Welcome to the Bridge to Freedom Foundation Blog

Thank you for visiting the Bridge to Freedom Foundation (BTFF) blog, where we look forward to bringing you inside information on the inner-workings of BTFF, inside information on our volunteer team and leadership, in-depth coverage of BTFF and partner events, news and happenings from across the globe and so much more.

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Thank you for your support!
Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

A judge granted a preliminary junction on Friday that will prevent the enforcement of a new Washington State law that would require adveritising companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.  Backpage.com, the main target of the law in an effort to combat minor sex trafficking, asked for the preliminary injunction after citing the 1st, 5th and 14th ammendments.  Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, a supporter of the new law, agreeded that the "Constitution provides protection for speech advertising illegal activities...[but] we must continue the war against sexual exploitation of children."

Experts discuss ways to curb human trafficking
A colloquium in India on Sunday was attended by over 500 people in order to discuss concerns related to human trafficking and how to combat it.  A documentary created by the United Nations was shown and even appeals by Bollywood actors were featured.  It was emphasized that the legal framework to curb human trafficking as too many loopholes and 80% of the present child labor force is in the agricultural sector, with 65 procedures forbidden by the Child Labor Act. 

7 held in human trafficking raid
Seven people, five men and two women, were referred to a court in Ras Al Khaimah on charges in human trafficking after being arrested in May for involvement in a prostitution ring.  It was revealed the a female manager of a nightclub in the emirate forced women to act as prostitutes by threatning to prevent their return to home countries.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Feds dismiss largest US human trafficking case
Last Friday a federal judge dismissed human trafficking charges against executives and associates of Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a labor recruiting company.  The firm was accused of exploiting 600 of workers from Thailand through debt, confiscating passports and threats of deportation.  The case was dropped after it was made clear to prosecutors that they could not prove the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt."  Even Global Horizons attorney, Michael Green, stated that it was "very unusual" to dismiss a case with no intention of bringing it back.

Spotlight on human trafficking in Pennsylvania
A recent study released last month by a research agency has prompted an effort to legally define human trafficking in a broader sense in Pennsylvania.  The state has been known as a "transportation hub", but the study shows that it is also a source and destination for victims of trafficking.  Human trafficking was made a felony in 2006, but there is no clear distinction between labor and sex trafficking and victims are still treated as criminals.  The study confess that "while the crime...is not in its infancy, combating [it] at the state level is new."

Teen's brothel escape triggers Mexico clampdown
Only 14 years old, two cousins were abducted while waiting for their evening bus home and then sold to a pimp who forced them into prostitution.  These girls were beaten, raped, forced alcohol and drugs.  They were witness to terrible crimes, including the induction of an eight year old into their world.  After finally escaping, these girls' stories have resulted in the State's Attorney Office closing down 600 establishments and making human trafficking a federal crime, punishable up to 40 years in prison.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nefarious Screening Raises Complex Questions

This past Monday the historic Byrd Theater in Richmond hosted a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, put on by the Richmond Justice Initiative.  The movie traveled across the world while exploring the underworld of prostitution, ingrained with sex trafficking:  From the borders of Eastern Europe, to the heart of Southeast Asia, ending in Las Vegas, director Benjamin Nolot raises the difficult, and much debated, question: can commercial sex trafficking really end if prostitution still exists?  It is probably one of the most controversial, and complicated, questions in regards to human trafficking, but what Nefarious explored was how different countries approached this question.

Amsterdam is, of course, one of the most famous examples as prostitution has been legalized.  This decision was partly based on the idea that this would create a safer environment for girls in the lifestyle.  Nefarious raises doubts on the claim through interviews with former prostitutes and even a brothel owner.  Although prostitution was legalized, the owner still had a "panic button" within easy reach for a girl and one witness testified to most girls still having pimps.  Are these indicators of a truly safer environment?

Nolot brings stark contrast to his film by also focusing on Sweden, a country that has made the buying of sex illegal through the Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services.  While this seems on track with many other parts of the world, Sweden broke ground with this law by not punishing the girl at all; they are offered assistance and services while the johns are given sentences that are the equivalent to a US felony.  While prostitution has not been eradicated in Sweden, it's government can say with confidence that after being in affect for over ten years, there has been no new recruitment into the commercial sex trade.

While there are many debates over how to "solve" prostitution, what is statistics, and movies like Nefarious, have made clear is that one can never assume a women in the commercial sex trade is not a victim of modern slavery.  These contrasts made by Nolot in his film raises the logical question of how the United States is working to identify and aid victims caught trapped in sex trafficking.

The most shocking finding?  The range in policy across the the country.  Washington State has been praised as one of the ground breakers in prostitution reform with revised laws that have increased the penalty for patronizing a prostitute, where a buyer could even have to register as a sex offender after multiple convictions. On the other hand, North Carolina's policy is identical across the board: from prostitute to pimp, everyone receives a misdemeanor.  In a world where domestic minor sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, the US cannot take the risk of ignoring these concerns.   Whether prostitutes are in the trade by choice should not be the main concern.  The reality is that human trafficking victims are held in slavery under the guise of prostitution and legislation must be reviewed in order to free them.

Do your part today and write your congressman or congresswomen and ask what your state is doing to protect those forced, coerced and tricked into commercial sex trafficking.

Interested in Nefarious? Buy the DVD here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Senate Hearing Highlights Action Against Human Trafficking

Last Tuesday, the U.S Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on human trafficking. The hearing, entitled The Next Ten Years in the Fight Against Human Trafficking: Attacking the Problem with the Right Tools, sought to address the role of the U.S in combatting this issue, current problems and concerns that are hindering further progress in the field, as well as possible solutions. Presided by Senator John Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee, the witnesses were:

       ·         Jada Pinkett-Smith, a well-known actress and recent advocate against human trafficking
·         David Abramowitz, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United
·         Holly Burkhalter, Vice President of Government Relations at the International Justice Mission

Other committee members who attended the hearing were Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Benjamin Cardin, Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Jim Webb, and Senator Barbara Boxer.

When asked by Senator Kerry to voice what they believe is the “single most important thing we can do [to fight against human trafficking],” the responses were more adequate funding for programs that protect victims and help victims transition, more law enforcement training and an integrated approach to victims services, and  political support and money.

Some of the other important issues addressed during the hearing included the importance of witness testimony and knowledge in educating others about human trafficking and supporting efforts to end it, the negative perceptions of human trafficking victims and the lack of adequate training for law enforcement officers in the field, the accountability of traffickers for crimes committed in and outside of the U.S., and the reduction of resentment for the U.S, by other countries, while still maintaining the standards of our legislation.

Speaking of legislation, Senator Kerry deemed U.S. legislation on human trafficking as “frankly too tame, and too limited.” According to Abramowitz, the California Transparency and Supply Chains Act “requires transparency on what companies are doing to eliminate modern-day slavery from their supply chains.” Additionally, the Senator Boxer mentioned that the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, also known as the C.A.S.E Act or Proposition 35, would “increase prison terms for human traffickers…require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders…require all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, and…require criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims.

It seems that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is headed in the right direction in its fight against human trafficking. Who knows? In the future, we may see the creation of a separate bureau, a Trafficking in Persons Bureau, as suggested by Burkhalter. Hopefully, one day we will see an attitudinal change among law enforcement officers that work closely with victims, where they will see them as victims rather than punishable perpetrators. Regardless, it is very important for constituents to urge their congressmen to act and place the combat of human trafficking as a priority.

To watch the hearing, go to http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/the-next-ten-years-in-the-fight-against-human-trafficking-attacking-the-problem-with-the-right-tools. If you would like to learn more about the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, go to http://www.foreign.senate.gov/.
Also, learn about the CASE Act here: http://www.caseact.org/case/factsheet/

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Minister broaches decriminalizing sex work
The Trafficking in Persons Prevention Committee of Antigua was challenged this past week by Minister of National Security, Dr. Errol Cort, to "think outside the box."  He asked them to do so by considering the prospect of decriminalizing sex work in Antigua and Barbuda.  Cort used the Sweden Model as back up to this brainstorm.  President of Woman Against Rape (WAR), Alexandria Wong, was also in favor of the board discussing this option.  "The suggestion should not be thrown out.  It should be given  a lot of consideration as we go forward in the process."

'Summer Brides': Under-age daughters sold as sex slaves in Egypt
According to the newly released Trafficking in Persons Report, wealthy Arab tourists are paying paying money to purchase under-age Egyptian girls as "summer brides".  These marriages are not legal and are often set up by the girl's parents for supplemental income.  The marriage ends when the man decides to return home to their families.  A bride can cost  anywhere from $459 to $4,950 and the girls can be used as both servants and sex slaves by their "husbands".  Dr. Hoda Badran, chairman of the NGO Alliance for Arab Woman, explains that it's mostly poverty that drives families to sell their daughters.  "You can imagine how poor they are."

Google search for human traffickers, drug cartels
For the past few months Google has been using its resources and capabilities to catch criminals.  As drug cartels, money launderers and human traffickers set up their businesses online, Google Ideas has been working with the Council on Foreign Relations to search for ways to break up these international crime rings.    "Google is in a great position to take these on, says Rani Hong, a survivor and adviser to the United Nations.  Officials are meeting this week for a summit in California to develop strategy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Cost of Demand

In 2005 Shared Hope International conducted a studied in four separate countries (United States, Netherlands, Jamaica and Japan) to investigate the impact of demand on woman and child who are victims of commercial sex trafficking.  It then turned their results into a 30 minute video titled DEMAND.  It's findings?  Without demand, the 2 million that are currently victims would no longer exist.    But while the solution is seemingly obvious, its implementation is difficult to  incomprehensible. How do we eradicate something that, according to the DEMAND, is affecting every major center, every major city in the United States?

In order to understand demand, one must look not only at the "consumer," but also the seller.  In his article "Understanding the Demand", Kevin Bales reveals that "slaves today are cheaper than at any other time in history."  Whether it's due to an increasingly desperation among third world populations, or high population counts, trafficking people is surpassing drugs and weapons in profits.  Not only is it profitable, but the risk is relatively low cost.  Bales discusses how difficult it is to penetrate what he calls the "wholesale chain."  The web of recruiters, transporters and traffickers is so complex and varying that it's difficult to disrupt them.  This provides a relative safety net for traffickers.  Low cost + low risk = high demand.

The high demand comes not just from the low risk for the seller, but from the low risk to the buyer as well.  There is a legal sex market in the United States with strip clubs, peep shoes and pornography, but Demand says that even legal businesses can become fronts for trafficking by turning a blind eye.  It's close to impossible to ensure that all girls in these venues are "free" and many times, they are underage.

On paper this all makes sense, but it's in reality that things get complicated.  How do we tell the difference? How do we separate the victims from those seeking this lifestyle?  The most basic answer? Education.  If the public chooses to become aware of the issue of modern slavery and learn how to identify victims, this will lead to an increase in reports and apprehensions by authorities."  As Bales puts it: "an increase in risk to the perpetrator will decrease the demand."  Education will also decrease the likelihood that society will be able to rationalize the activity of buying trafficked people.  A strongly negative public attitude toward trafficking would make it prohibitive to buying sex, just for the fact that the consequences for the "product" to be a trafficked woman or child would be so high.  The stronger the attitude, the higher the prosecutions, argues Bales.

Take the first step to saving trafficked women and children buy watching DEMAND and then sharing it with friends and family.  By creating awareness about the cost of buying sex, we can create a force that will lead to better victim identification and international cooperation.  Make the pledge to end demand.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

4 arrested in Florida foster child prostitution ring
Miami authorities are accusing four men of operating an underage prostitution ring.  Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle says most girls were 15 to 17 years old and were in foster care due to previous abuse.  The men lured these girls into the sex trade through cellphones, gifts of clothing and attention.  A problem across the country, these pimps shower girls with attention and then lure them into prostitution. Florida is the third most popular destination for domestic sex trafficking of minors and at least 300,000 children are at risk.

Ottawa bans sex trade business from hiring foreign workers
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a ban on sex trade industry employees from hiring workers.  "We're protecting them from what they might not know will happen to them when they get to Canada," he explained at a press conference.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada will not process new work permit applications from temporary foreign workers who wish to work in places like a massage parlor, strip club or escort agency.  Representatives of the sex industry are considering challenging the new regulation.

Over 800 held after child-trafficking bust
An operation involving 10,000 Chinese police officers has broken up a child-trafficking ring that was operating in 15 provinces.  802 people where arrested who were selling babies to the highest bidder for up to 5,000 pounds (close to $8,000).  181 children were freed during raids that police say took place simultaneously across China. An unidentified police officer says they are managing the practice , but it's still prominent in certain areas.  However, since it's campaign to combat trafficking started in 2009, 24,000 kidnapped women and children have been rescued.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Stolen" Sneak Peak at DC SMS Meeting

Shamere McKenzie does not hide from the fact that she is a survivor of sex trafficking.  Sold a false dream by a seemingly nice man, McKenzie ended up being forced into sexual services and subject to physical violence for too many nights.  Nowadays, as a Protected Innocence Initiative Policy Assistant for Shared Hope International and a mentor to fellow survivors, she is a testament to the strength and perseverance of survivors modern slavery.  In a small room above the Mad Hatter in DC, McKenzie revealed a bit of the sex trafficking world to her audience at the Stop Modern Slaverymeeting on Monday night.  "Trafficking is a subculture," she shared.  "It has its own code of conduct, its own language and its own consequences."  Modern slavery is in our own backyard with between 14,500 and 17,500 and it can be seen every night  in cities across the country, including K Street in downtown DC.  Traffickers and buyers can be an uncle, a brother, a cousin, a boyfriend, a mother...and victims can be your sister, your neighbor, your cousin, your daughter, your son.  "Pimp Codes" can be compared to the slave codes where victims work long hours, take 0% of their earnings and don't control decisions such as when they eat.  It's a business where 13 is the average age of entry and traffickers are earning millions of dollars a year.

Soon after McKenzie stepped down, Stacy Jewell Lewis stepped up to share with the audience a preview of  the fear she felt as a victim from her upcoming play, Stolen: From Playgrounds to Streetlights, which will be premiering at the Atlas Theater in early August.  A stirring and dramatic monologue, Lewis let her words create a scene of desperation and terror, but also one of hope- hope for survivors and also hope for the volunteers and activists dedicated to eradicating this epidemic.  Her story will be one of many, including McKenzie's, that will be featured in her play as a call to action and a catalyst to ignite indignation and passion.

This year DC Stop Modern Slavery and BTFF are partnering, along with another 13 organizations, for the Stop Modern Slavery Walk on September 29th at the Washington Monument.  To register to be part of our team or to donate please click here.  Not only will there be a walk, but survivors like McKenzie and Lewis will be present to speak, as well as musical performances.

In a week when we are hard pressed to reflect on our liberty in this country, we must also take the time to remember those whose freedoms have been abused.  If you have come across ANYTHING that resembles human trafficking please call the hotline at 1-888-3737-888

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Nestlé advances child labor battle plan
After the chocolate producer's cocao supply chain was found with numerous child labor violations, Nestlé has allowed the Fair Labor Association to perform a study in order to start eradicating child labor within its production cycle.  The investigation has uncovered numerous grievances including 72 injuries due to machetes and unpaid workers.  Jose Lopez, the vice-president of operations, has promised that they desire to make an impact. "We will work with the World Cocoa Foundation and be in schools, we will work with International Cocoa Initiative and gather the cooperatives and put people there ... to give training on the farmers."  Nestlé can now be held accountable for sustainable changes that can help bring about code-compliant cocoa.

Thailand remains major center for trafficking
According to their ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand is still a soucre, transit and destination of modern slavery.  Provinces in the north are starting points for domestic trades, but victims also arrive from Laos, Myanmar and China.  One district, Songkhla Sadao, hosts 120 sex-offering establishments alone.  According to many sources, the victims are entered into the trade at the age of 11 to 15.  The anti-human trafficking unit rescued 36 underage girls from Myanmar last year alone.  Human trafficking has also come to include boys and men who are forced to work on fishing trawlers.

Gov't drive against trafficking obtains budgetary support
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)announced on the first that its proposed $100 million for 2013, which is double the current budget.  IACAT head and Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente B. Salazar says the budget is consistent with the recommendations made by the newly released Global Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.  The funding will mainly go to address key issues such as advocacy, rehabilitation, prosecution and partnership.  Although the plan has yet to be finalized, the next step is to send the proposal through to Congress after is resumes on July 23rd.