After a While

My mother always had a copy of this poem hanging in our home while I was growing up. Even though I didn’t understand the words until after my mother passed when I was 23, I always had a sense that single piece of paper hanging in the back corner of the kitchen was a symbol of hope and defiance. Our family was trapped in intergenerational cycles of violence, mental illness, addiction, and poverty. My mother’s mother died when she was 16 and her abusive father wouldn’t let her leave.

Despite such tragedy, my mother’s heart and strength endured. These words were her mantra. I have kept very few things from my childhood, but that copy of my mother’s poem now hangs in my office.




Sex Trafficking Victims Need Support, Not “Rescue”

cape-480x639I often write and speak about “mutuality vs. rescue” in my work and how this idea of “rescuing” trafficking victims can revictimize the very people we intend to assist. “Rescue” reinforces the notion that once a person is “removed” from trafficking, then the danger is over. This perspective misses the point that trafficking is a manifestation of a system of violence that creates both supply and demand. 

This insightful blog post “Take Off the Cape: Why the Word ‘Rescue’ is Harmful to Anti-Trafficking Efforts” is an excellent addition to the conversation about “rescue” and how best not just to serve trafficking victims, but also to end human trafficking. Enjoy. KP

When I came to the human trafficking field from working on domestic and sexual violence, I was shocked by a lot of things. It was disturbing to learn about the various ways traffickers abuse and exploit victims for labor and sex and surprising to see how frequently human trafficking intersected directly with intimate partner violence, sex assault and child abuse.

However, a different type of unsettling surprise for me came not from the crime itself, but from the terminology used to discuss it. More specifically, I was shocked by how commonly the word “rescue” was used to describe identifying and assisting victims and survivors of human trafficking.

This was so foreign to me because in the domestic and sexual violence fields it would be unthinkable to refer to victim identification and assistance as a “rescue” or “rescue mission.” I can only imagine the faces of my former colleagues if I had said that my work with an individual had “rescued” them from their abuser. There would have been some serious questioning of my ability to provide appropriate, trauma-informed services to that person without doing considerable harm as well as my motives for doing the work in the first place.

Having come from disciplines where the use of this term would be seen as highly inappropriate and demeaning to a victim or survivor of crime, it was very odd to me that “rescue” was a term used not only in everyday language around the issue but also in awareness and education, news media and even in the names of anti-trafficking organizations and programs. Although “rescue” is a word that evokes images of life-saving missions to pull people from a burning building, I soon found out that the anti-trafficking field had essentially reclaimed the word to convey uniqueness in the ways trafficking victims are identified and given assistance. (Excerpt, Becky Owens-Bullard’s 7/24/14 Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance blog post)

Read the full post

How the NFL Taught 21.5 Million People About Domestic Violence

Whoever would have thought the National Football League would get the country talking about domestic violence? Certainly not me, given the league’s tragic history of overlooking players’ violent interpersonal abuses. But over the last two weeks, television and social media have been flooded with images, stories, and opinions about domestic violence. As a result (at the very least) 21.5 million people have heard poignant and heart-felt statements about the complexities of abuse.

CBS Sports Broadcaster James Brown delivered this powerful call to men during the wildly popular debut broadcast of “Thursday Night Football” which drew 17.34 million viewers to the network.

The fact that more than 20 million people tuned in to the Ravens-Steelers game gives me great comfort (NFL Network’s broadcast of the game drew an additional 3.43 million). This eloquent speech is one of the most moving statements I have ever heard and to know so many people saw this is fantastic. Even more, the Ravens are the very team that cut Ray Rice, the very person who sparked this current wave of awareness. Yes, there were many fans — men and women — in the stands wearing Rice jerseys, but to know this statement was made in the very same stadium is very cool. Domestic violence must to be brought into the open and discussed publicly before it can end.

Meredith Vieira then brought her 4.1 million viewers into the conversation yesterday on her NBC talk show. Taking a cue from the current Twitter #whyistayed movement, Vieira shared her own domestic violence history in this candid statement.

Her final words bear repeating, “I just know it’s rampant in this country. We all have to accept the fact that it’s not just an issue with the NFL. Its’ an issue in all of our lives and until we take it seriously more and more women are going to get abused. Not question about it.” [My note: more and more children will be abused as well.]

Thank you to everyone who is keeping this conversation going. Many lives, literally, depend on us breaking the silence.


So This Happened

10527879_10203945474111537_950017633924905284_nIt’s official. I am a student at UMass Boston working toward my Ph.D. in Sociology. I had my first class this week and I, literally, teared up in the classroom. I think I learned what a doctorate was when I was about 10. Two of my friends on a winter YMCA swimming team had parents who were professors at our town’s state university. Their houses were different than mine — filled with books, papers, and the sounds of National Public Radio. I wanted my house and life to feel and smell and look like theirs from the first time I walked into those homes.

And now I am on my way. Happily my house is already filled with books, papers and All Things Considered. I’ve lead an academic life for over twenty years now, but mostly in administrative positions. Thankfully my research has been gaining traction for the last 4-6 years (and, more importantly, I have felt comfortable making my research public due to safety concerns about my biological family and exploiter) and soon I will be paid to conduct my own research.

The journey to obtaining this little plastic card has been long and hard. No wonder I am smiling so broadly in my ID photo. I was thinking of my husband and son — and our countless friends and family — who have supported me in getting to this point. This may be cliche, but I never could have gotten here without them. I see this card as my ticket to being a doctor…finally. I appreciate you all coming for the ride.


Changing the Question from “Why Doesn’t Janay Palmer Just Leave?” to “Why Can Ray Rice Get Away with Punching Her?”

TMZ released the complete footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then fiance in a casino elevator. While truly disturbing to watch, this uninterrupted footage lets us see this particular physical altercation in totality.


So her then-fiance knocked her out…cold. She was clearly angry once she actually regained consciousness because she knocks away his hand when he tries to touch her. Why would she not only apologize for her “role” the incident, but then go on to marry Rice a month later?

Thing is, I am not going to answer that question. Only Janay Palmer can truly say why. But I do have some suspicions and observations. Yes, these are individual people making “personal” choices. Yet, we must consider some current cultural realities and norms.

What stands out to me the most in this video is how Palmer’s body is treated, literally, like a trash bag dragged along the floor. Neither Rice nor the security guard who stand over her once the elevator doors are open will touch her. Finally a woman rushes over to Palmer and actually gets down on the ground to soothe her. The message is clear: only women belong on the floor, and they are filthy.

I was also shocked when both Rice and Palmer were charged in the incident. This clearly sends the message that women are suspect, even when victimized. The very fact that the question “What did she do to provoke him?” is even considered shows that women are living in a world where violence towards them can be considered their own fault.

Finally, the fact that Rice only received a two-game suspension is proof that men know they can harm women with any fear of their own station and status being threatened. Thankfully,  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saw the error of his ways and not only admitted their mistake, but also quickly adopted a new domestic violence policy for all NFL players and personnel.

Yes, both Rice and Palmer have individual choices to make, but we also cannot dismiss social rules and boundaries that not only allow violence against women and children to exist, but to flourish in our society. Is Ray Rice truly sorry? Will Janay Palmer stay with him? Unfortunately this scenario is all too common. But due to Rice’s fame, “celebrity culture” creates demand for seeing a video a “domestic matter” that is usually kept secret and behind closed doors.

So now we are given a choice. Will we continue to ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” or will we see the larger picture and demand that men who batter be held accountable for violence? Until we change the questions, women who have been hit will continue to be treated as “trash” who just happened to get tossed on the floor.


More Community Love

IMG_1903Many and humble thanks to Anne-Marie Smolski of the Wellesley Townsman and Josh Perry of Wellesley’s Hometown Weekly for their impressive coverage of my GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign ( Both the Townsman article Wellesley Resident Seeks Crowdfunding to Help Earn Ph.D. and the Hometown Weekly piece Wellesley Resident Crowdfunding Ph.D. helped me get the word out about my campaign and raised awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

Admittedly, I am always initially hesitant to talk to the press about my experience as a trafficking survivor for fear they will not want to know about me as a whole person and will only ask about the “titillating” details of my exploitation. I have seen and heard about such revictimization time and again when survivors are brave enough to speak publicly. (A popular local TV host had the audacity to ask a survivor who was pregnant at the time of the interview if this child was conceived during her exploitation. The humiliated survivor kept her composure as she graciously answered the child was, in fact, her second with her long-term partner. Personally, I probably would made myself look foolish by going on a tirade about the host’s insensitivity and inanity: I applaud my fellow survivor’s presence of mind.)

So thank you to Ms. Smolski and Mr. Perry for your thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and sincerity in telling my story. Your comprehensive approach has deeply and genuinely contributed to opposing CSEC. By telling my story with such humanity, you have helped my efforts to raise awareness CSEC is, unfortunately, still alive and well in the U.S. and around the world even decades after my own exploitation ended. For that I am eternally grateful.