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 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.