Jada Pinkett Smith joins legislators, survivors to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation

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

Jada Pinkett Smith Testifies

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2012 – Celebrity advocate Jada Pinkett Smith, along with her daughter, Willow, joined Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) at this week’s launch of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking.  Survivors Minh Dang and Withelma “T” Ortiz were both present; their testimonies drove the message home that legislators must work together in order to pass effective laws against human trafficking.  As I listened to their speeches, I thought of the many victims at that moment who were suffering and unaware that celebrities, survivors, and lawmakers were standing together on Capitol Hill, fighting for their rights.

In the year 2000, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in biology.  I remember on my last day of school, I turned back for one last look at the building and thought about all that I was leaving behind.  Graduating from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey was a turning point in my life.  It enabled me to walk away from a dark past and to envision a brighter future.

Little did I know that another turning point had occurred in the year 2000 for those men and women, girls and boys, who shared a history similar to my own.  That event was the passing of an historic law called the Trafficking Victims Protections Act (TVPA).  The TVPA is a federal law which addresses human trafficking, a term I did not yet know upon graduating college.

I would not hear those words for another nine years; and it was not until then that I was able to define my past.

Human trafficking.

I had been trafficked at the age of fourteen by three adults, all of whom served little to no time for their crimes, due in part to the lack of trafficking laws at that time.  There was no prevention or awareness for this type of crime when I was in middle school.  Without any warning for such predators, I trusted a charismatic man I had met at the mall, a man who promised Hollywood fairytales if I ran away with him.  Within hours of leaving home, I was sold on the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I received no services following my victimization in 1992, and for nearly 20 years, I believed that what had happened to me was somehow my fault.  I carried with me this secret throughout high school and college, throughout my first professional job in Philadelphia and my second in New Jersey, and throughout my many proceeding relocations across the country as I tried to rid myself of a past that seemed to haunt me.

When I first learned about the TVPA years later, I swelled with gratitude at the thought of advocates and legislators fighting for my rights without my even knowing about it.  I thought that I, alone, had experienced this victimization and that nobody in the world shared an interest or an understanding for my story.

Since the year 2000, the TVPA has been reauthorized by Congress three times, in 2003, 2005, and 2008.  In 2011, I was proud to join labor trafficking survivor, Ima Matul, in a joint testimony to Congress regarding a fourth reauthorization for the TVPA.

Unfortunately, over a year later, this bill still has failed to pass.

If the TVPRA fails to pass, then organizations across the country risk the loss of funding for prevention, awareness, and victim services. In addition, the United States has emerged as a world leader on this issue, annually ranking nations on their efforts to combat trafficking in persons. If the TVPRA is not authorized, what type of message does that send to other nations around the world?  If the United States will not set aside partisan differences for the sake of human rights and human dignity, then why should they?

I urge our legislators: Don’t let another year end without reauthorizing this legislation.

One of the reasons I gained the courage to face my past and to speak out about my victimization was because the leaders of our country were already standing up and fighting for me.  Failure to pass the TVPRA will risk loss of such profound support for today’s victims of human trafficking.

Members of the National Survivor Network (NSN) visited with legislative leaders in Washington D.C. in September 2012 in order to advocate for the passage of the TVPRA.  Since then, President Barack Obama addressed the pandemic issue of human trafficking in his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, and he urged for the reauthorization of the TVPA.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy also pushed for the renewal of the TVPA, as well as 45 Attorneys General who sent a formal request to House Speaker John Boehner.

As a survivor, I urge legislators to stand up for those who cannot yet represent themselves and to pass SB 1301, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  This bill has bipartisan support with over 50 co-sponsors and widespread support from advocates and NGOs, including the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Polaris Project.

With your support, all survivors of human trafficking will have the chance at a brighter future, and we will continue to spread awareness and prevention throughout America and beyond.  And once again, America will emerge as the world leader on the most important human rights issue of our time.

Jada Pinkett Smith on Human Trafficking

Nicole Clark, producer of Cover Girl Culture, helps prevent child sex trafficking

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

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2012 – Grocery shopping with my parents on weekend afternoons was a boring chore in intermediate and middle school.  However, I went along and helped to carry packages of hotdogs, baked beans, and fish sticks in order to reap my reward in the end: a fashion magazine.

I flipped through the pages and pictures, the articles and quizzes, taking my time to pick the magazine with the most relevant topics to make me cool, to make me popular, to make me Hot!

Once we were home and (most) of the food was unpacked, I sprawled across my bed to study every page.  I dog-eared any article, advertisement, or beauty tip promising to make me over. I scooped mayonnaise from the jar and onto my head in order to tame my frizzy hair, and I poured peroxide and baking soda over my toothbrush to whiten my teeth.  I ordered painful hair-removal products, wasted money on bronzing lotions that turned my skin orange, and I stole pockets full of products from Rite-Aid, including foundation, nail polish, and facial cleansing oils.

But it wasn’t enough.  Nothing made me look like the alluring models in the magazines.

My feet were gross, I thought. My skin was too pale and my arms were too hairy. I wore blue jeans and sneakers even during the hottest South Jersey heat waves in order to cover up my translucent salamander skin.

I thought I was ugly.  And as I tried harder to be pretty, I also tried harder to be sexy like the girls in the magazines and music videos.

I curled my hair; I puckered my lips in the mirror.  I squeezed into tight jeans and wore half-shirts to show off my belly.  By the summer of sixth grade, cars began honking at me along my way to and from the local Rite-Aid.

At first I was surprised, turning to see the long-haired boys waving from inside their Corvettes and Monte Carlos.  I started buying Stewart’s root beer and Mistic Mango Mania sodas from Wawa because they looked like beer and wine cooler bottles.  On the way back home, I would dramatically swig from one of the bottles each time a car passed by.   I thought it made me look older.

These values that I learned from the media, to seek beauty, popularity, maturity, and material things, led to low self-esteem and the misfortunate conclusion that sex appeal equaled self-value.  These ideas colored the landscape of my intermediate and middle school experiences and ultimately led to depression, exploitation, and the lack of understanding personal boundaries and other basic rights.

The result?  A perfectly seasoned victim for a sex trafficker.

Sex traffickers understand the messages the media and popular culture are sending our youth.  They look for those teens who are most influenced and most vulnerable.  What I didn’t know at age 11, 12, and 13 was exactly what leveraged my trafficker’s ability to befriend me at age 14, to lure me away from home, and to force and coerce me into accepting a life of perpetual exploitation…

But there’s hope.

Media renegade, Nicole Clark, aims to be that missing messenger for today’s teens and preteens.  Nicole has created a documentary to teach girls and boys about the negative messages and negative effects that the media has on girls’ self-image and self-esteem.  As a former Elite fashion model, Nicole gained valuable insight into the inner workings of the fashion and advertising world.  From the oversexualization of girls to the pressures to be thin and pretty, Nicole explores the impact of the media on our girls.

“Who sets today’s standards for beauty,” Nicole asks, “And how are these standards affecting individuals and society?  Who is responsible?  Are there ways this can be changed?  If so, who can and will change it?”

In her documentary, Cover Girl Culture, Nicole navigates the worlds of fashion, modeling, advertising, and celebrity and exposes their impact on teens and young women.  Through exclusive interviews with the editors of Teen Vogue and Elle magazines, the film takes a hard look at the fashion industry and the messages it conveys to young people.  It also reveals the pressures that tweens and teens face, including our celebrity-centered culture to the shocking problems caused by the sexualization of girls by the media.

Cover Girl Culture comes with a curriculum for teachers and other caregivers to explore this topic more in-depth with their students.  A key feature of the film is that it focuses on solutions, and it leaves audience members feeling informed and empowered.  Seeing through the Media Matrix, a companion DVD to Cover Girl Culture, is also available and offers 60 minutes of media literacy tools for educators, parents, and teens.

For a more a customized and personal approach, Nicole also offers workshops to middle and high schools, organizations, and businesses across the country and abroad.  Nicole’s presentations offer the following objectives to teens and adults alike:

• Exposes how the media has manipulated their perspectives on body image and beauty.

• Explores the motives behind advertisers and challenges audience members to take back their power.

• Gives girls tools to build their self-esteem, which helps to immunize them against the media’s manipulative messages.

• Examines why we’ve given our power away and allowed fashion editors and advertisers to dictate beauty to us.

• Encourages teens and preteens to become media activists and to develop critical thinking.

• Educates youth on true values versus the false values that are perpetually peddled to girls by the media.

•  Helps youth understand how the media’s sexualization of girls affects them.

Nicole’s husband, John Clark, also offers workshops for boys with similar topics called “Wise Guy Workshops.”

I am a firm advocate that media literacy must be included in every intermediate and middle school program in America.  Children are most easily influenced in their early teen and preteen years; it only makes sense to offer them the tools needed to navigate the many negative messages in the media.  Traffickers depend on these very messages to groom our children for exploitation.

Had I understood the tactics of advertisers and the plasticity of popular culture, I could have developed a more solid foundation of self-esteem, assertiveness, and positive values.  I can’t help but wonder how different my middle school summer vacation could have been… It is for this reason that I also believe media literacy is paramount in any trafficking prevention program geared to teens.

For more information about Nicole’s workshops, or to order your copy of Cover Girl Culture today, contact Nicole@zenpenfilms.com.