Human trafficking: Interview with survivor advocate Evelyn Chumbow

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

Evelyn Chumbow

WASHINGTON, DC, June 23, 2013 ― Evelyn Chumbow is a powerhouse as she advocates on behalf of victims of labor trafficking and servitude across the world.  “I don’t want anyone else to become a victim of what I went through, especially … at age nine,” stated Evelyn, “I am a voice of modern day slavery, and I will not stop until I help end this horrible crime … even if I am behind closed doors, my voice will always be involved.”

Holly Smith: Evelyn, what would you say is your personal mission statement?

Evelyn Chumbow: I am very passionate about end[ing] modern day slavery around the world and, most important; I want the world to recognize that modern day slavery is also a big problem in Africa…I want the world…to know  that we are all survivors of many things in…life but surviving slavery is very powerful.  Let’s teach the world that the [term] human trafficking [is not only ‘sex trafficking’] but slavery in general.  Most people forget to realize that [forced] sex is labor.

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

EC: I am [a survivor] of child labor trafficking.

When I reached the U.S., I was forced to cook, clean, and take care of the children of my recruiter, Theresa Mubang. I was never paid for my work, and any hope that I might escape my miserable life was undermined by the constant beatings I received from Mubang. For seven years of my young teenage life, I lived in constant fear and worked day and night. I never rode the school bus. I never went to the prom. I never got to hang out with friends after school. I never joined a dance team.

I was a modern day slave, not in some far-flung country, but right here in the U.S. I have not seen my parents for eighteen years due to this situation. My trafficker was sentenced to 17 years in prison for what she did to me.

After all those years of captivity, I finally escaped. I enrolled in GED courses, then [attended] community college, [and am now enrolled in the] University of Maryland University College (UMUC). As a student at UMUC, I am focusing on Humanitarian Work and Homeland Security. Where I come from, lack of knowledge about human trafficking [and human] rights is an everyday reality. I am the first woman from my country of Cameroon in West Africa to have been fortunate [enough to pursue an education]. I am a full-time undergraduate student at UMUC; I understand that I am in a unique position to do something about the [reality of] human trafficking in West Africa, in my hometown, and the rest of the world.

HS: Are you a member of any human trafficking-related survivor networks that you would like to mention?

EC: I am part of a speakers’ bureau website called Survivors of Slavery and a group called the National Survivor Network (NSN). [S]ome of the NSN members have become like my family because they understand me.

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

EC: The person that has really played a major role is Melanie Orhant, and God.

HS: Are you working on any current projects?

EC: I would like to work for an organization, [but paid positions are hard to find.]  I am working really hard to see if I could open a nonprofit in Cameroon, but it isn’t easy.

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

EC: I want the public to understand that human trafficking happens in many forms. The focus should not always be on sex trafficking and thinking that human trafficking only involves forced sex. Also, I want the public to understand that victims of human trafficking are from all over the world.

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

EC: The message I would like to [pass on] to other survivors is [this:]

Don’t let the media separate us.  [This] is not a competition but instead a fight to save other lives. We must be truthful with our stories because it can save many lives around the world.

HS: How can people reach you for questions or more information?

Email: EvelynChumbow@yahoo.com

Website: Survivors of Slavery

The James House: Supporting victims of domestic violence in Virginia

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

The James House

HOPEWELL, Va., June 15, 2013 – Collaboration with local service providers is key for first responders working with survivors of any type of crime, including forms of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. It is important to know what services are available in your specific areas; this includes substance abuse programs, domestic violence programs, and any other outreach services.

Not all victims are in need of the same services; and your knowledge of distinctions between programs may be what sets a person on the path to recovery. This week’s featured service provider is The James House Intervention/Prevention Services, Inc.

How was The James House (TJH) started?

TJH was founded in 1989 on the belief that all people deserve a life free from interpersonal violence. We began as the Survivor’s Outreach Center serving people affected by sexual violence. We later became the Sexual Assault Outreach Program, and when we obtained funding to begin providing services for those affected by domestic violence and stalking as well, we became The James House.

What is your organization’s mission statement?

Providing support, advocacy, and education for people in the Tri-Cities area of Virginia affected by sexual violence, domestic violence, and stalking to empower them to become healthy, safe, and self-sufficient.

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

Phil Munson: Chairperson; Corie Tilman Wolf: Vice Chairperson; Cheryl Justice: Treasurer; William Lightfoot: Secretary; William Gandel, Andy Clark, Margaret Morgan, and Estee Newby Howard

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

Our main business office is located in Hopewell, Va. We have satellite office space in Petersburg, Prince George County, Dinwiddie County, and southern Chesterfield County. Our service area includes the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, and Petersburg and the counties of Prince George, Dinwiddie, and southern Chesterfield.

Do you offer outreach services, residential programs or both? 

We do not provide residential services. Our outreach services are geared towards raising awareness about the issues surrounding interpersonal violence. Our direct services include a 24-hour hotline, safe shelter, safety planning, individual counseling, support group, case management, food pantry, clothes closet, community referrals, court accompaniment, and hospital accompaniment. All of our services are cost-free and confidential.

If you offer housing, how many individuals are you able to accommodate? Which ages/genders are qualified for housing? Are you able to house mothers with children?

We offer safe shelter for anyone who is in imminent danger from sexual or domestic violence. This service is available to women, men, transgender, and children under 18 if accompanied by an adult.

Are the services you provide in accordance with any particular curriculum?  What sets you apart from other programs? How are your services specialized for those populations which you serve?

TJH is accredited by the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. We must meet stringent standards in order to be an accredited sexual and domestic violence agency. We do not follow a set curriculum for any of our services; however, we do have several curricula available for use with support groups, etc.  We are the only accredited domestic & sexual violence agency in our service area providing specialist interpersonal violence services.

Do you have any programs / curricula that are specific to victims of sex trafficking or other forms of human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse / exploitation?  If so, please describe.

We provide services for people affected by any kind of sexual violence. We do use “The Courage to Heal Workbook” with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We do not have curricula specific to human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.

What is the best way for victims or for first responders to reach you for services?

Our 24-hour crisis line number is (804) 458-2840. We can also be reached at helpline@thejameshouse.org or through our website: www.TheJamesHouse.com.

Are there necessary avenues for law enforcement/social services to follow before a victim can be placed into your program?

Anyone can make a referral to our agency. We then talk with/meet with the person to do an extensive intake/needs assessment to determine if they are eligible for our services. If someone is not eligible for our services, we make referrals to community agencies that may be more appropriate.

Are you involved with other efforts related to advocacy within your state or community? 

The James House is a member agency of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance; four local and one regional Domestic Violence Task Forces; four Sexual Assault Response Teams and one Sexual Assault Review Board (on Fort Lee).

Please share any recent awards or annual events.

The James House was recognized by the Cameron Foundation with the 2012 Excellence in Organizational Management Award and the 2008 Cleveland A. Wright Award for outstanding Community Service. We have a very successful outreach campaign and fundraising event during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

This month, we will host our Volunteer/Donor Appreciation Event; and in September, we will take part in the Amazing Raise event sponsored by the Community Foundation.

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

Our greatest achievement is providing quality, meaningful services for people affected by interpersonal violence to help them become empowered to live safe, healthier lives. Our greatest recognition was being the recipient of the Excellence in Organizational Management Award last year.

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

We will continue to build upon our solid foundation, serving more people and raising more awareness about the issues of domestic and sexual violence.

How can the public help you with your plight?

TJH relies heavily upon individual and corporate monetary donations. We receive grant funding for a great deal of our direct service work, but we need to raise approximately $100,000 a year to meet our budget. We also have a solid group of community volunteers who assist us with things such as answering our hotline, co-facilitating support groups, providing accompaniment to court/hospital, sorting donations, attending community events to raise awareness, etc.

Our Board of Directors is also made up of volunteers as are our board sub-committees. We are always on the lookout for passionate, motivated, committed people willing to donate their time. We collect used cell phones and ink cartridges and we always have a need to small denomination gift cards to gas stations and stores such as Walmart, Target, Kmart, etc.

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

Contact us at helpline@thejameshouse.org, through our website http://www.thejameshouse.org, or by calling (804) 458-2704.

What is your organization’s Twitter handle and Facebook page?

Twitter @TheJamesHouse

Facebook: The-James-House

Interview with Brooke Elise Axtell, activist and artist

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

Brooke Elise Axtell

AUSTIN, TX, June 8, 2013 – Brooke Elise Axtell is a writer, activist and performing artist. Brooke talks about how she became invoved in anti-human trafficking advocacy, her own history and her current projects.

Brooke, how did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy/speaking?

After pursuing my own healing path as a survivor of sex-trafficking and witnessing the prevalence of this injustice within the U.S., I felt compelled to speak out and encourage other survivors through their recovery. My passion for social justice compels me to make this oppression visible and address it at the level of both policy and cultural awareness.

My compassion compels me to keep speaking because I know that countless women and children are continuously exploited and subjected to sexual violence for profit.  [Victims] need to know that they are not alone. I was faced with a choice: to allow the shame of sexual exploitation to silence me or transmute my pain into healing power. I am not a victim. I am a warrior for peace.

Are you a member of any networks that you would like to mention?

I am a member of the Truth Forum, a Speaker’s Bureau for Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, an organization devoted to educating youth about human-trafficking. One of the founders is a direct descendent of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. I am honored to be a part of their efforts to engage young people in abolitionist work.

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

I was forced into sex-trafficking in Dallas, Texas when I was 7; but I didn’t disclose my abuse until my early 20’s. At that time I reached out to Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN) for a counseling referral. I am now part of their Speaker’s Bureau. I also found support through SafePlace in Austin, Texas. I am deeply grateful for their help.

Are you working on any current projects?

I recently joined the Editorial Collective for The Feminist Wire. I am excited to be part of such a vibrant community devoted to all forms of social justice. We feature the work of courageous writers across the spectrum of gender, age, class, race, sexuality, ability and geography who are passionately engaging with current events and offering creative solutions to myriad oppressions.

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

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at the Annual Crime Victims Awards Ceremony in Austin along with former Oklahoma Senator, Brooks Douglass. I also spoke at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference on the “Women Write Their Lives” panel hosted by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter. I am fascinated by the healing power of telling our stories and creative expression as a form of revolutionary resistance.

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

My essay “Shame Illuminated” is featured in the upcoming anthology Gathered Light: The Poetry of Joni Mitchell’s Songs. I explore her song “The Magdalene Laundries” and my personal connection to her music. Here is a brief excerpt:

The fear of disbelief is common for survivors of abuse, but particularly those who suffer through religious and clergy abuse. The elevated social status and unquestioned spiritual authority attributed to religious leaders exaggerates the power difference between abuser and victim. The Catholic Church has yet to take responsibility and make amends for grievous acts of continued abuse. Sadly, the Magdalene Laundries is just one chapter in an unfolding epic of violation…I am deeply intimate with the way religious language and authority can be used to justify abuse…

My mom introduced me to Joni Mitchell’s music when I was a young woman. Mitchell is one of the artists who taught me how to transmute pain into healing power and insight. It is the power to create, to unlock the silences that keep us bound in shame, that prepares the way for a spirituality of liberation. This space of the spirit must also include reverence for the bodies of women and girls.”

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

My greatest achievement was finally sharing my own story and creating SHE: Survivor Healing + Empowerment, a healing community for survivors of rape, abuse and sex-trafficking. Through this process, I have connected with countless survivors across the globe and regularly have the opportunity to help traumatized individuals find recovery resources in their area.

Healing is a deeply intimate and often excruciating process for survivors. They feel comfortable reaching out to me because I have been transparent about my own struggles and devotion to a path of liberation. I advocate for what I call Radical Recovery, the fertile intersection between inner healing and social justice. Human trafficking is both painfully personal and systemic, so activists and allies must consistently address both dimensions.

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

This is happening in your community and it is your responsibility to take a stand. Take a stand against everything that contributes to the normalization of sexually exploiting women and girls for profit, including male entitlement and privilege expressed through violence. All these issues are interconnected.

How can the public help you with your plight?

At this time I would love support through additional speaking opportunities to help raise awareness, encourage recovery and introduce creative solutions in communities across the U.S.

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

The pursuit of social justice is not sustainable without a fierce commitment to self-care. Cultivate consistent practices that nourish and replenish you. For me that includes prayer, meditation, writing, nature walks, swimming and being honest with my allies. Open yourself to compassionate community and seek out the support of other activists. Stay close to people who affirm your worth. Let go of those who do not have the capacity to honor you and your work. Be gentle with yourself in the process. It is easy to take on the burden of this issue as if it were yours alone. But you are not alone. We are standing with you.

Are there any other accomplishments you would like to mention?  Have you published a book? 

Through my poetry collection, Kore of the Incantation, and my CD of original music, Creatrix; I explore the healing power of art, intimacy and the Sacred Feminine. Writing and performance have been vital aspects of my restoration. Sex-trafficking deeply shatters a person’s sense of worth, power and identity. The arts provide a space for reclaiming and rebuilding the dignity of our personhood.

What is your Twitter handle and Facebook page?

Twitter: @SurvivorHealing

Facebook: SHE: Survivor Healing + Empowerment

Interview with Justin Wassel: Human trafficking abolitionist

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

Justin Wassel

CORAL SPRINGS, FL, June 5, 2013 – Justin Wassel, author of the blog, Crossover at Eagles Point is an anti-human trafficking abolitionist. Today he spoke with us about his philosophy and his mission.

Justin, what would you say is your personal mission statement?

To pour the love and grace of God into the garden of every heart, and defend and protect those who are vulnerable and exploited in any way.

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

Many years ago, I first heard of trafficking in third world countries. But a few years ago through a church leadership email, I saw an advertised need of a street outreach van driver for a local organization. I thought it was a wonderful idea, but little did I know it was an anti-trafficking organization. I quickly found that not only was trafficking very pervasive in the US, but it was in my city, and there were several local organizations fighting it. God immediately vice-gripped my heart and I have been studying and involving myself in every front of abolition that I can since. It’s something that I can’t help but keep centric to any ministry and effort I will ever be a part of going forward.

What specific topics do you speak about and to which audiences do you prefer?

Honestly, I have a passion for every front of abolition and anti-trafficking, and that desire carries over into speaking to any type of audience, whether professional, general public, or specific groups. The topics vary depending on the audience and purpose of the speaking engagement, but I keep to a few common threads in everything, especially staying true to our sisters who have endured.

What sets you apart from other speakers on similar topics?

I am not sure what makes me different from others. There are so many incredible advocates and service providers, some known and many unknown, some of them survivors of exploitation and some simply with genuine hearts for the cause, all far greater than myself. So many of them are credentialed by their firsthand experience and/or educational and service background, and I am humbled to be numbered among them.

Are you working on any current projects?

Among a few other things, I am currently helping admin an anti-trafficking themed music compilation for Price of Life NYC, due to be complete in the fall. They will sell it while touring several colleges around the NYC area to educate and inform students and adults. All of the sales will go specifically towards the care for survivors and at-risk mothers and children served by Nomi Network and Restore NYC.

www.priceoflifenyc.org/expose

I am also assisting in the reach to men who have been abused; this program is through Overcoming Abuse God’s Way. They began centered around ministering to women but are expanding into efforts to serve men, and eventually teens and children. I am helping them with a curriculum that can be used for trainers as well as directly with those being served.

Please share any upcoming events or honors.

I had the opportunity to travel to see some more colleagues and organizations in person I have been networking and collaborating with, and speak to a group of service providers and first responders.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment?

One of the most special things to me, besides some rescue and placement coordination, has been the utmost privilege of connecting on a professional level with several amazing people, women and men, who have survived exploitation, and furthermore, that a few of them consider me their friend. They have no idea how honored I am.

What message about human trafficking or human rights do you most want to communicate?

These are our sisters, our sons and daughters, our children. It not only can happen to anyone, it already has happened to so many. We have the basic civil responsibility to be aware and to report questionable behavior to 911 or 888-3737-888 (national hotline). We have a human responsibility to keep our heart tender towards the issue, and to live in a way that does not support or reinforce it.

I also want to especially speak to men’s and young men’s hearts. We are at our greatest as servant-leaders and protectors and defenders of dignity and honor for women and children. This brings out the very best in us, and it reaffirms the way we were made to be. If we men could focus more on caring for others with more availability to them instead of living self-serving lives where our partners and children are accessories to be fit in where they can, we would find lasting peace and satisfaction we seek in those other things, and our world would look a whole lot different.

Have you created an organization or do you work for an anti-human trafficking organization? 

I have networked with and assisted or served with several from a distance and local to where I’ve lived, and I still support them in whatever ways I can.  But now, in addition to the two projects previously mentioned, the couple I’m probably closest to are:

Lowcountry Coalition Against Human Trafficking: www.lcaht.org

Art 4 Abolition: www.art4abolition.org

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

People may message me through messaging my Facebook page, mentioning me on Twitter, or by commenting on my blog. I am very willing to answer questions or get answers for people, as well as serve or network within the anti-trafficking community and other adjacent areas of service if someone feels I can be of assistance to their effort.

Twitter:  @epcrossover

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/epcrossover

Blog: http://epcrossover.wordpress.com