Monday, November 22, 2010

America's Homeless Youth And Human Trafficking

There are one million homeless kids on the streets of America. Almost half are running from physical abuse, a third from sexual abuse. Within 48 hours of being on the streets 1 out of every 3 runaways is forced or coerced into prostitution or illegal pornography. The average age for the sexual exploitation of a runaway child is 13. This is human trafficking.

The following is Jill's story. It could be the story of tens of thousands of other girls and boys. It is not for the faint of heart. But it must be told. And we must wake to realize trafficking happens in our borders, in our biggest cities, in the shadows of our cathedrals, in the parking lots of our shopping malls. We must fight this evil with the same resolve as if Jill was our daughter, sister, best friend, or girlfriend. Here is her story.

"I became a runaway teen, escaping sexual and physical abuse. I left, figuring that my life couldn't be in any more jeopardy than it already was at what I'd called home. In leaving I hoped there would be no more broken bones, no more sexual abuse, no more rationalizations of molestation and cruelty.

As a runaway, your old concerns quickly disappear and are replaced by new, life threatening ones. There were no familiar faces and no one who wanted to talk to a teenage girl who was homeless; even my name became irrelevant. Instead, my concerns were more pragmatic, involving finding food, shelter, and water. I slept in cemeteries, and stole food out of dumpsters and from convenience stores. Getting drinking water and a chance to wash my face became quests of endurance. I hid from security guards, store and restaurant employees and others who didn't want a homeless girl "loitering". As a runaway teen, I was viewed as something less than human. Still, it was safer than going home.

Into my hunger, loneliness and desperation came a man named Bruce. Attractive, well dressed and very charismatic, he approached me in a suburban mall and offered to "help" me. He could provide me with food, shelter, clothing, work--and I really wanted to work. I wanted desperately to be off the street and to have something to do. In essence he knew exactly how to manipulate a desperate teenage girl with his promises to fulfill all my needs. The manipulation began within minutes of meeting him. When I questioned whether or not this "work" was prostitution, he retracted the offer and began to walk away. Desperate, I ran after him, pleading with him to give me another chance and to forgive my insult.

He brought me into his "office" (which was actually his cellar) blindfolded under the pretense of not wanting competitors to know his location in case I was a spy for them. I put my fear aside and agreed to being blindfolded because I needed what he was offering. When we went into his "office", he explained that I had to audition for the job and should step on the stage and raise my hands. When I did so, I felt leather straps being put around my wrists but didn't understand what was going on. He pulled my pants down and my shirt up, leaving me virtually naked. When I tried to stop him from undressing me, the reality of what was happening became very clear. He shoved out the wooden box I was standing on, and I was left hanging in mid air naked, suspended by my wrists. It was the beginning of my "training" for a position as a prostitute that catered to "clients", who wanted to act on their violent bondage/torture fantasies. While still hanging from my wrists, I was told that unless I agreed then to sign a contract, I would never be let down. This threat was followed, while I was still hanging by being hit, punched, whipped and penetrated with a beer bottle. I could barely breathe, and my arms, wrists and shoulders were screaming in pain. I gave up and agreed to sign, at which point I was let down, bound behind my back, gagged and blindfolded, thrown into a tiny closet under the cellar stairs without food or water and left there. Bruce did not come back until after what seemed like a couple of days, at which time he freed my hands and told me to sign by his finger while I was still blindfolded. What I signed was what is known in these "rape and snuff" circles as a slave contract. By doing so I was essentially agreeing that I was no longer a human being, but rather, a slave, whose sole purpose in life was the fulfillment of Bruce's desires and those of his "clients". The contract took away my right to feel, to speak without approval, to have emotions. In it, I agreed to do anything that I was told and to accept any punishment or training he determined necessary.

What followed next--the "training"-- was months of being tortured, starved, dehydrated, sensory deprived and raped. I was supposed to learn how to "want" to be a slave and "want" to be punished. To that end, I had to beg for everything, using phrases that Bruce had written. I had to apologize for being alive, had to thank him for each act of torture and beg for more. If I resisted, the punishments got worse, until I gave up and agreed.

Once he was satisfied that my training period was nearing the end he began to refer me to "clients" who would use my body for their fetishes. They paid Bruce to rent my body to rape in as many ways as they could devise without killing me. I was held underwater in toilets or bathtubs, whipped, hung, shocked with electrical current, and paid to have me tell them how much I was enjoying it.

One of my early clients portrayed himself as a nice guy who was going to help me escape, which I agreed to try. It turned out to be a test of my "loyalty", the failure of which resulted in a savage night of gang rape, beating, being hung by my wrists and ankles, and an attempt to hang me by my neck which left me physically scarred and damaged my vocal chords for life. I nearly died that night and never tried to escape again.

For three years I was forced to let men rape me for Bruce's profit. During that time, I'd nearly been killed several times, including Bruce's failed attempt to perform an abortion on me after I'd become pregnant. After about a year I entered a suburban Los Angeles hospital bleeding extensively from my vaginal area. On my wrists, ankles and neck were burns, cuts and scars. Having been hung from the ceiling by my wrists while my pimp attempted to abort a child that I was pregnant with, I was in shock and nearly unconscious when I was brought into the hospital. A broken, long neck beer bottle had been shoved into my vagina as the object to remove the fetus. Needless to say, it didn't work out. The fetus remained in my womb but the abortion attempt nearly killed me.

Fearing retaliation from my pimp. I didn't communicate to the doctors what had actually transpired, but instead, remained silent allowing my pimp's explanation of my abortion attempt to go unchallenged. Had these doctors given any thought their ethical oaths it should have occurred to them that the bruises, scars, strangulation marks, etc. were inconsistent with attempting to abort my own child. Exactly how did I destroy my larynx attempting to abort a child? How did I self-inflict leather strap burn marks around my wrists and ankles? Since I was an in-patient for three days, why wasn't a mental health professional sent to talk to me? Why was I questioned only in the presence of my pimp who was masquerading as my older brother, who was pretending to help his psychotic little sister? Had I been questioned alone and placed in the psychiatric ward away from him, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

When we left a Midwestern city, I was thrown into the trunk of a car and taken across country. After being left in the trunk for long periods of time in the southwest desert in July, I became sick from dehydration. At one point this pimp took me out of the car on a remote road in the desert, handcuffed me, tied me by my neck to the bumper of his car and told me he was going to drag me until I was nothing but hair and a grease stain. This fate was guaranteed unless I agreed to remain totally compliant.

Arriving at an Arizona truck stop, he pulled me out of the car, took off the blindfold and shackles and told me to walk with him into the truck stop and get a Pepsi. Weak from fatigued, dehydration and exhaustion, I couldn't walk. I became violently ill on the brick patio of the truck stop. EMS was called to the scene. I was violently ill, dirty from head to toe, and had sores on both my wrists from the handcuffs and the corners of my mouth from being gagged for days. Did they call the police? No. They accepted his explanation of the death of "our parents" and his care taking of his schizophrenic little sister. Why didn't they ask questions? Why did they only treat the symptoms of heat exhaustion and not ask how I got to that point? Why did the lady getting into her Cadillac with her husband not help me as the pimp was tying my hands behind my back and putting me back into the trunk in plain view?

These incidents are not meant to shock, but to illustrate the reality of my day-to-day life. Bruce and his "clients" inflicted every torture imaginable on me, forcing me to do disgusting, humiliating things which have had a devastating effect on my mind, my body and my soul.

My captivity came to an abrupt end. Bruce was arrested on unrelated charges, and I was able to escape after he'd been handcuffed and taken away. The police who arrested Bruce offered me no support, despite finding a young girl locked in a closet, bound gagged and blindfolded. Even my request for a female officer to speak to was denied. The police told me that there were there to execute a warrant and that I'd better shut up or I was going to be arrested, too. I wasn't even eighteen yet.

Taking whatever money I could find in the house, I left immediately, taking a taxi to the airport and flying to the first destination available with the amount of money I had. After arriving in the new city, I found a cheap hotel and literally slept for days. The face I saw in the mirror when I awoke was hardly like the one I'd seen at age fourteen. I'd lost a third of my body weight. My once thick, long hair had fallen out in clumps and was now thin, fragile and lifeless. Emotionally, I was still stunned, lost in my own world, trying to readjust to a life that suddenly left me free but with no place to go and no one to turn to. Sleep was filled with nightmares, daytime with flashbacks and raging paranoia of being located by Bruce. After three years of eating dog food and being forced to beg for it, I was unaccustomed to eating anything normal and struggled with anorexia. In essence, I still didn't exist as anything more than a slave, except I was an escaped slave.

It has been more than a decade since then. In many ways, I've recovered, having eventually regained enough sanity to get a job and hold it. The physical injuries either healed or scarred, and I learned to compensate. But having survived this experience doesn't mean I've become safe from it.

Depression is still part of my life, as is shame, fear and a strong drive for self-destruction. I still feel like I'm crazy and fear that I'm a burden to my friends, a failure as an employee and that I'm destined to again be homeless, vulnerable and alone.

There are issues on which I'm working towards recovery: an integral part of my recovery is speaking out about what happened to me, what I faced as a runaway teen, and what I face even to this day trying to live with the memory of what I survived. I write this story so that maybe someone who hears it will somehow be able to avoid the pain that was forced on me and for others to know that things like I experienced really do happen--and they can happen to anyone's daughter, sister, girlfriend, niece or wife."
---Polaris Project

From all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope. Please help us stop this evil. Support anti-human trafficking organizations such as International Justice Mission, Shared Hope International, and Not For Sale. Please volunteer at homeless shelters, especially those that house kids. Keep your eyes open for troubled teens. Rescue them before they fall through the cracks. And if you or anyone you know has been trafficked please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-3737-888.

There is Hope.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last Chance.

Today is National Call-In Day for the Child Protection Compact Act. And though this is a lame duck session we still have a chance to get this life saving legislation passed. It takes just one minute to call your senator, and that 60 seconds could mean 30+ million dollars over the next 3 years allocated to fight the enslavement and sexual exploitation of children. For those of you unfamiliar with the bill here is the link.

There is nothing controversial about this bill. Nothing partisan, no line item pork, no politics as usual. This is merely a chance for us as a nation to stand in solidarity with those who have no strength to stand, a chance for us to raise our voices for those who are voiceless. And here is a sample of what you can say:

“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [City, State]. I’m calling to ask Senator [NAME] to vote YES to pass the Child Protection Compact Act (S. 3184). This bill would help to eradicate child trafficking, an issue I really care about. Would you please pass my message on to the Senator? Thank you!”

Here is the link to find your Senator's number.

It is a great privilege for us at Conspiracy Of Hope to lobby on behalf of the smallest victims of Human Trafficking and from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for taking 60 seconds, from your what we know is a very busy day, to defend the cause of justice and demand freedom for the 1.8 million children the International Labor Organization estimates are trapped in illegal pornography and prostitution yearly. Please call. And if you don't mind. Let us know you did.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Their Own Words. Little Girls.

Drugged with a "sweet drink" by a friend, Gina awoke on a train – never to see her family again. When Gina arrived in Bombay after a three-day journey from her home in Nepal, she remembers being grabbed by the hand, rushed down a crowded street through "a sea of legs" to a dingy brothel. They put makeup on her face and then the "seasoning" process began.

She was repeatedly raped, beaten and starved until she was too afraid to leave her new "home." (Businesses have sprouted up all over Bombay whose sole purpose it is to perform seasonings for brothel owners.)

Because of Gina's young age, she was held out by her owners as a virgin -- again and again. Sexual encounters numbered as many as 40 per day. Younger girls like Gina -- especially virgins -- command a higher price in the brothels.

Recently, Shared Hope International helped pay Gina's debt and brought her into one of our newly-opened Homes of Hope. There she is getting the physical and emotional care she needs to start a new life. She is learning skills that will help her become self-sufficient.

"It was late afternoon,” she says in a monotone. “I was washing dishes at the river with six other girls. We tried to run, but they caught us. Three girls resisted. To punish them, the rebels cut off their ears. They knifed out their eyes. Then they killed them. I was so afraid, I couldn’t move. They said if we struggled, they would kill us too. They raped us. They held me down. It was the first time I had sex.”

Over the next four days, the tall, graceful girl,was gang-raped repeatedly by rebel soldiers. It was two weeks before she could walk again. “Each night we were tied by the ankles to the girl next to us. The rebels had sex with us in the presence of everyone. It was always different men. Every time, they hurt me. If I cried, they beat me. I prayed all the time I would not become pregnant.”

During the day she was used as a human shield, and watched as other girls got gunned down. She was also a porter. “They took our shoes and made us walk barefoot through the bush for as much as 40 kilometers. The loads were so heavy, I could barely lift them. If you complained, or stopped, they beat you.” Some girls abducted by the rebel forces have become combatants, and a handful have even risen to the rank of squad commander. Mostly, however, they are employed in a perverted form of their traditional roles: as porters, cooks, looters, and sex slaves. Many of them, like I., are made to be all four.

In December 1997, government forces overran the rebel base. At the time, I.’s closest friend was quite visibly pregnant. “They called her a rebel wife, and said they had to kill her before she gave birth to a rebel baby,” she says. “They slit open her stomach. I will never forget her cries. They cut out her unborn baby. In front of my eyes, they killed Mariam.” (Source: “Sierra Leone Is No Place to be Young.” NY Times (14 February 1999)

"When I was fourteen, a man came to my parents' house in Veracruz, Mexico and asked me if I was interested in making money in the United States. He said I could make many times as much money doing the same things that I was doing in Mexico. He said I would be in good hands, and would meet many other Mexican girls who had taken advantage of this great opportunity. My parents didn't want me to go, but I persuaded them. A week later, I was smuggled into the United States through Texas to Orlando, Florida. It was then the man told me that my employment would consist of having sex with men for money.

And so my nightmare began. Because I was a virgin, the men decided to initiate me by raping me again and again, to teach me how to have sex. Over the next three months, I was taken to a different trailer every 15 days. Every night I had to sleep in the same bed in which I had been forced to service customers all day. And because I was so young, I was always in demand with the customers. It was awful. Although the men were supposed to wear condoms, some didn't, so eventually I became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. They sent me back to the brothel almost immediately.

I cannot forget what has happened. I can't put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened." (Testimony of Rosa before US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2000)

And for the girls I've met along the way, who have humbled me with their stories of stolen childhoods and inspired me by their survival and dedication to justice, thank you. When the fight seems too big, your words are fuel, your words go with me, I carry them always in my heart. And for Gina, and Rosa, and "I" from Sierra Leone, and for J. and for C.....from all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope, you are loved.