Thursday, June 27, 2013

Starting Where You're At

This Spring, a group of students in Southern California went through our semiannual training through a video conference. They then set out to raise awareness about human trafficking on their campus and planned a subsequent fundraiser event for Freedom House. Esther Hong was one of the participants of the campus awareness campaign. Here she shares her reflections on the experience.

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Self-centeredness. Something that is so prevalent in our world today.

When all you think about is yourself and your own peace and comfort, you miss out on what is going on in the world around you.

When it’s about me and my own comfort, it’s hard to make room for anything else.

Each day, I discover ways in which I display selfishness. I don’t even realize the depth of my selfishness at times. It may be because I’m simply not aware of it, or I am deluding myself of its existence.

Sometimes it’s easier to just not think or care. It takes much less work and discomfort that to stop and try to grasp the reality of immense human suffering that we do not encounter personally, such as human trafficking.

During the month of May, LB AACF (Long Beach Asian American Christian Fellowship), had the opportunity of working with Freedom House to help develop awareness of human trafficking on the Cal State Long Beach campus. First off, we sold stickers (designed by Eunice Kim) at an information booth and handed out brochures providing more details on human trafficking. Through the booth, we were able to have conversations with various people on campus about the conditions and reality of trafficking. As we shared with others, we ourselves were reminded of what the victims are going through on a daily basis.

According to Eunice, the goal for the stickers was about 300-500 dollars. With everyone’s combined efforts, AACF was able to raise 500 dollars by the last day of the week. She stated, “It was so great to see people come out of their comfort zones for a truly amazing cause. I think it was especially special for AACF because it was our first time. We are usually within our comfort zone and within our little bubble. If we are ministering to others, we are usually doing it by ourselves. But for this sticker/awareness booth, we gathered our strengths and as one team, as one body, we set to accomplish the goal, to spread awareness about human trafficking.”

Another AACF member, Traci Matsushima, shared that partnering with Freedom House was by far one of her favorite events AACF had done in her three years involved in the club.

She continued, saying, “The heart behind the Freedom House organization not only inspired us to raise our voices against human trafficking, but to take a stand against social injustice issues altogether. As college students, we had the privilege of spreading this awareness and passing on the inspiration to fellow peers on the campus of Cal State Long Beach. From fraternity members to our very own professors, we were amazed and encouraged by the amount of people who stopped by to donate money or to be informed by how they can lend further help.”

In addition to the booth, a group of the club members, also led by Eunice Kim, facilitated an event called “Running Man”, which was a campus athletic event to create further awareness of human trafficking and Freedom House’s efforts to aid trafficking victims. Although many students were unable to attend (including myself), the attendees mentioned that the event went well. One AACF member, Chrisaput Sean, stated that the people that were there were committed to the cause, that it was a time of recognizing those that are being abused everyday, and that they were able to pray together as a group.

Through these events, we were all reminded of the need for immediate attention toward human trafficking. We also realized that there are still some people that don’t even know that it occurs! And another thought that crossed my mind following the events was that we don’t often stop to think about pain or suffering. The usual thought on a college student’s mind may be: “What am I going to eat for lunch today?” or “Dang, I have so much work to get done today.” But the thoughts of “How can I help prevent human trafficking?” or “Who might be undergoing unfathomable struggles at this very moment?” may not often cross our minds. I, for one, was aware of human trafficking before these events and had always felt a desire to help after watching a documentary or hearing others talk about it – but it would eventually dwindle away as other thoughts consumed my mind. It is clear that we need to constantly remind ourselves of the reality and severity of human trafficking… and that we can’t stay confined to our own selfish needs and thoughts.

We need to set aside visions of self-gratification, and pursue the bigger picture with those around us. AACF was able to grasp a glimpse of this through partnering with Freedom House, and hopefully we will all continue to strive toward working together as a community to live not only for ourselves, but for all of God’s people.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Living in different realities

One of the major problems with combating human trafficking is the lack of understanding that surrounds this issue. And understandably so, because it often operates on a complex network of criminals that seem beyond our scope and/or seems to defy what seems like basic human decency, which we all want to believe we (and others) possess.

But we have to get past denial and accept that this happens in the world we live in. And that we tolerate it, and somehow actually perpetuate it by not utilizing the knowledge and resources that we have in order to identify and fight it. True, human trafficking has so many forms and facets, and it's hard to pin it down to a single case that we can scrutinize and know inside out. But it's still possible to know more, recognize the patterns, and act. And in acting, it's possible to make a difference.

If you're anything like me, you might want to have every detail down to the microlevel before giving into something. But the fear of ignorance can be crippling at times. Sometimes, we have to face another face in order to know that it's not mere numbers we're dealing with -- it's a person's life. Whether in a third world country where shame will sever the victim from her family forever, or in the U.S. where pimps lure girls with shiny phones and I-love-yous, it's a real person who is sitting next to you in a theater or walking down International Blvd. of Oakland that we're talking about.

This is a question that I myself have a hard time answering: Am I willing to be vulnerable to the truth, the truth that bondage and violence are an everyday reality for victims of modern day slavery? So many of whom are so young and don't even understand that they are being exploited and stripped of their basic human rights? So many of whom will probably never care about the books I read or have a single loving relationship and die in an average 7 years from HIV or homicide because they are no longer "profitable"?

Below is a simple, informative video about human trafficking. Please watch & share.

Friday, January 11, 2013

150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation

People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans. India had delegated an intelligence officer to look for pirated goods because it knew that the United States cares about intellectual property. When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers. 
The tools to crush modern slavery exist, but the political will is lacking. That must be the starting point of any abolitionist movement.
--Excerpt from Half the Sky (2010) by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" will continue until February 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday. If you are in the SF bay area, consider attending any of next week's awareness events.

Even though it may be hard to know where to start to address the trafficking of persons within and across borders, we can begin by acknowledging and learning more about the issue. The more we learn, the more passionate we will become; the more passionate we become, the greater the social movement; the greater the demand for freedom of all persons, the greater the response from policy makers and governing bodies to effect changes that could impact and potentially save the lives of millions of people around the world.

If we believe that we can make a difference, we will.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Does it even make a difference?

When addressing the issue of human trafficking, it is easy to feel overwhelmed or confused about where to even begin.

With 27 million people in slavery across the world, and with 100,000 to 300,000 number of prostituted children in the U.S. alone, it's easy to file this issue away with the rest of the systematic crimes that plague our world: drug trade, human organ trade, war crimes against humanity -- all too far and broad to address.

What grounds me amidst the changing tides of statistics is the reality of the people these numbers represent. Statistics are helpful and necessary for our finite minds to grasp the enormity of the illicit trade of humans. But they are incomplete and constantly changing. They alone don't compel us to see the humanity of each individual who suffers in bondage during the one life he or she has been granted.

Sometimes, it helps to start with the smaller numbers. According to a research done by Polaris Project on the availability of safe houses specifically for human-trafficking survivors, there are only 519 shelter beds in the U.S. exclusively designated for human trafficking survivors. There are 1,416 additional shelter beds available to human-trafficking survivors that serve this group as well as other populations. That makes a total of about 2,000 shelter beds available to human trafficking survivors. 2,000.

2,000 is a comprehensible number to me. I can imagine a large jar that holds about that many marbles. Or 4 packages of printer paper that add up to 2,000. In days that is 5.5 years; that doesn't seem too long of a period, considering how fast it flew by for me. And to put it into perspective, that's nearly the amount of years that a child may expect to live after being trafficked as a sex slave: 7.

Sometimes, people are surprised to learn that the Monarch of Freedom House has only 8 beds. "Wow, that's small," they said, and I agree, because it's true.

But when there are hundreds of thousands of people being trafficked in the U.S. alone, with only 2,000 beds as alternative options for those who are discovered by anti-trafficking agencies, social workers and law enforcement officers, or for those who manage to escape their perpetrators, the number of beds available at a single shelter, no matter how few, starts to sound like a godsend. That a shelter can provide a single place to rest and rebuild one's life for up to 1.5 years -- that is a miracle for one who never saw a way out.

This week, I read a Las Vegas Review-Journal article that mentioned some inherent problems with tougher penalties for pimps and illicit trade participants (important as they are): "tougher penalties don't always deter criminals, and there might not be enough room for pimps in Nevada's prisons." At an anti-trafficking summit this Wednesday, panelists suggested a commonly overlooked solution: investing in treatment.

Build a place victims can live, a place where they can start anew and come to embrace the survivor within. A place to grow. A place to be. A home.

It's easy to get caught up in numbers. But oh how each individual counts. Where would we be if abolitionists could not see the survivor behind the number 1?

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Read about the shelter for minors opening in 2013 on Freedom House's website.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Meet an Abolitionist: Dan Archer

Dan Archer is a comics journalist, educator and animator from the UK. He was awarded the John S. Knight Fellowship for Professional Journalists at Stanford University. Recently, he implemented a an investigative journalism project, for which he has successfully raised funds, to gather stories and illustrate reportage to cover human trafficking in Nepal's brick. His work is then to be published both in English and Neapli (and possibly Hindi) as an interactive ebook and graphic novel. He will also be offering workshops that give participants the means to tell their own stories in comics form.

So, why comics? In the video on his Kickstarter page, Archer shares that the comic format gives the victims an opportunity to speak to their own community by concealing identity while still speaking powerfully through their visual representations. Archer says about sketching:
Not only does sketching  in the field create a more personal, universal connection with my subjects, as opposed to thrusting recording equipment in their faces, but publishing social justice stories in visual format has proven to raise far more awareness and enjoy more popularity among a younger, hard to reach demographic of readers.
As you might have figured by now, this is not Archer's first project. Here you can see a comic he produced to tell true stories of survivors of human trafficking, as told by Cindy Liou, a staff attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach Center in San Francisco. In the spring of 2012, he also illustrated a woman's experience with trafficking and rescue after the San Francisco Public Press published a special report on human trafficking in the Bay Area which "examined the financial and political challenges facing agencies that aid trafficking victims and prosecute perpetrators."

Click on the image below to see the full-page version.

Relevant links:

How does human trafficking harm the economy?

Roughly 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking each year. This is roughly the population of Utah.

There is an important difference between migrant smuggling and human trafficking. Migrant smuggling involves the consent of the individual, and involves illegally crossing borders. Human trafficking is defined as “the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving persons for the purpose of exploitation, by using or threatening force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, or abuse of power against them, or by giving or receiving payment or benefit to those who control them.”

A 2005 International Labor Organization report estimates that more than 2.5 million people are exploited as victims of human trafficking, 1.4 million sexually and 1.1 million in other economic forms. The ILO calculates human trafficking to be a $31.6 billion industry. However, with regards to labor and production, human trafficking damages both the country of origin and the destination. The country of origin loses production capacity, thereby taking away potential GDP. In the destination country, forced labor depresses wages and, in the case of child labor, reduces potential GDP in the future by restricting access to education.

Source: 24/7 Wall St. (

What does home mean to you?

From the December newsletter:
Freedom House volunteers and a talented film crew comprised of Academy of Art University grads joined together to create a poignant video about the holiday experience for a human-trafficking survivor. Inspired by testimonies of survivors at The Monarch, volunteer Elsye Muljono skillfully portrays a survivor who remembers life before coming to Freedom House. We applaud Elsye on her moving performance.

Please join us in thanking volunteers Alex Chan, Amy Chang, John Chang, Jennifer Doblack, Pedro Garcia, Natalia Hing, Pamela Kojimoto, Daniel Ong, Leslie Peay, Inez Wibowo and Esther Yu for their on-camera and behind-the-scenes work.

Producer Ray Lin created the YouTube video along with Kris He and Brian Chen. The beautiful musical score is an original composition by Gordon Situ and Tiffany Ng.