture the information in the strip when you give them your card to pay for dinner, installing fake fronts to ATMs to capture the keystrokes of your PIN and your debit card number, etc. They had to find ways to put techniques in the software that allows retailers to stay two steps ahead of the criminals, who are very tech-savvy themselves.

As part of my work, I had several calls with the IC3…the Internet Crime Complaint Center…and the FBI and participated in the announcement of the www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com initiative, to help people avoid becoming a victim of online fraud. I was the press manager (one of the many hats I wore) for a large organization of retailers that came together to develop best practices to combat and prevent online fraud.

Okay…perhaps some of that is interesting…but my point of saying all that is this…organized crime got really savvy about how to commit fraud online. There have been a lot of businesses (including the one I worked with) that built software to prevent and stop this fraud and find these savvy fraudsters, which has led to many prosecutions.

Retailers banded together to pool their knowledge of how to outsmart the criminals. It’s a constant cat and mouse game; the fraudsters learn how to go around the software and the software companies come up with new techniques they hope the fraudsters can’t go around.

If all that is possible, why aren’t there businesses out there developing software…and maybe there are but I don’t know about them…that look for certain patterns and other things to detect that someone online might be engaging in child trafficking or sexual exploitation? There is software for keeping databases of sex offenders, but I’m talking about software that would stop this stuff from happening in the first place…that would disallow child pornography from being sold or a child being sold online.

Unfortunately, a lot of child trafficking is done the low-tech way…not online…so admittedly this makes it more difficult to track when it happens. But…just as fraud in stores orginally was mostly stealing stuff in stores (and of course this still happens) but progressed to online massive stealing…I suspect that child trafficking may also “progress” (if it isn’t already happening) to being done online.

Isn’t it worth it for someone to be developing high-tech solutions to stop and find traffickers? It seems at least an international tracking system is needed. I see so many stories about trafficking in so many countries. Is anyone looking at the big picture and tracking these occurrences across countries? In the retail world, that’s the only way they are beginning to find some of these organized crime rings and prosecute them.

Does anyone know if anything like this is being done? Isn’t it about time it was?

UPDATE 10/19/09: After writing this article, I received an email from the National Association to Protect Children. Read what they and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories are doing to stop child predators in the post I wrote on 10/19/09 entitled Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators.





1.2 Million Child Prostitutes in India

12 05 2009

This is heartbreaking. Over one million children live treacherous and degraded lives due to being trafficked in prostitution in India. And 100 million people are involved in human trafficking in India. ONE HUNDRED MILLION. These numbers are staggering and incredibly disturbing.

Child Prostitute in India

Child Prostitute in India

This is a country that has so much poverty and yet so much promise. Business has exploded there. And yet it is definitely a country of the haves and the have nots…those who are benefitting from the business explosion and those who live in the slums in abject poverty. Opportunists play both sides…the wealthy buy children to have sex with. The poor sell their children into prostitution. They are all players in this sick and soul-killing game.

If India as a country and as a people does not take bold steps to raise up the poor and stamp out child prostitution, they will see generations of moral and spiritual destitution and poverty that will plague them and destroy any potential greatness their country could realize.

Here’s the CNN article on this:

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India, the country’s federal police said Monday.

Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told a seminar on human trafficking, that India occupied a “unique position” as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade.

India’s home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.

“The number of trafficked persons is difficult to determine due to the secrecy and clandestine nature of the crime.

“However, studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said.

Prostitution in pilgrim towns, exploitation through sex tourism and pedophilia are some of some of the “alarming trends” that have emerged in recent years in India, it noted.

Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

UPDATE 9/27/09: Please visit my friend Shelley Seale’s blog on her book The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children in India. She writes about traveling there four times and witnessing the horrors of children living in orphanages, in the slums, and being vulnerable to being trafficked.





Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Cantina Workers in Houston: Sex Trafficked

27 04 2009

Women working in cantinas in Houston were trafficked and held in servitude. Now the mastermind is going to jail. People, this happens right in front of our eyes. This happened in the UNITED STATES…less than 200 miles from where I live in Austin. This is a typical story of human/sex trafficking. Take the time to read it. Be alert. You might save a life.

The U.S. Department of Justice website says here is how to report trafficking:

Report trafficking crimes or get help by calling the toll-free hotline 1-888-428-7581 (voice and TTY).

Here’s the article from today’s Houston Chronicle:

Sex-trafficking ringleader gets 13 years in prison

By Lise Olsen

Salvadoran smuggled Central American women into servitude at cantinas

 

He previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for recruiting and trafficking dozens of women and girls to Houston for commercial gain and for holding them “in a condition of indentured servitude.”

Maximino Mondrago - Credit: Houston Chronicle
Maximino Mondrago – Credit: Houston Chronicle

Along with others convicted in the case, he has also been ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to victims, some of whom have obtained visas to stay in the United States and still live in the area.

The case involving Maximino Mondragon, 57, remains one of the largest human trafficking rings ever uncovered in the United States.

The Chronicle reported last year that Mondragon lured the women to the United States with false promises of legitimate jobs. Once here, traffickers charged the women huge fees for their trip and expenses and held them as prisoners until they could work off what, for many, seemed to be impossible debts.

The women were forced to wear skimpy clothes and sell high-priced drinks to men at local cantinas who were then allowed to touch them.

Mondragon “ruthlessly exploited these women’s hopes for a better life through coercion, false promises and threats of harm. The victims were forced into modern day slavery,” Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Monday. “The Justice Department will devote its efforts to prosecuting those who commit such abhorrent and exploitative crimes.”

More than 120 women were liberated on the night of Nov. 13, 2005, when Mondragon and his fellow defendants were arrested in a massive nighttime raid of five of their bars and restaurants in seedy strip malls in northwest Houston.

Mondragon is the last of eight ring members to be convicted and sentenced.

According to records, Mondragon ran cantinas in Houston for more than a decade, along with Walter Corea. Both are natives of El Salvador. Five members of their families and a female abortionist were previously convicted and sentenced as accomplices.

“The victims in this case were subjected to horrible treatment at the hands of these defendants,” said Tim Johnson, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

Several victims told the Chronicle they were threatened and beaten or told their families back home would be harmed or killed if they attempted escape. Most lived in low-rent apartments or houses watched over by ring members or by security cameras.

Mondragon, a legal permanent resident, his girlfriend and two siblings owned and operated most of the businesses used for trafficking. Corea was accused of serving as chief trafficker, importing women from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras for the ring. Illegally in the United States, he also ran a bar here with his wife and son.

Houston’s Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance spent a year investigating and assembling a case against Mondragon.

On the night of the raid, Mondragon was holding his own farewell party in his bar, El Potrero de Chimino, also known as the Wagon Wheel, on Hempstead Highway. He’d purchased a one-way ticket back home to El Salvador.

That ticket went unused.





Who Wants to Buy a Slumdog Millionaire Actress?

19 04 2009
That’s what 9-year-old Rubina Ali’s impoverished father Rafiq Qureshi is asking. He’s offering her for sale. An undercover team from News of the World, self-described as “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives,” traveled to Dubai after receiving a tip from someone close to Rubina’s family and posed as a wealthy Dubai family interested in illegally purchasing the girl.
 
Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

Uncle, Undercover Team, Rubina's father (to her left), Rubina Ali

One Middle Eastern family has legitimately offered to adopt the girl, but her father has gotten greedy and wants 200,000 pounds for her now (equal to $294,880 in dollars).

The News of the World article points out the father’s utter lack of concern of what could happen to his daughter if she were sold:

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

Children are often seen as commodities in poor areas of India and other countries and parents are left with difficult choices. Rubina’s father said: “We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what’s best for me, my family and Rubina’s future.”

It is difficult to imagine living in such poverty as the people who live in the Mumbai slums. If you have seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you got a glimpse of how they live…and of how Rubina lives.

Rubina’s father is being an opportunist. He knows that she can attract the attention of wealthy people who can give her a better life. In that regard, he is no different from the father of Madonna’s Malawi child giving his son up for Madonna to adopt so he could have a better life. Rafiq Qureshi also sees this as his one chance in life to provide for himself and the rest of his family.

To raffle his child off to the highest bidder sends chills up my spine. It is to see a child as an object…something to sell to get money. I think of the preciousness of a daughter…the hopes for her future, the love she gives and brings to the family, the delight in seeing her grow up and develop into her own person, the pride in knowing that she came from you, etc….I cannot imagine under any circumstance selling her or giving her up.

Is this what poverty does? Harden people to the point that they don’t see children and women as precious? Or is there something in the character and genetics of people…people who are so callous and selfish and money-grubbing that they would sell their own daughter even in the face that she could be prostituted…that leads to their poverty? Can one be so bankrupt in morals and love and basic caring for a child and also expect to live in anything but poverty? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

To realize the preciousness of a child is to see oneself as abundant. All the riches in the world come with having a child. And to see a child only as something to be sold means that the poor cannot see true abundance when they have it and will never truly attain it.

UPDATE 4/21/09: The producers of the Slumdog Millionaire movie have now hired a social worker to look after Rubina after this happened. Rubina’s father has been arrested and there is a huge uproar about this in India. Rubina’s biological mother is demanding custody of Rubina.

UPDATE 4/22/09: Officials have released Rubina’s father and say they have no proof he tried to sell her.





Human Rights Activists on Twitter

8 04 2009

Here are some Human Rights activists I follow on Twitter. I am so twitterappreciative of the work they do and what I learn from them. You might want to check them out too if you’re a Twitter fan.

GENERAL

http://twitter.com/HumanRightsNews – News headlines on human rights

http://twitter.com/hrcberkeley – Human Rights Center UC Berkeley

http://twitter.com/susanneure – Web editor for Amnesty Intl in Canada

http://twitter.com/AmnestyIntl – Amnesty Intl

http://twitter.com/AmnestyUK – Amnesty Intl in UK

http://twitter.com/AmnestyOnline – International Secretariat of Amnesty International

http://twitter.com/phrTweets – Physicians for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/The_Advocates – The Advocates for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/ladu – human rights activist

http://twitter.com/rtsadvocate – human rights activist

HOMELESS/REFUGEES

http://twitter.com/MLFNOW – helping the homeless

http://twitter.com/wrcommission – Women’s Refugee Commission working to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee women and children.

http://twitter.com/theIRC – The International Rescue Committee goes to crisis zones to rescue and rebuild. We lead refugees from harm to home.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/HumanFolly – editor of Change.org Women’s Rights blog

GENDER VIOLENCE

http://twitter.com/sinbysilence - documentary on stopping violence against women

http://twitter.com/FGFoundation – working to end gender violence

http://twitter.com/WRC_DOD – White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/childrensrights – working to reform child welfare systems

TORTURE
http://twitter.com/notorture – healing torture survivors

http://twitter.com/IStandVsTorture – an umbrella campaign for a U.S. Commission to Investigate Torture

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

http://twitter.com/StopConflict – working to stop conflict in the Congo

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

http://twitter.com/AaronCohen777 – rescuing victims of child trafficking

http://twitter.com/TheA21Campaign – abolishing the injustice of human trafficking in the 21st century

 

http://twitter.com/VisionAbolition – dedicated to prevention, rescue, and restoration of sexually exploited and trafficked children

http://twitter.com/RichLeger – human trafficking activist with Abolish Slavery Coalition

http://twitter.com/slaverymap – online repository of human trafficking incidences

http://twitter.com/EBain – author of Season of Light blog on child trafficking

http://twitter.com/BuckUpCampaign – building shelters for sex trafficking victims by asking people to donate $1

http://twitter.com/endingslavery – writer of One Voice to End Slavery blog

http://twitter.com/FredDouglassSon – Frederick Douglas Family Foundation fighting modern day slavery

Here are additional abolitionists (people who fight slavery and human trafficking) from Diana Scimone:

@Freeallslaves
@freedomday
@IJMcampaigns
@IJMHQ
@ijminstitute
@innocentjustice
@Justicecrazy
@lovejustice
@nowhere2hide

@nosilencenow

@Polaris_Project

@advancnonprofit

@AmberGlattSmith

@antitrafficking

@BeverlyHogue
@brandedphx

@cfpdx
@charlestlee

@cortneyr
@dhepburn

@ElCuso12

@fisher_david

@just4one
@LaLaLives
@lwood15
@MaeSotShane

@maryhooke
@mathewhulbert
@MatthewBarnett

@mgjack

@missdeneen
@monicabrand

@mrskutcher
@NatalieGrant
@northernchick
@NYTimesKristof
@respres

@sethjohnson78

@ProjectExodus
@RedLightCC
@ROBLOVE146

@RunForFreedom
@socialheart
@thesoldproject

@Traffickfree
@trafficksucks

In addition to the above, this is a wonderful list from Emily at the Season of Light blog on ending child trafficking on people who twitter on human trafficking:

Individuals:

Diana Scimone, Born2Fly: @DianaScimone

Brandi, Social Heart Blog: @socialheart

Carol Fenton:@cfpdx

Greg Darley: @gregdarley

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times reporter: @nytimeskristof

Somaly Mam, The Somaly Mam Foundation: @somalymam

Seth Johnson, Transitions Global: @sethjohnson78

Stef, Nowhere2Hide: @nowhere2hide

Laura: @LaLaLives

Mae Potter: @maepotter

Amanda Kloer, Change.org blog: @endhumantraffic

Organizations

ECPATUSA: @ecpatUSA

FreeChains: @freechains

IJM: @IJMHQ

Not for Sale: @not_for_sale

Redlight Children: @redlightcc

SheDances: @shedances

The SOLD Project: @thesoldproject

Transitions Global: @transitions_g





International Free the Slaves Awareness Day

26 03 2009

Did you know that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today? Shocking, isn’t it? March 27 is International Free the Slaves Awareness Day. Free the Slaves is a not for profit organization that “… liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever.” They have a 25-year plan to eradicate slavery. Here are facts they list about slavery:

slavery-facts-from-free-the-slaves2

Think slavery doesn’t exist in the U.S.? Think again. Slaves are harbored in 90 U.S. cities. An estimated 50% of the over 14,500 – 17,500 slaves trafficked into the U.S. each year are sex slaves; the other 50% are in the agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing, and other industries.

The largest numbers of slaves – as many as 18 million – are in Pakistan, Nepal, and India. The Free the Slaves website has an interactive map you can click on to find out about slavery in any part of the world.

President Obama calls human slavery a “top priority.” In a March 24, 2009 White House press release, “President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Luis C. de Baca as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department.” If you want to help, Free the Slaves has a whole page of suggestions.

You can read other posts I have written about slavery/trafficking:

The average citizen in the U.S. can possibly save a person being held in slavery by being alert to things that don’t seem right and being inquisitive. A slave may even be a teenager living with their family and being coerced into sexual slavery as is the case in the post mentioned above.

Watch this excellent video from Free the Slaves with personal stories of people enslaved under false pretenses. The resiliency and spirit of people who have been through this horror is amazing. Join Free the Slaves and the many other excellent organizations such as isanctuary.org and FreeGirl Foundation that work to stamp out human slavery and trafficking. We all bear responsibility for our brothers and sisters all over the world.





A Teenage Sex Slave in an American Suburb

13 02 2009

Theresa Flores, 15, living in an up-scale Detroit neighborhood, became a sex slave. New to town, a cute guy offered her a ride home from school and she smittenly took him up on the offer. He took her to his house, kissed her, wouldn’t stop when she said no, and raped her. Stoutly Catholic, the shame of what happened to her caused her to keep it a secret…even from her mother.

MSNBC.com

Theresa Flores, Victim of Sex Slavery - Credit: MSNBC.com

Unbeknownst to her, the rapist’s cousins watched and took photos and these were used to blackmail her. The rapist took her to his cousins’ house. They gang raped and beat her and told her from then on, she had to do whatever they said. Three or four nights a week they would pick her up, drug her, rape her, and let paying “clients” rape her also. This went on for two years until Theresa moved. Her parents never knew.

In college she finally found the courage to say what had happened to her, but by then, it was too late to prosecute the initial rapist who psychologically tortured her into submission.

Theresa appeared on the Today Show today to tell her story…now 28 years later. She is a mother of three and has written a book about what she went through entitled “The Sacred Bath: An American Teen’s Story of Modern Day Slavery.” Amazon contributes this information about Theresa:

Ms. Flores has been a Licensed Social Worker for nearly twenty years. She holds a Master’s of Science in Counseling Education and is a Human Development Specialist. Ms. Flores writes a regular magazine article entitled Spiritual Parenting, facilitates a monthly kid’s group and is the mother of three children. She lectures nationally on parenting, multi-cultural issues and human trafficking. Ms. Flores’ mission is to educate others on the horrors of trafficking and fight against this huge injustice of innocent people. She hopes that by revealing her story, it will give victims of all types of abuse hope and assist in their healing process.

She has a website on this… http://traffickfree.com and has helped open a haven for trafficked girls in Ohio called Gracehaven House. Theresa says there are resources for foreign girls trafficked in the U.S., but not for American girls. There are only 39 beds for such girls in the entire country.

Your next door neighbor could be trafficking teenage girls and using them as sexual slaves. Girls don’t have to be moved somewhere to be trafficked. They could be leading otherwise normal lives and living at home. Your own daughter or sister or someone you know could be a sexual slave. If you have evidence of this or suspicion, you can call the Justice Department human trafficking hotline at 1-888-428-7581.

I wrote another post on human trafficking with statistics and what the state of Texas, where I live and which is one of the top areas where humans are trafficked, is doing about it.

Take the time to tune in to MSNBC on Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. EST for three programs on this topic: “Sex Slaves in America,” “Sex Slaves in the Suburbs,” and “Sex Slaves: The Teen Trade.” We all need to be educated on this topic and keep our eyes open and pay attention to those around us. Sexual slavery can happen anywhere.

I hope you’ll join me in contacting the White House and asking them to add Human Trafficking and Sexual Slavery in the U.S. to their agenda.

FOLLOW-UP

I watched the MSNBC shows mentioned above and they made the point repeatedly that most people have no idea how prevalent sexual slavery is in the U.S. Also, Theresa Flores was interviewed and I heard more of her story. She said on the worst night of her life, she was taken to a house where she was drugged and 20 men raped and beat her. Afterward she made her way in her shortie pajamas and a waitress helped her and called the police. They took her back to her home and her parents did not believe her…they thought she was just out partying…and the slavery continued since they did nothing. Truly, truly tragic.





Heroes Helping Child Sex Trafficking Victims

8 01 2009

Imagine selling all you have to move to India to help child victims of the sex trade. That’s what Stephanie Pollaro did. Fresh from getting a Masters degree in counseling, she had an “ah-ha” moment after reading a women’s magazine article on human trafficking…and knew she had to do something. She met Wendy Hicks on a two-week church trip to India to feed the poor. They stayed in touch and after Stephanie went back…this time to Mumbai…they forged a plan to help these sex trade victims.

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie got in touch with the director of a rescue operation that pulled girls out of forced prostitution and torture and relocated them in a safehouse. Stephanie proposed a plan to teach the girls how to make jewelry and it was agreed. Wendy manages the non-profit organization back in the U.S. and sells the jewelry the girls make. The profit from the sales is then given to the girls and they are able to save money and begin to make a living.

Wendy read my post on children being trafficked and contacted me. I am so impressed with their very simple concept that makes such a difference in the lives of so many. Wendy and Stephanie are true heroes.

Another hero is John Curtis of The Grey Man organization in Brisbane, Australia. He, too, contacted me after reading my post. His non-profit organization focuses its efforts on Southeast Asia and works to eradicate the trafficking and exploitation of children. They rescue children and also educate potential victims of the sex trade.

These people and their organizations are helping children, who were living a nightmare of starvation, light deprivation, being locked in a room, being beaten, and being prostituted by pimps, to have new lives. Stephanie, Wendy, and John would make Teddy Roosevelt proud. Here’s an excerpt from an April 23, 1910 speech he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

To learn more about what Stephanie and Wendy are doing through their organization International Sanctuary, read their blog at http://isanctuary.wordpress.com or visit their organization’s website at http://isanctuary.org.

To learn more about what John and The Grey Man organization are doing, visit http://www.thegreyman.org.

Thanks to these heroes and to the many others in the world helping women and children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

UPDATE 6/16/09: The Grey Man organization was featured on ABC in Australia on 6/15. You can read a transcript of their interview.





What Price for the Sale of a Child?

4 01 2009

Nek Mohammed recently sold his  8-year-old son Qassem in Afghanistan for $1500. He said “I sold a piece of my heart to stop my four other children dying of hunger. I don’t have an elder son. I’m also sick.” The story was told on the RAWA News website, where news about the hardships of life in Afghanistan are reported.

afghan-child-saying-goodbye-to-father-before-being-sold2

A cameraman working for a news channel there captured this heartbreaking goodbye upon the sale of the boy to a wealthy woman. The woman says she bought the boy to help the family out and to give the boy a chance for a good future and education. Selling children is becoming routine in Afghanistan due to the desperation of the people there.

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof is just back from a trip to Asia to investigate human trafficking and sexual slavery there. He tells the story of another child sold…this one, 13-year-old Long Pross, was kidnapped by a young woman and sold to a brothel in Cambodia. She was beaten every day and often also tortured with electrical currents  to force her to be a prostitute. She hadn’t even had a period. Her virginity was sold four times at a high price…after each time she was stitched back up and it was very painful. She was never paid for her work and was not allowed to use condoms. She hasn’t been tested for AIDS yet.

She got pregnant twice and was made to have crude abortions.  After the second abortion, she asked for some time to recover and the female owner of the brothel got so mad, she gouged Long’s eye out and threw her out. Long is being helped now by a young woman who was helped by Somaly Mam, a victim of trafficking who started an organization to help other victims.

long-pross-victim-of-sexual-slaveryHere’s a photo of Long Pross. The Children’s Surgical Center in Cambodia has offered to get her a glass eye, but they cannot take away the pain of what she has suffered. That will last a lifetime.

 The Somaly Mam foundation reports that some children are sold for as little as $5 and some are as young as 5 years old. Profits from sexual slavery are estimated at $7 – 12 billion per year and 2 – 4 million women and children will be sold into prostitution in the next 12 months. Pravda online reports that traffickers in Cambodia get, on average, $482 for selling the virginity of a girl.

So just what is the value of a child? $5?   $482?   $1500?  Can you put a price on the life of any child? What about your child? What is your child worth? Can you put a dollar figure on the life of your child? Why should a child in Cambodia or Afghanistan be worth any less? Why do some people think they have the right to buy and sell children? Wasn’t slavery abolished in the U.S. in 1863? This happens in the U.S., too, and equally shameful is that in Cambodia, 9% of the customers who want to have sex with trafficked children are Westerners.

You can read more about this at http://slavery.alltop.com,  http://humanrights.alltop.com, or the new http://humantrafficking.change.org.

What price for the sale of a child? We all pay the price for these travesties. It deconstructs our moral fabric and it ruins the lives of millions of children who could grow up to be productive, contributing members of society. The people who commit these kidnappings and sales of children are even less human(e) than they think the children they are selling are. Each time another child is sold, it puts a chink in the world’s collective heart and soul and we all feel it.





Is Your Neighbor a Victim of Slavery?

17 11 2008

Slavery may be going on in your neighborhood. It happened in mine. Texas is a major hub for human trafficking per a report released today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. One out of every five victims of human trafficking have been in or travelled through Texas. The Department of Justice includes Houston and El Paso, which both lie along Interstate 10, in its list of “most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country.”

How big a problem is human trafficking? “The Texas Response to Human Trafficking” report says:

The U.S. Department of State’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report estimates that approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders each year. Of those victims, between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. These figures do not include the large number of victims trafficked within their own countries, including domestic victims in the U.S. The State Department also estimates that of those trafficked internationally, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.

The report distinguishes human trafficking from smuggling, which is usually done with the participant’s consent. Human trafficking victims:

…Are forced to work in domestic servitude, sweatshops, agricultural industries and the commercial sex trade, which includes prostitution, exotic dancing, pornography and live-sex shows. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking victims can be found working in ordinary locations, including hotels, restaurants and private residences, and are often “hiding in plain sight.”

I lived in a very nice neighborhood a few years back and was shocked to find out that there was a house a block over from mine where it was discovered that a prostitution ring was being run. These girls were human trafficking victims. We may see these people, but we don’t know the suffering they are enduring. Often they are brought to the U.S. on promises of good work, but then are forced into prostitution to pay over-inflated expenses and even to pay for drugs these women are forcibly given. These young women and even children have no way out.

The Texas report cites a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study, which:

…estimated that between 244,000 and 325,000 U.S. children and youth are ’at risk’ of becoming victims of sexual exploitation, including as victims of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g. child pornography, juvenile prostitution, and trafficking in children for sexual purposes).

In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act  to protect human trafficking victims. The goals of this act are to prevent human trafficking abroad, to protect victims and help them rebuild their lives, and to harshly prosecute traffickers. Over the next five years, 42 federally-funded Bureau of Justice Assistance task forces were created in the U.S. to combat human trafficking, with 5 of those being in Texas (Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio).

According to the report, Texas was “…one of the first states to introduce legislation criminalizing human trafficking. Introduced in 2003 and amended in 2007, the state statute is relatively new and largely untested.” Some of the findings in the report:

 • The need for training permeates the entire cycle of human trafficking, from the early detection of the crime, investigation and subsequent prosecution, to the delivery of services and ultimately to the prevention of the crime, and is vital for educating and  cross-training all those working to assist victims of human trafficking.
• Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• Sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• The state statute is rarely utilized to prosecute human trafficking violations.
• The perception exists that only foreign nationals become human trafficking victims, and there are significant incidents of domestic trafficking within Texas and between states.
• Collaboration among state and federal law enforcement agencies promote better prosecution, protection and prevention of human trafficking violations.

I applaud the State of Texas for taking human trafficking seriously and seeking ways to help victims of this horrendous crime. Just as it happened in my suburban neighborhood, you could be living amongst or interacting with people who are in the throes of being treated as a slave. If you notice something that doesn’t look right to you, I urge you to have the courage to report it. You may just save a life.








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