National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. 80% of transnational victims of human trafficking are women and girls. Visit the Polaris Project‘s page on to get informed and help pass anti-trafficking legislation.

The Reverend Elizabeth Kaeton, an Episcopal priest in New Jersey, blogs at Telling Secrets about social justice and feminist issues in the church. Her Jan. 8 post, “The Unholy War Against Women“, calls on religious leaders to devote more resources to protecting women’s human rights:

The stories are horrific. Difficult to imagine. Impossible to understand.

Consider: A report from Amnesty International finds that rape and other forms of sexual violence in Darfur are being used as a weapon of war in order to humiliate, punish, control, inflict fear and displace women and their communities.

These rapes and other acts of sexual violence constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report also examines the consequences of rape which have immediate and long-term effects on women beyond the actual physical violence.

The weapons of sexual violence are, by no means, limited to use in Darfur. You’ll find reports of “rape camps” in Bosnia. Congo. Sierra Leon. Iraq. Afghanistan. China. Japan. Cambodia.

Name a war-torn country and you will find places where rape is the norm and its victims – some as young as 3 years old – are dying a slow death of the physical, psychological and social effects of the aftermath of this violence.

Some of them have been genitally mutilated. Some raped with broken bottles or sticks or guns. Some now have permanent colostomies.

Others have permanent fistulas which seep fecal matter through their torn vaginal vaults, causing a stench that isolates them socially. They await a doctor’s surgical repair – which may take years for one to come near her village – or for the woman to find the strength to walk the many, many miles to the clinic to see a doctor.

They eke out a living after their husbands leave them. They try to love the child who came into being as a result of the rape. There are other “gifts” left by their rapists: STDs and TB, HIV infection and AIDS.

Some of them simply “stop living” and walk as “the living dead.”

On June 20, 2008 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war. Human rights groups hailed the vote as historic, but it is no legal remedy. Tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence still do not have the status of victims of the war.

Consider: Hundreds of girls, some as young as nine, and young women in the UK are forced into marriage each year, according to the report published by the Ministry of Justice into the first year of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act of 2007.

The report says the women and girls come under physical, psychological, sexual, financial and emotional pressure.

“A woman who is forced into marriage is likely to be raped and may be raped repeatedly until she becomes pregnant,” the report says.

Consider: The New Canaan camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya is named to sound like a promised land, but for many of the women living inside, it is anything but paradise.

That’s because increasingly, women living in this and other refugee camps in Kenya and throughout Africa are faced with a terrible choice: feed themselves and their families via prostitution or risk starvation and death.

Consider: While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visitors expected to attend the World Cup games, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament.

During a three-week investigation by a Times reporter into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, a lucrative trade in child sex was easily discovered. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. “I’m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup,” said a trafficker.

I’m willing to bet that this man, like the other pimps and soldiers and rapists, has a mother. He may have sisters. He may even have a wife.

What happened to the boy who was nursed by his mother? The brother who played with his siblings? The husband and father of his family?

A ‘trafficker’ sounds like a blue collar job. A ‘soldier’ has always meant a person of honor. A rapist? Well, the name has always carried its own dishonor.

How did the transformation from human being to monster begin?

We have new, political terms for what is happening to women, world-wide:

Human Trafficking.

The New Slave Trade.

New Weapons of War.

I call it The Unholy War Against Women.

Nothing new about it.

It’s as old as sin.

And, becoming a world-wide pandemic, infecting the soul of the cosmos.

This quote from the Times article illustrates that this war is a multinational business operation:

Although its 1996 constitution expressly forbids slavery, South Africa has no stand-alone law against human trafficking in all its forms.

Aid groups estimate that some 38,000 children are trapped in the sex trade there. More than 500 mostly small-scale trafficking syndicates — Nigerian, Chinese, Indian and Russian, among others — collude with South African partners, including recruiters and corrupt police officials, to enslave local victims.

The country’s estimated 1.4 million AIDS orphans are especially vulnerable. South Africa has more HIV cases than any other nation, and a child sold into its sex industry will often face an early grave.

On a related note, in January 9’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote about The Elders, a council of retired leaders headed by Nelson Mandela, who are targeting the ways in which religion is used to bolster discrimination against women:

Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?

It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.

Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.

“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia.

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the “basic causes of the violation of women’s rights,” is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

The Elders are neither irreligious nor rabble-rousers. They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they begin their meetings with a moment for silent prayer.

“The Elders are not attacking religion as such,” noted Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights. But she added, “We all recognized that if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”

Read the whole article here.

See also:

Breaking Free Press Release: National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (1/11/10)

  • The UN estimates that at least 27 million poeple are enslaved in the world today. This is more than at ANY other time in history.
  • 80% of humans sold as slaves today are women and girls
  • 50% are children
  • Human Trafficking is the fastest growing black market trade on the planet.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Columbus Dispatch: “Horror of Teen Sex Slavery Not Foreign Woe; It’s Here” (1/25/09)
“I can’t describe to you the feeling of terror. No child should ever have to know that kind of fear. I didn’t know what I was going to have to endure that night, for how long, or if I was going to come back home.”

What started innocently with Flores’ infatuation with an older male classmate turned to date rape caught on film by some of the rapist’s friends. They used the photos to blackmail the girl into sexual slavery that lasted two years and involved hundreds of men.

Testimony in Minneapolis: Prostitutes Blackmailed with Porn

Escort Prostitution: A Response to Tom Vannah, Editor of the Valley Advocate
Mr. Vannah concedes that “there is some percentage of people who are not willing participants in the sex industry”, but believes that if the Advocate refuses to accept Massage/Escort ads, this will unacceptably crimp “artistic freedom”. He mentions Mapplethorpe pictures as an example. How dropping ads for commercial sex enterprises will compel the Advocate to turn away Mapplethorpe pictures is not clear to us…

Letter to Gazette: “Urges Valley Advocate to stop running escort ads”
In an interview on WHMP radio in March 2008, Valley Advocate editor Tom Vannah argued that most prostituted women freely choose their “job,” but the reality is that most feel trapped by poverty, abuse, addiction and coercion. The harm, trauma and despair are all too evident. It’s time for the Advocate to exit the escort business.

Our Poster to the Valley Advocate: “Stand up for women! Drop your Massage/Escort ads”

MSNBC Investigates Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the US; Valley Advocate Advertises “Foreign Fantasies” Where “Everything Goes”

Not For Sale Media Project; Downloadable Posters

Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pimp?” (Part One)
The women are often offered legitimate jobs, but then forced into prostitution. Many are unable to leave the location and moved between brothels by transporters within the trafficking network. There have several who were threatened with gang violence, harm to family members at home, and abduction of children if they tried to leave. Some women were in debt bondage. Most had experienced some type of sexual violence or coercion from customers frequenting the brothels. All desired to escape their circumstances if they had adequate opportunities.

Polaris Project: “The Washington Post: A Paper Pim? (Part Two)”

Prostitution: Factsheet on Human Rights Violations (explicit language)
In one study, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide. Prostituted women comprised 15% of all completed suicides reported by hospitals…

Pornography Trains and Indoctrinates Prostitutes
In a study of 475 people in prostitution (including women, men, and the transgendered) from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Zambia)…92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution immediately…

S.M. Berg: Hey, progressives! Cathouse got your tongue?

“Trade – A Film Brings Sex Trafficking Home”
Trade makes it clear that traffickers do not operate in a vacuum. Theirs is a complex and determined industry, enslaving both women and children through coercion, violence, and drugs. It is painfully apparent in the film that there are often moments when everyday people could intervene – but choose not to…

New York Times: “The Girls Next Door”; Worldwide Sex Trafficking; Role of Porn
Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves says: ”The physical path of a person being trafficked includes stages of degradation of a person’s mental state. A victim gets deprived of food, gets hungry, a little dizzy and sleep-deprived. She begins to break down; she can’t think for herself. Then take away her travel documents, and you’ve made her stateless. Then layer on physical violence, and she begins to follow orders. Then add a foreign culture and language, and she’s trapped…”

New York Times: “For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival” (10/27/09)

Gloria Steinem at Smith: Cooperation, Not Domination
…there are more slaves in proportion to the world’s population–more people held by force or coercion without benefit from their work–more now than there were in the 1800s. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking, children and adults forced into armies: they all add up to a global human-trafficking industry that is more profitable than the arms trade, and second only to the drug trade. The big difference now from the 1800s is that the United Nations estimates that 80% of those who are enslaved are women and children…

Hunt Alternatives Fund: Demand Abolition
Demand Abolition supports the modern-day slavery movement by combating the demand for sex trafficking. By conducting and disseminating research, convening key stakeholders to share best practices, and educating policymakers, Demand Abolition catalyzes systemic social change to reflect the dignity of all people.

Polaris Project Launches

Press Release: Action Network to use RNC and Minnesota State Fair to Bring Attention to Problem of Sex Trafficking

Sweden’s Prostitution Solution: Why Hasn’t Anyone Tried This Before?

Abolishing Prostitution: The Swedish Solution – An Interview with Gunilla Ekberg by the Rain and Thunder Collective

Partners In Health Helps Give Prostituted Women Real Choices in Malawi