Friday, February 25, 2011

Brave New Crime. Surrogacy, Eugenics, and Human Trafficking.

Human trafficking and modern slavery are now the biggest criminal activity in the world. Their revenues eclipsing that of the illegal arms and drug trades. And it's no wonder
with even the unborn being unsafe from these sadistic flesh-traders. As if it isn't enough to prey on the desperation and impoverishment of women, these corporate traffickers from Bangkok, Thailand offer the best baby your dollar can buy. The following story broke today.

Fourteen Vietnamese women have been rescued from sexual slavery in the compound of a surrogate baby trafficking ring in Thailand. Nine of the fourteen women reportedly said that they had been lured to the operation with promises of large payments for giving birth as surrogates, while four said that they had been tricked, according to Major General Manu Mekmok, who leads immigration investigations in Thailand.

“This is illegal and inhuman. In some cases it looks like they were raped,” Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told the press.

Thai authorities said that the illegal company, called “Baby 101”,
received orders by e-mail or via agents from childless couples offering thousands of dollars per newborn. In some cases, the male partner would also provide sperm to inseminate the women, who were being held in two houses in Bangkok and had their passports confiscated unless they agreed to cooperate as surrogate mothers. The Thai government discovered the ring after some of the women emailed the Vietnamese embassy.

“Baby 101”, which describes itself as a “eugenics surrogate” service, displays pictures of its surrogate mothers living in in the compound on its website. It boasts of the good looks and health of the male sperm donors and the female ovum donors (many of whom look to be in their teens); it shows the houses and hospitals in peaceful grounds with a swimming pool and high security.
The women were paid 5,000 USD per baby, while clients paid 32,000 USD plus expenses.

One of Baby 101's "ovum donors" as featured on their website.

“We could create the finest procreation condition for your baby, mainly through the efficient embryo refining, only the superior left for implanting,” the company boasts on its website. It does not mention what becomes of human embryos that fail its eugenic standards.

“In the community where the accommodation is located, there are security lookout in every entrance, severely control the person and vehicles that pass in and out to the community, the guards routinely patrol around 24 hours a day all year,” the company also states, going on to tout a clean environment that is “safe for surrogates living inside.”

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Thailand. Only close relatives can act as surrogates, and cannot receive payment. The Thai parliament is currently considering legislation that would apply stiff fines and long prison sentences to those convicted of operating surrogacy rings.

“We have to take the issue seriously, otherwise we will become a place for human trafficking involving surrogacy,” Jurin told reporters.

Four Taiwanese, one Chinese and three Myanmar nationals were arrested in connection with the business and charged with illegally working in Thailand. A 35-year-old Taiwanese woman, who police said ran the operation, was also charged with human trafficking.

Thai officials have shut Baby 101 down for now but with the money to be made from "boutique babies" it's only a matter of time before there are more of these "baby farms". Adoption can be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children, but adopting parents must never buy a child. There are 143 million orphans in the world, many who are still babies in desperate need of loving parents.

From all of us at COH, thank you for caring about justice, thank you for being a voice for the voiceless, and thank you for never giving up.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine From The Philippines: An Interview With Crystal Sprague

Today is a day when love in its many incarnations is celebrated with gifts of flowers and chocolates and the ramblings of the Hallmark poets clumsily trying to express the way you feel about someone whom the poet has never met; alas, 'tis Valentine's Day.

C.S. Lewis defined love this way. He said: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Crystal Sprague has the above quote on her blog. It is the definition of love to which she subscribes, and the one she lives by. She was kind enough to do an interview with COH and her answers are profound with wisdom and yet accessible with practicality. Anyone thinking of entering the social work field will learn much from her work in Cebu, Philippines as the Clinical Director of My Refuge House, a safe house and aftercare facility for the victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

My Refuge House’s statement of purpose is a “dedication to alleviating the effects of abuse and trauma sustained by the victims of sex-trafficking”. After a girl is rescued she must be convinced she is safe, that she is outside the reach of the evil that enslaved her. You have said that it’s through “repetition” that MRH achieves this. Practically, what does that look like?

Beliefs, especially the ones that we live by but never take the time to analyze, are very hard to change. They affect the way we think, act and feel. Girls come to us believing many things: that they are worthless, that they are unsafe, that no one will ever love them or care about them again. Changing those beliefs requires dedicated people who can consistently see when a person is acting upon a false belief and address it with truth, over and over again. It takes time, dedication, patience, wisdom and repetition.

A practical example of this is if a girl yells at one of the staff because she feels threatened or unsafe, the staff will take the time to help the girl realize what she is feeling and why she reacted the way she did. The staff is trained to recognize this situation as a trauma induced reaction rather than a personal attack. After this process occurs enough times, the girl should be able to recognize the threatening or unsafe feeling before she reacts so that she can learn to react differently the next time.

Is this the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process?

That depends on the person; however, trauma induced reactions are instinctual and rarely premeditated, so recognizing and changing them is very hard work. That is the reason appropriate education and training is necessary for anyone who works with victims of abuse.

You stress “that relationship-building is crucial to the healing environment”. That implies a deep investment of yourself into hurting girls. How hard is it not to stay broken-hearted, or become callous, or not just take justice into your own hands?

I don’t think it’s possible to work with victims of abuse and not develop “tough skin.” I couldn’t survive if I was broken-hearted all of the time. Nor could I do my job effectively. Relationships are crucial, but they also have to be professional, and as a professional you have to know your limits. I must recognize when I need a break, and actively seek out activities to rejuvenate myself. I will not be helpful to anyone if I don’t know how to take care of myself.

At the same time, I have to know when to show compassion, and when to set appropriate expectations. Both are critical parts of relationship-building. The girls have to be able to trust that I will follow through with the reasonable expectations I set, just as much as they have to trust that I will be there to listen.

On your blog there is that C.S Lewis quote. How is it that you have avoided the “entanglements”, that is the tendency of humanity to inoculate ourselves against the suffering of others by wrapping our hearts in those “little luxuries”?

Lewis, in this quote from his book “The Four Loves” expresses the complete abandon that is required to love well. To love in such a way that you remain vulnerable also means opening yourself up to being hurt. And if you love this way, it is likely that you will get hurt. It’s incredibly hard to remain vulnerable in relationships, and completely counter to human nature.

Working with broken people is harder still. It creates a whole new meaning to loving well. You sometimes find yourself loving people who have never seen what real love looks like, or who are convinced that they are unworthy of love. Sometimes when people are hurting, they lash out and hurt others, whether they desire to or not. These reactions can be a means of protection or a method of testing sincerity in the other person. So there is a constant need to actively remind yourself, as a caregiver, how sincere, empowering love looks.

The reason I love this quote is because it doesn’t hide the fact that selfless, merciful love for others is dangerous, but also acknowledges that avoiding the entanglements of relationships will lead to something much worse – a false feeling of safety as redemption fades away.

To answer your question, I would say that the distractions of little luxuries are something I’ve always been keenly aware of. Like most people, I am selfish and sometimes desire to fill my life with meaningless and trivial things. But I’ve always been drawn to positions where I’ve been given the chance to love broken people, and other times I find it harder to distract myself from my work than to fall into the temptation of distraction by “little luxuries.”

I believe that Christ calls us to love in a way that is fairly radical and once we experience it, it’s addicting. That said, it’s also important to take time to recover from the stresses of working with traumatized people. When faced with emotionally draining situations, I force myself to take time to just enjoy life.

Cebu is a tropical paradise full of every sort of "entanglement" you can dream of and.....

....a nightmare of poverty and exploitation where young girls are bound in brothels.

COH has found that the stories of the individual tragedies of one victim are more affecting, more inspiring than faceless statistics. Is there one girl’s tragedy that stands out from your time in the anti-slavery movement?

Becky’s* story, a hopeful tragedy, is a mixture of coercion, naivety and deception, that ends with hope and restoration.

When Becky was 14 years old, two of her neighbors told her they had a job for her as a dancer. They took her to a restaurant where she met a foreign man. She was led to believe that she would leave right after she finished eating but was given a glass of juice with a drug in it that made her lose consciousness. When she woke up, she found herself naked with the foreign man on top of her. Petrified from the incident, she felt nothing but shame and worthlessness. She lacked the ability to reason and was soon convinced to continue working in the sex establishment.

While working there, she went to the city health office to process her health card. Becky says she was led into a room, and a doctor came in and forced her to have sex with him in exchange for her city health card. The doctor then brought her to a hotel where another man was waiting for her inside the room. The two men took turns raping Becky. This incident finally drove her to seek help and escape from the bar, but left her traumatized and scared.

When Becky came to MRH she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She couldn’t sleep at night because she had vivid nightmares and tried to run away on multiple occasions. She hated being looked at and would often erupt in anger if she thought someone was staring
at her. Even though Becky agreed to come to MRH, she desperately wanted to go home to her father. Unfortunately, Becky’s traffickers lived next door to her father’s house, and he was scared for her safety after filing a case against them. Their home was no longer a safe place.

During Becky’s stay at MRH she made amazing improvements. She no longer got upset when she thought someone was looking at her. Her nightmares subsided and she was able to sleep easier. Although she still has extreme displays of emotion, the MRH staff learned how to support her during those times and the outbursts lessened considerably. A sponsor from a partner organization has agreed to buy Becky’s father a new home so he can move to a safer place and she can eventually join him again.

What about MRH’s greatest success story?

Each person’s success is worth celebrating, so it is hard to place one higher than another. However, here is one that is great:

Anna* is from a hard working family in a district outside of Cebu. Both of her parents are farmers and she is the oldest of five siblings. Anna was sexually abused by her uncle continually from the time she was 11 years old until she was 14. When Anna finally told her mother about it, they filed a case against her uncle. Determined to seek justice, but fearing for Anna’s safety, her mother sought a place where Anna could live while the court case was ongoing.

Anna came to MRH when she was 14 years old. Here are some words she wrote in an activity at the center:

“The hope or dream for my life is to finish my studies and someday… to become a computer science [major] or teacher. The best dream of my life is to win my case so that I can study my lessons without thinking [of any other] problems.”

Anna was very determined to finish school, but obviously was also traumatized by her past. She was naturally quiet, and sometimes unable to express what was going on in her thoughts. While at MRH, she made significant progress in her legal case, as well as her personal life. She also improved in her ability to be honest and open with the staff and herself. In fact, when asked what she learned at MRH she said “I have learned how to share about the good things and the bad things that people do and what God wants us to be.”

Anna graduated from the program at MRH after one year and was transferred to a long term shelter that was able to assist her in pursuing her educational goals.

On your very first blog post you were patiently waiting to hear about a position with International Justice Mission in Cebu. Are you surprised at where you are now?

I am sort of surprised. This dream has been in my heart since I was a teenager, and I’ve believed for a long time that the deepest dreams that we have, the ones that never falter regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, are usually put there by God. And if that is the case, God will do whatever it takes to fulfill those dreams. I’ve worked hard to get here and God has amazed me with the ways he’s orchestrated the rest. I’m learning to be less and less surprised when He does.

Outside of the good book, any heroes?

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice,” and he lived to align principles of justice with the realities of life around him. MLK had one extreme goal in mind: the end of racism. In order to attain that goal, he used many unique, often controversial strategies. His dream was extreme and his methods were revolutionary, and that translated directly into radical changes for the people living in the United States.

Right now, our world is faced with another extreme goal. It will take the same dedication, creativity and fervor that MLK displayed to accomplish the eradication of slavery around the world.

There are a lot of young people wanting to enter the anti-slavery movement. What can you tell them? How did you prepare yourself to join the fight?

There are two primary ways someone can be involved in this fight: The first is educating the public and advocating for the enslaved. The second is direct involvement, which should be done hand in hand with local people who live in the country where the injustice is happening. Both are extremely necessary and cannot be accomplished effectively without each other.

In most places where these atrocities happen, there is a lack of skills, education and resources necessary to create sustainable change. My advice for someone who wants to be directly involved is to educate yourself in a skill that is needed in the place you intend to make a difference. I chose to study Social work. Other helpful skills include law, public policy, counseling, business (to create sustainable jobs for former victims) and education.

Personally I believe that national staff - who understand the culture, speak the language fluently, and are dedicated to seeing their country change in long term ways - are critical to the fight. One of the most important jobs for westerners is to support national staff by training them with the resources that are more readily available in developed nations.

Is there one book you would recommend to those seeking a career in anti-trafficking?

Gary Haugen’s book, Terrify No More, is the book that inspired a small group of people in Southern California to actively do something about the issue of trafficking. After reading it, the congregation of New Heart Community Church opened My Refuge House. For those who haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it.

Who are those most at risk in and around Cebu and what can realistically be done to get them out of harm’s way?

Educating local communities about the realities of trafficking and women’s legal rights is one way to realistically prevent trafficking. Those who have not been educated about the risks of coercion and trafficking that occur on a regular basis are much more susceptible than those who have. Educating communities about ways to intervene, about what trafficking looks like, about how to spot suspicious situations, and how to appropriately intervene are realistic tools for protecting the vulnerable in the community.

MRH is in the process of building a new facility (artist rendering above). How important is this to work they do in Cebu? How can people support MRH and the building project?

My Refuge House came to Cebu to fill a gap in the rehabilitation process for victims of trafficking. Our new facility is vital. Although MRH has been serving clients since 2008, our capacity to do so has been limited by our temporary facilities. The new facility will give us the capacity to house 30 girls for our short term program. It will also give us the ability to house 12 participants through high school who have graduated from our program but don’t have a safe home to return to. It will increase our capacity to serve girls by more than 3 times.

Our new facilities were designed with the unique needs of trafficking victims in mind. Our property and developments on our property will be created to facilitate the refuge our participants need to feel safe. The area will be equipped with a prayer garden, a function hall, and plenty of room for facilitating growth and healing. It will give us adequate space to have classes, group and individual counseling sessions, and physical activities. In addition, instead of one large home, five small homes will be built to incorporate a therapeutic family style environment instead of an institutionalized one.

If you wish to learn more about My Refuge House please visit us here for more information. If you wish to donate to the building project or operational funds please go here for more information. All gifts are tax deductible and every penny will be used to facilitate a healing environment for former victims.

How fluent are you in in Cebuano?

Cebuano is something I’m still working on, but I can converse fairly well. Most of my language acquisition was informal, from conversation or direct interaction, so I’m very hesitant to speak in any kind of formal setting. It is great for building relationships. Because the United States occupied the Philippines for a number of years before World War II, English is widely spoken. For a lot of people this deters language-learning, but I’m happy to say mine is improving daily.

What are the Cebuano words for freedom and justice?

Kagawasan is Freedom and Hustisya is Justice.

What about the words for “Conspiracy Of Hope”?

Pagkonsabo sa Paglaum: Conspiracy of Hope.

Anything you would like to add?

Thank you to all who support the work of My Refuge House and other similar work. Sustainable change can only happen when there are enough people standing up and supporting an issue, so don’t ever underestimate your influence or importance.

*(The names in Crystal's stories have been changed to protect client confidentiality)

So on this Valentine's day, let us open our hearts anew to the girls of Cebu and to all the other children around the world forced into slavery. Let's join with My Refuge House as they restore broken hearts as well as broken lives. And may our hearts be broken by the senseless tragedy of sex-trafficking and may our love remain fiercely resolved and tirelessly committed to justice. May it cost us something.

Thank you for joining our
Pagkonsabo sa Paglaum. Oh, and Happy Valentines Day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Punishment That Fits.

The punishment should fit the crime. It's a basi
c tenet of our jurisprudence. A checks and balance to keep judges from allowing personal vendettas or prejudices from influencing sentencing. Nobody wants to get a ticket for going 70 in a 55 and end up doing life in maximum security. But what about the other side of that coin, what about the victims of crimes? Is justice served when rapists and violent oppressors walk with only a slap on the wrist? The following stories are from recent weeks here in the USA. Not some thimble-sized third world country with a deranged Despot and a corrupt fourth-rate legal system. These are the headlines from the Land of the Free and the Brave. The punishment should fit the crime.

Dmarcus Antwain Ward, 26, of
Louisiana, was sentenced Monday on sex trafficking charges after investigators said he took juveniles to Alabama and back to Georgia, advertising them on the Internet for commercial sex acts. Investigators said Ward transported a 17-year-old girl for prostitution from Atlanta to Birmingham and back again. Ward, who had posted photos of the teen on the Internet, took all the money she earned within that 10-day period, according to the U. S. Attorney's Office.

Ward also forced a 14-year-old runaway into prostitution after meeting her on a toll-free “chat line” and coercing her to go to Alabama with him. Ward posted advertisements of the teen on the Internet and rented hotel and motel rooms in Tucker and Marietta for prostitution. He watched the teen closely, and only left the room when the customers arrived. The 14-year-old gave all her money to Ward, who also had sex with her.

Ward plead guilty to the charges in September. A judge sentenced him to seven years and nine months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. The judge also ordered Mr. Ward to pay restitution to the victims in the amount of $2,600.

Dear States of Louisiana and Georgia, the punishment should fit the crime.

Twin brothers,
Tyrelle and Myrelle Lockett, 18, from outside Chicago pled guilty Tuesday to felony charges of human trafficking for forced labor or services after an undercover sting operation found that they forced young women, including one underage victim, to perform sex acts with men for money. The brothers' would make motel reservations and take photos of the girls for Internet ads they created and posted. Once the meetings with clients were set, the victims would enter motel rooms to have sex with the men while the defendants waited nearby to collect payment. The 17- and 18-year-old victims, who were not charged, told police that the brothers beat them and threatened them if they didn't perform the sex acts.

The brothers were sentenced to four years in prison for forcing the young women into prostitution. The sentencing was handed down by Judge
Frank Zelezinski.

Dear Mr. Zelezinki, the punishment should fit the crime!

QUEENS, NEW YORK (from: BNO NEWS) A New York man
Woodley Gaston, 25, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and other charges for prostituting three young women in January. Gaston was first charged in 2007 with advancing and profiting from the prostitution of a 16-year-old girl and in 2008, Gaston was charged again with forcing a second girl of the same age into prostitution. Two years later, the defendant was accused of prostituting an 18-year-old girl to repay a debt; his third offense.

In the first case, Gaston forced the then 17-year-old victim into a vehicle by threatening to beat her up and then forced her into prostitution. He posted sexually explicit photographs of the girl on Craigslist to attract customers and forced her to perform various sexual acts for money. The girl was also directed to perform sex acts with his landlord as a means of rent payment of his Queens home. His second victim was a 16-year-old girl who he befriended buying her clothes and paying for her to get her nails and hair done. After that, Gaston forced her to work for him as a prostitute, again advertising her on Craigslist.

In his guilty plea, Gaston admitted two counts of sex trafficking, two counts of second-degree promoting prostitution, two counts of third-degree promoting prostitution and two counts of third-degree rape. “This defendant preyed on troubled and needy teenage girls, using them for his sexual gratification and then as a commodity to be sold to others for cash which he then pocketed for himself,” said Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown.

On Monday Gaston was sentenced by Queens Supreme Court Judge Barry Kron to 3 years in prison on sex trafficking charges. Dear District Attorney Brown and Judge Kron, THE PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE CRIME!!!

The miscarriages of justice that are represented above are only a microcosm of a much bigger tragedy involving the lack of justice for the victims of Human Trafficking. While criminals have no fear of the Law, or if meager sentences make the rewards worth their risk, we will never see an end to the evil of trafficking within our borders.

Dear America, the punishment must fit the crime.

There is good news, International Justice Mission continues to stem the tide of injustice internationally by working tirelessly to see the law enforced. Around the world, IJM lawyers are making a simple message clear: If you abuse defenseless girls and women, you will go to jail. In the past week alone, five more violent criminals have been convicted as a result of IJM casework:

La Paz, Bolivia - Feb 8: A man is sentenced to 20 years in jail for sexual abuse of his daughter.

Cebu, the Philippines - Feb 7: Two pimps are sentenced to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking.

Nairobi, Kenya - Feb 7: A man is sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping a young girl in his church.

Guatemala City, Guatemala - Feb 3: A rapist who assaulted a 13-year-old girl is sentenced to eight years in prison.

This week’s major convictions are a result of years of effort and the brave testimony of the girls and women IJM serves. But
these convictions must also inspire us to fight for tougher sentences here in the US. As Gary Haugen, IJM's President and founder often reminds us, criminals are cowards, that is why they pray on the defenseless and the weak.

Criminals will back down, they will go away, they will stop trafficking young girls...If the punishment fits.

Friday, February 4, 2011

WTF(atwa)!!! or The Cowardice Of Evil.

One of the most
maddening, disheartening factors of the fight against Human Trafficking and the fight to protect children from sexual brutalization is the complicity of law enforcement in many countries. The stories of police officers being bribed or being regular patrons at brothels where young girls are forced into prostitution are many, and the magistrates and judges that continue to be bought off make the conviction rate for traffickers anemic and laughable. But when self appointed, self-important, judiciaries take the law into their own hands and mete out the most reprehensible of rulings under the religious guise of fatwa, it breaks the will of even the most hopeful optimists.

Hena was 14 when her 40 year old married cousin raped and beat her. That was last Sunday in Bangladesh. And though the man did not deny his crime, Hena was not given justice. Instead she was given one hundred one lashes. But at least for tiny Hena she didn't have to experience all of them, that's because she fell unconscious after 70. The young girl was rushed to the hospital where her broken body was beyond repair, and she died today, five days later.

The fatwa council that met early Monday convicted Hena of adultery, which is often just code for being alone with a man, but in Hena's case the reality was much more tragic. Her punishment was swift. Her death, unimaginably painful and infinitely senseless. The High Court is demanding an explanation but there is only one: evil is a coward. Evil hides under white sheets and under the cover of darkness, it masquerades as blind justice, but it blinds those who have no appetite for confrontation. It preys on the weak and defenseless and is emboldened at the deafening silence of society. It uses religion, every religion, as a justification for its lust for power and control, it uses religion as a blunt object, a raised fist that strikes fear into the heart of those that would resist.

Conspiracy Of Hope is a non-political group. Our members are as varied as are their beliefs. We do however support legislation that protects the innocent from exploitation and we support organizations that work tirelessly to see the law enforced justly.

International Justice Mission is one such organization. They work with just local law enforcement, lawyers and judges all over the world to protect the rights of the innocent. Their work with Project Lantern in Cebu, Philippines led to the number of underage girls in brothels declining by 79%. (You can read the COH blog about Project Lantern here.)

IJM has also put together a petition to ask President Obama to renew his administration's commitment to justice for the victims of trafficking. You can sign the petition here. It takes all of 30 seconds. Also there will be legislation going before congress soon called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). We will keep you up to date on the status of the legislation and let you know when you can call your congresspersons to let them know you support it. The legislation will give the State department some of the tools it needs to help other governments fight trafficking by enforcing anti-slavery and anti-exploitation laws already on the books and by encouraging them to amend Draconian laws like the one behind the fatwa that led to little Hena being beaten to death for being raped.

Please use your voice, your talents, your resources to expose the injustice of trafficking. Please support organizations like IJM that are fighting relentlessly to stem the tide of injustice. Remember, every time you speak out, the cowardice of evil is exposed for what it is, and you give the Henas of the world a fighting chance.

From all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope, thank you for being that voice.