Why We Need More 'Safe Harbor Laws'

Photo via  Stockdonkey / Shutterstock

Tied to the dock. Photo via Stockdonkey /

When a San Antonio couple was caught trafficking a 16-year-old online, their excuse was that they had no prior knowledge of her age and “were trying to help her.”  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Charwick Wright, a now ex- Navy sailor, trafficked an HIV-positive 17-year old in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina for his own good. But hey, at least he could admit it.

These horrible anecdotes are popping up all over the U.S., with underage children—both Americans and immigrants—trafficked for labor, and more often, for sexual exploitation. The most surprising issue, however, is the conversation on whether those who are trafficked are criminals themselves. Sadly, in 19 states and all of the American territories, that is the case.

The good news is that a majority of states have some form of "safe harbor laws," laws that prevent underage victims of trafficking from facing criminal charges and from being treated as culpable and willing participants. 

Agents of Grit and Grace

THE 67 PEOPLE gathered in the basement of Union Baptist Church in Memphis have come from all over: Appalachian State University and Asbury College, Louisiana State and Liberty University, Wright State and Wheaton College. The youngest is 21; the oldest, 48. They’ve come to teach in some of the lowest performing schools in the state of Tennessee.

For the next 12 months, they’ll live, learn, and pray together, becoming a family as they also learn to become teachers and colleagues. All were drawn by faith and a dream that God is doing unexpected things in the city schools of Memphis.

Welcome to the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR), a faith-based nonprofit that’s become one of the most effective teacher training programs in Tennessee.

At the front of the room, Rev. Tom Fuerst, an associate pastor at Christ United Methodist Church, gives the morning devotional. His message: The world is broken and so are Memphis schools. But God wants to fix them both. Fuerst describes the idea of “prior grace”—that God is at work in the world long before we are aware of it—and invites the new trainees to become agents of that grace by becoming great teachers.

But Fuerst, like everyone at MTR, is quick to warn the aspiring teachers—known as residents—against proselytizing. The residents, as public school teachers, don’t preach faith in the classroom, hold Bible studies, or actively discuss their faith. That would make the classroom unsafe for non-Christian students, warned Fuerst.

That doesn’t mean that MTR hides its Christian identity. Organizers believe that every student in Memphis is a child of God and deserves a great education. They believe that providing great public education is part of the gospel. The gospel motivates everything they do. But preaching is not part of their educational strategy.

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Ground Operation

IT’S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband’s planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I’m completely occupied with pictures of war. I’ve cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.

“This is an Aardvark,” he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. “What does that do to the soil?” I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military hub in Afghanistan, surrounded by minefields and littered with burned-out tanks and planes, the wreckage of war from the Soviets. No one farms here, or has, or will for a long, long time.

FOR THE PAST three seasons, Adam McDermott has come to our farm in Central Pennsylvania’s Stone Valley every Friday morning to harvest vegetables for the food bank. We always chat while we bunch beets or pick green beans, and now I wonder why we’ve never talked about his years in the Army.

“This farm has definitely been part of my therapy,” he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in Iraq: taking heavy equipment down unfamiliar roads to set off hidden explosives, being promoted to sergeant, and then losing three friends when a bomb shattered their Humvee. Adam came home in 2008 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an alcohol addiction. “A lot of guys struggle with alcohol,” Adam says. “In the military you have camaraderie and a sense of purpose. But when you get back, there’s just this big void.”

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You’re Wearing a Cape. Really.

Girl dressed up like a superhero, Sunny studio /

Girl dressed up like a superhero, Sunny studio /

Do you have a favorite superhero? I’ve always liked Batman. As a boy, I read all the Batman comic books. I like the cape and the cowl, the bat logo, the cool car with the flames coming out the back, the interesting villains.

What I like especially is that Batman is a regular person. Other superheroes fly or run at supersonic speeds or stretch their body parts in ways that are very strange and make you wonder. Batman has none of those powers. He’s like us — well, regular except for the part about being ultra-rich and living in a mansion above a bat cave …

The bottom line is that Batman fights for a better world using the things available to all of us: Creativity. Commitment. Courage. A passion to make a difference someone else’s life.

He reminds me of the super hero in each of us.

Turning Toward Home

WHEN SHE’S TRAVELING around her north-central Detroit neighborhood, Lucretia Gaulden likes to carry her digital camera with her.

The 39-year-old lifelong Detroiter trains her lens at scenes that represent health—such as an outgoing person she admires, for example—as well as images that represent sickness and danger, such as vacant buildings.

That’s the assignment she’s working on in her photography class at the Bell Building. Until Lucretia came to the Bell Building 17 months ago, she never had a chance to participate in a photography class. When she was homeless, attending a weekly class of any type, even owning a camera, might have been out of reach.

Orphaned at 13, pregnant at 16, she found herself in prison at 25 after being convicted of being an accomplice to a crime committed by an old boyfriend. When she got out, she bounced between halfway houses and friends’ couches.

But since she’s arrived at the Bell Building, she’s been able to focus on what’s more healthy for her. In compliance with her lease, Lucretia pays rent every month on her own furnished one-bedroom apartment. She serves as a floor captain, with responsibilities for maintaining order and community among her immediate neighbors. She’s also part of the building’s Tenants Advisory Council and is a member of the speakers bureau, a group of residents who do public presentations and speak with the press. Their work is meant to help put a human face on the issue of homelessness.

Homelessness is an enormous problem these days in Detroit. As many as 25,000 of the region’s residents are chronically homeless. But when someone like Lucretia arrives at the Bell Building, just like that, the ranks are reduced by one.

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This Land is Our Land

RURAL COMMUNITIES in the U.S. wrestle with many of the same problems facing the rest of the country—persistent unemployment, access to quality health care, air and water degradation, a broken immigration policy. Other issues—such as supporting sustainable farming practices and drawing young people into agriculture, lack of broadband access, and the challenges of small-town economic development—are more unique to rural life.

Even though the 46.2 million people living in rural U.S. counties constitute only 15 percent of the country’s total population (spread across 72 percent of the nation’s land area), we are all connected—urban, suburban, and rural—by foodways, waterways, wilderness areas, and our national politics. As one Midwest-based organizer put it, “many progressives fundamentally don’t understand rural America—they don’t even know why they should care about it. You can’t understand the power of the tea party without understanding rural America. It is the key to the House of Representatives, and progressives will be hamstrung until they can make inroads in a few key congressional districts.”

But that organizer and others also draw power and hope from the deep history of populism in the rural Midwest and parts of the South, and the endurance of community-oriented values that aren’t just “heartland” clichés.

While many young people are itching to leave rural areas and small towns—anxious to find better jobs, educational opportunities, or city culture—others have always stayed put or returned after time away. And some “city cousins” move to rural America, enjoying the opportunity to work on issues they care about (with the bonus of a brilliant night sky). Here are four stories of young people investing in rural communities in the Midwest.  —The Editors

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All in the Family

FROM EGG FREEZING to genome analysis, desirous parents with sufficient funds these days have many choices for starting a family. But what about children born to parents who can’t care for them—at least not at the present time? With 400,000 children in foster systems across the United States and a quarter of them awaiting adoption, it is a pressing question.

Some evangelicals increasingly are taking their cue from a particular biblical passage in the first chapter of James, verse 27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God ... is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress ...”

From this verse has come the “127 movement,” dedicated to supporting prospective foster families within a church community. Project 1.27 in Colorado was the first group founded under this banner back in 2004. Its goal was to provide the state-mandated orientation and training, from a Christian perspective, to potential foster parents. If a family ended up fostering or later adopting a child, then the movement’s members would serve as a support network.

“We had 875 legally free kids waiting to be adopted in Colorado and twice that many churches,” recalled Project 1.27 director Shelly Radic. “We thought, ‘Wow, that’s just not right,’ so we began to build relationships with county social services and child services at the state level, and then connect with churches and private agencies to set up training.”

Since foster systems are run by individual states, so too are these faith-based support movements.

“We do recruiting, orientations, and training. We’re not a placement agency,” explained Radic. “We follow state guidelines, invite people to come who might be interested in foster care and adoption, tell them about the trauma and the hard things the children may have experienced, help families see what their process would look like, and talk about building a support team as a high priority.”

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Introverts: Caring for Dandelions

Girl blowing on dandelions, Volodymyr Goinyk /

Girl blowing on dandelions, Volodymyr Goinyk /

Recently I’ve been re-reading Susan Cain’s excellent book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Extroverts will want to take it with a grain of salt (although some of the book’s speculations suggest that extroverts are fairly thick-skinned about being taken down off their pedestals), but the book is a fascinating exploration of what it’s like to be an introvert in the world, including some analysis about how one gets to be an introvert, anyway, including how much is genetic, and how much comes from early environment.

It was in reading one of these “nature or nurture?” passages that I first encountered the “orchid hypothesis.” Taking its name from David Dobbs’ 2009 article, “The Science of Success,” published in The Atlantic, the orchid hypothesis essentially argues, as Cain puts it, that:

“… many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including the high-reactive types that [developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan] studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.” (Quiet, 111)

This jumped off the page at me.