Interview with Let Freedom: Jewelry and Human Trafficking Awareness

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

Let Freedom - Photo: www.LetFreedom.com

PEORIA, AZ, April 21, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking and anti-commercial sexual exploitation.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.  Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements.  Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This weekend’s interview is with Dina Pratt and Rose Krison of the company, Let Freedom.

Dina, how did your company, Let Freedom, get started?

It was Rose who first learned about human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of our young girls through our church.  She also learned there was a lack of awareness in our state.  She wanted to help, and so she came up with the concept of designing and making jewelry she could sell.  This could both raise awareness and generate revenue to help the cause.

I have been in the jewelry business for over 30 years. Although I left the retail end of it many years ago, I still design custom jewelry for a large clientele following.  I also own an Interior Design business…so, yes, I love designing.  Rose approached me and told me what she wanted to do to help. I agreed and we have spent many months designing the jewelry line and our website, and trying to market to bring awareness to both.

Which organizations are receiving donations from your sales?

We chose StreetLightUSA to donate our proceeds to.  We are finally selling and will be able to make our first contribution to them.  Our goal is to make a signature piece of jewelry every 3 months and to choose a different organization to receive all proceeds from that piece.  We have just designed two new pieces which are in the works, and we are hoping to connect with other organizations in need.  We would also like to connect with high-profile advocacy organizations whose visibility can help bring awareness to Let Freedom.  If we can get more people to buy jewelry from Let Freedom, then we can help more organizations providing services to victims with proceeds from our sales.

Our main goal is raising awareness through our jewelry and, hopefully, being part of putting an end to this horrific issue.

What inspired your first jewelry design?

The Let Freedom jewelry line was inspired by the plight of young girls who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Each distinctive design was created to symbolize the idea of new beginnings.  Every piece of jewelry is a tangible reminder that freedom is never free.

How can an organization or the general public reach you for collaboration or sales?

Please visit www.LetFreedom.com to browse our available pieces of jewelry, or email me at dpratt@letfreedom.com for any more information.

Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and Human Trafficking Awareness

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

Frederick Douglass - Photo: www.fdfi.org

ATLANTA, GA, April 17, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective. Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements. Readers are encouraged to reach out to them in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This week’s featured organization is Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (formerly Frederick Douglass Family Foundation):

What is your organization’s mission statement?

To stop human trafficking in our communities by educating students and empowering them to take action.

What inspired the creation of your anti-human trafficking organization or program?

Two things: the recognition of the need — a National Geographic magazine cover story called “21st Century Slaves” — and our connection to the legacies of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

Are your efforts geared towards advocacy, prevention, education, awareness, victim services, legislation, etc.?  Please describe. We are excited to learn more about you.

We believe that education, in the form of service-learning projects, is the very foundation for positively affecting human trafficking in many different ways. Providing children with practical knowledge about modern slavery can help prevent them from becoming involved as victims, perpetrators or perpetuators of this crime. Having children identify other children that may be vulnerable to being trafficked is the earliest form of intervention.

As part of the service portion of these projects, students will raise public awareness, do training, effect legislation and become more informed global citizens. Creating change on such a large issue empowers these young people and makes them believe they can do great things in their own lives.

Is your organization currently working on any project(s)?

We’re getting ready to introduce the New York City Human Trafficking Education Program. In association with the NYC Mayor’s office and the NYC Department of Education, we’re bringing our service-learning projects into classrooms, starting with students that are most vulnerable to being trafficked. In the fall, we will launch a full menu of service-learning curricula that is free to download.

Where are your headquarters based and where are your efforts based?

We’re based in Atlanta, Georgia but spread out. Our reach is national.

Please share any recent awards, accomplishments or experiences associated with your organization.

A recent project called 100 Days to Freedom received national attention. It focused on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Schools from across the country utilized the curriculum and nine selected schools helped create the New Proclamation of Freedom. The Proclamation identified the various forms of human trafficking around the world and asked the U.S. Department of Education to help facilitate a national human trafficking education effort. An online petition was also created.

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

The greatest honor we can receive is to be invited into NYC public schools to implement our anti-slavery message and strategies.

What has been the greatest achievement or most meaningful recognition or experience for your organization?

There have been many great achievements, most having to do with the individuals or organizations with whom we’ve partnered including: Yale University, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the National Park Service, the National Youth Leadership Council, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, UNICEF, Sanctuary for Families, and many others. We consider collaboration one of our highest priorities.

Where do you hope to see your organization in the future?

We’d like to lead a Frederick Douglass-inspired national human trafficking education program and have it in place by 2015. This is how we must address the issue of contemporary slavery in both the short term and the long-term at the lowest possible cost to society.

What do you want the public to know about human trafficking, or specifically about your anti-human trafficking organization/program?

There is a tremendous urgency to initiating prevention programs. Yes, we’ve got to help the victims of human trafficking, but at the same time we must commit a small portion of funding to permanently stop the flow of new victims. Education is the best way to do it.

How can the public help you with your plight?

Funding is our biggest challenge. In order to expand our reach into more schools, we need to expand the resources on hand to do it.

How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?

Robert Benz can be reached at rbenz@fdfi.org

Interview with Christine Stark: Author, Speaker, and Survivor

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

Christine Stark

RICHMOND, VA, April 13, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.

Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements.  Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy/speaking?

When I was 21-years-old I began speaking out to save my life and to help others who were being hurt in prostitution and pornography. The first time I spoke publicly was in the 90s at a ‘Take Back the Night’ rally in Madison, Wisconsin. I had just begun to deal with being used in prostitution and pornography as a girl and teenager.

I was very poor. I had no one to turn to, and I was afraid that some of the family members who had used me would do something to me. My experiences were that the audience, mostly women and mostly feminist, did not want to deal with the issue.

Given that I was not sure I would find a way to stay alive, the silencing around this issue angered me. It actually pushed me to speak out more. I then spent years organizing as a grassroots activist, including bringing in well-known abolitionist speakers, giving my own talks, and many other actions.

Over the decades I have spoken nationally and internationally, conducted research, and published my essays, poetry, and fiction, including two books.

Did any organization or advocate play a significant role in your healing / empowerment process?

Andrea Dworkin helped me tremendously. She was a feminist writer and activist against prostitution and pornography, and also a survivor of prostitution. Over the years, I brought her to speak three times. She encouraged my writing and implicitly understood my past and the difficulties [involved].

She was kind and generous to me; without her friendship and understanding at that particularly difficult time in my life, I’m not sure what would have become of me. I don’t think people understand how hard it is, often for many years, once you get out. I had virtually no emotional or political support in my 20s, no family, and I lived in poverty.

The torture committed against me as a child and teenager overwhelmed me as an adult. I barely survived those years.

Are you working on any current projects?

Currently, I am in an MSW program and gathering stories about Native American women in prostitution (aka “research”). I’m also finishing my second novel, Carnival Lights. Once I’m done with Carnival Lights, I will complete my half-written memoir.

Please share any recent speaking events, awards, accomplishments, or experiences.

In 2012 I was a Women’s Press “Changemaker” and I have been nominated for and/or won a variety of writing awards, including the Lambda Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Loft Mentor Series Award, and two McKnight Awards.

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

I’ll be showing my art and reading from my novel at Breaking Free’s Demand the Change Conference in May, along with other events. I’m particularly looking forward to co-presenting at Spirit Lake, ND, given the recent [verbal] attack on Melissa Merrick, a Native victim’s advocate from Spirit Lake, by Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Congressman.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?

One achievement I am particularly pleased with is my work on Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota. For the Garden of Truth, five of us interviewed 105 Native prostituted women in Minnesota. 98% of the women had been or were currently homeless, 92% want[ed] to leave prostitution immediately, and many of the women experienced racism in prostitution. You can read the entire report atwww.miwsac.org.

What message about human trafficking do you most want to communicate to the public?

Getting the public to understand that prostitution is dehumanizing, dependent on child abuse (and often is the abuse of children), and also outright torture is extremely important. But it’s also important for the public to understand that those used in prostitution are sisters, mothers, grandmothers, brothers, and aunts.

We are valuable members of this society who have much to contribute, if given the opportunity. Also, it’s crucial to put the focus on the men who buy and sell women and children for sex. There would be no prostitution if the demand ended. That starts in each home.

Talk particularly with male family members and friends—tell them that using women and children in prostitution is never acceptable, and ask them to have the courage to talk with other men.

How can the public help you with your plight?

Get involved however you are able, whether it’s bringing in speakers, organizing events, talking with friends and family, or donating to organizations that help prostituted women and children. Each of us has our own skills and abilities, so please use yours to bring awareness and encourage action around the harm of prostitution and pornography.

What message would you like to pass to other survivor advocates and speakers?

Support each other and don’t give up!

Are there any other accomplishments you would like to mention? 

My first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a 2011 Lambda Literary Finalist.  Nickels is a coming-of-age story about a young American Indian/white girl who is being sexually abused by her father. It is an inside look at dissociation, which is a psychological process that enables people to survive trauma. However, it’s also about many other things such as love, resiliency, sexuality, art, healing, and so on.

I’m also a co-editor (with Rebecca Whisnant) of Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, an international collection of writings about prostitution, trafficking, and pornography (published by Spinifex Press).

Both books are available through any bookstore and online, including as e-books.

How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?

Through my website: www.christinestark.com or my publisher (Modern History Press)

Interview with Ruth Jacobs, Author & Human Rights Activist

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

Ruth Jacobs

RICHMOND, VA, April 8, 2013 – Building relationships with survivors, advocates, and other professionals across the country has greatly impacted my life.  Not only have many of these individuals and organizations supported me in my personal growth, but they have also educated me in my advocacy.  Even though I am a survivor of child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC), I do not claim to know everything about these issues.  Even as I write an academic book on these topics, I continue to learn different perspectives and ideas from others.

Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share with us their efforts and achievements.  I encourage readers to reach out to these interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This weekend I was excited to interview Ruth Jacobs, Author and Charity & Human Rights Campaigner.

What would you say is your personal mission statement?

To show the reality of prostitution and sex trafficking. Originally, I had only set out to be a writer. Through my fiction work, I wanted to show how prostitution at the level of being a call girl, which is far too often glamorized in the media, is still a dangerous and traumatic way to earn money.

While waiting for my first novel to be released, I decided to publish an interview I’d undertaken for my early research into prostitution. In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl exposes the emotional, psychological and social effects of prostitution. The woman I interviewed, Q, was a good friend, and as she is no longer alive, all the royalties from that short publication are donated to Beyond the Streets, a UK charity working to end sexual exploitation.

Since doing that, I have carried on providing a platform for survivors to share their stories on both my websites. This is something very important to me. On the Soul Destruction site, there is the Voices of Prostitution Survivors page, and on my author site, there are interviews with survivors in the human rights section.

Are your efforts geared towards advocacy, prevention, education, awareness, victim services, legislation, etc.?  

My original plan of just being a fiction writer did include some hope of raising awareness, education and prevention too. Though I have become more involved from a non-fiction perspective with the interviews I publish, and the articles I occasionally write.

How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy? 

When I first studied prostitution in the late 1990s, I thought I had omitted human trafficking. I really didn’t understand human trafficking until quite recently. I realized one of the women I interviewed back in 1998 for my research was actually a child sex trafficking victim. I had never seen it that way. My dear friend, Q, interviewed in In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl, was first forced into prostitution at the age of fifteen by a pimp. I think the term ‘human trafficking’ can conjure different things for different people and not necessarily what it actually is.

Are you working on any current projects?

Currently, I am pushing for the Merseyside model to be made UK wide. A knock on effect has been raising awareness of it globally and since, it has garnered support from US anti-human trafficking organizations. It is something that must not be dragged into the rest of the sex trade debate. It is not a legal solution of itself, but it is something that needs to happen no matter what the legal solution. The Merseyside model, which makes all crimes against people in prostitution hate crimes, is needed to keep people in the sex trade safer. I do not believe the sex trade can ever be a safe place to be, but while it continues to exist, we, as a society, must make it less dangerous if we know of such a way. And we do know of exactly the way because it’s been operating in Merseyside since 2006. However, for some unknown reason this highly successful model has not been rolled out across the UK. It ensures victims are treated as victims, and that criminals are caught and convicted. To give you an idea of its success, in 2009, in Liverpool, police convicted 90% of those who raped people in prostitution. To put that into perspective, that national average conviction rate for rape is 6.5%. More information on the Merseyside model can be read here.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?

During Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January 2013, I published approximately forty interviews with amazing, brave human trafficking survivors, as well as anti-human trafficking activists, advocates, non-profit founders, filmmakers, writers and feminists. It was a profound experience and I felt, and still feel, truly honored to have been allowed to share their stories.

How can the public help you with your plight?

I would urge people to read about the Merseyside model and if they would like to add their non-profit or organization as a supporter to my campaign, I would be grateful to hear from them. Equally, with the information provided, I would encourage them to raise awareness and bring it to government for discussion. I think this should be worldwide. It’s a human rights issue.

Have you published a book?

On Amazon, I have my short charity publication, In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl. My debut novel, Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, is being released on 29 April 2013, and is dedicated to my beautiful friend, Q. Though she’s no longer alive, she’s been on this journey, and has been raising awareness with me, the whole way.

How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?

I can be contacted at ruth@soul-destruction.com or via the contact form on my website.

What is your Twitter handle and Facebook page?

Twitter: @RuthFJacobs http://twitter.com/RuthFJacobs

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/rujacobs

The Soul Destruction Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SoulDestructionSeries

Interview with CASE: Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation

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

Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation

SAN BERNADINO COUNTY, Calif., April 2, 2013 ― Building relationships with survivors, advocates, and other professionals across the country has greatly impacted my life.  Not only have many of these individuals and organizations supported me in my personal growth, but they have also educated me in my advocacy.  Even though I am a survivor of child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC), I do not claim to know everything about these issues.  Even as I write an academic book on these topics, I continue to learn different perspectives and ideas from others.

Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share with us their efforts and achievements.  I encourage readers to reach out to these interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This week I’m excited to interview Anne-Michelle Ellis, Coordinator of the County of San Bernardino’s Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).

What is your organization’s mission statement?

The San Bernardino County Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) is a partnership of public and private entities who have joined together to develop resources in the county to educate, prevent, intervene and treat victims of sexual exploitation.

What inspired the creation of your anti-human trafficking organization (or the anti-human trafficking program within your organization)?

CASE was formed in 2009 as an initiative by the District Attorney’s Office who saw the need to recognize children involved in commercial sexual exploitation as victims instead of criminals.

District Attorney, Michael Ramos and Fourth District County Supervisor, Gary Ovitt called upon leaders from child-serving County departments to enter into a collaborative effort to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in San Bernardino County.

In 2010, the Department of Behavioral Health secured funding through the California Mental Health Services Act making CASE an Innovations Project. These funds allowed a multi-disciplinary team to be formed consisting of staff from the Department of Behavioral Health, Probation, Children & Family Services, Public Defender and the Children’s Network.

The Coalition has grown considerably since 2009 and now includes the following nine County of San Bernardino departments as well as community organizations, service providers and the faith-based community:

  • Behavioral Health
  • Children & Family Services
  • Children’s Network
  • District Attorney
  • Public Defender
  • Public Health
  • Probation
  • Sheriff’s Department
  • Superintendent of Schools

If faith-based, please tell us how your faith has played a role in the success of your organization?

We are not a faith-based organization. However, out of the work of CASE has come the development of CADE (Christians Actively Demolishing Exploitation). We work closely with this coalition that addresses human trafficking in our area from a faith-based perspective.

For more information on CADE, you can contact Peggy Stapleton at pstapleton@ksgn.com

Who are your board members and/or co-founders?

We do not have a board of directors. However, a Steering Committee was formed that consists of one representative from each of the nine County departments mentioned. This group meets on a monthly basis to oversee the partnership and to hear from the CASE Coordinator about program updates and make decisions regarding funding.

Are your efforts geared towards advocacy, prevention, education, awareness, victim services, legislation, etc.?  Please describe.  We are excited to learn more about you!

Because we are a County-based program, we typically don’t do much regarding legislation. However, the CASE Multi-Disciplinary team delivers direct services and advocacy to primarily system-involved youth who are victims and survivors of CSEC.

In addition, we have a community-based Outreach & Education Committee that meets on a monthly basis. Its membership includes people from various fields and group[s] including survivors, law enforcement, probation, social services, faith-based organizations, NGOs, community members, and educators.

Over the past two years, we have trained over 7,000 individuals in our County and throughout Southern California regarding CSEC issues. Each January, we host an anti-human trafficking awareness walk. This year, we also had a series of events in January during the week prior to our walk which included a candlelight vigil, the premier of our District Attorney’s Documentary, two film screenings and a special event with Carissa Phelps.

We continue to be the lead organization/partnership within the county designed to provide assistance and resources to those working with exploited children and their families.

Is your organization currently working on any project(s)?

Our District Attorney recently released a 45 minute documentary about sex trafficking in San Bernardino. We are currently working on hosting several screenings of the film throughout the County.

For more information on what the San Bernardino County District Attorney is doing, you can contact Christopher Lee, Public Affairs Officer at (909) 382-3665 or clee@sbcda.org.

Where are your headquarters based, and where are your efforts based?

We don’t have headquarters, per se, but we are primarily based in the City of San Bernardino. However, we cover the entire county of San Bernardino which is 22,000 square miles!

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

We offer monthly trainings through the Department of Behavioral Health. Upcoming dates can be seen at http://sbcase.eventbrite.com.

What has been the greatest achievement or most meaningful recognition or experience for your organization?

I believe the most meaningful accomplishment over the past two years has simply been the recognition from a County perspective that this is a real issue in our community. In addition, the willingness of so many government departments to come together in true partnership to address these issues is not only unique but highly encouraging. Of course, the work continues to be a learning experience and we are still in our infancy but I believe the progress we’ve made over the past two years is significant.

Where do you hope to see your organization in the future?

Because the funding for the Coalition is time limited and learning focused, my hope is that the value of the program will be recognized and that a more-permanent stream of funding is secured. Our funding will most likely end in June of 2014 so my hope is that the program can continue past that time.

In addition, I would like to see alternatives to incarceration developed. Currently, our County continues to charge teens with prostitution and lock them up in juvenile hall “for their own safety.” Of course, this is a hotly debated subject and I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, we want to make sure they are safe and don’t return to their trafficker, and on the other hand, locking a victim up with offenders sends the wrong message.

I would like to see appropriate, safe, secure housing developed in our area so young people have somewhere to go where they can receive services and are not treated as criminals.

What do you want the public to know about human trafficking, or specifically about your anti-human trafficking organization/program?

I’d like the public to know that this is an issue that affects all of our communities. It’s not just something that happens to “those” type of kids from “those” families or neighborhoods. It’s up to us as community members to educate ourselves on these topics and know who to contact if we suspect human trafficking. We cannot completely rely on law enforcement to “do something” about this issue, it’s up to us to take responsibility for our own communities.

It can be as simple as reaching out to young people and letting them know they are loved. What we hear from so many trafficking victims is that they were just looking for love and acceptance. If we can provide our youth with that love and acceptance, they won’t need to go looking for it [elsewhere].

I’d like to encourage people to get involved in youth-serving agencies and organizations in their community. Maybe it’s just a matter of donating a few hours of your time at your local runaway shelter, cooking a meal or teaching the youth a hobby or craft. It doesn’t have to be big but lots of “small” efforts make a big difference in the lives of our youth.

How can the public help you with your plight? 

People interested in getting more involved in CASE can join our Outreach & Education Committee which meets the second Tuesday of each month at 2pm. For more information or to join our email list, please email me at anne-michelle.ellis@hss.sbcounty.gov.

Stay tuned for another interview coming soon.