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.

Learn more about Bridge to Freedom Foundation and how you can help on the BTFF website. We do hope you will subscribe to and follow our blog and please e-mail us at blog@btff.org if you have any feedback, ideas or contributions.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fact: Debt Bondage is the Most Common Way to Enslave a Person

Pakistani farmers in debt bondage. Photo: BBC

Debt bondage, also know as bonded labor, is the most common method of enslavement and yet it is also less known, than other forms of slavery.

 What is Debt bondage? Debt bondage is when an individual's services as a laborer -a bonded laborer- are required or forced as a form of repayment for a loan. The individual is then coursed, fraudulently tricked or trapped into working off their debt. Individuals -and often entire families- are forced to work for very little, or no pay, in order to repay their debt -often for seven days a week.

Bonded laborers are forced to work to repay debts their employer state they owe, and not allowed to work for anyone else -including themselves. To hold a bonded laborer captive various forms of force are used; including physical threats and violence, surveillance, sometimes they are physically held under lock and key. The laborer is then charged many new and inflated fees for food, shelter, transportation, documents, etc. While the value of their work alone is worth more than the original sum of money borrowed or associated, the slave holder ensures that the debt continues to grow -most often to a never ending amount that then forcibly binds the laborer to their now slave master, the land, job or act for life -often a family may still be tied to a debt of another who has passes on years or even decades ago.

The UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery recognizes that some 20 million people are still held in debt bondage around the world. However many estimate that the number of bonded laborers are substantially higher.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Tackling FGM, violence against women and forced marriage around the world 

The theme of this year’s CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) session - when member states representatives come together at UN Headquarters to discuss gender equality and the advancement of women - has been violence against women, a subject much in the hearts of attendees and supporters alike.

Many speakers explained how gender-based violence affects women in their own countries; it was expressed how 48 women an hour are raped in the DRC, and three million of the world’s woman are subjected to female genital mutilation every year, with 10% dying as a result. One of the most shocking examples revealed was how one woman in Burundi had both arms cut off by her husband because she gave birth to a second girl. It’s incomprehensible that anyone could listen to these accounts and not be convinced of the need for immediate and concerted action.

Next year the focus of the CSW will be on the plans that will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. Christian Aid is working hard to encourage world leaders to put the rights of women and girls into the heart of these negotiations, and it was encouraging to hear both Secretary of State Justine Greening and UN Women’s Director Michelle Bachelet both reinforcing this within the last two weeks.

Human Trafficking: The Crisis in Boston

The Obama Justice Department has elevated human trafficking as a major civil rights issue. The Administration has encouraged the creation of local and federal task forces around the country to deal with this growing concern, which, by one estimate, involves the smuggling of nearly 20,000 victims per year into the US. The numbers trafficked within the US for the purposes of sex and labor are considerably higher, by most estimates. New England is not immune to this crisis.

Last spring, a 6-year anti-trafficking investigation led to the indictment of five people charged with conspiracy to smuggle Asian women into Massachusetts for the purpose of prostitution. The victims would be picked up at regularly at the South Station Bus Terminal and then farmed out to apartments and other venues in Quincy, Boston, Stoneham, Wellesley, Newton, Woburn, Malden, Peabody, Somerville, Burlington, Watertown, and Medford.

For nearly a decade, prostitution behind closed doors was essentially legal in Rhode Island. Not during the 1920s, the '30s or the '40s. Prostitution, on the face of it, was legal in Rhode Island up until last November, if it took place indoors. Legislation passed last year closed that loophole, and Lt. Michael Correia believes it has made life that much more difficult for those who traffic human beings.

Brit teenage sex slave girl raped by 90 men over weekend

A teenage girl in Britain was raped by 90 different men in one weekend after allegedly being enslaved by a sex ring. The 16-year-old is said to be ‘deeply traumatized’ by the experience, despite not coming from an ‘at risk’ background. According to the Daily Express, she was caught up in the web of horrific abuse after befriending vulnerable girls. Her claims were revealed in a report by the Centre for Social Justice into modern slavery and sexual exploitation in Britain.

A CSJ spokesman branded the situation ‘absurd and unacceptable’, and called for slavery and exploitation to be handled by the criminal authorities rather than the Minister for Immigration. They want a new Modern Slavery Act passed by Parliament to bring all exploitation crimes together.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Remembering the Child Victims of Slavery on St. Patrick's Day

May St. Patrick guard you wherever you go,and guide you in whatever you do– and may his loving protection be a blessing to you always. 

Saint Patrick, or Naomh Padraig in Irish, was born in Scotland, and as a mere teenager when he was kidnapped from Wales by Irish brigands, raiders, and was then sold as a slave. Enslaved as a farm labor for some six years he eventually escaped and returned home, where he studied to be a priest. Saint Patrick returned some years later to the island where he was once held as a slave to be a missionary, bringing Christianity to the mostly Pagan island, sometime in the 5th century. Saint Patrick found himself enslaved, however he was able to not only overcome his struggles and the cruelty bestowed upon him, but to turn his struggle into empowerment for which he sought to help others.

Sadly today we live in a world that remains cruel, as there are some 27 million men, women and children enslaved across the globe today, many in some of the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable. Children forced to work as sex slaves, forcibly recruited to fight as child soldiers, made to work in hazardous mines and factories, left to toil in the fields all day, all forced to forgo their childhoods and left scared for life by their traffickers and owners.

 No child should ever be a commodity, no child should ever be denied their right to an education, or left to die alone after years of torture and abuse. Thus true, while we live in a world full of slaves, and so many of those who have found freedom, as St. Patrick did have found themselves empowered and some are able to give back and now dedicate their lives to helping others to freedom....Thus while you take today to celebrate the joys of the Irish, forget not the meaning of freedom and sacrifice and look at the example that St. Patrick set-forth as he dedicated his life to others once he was free, and remember those children who have not found freedom.

Originally published on the Foreign Policy Association's blog; CHILDREN by Cassandra Clifford | on March 17th, 2011

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fact: Males are Victims of Sex Trafficking

When you think about sex trafficking do you think about males?

You hear quite a bit about sex trafficking these days, but when you think about it the image of the victim that comes to your mind is that of a female. Sexual violence against males overall has always been a very culturally taboo subject. Regardless of the situations of abuse most male victims do not report their abuse and there are fewer services available to them...and no wonder there is very little mention of them. This lack of mention of male victims in society, by the media has led to what appears as a lack of concern and thus has rendered male victims almost invisible.

The statistics on male victims of sex trafficking are few and far in-between, but that does not mean that they are not out there. If we close our eyes, turn our heads or simply do not see it, it does not mean its not there. This is not a set of isolated cases, nor is it a foreign problem, it is a global problem that stretches from the world of the Bacha Bereesh -“beardless boys”- in Afghanistan to the streets of your very own cities.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

Third of girls in 42 countries forced in to child marriages
More than one-third of all girls are married in 42 countries, according to the U.N. Population Fund, this in reference to females under the age of 18. The highest number of cases occurs in some of the poorest countries, the agency figures show, with the West African nation of Niger at the bottom of the list with 75 percent of girls married before they turn 18. In Bangladesh the figure is 66 percent and in Central African Republic and Chad it is 68 percent. Child marriage is not common in South Africa, where prosecutors are investigating what charges can be brought in the case of a 13-year-old epileptic girl who was forced to leave school and marry a 57-year-old traditional healer in January. Reducing child marriages is key to achieving U.N. millennium goals to improve child mortality and reduce maternal deaths, according to Malawi's Health Minister Catherine Gotani Hara. She said teen pregnancies accounted for up to 30 percent of maternal deaths in that southern African country.

Human-trafficking bill clears key hurdle in Kentucky legislature
A House bill that would stiffen state penalties for human traffickers and provide more services to trafficking victims, recently took a major step toward becoming law. The measure would add more teeth to Kentucky's 2008 human trafficking law. It would provide more training for law enforcement on human trafficking, allow police and prosecutors to seize assets of those involved in human trafficking, and earmark money from the seized assets to pay for victim services. The bill also allows human trafficking victims to receive treatment rather than jail time, a provision sometimes referred to as safe-harbor protection.

The proposal also would require people to report human trafficking to authorities, an essential provision of the bill, said the bill's sponsors, Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, and Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris. Since 2008, advocates have treated 101 human trafficking victims, but there have been only 18 prosecutions — 16 using state law and two using federal law. The vast majority of those cases involve the selling of Kentucky children for sex by someone they know.

MS-13 Gang Members Sentenced to Prison on Sex Trafficking Charges
Jonathan Adonay Fuentes, aka “Cheesy” and “Crazy Boy,” 21, of Clinton, Marlyland, was sentenced to 120 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for sex trafficking a juvenile female as part of a prostitution enterprise operated by the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha Thirteen (MS-13). According to court documents, Fuentes assisted his fellow MS-13 gang members from the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010 run a prostitution ring that specialized in selling juvenile girls for commercial sex. Fuentes admitted in court that he transported a teen girl within Virginia and Maryland to engage in sex with clients.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from the Fairfax County Police Department and HSI, all of whom participate in the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force. Assistant United States Attorneys Zachary Terwilliger and Patricia T. Giles are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

Support bills to fight human trafficking in Connecticut
Connecticut is moving on several parallel tracks when it comes to serving children. Medical, legal, housing and social services are provided through a number of state and non-profit agencies. Several organizations are raising awareness of trafficking with the general public and training law enforcement officials, judges, school officials and others to recognize and report possible cases of human trafficking. And in recent years Connecticut's Legislature has responded by passing several laws related to the care and custody of child victims.

With three bills in total being pushed, one is Senate Bill 45, An Act Concerning Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking, is sponsored by Sen. Martin Looney of New Haven. Among other things, it calls for the, "... superior court to freeze the assets of an accused trafficker and require truck stops and liquor permit premises to post the telephone numbers for state and federal anti-trafficking hotlines." 79 cases of potential human trafficking incidents at truck stops across the country were reported in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available. Although Connecticut is not among the top five states for trafficking incidents at truck stops, all you have to do is travel up and down I-95 in the early morning hours to realize the number of truckers that can be reached with prevention information.

Senate Bill 149 and House Bill 6136,  are the other two bills which appear to be legislation that remit harsh punishment for those persons who are victims of human trafficking. Considering that many of the participants involved in these actions are young and unaware as to how to escape, these bills are an attempt to offer them an escape and new life. All the bills stated are waiting for public hearings to be scheduled.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Executive Director to Sit on Human Trafficking Panel at The George Washington University Law School

Join Bridge to Freedom Foundation this Monday, March 11, 2013 at 8pm at The George Washington University Law School as our Executive Director Cassandra Clifford will discuss the legal obstacles in the fight against modern-day slavery with Professor Susan French, and Martina Vandenberg founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center! Come discuss the legal obstacles in the fight against modern-day slavery with Cassandra Clifford, Professor Susan French, and Martina Vandenberg! Join us on Monday, March 11 at 8:00 pm in LL101. Sponsored by Law Students for Reproductive Justice and The Feminist Forum. Free dinner provided! Cassandra Clifford has been a human rights activist for nearly twenty years and has spent the last six fully dedicating her life to the fight against modern slavery. She founded the Bridge to Freedom Foundation out of both passion and need after years as serving as a non-profit freelance writer. Cassandra's main personal objective is to bring awareness to, and combat modern day slavery in all forms. Her experiences have allowed her to develop the foundation and plan necessary to help bridge the gaps in the fight against modern slavery. Cassandra has done academic research in the areas of: The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War; Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in the Former Soviet Union; Child Soldiers and Human Trafficking. Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes including: Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Cassandra is also the Children's Rights Writer for the Foreign Policy Association (you can see more on her at Children's Rights Blog). Additionally, Cassandra also writes for the Examiner as the DC Human Rights Examiner and formally sat on the leadership board for the DC based citizen activist group Stop Modern Slavery. Learn more about her work here: http://www.bridgetofreedomfoundation.org/Our%20Team.html Susan French, a current professor at GW Law has worked as a senior trial attorney with the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice. Ms. French has prosecuted single and multiple victim cases including, among others, a sweatshop slavery case involving over 250 victims, a domestic servitude case involving a young Guatemalan woman who was forced to work and provide sex and a domestic servitude case out of Ft. Worth, Texas, involving a Nigerian woman who worked over eight years for a couple and was forced to submit to the male defendant’s sexual demands. Learn more about her work at GW Law School here: http://www.law.gwu.edu/News/newsstories/Pages/2013SusanFrench.aspx Martina Vandenberg founder of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center has been working to fight human trafficking for over two decades, working with the United Nations and Congress. More information about Ms. Vandenberg's very impressive history in the fight against human trafficking: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/people/martina-vandenberg

Happy International Women's Day

Today, March 8th is International Women's Day and with that I wanted to take a moment to honor and thank all of the amazing, strong, beautiful and intelligent women across the globe.

While Bridge to Freedom Foundation does not work with just female survivors, women and girls comprise 80% of modern slavery victims.

Please take a look at the post -Making Progress to Curb Violence Against Women and Girls- I wrote for the day and covering the current session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on the Foreign Policy Association Blog.  The post will provide you with more information on the long battle against gender-based violence and for gender equality, so I do hope you will take a moment to read it. 

Please take an opportunity on this day to not only thank the women in your life, but to honor and support those women and girls who are fighting daily for their basic freedoms and rights. While we not only use this day to honor these women we also celebrate the inspiring and courageous work that so many women -and men- around the world are doing to secure and ensure that the rights of women and girls are put into place to see a future for all that is both more tolerant and sustainable for all. Please remember that many voices have been silenced in the battle for gender equality and we must all ensure that we speak loudly so that their silence will be broken. Therefore I ask you to take a moment to support as a volunteer, advocate or donor to the many programs -such as Bridge to Freedom Foundation- that seek to empower women and girls to lead thriving lives.

FACT: More than 140 Million Girls will marry between 2011 and 2020

Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund. Of the 140 million girls who will marry before the age of 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15. Despite the fact that 158 countries have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years, laws are rarely enforced since the practice of marrying young children is upheld by tradition and social norms. Child marriage, which has existed for centuries, is a complex issue, rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. The practice is most common in rural and impoverished areas, where prospects for girls can be limited. In many cases, parents arrange these marriages and young girls have no choice.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Modern Slavery News Round-Up

North Carolina Lawmakers target sex trafficking They smuggle sex slaves into North Carolina and profit from forced prostitution, but you won’t find their names and arrest photos on the state sex offender registry. A bill filed this week in the North Carolina Senate would close that loophole, designating those convicted of human trafficking as sex offenders and subjecting them to the same monitoring requirements as rapists and child molesters. State Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, signed on with Sens. Thom Goolsby and Stan Bingham as Senate Bill 122’s primary sponsors.

New York Teachers Use Slavery to Teach Math, Cause Uproar The principal of P.S. 59, a well-thought-of elementary school that draws students from Midtown and the area around the United Nations, told the Daily News that she was “appalled” by the assignment and has ordered sensitivity training for all of the staff. Last month, one of the fourth-grade teachers sent pupils home with math problems that were based on slavery.

Nepali actor held in Delhi for human trafficking A 39-year-old Nepali actor was arrested here, along with two of his accomplices, for running a human trafficking racket, police said on Sunday. He cheated people on the pretext of getting them work visa for foreign countries.

Wyoming Human Trafficking Ban To Become Law Next Week
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) said Saturday he is planning to sign legislation that will make his state the last in the nation to ban human trafficking.

Kenyans sue over rapes as elections loom Less than two weeks before general elections in Kenya, women and men who say they were sexually assaulted during violence linked to the country's elections in 2007 have filed suit against the government for failing to investigate. Only one of the eight candidates running for president is female, and, while the constitution says that a third of the seats in parliament must be guaranteed to women, the country's male-dominated assembly is blocking the practice.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fact: You Have Slaves Working for You

Did you know that you have slaves working for you? We know you are shaking your head in horror right now saying, "no, way...it's not true I wouldn't ever do such a thing!" But the sad truth is you are -we all are! How is this possible you ask? Well have you been shopping lately? Did you buy a smartphone, computer, T-shirt, cup of coffee, a bar of chocolate? Well then the chances are, slaves made them. Modern Slavery and forced labor are sadly alive and well and it's tainting the supply chain and the consumer products we buy every day. The people who picked the cotton that made your T-shirt; the gold and diamonds in your jewelry; and harvest the coffee or cocoa beans in your mocha latte; may have all been slaves -and all were working for you. Some 27 million people are enslaved worldwide and they are supporting the lifestyle and cheap consumer products we have all grown used too. Slavery Footprint, a website and mobile app has been created to help us all measure the role forced labor plays in supporting our lifestyles. Therefore while we would all like to think that there are no slaves working for us, there are, but the great news is once we become more educated on what our "slavery footprint' is then we can begin to reduce it. While having no slaves at all impacting our 'slavery footprint" is the goal it is a long battle as even the most conscientious of consumers -like BTFF- are not exempt—according to the calculator -we all have slaves forced to work against their will for us, but by taking this first step we can begin to set them free.