Thanks to Kyle, Marcie, and Jill for giving us some inpiration! Since Kyle said he was not the jewelry wear’n type, that left Jill and Marcie. I put their names on pieces of paper and drew them, but I kept doing it over and over because I felt bad for the other. Haha. So they both get $20 gift certificates! Congrats Jill and Marcie. I’ll email you about the details. Thanks for taking the time to make a difference.
On another note
A friend had the opportunity to attend the Human Trafficking Summit 2008. It was a one day conference in Chicago and focused on Integrating Cultural Responsiveness in Services and Programs for Victims and their Families. It was held at Dominican University School of Social Work and was sposered by the Latino Social Workers Organization. I did an “e-mail interview” with her to learn about her experience. I was really interested in what she learned, I hope you will be too!
What made you interested in this event?
I had some knowledge of human trafficking for a number of years, but last year when I listened to Tammy speak at an informational meeting I became better informed. I immediately thought of the Esther House in Peoria, where I volunteer, and wondered if they would be an appropriate facility for housing victims of this crime. I didn’t take action right away, but on Easter while at the Esther House I spoke to the director about my thoughts to see how she would react. She informed me that earlier that week another volunteer had come to her with the same question so her interest was definitely piqued. Later I received a call from an administrator there to let me know that she and the other volunteer were planning to attend this event and she offered to include me. The purpose was to become better educated on the nuances of this issue and if/how the Esther House might have a role in the future.
Did you have any preconceived notions that were changed (or supported) by going to this event?
From what is portrayed in the media, one would think that this problem was primarily an international sex trade issue stemming from Asia and Eastern Europe. What I learned, particularly in this area, is that a significant majority of international trafficking is originating in Latin America (about half of those from Mexico), almost as often for labor as for sex. Our laws reflect this imbalance. They tend to focus on sex trafficking and neglect labor trafficking. One speaker specifically mentioned field laborers south of Peoria being affected by trafficking activity. Though it isn’t terribly significant in the big picture, I personally had some theories that were confirmed by what I heard. My position at the Esther House is to prepare and serve special occasion meals for the women, children and staff there. The women residing at the facility are often not local, and come from culturally diverse backgrounds. On more than one occasion I have noticed residents who seem to be especially touched by a meal that is familiar to them; particularly those from another culture- Mexico, Peru, even regional American food, like southern style cooking, or the ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. We were told of a West coast organization which is attempting to better connect with victims to be able to conduct interviews that could contribute to much needed research on this topic from the victim’s point of view. They must gain the trust of these individuals who have been conditioned to believe no one can be trusted. Many non-traditional treatments are utilized, but their finding has been that what is most comforting to victims who find themselves in a strange land, language, people etc. is the food of their culture.
What did you learn about trafficking that surprised you the most?
We were told the average trafficker is a 55 year old male business owner whose business had gone bad. An important aspect stressed by a number of presenters, but most effectively by Rev. Jose Landaverde of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Church, is the polarization on the issue caused by anti-immigrant sentiment in the US. It permeates all classes and is considered acceptable even among the Christian population. He spoke of his struggle to convince pastors to preach on human trafficking and immigration. Many refuse to do so because attitudes of those in their congregations would make this an unpopular topic. His primary focus was education. Education to teach that traffickers are a greater threat than undocumented immigrants, and to stir compassion in the hearts of pastors and parishioners. The bias against immigrants is a major barrier in identifying and helping victims. Victims are afraid to come forward because of the very real threat that they will be criminalized and arrested. US laws give evidence of this problem. In January through July of 2007 1404 anti-immigration measures were put into effect at the state level. This number doubled in the second half of 2007. I have been forwarded a number of emails urging me to sign petitions to deny undocumented immigrants social services. Last, we learned that the immediate and primary concern of victims of trafficking for the sex trade is always the same. They ask the question “Do I have AIDS?” Everything else is secondary to getting this question answered.
What part of the event will you remember the most?
Much of the information given was factual: statistics, causes, demographics, government programs, etc. I was relieved about this, because an entire day of personal horror stories would be more than I could handle. However hearing of actual victims and their journey is undoubtedly the most significant piece of the whole. We heard of a man who was used for factory labor, lured here from El Salvador under false pretenses in hopes of getting enough money to pay for medicine for his son, only to be locked up and made to work to pay for his travel expenses and “rent”.He was the subject of a case study done by the coordinator of The Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking. They have developed a framework consisting of four phases which seems to be effective and might work well for Illinois. Visual presentations are also particularly unforgettable. We viewed a yet to be released trailer for a documentary on domestic human trafficking called “Playground”. The five minute clip states “the only way to not find this problem in a community is not to look for it”.
How did you feel after leaving the event? Was it overwhelming, paralyzing or encouraging?
The event organizers did well at attempting to cover the enormous scope of this problem. It seems that communication and cooperation is key among all represented. We heard from many people who specialize in this particular issue, coming at it from a number of different directions. Represented were the US Department of Health and Human Services, social workers from the host school, Dominican University, a special agent with US immigration, a panel with immigrant rights attorneys, a sergeant from the Chicago police department, 2 women who spoke of the model used in Texas, a panel of clergy serving affected areas, and local leaders of grass roots organizations founded to help the cause. While it was good to see how broad this issue is, it was also overwhelming. Yet, a broad problem requires a broad effort working for a solution. When I can more clearly see the many components, I can also see where my role in all of this lies.