Human trafficking: Supporting foreign-born victims

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

Supporting Foreign-Born Victims

RICHMOND, VA, January 30, 2013 – Several advocates have emailed me recently asking for advice on how service providers can best serve foreign-born victims who were trafficked within the United States. This is a great question, I thought. As a domestic-born survivor of child sex trafficking within the U.S., I recently wrote an article offering advice to service providers working with domestic children who endured similar exploitation. In order to approach this particular question, though, I thought it best to hear directly from foreign-born survivors themselves.

I’m pleased to present advice from two empowered survivor activists: Ima Matul and Shandra Woworuntu.

Ima Matul, Survivor Coordinator for the National Survivor Network, was lured from her home in Indonesia to work in America as a nanny. Upon arrival, however, Ima was separated from her cousin and forced into domestic servitude for several years. Ima offered the following advice to service providers working with foreigners:

• Shelter is always first priority, but it has to be a shelter specific for victims of human trafficking, not for victims of domestic violence or homelessness. “My experience was in [a domestic violence] shelter,” Ima explained, “And it was hard for me to relate with the other residents.”

• Offer shelter services to male victims as well as female.

• Inform victims about their rights within this country.

• Offer education to victims, including English as a Second Language (ESL), General Educational Development (GED) classes, and computer skills.

• Offer life skills workshops that include the following: how to find housing, how to find a job, how to open a bank account, how to build credit, how to manage or budget personal expenses (including rent, groceries, transportation, and medical costs), how to find a low-cost or free clinic, how to apply for education scholarships, and how to drive. “As foreigners we know nothing about this country,” Ima stated, “We don’t even know [about the emergency number] 911…We need [a] lot of services and education to prepare oursel[ves] to [live] independently, [without] always asking for help.”

• Offer self-defense classes or workshops, especially for girls and women.

• Include a mentorship program and peer support.

• Be educated about other cultures in order to offer cultural sensitivity.

Shandra Woworuntu, now a rehabilitation counselor in New York City, was also lured to the U.S. from Indonesia in 2001 with promises of better work. Upon arrival, Shandra and two other women were trafficked for sex within the U.S. After her escape, Shandra briefly struggled with poverty and homelessness until law enforcement sought her out to testify against her traffickers. In exchange for her cooperation, law enforcement connected Shandra with a service provider and gave her a small sum of money until shelter was available. Shandra offered the following advice to service providers working with foreign-born victims:

• First and foremost, Shandra explained, the victim must go “straight to [a] shelter, no matter what.”

“[In]my experience,” Shandra stated, “I had to be homeless for many days, [I] lived in the subway [without] enough money [or] clothes to support my life.”

Like Ima, Shandra was eventually moved to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Shandra encourages the development of separate shelters for men, women, boys, and girls who have been victims of human trafficking. She stated that the most preferable living situation would be for each person to have his or her own room in order to avoid arguing and other negative experiences. However, she recommends that victims with severe trauma may be more comfortable staying in a room with a roommate.

• Offer psychological help to all victims.

• Employ a translator to help with communication between the victim and his or her case worker, therapist, and all other institutional interactions. (NOTE: Ima expanded on this idea to require that each translator be screened in order to ensure there is no connection to the traffickers).

• Offer a food pantry instead of food vouchers. Shandra stated that, in her experience, the food vouchers were never enough.

• Provide educational support (e.g. GED classes) and materials (e.g. art and books) within the shelter as victims may not only find it difficult to maneuver through public transportation but many are also still dealing with psychological trauma (e.g. flashbacks), which are triggered under stressful situations.

• Provide each victim with a money allowance in case of an emergency situation outside of the shelter.

• Once ready to enter into the community, the survivor should be informed of all activities and educational opportunities available to him or her.

For additional tips or further information, I encourage you to reach out to Ima and Shandra directly. As Survivor Coordinator of the National Survivor Network, Ima can also connect with other survivors of human trafficking for additional information and advice.

Please email Ima at Ima@castla.org.

Please email Shandra at ShandraWoworuntu@yahoo.com.

Teen Revolt: Activist Ateba Crocker launches program to educate teens

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

Join the Fight

RICHMOND, VA, January 23, 2013-  Meet Ateba Crocker.  Ateba created an organization in 2010 called Shoe Revolt, a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit which she started in order to raise funds for programs that serve victims of sex trafficking.  As a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, Ateba said she “desired to see others free from the trappings of the sex industry.”

In an emotional interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Ateba described how she overcame early childhood sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.  Through her faith and family, Ateba found the strength to return to school, to graduate college with a Master’s Degree, and to publish her first book, Rescued: A Testimony of God’s Saving Power.

Ateba used her love for fashion to help other victims of sexual exploitation.  The mission of Shoe Revolt was to donate portions of proceeds gained by selling new and gently-used shoes. As Ateba built Shoe Revolt; however, she said she quickly realized that what was missing was an education program for teens.

“I decided to change Shoe Revolt’s fundraising focus to creating and funding a teen preventive program,” Ateba stated, “[Teens must be] empower[ed] to fight against predators [who] seek to take away a human being’s right to freedom.”

Ateba created a new branch to Shoe Revolt called Teen Revolt, a nationwide program aimed to “educate, engage, and empower youth to take the lead in the fight against domestic sex trafficking through peer-to-peer education.”

As January is the month dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking, it seems fitting that Ateba chose this month to launch Teen Revolt.  Her goal for Teen Revolt is to create chapters across the country “that can generate large-scale social impact through peer-to-peer education and fundraising.”

“Our goal is to harness the leadership potential of teenagers across America,” Ateba stated, “[We strive] to inspire teen activism and [to] raise awareness about the hidden danger of sex trafficking in the U.S.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that 800,000 youth are reported missing each year.  The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children 2 (NISMART-2) estimated that in 1999 more than 1 million children had episodes of running away or being forced out of their homes.  NCMEC states on their website that “without legitimate means of support and a safe place to stay, [these kids] are often victimized again through pornography, sexual exploitation, and drugs.”

The Teen Revolt website explains that peer-to-peer education will involve increasing teen awareness about commercial sexual exploitation, and fundraising efforts will be geared towards raising money for local programs that provide services to victims.

The Teen Revolt website also states that each chapter ambassador will be supplied with support and a revolt kit to include marketing ideas to spread awareness, chapter training manuals, and chapter checklist pamphlets and forms.   Ateba encourages students to get involved if their schedules are not already too full with other commitments: “Becoming a Teen Revolt Ambassador will be an extremely long but rewarding experience,” she said.

As a survivor of child sex trafficking, I believe that Ateba’s mission to educate, engage, and empower youth is not only admirable but vital to ending human trafficking in the United States.

“So, what is commercial sexual exploitation, or CSE?” Ateba asked, “And how are teens in danger?”

She explained the following:

“Traffickers, otherwise known as pimps, have declared war on the American youth, especially at-risk youth. For pimps, teens are not human beings but property; they see teens simply as a means to gain profit. Pimps know that when it comes to making money, the younger their victims are, the better. They know where to find vulnerable youth- from hitting the streets to hanging out at parties, malls, school grounds, movie theaters, and even Internet chat rooms.”

Ateba’s program includes educating teens about the different types of traffickers, including the “finesse pimp” and the “gorilla pimp,” and describing the cycle of victimization imposed by traffickers.

“Teens who enroll in Teen Revolt will be equipped with the knowledge to recognize trafficking if it is happening to one of their peers,” Ateba explained, “Traffickers [often] employ their victims in strip clubs or exotic dance clubs before introducing them to prostitution and pornography…They often tell their victims that they will expose their ‘shameful’ behavior to friends and family if they don’t comply with their demands…

“The most powerful way to protect yourself and your peers is to be on the lookout for any of these tactics,” Ateba said, “Be aware of the red flags, and watch for other teens who may be in danger…

“Stay informed about the issue, educate others, and protect yourself and your peers,” Ateba continued, “If you suspect a CSE case, call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.”

As I stated in a previous article featuring the Prevention Project (another teen-focused school program), educating the next generation is crucial to the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as all other forms of human trafficking happening within America and beyond.  I encourage school administrators across the nation to investigate available programs and to include one which best suits their schools’ goals and needs.

For more information about Shoe Revolt or Teen Revolt, please contact Ateba Crocker at Ateba@ShoeRevolt.org.

Jada Pinkett Smith joins Katie Couric to speak out against Sex trafficking

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


RICHMOND, VA , January 14 2013 – Human trafficking.  It is an ugly crime and a scary topic.  This is why many people turn away from the cause, overwhelmed by the crushing gravity of it.  Luckily, advocates across the country are refusing to be silent as they expose the issue of human trafficking to friends, family, and neighbors.

Today, this advocate is Jada Pinkett Smith.

Jada will appear on the Katie Couric show on Monday, January 14 in order to raise awareness about human trafficking.  Joining Jada are three empowered survivors: Ima MatulMinh DangWithelma “T” Ortiz, and Asia Graves.  Katie Couric and Jada Pinkett Smith should be commended not only for inviting survivors to share their stories but also for recognizing their expertise in the discussion.

Survivors are often requested to recount the details of their testimonies at different events, including conferences, symposiums, workshops, and more.  Unfortunately, they are then excused from further participation.  As a survivor of child sex trafficking myself, this is baffling.  If there is to be a discussion or compilation of data regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, should not there be a survivor present?

Without survivor input, the information provided in any type of exchange is missing a very important perspective.

As a member of the National Survivor Network and Survivors Connect, I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors.  Each survivor’s story is unique and every survivor’s perspective is important.

Survivor leaders like Ima, Minh, and Asia, among others, represent a larger organization of men and women.  Because we are committed to consulting with members of many survivor organizations, we represent not only ourselves but also those who are still in the shadows.

Ima Matul, Survivor Coordinator of the National Survivor Network, encourages Katie Couric’s audience members to watch for signs of domestic servitude.

“[Forced labor] is such a hidden crime,” Ima states, “The public need[s] to be aware of their surrounding[s], [to] pay attention to [his or her] community or neighborhood.”

Ima urges everyone to take notice of the housekeepers and nannies working within their neighborhoods.

“Is the housekeeper or nanny ever [able to] leave the house,” Ima asked, “[to] go outside by themsel[ves], and [to] have a day off? Are they afraid to talk to you? Do they make eye contact when they speak to you? Pay attention to the waitress who serve[s] your food in the restaurant where you eat, or the people who do your nail[s] at the nail salon. Just pay attention to your surrounding[s].”

Minh Dang, the new Executive Director for Jada Pinkett Smith’s organization, Don’t Sell Bodies, encourages audience members to examine their own families and communities in order to prevent child sex trafficking:

“How are we [expressing our love to] our sons and daughters?” Minh asked, “Are we making them feel loved so that they don’t seek it elsewhere?”

Traffickers often target children who are looking for attention.  As in my case, a trafficker lured me away from home after befriending me in a shopping mall.

Minh also challenges audience members to watch for signs of human trafficking within their cities and to support survivor-led programs like Carissa Phelps’ Runaway Girl; the organization, MISSSEY; and the National Survivor Network.

Last, Minh encourages audience members to join the movement.

“Work to create public outrage about slavery,” Minh stated, “Just as regular citizens of all walks of life fought slavery in the 1880s, and fought for civil rights of African-Americans in the 1960s, we need citizens to demand that slavery is unjust [today].”

To learn more about Minh Dang, please visit her blog with Don’t Sell Bodies.

Thank you, Jada, for joining this movement and for using your voice to end human trafficking.  Thank you also to celebrity advocate, Lisa Ling, and to U.N. Ambassador, Mira Sorvino; both of whom strive to bring an end to human trafficking and forced labor.

Holly Austin Smith is a survivor advocate, author, and speaker.  She invites you to join her on Facebook or Twitter and to follow her personal blog.

The Gray Haven Project: Local nonprofit helps victims of human trafficking

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

Josh and Andrea Bailey

Josh and Andrea Bailey, founders of The Gray Haven Project (TGHP)

RICHMOND, VAJanuary 8, 2013 — Meet Josh and Andrea Bailey, founders of The Gray Haven Project (TGHP), an organization which serves victims of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation in central Virginia.  TGHP has grown over the past year, and the Baileys have become inspirational leaders not only for their community but for a generation.

Josh and Andrea actively engage with younger audiences through social media and events in order to spread awareness about human trafficking.  TGHP joined the VANS Warped Tour in 2011, and again in 2012, as a way to promote prevention among teenagers.  Matt Greiner, drummer for the band August Burns Red, endorsed TGHP in this fundraiser video.

The Baileys also engage with area businesses and organizations in order to raise awareness about human trafficking and to coordinate local, effective services for Virginia-based survivors.  As a survivor of child sex trafficking, I am proud to partner with Gray Haven and I urge you, my fellow community members, to join them as well.

The Gray Haven Project offers a drop-in center for temporary refuge and casework management to local victims of human trafficking.  Casework management means connecting clients with local service providers, social service agencies, and other community-based businesses and organizations.

“We recognize that the nature of human trafficking is complex and requires a comprehensive array of restorative services,” Josh stated, “The philosophy of our model is based on a view that each survivor is different, has unique needs, and will need supportive services that are designed to address all levels of needs whether short-term, intermediate, or long-term.”

A typical progression of services at Gray Haven begins with a referral.  Gray Haven is first contacted through a referral from a relative or friend, a community organization, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), or another entity that has come into contact with a victim.

The Gray Haven Services Coordinator (SC) then visits the victim (or works with the victim to create a safety plan to leave their exploitative situation). After initial contact, the SC assesses the victim’s immediate needs, including medical care, shelter, clothing, food, security, and more.  Once stability is established, the SC will begin to assess the client’s secondary needs, and then Gray Haven works with him or her to establish short and long-term goals.

Every survivor of human trafficking followed a different path which ultimately led to their exploitation. Traffickers prey on vulnerability and vulnerability appears in many forms.  While many victims may need immediate housing, others may not.  As a 14-year-old victim of trafficking, I was fortunate in that I had a stable home environment to which I could return; however, I had little to no support or services available to deal with my specific trauma.  Without any involvement with or guidance from an organization that specialized in human trafficking victimization, I was left feeling hopeless and helpless.

“We spend time exploring how [survivors] can accomplish their goals and how we can help them get there,” Andrea stated, “This looks different for each person- how they process their trauma and move forward. We are there to walk with them through this process as a guide and friend.”

Gray Haven partners with mentoring organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and the Boys and Girls Club in order to provide meaningful role model relationships to their younger clients.  Gray Haven also partners with service providers like Safe Harbor Shelter, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, and CrossOver Health Care Ministry in order to provide clients with shelter services, counseling, medical care, and more.  The law firm, Hunton & Williams, has also partnered with Gray Haven to offer legal services to those clients in need of legal guidance.

The Baileys explain that, upon graduating the program, each survivor has identified personal goals and a plan for education, employment, and other important aspects of life.

“The end result is that every survivor is healthy and moving forward independent of our program,” Josh stated, “However they want us to be a part of their story after the program is totally up to them. Throughout their time with us we hope they have learned that wherever they are in life, we are there as their biggest supporter. The end of their time with us is just the beginning of a new chapter in their story.”

If you are interested in partnering with Gray Haven, or with helping in other ways including fundraising, personal donations, and volunteering; please email Josh and Andrea at info@tghproject.com.

Mental healthcare: Don’t drop the debate in the New Year

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

Mental Healthcare

RICHMOND, VA, January 2, 2013 – As New Year’s celebrations come to a close, I’d like to encourage everyone to remember the achievements, the sorrows, and the many important discussions and debates from 2012.  The tragedy which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School left so many of us stunned, speechless, and simply heartbroken.  There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been expressed in response to the Newtown, Connecticut shootings and to the other recent violence from Colorado to New York City.

I would like to begin the New Year by continuing an important discussion which was born out of these horrific events, and that is the need for greater access to mental healthcare.  Setting these tragedies aside for the moment, I want to express the general need for greater access to mental healthcare and for more comprehensive education about mental illness, especially for students, parents, and teachers.

As a survivor of child trafficking, I can speak from experience about the lack of appropriate mental healthcare available to me during my school-age years.  The first signs of depression and anxiety appeared in late elementary school.  By intermediate and middle school, I was exhibiting full-blown rage, which was directed both internally and externally.  My behavior was above and beyond the angst experienced by a typical teenager, but neither I nor my family had the education to understand or recognize this.

I needed help.  Real help, professional help.

Unfortunately, the only person who recognized this and invested some time in responding to my distress was a sex trafficker.  He easily spotted me in a shopping mall shuffling behind my friends.  I was staring into the faces of strangers, dressed in a way that suggested I was trying to look older and rebellious.  It took this man only two weeks to determine over phone conversations that I was an easy victim.

Traffickers target girls and boys who are vulnerable, and vulnerability manifests in many ways, including untreated mental health issues.  While some of my teachers and counselors recognized that I was struggling, their ability to help me was limited.  I remember my eighth grade middle school counselor sitting next to me after I had experienced another meltdown.  I knew she wanted to help me, but I also knew she didn’t know how. I remember wanting to ask for help but having no idea what was wrong.

I believe many teachers and school counselors want to help students suffering from mental illness but lack the training and access to resources to do so.

Andrea Powell, founder of FAIR Girls in Washington D.C., advocates for greater awareness and access to mental healthcare in each and every community.

“We need to seriously address the lack of compassionate and long-term mental health [resources] and counseling available in America,” she stated, “The continued stigma associated with even accessing mental health services continues to silence those who see someone in need.  And, those in need are often too ashamed to ask.”

FAIR Girls (originally FAIR Fund) was created with the mission to empower girl survivors of trafficking in the U.S. and around the world.  According to their website, FAIR Girls prevents the exploitation of girls worldwide via prevention education, compassionate care, and survivor-inclusive advocacy.  Compassionate care for victims of trafficking includes personalized long-term counseling and art therapy.  I believe my fate may have been different had I been connected to a community organization similar to FAIR Girls.

I also believe there needs to be greater awareness and discussion surrounding mental illness, especially with students.  Even though I was struggling in intermediate and middle school, I never realized it may have something to do with me.  I believed my feelings were normal reactions to my surroundings and that it was everyone else around me who needed to change.  Had I understood the signs and symptoms of mental illness, perhaps I would have known how to ask for help.

My hope for the year 2013 and beyond is that we continue to discuss the issue of mental healthcare and that we invest more in our children’s education.  I believe that begins with investing more in our teachers, our school systems, and our community’s mental health and child-focused resources.  This is important because, as a society, we share in the joy and in the grief experienced by our friends and families.