Editor’s Note: Guest Contributor, Eve Aronson is a freelance journalist and analyst. As a correspondent for IHA (Ihlas) News Agency, Eve covers the intimate and true story of a woman who was able to overcome and escape the world of sex trafficking. Today’s blog will conclude a two-part post. Feature interviews will include the President of Free the Slaves, and the Executive Director and CEO of The Polaris Project. Eve currently works at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at the Polaris Project in Washington D.C. and can be reached at: evearonson.iha[at]gmail.com.
cont.- Shamere is a U.S. citizen but many women who are trafficked into the country are not. Sources indicate that every year, an estimated 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. from abroad. Salsbury recalls meeting with women who had escaped from their traffickers but found themselves without money to travel or legal documents to remain in the U.S. “I can think of clients who, three or four years ago, were in my office and we could hardly get through a meeting without them crying because they felt like their life was over,” she says.
One of Salbury’s jobs at the Tahirih Justice Center is to facilitate cooperation of these victims with law enforcement to show that they were trafficked and could subsequently be granted visas to remain in the U.S. and get their feet on the ground. “The T-visa is a way for trafficking victims to gain immigration status,” she explains. “It is a 4-year temporary visa that provides work authorizations and access to certain benefits.” The visa, says Salsbury, enables trafficking victims to sponsor certain family members to come to the U.S. and provides the foundation for permanent residency.
But sex trafficking victims, she notes, are often hesitant to divulge any information about their traffickers that might jeopardize their own personal safety. “In so many of these cases there’s such a fear of law enforcement and so the visa is a way to say you’re going to be protected, it’s OK to come forward,” she says.
“It took a very long time to gather the courage to report what had happened to law enforcement, but then there was a slow recovery process and I think gaining lawful immigration status had a huge role in that,” she continues. “All of a sudden, that fear of deportation, that fear that you’re going to be sent to any country in the world,
maybe not even your own country, is gone.”
In the U.S., the Polaris Project runs a national hotline* for victims of human trafficking that is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and accommodates 170 different languages. Since its launch in 2002, the hotline has received 1,500 calls directly from victims of human trafficking and sent over 1,900 tips to law enforcement nationwide. The hotline is also accessible internationally- according to Myles, approximately nine percent of calls are from trafficking victims abroad.
Outside of the U.S., Bales highlights the role of international laws in combating sex trafficking. “They create that framework and especially that expectation that governments should live up to their own promises.” He cites the Palermo Protocols, which were adopted in 2000 by the United Nations, and require participating countries to adhere to the specific anti-trafficking policies established by the convention, as an example.
Bales stresses the importance of ensuring that laws are enforced. One way to do that, he says with a grin, is to “hit traffickers in the pocketbook. “There are some places where men who are caught driving their car and trying to pick up women to use for sex will have their car confiscated. I think that’s a great idea. Make it hard, make it tough and make it so that it’s a risky business they really don’t want to be involved in,” he says confidently.
Myles asserts that the problem with current anti-trafficking laws in most countries is that sex workers are often criminalized, while their traffickers often get off scot-free and are even glorified. “In many countries, the brunt of police force has really fallen on the person selling sex, usually the women or girl in prostitution,” he says, then poses the question, “Is that really the smartest way to be policing the sex trade, and is that really getting desired result, which is reducing the sex trade over time?”
According to Myles, the answer to that question is no. He asserts that whatever type of enforcement is used must not target sex workers but should be applied to pimps, johns, taxi drivers and all others complicit in trafficking.
Bales also address the act of glorifying pimps, noting that anti-trafficking initiatives need to promote a change in mentality. “We have men in every culture in the world who think it’s ok to buy sex and to exploit women in that way, and until that mindset changes, we’re going to have a hard time dealing with that part of slavery,” he says candidly.
To Bales, and many other experts, educating young boys about sex trafficking is crucial to preventing future generations of traffickers. “If you begin to build school curricula aimed at boys from the age of 12 that say, you have to understand that that could be someone just like your sister, that could be someone just like your mother, that is treating someone in a way that you would never want to be treated yourself,” he says. “You have to get over this notion that being a guy makes you so special that you can use people like that. If you get it through the heads of guys who are 12 and 13 and 14 years old, it’s going to stick for most of them.”
Bales’ insight comes from years of traveling the world and talking to women and girls who have been trafficked for sex. Working with another researcher, Bales recalls visiting brothels in rural Thailand with his female colleague. The two had managed to convince the local pimp that they were purchasing a young teenage girl for sex. “When we would leave the brothel, my colleague would begin to speak Thai and say, ‘Little sister, this isn’t what you think, we don’t want to have sex with you, we just want to talk,’” he recalled.
According to Bales, every girl requested to go to a temple and pray that she would not contract HIV/AIDS. “We would go and pray with them and then we’d go for a meal and have long conversations and they would open their hearts to us and it would break our hearts and it would break their hearts,” he continued.
The girls that Bales and his colleague interviewed had built a hard shell of resistance against the brutality and the day-to-day rape that they were facing. “What they told us about their lives of random violence, brutality, torture as well as the daily rape by ten to fifteen men in these brothels just shocked and changed the way I saw the world.”
Experts from all fields relating to human trafficking agree that contemporary slavery is a global problem. “It’s actually very striking because the women come from all over the world,” notes Salsbury, “but the fact patterns are very similar.”
Bales suggests using anti-human trafficking initiatives as a tool to transcend conflicts that arise from regional instability. He cites the ongoing tensions between Turkey and Armenia as an example of this potential: “What’s so important to think about, particularly in Turkey, is that those countries with whom there have been, in the past, serious disagreements like Armenia are in fact suffering exactly the same exploitation of slavery and trafficking that Turkish women are suffering,” he points out.
“If women in Armenia and women in Turkey actually talked [sex trafficking issues] over and helped each other, and think how to keep Armenian women from being assaulted in Turkey and how to keep Turkish women from being assaulted in Armenia or the UAE,” he continued,” you could begin to have a breakthrough on a common, crucial, heartfelt issue.”
To put it bluntly, Bales contends, “It’s time to let the past be the past and save the lives of young girls and young women no matter what country they come from.”
*Hotline phone number (for US and International victims): 1-888-373-7888