Last week on May 4th, FAIR Fund's youth survivor and advocate, Asia, spoke out on a Congressional briefing alongside Congressman Chris Smith, actress Demi Moore, and two other young women survivors of sex trafficking in the United States. With more than 170 individuals in attendance, including many press outlets, I know that Asia's testimony had a critical impact in educating Congress and the public on the realities that young women survivors of sex trafficking face. Asia hit the audience hard when she stated:
"I was fortunate to escape trafficking, find FAIR Fund and get invaluable support and resources to build a renewed, stable life. But unfortunately, there are still many thousands of other young women and girls who are trapped in a vicious cycle of psychological abuse and sexual exploitation – and these girls are in our very own neighborhoods, the hometowns of our members of Congress, as well as the backyard of our nation’s capital. For those who do try to escape, critical resources and programs are hard to access and too scarce to meet the level of need."
Following the meeting, Asia and I went with colleagues to meet with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) where Asia continued to propose policy change that would stop the buying and selling of American girls on Craigslist and provide more comprehensive services. In a followup statement, Asia reported that she is no longer a victim, but a survivor and is ready to "go on the offensive by working with FAIR Fund and getting a degree in criminal justice." When Congresswoman Schakowsky told Asia and I she plans to make shutting down Craigslist's Erotica site her mission, Asia replied that "you can name the law "Asia's Law." Asia's success is amazing. After just 14 months of freedom, Asia has a job, a place to live, is enrolled in college and starting to study criminal justice. I am deeply proud of her and her courage to speak out on the behalf of other girls and boys who are ensnared in sex trafficking.
Last Friday, a generous donor contacted FAIR Fund and has offered to pay, 100%, for Asia to attend any college in the United States that will accept her. Her future is bright, and FAIR Fund continues to work to help other young women gain the confidence they need to move on with their lives after trafficking.
On January 28th, 10 American Baptist missionaries were stopped by border control guards from the Dominican Republic while trying to bring 33 Haitian children into the country. The Americans have been charged with attempting to illegally take these children out of the country. Currently, these Americans remain in jail while awaiting another hearing before a Haitian tribunal judge. Could this be a case of attempted child trafficking?
In the past two weeks, warning of the increased danger that Haitian children face toward being sold into modern day slavery have been heard on Larry King Live, and the New York Times. Lack of security, unmet needs, families torn part, and a government at a loss for how to protect it’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens all make a horribly perfect breeding ground for the buying and selling of Haitian children.
However, I think it’s important to look toward a few rays of light that point toward hope. Look at the current case of the 10 Americans who were bringing 33 Haitian children across the Dominican Republic border. They were stopped. While these Americans most likely did not have had the intentions of trafficking Haitian children, they were attempting to bring children who clearly were not their own across the border. The Dominican Republic border guards rightfully investigated. Furthermore, the children were not immediately returned to their parents. Rather, they were carefully taken to a well-known international aid orphanage, the SOS Kinderdorf. While the children and their families may not see this as a positive thing, it speaks to the organization and dedication of the country to protect its children from being sold into slavery or trafficked across borders.
So, how can the Haitians protect the hundreds of thousands of other Haitian children from being potentially trafficked? A FAIR Fund advisor and world renowned author, Benjamin Skinner, reports that 300,000 Haitian children were enslaved as “restavaks” or “stay withs’ who were enslaved for domestic labor. These children have been used as the lowest form of labor in the country. Many are turned out on the streets in early adolescents, ending up in prostitution, petty crime, and often death. Child slavery is in fact hidden in plain sight.
How do traffickers get away with this horrible human rights violation? Traffickers prey on the vulnerability and desperation of others. Who are more vulnerable then children who have lost their families? Or, families who feel they can no longer provide basic needs for their children. These vulnerable children are now being thrust into a lawless situation with violent criminals who are now running loose from the Haitian jails. Haitian children were and continue to be extremely vulnerable.
What Haitian children need are dedicated and trained professional advocates who are able to work with orphanages, children’s homes, and even families to better understand how to evaluate potential trafficking situations. FAIR Fund educates children on how to protect themselves from trafficking, but in the case of Haiti, these conversations would only work when there are a dedicated team of child rights professionals working to protect these children.
It’s not just Haitian children who are at risk toward trafficking. In our past six years, FAIR Fund has assisted over 200 youth, some of whom are teenagers right here in Washington, D.C. They too are lost, without supportive families, going nights without food, and looking for a safer place. Those who pretend to offer them a “better life” are also luring them. FAIR Fund is here working with our partners, including law enforcement, to identify and assist these youth. Yet, of the 850 teens FAIR Fund educated about human trafficking in 2008, over 50% reported knowing another teen being exploited by prostitution. However, in 2008, 35 cases of child sexual exploitation were identified in D.C. We also need to work on our efforts to assist our most vulnerable teens.
A Child is a child. Exploitation is exploitation. No one deserves to be enslaved.
On December 30th, ABC news featured FAIR Fund in their story "Battling Sex Trafficking." I hope you will take a moment to watch and share with your colleagues and friends via email, facebook, or twitter.
In 2010, thanks to our wonderful friends like you, FAIR Fund is prepared to serve 150 high-risk and formerly trafficked youth, educate 2,000 high risk teens about human trafficking in Serbia, Bosnia, Russia, Uganda, and here in D.C.. As this ABC news story points out, the trafficking of youth in a problem right here in the nations capital, and across the United States.
It's not just sex trafficking, either. Foreign born and American youth are also sold into situations of forced begging - including selling candy on the streets, working in nail salons, and working on farms. All of these young people deserve a better life, and we are working hard to reach them.
FAIR Fund will also continue to train law enforcement, social workers, teachers and other community allies on how to better identify and assist trafficked youth. Our model of trafficking prevention is being replicated across the country, and our impact is that much stronger because of supporters.
I would like to leave you with a quote from a young teen woman in Washington, D.C. who recently said to me "Most of the time, I don't feel like I have any hope. But, when I am with you all, I really learn how to take care of myself. I have hope." I will carry those words with me into 2010. I know we can continue to give hope and life-changing support to so many youth in D.C. and around the world. Thank you for being a part of FAIR Fund's team to prevent the trafficking of youth.
Thank you for continuing to support our work.
Founder & Executive Director
FAIR Fund, www.fairfund.org
This weekend there was beautiful snow in D.C. The whole city slowed down, which is rare and really amazing to see. As we all settle into the heart of the holiday season, I wanted to share a true example of giving.
This week, one of the young women we support in our program approached me to ask me if I could help her buy some gifts and holiday food for her family. This young woman has been through truly tremendous ordeals and trauma, but almost never thinks of herself. She thinks of her much younger brothers and sisters and almost always puts their needs before her own.
I thought about what I could do. We had some donated clothes in our office, but they would not work for our young client and her siblings. I wanted her to have something special. I did not want her to feel like she did not deserve to have some of the things so many other children in the United States take for granted like stockings and holiday lights. I also couldn’t stand the thought of her being hungry on Christmas.
As I thought about what to do, I remembered a supporter who has often told me that she would help FAIR Fund if we had a young woman in need of food, clothes, or other basic needs. On Friday morning, I called this woman to ask for her help. As the storm approached D.C., she gracefully ran through town gathering all of the simple yet truly meaningful things that our client and her siblings needed. This amazing woman delivered the gifts to our door just as night fell. She didn’t ask questions or for anything in return, she just generously helped.
I arranged to meet with my young client today, but the snow… well, it slowed us down. The metro was not working, so my husband and I walked and walked to meet our client part of the way. I observed others walking with gift bags and families, and a few rather crazy folks driving around as if the 15 inches of snow were not there. Finally, we met our young woman, and we traded gifts. We made a call to our “angel” friend, and said thank you. Then, I gave our young client a hug and said goodbye, and she turned around smiling and disappeared back into the snowy white D.C.
Just a few days ago, the Senate passed an omnibus spending bill that will allow for a 25% increase in the Department of Justice’s spending toward providing services to victims of trafficking. What is particularly unique in this bill is that now, for the very first time, U.S. victims may also benefit alongside foreign victims. What this means is that finally FAIR Fund and our partner agencies serving U.S. born victims of trafficking will finally be eligible for assistance. For FAIR Fund, this means increased security that the United States government recognizes that any child, regardless of where they are from, deserves assistance if they are victimized through any form of human trafficking.
All around the world – in Serbia, Russia, Uganda, and D.C., FAIR Fund’s clients and staff are having small gatherings to celebrate the holidays and spend time together. I wish I could be there to see all these smiling faces and share in their holiday songs.
I honestly think that these last couple of days have helped me remember what true holiday giving is about. Happy holidays and thank you to each and every one of our supporters and friends. We really could not do it without you.
On November 27th, FAIR Fund's "Jewel Girls" were invited to showcase and sell their handmade jewelry at a local D.C. store, WINK!. The store is owned by two amazing young women, Paige and Jaclyn, and they partnered with FAIR Fund to allow the girls to create their jewelry.
We had five young women attend and sell their jewelry. Collectively, they earned $800 that day! This week, the girls selected which kinds of gift cards they would like to have to spend their money. One young woman plans to buy art supplies because she hopes to go to art school one day. Another young woman wanted to have gift cards to Target so she could buy gifts for her mom and sisters. And, another young women wanted gifts cards to CVS to buy some basic things she wanted to have.
I was so proud of the young women who attended the sales party. First, they used their skills in communications and marketing to promote their jewelry. Second, they were very engaged with the customers and spread the word about how they are keeping themselves safe from human trafficking. Third, they chose to use the money they earned in ways that best benefited themselves and the people they care about.
All in all, it took two staff and five amazing volunteers to ensure the event was successful. One staff person and two volunteers were at the store at 10AM to set up the jewelry and make sure everything was in order. Another volunteer was getting snacks and lunch for the girls. Another volunteer arrived to work with the girls on their sales pitches and help attract folks from outside the store to come in and buy jewelry. The final volunteer and staff person were in charge of helping the girls get from their shelters or homes to the jewelry sales party.
One young woman whose past is particularly sad, is very shy. In previous events, she has struggled to reach out to customers and feel confident in the sales setting. This time, she felt particularly comfortable with one of our volunteers helping her, and she sold the most jewelry of anyone! This is amazing progress for her! The following after the workshop, we finally have seen her start to open up and ask for the support we knew she needed.
Finally, these young women were also in charge for helping to market and sell jewelry by their international friends who are JewelGIrls in Serbia and Uganda. They also did an excellent job in helping these young women.
All in all, it was an excellent day, and a very generous photographer just gave us the photos. I wanted to share them with all of our supporters at GlobalGiving.com.
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