SANTA MARTA GROUP-KENYA CONFERENCE

As a follow up to the 3rd Africa Santa Marta Group (SMG) conference which was convened in September 2020, Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa (CHTEA) and the Santa Marta Group (SMG-Kenya) have collaborated to convene the first ever in-Country SMG conference on 10th December 2020. The essence of this conference will be to consolidate the gains made as a country in collaborating with Government, security agencies, the judiciary, the immigration and the office of the prosecutor on matters human trafficking.

SMG is an initiative of Pope Francis since April 2014. In his own words during the first conference, the Pope did not mince words when he said the following:

“Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”

Similarly, he went further to address the combined gathering of world leaders at that same conference and made a powerful statement which continues to inspire and resonate with our current efforts:

“The very fact of our being here to combine our efforts means that we want our strategies and areas of expertise to be accompanied and reinforced by the mercy of the Gospel, by closeness to the men and women who are victims of this crime.”

The SMG-Kenya lead, Fr Nicholas Makau has taken the first step to ensure that in Kenya, all actors come together to create the much desired synergy for more efficiency. “In response to our mandate as a faith-based group to serve all people and particularly the most vulnerable, and in the foot-steps of that first SMG conference, we intend to explore ways that can help towards the eradication of human trafficking in our country. We are convinced that through collaboration and commitment of all players, it is possible to end human trafficking and halt the suffering of so many people who have been engulfed into it.  Civil Society Organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, Faith Based Organizations and the Governments have named it candidly as a wound in the society, the ultimate slavery, the scourge against human dignity and exploitation of people, he states in his clarion call for unity of purpose.

“Among the key issues that surround human trafficking and other forms of exploitation is the incentives linked to it. Even after people see the suffering, torture, maiming and deaths related to human trafficking, others are still rued in to it. The aftermath of a returnee, (an attempted or successfully trafficked victim) leads to the problem of social stigma, re-integration and the need for physical healing. The protection of victims, the risk involved for those who denounce or expose perpetrators is also a reality. The issue of those who cross borders, and find themselves cloistered in ‘deathbed’ houses without any means to reach out. Those who manage to escape, enter into insecurity, isolation, no identity or travel documents and lack of finances to survive. Some have been re-trafficked and have entered into servitude or illegal business for survival. Others live in very pathetic health situations (in as long as they survive death, permanent health conditions and can do literally nothing for themselves again)”, Fr Makau continues.

As a group, SMG-Kenya Conference realizes how human trafficking has not only become a tool of slavery but has demeaned human dignity, with all its implication in a young nation like Kenya. The SMG-Kenya believes very strongly that sharing equips stakeholders and enriches interventions in order to forge common action on the same.

The human trafficking situation has been aggravated by the current reality of the COVID-19 among other social factors that have created greater potential for vulnerability and even favored opportunities for exploitation of more innocent people. The closure of places that offer jobs, increased use of uncontrolled online activities while emotional and mental instability have become easy to manipulate.

Fr. Makau concludes by stating that “the aim is not only to synergise but also to create awareness and produce priorities that can bring permanent solutions beyond 2020”.

CAN WE LEARN FROM THE “NORDIC MODEL?”

In recent copies of our Newsletter I have been reflecting on the subject of Online Child Exploitation which is ‘sucking’ millions of children worldwide into a vortex of an ‘out-of-control’ porn industry.  This has happened because children of all ages have largely been confined to home due to the pandemic of Covid 19. This has inflicted untold damage on young minds today and it is happening right now as you read this article.  Just thirty years ago it was difficult to access porn but today it is freely available even on mobile phones. I find it first thing in the morning when I switch on my phone and at other odd times during the day.   I immediately delete/dismiss it for a number of reasons – it would just overwhelm and leave me sickened to watch such acts which are a grave insult to human dignity.  Each image is an abuse/s suffered by real people mainly women and children.

As Dr. Gail Dines in her book “Pornland” points out, there are 20,000 such new images posted on the Internet each week and people get paid for each of these images.  That is why porn is a multi-billion $ industry.  It is also the reason why more and more new/young/fresh victims of trafficking are needed to ‘keep the fires burning’ Also in the abuses suffered by children in these images, she says it is a “Real Child who is being abused in such a grotesque manner and it is possible to hear even the cries of the child as s/he is being abused”. Shocked is not the word for it but also sad to hear that young boys of 11-16 are caught up with this on the internet. We are living in an image society and have withdrawn somewhat from the printed word.  The media presents pretty women movies and glorifies ‘the Johns’ (by Victor Malerek). There are more hits a day for porn than Amazon, Twitter and Netflix combined. Hard porn is free and soft porn has to be paid for. There are 33.5 billion hits on the search engine, 100 million a day. Is there any solution to get rid of this? Try to get Laws passed to regulate it out of existence?  We cannot give out alcohol and cigarettes to young people but can give out porn.  This leaves men with erectile dysfunction and depression as well as being prone to violence.

How Can We Unite to Vote it Out?

Recently, a friend of mine shared some notes she had made after she attended a meeting in Boston, USA, which was organized by the office of the Mayor under the auspices of “Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation” (CEASE), of which Boston is one of ten cities engaged in this battle in USA.  After the opening remarks the first speaker was Anders Sunesson, Sweden, Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons, gave the history of the origin of the Nordic/Equality model as it took off in Sweden.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s there was a great increase in men’s violence against women – does this sound a little like we have in Kenya and other African countries.  The Swedish Government decided that it needed to look into gender equality because it was easy to buy access into women’s bodies and they did not want this type of society for their children.

Legislation in Sweden

Initially there was great opposition to government interference by the women who said they choose prostitution.  The men said; ‘I have needs, I like porn, my wife does not agree, I am doing them (women in prostitution) a favor’ It was decided to criminalize the buyer for using someone else’s vulnerability.  Over time, the ratio decreased in opposition from 50/50 to 80/20.  Now it is safer in Sweden for a prostituted female as, not one woman has been murdered since 1999.  Today, Sweden is almost a ‘dead end’ for prostitution, e.g. if a man at Stockholm International Airport asks in any ‘duty free’ shop where he might call up and purchase a woman for an hour or a night, he can be reported by that shop assistant at the airport.  Around that time The Netherlands (Holland) legalized prostitution and the outcome in these two countries has been as different as day and night. Holland, criminalizes Human Trafficking and aims to control it by legislation.  But legalizing prostitution has driven it underground and as we know migrants and refugees are a prime target group for trafficking and being prostituted.

In 2014, the European Parliament passed a resolution considering prostitution to be violence against women and therefore should be legislated as a crime of violence. In this perspective, prostitutes are victims of sexual exploitation and not sex workers. Indeed the resolution states that prostitution and forced prostitution are both a cause and consequence of gender inequality which it aggravates. It goes on to highlight the fact that prostitution and forced prostitution are forms of slavery, incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights.

CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND THE GROWING STATE OF WORRY

In the last one month, Kenya has been treated to a flurry of episodes where young teens (aged 14 – 18years) have been busted by the police engaging in highly immoral behavior. It all began with the 7 girls who disappeared into the thin air without their parents’ consent only to re-appear after their photos and appeals went viral on social media. The girls were reported to have been linked to gang like groups who thrive on underage cult-like practices as well as engaging in group sexual activities. Even though the girls claimed that they had taken a break away from the “suffocation” occasioned by routine stay at home, it was never the less clear that these teens may have been involved with possible exposure to unqualified online pornography and criminal groups.

The seven girls’ story above seemed to have demonstrated the rot perpetuated by the digital age technology and the lack of control alongside weak guidelines towards access for the same by teenagers. Within the same week of the above incident, another group of 44 underage teens (aged between 14 – 18 years) was arrested while holed up in a house at another suburb in Nairobi. The house where the group was found had plenty of alcoholic drinks and drugs (cannabis sativa/bang) besides dozens of used and unused condom packets………an indication that illicit sexual activities could have been taking place. Unlike the first group, this group of teenagers were reported to have been recruited from a wide geographical area covering Nairobi, Kiambu and Machakos Counties, according to the Anti Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (AHTCPU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

The final episode within the same week was reported to have involved another group of 21 underage teenagers who were busted and arrested by police while partying in celebration of a birthday for one of them. The teens, as reported by the AHTCPU had forged their ages to beat the underage cut off age for drinking alcohol.

What is the bottom line here?

Online digital technology has extensively been exploited by human traffickers and child abusers to achieve their desired goals. Yet, all this happens within the confines of our living and bed rooms where most teenagers spend hours on end chatting and meeting new acquaintances online. It is high time that the subject of online digital technology gets revisited to provide a more robust guideline on usage and the overall content access by different age groups.

Global perspective on Pornography

In a Global Summit in July this year entitled “End Sexual Exploitation 2020” presented a heart rending film involving survivors of child pornography addiction. According to the video, children do best when watching as they have photographic minds. According to research findings within the film, curiosity and access to child porn develops further interest and anxiety amongst young persons. Many parents do not understand what porn is all about yet 7 year olds bump onto porn and creates curiosity and anxiety and drives further interest.

Thirty years ago, porn was pretty difficult to find or come by. Adolescents hardly knew what porn was about.  Beginning 2007, all porn became available through videos that were even offered for free through iPhone and other smartphone devices. Smartphones and the emergence of internet connection created engine searches such as google and others through which pornography became an easy to find phenomenon.

The research for example discovered that Technology however is not the enemy; but rather the usage and understanding of the content that devices offer to users. Content generates curiosity and young people search for more information and answers in discrete ways without the notice of adults. Even though parents may bring up children with the correct values, it does not guarantee upright behavior as children are able to access porn content online. According to the researchers, children are normally more interested with nudity as they seek to learn how adults are ‘wired’

In Sweden alone, out of the 800,000 school going age children, 300,000 had already interacted with pornography by the age of 10 years and below. It all begins as video games before children bump onto free porn sites and they begin to share among themselves.  According to the research, porn addiction affects adult life as exemplified by some of the survivors who testified that they were unable to live a sexually active life after 18 years. Most porn addicts report that porn radiates sexual desire at a young age which leads to masturbation and eventually creates an escapism attitude and loss of confidence. At an extreme situation, the addiction leads to induced erectile dysfunction amongst addicts.

How does Porn Work

Among most youngsters, porn begins with exchange of naked selfies with an urge to experiment on sexual escapades which then lead to violent sexuality behavior.  According to Russ Tuttle, one of the researchers, “we are about to lose an entire generation to pornography”. How can device manufacturers be incorporated into this discussion to produce gadgets with specifications for children only? At another study involving 6,000 kids below the age of 10 years, 26% confirmed to have interacted with pornographic materials. The effects of porn addiction can be exhibited through unconventional dressing by young girls, listening to sexy music, diminished respect for social ethics and in other extreme cases, boys are reported to abuse their girlfriends by exposing them to their genitals. Other recorded effects of porn addiction include physical and emotional damage for boys aged between 14 – 18 years having premature ejaculations and splashing ensuing fluids onto their girlfriends. It is almost becoming a norm that online porn has normalized the negative culture that adults cannot accept as part of social ethics and it increases the level of youth violence and abuse.

THE UNTOLD STORIES OF THE KENYAN-LEBANON RETURNEES

After a daunting task to bring back hundreds of Kenyans who were stranded in Beirut, Lebanon, their stories have continued to be full of despair and dejection. 99.9% of these returnees were ladies……. some expectant mothers and others with babies. CHTEA was deeply involved with their return and has continued to offer support to a minimal number due to strained resource base.

In actual sense, the stories which came through from these ladies upon their return leave a shocking trail of victimization, both away and back home Most of these victims had been away for periods ranging between 1 and 10 years. Most of them claimed to have been trafficked in the guise of well-paying jobs. Highly fictitious salaries were quoted by the recruitment agencies and worse still, their working environments turned out to be pale images of their own imaginations.

A majority of the victims (over 80%) reported having dangerously escaped from their alleged employers-turned exploiters and ended up on the streets of Beirut. Here, they huddled together in rent-shared small rooms as they sought to do menial jobs such as washing clothes/laundry, working at morgues, cleaners and massage parlours, among others. Most of them complained of very low earnings…………. hardly enough to pay for their bills. This forced a majority of these ladies to live double lives; it was either part-time prostitution, drug peddling or porn production.

With so little in earnings, the ladies could hardly afford to travel back home, even as they wished the whole reality could turn out to be a dream. A good number of them had resigned to their own fate and lost hope of ever coming back home. Most of them could not withstand the stigma of ever traveling back home with nothing, and yet their families and dependents hoped that their lives would change for the better.

For some, the pain was too heavy to bear, “my mother convinced my father to sell a piece of land in order for me to pay the trafficking agent a whopping two hundred thousand Kenya shillings (US $ 2000). My father sold on condition that I would send back money to buy another land. When I returned home with nothing, my mother had to put me into a rented room far from home to protect me from my brothers’ wrath. My mother was also afraid that her marriage to my father would lead to a divorce”.

Another returnee victim who came back six months’ expectant retorted that, “I am by the road side at the city stadium, stranded and with nowhere to go. My blood pressure is high, Am six months’ pregnant and I have nowhere to sleep. Kindly help. I was given your number by……………….,” read her WhatsApp message to a CHTEA staff.

It was even grimmer for others who found that all their remittances towards a savings scheme had been spent by close family members. Some had sent in money to buy land, others to pay for school fees for their children, while others expected a fat bank account. One of such victims was quoted to have said that, “had it not that I had no evidence for all the money I sent to my mother, I would have cut her into pieces and this conversation with you would not have happened at all as I would be in jail”.

The above stories are only a sample broken lives and a clear demonstration that most of the Kenyan-Lebanon returnees have continued to be victimized through stigma, rejection, further exploitation by family members and an unwelcoming community. A number of cases reported having been chased away from home………………. surviving on begging and well-wishers’ hand- outs. These and many more life breaking stories are just but a glimpse of how human trafficking totally dehumanizes victims and renders them completely helpless and creates further vulnerability for future trafficking realities.

So far, 125 Kenyans have returned since the commencement of evacuation in August 2020. The need for support is immense and has completely outstretched CHTEA’s capacity to help victims restart lives. Any contribution towards this end would be highly appreciated and transparently accounted for

UNIQUE VULNERABILITY OF GIRLS IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING: THE KARAMOJA GIRLS

In an effort to understand why girls are increasingly being targeted for human trafficking in East Africa, CHTEA was able to reach out to a specialist based in the US. Dr Celia, as she is known, has worked with many young people (both Migrants, Caucasian, Black and White) for many years to try and unravel the mystery surrounding girls’ perceived appetite for being trafficked. In her in-depth study, Celia realized that young girls consider themselves to be misunderstood and more times lacking role models in their families, among other factors. In her own words, Dr Celia narrates her experience as follows:

“I remember interviewing trafficked girls and at the end of each interview, I would always ask them to share with me some information on what they would like me to pass along to the adults that are trying to help young people like them. Most of their comments were gathered around three areas:

  • Tell the adults to keep me busy and positive
  • Tell the adults we want to be loved, so show us love
  • Tell the adults to help us before we get caught up in it

Soooo as promised, I’m delivering the message to you. The question I have for you is: “What will you do to keep at-risk youth busy and positive? What are you doing to show youth at-risk genuine and positive love? What are you doing to help them before they become victims?

The best way to help girls before they are “caught up” in it is to get them involved in effective prevention now”.

The above excerpt is a testimony for similar trends in East Africa. For example, while the Karamoja girls from Uganda have earned the face of child trafficking in East Africa, it is more about the girl-child’s vulnerability status. Having moved out of their homes at the Karamoja region in North Eastern Uganda, the Karamojong girls find themselves in one of the most complicated girl trafficking rings in the East African region. The plight of most of these girls remains unknown even as their parents sell and release them to strangers who promise good tidings once the girls take up “well-paying jobs” in Nairobi or Kampala.

At the heart of this trafficking web, is a well-nourished and oiled network of actors who range from family members, friends, neighbours, strangers, religious leaders up to State Security and Immigration agents at border points and along the route. All actors stationed at different points of the ring stand to benefit from this very secretive and discrete illegal human trade.

In a recent documentary prepared by CHTEA, a group of 3 Karamojong girls are seen being escorted from a delivery point in Nairobi’s Kamukunji area through the densely populated slums of Majengo, Shauri Moyo, Pangani and into the Eastleigh estate which is a predominantly ethnic Somali habitat (both local and foreigners). The three girls in the video were tracked down at dawn by a CHTEA camera man and a resident of the Majengo slum. The video footage clearly identifies a hijab dressed woman of Somali descent walking ahead of the girls. Ahead of the woman is a pair of white Muslim “kanzu” wearing men of Somali descent too. A normal observer may not make sense of any relationship as the two men keep walking ahead while chatting until they arrive at the point of delivery where they signal the hijab dressed woman before they proceed. The two men are the security for both the lady and the girls. The lady then leads the three girls into an apartment where they are presumably received and distributed to their would be masters. Both the lady and the two men are part of the extensive network of collaborators in one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises of the modern times.

The key lesson from this video clip is that human trafficking happens in our daily lives even as people engage in the most obvious activities and undertakings of life. It therefore behooves every human being to be aware of the realities and the existence of the underworld……looking beyond the naked eye.

The lives of these 3 girls undoubtedly took a new turn for an uncertain future as they embarked on a totally new life where their masters take full control and manipulate their destiny from that early age. It is incredibly unbelievable that all these activities take place in the full view of the public even as traffickers build formidable avenues to operate undeterred.

WATCH HERE

PORN AND CHILD TRAFFICKING: ‘ALL HELL LET LOOSE’

“All Hell Let Loose”  it’s an expression we use sometimes in describing something shocking, awful, instilling fear or danger, beyond one’s wildest imagination.  It could be an event which has passed down from one generation to the next and occasionally is a happening which enters the history books of some place/s at some point in time.   For me this describes what I read recently in the “Irish Catholic” 1st October, 2020  issue by Jason Osborne.  The heading reads “Netflix’s ‘misunderstood’ film Cutiesmisunderstands child abuse’  I maintain that Netflix (Internet Service Provider) as the platform hosts knew exactly what was contained in the movie – they were Not blind to one of the worst forms of pedophilic material.

Fr Shay Cullen, of the Preda Foundation in the Phillippines, describes it as “playing into the whole pedophilia-sex industry”  The film follows a group of 11 year old girls as they take to ‘twerking’ – a dance form generally associated with being sexually provocative.  The film also sees the minors discuss pornography and one taking pictures of their genitalia.  Netflix has come under criticism on other occasions for their movies but all pale into oblivion when they recently released ’CUTIES’    Cullen also warns that child abuse images are devastating children also.  An example he gives from the Philippines also received a case of three young boys aged 10 and 11 years old, sexually abusing a 6 year old girl.  They had been viewing these child abuse images.  Netflix are a distribution company – how did they not consider the surge of people asking for its cancellation?

The Senegalese-French director Maimouna Doucoure’s debut film describes it as ‘coming-of-age, comedy-drama’, which follows 11-year-old Amy as she experiences the tension between her family’s religious, traditional values and her contemporary enjoyment of the world and its seemingly unlimited freedoms.  The story sees Amy disillusioned with the Islamic faith her family professes, only to be tempted by her rebellious neighbor’s ‘twerking’ group called ‘Cuties’  Leaving old ways behind in favor of the new, she casts off the constraints of her family and takes to the sexually-provocative dance scene.

The Initial Controversy

While the initial controversy was over the poster which Netflix used in promotion of the movie; 11 year old girls scantily-dressed in sexualized poses, the latest controversy surrounds the content of the movie itself.  A clip which has circulated widely on Twitter since the movie’s release has shown one of the dance routines the girls perform and has been roundly condemned as “sexually exploitive” and “hypersexualized”.  The director of ‘Cuties’ insists that she is on the same side as her film detractors.  The critics claim that the film sexualizes children – she does too!!   Writing in the Washington Post, Ms Doucoure said:  “I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icons”  She claims that she made ‘Cuties’ in order to start a debate about the sexualisation  of children in society so that change might be made for the better!!  Is this issue best served by such an explicit visual presentation?  I don’t think so.

Such Graphic Content

A number of experts have had harsh words about the movie’s graphic content; Fr Shay Cullen through his organization in the Philippines (Preda Foundation) said “I think it’s another step of mass media sexualizing a form of child abuse and playing into the pedophilic-sex industry.   These are young children and it definitely promotes pedophilia and child sex tourism”   Is this not what we already see happening in Kenya?  Walk along any beach of the white sands of our Coastal towns and cities, it is there before your eyes – an ‘Mzungu’ (white person) tourist walking with a child/children, mostly girls but boys also.  Other countries who previously had a reputation as high sex tourist destinations like Thailand or Brazil have now put stringent regulations in place against child sex tourism so, pedophiles have turned to Kenya to abuse our children here.  This is not acceptable or have we turned a blind eye and say ‘Oh, yes but tourism is good as it brings in some badly needed cash to our economy’

As Kenyan society becomes increasingly progressive and heedless of former norms, things which were considered taboo in the past will increasingly come before the public eye.  Already many of these are rapidly finding their way especially to our youth on smart phones and use of cyber outlets.   We have definitely moved closer to the cliff edge, now we know that movies can be made of children who are coerced to bow down to the adults who lead, maybe force them into such a lowered level of their dignity.  At this young age they cannot give their permission for a dental procedure and the 11 – mid teenage girl is naturally reluctant to expose their genitalia but in ‘Cuties’ they are tricked into an exposure of their private parts which no doubt they will deeply regret in later life.  Sadly, wherever they go in life, this movie will follow them.   It may also accompany them to a much reduced sense of self-esteem and could potentially pull them along the route of self-harm or suicide.   This is a clear case of Human Trafficking – these girls have been lured – with what promises we do not know.  As children they cannot give informed consent and at the end of it all they are deeply, perhaps irreparably exploited.

ORGAN HARVESTING: INSIDE SOMALIA’S NEW ILLEGAL ORGAN TRADE

                                                            

Combating Human Trafficking through Partnerships

ORGAN HARVESTING: INSIDE SOMALIA’S NEW ILLEGAL ORGAN TRADE

MOGADISHU: Fatiya is a 13 year old girl who goes to work every day as a house help in the rich suburbs of Mogadishu but lives with her mother in one of the most impoverished shanty suburbs of Mogadishu. She doubles up as one of the ‘children hunters’ who roam around Mogadishu streets to snap up children. What she does is criminal but she is coerced into it by agents of a new organ trade syndicate. They have taken advantage of the cruel poverty that defines lives of people in the shanty suburbs. In many countries, her action constitutes human trafficking for organ removal, a serious crime that could land her more than 30 years in prison. But at her age, she might not understand the risk of spending decades behind bars.

Fatiya works on an order basis. Each time she manages to take a child to the agents, she gets 1000 Somali shillings, that’s approximately US$1.74. The “reward” is enticing enough to make a young, unsuspecting girl like Fatiya help the dealers of the illegal organ trade.

The latest order was botched after she “mistakenly” told her mother who was extremely shocked and reported the matter to the police. The police raided the house of the syndicate and managed to rescue 12 children who were reportedly going to be trafficked to Kenya for other destinations through the Mandera border. Through the collaboration of the police, COHF (Candle of Hope Foundation) and CHTEA (Counter Human Trafficking Trust-East Africa), the children were transferred to a safe house and family tracing has begun.

The perpetrators are still walking scot free since in Somalia, there is no comprehensive legal framework to address human trafficking. The law enforcement officers, prosecutorial personnel, and judicial offices remains understaffed, undertrained, and lack capacity to effectively enforce anti-trafficking laws.

COHF and CHTEA through a joint advocacy programme are continuously petitioning the Federal Government of Somalia to sign and ratify international conventions on counter-trafficking in persons.  The two organisations have also jointly shepherded several capacity building sittings involving the Federal Government of Somalia to develop training regime for police and judicial officers to help in identifying and intervening on issues of human trafficking.

DHOBLEY –MOGADISHU: Barwaqo, a 17 year Somali girl living with her uncle in the environs of Mogadishu. She played a major role in rescuing a 1.5-year-old babyboy who was being trafficked presumably for the purpose of organ removal. On that morning, she had boarded a bus headed back to Mogadishu from Dhobley, where she had gone to visit her relatives. As passengers were boarding and taking their seats, a middle aged man carrying a baby approached her. The man introduced himself as a relative to the child and deceitfully narrated to Barwaqo how the child’s mother had just died. He requested her to help in transporting the baby to an alleged father who was in Mogadishu. “The man sounded like a very kind person. He came where I sat and requested for my assistance to carry the baby along the journey and gave me a piece of paper with two mobile phone numbers written on it. One was his’ and the other one for someone else whom he referred as the child’s father. He wanted me to contact the person upon arrival in Mogadishu and hand over the baby to him. I never suspected him” she recounts.   Generally, there are certain principles that are characteristic to Somalis, these being:  respect for elders, trust, generosity and hospitality. The perpetrator took advantage of her naivety as she unsuspectingly agreed to his request and embarked on her journey.

As they were approaching Mogadishu, Barwaqo tried contacting the alleged child’s father whose phone was not going through. She called the person who had given her the baby to inform him about the impending problem. “The man was sounding as if he was a bit worried when I called and told him that I couldn’t reach the alleged child’s father. After a few minutes, he sent me another number through a text message which purportedly, was for the same person.” She narrates. By this time, the bus had arrived at the bus terminus where her uncle was waiting to receive her. After a brief explanation, Barwaqo’s astonished uncle decided to contact the alleged child’s father. The person initially received the call but after realizing that Barwaqo was in the company of another person, he decided to switch off his phone. It was at that moment that Barwaqo and her uncle realized that something was not right. They decided to report the case to the police station where Barwaqo was interrogated and were told that it was a failed human trafficking plan.

Although cases of human trafficking for the purpose of organ sale are not prevalent in Somalia as compared to sex trafficking, there has been an alarming rise of cases in recent times. The sale of human organs has become a lucrative underground business, according to the executive director of Candle of Hope Foundation, a non-governmental organization that is lobbying for the proper laws that prohibit the trade in Somalia/ Somaliland. “The sale of one’s organs is criminal. We have to stop it by all means.” She exclaims.

Candle of Hope Foundation is currently working with CHTEA; also a non-governmental organization in ensuring that Barwaqo and her uncle are receiving the much needed support services in taking care of the baby who is still under their care. COHF and CHTEA are also working in partnership with the relevant government agencies of both Kenya and Somalia and other multinational agencies that work with children so as to ensure proper information is passed and appropriate family tracing is conducted. Through a multi-sectoral approach, a robust and comprehensive approach of screening has been put in place before the hand over the baby to the authorities for repatriation and family reunification is done. COHF and CHTEA has joint working framework which shall monitor the situation to ensure that the child is reunited with his actual family.

*These personal stories have been published with the consent of the victims. The names of the victims have been changed to protect identities. 

 

 

PARTNERSHIP: INCREASING AWARENESS IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

The Yarumal Missionaries approached CHTEA for awareness materials to be deployed in their remote locations of the Samburu County in Kenya. Using generic teaching aid materials availed to them, the team of priests and lay Christians gathered indigenous communities together to educate them about human trafficking. Even though Samburu County might not have much to share about human trafficking, a few days after commencing the awareness campaign, Fr Jairo, the lead facilitator, based in Nairobi was able to pick a case of smuggled Ethiopians, through Samburu and whose case was brought to light after police interception. This case was a clear eye opener to this frontline Priest who appreciated that Samburu County could still be used by traffickers as a transit destination.

Human trafficking awareness campaign in Samburu using CHTEA teaching-aid materials

PORN: THE UNDISPUTED CONNECTION TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING

In 2006, it was estimated that, at $13.3 BILLION, the commercial sex industry in the U.S. brought in more revenue than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined.

The truth is, there has been a 50% decrease in revenue produced since then. Not because people are watching porn less, but due to access to free content. In fact, it is estimated that 70-80% of porn sites are free in the U.S. Unfortunately, porn consumption is reaching staggering heights. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined!

Despite the prevailing belief that porn is victimless, porn fuels trafficking, and in many cases, porn IS trafficking. The following are 7 ways to demonstrate how this happens:

  1. PORN = Gateway to Purchasing People for Sex

Porn addiction is progressive in nature.  Dr. Victor B. Cline, a psychologist that treats people who suffer from porn addiction details the process of porn addiction in the following way:

  • Addiction-Effect: “The porn-consumers got hooked. Once involved in pornographic materials, they kept coming back for more and still more.”
  • Escalation-Effect: “With the passage of time, the addicted person required rougher, more explicit, more deviant, and “kinky” kinds of sexual material to get their “highs” and “sexual turn-ons.” It was reminiscent of individuals afflicted with drug addictions”
  • Desensitization: “Material … which was originally perceived as shocking, taboo breaking, illegal, repulsive, or immoral, in time came to be seen as acceptable and commonplace”
  • Increasing tendency to act out:  In this phase people are more likely to sexually act out the behaviors viewed in the pornography, including hiring women in prostitution.

And in case you still believe the myth of the “happy hooker”, it is important to note that 84% of women in prostitution are under third-party control or pimped or trafficked.

In other words, it is very likely that the person whose porn addiction drives them to purchase a woman for sex is engaging in this transaction with a victim of commercial sexual exploitation/trafficking.

To reinforce Dr. Cline’s findings, 80% of survivors report that their customers showed them porn to illustrate the kinds of sexual acts they wanted. Some people argue that porn is a healthier/safer alternative for people who otherwise might be tempted to engage in sexually deviant behaviors. They say that it is an outlet for aberrant sexual desires. If this were true, consumers of pornography should be the least likely to hire women in prostitution. Unfortunately, research shows that the opposite is true.  Watching porn increases the likelihood that the consumer will hire a prostituted person.

  1. Filmed without Consent or Knowledge

49% of women who have worked in prostitution report being filmed by their traffickers or johns. This is just the percentage of women who knew they were being filmed.

This footage is often streamed and or later distributed. A person viewing this type of pornography would have no way of knowing whether or not the person on the other end of the camera is a willing participant. In many cases, she is not.

In other scenarios, women and girls are drugged, raped and filmed.  Again, the footage is streamed or distributed. Tragically, this is one of the tactics pimps are known to use to traffic their victims.

There is a noteworthy case in Miami where two men, one of them a former police officer, were convicted of trafficking using this very strategy to victimize aspiring models. Under the false promise of opportunities to book work, victims were lured in for a phony audition where they were required to consume and promote beverages on camera. Their drinks were laced with benzodiazepines.  Once the drugs took effect, the women were raped and filmed, and the footage was sold all over the Internet and in porn stores across the U.S.

This is not an isolated incident.  It just happens to be the one in the news.  I have talked to several women whose traffickers have used the exact same tactics.  The only difference is, their traffickers were never brought to justice.

  1. Footage Used as Blackmail

Often, footage, like the above, is used as blackmail to force women to comply with the commands of their traffickers.  For example, she might be threatened that if she doesn’t do what they say, they will show the videos to her parents. I have known women who have experienced the shame of their family receiving pornographic videos and images of them when they tried to stand up to their exploiters.

  1. PORN Used to Advertise Victims

Pimps and traffickers look for ways to make more money.  Often, they force their victims to do pornographic videos, because they can make more money when they advertise women in prostitution as “adult film stars” who are available as “escorts”.[10]Consumers of such videos may not be aware that the women and girls in the videos are actually victims of trafficking.

  1. Live Videos

Unfortunately, the advances in live video technology have resourced traffickers with new avenues of sexual exploitation.  Prostitution, which is often violent in nature, is live streamed and made available to consumers. In many cases, these videos involve minors and/or individuals who are being forced into prostitution.  It is often impossible to distinguish between a video of a willing participant, and those containing victims of trafficking.

  1. Consent or Coercion

Finally, when it comes to the mainstream porn industry, there is the issue of consent versus coercion.  It isn’t always black and white. There are a variety of situations where women who have reported they entered the porn industry by their own choice find themselves in precarious and even threatening situations where they are coerced, and sometimes forced, into performing acts outside of their boundaries.

We have already touched on the addictive and progressive nature of watching porn whereby the addicted person required rougher, more explicit material as time went on.  Even in mainstream porn, there is an incredible display of violence against women. In a content analysis of the 50 top selling porn movies, 88% showed physical aggression towards women, primarily spanking, gagging and slapping.

Again, the demand for this type of content sets the stage for women (even those not operating under third-party control) to be coerced and exploited in order to meet the demand.

Here is what we hear from the women we serve who have been a part of the porn industry.

  • Bait and Switch

In many cases, women will accept a role in a pornographic film based on a fraudulent description of what she is signing up for. For example, she might be told that she is doing a soft-core, girl on girl scene.  When she arrives on set, she discovers that she is not only expected to work with men, but that the scene will involve an act that is outside of her comfort zone or already established boundaries. As I write this, I am doing my best not to share things that might be too triggering or explicit, so I am leaving out the details.  But I will tell you that I have heard stories of things women I care about were required to do in porn that would cause any compassionate person to lose several nights’ sleep.

  • Threats

In the scenario above, when a woman does not want to comply with what is being asked of her, she is often threatened with the loss of money or representation, or told that she will be sued for the time and money she is costing them by not doing what they want.

  • Degradation

Often agents will resort to degradation as a means to coerce women into doing what they want. In her expose  on porn, one woman shared her experience with this:

“Many agents will stoop to degrading their clients as a means of manipulating them to get what they want. They will call them names & tell them they are worthless. The worse they can make these girls feel about themselves, the more these girls are likely to do to win back their attentions. The agent/client relationship is really not that different from that of a pimp/prostitute. Everything is great as long as you’re making them money.”

Even in cases where women are “choosing” to work in porn, there are times when her will is thwarted and she finds herself coerced and threatened into performing degrading or violent acts that violate her personal boundaries.  In these instances, a woman may go from being a willing participant in the porn industry to a victim of sexual exploitation.

  1. Child Pornography

By Federal definition, when a minor is used in a commercial sex act, it is considered sex trafficking, regardless of whether or not force, fraud or coercion can be proved. There is a growing demand for pornography of children, which is distributed online either commercially or peer to peer through exchanges between pedophiles.

According to the Association of Sites Advocating Child protection, the United States hosts more child porn than any other nation.  Based on data analyzed through their hotline, most victims are 11 and under (59%) while a staggering 31% are between one and five years old. Jesus help us! As a mother, and a citizen of the world, I am having a hard time even writing this. It is important that we face reality.  However, now might be a good time to pause to take a few deep breaths and whisper (or shout) some prayers.

Unfortunately, there has also been a growing demand for “teen porn”, representing 1/3 of total daily searches for porn sites.  In fact, according to a Google Trends Analysis, searches for ‘Teen Porn’ have more than tripled between 2005-2013. With the sexual exploitation being fueled by demand, this tragic increase in demand means that now more than ever, our children are at risk.

Bottom line, overall, the link between porn and trafficking is strong and irrefutable. As long as we are seeing the levels of demand that we are experiencing, women and girls, as well as boys and men, will continue to be trafficked and exploited in order to meet this demand. The worst thing we can do is let the enormity of the issue paralyze us into inaction.  It is up to you and I to put a stop to this.

This article is from a guest writer from the U.S.

FACING THE PAIN: A TRUE STORY OF A RECOVERED VICTIM

I spent years hiding from the pain that sexual abuse and rape brought to my life. Because I didn’t deal with the pain, the pain had a way of dealing with me. It manifested in extraordinarily low self-esteem and made me vulnerable to dysfunctional relationships. Eventually, as my life unraveled, I found myself working in a strip club under the control of my abusive boyfriend/pimp.

Thanks to a friend who showed me God’s unconditional love until I was compelled to experience it for myself, I fell in love with Jesus. I discovered the truths that I am loved, valued, and purposed. The more they took root in my heart, the more difficult it became to live in a way that contradicted them.

Empowered by these revelations, I walked away from stripping and the abusive relationship. Still, I didn’t know if there was a place in my newfound faith for all of my pain. The people at church always seemed so happy. Surely, none of them had pasts like mine, I mistakenly thought.

One day, a friend divulged that she had been sexually abused. She was looking for a confidant but I found myself frozen and stiff, terrified of the memories that surfaced as she shared. Sexual abuse had been a taunting “giant” in my life, leaving me paralyzed with fear. I have learned that we cannot overcome what we do not face. Jeremiah 6:14 says it another way, “You cannot heal a wound by saying it’s not there.”

Often, our misdirected efforts to cope with pain lead us into deeper places of despair. Attempts to escape pain can create unhealthy patterns such as overeating, alcohol or drug dependency, eating disorders, self-harm or even binging on Netflix in an attempt to avoid reality. After listening to my friend’s story, I began a journey of facing my pain and exploring the impact abuse had on the trajectory of my life.

As I confronted my pain, I identified with the story of the Israelites in 1Samuel 17. Like me, they were faced with a taunting giant and found themselves paralyzed with fear. Through the example of David, a young shepherd whose extraordinary faith in a faithful God gave him the courage to face the giant, I gained the courage to face the giants in my life. Like David, with God on my side, I overcame them. We must face our pain to overcome it. With God, it is possible.

My story did not end with the pain. In 2003, while pursuing a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA, I founded Treasures, an outreach and support group for women in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking with a Global impact. I have a beautiful daughter who fills my life with laughter, and I’m married to an AMAZING man who supports the call of God on my life. Your story is not over! I am not saying it will be easy. I am saying it will be worth it. And YOU are worth it!

The Writer is a former victim of Sexual Abuse