Friday, May 14, 2010

Hitting the Books

I've been doing a lot of reading lately... a lot. I could link and link and link articles on here, videos on here, and flood this blog with statistics that would make you scream. Deep breath. Restraint. Today I will post an article/blog post by Anne Jackson of Flowerdust, which is a site that has lots to read on it (at this point in my head is running the old, "but don't take my word for it" from Reading Rainbow).

Breaking News: American Orphans Get Kicked Out of Public Schools, Nowhere to Go: Predators Wait

At the end of their freshman year of high school, American orphans are left fending for themselves. No longer integrated into the public school system, the federal government provides each orphan with $120 and a wish of “Good luck!” as they drop them in their respective inner cities.

These children stop to purchase a cell phone or some clothes, and then go one of two ways: Some move back to their neighborhoods, although they lack any family or connections, and others attempt to find jobs.

However, predators are numerous and falsely advertise vague jobs in the newspaper, offering a doorway into trafficking under the guise of legit employment opportunities. Others wait in the neighborhoods for those who do return, pretending to be employers looking for workers.

Most of these orphans end up kidnapped and working in Mexico and Canada, making pennies a day for sexual services.

That would be shocking, wouldn’t it? We’d be enraged. Rally.

Thankfully, that is not the scenario in the states. However…

While we’re here in Moldova, we’re trying to learn everything we can. Yesterday, we started at the beginning — how do so many children (20-25% of Moldova’s population, most orphaned and most female between 16-24) end up being sex trafficked? Where does this cycle begin?

A lot of the problem begins through the orphanage system.

Take, for instance, the eleven year old girl we met yesterday at an orphanage. At fifteen, she’ll be released out into the world on her own, with no family or connection to anybody out in the city. The government will provide her with a small sum of money, not even enough to rent a room for a month.

This girl is completely vulnerable…and the predators know it.

They’ll advertise “real” jobs in papers, promising good work in other bordering countries. Naive and unsuspecting, these girls will go for an interview, and typically get drugged, kidnapped, and moved into another country. Their papers will be stripped away and changed and they’ll gain a new identity.
Sex slave.

Not knowing how to escape, being violated and told they’re worthless, and that nobody cares, they see no hope — no reason to escape. Some commit suicide.

The reality is nobody really will miss them. Moldova is a small country, and 30,000 women and children disappear every year without a trace. Without identities.

Nobody knows they’re gone, and nobody misses them.

As we sat in a rather large orphanage yesterday, I couldn’t help but stare at each girl. They varied in age from maybe five or six to teenagers, and I knew the teenagers would be soon sent out on their own to fend for themselves. Some may find a transitional home which will help educate them, put them through tenth-twelfth grade (or beyond) and keep them safe. But there would be some who would simply disappear.

And nobody would know.

A year from now, I wonder if I’ll even remember their faces – glowing brightly with youth and what I could only imagine is hope.

Or will I also forget as they disappear into a system of the worst kind of crime and suffering?

Today, we are meeting with some organizations that are on the solution side of this issue. I hope tomorrow’s update will have a better ending than the stories I heard today.

(**Note: Just in case it wasnt clear the story about American orphans is not true. It is a parallel to what is happening here in EU and Russia for context.)

I've also created a new blog roll of blogs and sites I'm finding helpful in learning about the sex trafficking industry; if you know of others, please let me know!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Ant Can Carry A LOT on its Back

I feel like I'm carrying some burdens around with me right now. Not my own burdens, but those of the orphans, foster kids, and girls whose banner I am trying desperately to hold up. The weight of these burdens - poverty, fear, loneliness, hopelessness, hunger, anger, hurt, abandonment - can press down a crushing force on me at times. When I meditate on these things, pray for them, my heart can feel their pain. It can put me in quite the funk,for hours, sometimes days. It's been hard as we embark on launching this ministry at our church to really talk about it, blog about it. It's sometimes hard to sum up in cute sentences or pithy comments, witty sentiments our plans, or even the statistics, or more importantly the stories behind the statistics.
On a more personal note, I was so obliviously and blissfully naive and unaware of the conditions at our own children's orphanage. I think I was lulled into a false sense of security because the nuns there are so loving, and reports of parents going are always so positive. But after reading an account of the orphanage from a complete outsider, it's like seeing it with fresh eyes. I am now hurting also for my own kids, for all the children there. Thankfully so many of them will soon be with their forever families, even some right here in Austin. Surely it will be a comfort to them to see some familiar faces here! (here are the accounts I read: Land of A Thousand Hills 1, Lands of a Thousand Hills 2) I can't wait to take a suitcase full of toys and clothes when we go!!
We are supposed to lift our burdens up to the Lord; but what if it is God that gives you the burden? Have you ever been in this place? Talk to me!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not for Little Eyes

Okay, so last week we went to the CAFO Summit conference up in Minneapolis. It was awesome. We got a ton of resources and came away with a lot ideas and visions and dreams of what God can do with our ministry. My prayer going into it was that God would reveal what work He would have us do, and well, He gave us a work to do. A big work. Years of work. More on all of that in blog posts to come.
Every day God can surprise you. Here I was, going to a conference on ORPHAN CARE and ADOPTION. Look, I already feel out of place most of time, even at church, for being "one of those crazy adoption people." I was feeling nice and cozy, among my own peeps for once, when of course God had to push me out of my comfort zone. Looks like comfort is just not in my cards. Morning one. Tom Davis takes the stage. Great, I think. I love Tom Davis. "Fields of the Fatherless" is practically an adoption classic, and I came to the conference looking forward to hearing him speak. Uhhh... then he started talking about sex trafficking. Not the topic I was expecting. But as he expounded on the topic, my heart started to grow for those involved. He explained how many of the young girls - and I do mean young girls, ages of even 7 years old - are lured out of horrible situations, like orphanages or foster situations or street situations, by promises of family, safety, , jobsand belonging. Everything they've always wanted that they've never had. Instead they get hell. They get taken not to a home but to a hotel. They get held there against their will by large grown men who rape them, then invite other men to do the same for a price. If they don't make enough money they get beaten. They are in hell. They are girls. They have no one. They can't just leave and its not their fault. They weren't somehow asking for this. Being smarter won't help them escape.
As I describe this situation, what country are thinking about? India? Russia? Does the distance make you feel safer, more comfortable with it? I know if I ever thought about this subject in the past, I had it tucked away neatly into the pockets of "doesn't concern me" and "that kind of stuff doesn't happen here." Well, no longer can I look away. No longer can I have that attitude. And it does happen HERE. Right here, in America, in the open.
But what can WE do? I mean, I don't know any sex traffickers. This is a huge industry and I am a little person. Well, little people can band together and have a big voice. It turns out that one of the largest outlets for these men to sell their girls on is Craigslist. Craigslist is well aware of the situation but refuses to take down the adult services section of their website. Read the open letter by Rachel Loyd to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster below:

Dear Jim,

We met about 18 months ago via video-conference and at that time I shared with you a story of an 11 year old girl that I was working with. I'm not sure if you remember her, but I'd like to share this story with you again.

"Bethany" had been in foster care since she was 2 years old and had bounced from foster home to foster home, until at 11 she was introduced to a friend of her 14 year old sister. This friend was a 32 year old man who lured her in with promises of a stable home and love, everything she'd been craving her whole short life. He took Bethany from New York down to a hotel in DC, bought her some ‘sexy' clothes, and took pictures of her and then posted those pictures on your site, Craigslist. Bethany didn't really think there was anything unusual about this, after all her 14 and 16 year old sisters were both being sold on Craigslist too.

For nine months, almost till she turned 12 years old, Bethany's pictures were posted on Craigslist. Sometimes she was "NEW IN TOWN" when her pimp/trafficker would bring her to cities up and down the East Coast, posting her pictures in different regions. Sometimes she was "HOT N SEXXY FOR U" with her price listed as 150 roses. Night after night, adult men clicked on her ads, dialed a number and ordered her as easily as they would've ordered a pizza. Night after night, adult men came to the hotel room she was being kept in and had sex with her, or rather raped her, as at 11 years old she was too young to consent. Night after night, her pimp collected the money that he made from her and if it wasn't enough he beat or whipped her, badly enough that she has permanent scars.

No-one who saw Bethany's pictures ever clicked on the link on your site and reported "suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities". No law enforcement ever found the ads that her trafficker posted in the midst of the hundreds and hundreds of other ads of girls for sale.

Bethany, and her two sisters, were sold on your site, just like hundreds of other girls I've worked with have been. Just like thousands of other girls and young women across America are sold every night. It's hard to imagine that as a businessman with a sense of social responsibility that this wouldn't sicken and horrify you. The thought that you could profit even one dollar, let alone millions of dollars, in any way from the sale of children has to deeply sadden and make you outraged to the point where you would want to ensure that this can't happen - at least not on your site. I would've hoped that would be your automatic response anyway.

Unfortunately that hasn't been the case. Your responses to the criticism though raise some interesting points. Yes, while there may be a few people who are concerned about "casual sex" on your site, the vast majority of people who are signing petitions and raising their voices about this issue are doing so on behalf of girls like Bethany who don't have a voice. Yes, while there are of course other sites, magazines and Yellow Page ads where girls and women can be bought, very few of them have the brand-name recognition that Craigslist does, and besides, the "other people are doing it too" argument seems to be one that our mothers taught us when we were in kindergarten didn't hold much water. (Kudos, by the way, to New York Magazine for dropping all their sex for sale ads last year). And yes, while Craigslist has been cooperative with law enforcement on this issue, the sheer volume of postings of girls for sale on each night, in each city makes truly targeting traffickers and pimps a Sisphyean task.

This campaign isn't about a "cynical misuse of a cause as important as human trafficking as a pretense for imposing one's own flavor of religious morality". In fact, for those of us on the ground who work with girls like Bethany every day, it's saddening to have our work and our advocacy efforts framed as such. While we recognize that Craigslist taking a stand on this issue won't end commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in our country, it will send a powerful message to the adult male buyers that Craigslist will have no part in, nor take any profit from, the sale of 11 (or 14, or 16) year old girls.

So, as intense as that letter is, that is what is going on out there. I am boycotting Craigslist until they stop making profits from the sale of young girls. Will you join me as well? Another thing I will be doing is learning. Will you learn with me? This issue is too important to ignore. Finally, I am committed to being a voice for these girls who have no voice. So, if you decide to stop reading this blog, I'll understand. But its not all sunny and roses out there, its just not. That is for another life, and strive as we might, we're never going to get that here so the way I see it we might as well put our gloves on and get into the fight down here while can. So get ready to learn a lot about places like Moldova, the sex trafficking capital of the world, and ways we can be involved in helping to support girls that have been rescued and are transitioning out of that world. As my new friend Brandi says, lets be warrior girls.