The Employment Barrier for Trafficking Survivors

Image via /

To leave the trafficked sex industry is to encounter many barriers. Among those is the need for employment opportunities and the opportunity to learn a trade while gaining skills to earn an independent income.

Consider this: A woman leaves a trafficker, through his arrest or her own personal escape. This trafficker created total dependence — someone who, amidst abuse and exploitation, provided for her. She usually had no control of this money, and gave over anything she made for his earnings. Her needs are met — but she is completely dependent on him for survival.

Then she is separated from her trafficker, and she has nothing: No income, usually a limited education, and at times minimal job skills to report on a resume. Her survival reflects her strengths and resources — but how does she capture resilience for prospective employers? What does she do when she carries a criminal record history?

One survivor described this experience to me, saying, “I look horrible on paper.”

How to Listen to Trafficking Survivors

Image via /

Our initial vision included a basic goal of raising awareness and seeking to coordinate efforts for a unified response that would comprehensively address this form of modern-day slavery through prevention, awareness, action, and aftercare. But as our awareness efforts soon led many trafficking survivors to us, statistics and stories were replaced with personal, local faces that would need our help and in turn, would change our lives.

Interacting with trafficking survivors is a cross-cultural experience. Many of their stories are riddled with addiction, abuse, neglect, out-of-home placement, loss, rejection, and suffering. (And this does not even begin to address the culture of the commercial sex industry.) The language of “the life,” the rules of “the game”, and the many nuances of a relationship with a trafficker — whether known as daddy, boyfriend, boss, abuser, or lover — are only a few of the cultural differences for a woman coming out of the commercial sex industry.

As I sit with a woman who has secrets, stories, and experiences that are much different than my own, what can I offer? The world views her as dirty and as choosing this lifestyle. Others view her as to be pitied and a cause to be rescued. What does she need? What do we need to understand about women who have a history of prostitution or sex trafficking?

Recently I asked another woman this question. Separated from her trafficker for only two months, she had a fresh understanding.

From the Archives: June 1990

I WAS just 15, and as the eldest I had to do something to help my family. When the captain of our local army squadron introduced a recruiter to my parents, I was ready to go anywhere. He made it sound so nice! I would go to Japan and work in a famous hotel as a professional dancer. It would mean lots of money to send home to my poor family in the Philippines. Of course, I would have to go to Manila first to be trained, and I would have to change my name to fit my new life.

So I became Mami! My recruiter was from a Philippine entertainment production group. They “train” their girls mainly in the clubs and bars on Mabini Street in Manila. My recruiter wanted me to go to Japan as a prostitute, but I demanded to go as an entertainer. ... I was told that if I learned Japanese songs and took dancing lessons I could get an entry visa for show business—in six months. He let me work in his bar while I was waiting, but after two months I asked him to get me a fake passport and visa as I was worried about my family. Later on I learned that all these kindnesses were deducted from my earnings in Japan. By the way, the Aquino government claims it prohibits its people from being engaged in “shameful work,” but while I was in Manila, my Japanese recruiter alone interviewed 20 new girls like me—every day! n

Naoko Iyori, MMB, worked with the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace in Tokyo when this article, a composite of the actual experiences of several women from the Philippines, appeared.

Image: Girl at a window,  / Shutterstock 

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

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. 

Ahead of the World Cup, Brazil's Churches Work to Protect Children from Sex Abuse

Evangelical Christians protest against child sex exploitation in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Religion News Service photo: Robson Coelho

As Brazil counts down to the opening of the World Cup on June 12, churches in cities hosting the international soccer tournament are not content to sit on the sidelines and cheer.

They’ve launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the hundreds of vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation during the month-long competition.

With an estimated 600,000 soccer fans expected to arrive in Brazil within a matter of days, the South American nation is under pressure to combat its international reputation as a destination for child sex tourism.

Church leaders fear the heavy flow of tourists during the games could fuel an explosion of sexual trafficking of children and teens at fan fest locations around the World Cup arenas.

The Passion of Relisha Rudd

Courtesy Homeless Children's Playtime Project

Relisha collage. Courtesy Homeless Children's Playtime Project

The first ominous sign that the Relisha Rudd case was slipping from the local Washington, D.C. imagination was when the police alert signs posted on the roads into the city had their messages changed, or were removed entirely.

For weeks after the news that the little eight-year-old girl was missing broke on March 19, the digital display boards had broadcast the Amber alert in their amber lettering, its grim message truncated in a style all too appropriate for the digital age: “BLK Female, 8 YRS, 4’0”, 70-80 LBS,” along with a contact number to report sightings. Radio stations had urged citizens repeatedly to be on the lookout.

Because I tend to leave WTOP news radio on a little too often when the children are around, my ten-year-old son grew preoccupied with the case, and because he cannot admit to himself that tragedy is ever actually happening, came to me and said, earnest with his watery blue eyes, “Mom, you know they found that girl.”

Hoping, hoping.

Protecting the Innocent

AN UNQUENCHABLE demand for sex, coupled with an endless supply of vulnerable children, creates a seemingly endless cycle of child exploitation.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Department of Defense contracted with the Thai government to provide “recreation and relaxation” for U.S. soldiers. Sex tourism was organized and expanded into a major industry. Today, sex tourism is a huge source of income for Thailand: The country remains a hub for tourists who can get anything they want at a very low price. Many children are trafficked into Thailand from surrounding countries or are fleeing military genocide. Others are pressured by their own family members to contribute to the household income. Uneducated and hopeless, these desperately poor boys and girls help feed the sex trade industry’s insatiable hunger for children.

A friend of mine recently traveled to Thailand. “I’d read books and watched documentaries about the sex industry in Thailand,” says Jennifer Laine VanBeek. “But nothing prepared me for Bangkok. Even beyond the red light districts, the sex trade is impossible to ignore. I was defeated by the sheer volume, the visible presence, the young ages of the exploited girls and boys, and how engrained it seemed to be in Thai culture.”

Jennifer visited Thailand—often called “Disneyland for Pedophiles”—with her Westmont College friend Rachel Goble, president of The SOLD Project, an organization that works to prevent child exploitation. Early in 2008, Rachel moved to Thailand’s Chiang Rai region, whose lush landscape and laughing children belie the harsh reality: Generations of women from this village have been and continue to be exploited by Thailand’s sex trade.

Young men in desperately poor families such as those in Chiang Rai can bring honor to their families by becoming monks, but girls are expected to provide financially. Traffickers understand this vulnerability, prey on it, and easily lure girls into life in the brothel.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Is Social Justice 'Sexy'?

IT WAS AN average afternoon in the college town of Northampton, Mass. I was sitting at a local coffee shop sipping a latte when I overheard the conversation between two students comparing laptop decals.

“I’m really into the whole child soldier thing. This sticker is about that,” explained one young woman. The other pointed to an emblem on her laptop, remarking, “I’m more interested in the issue of sex trafficking, but I guess everyone is.”

“Yeah,” the other girl responded, “It’s kind of the sexy social justice issue.”

An intense interest in social justice has been a hallmark of the Millennial generation thus far. Within the church, there has been a clear departure from the traditional emphasis on evangelism alone to a broadening conversation about the necessity of addressing physical needs and human rights. Millennials have made great strides in engaging some of the world’s most pressing issues, but is the popularity of social justice a completely good phenomenon?

The Good
As a result of globalization, my generation is more aware than ever about the plight of those Jesus refers to as our “neighbors.” This awareness has heightened funding for NGOs, mobilized willing volunteers, and built pressure for better public policy. We have more knowledge regarding the injustices that people face all across the globe, and we’re often not content to simply cross to the other side of the road. It’s trendy to know and talk about justice issues, and this popularity has often led to action.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

White House Council Calls for Action on Modern-day Slavery

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

White House advisory council of religious leaders. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

 WASHINGTON — A White House advisory council of religious leaders called for a global fund to address human trafficking and urged a new labeling system to help identify consumer goods that were not created with slave labor.

With a 36-page report released Wednesday, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships hopes to build awareness of the estimated 21 million people worldwide who are subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor.

“Abraham Lincoln said if slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong, and we know that sadly 150 years later slavery still exists,” said Susan K. Stern, chair of the council and an adviser to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “Today with this report we say, ‘Enough.’”

The 15-member council made 10 recommendations to the White House, saying what they’ve learned about the scope of trafficking has driven them to galvanize national action.

One recommendation calls for a “Global Fund to Eradicate Modern-day Slavery,” modeled on a fund that combated AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.