Ending Human Trafficking: Words matter Part 1 – Why you shouldn’t say “prostitute”

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”  Psalm 141:3

Words matter. The bible is full of verses that speak to this very sentiment, but the one most often repeated is “What goes into someone’s mouth doesn’t defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them …” Mathew 15:11. When I was growing up there was a word my father hated when I’d say – truth be told I only said it because I knew he hated it, teenagers, right? [insert eye roll]. He hated the word “crap”, swore up and down that it wasn’t “lady like” to use that word. I’ve never fully understood his distaste for the word, but as an adult I do my best to not use it.

I’ll admit, I’ve sworn a few times in my life, usually when I’m really upset, frustrated and lost. My friends who swear all agree that there is power that comes from saying certain words, it feels like the fullness of your emotion is represented in some words. Absolutely no one can miss how you are feeling about a specific topic if you use specific words. Both Christians and non-Christians agree on this one thing – words have power!

Entering into the fight against human trafficking, there are a lot of “curse” words, I guess you could call them. It isn’t just the dictionary meaning applied to them, but the cultural messages that tag along with them when they’re spoken.

“The tongue can give life or death …” Proverbs 18:21

The reality is, we’ve all likely said these words or phrases often in our lives – some of these phrases are actually most often heard IN SIDE circles committed to ending sex trafficking.

I’ve heard speakers say “prostitute(s)” instead of “person being prostituted” [or sold, bought, etc.].

Or, “alleged” instead of “reported” when referring to sexual violence cases that have not been recognized in a court of law.

I’ve heard phrases like, “Sex with minors” instead of “raping minors” when referring to adults being charged and/or convicted of criminal sexual conduct.

Or, “boys will be boys” in response to young boys, men and even older men committing horrendous abuse and violations on another person.

Or, “Man up” and “Be a Man” instead of “hey, do the right thing!”

Or, “Grow a pair!” and even this one “he/she has some balls!” instead of “hey! Have some courage!” or “gosh! Look at that courage that person displayed!”

You may say, “Jess, don’t you think you’re being a little sensitive?”, and to that I scream back, “NO!” [see what I did there?] but all kidding aside, the answer is “yes and no”.

I am being sensitive to the power that our words hold over ourselves and others around us. I’m not being sensitive as in my feelings are so hurt that I can’t function and go through life with you if you tell me to “grow a pair” when I’m feeling scared about something – although it’s kind of mean so please don’t.

The thing is, many of us don’t know the origins of the words and phrases we’re even using. We just use them because they’ve always been said around us. We aren’t taught the “right” way to communicate our thoughts and feelings. For instance, let’s look at some phrases often used today in every day lingo and see how “not serious” the origins are…

Can you tell me, without googling, where the phrase, “rule of thumb” comes from? …. I’ll give you some time to think about it.

If you have to google it, okay – otherwise you can read further and I’ll just tell you!

Common law in the United States up to 1976 – you read that right – allowed for husbands to whip their wives as long as the stick or object was no bigger than the width of their thumb so it was coined… can you guess? “the rule of thumb.”

Okay, how about another one? Where does the phrase, “fly by the seat of your pants” come from? …. This one is a fun one actually. It stems from pilots in the early years of aviation not having all the fancy gadgets and electronics that we do today. Pilots were literally, “flying by the seat of their pants”.

Simple words like “coke” or “pop” can tell people which part of the United States you are from. [it’s pop by the way!].

So, what’s the big deal with saying some of the above? Our words have the power to either invite people into a conversation or push them out of the conversation. By giving something a word, we have the ability to give it worth and credence.

Calling a woman (or man) who is a victim of trafficking or being prostituted a “prostitute” perpetuates a myth and continues to hide victims from being named.

Because when most people hear the word “prostitute” they think, “a person, typically a woman, who gets paid to have sex.” or worse.

The word prostitute has a horrible stigma attached to it. Consider the times you’ve heard prostitute referenced… especially in the church? It typically goes something like, “God even used a prostitute to show His love for the people!” It’s said with such disdain and disgust.

The intent of telling stories of women who’ve been prostituted in scripture is often times to show us the grace and depth God will to reach his children, but honestly I think we’re missing the point of God using “prostitutes” [to take their lingo].

It isn’t to show the depths God will go to show Himself, but in actuality God is demanding US to see EVERY. SINGLE. HUMAN as holding inherent worth, and value EQUAL to everyone. Yet time and time again I hear this word being used to deny the truth of who God is.

When we hear the stories of those women, we hear them as second nature, we hear the grace of God through their “sin” rather than see the redemption and truth of God’s choices.

Not only this, but consider the deeper stories behind the many women in the bible referenced as “prostitutes” and you’ll uncover the chains of sex slavery, abuse and violation time and time again. So now, what we’re really continuing to hear are pastors and christian’s alike ignoring the abuse and violation of God’s children, and attaching the word “sin” to spread a message.

Again, turning it from redemption for that person from God, to an example of God ignoring the “sin” of that person. We begin to see victims as active and willing participants into another person’s sin. And this spreads to our current conversations about sexual violence – where so many times we participate in victim blaming thinking patterns.

God could use anyone [and does] to spread His messages, but He chooses time and time again to use the forgotten, rejected, abused, and lost children of His. He does this for one purpose.

To send a message to those women, to every person who’s been violated, that we are not alone, forsaken, forgotten, or unworthy of great things. That we are not bound by the sins of others. That we are redeemed. 

For the sake of sounding like a broken record… Our words matter. So let’s use them to change the world!

– Jess

 

 

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Toxic Masculinity

Ending Human Trafficking: Is Toxic Masculinity to Blame?

I’m not entirely sure where to begin this post. I’m feeling a mess of emotions as I write. It’s been 5 days since the super bowl … I anxiously watched the stats of men being arrested and charged for soliciting prostituted women for “sex” rise all week long. I’m not entirely sure of the last number of this stat, but if I’m being honest 1 person is more than enough to bring tears to God’s eyes and thus mine.

Our last post, “Angelina’s Story” was by far our most viewed and shared post on the blog. We’re incredibly excited about this. It reached thousands of people’s computers and hopefully the heart wrenching words of her experience pierced through the walls and barriers people have. Our prayer is that her story is a beacon of change, that spurs in the hearts of everyone who read it and now they’re ready to take the next step.

Awareness of a problem is so important. You know what they always say, “acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovery”.

Well – we’ve acknowledged it. Don’t get me wrong, I love awareness projects and events. They are so incredibly important to our fight, but if I’m being honest sometimes I think we get a bit caught up in “awareness” events.

This makes me worry because no change can come from just being “aware” of the problem.

We have to move. We must act. We have to critically think, plan, pray, and problem solve the issue. As I mentioned in the very first blog post, this is a scary and tough next step. But we must take it. We must, or we will continue to see stories like “Angelina’s” have record breaking views and shares.

Truth be told; I don’t want to hear anymore victim/survivor’s stories. I don’t want there to be anymore victim/survivors of violence. I want violence to go away – especially violence that is so easily changed.

Violence against women, purchasing “sex” from others, and selling humans – it all just doesn’t need to happen. It does not benefit us as a society, and it certainly doesn’t bring glory to the kingdom of God.

I watched the super bowl this year (and every year) simply for the commercials. I used to watch football with my dad when I was growing up, but lately the amount of violence off the field many players have committed against women and children (and other men) has been enough for me to dislike it. Don’t even get me started on the suicide and mental illness that is caused from injuries in this game…

The last couple of super bowls I have been “excited” to see domestic and sexual violence PSA’s broad cast during the commercials. Considering the amount of people that watch the super bowl strictly for the commercials the awareness that happened was amazing!

So, this year was no different. I sat down and waited for every commercial break in a state of anticipation.

I waited … and waited … and waited … and nothing.

Not a singled PSA highlighting violence against women and children, sexual violence, domestic violence, human or sex trafficking…

In a year of #MeToo and #TimesUp. With stories of Harvey Weinstein, and our political and media climate where everyone is being accused of sexual misconduct, how could there not be one single PSA?

What is so different about this year than any other year? I can’t help but wonder if folks wanted this super bowl to be “light” and “fun” for their viewers.

There’s nothing wrong with this, right Jess. I mean, sometimes It’s nice to just watch a good ol’ sports game with the kiddos and not feel ashamed …

And then I think of “Angelina’s story” and the countless other untold stories of women and children, and men out there whose stories are anything from “light” and “fun” on super bowl night, weekend or ANY OTHER DAY/NIGHT of the year.

I think of the 25 MN residents who were murdered in 2017 by abusive partners and spouses; and the fact that not a single [major] reporter or journalist showed up to the conference that the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women held last week (whereas in previous years they were always there.)

What were they doing? Covering the super bowl of course. . .

I realize there are a lot of “ …” in this post, but it’s hard to finish a thought in this moment. There is so much I want to say, so many things I want to convey, and so many hopes I have for how this post and all futures posts will be received by each of you.

Like I said, “Angelina’s Story” received the most shares and views out of any of our posts – like 600 more shares and views than our other posts. So, I ask myself, what’s the difference in this post Jess?

Since I don’t have the answer because I’m pretty sure it’s subjective, here is what the Lord softly spoke into me as encouragement during this week.

We live in a culture of gore and graphic everything. Her story brought tears to my eyes, as well as everyone who read it ( I can’t be sure everyone cried, but I’m pretty confident I’m right). Hitting the share button felt like the right thing to do in a time when it feels like there is nothing we can do.

If I share this, it’ll stop. Right?

If more people read stories like this, it’ll wake them up too. Right?

And these are all valid reason’s to share testimonies, hold awareness events and become aware! But… as I said before – being aware solves nothing if we don’t dig deeper and ask ourselves the scarier question.

How did I let this happen?

I watched the new documentary “Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution” by Exodus Cry – the same creators that brought us Nefarious, on Netflix. I was so excited to see another powerful documentary by them, and was really looking forward to the new hope I would feel after watching it.

After 10 minutes of watching it, I hit the pause button and took a break. I felt nauseated.

The amount of sexual violence, sexual exploitation, violence against women, rape culture and coercion in this documentary is hard to swallow. It took me an entire day to watch it. Some of my fellow anti-trafficking justice fighters couldn’t make it through the documentary period.

It is just “unbelievable” what our world has come to. No… It’s heart breaking. I know, I’ve said that word a lot but I can’t come up with a better word for it.

God is weeping.

Liberated takes a look at rape culture in a raw way, by showing it for all to see. And while many may claim that there needs to be a larger discussion about our drinking culture, I stand firm in my belief that drinking culture isn’t the problem. There are countless people who’ve been under the influence who’ve not violated another person!

The problem is the way we are conditioning our boys to become men who are afraid to speak up for themselves, for women, and be honest about the way they feel about toxic masculinity.

We live in a world were being “a man” means taking what you want, most often times in an aggressive nature. This is highlighted to an extreme in the documentary. Not all men experience this extent of masculinity, but ask any man and they will tell you they feel pulled to behave a certain way in order to continue claiming their “manliness”.

Masculinity has unfortunately become synonymous with words like, powerful, player, aggressive, and dominate. Boys are expected to lose their virginity in order to hold onto their “man card” with other men around them. Women and girls become conquests rather than partners, friends, and lovers.

Losing your virginity as a man (and women too), has become a rite of passage rather than an experience two people share together in the way God intended. It’s become a commodity, one that has now required the selling of human beings in order to achieve and maintain your status in society.

I spoke briefly two posts ago about the importance of men getting involved in this fight. I’ll reiterate, we need men in this fight like we need air.

“We will not survive this if we don’t deeply consider the way we are raising our young boys into men.”

We will not see a decline of sexual violence towards women if we continue to use phrases like, “boys will be boys” when they are caught snapping the bra straps of their female friends at school instead of holding them accountable. We cannot continue to police the clothing our girls wear instead of teaching boys to not  sexualize women. (Don’t worry… There’s a post on this coming soon!)

We will not see a decline of sexual violence towards women if we continue to encourage boys to “toughen up” and “be a man” when dealing with normal emotions.

Toxic masculinity leads to the gang rape of girls and women all over the world. {read here … and here … and just do a google search, there’s too many to list…} Toxic masculinity is killing our men, our women and our children.

It is one of the biggest lies Satan has convinced us is truth.

I know if I asked the men in Liberated if they felt like rape was okay, they’d all say “no!”

If I showed them the tapes of what they did, perhaps some of them would be ashamed, but I fear that most would continue to look at it and deny it was violence.

The problem is we have mislead our boys into believing violence is actually manliness… How can we possible change violence against women if we’ve conditioned men (and women) to see sexual violence and aggression as “sexy” or “manly”?

If what it means to be a man is to be aggressive … than what does that say about God? God made man into his own image.

As we raise our boys into men, let us remember that.

Men, you are more than our culture has raised you to believe. I’ll fight for you, and not solely because you are worth it.

But because my very life depends on you knowing it.

-Jess

 

 

“Angelina’s” Story: Any (Other) Given Sunday” – A Survivor’s Testimony.

** Disclaimer: This is written by anynomous, who helped a survivor write their story. Trafficking Justice does not own this piece of writing **

“This piece is based on “Angelina’s” true experiences of Super Bowl Sundays during her childhood when she was sex trafficked. While names and telling details are fictionalized for her protection, it is still true in essence. The goal of Angelina’s story is not to churn stomachs or shock or shake our head in disgust; instead it is to meant to pull back the curtain on what modern day slavery looks like so we are moved to action—to shed light and awareness into our communities to save others. Even if it’s just to save one.” – anynomous

” First off, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t one special money-making Sunday for sex traffickers.

It’s not like they aren’t selling us any other given Sunday. But the Super Bowl brings in more men, and more men bring in more money. Big money.

Especially if you are young. I was nine for my first one. It was 2005.

(Patriots vs. Eagles. I had to google who played. I had no idea then).

We flew into Jacksonville from Thailand the last week of January. Nobody in customs looked twice at me with my pimp, let’s call him “Darrell,” who appeared to be my father. I was white, so was he. Why would anyone look twice at us? He had all my papers…he always had them–and me–close.

Somehow the rest of the girls got to FL, too…. maybe with our Mademoiselle? The whole operation was run by her from the “compound” she owns back in Thailand.

How I got there is a whole other horrific story for another time.

Let’s stick to this one for now.

Traveling was no big deal for me. I did it all the time. By then I had been properly “broken in and trained” ….and was loyal. I was given no other choice if I wanted to live. Over the previous year I had been sold in Dubai, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and various other countries.

And this wasn’t the first time I was in the United States.

Our driver picked us up and drove us to the hotel. I was so little that I could barely see out of the window and strained in my seat, curious to peek at the outside free world I barely remembered.

Once at the hotel we were ushered in through side doors and back stairways. Unseen. Off the radar until a paying customer wanted to see.

Inside the large suite the pit in my stomach grew as they strung up curtains and sheets to make several “bedrooms.” I wasn’t hungry anymore when I saw flip phones and thick laptops came out as the ads were placed on the Dark Web illegal sites. Don’t know what the Dark Web is? You might want to google that. Back then they used words like “cherry” “new in town” “sweet.” Basically, I was advertised as property to be sold: a young, ripe virgin to be bought and handled as the customer saw fit.

But I wasn’t a virgin: I was a nine-year-old sex professional.

I was worth A LOT of money to my pimps. Because the youngest girls make the most as they are marketed as virgins.

Over the course of the next week and a half I made them about $5000. Per night.

Do the math and let that sink in.

By Super Bowl Sunday everything hurt. I learned early on how to turn my brain off, but this night was going to be even worse. Pregame business started early with frenzied customers that were high on drugs or alcohol and low on inhibition. One guy literally threw me all the way across the room onto the bed. It had to have been like 15 feet because I weighed so little.

I remember seeing the Alltel Stadium on TV or maybe when we drove around it to the hotel. The US

Military Academy’s trumpet section did the National Anthem that year.

Not that I watched it. Apparently, the Patriots won 24-21.

I was trapped in a hotel room. Being sold to men of all ages so they could have sex with a child. Sometimes tied up by well-dressed rich men smelling of booze and popcorn. (I can’t even eat popcorn to this day because the smell of it reminds me of being “in the life.”)

On average it was about 17-18 men per night. My pimps would let me sleep whenever we didn’t have customers. It’s the worst thing to be woken up from a nightmare only to have the real nightmare continue. Or when you hear the other girls getting beaten or slapped or cussed at while their bodies and souls are crushed in two.

I learned to bite the sheets when I knew it was going to be rough. So hard sometimes that my jaw would hurt worse than my body. Often times I’d try to provoke them as I wanted them to just kill me and get it over with.

Ugh, I haven’t thought about that in a while.

Can we move on?

Fast forward. By the time I was seventeen I had been trafficked to several Super Bowls and sporting events. The one in Indianapolis in 2012 was particularly bad.

I had given birth ten days before. I was maybe 80 pounds.

And I was 15. It was my third pregnancy. My traffickers took my baby from me and sent me back to work. Because it was Super Bowl week.

Giants vs. Patriots.

Technology had changed dramatically since my younger years. With smartphones and Backpage.com it’s a pimp’s greatest moneymaking tool there is. Instead of code words, emojis can describe the age, what the girl will do, and specifics that customers want. Like ordering up a pizza with just the right toppings.

I was past my prime in terms of salability. And now I had quotas.

When I was young the men came to us. Now that I’m older I go to them.

Which leaves us less protection by our pimps. We had to get into the cars they told us to.

As Kelly Clarkson sang the National Anthem I sold my body. That night it was 20-30 men. I lost count. And I only made $2000. I think… because of the “fishbowl.” It’s a bowl passed around among the girls that’s a mishmash of various colored pills. Kind of like Russian Roulette with drugs. I did know that the blue ones would make me chill. So that helped numb me—which I am still grateful for.

Away from the protection of our sellers I had grown used to a harsher reality. It’s still sickening to me that men inherently know they can beat and hurt us as long as they don’t touch our faces.

Back at the hotels or motels, the girls would fight over toiletries. There are only one or two soap bars in the room, you know. Between five to six girls, plus pimps that will even use soap as a reward for being loyal, being clean came at a cost.

A church lady approached us once by the stadium. She gave me a gift bag with toiletries/soaps and a salon card in it that had a phone number on it to call. It was a number and a possible way out to get help. But I had learned my lesson before: pimps often test their girls by faking a rescue attempt. Let me tell you: that’s a beating I will never forget. And a lesson learned—Never. Trust. Anyone.

I remember being mad at the woman that she put me in that predicament. Because if it wasn’t the pimp testing me and he found that card—or that soap—I’d be punished for it. Now I look back and wish I had just gone with her or called the number. My eyes were always screaming, “HELP ME.”

What a mind bend.

Know what else is a mind bend and why girls like me have a hard time being rescued? We were often used as payment to officials to look the other way. Police officers, government officials, servicemen. All of them.

“Don’t take money from this one,” said my pimp.

The next year, in 2013, the Super Bowl was in New Orleans. Ravens vs. the 49ers.

Alicia Keys sang the National Anthem. I wonder if she nailed it? She’s such a good singer…

There are bits and pieces of the game I remember. Depending on how they positioned me I could see the TV and would focus really hard on it. But then I’d stuff my face in a pillow trying to suffocate myself trying to escape life. Often times I would.

It’s also known as the Black Out Bowl. The power went out in the Superdome for 34 minutes. I had been blacked out the whole week beforehand because I needed to…to survive.

So many men at all hours of the day and night–it’s like they took all their anger and energy in trying to cause pain.  For enjoyment.  For fulfillment.  For the pigskin sport of it. For wanting to feel like the men on the field they adored and revered. My body was a repository for all of that. Forced to serve.

Slave.

As the Super Bowl inches closer this year, I cannot help but get anxious. Yes, I’m free and under protections that I wholeheartedly trust: a government agency AND my Lord and Savior, Jesus. But I cannot not think of the countless girls (and boys) that will endure the same hell I went through.

On any given Sunday.

Here’s my plea and message to you: look up. Notice things. One of the reasons the Super Bowl and other sporting events are hotbeds of illegal activity is because it’s an exciting escape and reason to behave badly. Nobody wants to notice morality being skewed. We get that enough on the news and twitter.

Want to know what to look for? Here’s a few: tattoos/branding (often times with words like “Loyal” “Queen” or bar codes), evidence of violence like bruises, looking spacey or out of it (hello drugs), third party control—pimp/older male present, inappropriate clothing for the weather, broken English.

You’ve probably noticed some of these and averted your eyes thinking it’s none of your business…or that it’s crude and you don’t need to get involved.

Don’t do that next time.

Because time is running out for minors involved in sex trafficking. The average expectancy of children “in the life” is seven years. Which means that kid probably won’t see their 20th birthday.

Make the call to the trafficking hotline next time you see something.

There’s zero risk in being wrong.

You can leave an anonymous tip. There’s ZERO RISK for you and a possible RESCUE for her.

You don’t have to provide your name or any identifying details about the situation unless you want to. The National Hotline will protect your anonymity when sharing information about a potentialtrafficking case with authorities.

Whatever you do: don’t try to step in and confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victim’s safety has to come first. I’ve seen bad things happen by well-meaning people trying to help. We’re the ones who pay for it.

Just make the call or send a text.

People that are overwhelmed by my story ask me what they can do, how they can help. Here’s how-

-put this number in your phone right now: 1 (888) 373-7888.

On this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, indulge on amazing bean dip and gourmet burgers in Minneapolis or your respective town or living room. Yell, jump up and down, banter. Do what football fans are supposed to do: Enjoy the big game.

But… look around.

Be aware.

Don’t allow warped morality, over-indulgence, addiction, illegal activities and slavery happen to a human being.

 Notice what’s going on around you. Look at the girl/child/boy/possible pimp or John in the hotel lobby, bar, event, parking lot, airport, Uber.

Notice them.

Then call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888. Or text 233733.

There’s zero risk in being wrong. There’s zero risk in being wrong.

There’s zero risk in being wrong…and possibly a life rescued if you are right.

Ending Human Trafficking: It’s a man’s issue!

“Time and time again, we are the lions” Steve Connell

I’m exhausted. I’ll be honest. I’m tired of having to stand, often times alone, in a group of men and make a choice to either laugh at the sexist joke or face potential name calling if I speak up.

In fact, this recently happened. I stood with two men while the man behind the counter told a sexist joke. Without even a glimmer of a smile back to him I said firmly, “yea… wrong audience…” and there was a long, awkward silence that persisted before one of the men said, “alright! thank you” and we walked away.

I wonder if he got the message that jokes like that weren’t okay? Would it have been better if the men I was with didn’t give a “sympathy”laugh and instead said, “that’s a horrible joke.”?

Alan Berkowitz, the founder of the “Social Norms Theory”  posits that the majority of men are uncomfortable with the gendered norms society has placed on them. Essentially, things like “locker room talk” and sexist jokes aren’t actually acceptable for most men but most men think other men believe these things to be important.

Sadly, those men’s – the silent majorities – opinions are left out of the discussion as they try to “look cool” or be a “bro”. It’s a terrifying thing to stand against the grain. We’ll discuss more of this when we address “Toxic Masculinity”, but I want to draw our attention to how it is actually negatively impacting our fight against sex trafficking.

If more men don’t speak up and be honest about their feelings when it comes to these things, we won’t see a decline.

It’s been women leading the way to fight for the end of sexual violence, despite men holding so much power. Names like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Gloria Steinem are readily on our minds when we think about ending violence against women and equality.

Women make up the majority of victims of gendered crime. In particular, women make up 55% of the more than 20 million human trafficking victims. While men, make up the majority of perpetrators, buyers, and sellers – even when considering male victims!

Violence against women is largely a MALE DOMINATED “ACTIVITY”.  I’m not attempting to shame anyone, but something has got to give, and that something is the male ego …

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women … ” Jackson Katz

When we talk about sexual violence our discussion tends to be full of details of specific assaults and victim information. I’ll wager we can each name someone we know who’s been sexually violated. Yet, like Jackson Katz’s observation, we come up short with details around the perpetrators time and time again.

How can this be? 

Sadly, the truth is we all know perpetrators of sexual violence, it’s just they’re protected by rape culture – a culture that tells us violence against women is NORMAL, so normal we’ve begun to discuss violence against women in shades.

“Well, she wasn’t raped, it could have been worse.” or “That’s all he did? Doesn’t seem like assault to me.” 

As we discussed in a recent post, the way we think about perpetrators and sexual violence will often impact our ability to see the perpetrators standing in front of us.

Again, I get it, who wants to admit they know someone who sexually assaulted someone? It’s not easy, but as we continue down this road, I hope we get to a place where we aren’t afraid to admit it and see it when someone does something horrible.

“Why should men get involved? It’s the right thing to do. We need to. Men, we are the problem, as well as the solution.” Jeff Teresi, Eternal Thanks

First, we need more men in this fight. Women cannot do this alone. We know that the majority of sexual assaults or gendered violence is done by a minority of men. This means that the majority of men are good!

So, why aren’t more men speaking up towards other men and/or about their own experiences of sexual violence. I believe it can be boiled down to two issues: fear of rejection from other men and misconceptions about the feminist movement.

Historically, the idea of feminism, which has really been the catalyst for ending gendered violence, has been misperceived as a “woman’s only” club. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the late 1800’s thru early 1900s the world feminism didn’t exist in America. It was taking from France and cultural replaced the “woman’s movement” – which was a “women only” club as it focused purely on women’s right to vote. Feminism however focused on gender and race equality. The two movements are vastly different in their goals they wish to achieve, however the one thing that binds them together is that women largely made up these groups.

Men are welcome in this fight! 

In an upcoming blog post we’ll dive deeper into the fear of rejection, and some reasons I believe men aren’t as involved as they should be, but it’s incredibly important that men start to switch their silent disapproval of things like; rape jokes, misogyny, sexism, objectifying women, “locker room talk” (both inside and outside of the locker room), rating women on a scale, discussing “conquests”, and encouraging toxic masculinity into full blown screams of disapproval.

We can’t continue to pretend that violence against women doesn’t impact males. Ask any man who watched their father beat their mother how it impacted their view of the world, and of the male gender.

It’s not just women who are the victims – everyone suffers when one gender is hurt by another.

For more on this topic, please take some time and watch Jackson Katz tedtalk: “Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue”. Comment below your thoughts!

What are some barriers to speaking up? What are some ways you have challenged other men?

-Jess

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: The Link between Strip Clubs and Sexual Exploitation – closer than you think!

Two weeks from graduating college, I sat in one of my elective courses and debated my female professor on the pros and cons of strip clubs. She argued it was completely acceptable for her husband to go and that females just needed to learn this was what men do. I was shocked to even be having this debate, and honestly it shifted my opinion of her slightly to hear her excuse the behavior.

I’ve sure you’ve heard some of the excuses.

It’s no big deal. 

It’s a rite of passage for 18-year-old boys. I’d rather that than hiring a “hooker.

Look, the dancer I spoke to last night wants to dance. She’s paying for her college tuition.

As I’ve been learning more and more about the intricacies of human trafficking within the broader scope of sexual exploitation, I can’t help but wonder why strip clubs have been able to fly under the radar in our discussions of human trafficking. I’ve never seen a conference with a breakout on strip clubs.

“… part of the reason is because many people who go to strip clubs are just average, law abiding people who just want a titillating experience …” Kjersti Bohmer

Kjersti is the founder of Beautiful & Loved, a faith-based, survivor-led outreach and care group for women in the Twin Cities’ adult industry. In talking with her she helped to break down some of the reasons she thinks it is often not looked at as a form of sex trafficking, or even sexual violence.

Despite the growing number of women speaking out about the abuse and violence they have experienced while working in a strip club, it seems going to strip clubs is still something seen as normal.  Kjersti says that it’s likely due to the fact that when people have gone to strip clubs they’ve only experienced positive emotions.

“Who is going to buy dances from someone who reminds them of Eeyore?” Kjersti remarks. The women in strip clubs are paid to smile and make everyone have a good time. It’s their job to remove any form of shame, guilt or taboo of being in a strip club. The longer people are there, the more money the club is going to make. For the individuals who’ve never gone into a strip club, this is the false reality they are being presented with.

Often times women who work at strip clubs learn quickly that they can make more money by offering private dances, sadly this usually increases the likelihood of experiencing a sexual assault. However, the sad reality is that simply working in a strip club significantly increases the likelihood of being sexually assaulted.

Kjersti estimates that nearly 85% of women working in the strip club are survivors of sexual violence and may experience another form of it on every shift they work.

Interestingly though, strip clubs are often presented as the safest place to work in the sex industry. The culture message we receive about them are that they are “no touch” zones and there are consequences to any violation of the rules. However, a recent article detailed the extent of sexual assault dancers experience and lack of protection. [TW:graphic descriptions of sexual assault]

Typically, when anyone does violate any of the no touch suggestions that some strip clubs have, they are just slapped on the wrist. The women just learn to live with it. Over time, they become accustomed to constant forms of sexual violence, boundary violations and assaults and begin to view them as “work hazards”.

In response to the idea that men are feeling good about going to strip clubs because they are helping pay for women’s college degrees, Kjersti says why not just set up a fund for them?  “The reality is men are going to strip clubs to fulfill a sexual fantasy of theirs and the fact that they happened to find a dancer who is paying for college is totally on a whim and a moot point” Kjersti.

“The definition of prostitution is the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment … Going to a strip club is buying the idea of sex, it’s live pornography. ” Kjersti Bohmer

When asked why some women are lured into working in strip clubs, Kjersti talks about the love of the party. Lots of women, for a brief time, may feel empowered and excited at the amount of money they can occasionally make. But ask a woman who’s been stripping for several years, who’s experienced several forms of sexual violence, and you’ll see the true damage of this work.

As freedom fighters, it’s incredibly important that we start to pay attention to the way sexual exploitation in the form of strip clubs impacts our conversations around sex trafficking. The reality is, strip clubs are not “safer”, or empowering, or uplifting for anyone.

You can learn more about this topic by reading memoirs of women who’ve survived the industry.  Kjersti recently published her first book, “My Flawless One: Stripping, Tripping, Straying, and Praying”  and we highly recommend getting yourself a copy! Kjersti is so full of wisdom, love and truly has been given a voice to use to fight for justice for women working in the sex industry.

It’s time to start challenging the false beliefs we have about the separation between strip clubs and sexual exploitation/sex trafficking. At its core, these are the same.

If you won’t buy a person off the street, why would you buy a person on a stage?

-Jess

 

Ending Human Trafficking: Human Trafficking is Sexual Violence

My passion has always been centered around addressing the root cause of sexual violence. Whether I’m advocating for someone who has experienced a sexual assault by an intimate partner, molestation by a family member or family acquaintance, or someone who’s been trafficked, I recognize the root cause of that violence is the same – a culture with deeply embedded beliefs and blind acceptance of violence against women. 

I came to this conclusion after years of searching for the answer to the age old question, why do bad things happen to good people? I looked around me at all of these wonderful and intelligent people in my corner. These people wanted great things to happen in my life, yet even some of them said things which hurt me and caused me to blame myself for what happened to me.

Why is the act of supporting victims of sexual violence still so hard for people? The obvious answer I find many people gravitate to is that people simply don’t care, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I haven’t spoken with anyone who has supported the idea that certain individuals have a right to rape another being. In actuality, the issue of supporting victims stems from lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem.

For most people our understanding of sexual violence is incredibly narrow. This is exactly how [rape] culture needs it to be. Let’s be frank, no one can solve a problem if they don’t see one exists in the first place.

When I give talks on sexual violence in schools and communities I typically start by assuring we are all on the same page. Not only does this mean I give a brief overview of where the talk is going to go, but I want to make sure no one is getting lost in their own minds, with their own definitions and their own experiences.

So let’s start there; When I say “Last night, Jamie was raped” what comes to your mind? Who is Jamie? What gender is Jamie? How old is Jamie? What exactly happened to Jamie? Who did this to Jamie? What is the relationship between Jamie and whoever did this to Jamie? If you want to go even further, what race is Jamie and the person/people who did this?

For most people, Jamie is a young woman who was physically and violently attacked by a man she barely knew. I say most because we all have our own experiences and our own level of understanding when it comes to sexual violence, but that’s exactly the point. In the above scenario Jamie can be anyone, and the offender can be anyone. So it begs the question, why do most people conclude completely different scenarios?

More importantly, how does the way we fill in the blanks impact our ability to respond in a supportive, authentic and helpful manner to victims of sexual violence?

What I have learned is that in order to eradicate human trafficking, sexual assault, pornography, molestation, child abuse, etc. we have to first have the realization that these issues are mingled together. One cannot end human trafficking without also ending the attitudes that allow sexual assault to happen. 

What is the difference in attitudes one has when buying a person for sexual gratification v. sexually assaulting someone without giving money to do so?

The other day I was talking with someone about this and they said, “but… human trafficking is different than sexual violence. isn’t it?” of course this happened after my first read through of the first draft of this post which made me rethink writing it, ha! I asked them to really think about the attitudes that one has when they buy a human verses when they sexually violate them without transferring money.

The answer is, nothing. The attitude stems from a place of selfishness and a belief that one has a right to another person’s body. The vessel that attitude takes to get to where it wants may look differently, but inherently it stems from the same place.

The impact of trauma is the only thing that truly differs in our response to the various forms of sexual violence. Meaning, the victim/survivor of violence gets to tell us as advocates what they need. We [advocates] recognize that different forms of sexual violence have the potential to impact people in different ways, but it isn’t just the form of sexual violence that matters.

For instance, you may meet a victim/survivor of sex trafficking who appears to be handling the situation very well and “moving on” with their life quickly – and perhaps they truly are. Whereas you may meet a victim/survivor of a one time sexual assault by a family member who is continuously seeking mental health therapy and struggling severely.

Our goal as advocates is to meet each victim/survivor where they are and recognize that the trauma definition doesn’t map out the road to healing.

Human trafficking/sex trafficking is a form of sexual violence. It requires a different response than many other forms, but is very similar to the way we help victim/survivors of stalking. With that in mind, I think this truly opens up our capacity as advocates and freedom fighters to really see an end to this travesty.

So tell me, who is your Jamie?

Until next time,

-Jess

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: It happens in America?

When you think about victims of modern day slavery, what do you picture? Does your brain immediately go to images of foreign born girls in a brothel? Perhaps you think about the children in Cambodia being sold by their parents? Or maybe you see images of women and young girls with the red hues in Amsterdam. Perhaps you call up images of girls from orphanages in Romania, or Russia?

How many of the victims do you see with the American flag proudly waving in the background?

While it’s hard to determine exactly how many of the 20 million plus victims of human trafficking are in America, and identify as American citizens, it’s still important to recognize that it is happening in the “land of the free”.

According to 2014 statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, run by Polaris, the top three states with the highest amount of trafficking are; California, Texas and Florida. As we read different stats of cases of human trafficking, it’s important we remember that not all victims are safe enough or able to call for help.

I suspect that as we continue to put more emphasis on bringing about awareness and demanding an end to human trafficking we’ll see these numbers increase before they decrease.

You could look at the rates and statistics we have on human trafficking like an ice berg. Really, the statistics are just the tip above the surface.

One of the biggest barriers to recognizing that trafficking happens in America is how we have been able to distance ourselves from victims of human trafficking.

Again, when we think about victims of sex trafficking we tend not to think about our child’s friend in choir, or our neighbor’s wife, or the woman struggling on the side of the road or even the boy sitting next to you in the pew on Sunday mornings. When we think about something so tragic, so awful, so unimaginable, our brains create safe guards to make us feel safer.

It’s not us… it’s them…

Sex trafficking looks different in America than it may in other countries. While we don’t have entire streets dedicated to brothels, we do have lines of strip clubs (which we’ll be addressing in a later post), internet sites and social media accounts advertising for “escort” services, and women on the streets. Children in America are sold by their own parents to other Americans, for money or even for “love”.

Yet, the stories of trafficking, the experiences of those who’ve been trafficked are all the same. Pain, violation, despair, sadness, confusion, isolation, are all common words and themes many victims express feeling regardless of country of origin.

The reality is, human trafficking is so much closer to our homes – in fact for some it is literally in their homes, than people are willing to accept. To truly tackle this issue, our eyes must open to see victims in our own backyard. American women, men, and children are sold/bought in our schools, parks, stores, places of worship, and any other place humans hang out in.

Women, men and children are sold/bought by American citizens. In fact, even when we look at the global rates of sex trafficking, American citizens make up a large amount of the buyers in the “sex” tourism that happens in those countries.

By choosing to ignore the existence of trafficking in America, as Americans, we continue to look past the girl on the corner, or in the magazine, or in the ad, or standing across from us pleading for help.

This is America’s problem just as much as any other countries problem.

Check out these documentaries that dive deeper into how sex trafficking looks here in the United States;

To see how your state ranks in their response to incidents of human trafficking check out  Shared Hope International’s most recent report card!

Until next time!

-Jess

 

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: Whats culture got to do with it?

 

“… and I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking that you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less- it is so little. And how could you offer me less; it is so little. Even wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape…” Andrea Dworkin [Transforming a Rape Culture]

Did you know that adult elephants are chained with the same size chain and stake that they have when they’re a baby? When I heard this, it shook me as I contemplated the reasons why such a strong animal wouldn’t just simply move its leg a bit further, easily breaking the chain and run for freedom. Then I realized that the elephant doesn’t even know it is a powerful animal who’s being held back by a small chain. The chain has become a part of its body – eventually, the elephant doesn’t even know what life is like without the chains.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what aspects of your life are meant to be verses chains holding you back from truly experiencing freedom? I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve been on my journey in the movement to end sexual violence. I’ve had countless conversations with people in all sorts of formats and the one sentiment that always shows up is; “But Jess, there’s not much you can do about it. Rape is always going to happen…”

Sure, you may call me a dreamer after you finish reading this blog post, but hold up on the judgments just for this series and let’s see if I’m the only one. You see, I believe in the good of human nature, I believe that we were created innately good, but we’ve all adapted, as the elephants have, to the chains in our lives. We’ve accepted lies as truth, captivity as freedom, and acceptance as control.

We live in a system which binds us to a belief that one individual sex is meant for great things; leadership, decisiveness, authority, and control all are seen as innate characteristics to the male sex. We live in a world were anything other than male-dominated leadership is seen as “progressive” or “counter to God’s great plan” rather than simply, “God’s plan”.

It breaks my heart, and I’m sure it breaks God’s heart, when I hear powerful, young women talk about their destiny only in the merging of a potential partners calling and success.

   The reality is, we are ALL called individually to do great, powerful, amazing things for God’s kingdom.

Each human being is a child of God, gifted with wondrous potential, but when we lose sight of this fact for earthly power, we begin to destroy God’s creation. God used women for some of the most important solutions in his plan to win us all back to him.

Women are not plan B in God’s plan for this world, but for centuries women have been treated as if we are. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that it became illegal to beat your wife – as she was legally considered property and you could do what you wanted with your “property”. Even more shocking is that marital rape has only been a criminal act since 1993, and there are still holes in the legislation in various states which lead to continued marital rape with no repercussions.

Here’s the deal, if men are truly the leaders of the world in God’s eyes, then how come the majority of staff and volunteers are female at the shelter I work at? How come the majority of attendees and speakers at anti-violence conventions are female? Why are men not taking a leadership role in this area?

I believe that to end the travesty that is Human Trafficking, the sexual enslavement of our women, girls, and young boys; MEN must take a bigger role. We, as a society, as the church, must move away from the idea that God created men to dominate women and the world around them.

The world was given to Adam and Eve. I believe God’s expectation for us is that we see ourselves equally responsible, equally gifted, and equally qualified under one God.

I believe that until we completely dismantle the patriarchal view that only men are powerful, only men are gifted, we will continue to see the enslavement of our daughters (and sons).

Our focus over the next several weeks on this blog will be to address the many myths we see populating in our churches, in our media, and in our inner circles in regards to sexual violence and sexual exploitation. It is my hope that together, we can fight this fight and lead to the restoration in the millions of people around the world affected by human trafficking and sexual violence. It is my hope we will remove the chains from our legs and see our strength.

We are God’s tools, each of us. Male and female. We are the answer to that little girl’s prayer who has just been raped by 15 men in the dirty night club in Minneapolis.

Until next week.

-Jess

 

 

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: Whose job is it?

There is a lot of attention being drawn to the subject of human trafficking right now.

In the last 5 years, we’ve seen an increase in different organizations picking up the torch and running after the solution like a gazelle running from a cheetah. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with so many freedom fighters seeking the very same thing I am seeking – the thing God promises is going to happen – that the captives will be free!

It is estimated that there are more than 20 million humans trafficked throughout the world through either forced labor or commercial sex acts. These numbers are astounding, frightening, and disheartening.

I vividly remember the moment I learned about sex slavery. I was with a group of friends when one of the friends asked us if we’d seen the documentary “Nefarious“, many of us shook our heads and our friend immediately said “we’re watching it”. We sat in silence, tears flowing from our eyes.

When the documentary ended we soaked in a moments reprieve before we began to pray. We prayed for those trapped and exploited. We prayed for the buyers and the sellers. We prayed for the Johns. We prayed for everyone we could think to pray for and yet I still felt broken.

I was ashamed I knew nothing about what was happening– my faith was shaken. Why was God letting this happen? My world view wasn’t rose colored glasses before this, but this documentary woke me up. I knew I would never be the same, I couldn’t be. Something had to be done. So, I got to searching God out.

I discovered one of the hardest things in my quest. When I speak with people about human trafficking today, as excited as I am, I’m weary. I’m weary because the fight for justice and freedom starts with the hardest task. It starts by us asking ourselves the very same question I asked when I saw Nefarious, only instead of directing it towards God, we have to direct it towards ourselves – why am I letting this happen?

Like I said, it’s a tough question. I’d wager each of you reading this feel a tinge of anger at my accusation that this is your fault. You’re probably thinking, “Seriously? I’m not buying women and girls! I’m actively apart of an organization bringing about awareness. I stand against porn, etc. This isn’t my fault.”

I wholeheartedly agree– this is not your fault… this is our fault. Each of us have a role to play and until we can hold that responsibility, feel the weight of it and taste the rotten flavor of accountability we will not see an end to human trafficking.

Like I said, fighting for justice isn’t easy. It’s down right humbling. The fight for justice has no room for excuses. There is zero space for distancing ourselves from the responsibility we bare. We are the body of Christ. We are the mouth of God. We are the hands and the feet. When we move, God moves.

I want this space to be a place where we can set down our flesh armor and instead put on the armor of God. Let us come together to hold each other accountable, challenge the lies we have been brought up to believe and create a shift in the way we think in order to bring freedom as God promised.

I want to shake the brittle foundation the devil has created under many of us today, and replace it with the foundation God has set for us. For that to happen, we have to let that foundation crumble.

It will be scary. It will be tough. It will be worth it. 

Hold on tight freedom fighters. God is moving, will you follow?

-Jess

 

 

Welcome to the TJ Blog!

Trafficking Justice’s Blog!

I’m so excited to be on this journey with you! Each week we will be discovering something new, challenging and incredibly important as we fight for freedom!

We will be taking a closer look at the role culture plays in the demand for trafficking, and how to actually look at the work of prevention. It will be a mixture of writing and videos! If you have a great resource you’d love to see up on the blog, please connect with me!

This is OUR journey!

-Jess