Once A Victim, Once a Survivor, Now a Liberator

We sat in a coffee shop, Shamere and I. We look like two “normal” women catching up. No one would have guessed that the beautiful, intelligent, young woman across from me was once a slave. I, in fact, did not know that Shamere was a liberator until a few weeks after I started working with her. She would come into work with a smile and a kind word for everyone. She is one of the kindest and most uplifting people that I know. She believes that she went through hell and survived to be able to save others who are still enslaved. She told me that she would not be where she is today without God’s help.


Shamere had attended a New York college on an athletic scholarship. When she was 21, she met the man who would forever change her life. He was sweet, nice, and intelligent. They had in-depth conversations and soon began to see each other regularly. Shamere never knew that he was a pimp looking for his next target. She wanted to go back to school and he promised to help her. His idea of help was forcing her into the commercial sex industry for 18 months. 7 nights a week she was forced to work as a prostitute for a man who she had thought loved her. She was trafficked to 5 different states in those 18 months; New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas, and Florida. Every night she had a quota before she was able to go back to her pimp’s house. Some nights her quota was as high as $1,500 If she didn’t meet the quota she was punished.

Even during her enslavement Shamere was strong-willed and determined. Many times she resisted the men who bought her. For her disobedience, she was severely beaten. Yet this did not stop her. She tried to run away different times, but would return out of fear that her pimp would find her and kill her and her family, as he threatened he would. Even in her fear, she aided two other women in their escape. Shamere’s determination almost got her killed on one occasion. She refused to drive women across state lines and her pimp asked her to choose between death and driving. Shamere chose death. Her pimp put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Surprisingly the gun was not loaded, so he beat her with the gun and then forced her to drive the girls. One was a minor, 12 years old.

Some ask why she didn’t just go to the police. She could not trust them, they had arrested her multiple times, some of the officers were her buyers, and others taunted her, calling her names, as she walked the streets. So Shamere decided that she would stop making her pimp money, if she was unproductive he would no longer need her. Instead of bringing him the quota he asked for she would go back with $2oo, or some times nothing at all. Her pimp angry at her, told Shamere he would give her $5000 and she could leave. But she knew this wasn’t true. She had witnessed him make the same offer to another girl and she had beaten to death for agreeing with his offer. Hearing the clicking of the gun, knowing that this time it would be loaded and she would be killed, Shamere ran.


Many of us believe that we have someone looking out for us, a guardian angel to protect us when life is unbearable. When  Shamere ran, she was saved by a man she calls her Guardian Angel. He gave her a place to rest, food, and a way to call her mom. She cannot remember his name or what he looked like but her Angel gave Shamere a way out.

But Shamere’s story does not stop there. Shamere is a liberator, a leader, and an advocate for all who are enslaved in the commercial sex industry. Her voice is her most powerful weapon and she is bent on making sure that our world, our country, our elected leaders, and our communities know about the horrors of human trafficking. Her recovery process was a long journey, one filled with ups and downs. At first she could not come to terms with her past. Why had she been forced into the life, why had she been arrested by the FBI, alongside of her pimp, and charged as a sex offender when she was a victim? What had she done wrong? For a time, Shamere had no hope, she could not pick up the pieces and she could not tell any of her friends what had happened to her. She made up stories about where she had been for 5 years. Until she met Kevin Bales, she had no reason to live.

Kevin Bales, is the Co-Founder of Free the Slaves and author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 20 Million People, and The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. He included Shamere’s story in The Salve Next Door. Shamere was not ready to share her story yet, to have her name attached to human trafficking. Yet after she met with Bales and began to talk to him about her experience, she began to feel better. She began the process of healing. Bales lit the flame, and Shamere knew that she had to share her story more. She began to work on a survivor’s hot line, answering calls and talking to girls who had gone through that same hell as she had.


Shamere is one of the liberating leaders. She is “The voice of those who are still enslaved; those who perished while enslaved; and the voice for those who are free but don’t have the courage to speak.” She declared that she is living only by the grace of God. He saved her and she knows that she must seek Him first and follow His path for her. Because there are still girls enslaved, Shamere believes her purpose is to raise awareness, to talk to as many people as she can, to shout from the highest mountain, about the life of the  forgotten; women, girls and young boys, that are being enslaved in the sex industry.

Today, she works as the Program Assistant for Shared Hope International, she is a subject matter expert consultant with Fox Valley Technical College Amber Alert TTA;  a member of the DC Human Trafficking Task Force; a member of Who is Stolen performance troupe; a mentor to survivors of sex trafficking; a member of the National Survivor Network  and an international speaker on the issue of sex trafficking. She has been on multiple TV, radio, and news interviews. She has worked with Halogen TV to bring about awareness of human trafficking. She has been at the National Association for Attorney General’s winter meeting, spoken with government officials to try to change laws concerning human trafficking and victims, and has been the guest speaker on many college and university campuses to raise awareness on the issue.

Shamere is an incredible women, who despite her past, is empowered and making a difference in the world. She is following God’s call for her. She knows her path; she is part of the solution. Shamere is not a victim of sex trafficking, not a survivor, but a liberator, a voice fighting for the basic rights for every human being.


Pictures were taken by Kay Chernush of ArtWorks for Freedom – www.artworksforfreedom.org.

Shamere’s website: http://survivorsofslavery.org/survivorsspeakers/shamere-mckenzie/

One More Piece of the Puzzel

I want you to get out there and walk-better yet run!- on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourself out for each other in acts of love…”

-Ephesians 4:1-13-

The women that I have worked with at Shared Hope International give of themselves every day. They are truly following the road that God has set before them. They have a passion, a drive, to raise awareness about sex trafficking. They have dedicated their lives to making sure that every woman and man is treated like a human being, not like someone else’s property. They are committed to ridding our culture of this horrible plague, no matter how bumpy the road or how difficult the climb.

Interns with our founder former Congresswomen Linda Smith.

Interns with our founder former Congresswomen Linda Smith.

Over the past three months I have had the privilege to take part in the 2012 Protected Innocence Challenge, the promotion and organization of Sharing the Hope, our biggest event of the year, and have been introduced to detectives, community members, service providers, law enforcement, and survivors fighting to make a change. I cannot put into words how grateful and honored I am to have worked with such outstanding people. The last two days, while working the Sharing the Hope event, I have been able to see first-hand the amazing work that the people of Shared Hope have done. Close to 300 people, from 30 different states, from every walk of life, came to our event to be educated about domestic minor sex trafficking. We had law enforcement, prosecutors, youth advocates, community advocates, juvenile service providers, and defenders who gave up their whole weekend to be trained in recognizing and protecting “Lacy.” At Shared Hope “Lacy” represents daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, any young girl who could become a victim of sex trafficking. It was incredible to see the collaboration of so many different organizations and people willing to work together for the same goal, to one day see the end of human trafficking.

Those who received Pathbreaker awards.

Those who received Pathbreaker awards.

Part of the weekend was a gala to honor those who are working to prevent sex trafficking. We presented four individuals with the Pathbreaker Awards because they have been paving the path year after year to bring justice, protect victims, find resources for victims, and to raise awareness domestically and internationally in the issue of human trafficking. Ernie Allen, President and CEO for International Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Amy O’Neill Richard, Senior Advisor to the Director, U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Deborah J. Richardson, Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; and Drew G. Oosterbaan, Chief of Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, were all presented Pathbreaker awards for the great work that they have been doing. These men and women are just a few who are making changes in the way our children are treated and the way victims are seen.

Survivor Rebecca Bender

Survivor and advocate Rebecca Bender

Not only did we have community members attending the event, but close to 40 survivors stood with their heads held high, fighting to make sure their voices were heard. Shamere, an incredible woman that I have had the privilege to work with, proclaimed that she was fighting, not for herself, but for the girls still enslaved, the girls trapped in a world of violence, hate, and injustice. I met women who were once living in hell. Yet as I talked to them they glowed with strength and beauty. They are mothers, writers, bakers, mentors, students, founders of organizations for other victims, and as Pastor Sean Wrench said last night, over-comers  They lived a life I could not imagine, I do not pretend to understand the pain they have gone through, but that is not who they are today. They are inspirations for us all. They are truly beautiful women, who have beaten the odds, and who have prevailed.

The impact of Shared Hope stretches far. In 2012 alone they have trained 1,300 people at 7 Do You Know Lacy? trainings,  another 1,100 service providers to intervene on behalf of victimized children,

SHI billboards

SHI billboards

had 21 billboards in 8 states to expose the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking,  influenced states to pass 240 new state bills, equipped 171 women with job skills, allowed 147 women and children to receive shelter, added 318 men to their defenders program, had 15 states raise their grade because of the Protected Innocence Challenge, trained 115 Ambassadors of Hope to lead anti-trafficking efforts in their communities, and trained 1,900 individuals on the Protected Innocence Challenge across the U.S. They are committed to making a change.

William Wilberforce, stated about slavery in the 18th century, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” I know more now than I did when I started and I hope to continue to learn. Now that I do know about modern-day slavery and have met survivors, I can’t turn away. My road has been set before me. My time with this unique and inspirational organization is drawing to an end, but my journey is just beginning. I want to thank everyone I have worked with for inspiring encouraging me.  I will be staying in DC to work at a journalism center. From my work with Shared Hope, I have found the road God is calling me to take. I want to write, to raise awareness on human rights and social justice issues. I want to make people feel, to call people to stand up and do something about the injustice in our world. I want to focus on the people, the everyday men and women who are making a difference somewhere in the world. I cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity to work with Shared Hope. Through this organization another piece of my puzzle has fallen into place and I am excited to see what lies ahead of me.

Interns for Shared Hope.

Interns for Shared Hope.

Standing in front of the new state grades. 15 states improved. Still no A's though.

Standing in front of the new state grades. 15 states improved. Still no A’s though.

Fighting To Be Heard

Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes – goodwill among men and peace on earth.

Albert Einstein

What would you do if you had a story to tell but no one would listen? What if you were a key witness to a crime, you could put an abuser in prison, but you were never given the chance? How as a victim, do you fight to have a voice?

Our voice is one of the most powerful weapons that we have. Some have to ability to use their voice for positive change, to make a difference in the world, to help. Others use their words to manipulate and harm. Still there are those who have had their voice taken away. They are silenced by threats, violence, manipulation, and society. They have been rendered mute because society has said that their voice does not matter. No one wants to believe or hear what they have to say. There is a whole population around the world, and here in the U.S., that is struggling to be heard. Many voices of victims of sex trafficking are quieted. How are we going to make a difference in sex trafficking if victims are not being listened to?

On October 4, 2012, I attended a briefing on Capitol Hill addressing just this issue. The particular incident occurred in the Netherlands. The Secretary General at the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Joris Demmink, was accused of sexually abusing and raping a witness when he was 15. At the age of 14 the victim ran away from home, to Amsterdam where he was approached by a man and offered a place to stay. In the morning he awoke without clothes and found pictures of himself naked. He was threatened, told that the pictures would be sent to his parents if he did not do as the man said. The victim was taken to a brothel for young boys and forced to work with the other boys, ages 14-18. He was rented out for escort service to private clients and parties. In 1998 there was a large investigation of the pedophile network in Amsterdam and the victim became the key witness. Even with the victim’s testimony no prosecutions or complete criminal investigation came about. The victim’s life was stolen away from him. He is now under protection because he knows who the pedophiles are and has had several attempts on his life. At the hearing the victim, who was hidden from us, stated “Throughout my time in the child sex industry and after, I have been abused, rejected, raped, shot at, lied to, and treated as dirt. My life has been ruined…” His plea…to be heard and for the men who took away his life to be punished.

This young man is not the only victim whose cry has gone unheard. Every day thousands of women and young girls are used as objects by men, yet not one of them sees the woman for what she really is, a human being. They think of her as a “whore,” their property for the hour. They put down money and never look into her eyes where they would find fear, sadness, and pain. Journalist and investigative reporter Victor Malaerk, interview prostituted women for his book, The Natashas, as he did he could see their pain, feel their sadness, and hear the shame and humiliation in their voices. What he could not understand was how the men who used these women could not feel or see the same.[1] His guess is as good as mine. The stories that I have been reading, the women I have heard speak, all reveal the same thing, being a prostitute was not something they chose for themselves. The men who use these women pay their money and get what they want and never look at the victim.

Shared Hope found that instead of identifying these women and girls as victims they are misidentified as delinquents and criminals. They are then given a criminal record or put in a detention facility which results in a lack of access to victim of crime funds.[2] Because of a lack of better options many law enforcement personnel are compelled to charge a victim with an offence so that they are protected from their pimp and to keep them from running away. Again this victim is denied access to victim services because she has been charged with a crime.[3] While these women and children are being punished the Johns, the buyers, are not being prosecuted. They receive little or no penalties even if they are buying from a minor. Not only are Johns not being prosecuted they are not recognized at the PROBLEM of child sex trafficking. Without demand there would be no need for children in the commercial sex industry.

Many of these young girls are given a quota by their traffickers, usually 10 to 15 men per night. This number changes based on the time of year, where the girl is being trafficked, and if there are sporting events going on such as the Super Bowl. This number can reach as high as 45 men in one night. According to the National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, a victim who is rented five different times per night, for five nights a week, for five years, is raped by 6,000 men. Yet these girls are seen as criminals while those 6,000 men usually walk away without a punishment.[4] One example happened in In Las Vegas where police found a 50-year-old man with a 12-year-old girl in a pick-up truck. The man had $45 in his pocket and lotion on his hands. The girl stated that he was paying for sex. The police arrested the girl and sent the man on his way. Our laws and society are against victims. There are criminalized, ignored, and silenced.

Samantha Vardaman, the lead on policy issues for Shared Hope International, argues that we need to listen to victims or we will never end slavery. We have a culture of tolerance that we are fighting against and the weak link in the chain is the lack of support for victims. During the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking Launch on November 14, victim Minh Dang gave a very compelling speech. She called for the government, advocates, and abolitionists to partner with survivors, to listen to their voices (If you would like to read Mihn’s speech look at her blog http://akonadi.blogspot.com/). The victims are the ones whose lives are shattered and broken, while the abusers stay whole. There is a call from our government and advocates of victims to listen closer and to help their voices be heard.

I am with Minh, Senator Blumenthal, another intern at Shared Hope and Shamere, another survivor.


[1] Victor Malarek, The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men who Buy It, (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2009), x-xii.

[2] Linda A Smith, Samantha Healy Vardaman, and Melissa A Snow, The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children, (Arlington : Shared Hope Internaional , 2009), v.

[3] Ibid vi

[4] Ibid 18

Dedicated to Dad: Thanks!

Father, dad, pop, these are all names we call the guy who is supposed to protect us. The one who scares away the monsters from under our beds and in our closets, who lets us know it’s okay to be scared. He is supposed to be there to tell us that everything is alright. To tell us that the thunder is God bowling and that it’s okay to be afraid of the dark. The one who helps us learn to ride a bike, plays Legos and doll house with us for hours on end. For many of us, he is the man we want to marry when we are 5 and 6. As we get older and realize he’s Mom’s, we look for a guy who has similar qualities and he becomes the one we want to walk us down the aisle. He scares our boyfriends and makes sure we are brought home on time. He’s the one who worries about his little girls no matter how old or how far away we are. The one who checks every smoke detector in our dorm room move-in day at college. The one who wears his sunglasses so we won’t see the tears in his eye as he drives away the first time. The one who tells us there are real monsters in the world but we can’t let them win and we can’t ever become one.

As I was sitting at work today, going over surveys completed by survivors of sex trafficking, I came across one in particular that broke my heart. In fact I was almost brought to tears. When asked to identify her trafficker the girl simply put, family member. That alone saddened me. Families should be your backbone, the ones who love you when it might seem that others don’t. For 18 years she was used, abused, and sold from one man to the next. Her trafficker, her biological father. Our dads are not supposed to be the monsters, the ones that we fear. Yet there are young girls who are trafficked by their fathers. Dads are here to make the pain go away, not be the cause of it. Yet this girl was trafficked by the man who was supposed to take care of her. The man she should have been able to trust and receive unconditional love from. He used violence, force, coercion, verbal abuse, and manipulation to harm his daughter; his blood. He used his parental power to harm the little girl he should have been protecting. He broke her spirit and her self-esteem. He made her feel dirty, unloved, unwanted.

27 years on the fire department

I thought about my dad, the guy I respect and love. The guy who took me to father daughter me senior year, who helped me buy a car, who I can drink a beer and talk about life with. Who is one of the people I admire the most, who has shown me what it means to stand up for something I believe in, who has shown me what a true man is like. I could not fathom the life this girl lived. The pain she must have felt, the utter betrayal. I feel so blessed to have, not only the father that I have, but my family.

So I ask all you girls to find your dad, give him a hug and thank him. And guys, remember when you become a dad, us girls adore you. When we are little we want our dad’s hugs, time, and love. We want to make him proud, want to hear him say he cares. We want him to be the one we can turn too when the monsters get too scary, not to be the monster.

What took you so long?

On Tuesday September 25, 2012 President Obama stated “our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time…”[1] Yes Mr. President it is. My question to you though is why did it take you so long? You have failed to recognize human trafficking and modern day slavery up to this point in your presidency, four years after you were elected. Now as elections draw close you are “honored to be joined”[2] by those fighting for the cause. Those who have been working hour after hour, day after day, year after year to make their voices heard, to stand up for social justice and basic human rights that everyone deserves. Yet they have been ridiculed and silenced. You acknowledged the faith based organizations, the evangelicals, International Justice Mission, and the Catholic Church, the same Catholic Church that your administration denied a grant to, not once but twice. That grant allowed Bishops to aid victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking.[3] The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, under President Bush, had received a 5 year $19 million grant specifically for the aid of sex trafficking victims. The Bishops supplied medical and mental health services to survivors. Instead of renewing the Bishops grant your administration gave the grant to 3 other groups even though the Bishops had helped more than 2,700 victims. Congressman Darrell Issa disagreed with this decision, stating that the grant awards process was not followed. In fact one of the groups that received the grant scored 20 points lower on the scale than the Bishops.[4]  I am not sure I see you fighting human trafficking.

“So here in the United States, Congress should renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.”[5] Did you know that this act, signed by President Bush, ended in 2011? Therefor the U.S. has not had an act to protect, enhance, or combat trafficking in persons.[6]  Why was this law not renewed a year ago when you knew the act would no longer be affective? Why did it take you until September of your election year to urge Congress to renew the act? Not only has the law not been reinstated but just last week you gave seven countries, listed by the State Department for poor conditions on combating human trafficking, a pass on government-mandated sanctions. These countries included Libya and Saudi Arabia. You said it was in the “national interest” not to punish these countries ranked as the worst in fighting human trafficking.[7] I am not sure I understand the logic of your thinking. You say we must end modern day slavery that it is a tragedy, yet you give these countries, who are failing at eradicating this horrible institution, a pass.

As I was reading about your speech in the news on Wednesday I found a grave error in USA Today’s article and then in your speech as I reviewed it.[8] You stated that the first ever annual trafficking report of the US will be conducted. This is false. The first report was published last year in 2011 by Shared Hope International. Shared Hope produced the Protected Innocence Initiative which looked at existing laws in each state and the District of Colombia to see if the laws promoted zero tolerance for child sex trafficking. The PII, which is now called the Protected Innocence Challenge or PIC, graded each state on their existing laws based on 1)the criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking 2)criminal provisions addressing demand (the person buying sex from a minor) 3) criminal provisions for traffickers 4) criminal provisions for facilitators (taxi drivers, hotels…) 5)protective provisions for the child victim and 6)criminal justice tools for investigators and prosecution.[9] The states were then graded from A to F based solely on the established laws, not the implementation of the laws. There were no A’s, 4 B’s, 5 C’s 14 D’s and the rest of the sates had F’s. In fact D.C. received and F.[10] Not only did SHI do extensive grading, they went to each individual state with recommendations for how they should change their laws to make them better. Just this week I was working with our Senior Director to reevaluate the states from the laws that they had passed in the last year. So no, Mr. President your administration is not the first to do an assessment of the problem of human trafficking in the states (if you would like to see what your state grade is click on this link and look on page 12 or 13 http://www.sharedhope.org/Portals/0/Documents/Report%20Cards_FINAL/PII_ChallengeReport_FINAL2.pdf).

This past Saturday I was part of an amazing gathering of close to 2,000 people all working to fight modern day slavery. The Stop Modern Slavery Walk began at 12 on Saturday there were survivors of modern day slavery speaking, music, and booths from organizations all over the U.S. who have been working endlessly for years to stop modern slavery.

Shamere, survivor of sex trafficking and I at the walk on Saturday.

With just this walk $87,094 were raised to help fund these NGO’s and next year’s walk. I believe that survivor Shamere, who I have the privilege to work with, said it best in her short speech. It is people like us at Shared Hope, those 1,800 people who joined in the walk, the NGO’s, writers, artists, and survivors that are doing the most to fight slavery. She wants to know how victims will be helped when the TVPA has not yet been singed. She wants to know how victims will be restored when you are only giving $6 million for the whole country when that can hardly help one state.

So you can see, Mr. President, why I believe that you have failed to fight human trafficking and modern slavery.

[1] Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative,” Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, New York NY, September 25, 2012.

[2] Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative

[3] Ertelt, Steven. “Obama hits human trafficking canceled Bishops’ grant over abortion.” LifeNews.com, September 25, 2012. http://www.lifenews.com/2012/09/25/obama-hits-human-trafficking-but-canceled-bishops-grant-over-abortion/

[4] Ibid

[5] Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative

[6] Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, H.R. 7311, Congress, Second Session.

[7] Boyer, Dave, and Susan Crabtree. “Obama garbles U.S. history in human trafficking speech.” The Washington Times, September 25, 2012.

[8] Alcindor, Yamiche. “Sex trafficking in the USA hits close to home.” USA Today, September 26, 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012/09/26/human-trafficking-in-the-united-states-finds-a-home-in-the-schoolyard/57846054/1.

[9] The Protected Innocence Challenge: State Report Cards on the Legal Framework of Protection for the Nation’s Children. Arlington, VA: Shared Hope International, 2011.

[10] The Protected Innocence Challenge:State Report CArds on teh Legal Framework of Protection for the Nation’s Children. Arlington, VA: Shared Hope International, 2011.

“You mean like in Asia?”

This past weekend I worked my first event with Shared Hope International (SHI). As I stood at our booth talking to men and women alike, I had to explain what human trafficking was and that sex slavery was an issue in the U.S. more than I would have liked to. So many people do not understand that our young girls are being enslaved for their bodies. As I was explaining what our organization does one women asked me “You mean like the brothels in Asia. Yeah I have heard about that…” When I explained that sex slavery goes on in every state in the U.S. she didn’t believe me. “No, not here we are a first world country.” She told me. That is exactly why sex slavery is the most common form of bondage in the U.S. We are an industrial country; we do not have as large of a need for slaves in large factories, field production, mining, child soldiers…

Sex trafficking is driven by demand for commercial sex. This demand is met by criminals wishing to make more money. Demand has increased, for both women and children, as our culture has become more sexually charge. Promiscuity has become normalized. People want sex and they want it whenever they can have it. Because of this women and girls are seen as objects, as a thing to be used then forgotten about. Our founder, former Congress woman, Linda Smith was at the conference. She pointed out that as this election progresses people continue to argue that they are pro-life. Those who focus on pro-life issues, those who take a stand against abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia, forget a large population of American people who are not being helped. Those entrapped in sexual slavery have lost their voice and few are fighting for them. Our culture is against them. It says go do what you want when you want. Sex isn’t about a loving relationship between two people. It’s about gratification, about having fun, trying out as many women as you can. Prostitutes are arrested while the guys rarely get a fine and go back out and buy another woman. Linda’s goal for SHI is to change the laws around minor sex trafficking and prostitution laws. She wants everyone to take a truly pro-life stance, to lend a voice and fight for the women and girls in bondage. She calls men to stand up and become DEFENDERS, taking a stand against the commercial sex industry.

My goal, education. I want to reach as many people as I can. I want you to know about human trafficking, sex slavery, modern day slavery in general. What I am learning as I do my own research astounds me. I want you to be as surprised and shocked as me and then to become angry that our culture allows for this cold-hearted cruelness. I then want you to take a stand, to make a difference however works best for you.


Go into any store and look on the back of a product to see where it was made. 9 out of 10 times the product was not made in the U.S. Our goods, clothes, toys, shoes, food, kitchen wear, are made in another country and imported here to be bought and used by us. There is one product here that is not imported. Producers have found it much easier and cheaper to produce domestically. That product is our children.

Every year 100,000 children are trafficked domestically in the U.S.[1] There are not foreign children, they do not come from Asia, Eastern Europe, or South America. They are born here on American soil. They are tricked, stolen, coerced, and taken right of the streets to be used in the commercial sex industry. When I heard about forced prostitution in the U.S I believed that women from other countries had been brought here to be used. Shows like Criminal Minds, CSI, Law and Order, all depict the victims of sex slavery as women from other countries. This may have been the case a few years ago, but today with the economy, stricter immigration laws, and the threat of terrorism, traffickers have been looking at home to find their products.

Pimps find it easier to pick up our children then have them imported. It is children, not teenagers or adult women, but children that have become their targets. The average age when a victim is picked up and forced into prostitution is between 12 and14 (U.S. Department of Justice). Pimps target vulnerable girls with low self-esteem, troubled girls, girls from foster homes, runaways, girls who have been abused, and girls with “normal, happy” lives. He gets to know the girl and eventually establishes himself as the “boyfriend,” most of the time he is much older than the girl. He becomes her savior and begins to isolate her from her family and friends. Eventually he suggests leaving and introduces prostitution. He’ll say things like “just this once,” “we need the money,” “don’t you love me?” Then he controls her. He takes and keeps track of all the money she brings in. He beats her, threatens her, yet he balances the violence with love. Pimps have created a system, even an manual that they have written for other pimps to learn how to make the perfect prostitute.[2]

In 2000 Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This was the first time that an American President had assumed a global abolition as a national burden. The TVPA called for programs to eradicate slavery, protect the victims, prosecute traffickers and pimps, and mandated that the State Department annually rank countries based on their efforts. A Tier 1 meant the country was showing progress while a Tier 3 meant not doing anything. If a country received a Tier 3 the U.S. would withhold non-humanitarian related aid. It was shocking to find that if the State Department looked at its own country, they are not required to, that the U.S. would be in a Tier 2. Buyers of sex are not being prosecuted while victims are being arrested. Right now the U.S. is not making enough of an effort to protect victims of sexual exploitation.

Why is nothing being done? Why are 100,000 children being used and abused daily? While we are in our beds at night these girls, and sometimes boys, are servicing hundreds of men, meeting quotas, suffering torture, and many times found dead on the streets in the mornings. They are children who should be in the 5th grade. Some come from good homes; have families that are looking for them. Some come from abused home with no one to look for them. Now because some guy wants to have sex with a child these girls have become ladies of the night, lot lizards, bitches, whores, sluts, hookers, and hos.

None of these girls asked to be broken, seasoned by being taught a new language, routinely gang-raped, beaten, forced to watch porn to learn the “tricks,” and manipulated psychologically. None of them asked to be educated by torture.

I am working at Shared Hope International and our goal is to prevent, prosecute Johns and traffickers, and protect victims. I am hoping to help raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking and sex slavery in our country. As I get further in my work I hopefully will learn more and be able to inform my readers. Please look at Renting Lacy by Linda Smith for an account of sex trafficking from the girls, the pimps, John’s and the law enforcement.

“The sun had dropped behind the bare mountains. The lights of Las Vegas rose to meet the night. The asphalt steamed after the 100-plus degrees of the day. The girls also rose as the evening cooled, rose with the falling of the sun and the waking of the night-their world. It didn’t matter their age, or if they wanted to go home, or what they once dreamed of. They were ladies of the night.”[3]

[1] Prostituted Children in the United States: Identifying and Responding to America’s Trafficked Youth, Seg . Prod. Shared Hope International and Onanon Productions. Washington D.C: Shared Hope International, 2008.

[2] Linda Smith , Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children, A Call to Action , (Shared Hope International; 1st edition , 2009).

[3] Linda Smith , Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children, A Call to Action , (Shared Hope International; 1st edition , 2009), 42.


There are arguments between abolitionists whether human trafficking is a form of slavery or a means to an end. After the research I have done, I fully believe that trafficking is a tool to bring humans into slavery. It is part of the process. Whether a form or a mechanism; human trafficking is a global problem. Each year there are between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women, and children trafficked around the world. Of the 800,000 70-80% are female and 50% are children. Many are forced into the commercial sex industry. Trafficking has become the third largest source of income for organized crime.[1]

Trafficking happens not only internationally from a poorer country to a richer country but also from a poorer region to a richer area of the same country. Let’s take Haiti for example. A broker meets with a client about buying a child. This man came from the country but moved to Port-au-Prince, the capital, to find work. He starts out at a job but finds that selling humans is more profitable than say construction work. He can sell between 20 and 30 kids in a week, making around $200 in a month (in Haiti this is quite a bit of money). The client places an order, a girl who knows how to bake, a child from the countryside. Clients do not want kids from the city because they are street-smart and would escape. The broker’s colleague, who lives in a small village, begins convincing families to give up their children. He promises that the child will receive an education for the work they will be doing. Rural Haitian’s are the poorest of the poor. They have no means of income, no food, no schools, and out of 1,000 children 149 will die before the age of 5. Parents truly believe that they are giving their child a better life. Many do not realize that their little girl or boy will be enslaved, treated worse than a dog. The child is then moved into an unfamiliar city with strangers, no family and no money to get home. Thus the Restavek system continues in Haiti.[2]

Trafficking exists because there are no penalties for traffickers, the increased number of poor, lack of education, and easy profits. People can be used over and over unlike other “commodities.” The global profit made from trafficking is around $32 billion a year. These profits are greater in industrial countries where the most common form of slavery is sexual slavery. Trafficking allows for the continuation for modern-day slavery.

[1] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People 36

[2] E. Benjamin Skinner, A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery, (New York: Free Press, 2008) 6-9.

The Hidden: The lives of 27 million people

In 1850 slavery was legal in the U.S. In fact owning a slave was a sign of wealth and achievement. The most prominent men in Southern society owed hundreds of slaves.  Slaves were not cheap and their supply was not endless.  A field slave in Antebellum South sold anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800, which would be between $20,000 and $40,000 today.[1] For the cost of a salve the profit was low, around five percent, meaning it would take 20 years for a salve to pay off their buying cost and their “maintenance.” What does this mean? A slave in 1850 was considered a “protected investment.”[2] Owners “took care” of their slaves because a slave needed a lifetime to pay off their debt. Slavery in 1850 was life-long.

When we think of slavery we picture Antebellum South, a man or women standing on an auction block being sold in public like cattle. We think of cotton or sugar cane fields. We picture slave quarters behind “Master’s” house. We go back to high school history because that is what slavery is, the past.  Slavery could not possibly exist in today’s global, modern world.

Sadly that is not the case. Today there are 27 million people enslaved around the world and because of the globalization of the world slavery looks the same everywhere. Slavery is found in every country. Yes that means that right here in the United States; almost 149 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there are humans living in bondage. The largest portions of slaves, around 15-20%, are in South Asia.[3] India alone has at least 10 million people enslaved. How can slavery exist when it is illegal everywhere, in every country?

Slavery exists today because it is hidden. Wealthy owners are not lining up at auction blocks to bid on a human being. There are no bills of sale, no titles of ownership. Slavery has become part of criminal business. It has become a money maker for drug lords, gangs, and mobs. Legal ownership of today’s slaves is non-existent. Because of the number of poor, the illiterate, those who live in the slums, has increased significantly over the years there is an endless supply of women, men and child to be exploited and enslaved. Unlike slavery of Antebellum South where slaves were kept for life, slaves today are disposable. An owner gets his 13 year old domestic slave pregnant he throws her on the street and finds himself a new one. A slave dies; the outlying village has more poor children with no education whose parents can be manipulated into giving up their children. And on it goes. There is no one to protect the poor. Not only is there an unlimited amount of poor, the cost of a slave today is as little at $10. The average selling price for a human being is $90.[4] Slaves today can repay their cost and maintenance in two years. Two years ! In 1850 it took at least 20. The profit of slaves today outweighs the cost of a slave. The cost of slaves has reached a historic low while the supply and demand has reached an all-time high. Why would an owner bother to “take care” of their slave in today’s world? All they need to do is get a new one.

So what is slavery? If today’s circumstances for slaves are so different from slaves in the 1800’s how can we call it slavery? My question is how can we not? Lifelong servitude has never been a qualification of slavery. Slaves in ancient times were not always enslaved their whole lives. Many served short terms before they were released. Both slaves in the past and today have lost their free will; they do not own their own lives. They cannot come and go as they please. Both, then and now, slaves were controlled with violence, threats, physical and emotional coercion. They are exploited for the gains of another. The key is the ability to walk away. If a person can walk away from a situation then it is not slavery.[5]

Slavery today exists in four forms 1) chattel 2)debt bondage 3)contract slavery 4)forced labor

  1. Chattel slavery is closest to Antebellum slavery. A person is sold, bought, captured into servitude and there is ownership present. It is very small, mainly found in Northern and Western Africa.
  2. Debt bondage is the most common form of slavery today. A person has a crisis in life, someone becomes ill or crops failed so they give themselves and their labor for money. The debt increases and often times the lender never specifies a time frame for how long someone must work. If there is a family involved the whole family is made to work. They are threatened, beaten, and raped if they try to leave before the debt is paid. The debt is passed from parents to children. These people are working in quarries, kilns, factories, and rice mills. This form of slavery is mostly found in India where the population is predominantly poor and illiterate.
  3. Contract slavery is the fastest growing form of slavery. Contractors guarantee work in a workshop, factory, or restaurant. But when the workers come they are enslaved, paid almost nothing and many times females end up as sex slaves.
  4. Forced labor is the fourth form. While all slavery is some form of forced labor, this means slavery practiced by a group, such as a state or armed forces. This includes child soldiers, like the ones in Uganda or Sierra Leone. A good book to read to understand the lives of child soldiers would be A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Many times instability of a country is due to natural resources. Armed forces or even the government will enslave people to collect the natural resource. The movie Blood Diamond, with Leonardo DiCaprio, depicts both the lives of the child soldiers and their family members who are taken to work in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone.

Another large form of forced labor is commercial sexual exploitation. I will be focusing on sex slavery. Shared Hope International, the organization that I will be working for in a few weeks, focuses on human trafficking and sex slavery. 80% of slaves today are women and 50% are children. Many end up trafficked and forced in prostitution or other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

If you are interested in reading more in-depth about modern-day slavery A Crime So Monstrous: Face-To0Face With Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner and Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million Peopleby Kevin Blaes, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson are two good books to start with.

[1] Kevin Bales, Zoe Trodd, and Alex Kent Williamson, Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), 29.

[2] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[3]Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[4] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People

[5] Modern Slavery: The Secret World of 27 Million People 31.

Everyday Inspiration

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with great vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. Woodrow Wilson

My mom is the most selfless person I know. She truly believes that we were placed here on this earth to make it a better place for someone else. She has always told my siblings and me that even if we can only make a difference for one person we are doing what God is asking us to do. That one person in turn will make a difference for another life. And on it will go. She has pushed me to be the best person I can be, she challenges me to live my life based on my faith. She is the strongest woman I know. By her example, how she has lived her life, how strong her faith is, she has influenced how I want to live my life.

Even before the adoption process she had been interested in the issue of modern-day slavery. She would tell me I needed to read this or that book. I would tell her I would get to it. I had too much to read for my classes. As soon as I got home from Haiti I went to her bookshelf and picked up the first book. What I got was an autobiography about a woman who grew up in Cambodia. Somaly Mam has been named one of Times 100 most influential people in the world. Her story, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, is heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. It is inspirational and calls all who read it to take some form of action.

Mam was sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather when she was 12. She spent years in one brothel or another. She was abused, suffered acts of torture, and witnessed the horrors that humans could commit. Unable to forget her life in the brothels, after her escape, and the girls she had struggled with, Mam became a leading figure in Cambodia’s fight against human trafficking. She became the voice for sex slaves. She saved many women and children, some as young as 5 and 6. She built a shelter for them and started a foundation, The Somaly Mam Foundation, which has gone international in raising awareness of the horrendous conditions of sex slaves.

“I think selling women into prostitution has always existed in Cambodia. People get into debt…By working in a brothel where the moneylender has an arrangement, a daughter acts as collateral and repays the loan.” (31)

“I fought him, and he raped me. But it wasn’t easy, because I resisted. So he did it again, to teach me another lesson. I was bleeding from the nose and mouth when he’d finished and felt dirty-blood and sperm were everywhere. It was morning, and when he left he said, ‘I’ll see you tonight.” (44)

Mam’s book was the first I had read on sex slaves. I was horrified by what these girls, many of them younger than me, had been through, the violence and abuse they lived with on a daily basis. Many of the girls were tortured when they did not do what the pimp or Madame told them to do. Mam’s first owner was a woman; she ran the brothel and hired men to guard the girls in her brothel. I was taken aback when I first read about the brothel owner. I could not, still do not, understand how a woman could subject other women to the terrors of being a sex slave. My interest in women’s issues stems from Mam’s book. Mam had no chance because she was a female child who lost her parents. She was uneducated and living in a society where women are not valued. They are treated as a commodity, a means to an end, as a thing to be used and then rid of.

I began to question my plan. Did I really want to go to grad school, to become a teacher, or was there more for me out there. A month before graduation, as I was meeting with my advisor for my Master’s program, I realized I was not interested in going to school. I had been accepted into a good school, had my classes picked out, was ready to start in the fall and I had no desire to do any of it. So I called my mom.

My mom has been my strongest supporter. So when I told her I no longer wanted to go to grad school that I really wanted to find a position with an NGO dealing with modern-day slavery she told me to go for it. We researched different organizations. She read and reread my cover letters, writing samples, and resumes. After two phone interviews, while I was waiting to hear a yes or no from two different organizations, she listed as I stressed about my lack of plans. And when I got the e-mail saying I was accepted as an intern for Shared Hope International we had a celebratory beer together.

My mom planted the seed of interest in modern-day slavery. Because of her I stepped off the safe path, I decided to go after what I feel I am really being called to do. I thank her all the more for it. For believing in me and pushing me to do what I feel is right. I am not here for me. I am here to serve others.

My mom and I