This is What a Child Sex Trafficking Victim Looks Like

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This is probably the most embarrassing picture of me ever taken. I am hesitant to even post this. Friends say I look adorable and am “The cutest cheerleader EVER.” But to me I simply felt exposed. I was in front of a lot of people, in a skirt no less.

Truth. This is me when I was being commercially sexually exploited and sexually abused by multiple members of my biological family. Everything looking “normal” is a key to how child sexual violence continues.

How can I be smiling in the midst of such horror? My exploiter isolated me by telling me I was more “special” than other little girls. I was often (but not always) “protected” from punches and being thrown against walls.  This was also a few years before I started “getting wise” to understanding what was happening to me and confronted my exploiter.

Granted, my cheerleading “career” was very short-lived. I was embarrassed by the attention and towering over my peers (not to mention the fact I was — and remain — a tomboy who would rather be playing ball in overalls).  I quit after one year and went back to hiding behind my books.

While this photo is personally mortifying, I am grateful this moment in my life was captured on film. Such childhood photos are physical evidence and reminders that we need to look beyond the obvious when keeping kids safe. Just because a child is smiling and participating in activities, doesn’t meet he isn’t hurting or in danger. We must look past the surface to keep kids safe.

KP

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Swellesley Report Shout-out

30622_115362411836419_319080_nThanks to The Swellesley Report blog for reporting on my GoFundMe campaign today — great story. Means so much to have my community’s support. .

Wellesley is the first community I have ever lived in where I felt like I truly belong. I am the happiest I have ever been since we moved here six years ago. The phenomenal schools, welcoming community, beautiful college campus — not to mention the great shopping, complete with a sublime bookstore — make this my perfect home. Yes, living here sure is swell.

Shake It Off

taylor-swift-shake-it-off-video-2-2014-billboard-650Perfect timing. Just as I was fretting over my recent discovery that a friend (frenemy, I suppose) had been talking smack about me, the new Taylor Swift video Shake It Off popped up in my Twitter feed. Truth be told, I am a Taylor Swift apologist. I think she is adorable. And she’s won my heart over even more with this mantra to just “shake it off” when “haters gonna hate.”

While growing legions of people tell me how “amazing,” “inspirational,” “brilliant,” and “strong” I am, a group of about 20 biological family members and former friends think I am a batsh*t crazy loser. No joke. They think I think I am better than them because I moved away and got an education. They think that I am merely the “hired help” within the colleges where I have worked for almost 20 years. They think I am a nothing. They won’t say it to my face, but I hear the whispers occasionally.

My husband and (true) friends let me know these people are just jealous — not to mention caught in cycles of addiction and depression. I know they are right, yet still my heart hurts. I loved all of these people at one point in my life. Professor and researcher Rochelle Dalla, Ph.D. talks about the need to leave “old playmates and old playgrounds” for women exiting prostitution. I strongly believe this is true for anyone getting away from environments and situations that bring you down.

So I thought I had “cleaned house” of people who didn’t have my back years ago. I was wrong. And I guess you can never really get away from people criticizing you, especially when you express your opinions in public and take enormous risks. And those people you left behind – not out of malice, but out of necessity – will still feel the need to weigh in from afar. So now instead of trying to please those 20 people who never have and never will believe in me, I can just “shake it off.”shake-it-off-video-stills01

KP

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Football and Feminist Scholarship: A Marriage Made in Heaven

iStock-football-closeup-300x238I was sitting in a football stadium press box reading the chapter “The Triad of Violence in Men’s Sports” in the book Transforming a Rape Culture.  The irony was not lost on me. Days earlier I was yelling at the TV when National Football League handed down a paltry two game suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for battering his fiance (as compared to another player who was suspended for five games for smoking weed). And now I was sitting in the “belly of the beast” – devouring free pizza, no less – while reading a classic on ending violence against women. Say what?

Welcome to my work-family balance. See, my husband is a football writer. We were heading out of town that night and the team was nice enough to let me tag along to practice (and eat their pizza) so we could save an hour and a half of driving. I just happened to be reading Transforming a Rape Culture (a little light beach reading) for a work project so I brought the book along to read while I waited.

When I got to that chapter worlds collided, as they often do in our work lives.  We are entering our fourteenth football season as a couple. We mark the events of our lives together in Super Bowl years: we got married two months after the team my husband covers won their first title and I defended my graduate thesis two months before they won their third. Our son arrived one week before the post-season. Our endless collection of books spans the entire gender spectrum.

I must admit, had I not ever met my husband I still might really dislike football and the extreme violence. But I have come to (begrudgingly) appreciate the intellect of the game and, more importantly, the people who surround the sport. I am consistently moved by the stories of players who have overcome adversity and utilize football as a way to move themselves, their families and their communities up and out of dire circumstances. I am in awe of the sense of community our city exudes during championship games and (hopefully) victory parades.

Most of all, I am consistently moved by the humanity my husband’s colleagues and fans show in times of need. The support I have received since “coming out” with my history and crowdfunding donations I have received to realize my dream of getting my Ph.D. (you can contribute, too, at http://www.gofundme.com/cnh2i0) have been overwhelmingly from the football community. If I know anything, I know football writers and fans are a passionate bunch. I am eternally grateful they have spread some of that zest my way. So thank you.

Yes, some football players can be horrendously violent off of the field. Yes, reports show Super Bowl Sunday can be the busiest day of the year for domestic violence shelters. Yes, the city hosting the Super Bowl gets increased attention about human trafficking surrounding the event. Do I support any of this? Of course not (and neither does my husband). Just in the same way I do not support the fact that 15.5 million children live in families in which intimate partner violence occurred at least once in the last year. Or that up to 300,000 children are at risk for CSEC in America each year. We live in a violent culture, of which football is a part.

While sitting in that press box I learned from author Michael Messner that the “triad of violence” for male athletes is made up of violence against other men, violence against self, and violence against other all in the name of peer bonding. Don’t be a sissy, don’t be a fag, and certainly don’t play or  throw “like a girl”…or else you are out. The mere threat of social isolation and losing face can be enough to make boys and men want to “man up” in our violent culture at an early age. I do see this side of football, and yet, I am also lucky enough to see the side that is outraged by the Ray Rice decision and is determined to speak out about domestic violence in football. I am proud to say they are our friends, colleagues and community.

KP

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“Violence Against Women and Children” Myths in Human Trafficking

Want to feature some of my previous work as I start this new @kpadvocacy venture. Here’s a blog post I did earlier this year for the Wellesley Centers for Women Women Change Worlds blog. Thanks – #youmatter.

Dispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

handsreachingoutNew York Times columnist and anti-trafficking advocate Nicholas Kristof recently opened January’s Human Trafficking Awareness month with a Google+ Hangout entitled, “What does 2014 hold for the fight against modern-day slavery?” My answer is the need to dispel myths about sexual violence against women and children within the anti-trafficking movement so that we can all work effectively and sustainably toward ending exploitation. I hold little hope for truly ending human trafficking unless we understand the systemic nature of violence against women and children.

I strongly believe human trafficking and sexual slavery are a manifestation and continuation of interpersonal and systemic violence. For instance, the top two risk factors for sexual exploitation are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, International Justice Mission founder and President Gary Haugen argued that an environment of impunity, not violence, is to blame:

[S]lavery is first and foremost a violent crime…and if you were to look at any other crime that would take place in our community that’s violent – let’s say rape – we would of course want to change those attitudes. We would of course want to make sure that the streets were well lit. We would want to make sure that women knew how to walk safely and avoid dangerous areas. But you would start, absolutely, that people who committed sexual assaults actually went to jail for it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than go to jail for committing that violent crime.

BlogPullQuote124Utilizing such “rape myths” like the need for well-lit streets and women’s ability to walk safely perfectly illustrates Haugen’s limited understanding of sexual violence: the majority of sexual assault survivors know their assailants and most rapes occur at home.

“Law enforcement is absolutely a critical component,” said Rachel Lloyd, trafficking survivor and founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), “but it isn’t the only component…and it won’t be the thing that long-term changes the issue.”

We will not end human trafficking and slavery unless we understand the very nature of violence and how it permeates our culture. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst record of death from violence and child death from abuse and neglect. We have the second-highest incidence of child poverty. Estimates across various surveys suggest one in every four girls and one in four boys in this country are sexually abused, 90 percent of them by either a family member or someone they know and trust. We have created the “perfect storm” for trafficking.

We also must acknowledge how violence is perpetuated. We often overlook that most of the few exploiters who have been studied report a history of child sexual abuse. Men who buy sex also report histories of sexual abuse and describe themselves as “sex addicts.” Abused children can repeat the violation throughout their lives, often within gendered norms, according to trauma expert Bssel van der Kolk, M.D. Abused boys can re-victimize, thus fulfilling the masculine imperative of being dominant and in control, while abused girls can go on to form relational attachments with victimizing boys or men.

If we are to stop human trafficking we must prioritize healing the wounds of abused boys through comprehensive, trauma-informed care over jailing angry, isolated men who become traffickers. We must focus on ensuring abused girls have economic opportunity based on intellect rather than equating their worth with their bodies. I am not arguing we sympathize with offenders because they have been abused. However, I am saying that jailing exploiters and solicitors will not stop trafficking: cycles of child sexual abuse and poverty are the fuel that keeps the engine running. We need to empty the gas line.

KP

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“Coming out” as a commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) survivor

"Follow Your Dreams"Amazing to think the world is free to know I am a CSEC survivor the very moment I press the “publish” button for this post. This day is a long-time coming. I have been sorting out my history for the better part of 15 years. I always knew my biological family was locked in intergenerational cycles of violence, addiction, mental illness and poverty: I was determined to get away from them at a very young age. But fully acknowledging the sexual exploitation took a lot more time. See, my exploiter was a member of my immediate family who said he “loved” me. I have come to understand child sexual abuse is often shrouded in lies of “love,” and my case was no exception. Decades have been needed to understand I wasn’t a “special little girl.” No, I was violated.

I still keep my anonymity as much as possible because my exploiter is still alive. I haven’t had contact with him for almost 20 years. He told me to “never call again” while hanging up on me when confronted him about the abuse. And I haven’t. I no longer fear for my safety because I am surrounded by not only an amazing family (including a few members of both my family of origin and the family I have made for myself in these 20 years) but because of you. The more I speak out about my history of not only CSEC, but also of child sexual and physical abuse, the more I am convinced I am only one member of a fierce tribe of people who have survived the unthinkable.

Whenever I speak at conferences, trainings, campus events and lectures, I am constantly humbled by the sheer number of people who disclose their histories of abuse with me. And increasingly, more men than women share with me. I am so touched and honored when men entrust their stories with me because this world has taught me they are only allowed to show anger and vulnerability is a sure way to be obliterated. I do not take this responsibility of listening and bearing witness to their truths lightly. Of course, I am also honored when women disclose to me; however, my experience is men take much more of a risk in speaking up and out.

And so, with that inspiration, I am also ready to take the risk of “coming out” as a CSEC and child abuse survivor. Only by blowing open the socially- and self-imposed isolation that comes with shame, humiliation and uncertainty of being believed and/or condemned will we finally be free.

Thank you for reading this post. I look forward to continuing my journey alongside of you all.

KP

www.gofundme.com/supportkpadvocacy