The Stop Modern Slavery walk is Sept. 29th, 2012

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times

Stop Modern Slavery

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2012 – The fourth annual Stop Modern Slavery (SMS) Walk is happening this Saturday, September 29th, 2012 at the National Mall in Washington, DC!

As a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, I am honored to participate and speak at this year’s event.  The first annual DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk was where I first met many of today’s most influential anti-trafficking advocates and organization leaders.  For me, this was life-changing as I caught the bug of advocacy and have since become a speaker and columnist.

“At the core of the Stop Modern Slavery Walk is the belief that anyone can get involved and have an impact on this issue,” stated Joe Flippin, Director of the 2012 SMS Walk, “Our job is to bring people out to the Mall, tell them about modern slavery through narrative and empathy, and highlight the many ways that people are getting involved today.”

The DC Stop Modern Slavery (DC SMS) organization is a diverse and growing group of community members who, as strongly stated by their mission statement, are taking action to end slavery wherever it occurs, beginning in Washington D.C.  Founded in 2004 by a small group of concerned citizens, DC SMS has grown to having more than 1,200 members.  Through community education and action, DC SMS has helped to pass legislation addressing human trafficking in the D.C. area.  They have also helped with training hundreds of area residents to recognize and report signs of human trafficking.

DC Stop Modern Slavery has been highly recognized for their community outreach and efforts.  Courtney’s House honored DC SMS for their “Effective Use of Grassroots Tactics,” and Polaris Project honored DC SMS as their 2010 “Star Activists” for their achievements with the Stop Modern Slavery Walk.  Joe Flippin is aiming to activate the advocate within all those who participate in the walk this year:

“By featuring strong survivor leadership,” Joe stated, “we aim to leave each person in the audience thinking:  If they can do it, so can I.  If they can face the hardship they’ve faced, [and] not give up, and fight every day for a world without slavery, then there has to be something I can do, too.”

This year’s Walk includes the following organization leaders and survivor advocates:

Barbara Amaya, Survivor and Author, Columnist, Telling It Like It Is, for Communities

Brook Bello, Actress, Author, Public Speaker, NGO Founder, and Survivor (Keynote)

Kay Chernush, Founder and Director of Artworks for Freedom

Evelyn Chumbow, Survivor Speaker

Mary David, TV Host and Director of Public Relations for Foundation for Post Conflict Development (Emcee)

Ka Flewellen, Vice President of the International Black Women’s Public Policy Institute (Keynote)

Tina Frundt, Survivor Founder and Executive Director of Courtney’s House

Kelly Heinrich, President of Global Freedom Center

Stacy Jewell Lewis, Survivor Speaker, Writer, and Actress

Shamere McKenzie, Survivor Speaker and Policy Assistant for Shared Hope International

Victoria Pannell, Youth Activist

Andrea Powell, Co-Founder and Executive Director of FAIR Girls

With over fifty anti-human trafficking organizations represented at this year’s resource fair, Joe Flippin is certain that every participant can find a match for their volunteer interests.

“But it all begins with that first step,” Joe stated, “Commit to coming out the Walk; be open to learning about the realities of modern slavery and to encouraging others to do the same – to set yourself on a path where you can make your own impact and leave your own footprint on this issue.

Event organizers anticipate over 2,000 participants and hope to reach $100,000 in donations.  This year’s selected beneficiary organizations include the following: Boat People SOS (BPSOS), Bridge to Freedom Foundation (BTFF), Challenging HeightsCourtney’s HouseFree the SlavesFreedom FirmiEmpathizeGlobal CenturionInnocents at RiskPolaris ProjectRestoration MinistriesSafe House of HopeShared Hope International (SHI), Tiny Hands International, and Turn Around, Inc.

If you would like to participate in the walk, please join Team Survivor Strong!  And, I look forward to seeing you there. Musical performances include Bethany and the Guitar and The Ruin City.  For more information about DC Stop Modern Slavery, please visit their website at

For more information about the 2012 DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk, please visit the event website.

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Law enforcement training: The missing service for victims of human trafficking

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times


WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2012 – “How old are you?”

It was the middle of the night.  I was standing on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey when a round and squinty-eyed policeman approached and posed this question to me.

“Eighteen,” I offered.

My feet were blistered.  I tried to hide this discomfort as I shifted my weight onto the other foot.  My hair fell in front of my face, and I knew parts of my scalp were visible.  A double dose of hair dye had burned my dirty-blond hair and colored it an ugly yellow.

“Don’t lie to me,” the officer leered.

Thirty-six hours earlier I was on my way to Hollywood.  I was going to be a singer or songwriter, an actor, or maybe even a model.  A man I had met at the mall promised these occupations to me, but what he ultimately delivered was a dress and red high heels which were two sizes too big for me.

I insisted to this officer that I was eighteen years old.  I did this for a couple of reasons.  First, I was instructed to do this by the man whom I’d met at the mall and by his girlfriend, who had dyed my hair hours earlier.  Second, I didn’t want to go back home, but neither did I want to be on that street corner.  I wanted to be in Hollywood- auditioning for a television show or meeting my favorite rock stars or dancing in a fancy club.  But, by that point, those dreams seemed stupid to me.

When the officer walked away from me, seemingly satisfied with my made-up story, I called out to him.

“What if I was under eighteen?”  I asked.

This was a serious question.  I wanted to know- What were my options?  Where could I go?  Could I go somewhere other than home?  Was there a place to which I might belong?

“That’s it,” hollered the officer, “I’ve had enough of you.”

He handcuffed me, shoved me into the back of the police car, and then assailed me with insults from the driver’s seat.  I stared out the window.  I was so angry- not so much with him, but with myself for taking the chance at trusting him.  I should have known not to trust him, I thought, I should have known not to trust anyone.

I was fourteen years old.

Last week I wrote an article listing my ideas for victim services; however, I believe that any discussion of immediate needs for victims of sex trafficking must include the topic of law enforcement training.  As this police officer insulted me with names and labels, my connection to the society I had left only thirty-six hours earlier grew more and more distant until a deep valley separated me from it.  I, the teen prostitute, on one side; and the officer, the authority, the police of that society, sat on the other side studying me with disgust and scorn.

I won’t repeat here the words that this officer used against me.  My point is not to paint a picture of blame or wrongdoing; my point is to underscore the need for law enforcement training.  The initial exchange between a child or teen victim and an officer sets the tone for all subsequent interactions between the minor and other law enforcement, advocates, and social service providers.  Without receiving compassion or empathy from the police, a child may come to view anyone involved in his or her case with contempt and distrust, thereby compromising the child’s openness towards after-care services.

I know this because I was there.  I folded my arms against any help offered by all members of a society that immediately judged me without knowing my circumstances.  By the time I met detectives who recognized me as a victim; I was angry, distant, and withdrawn.   I flat out refused to cooperate, and the opportunity to quickly apprehend my perpetrators was lost.  By the time I reluctantly agreed to work with police, the traffickers had fled.  I reacted with equal reluctance and distrust towards the social workers and child psychiatrists who offered to help me.

Proper and thorough training for all levels of law enforcement is the best way to prevent any initial mistreatment to or misunderstanding with a child victim.  I also believe this training must include the perspective of a survivor of child sex trafficking, as well as survivors of other forms of human trafficking.  An officer must know that, even if a potential child or teen victim presents as uncooperative or belligerent, the officer must respond with discipline not discrimination.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s AMBER Alert Initiative has pioneered a survivor-informed training program for law enforcement and other partners which offers a multi-disciplinary team approach involving prosecutors and service providers.  Their goal is to address not only the rescue of the victim but also his or her long-term wellbeing.  Their focus is for law enforcement to play a major role in the rescue and stabilization of the victim with the understanding that support services must be in place.  They urge prosecutors to work aggressively with law enforcement at targeting traffickers and organizations promoting or engaged in human trafficking, as well as addressing the demand side.  For more information, please check the AMBER Alert Training Calendar or contact

I urge you to invite AMBER Alert, or another survivor-informed organization, to your next law enforcement training event.


Supporting the victim after trafficking

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times

Support Victim

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2012 – In the summer of 1992, I was lured away from home at the age of 14 by a man who promised me a new life.  I wanted to be a singer, a rock star, a celebrity on MTV.  I wanted to stand on a brightly-lit stage with a crowd of fans screaming before me.  I wanted to be liked by a million people.

I wanted all of this because I was lonely. I was a middle school kid feeling left out and left behind by my friends, all of whom seemed to be prettier or funnier or just plain cooler than me.  When this man pointed me out of the crowd, I felt special.  He said he knew people in Hollywood and that he could help me become a famous actor like Julia Roberts.

“You’re too mature for high school,” he said, “You could be a model.”

I don’t know if I believed him or not, but I know I wanted to believe him.  I was mesmerized by the idea of a new and glamorous life. I thought this guy was a talent scout, and I was star struck.

This man actually was scouting that day, but he wasn’t looking for musical talent or acting abilities. This man was looking for a girl with qualities that he could exploit for personal gain. He recognized in me the following vulnerabilities:

Severe depression
Low self-esteem
Low self-value
A craving for attention
Lack of guidance or structure
Lack of positive role models
A history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect
A history of sexual exploitation or sexual assault
A distortion of positive values or morals
Lack of any understanding for personal rights or boundaries
Among other predisposing factors

Child sex traffickers are cunning creatures in that they can spot a child in distress and lure him or her away with false promises. Within hours of running away with this man, I was coerced into working the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Approximately thirty-six hours later, I was spotted by a police officer on Pacific Avenue.

I was handcuffed and arrested for prostitution. I was insulted, threatened with juvenile detention, and handed over to my bewildered and misunderstanding parents.

There was no immediate aftercare. There was no placement for counseling, and there was no follow-up.  Within days of my “rescue,” I attempted suicide.

Professionals often ask me about my opinion for victim services.  And I have to admit, I don’t feel very qualified to offer this advice because I received none.  I have little basis with which to grade the efficiency or benefit of one service over another.

All I can offer is twenty years of retrospect on my own experience and my own journey toward healing.

The most common question I hear from professionals is regarding housing. A common debate is whether child victims should be arrested, housed in immediate aftercare placement, or sent home. I personally cannot see that placing a child victim in juvenile detention is a good idea.

At fourteen, I was terrified of getting beat up in high school; this was one of the many reasons I wanted to run away in the first place. I cannot imagine how abandoned and desperate I would have felt inside a juvenile detention facility after those thirty-six hours in Atlantic City.

As far as whether a child should be placed into a program or sent home, I think that depends on the child and his or her situation. Every child victim of sex trafficking followed a different path which ultimately led to commercial sexual exploitation. I know several survivors who either did not have a home to which they could return or the home was not a viable option for placement.

I was one of the few kids who had a stable home environment. My best response is that, regardless of where the child victim is sent- home, foster care, or a program- that child must receive victim services specific to this type of trauma.

Following is a list of services that I’m certain would have helped me. However, this list must be expanded to include ideas from child sex trafficking survivors of different backgrounds. I was a white teenager from working-class parents living in the suburbs.

The services which would have helped me may not have been as beneficial for another survivor who cycled through foster homes or detention facilities, or for another survivor who was controlled at home by family or gang members.

My ideas:

Programs which build self-esteem and self-value;

A program or alternative school with smaller class sizes in a safe environment;

Physical activities which promote discipline, self-confidence, meditation, and character development   (e.g. yoga, martial arts);

Programs which teach coping skills (e.g. meditation, exercise, anger management, therapy);

A program about media literacy (e.g. deconstruction of advertising and messages in popular culture);

Therapy for early childhood sexual abuse;

Therapy for prior sexual assaults /exploitations, including a discussion on personal rights and boundaries (e.g. Nobody has the right to touch you; You have the right to say NO at anytime, no  matter  how far things have gone with a person in the past);

Programs which teach concepts for healthy, positive relationships;

Sex education, including realistic discussions about positive sexual health, activity, and empowerment;

Exposure to empowered survivors of child sex trafficking either directly (e.g.  face-to-face contact, emails, letters)  or indirectly (e.g. books like Carissa Phelps’ Runaway Girl or Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us);

Community support (e.g. mentor programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters or discounted memberships to local businesses like yoga or dance studios);

Life skills (e.g. everything from how to read nutrition labels to how to read bus schedules);

Exposure to new and different things (e.g. extracurricular activities, volunteering, field trips);

Exposure to local role models in various fields of interest;

Therapy for other mental health issues (e.g. depression, mood disorders, etc.);

Part-time job training or support.

It is very important for service providers to understand that the dynamics of the sex trafficking victimization cannot be introduced into therapy until the child undergoes some of the therapeutic elements above.  For example, child victims of sex trafficking will not understand that they were exploited by sex traffickers until they understand that their earlier sexual encounters were abusive or exploitative.  Children who are influenced by early abuse or by the many negative messages in popular culture learn not only to accept exploitation and victimization, but to expect it.  These children must be deprogrammed from this way of thinking in order to stop the cycle of abuse.

Any therapist or youth facility organizer who wants to treat child victims of sex trafficking must understand these kids as well as traffickers do.  Like the traffickers, they must be able to recognize in these children those issues which made them vulnerable in the first place.  Recognizing those vulnerabilities will direct the path of victim services for that child.  And in order to do that, I believe there must be input and collaboration with survivors from a myriad of backgrounds.

Shared Hope International is catalyzing efforts to create a national network of shelter and services by collaborating with survivors from different backgrounds as well as existing service providers.  This initiative will be launched at the National Colloquium: Shelter and Services Evaluation for Action happening in Washington D.C. on November 30th, an event co-sponsored by ECPAT-USA and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

For more information about the National Colloquium: Shelter and Services Evaluation for Action, please visit

Trafficked for Slave Labor, Ima Matul survived with CAST

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times

Ima Patel and Friends

Empowered survivors from CAST

WASHINGTON, September 4, 2012 – “My name is Ima Matul…  I was born in Indonesia, and I was trafficked into the United States for forced labor when I was 17 years old…”

These were the words of CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus member, Ima Matul, as she began our joint testimony to support the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in September 2011.

At age 16, Ima was forced into an arranged marriage with a man 12 years her senior.  As soon as she had the chance, Ima had run away in order to escape this man’s assaults.

Luckily, Ima’s parents supported the separation from her husband; however, divorce was considered dishonorable in Ima’s town.  Ima said she was left feeling ashamed.

“I wanted a different life, a better life,” she stated.

Ima traveled to the city and was offered an opportunity to work in America.  The person who was to become Ima’s trafficker offered her a nanny position in Los Angeles, California.

“I thought this was a great opportunity for me,” Ima said, “I even brought my cousin with me.”

Ima stated that she and her cousin didn’t have to pay for anything.

“They took care of everything,” she said, “our passports, visas, and tickets; they promised us $150 a month and one day off a week so that we could see each other.”

However, upon arrival to Los Angeles, Ima was immediately separated from her cousin.  Ima was taken to one house to work, while her cousin was taken to another.  The owner of the house, a woman, listed the new rules to Ima.

“She explained about my duties around the house,” Ima said, “cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for the children, gardening, and washing the car…I worked 18 hours a day, sometimes more, 7 days a week, with no day off.”

“I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone,” Ima continued, “I was physically and verbally abused by my trafficker every day.”

This woman discouraged Ima from any attempts to flee the house with tales of police brutality.

“She threatened me,” Ima said, “She told me that if I left, the police would arrest me and put me in jail.  And in jail there were bad people who would rape me.  So I was scared to leave.”

Penniless and unable to speak English, Ima believed she had no other options.

“I had no money because my trafficker never paid me,” Ima said, “And I didn’t know anyone in the country besides my cousin, who I hadn’t seen since the day I arrived…I didn’t know I had any rights.”

After 3 years, Ima finally reached out for help and wrote a letter to the woman who worked next door.  This woman, another nanny, arranged Ima’s escape.

“It took me a while to write that letter,” Ima said, “I didn’t know how to write in English [and] I was so scared to get caught.  We drove a long way; I had no idea where I was, because I never went anywhere.  And we didn’t communicate because I couldn’t speak much English.  I didn’t even bother to ask where she was taking me.  As long I was out of that house, I was happy.”

The neighbor took Ima to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles, CA.  When she arrived at CAST, Ima said there was a social worker waiting there for her.  There weren’t many housing options available at the time, so Ima was taken to a homeless shelter.  After 3 weeks, she was transferred to a transitional housing program called Alexandria House for women and children.

Through the programs with CAST and Alexandria House, Ima learned to read and write in English.  She also learned computer skills and other life skills. In 2005, Ima joined a leadership development program offered by CAST called the Survivor Advisory Caucus, where she discovered her innate leadership abilities and learned how to be an advocate.  Ima has been actively speaking at local and national conferences and trainings over the past four years, and she has met with state and federal legislators, officials, academics, and celebrities to advocate for increased protections for survivors.  In 2010, Ima received the CAST Seeds of Renewal award for her leadership, a recognition that was given to her by fellow survivors.

Ima was recently offered a position with CAST as a survivor organizer – a first of its kind for CAST – and she becomes one of the few survivors working for anti-trafficking organizations around the country.

“It is my honor to work with CAST, an organization that helped me become who I am today,” Ima said, “I am looking forward to connecting with more survivors and to help[ing] them realize that they deserve more.”

Ima will be in charge of CAST’s survivor leadership program and the National Survivor Network, a program launched by CAST in 2011 that connects survivors of all nationalities and experiences across the United States.

“Ima is a natural leader among her peers,” stated Vanessa Lanza, Director of Partnerships at CAST, “She will be a tremendous asset to our organization and to the network, and I can’t wait to have her on board!”

Ima’s position officially starts this week, and I personally cannot wait to work more closely with her.  If you would like to contact Ima about CAST’s survivor leadership program or the National Survivor Network, please email her at