Trafficking and Patriarchy

Slavery-Inc_FINALI wrote this post for the blog Women = Books and thought you all might like to read it as well.

Slavery, Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking , by the investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, stands out among a recent flurry of human trafficking books (including Human Trafficking, by Abraham Falls; Sex Trafficking: Reclaiming My Stolen Life, by Jenna Stanton; and Up for Sale: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, by Alison Marie). Chaco explores all aspects of this $32 billion industry with a depth few other authors have accomplished. She explores how the values of male dominance and control, on which our society’s institutions and business enterprises are based, manifest themselves in human trafficking, which is now the fastest growing crime in the world today.

Cacho actually uses the word “patriarchy,” which I appreciate. Most writers on human trafficking shy away from this kind of direct language (see, for example, Sold, by Patricia McCormick; Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, by Siddharth Kara). Instead, they create a narrative about a moral debate in which “good girls” are victimized by “bad men.” This reduces trafficking to a series of right or wrong choices, instead of revealing the systemic nature of sexual violence.

In one passage, Chaco asks a sex tourist in Mexico what he likes about her home country:

“It’s the beautiful girls; they are hot and sweet. I’m sick of American women: they are too demanding and always looking for an argument. But Latin women are, I don’t know…”

“Obedient?” I ask him gently.

“Yes, that’s it. Latin women still believe in the sanctity of marriage and in showing a man respect. You are real women.”

He desires women’s compliance and resists their agency, and Chaco sharply calls him out for it. Men like him are buying a fantasy of domination when they patronize trafficked women. Violating the bodies of women and children gives them the illusion of control—and without this affirmation of their power, such men do not feel they can compete with other “real men.” To belong in patriarchal society, they must not only dominate women, they must also dominate each other, never showing vulnerability.

But men’s constant insecurity about their status in relation to other men means that most never truly feel dominant. This anxiety leads to a demand for anonymous, objectified, dehumanized bodies on which they can prove themselves—which fuels the business of human trafficking. Cacho points out, “To understand how human slavery works, we need to accept that the mafia runs the business, that prostitution is an industry, and that women, girls, and boys are the commodities being sold.”

I have two criticisms of the book. One is that Cacho consistently uses the term “rescue” when speaking of providing services and support for human-trafficking victims. But this term expresses neither a recognition nor an understanding of the interpersonal, systemic violence of human trafficking. Simply removing a victim from a situation does not solve the problem: trafficking is a manifestation of a patriarchal culture, ruled by desires for dominance and control. The term can actually perpetuate such dominance, implying that “victims” are subordinate to “rescuers.”

That said, Cacho does understand the need for long-term, trauma-informed, comprehensive services for survivors and rejects the common notion that commercially sexually exploited children are “bad kids” who choose exploitation and do not deserve such care. Additionally, she correctly perceives that the “good intentions” of love are not sufficient to undo the years of violence, during the time leading up to exploitation and during trafficking. Building trust takes time.

A second problem is that Chaco presents graphic depictions of horrific violence against trafficked women and children, but she only skims the surface when talking to exploiters. She briefly interviews several, such as the sex tourist in Mexico, but she misses a golden opportunity to ask them why they became sex tourists. Pushing exploiters to provide in-depth accounts would force them to publically justify their participation in human trafficking (although they might end up sounding like misogynist crackpots).

Media reports constantly enumerate how many exploiters a trafficking victim is forced to service each day and night. Why don’t journalists ask purchasers of sex how many women and children they have raped? Chaco acknowledges that the patriarchal system legitimizes men’s control over women; however I wish she had applied this theory to telling exploiter’s stories. Omitting their actions lets men off of the hook and keeps the sensationalized focus on victims and survivors.

Despite these two criticisms, this well-balanced book analyzes the social norms and systems that allow human trafficking to flourish, in addition to telling personal stories of atrocity. Chaco’s broad investigation comprehensively (and admirably) lays out how the quest for power, control, and belonging fuels the human trafficking crisis in our communities and around the world. Slavery, Inc. guides readers through the circuitous maze of the sex trafficking industry with the unflinching honesty and courage necessary to fully witness and challenge this crisis.


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Mo Money

TheDreamIsFree My GoFundMe campaign has raised some questions (as well as almost $4K already!) about my willingness to take out student loans while pursuing my dream of getting my Ph.D. At first I thought my personal finances weren’t anyone’s dang business, but then I realized a response is quite fair when I am asking people to contribute their own hard-earned money. So here goes…

Bottom line is OF COURSE I will take out student loans while finishing my  degree. If a Ph.D. “only” cost $60K I would have gotten one long, long ago. Instead, my priority was buying a home. The only permanent residence I have ever lived in was the house where I was sexually exploited. We actually moved from there my junior year of high school because my mother couldn’t afford the upkeep once my exploiter left. (Our hot water heater broke and my mother’s abusive father — who had quite a bit of money by stereotypical Appalachian standards — would only lend my mother the money for a new one.) I was really sad to leave the school district where I had attended since Kindergarten (my abusive grandfather and his cruel second wife were the only family I had living in the district, so I had to switch schools).

Moving was hard, but we definitely had more financial freedom. My mother never made more than $21K a year before she died (at age 48 from cancer). Our new apartment was close to her work and was in the “downtown” area so we could walk everywhere. But losing space and amenities were key downsides to moving from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. I spent many days after school at the laundromat while my friends were hanging out. Plus, this was never my home. I went to college one year later. I had no attachment to this apartment and was not sad for one moment when I closed the door for the final time after my mother died.

So I never really, truly had a home and I wanted one…badly. My “alternate dream job” is interior design. I actually gave the “home goods” industry a whirl for about nine months, but came running back to academia. I am a bookworm and social scientist (who reads a lot of shelter and fashion magazines) at heart. Instead I now live vicariously through visiting my favorite designers’ blog (Erin Gates’ Elements of Style) and stores/websites (Jill Goldberg’s Hudson). And I just didn’t want a home decorate (although that’s a plus), I wanted to be a part of a community. Now I am. We bought a modest condo in a leafy suburb/college town outside of Boston (and have decorated it with furniture almost exclusively found on Craigslist). We rented our place for four years and graciously bought from our landlords three years ago.

I have reached all of my dreams I wanted since I was a child. Safety – check. New friends – check. Loving husband and family – check and check. Master’s degree – check. Amazing son – check. Home – check. Now it’s time to realize this final dream of earning my Ph.D. This will take awhile but it’s worth it. Everything else I have wanted in my life has taken the same patience and perseverance. Not to mention money. Any academic pursuit these days is going to take a sizable chunk of change, and the investment is worth every penny.

Never would I dream of asking for a free ride while receiving my Ph.D. I have worked like a dog every day of my life – first to just survive, then to navigate the difficult journey of leaving a violent situation, and now to thrive. I got a job, literally, the day after I turned 16, not just to help pay for car insurance and gas like most teens. I worked to help pay for food and most of my own clothes (at Salvation Army, mind you…and not because it was cool/alternative…it’s what I could afford).

The $66K for crowdfunding campaign is a drop in the bucket of what I will need to pay for tuition and salary lost over six years (I can only work part-time because my program requires full-time study). I decided to start the campaign to just make things a little easier. My undergrad took me six years to complete and my master’s took ten because I needed to take time off to earn money. Now I am asking for help.

The worst part of paying my own way, though, was the isolation. I had no family support and minimal friend support (I was in the process of extracting myself from my hometown community while earning these degrees). I wanted to start this campaign to create a community of encouragement (financial and emotional) around me. I, and other human trafficking survivors, need support beyond the “crisis” point of surviving exploitation. We deserve to realize the authentic people we were meant to be in the world, which often requires additional education.

I appreciate everyone who has come along for the ride of my campaign thus far, and look forward to connecting with all of the people who will help me raise the remaining $62K. This campaign truly has become one of my favorite things I have ever done. Combing education and raising awareness about human trafficking is a powerful mix in my life.

Thank you all for being you. #youmatter


Visit My GoFundMe Page: Support a Trafficking Survivor’s Dream (Please know sharing this campaign with your friends, family, and colleagues via social media helps just as much as contributing – you can help by spreading the word.) Thx


Take Back the Night

UTCTakeBacktheNightHave been on the road quite a bit in October (and heading out again tomorrow for Friday’s See the Girl Summit in Jacksonville, FL). Last week I was fortunate enough to speak at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s annual Take Back the Night rally and march. Reportedly, they had their biggest crowd ever and I was proud to talk and walk among UTC students and staff. My hope for speaking at Take Back the Night events is to end isolation and silence around rape and sexual assault. This goal was met because multiple people came to the UTC Women’s Center and Counseling Center to receive services the next day. So proud and happy we created an environment where students knew they were not alone.

Here is some press I did while in Chattanooga: WRCB Channel 3 and Chattanooga Times Free Press.

And if you are ever in Chattanooga, check out these amazing farm-to-table restaurants: The Farmer’s Daughter and 212 Market. (My hosts fed me so well. Grateful for southern hospitality.)


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The Quaz

Screen-Shot-2014-10-08-at-9.42.07-AMEternally grateful to NY Times best-selling author Jeff Pearlman for making me the #175 Quaz interview. This Q & A marks my national media “coming out” as a CSEC survivor and I could not imagine a better place to “introduce” my history. Jeff’s mix of gravitas and irreverence is exactly how I have gotten through all that I have. Together we will stand witness to CSEC. Read my Quaz interview here.

(Oh, and go buy Jeff’s new book, Showtime…an amazing look at the 1980’s Lakers. A great read – especially for you Celtics fans.)


Support a Trafficking Survivor’s Dream:

Callie Crossley Rules. Period.

220px-Callie_CrossleyFriday marked the fourth time I was fortunate enough to meet WGBH’s Callie Crossley. I taped a segment for her show Under the Radar with My Life, My Choice Associate Director Audrey Morrissey about commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Ms. Crossley’s show was the perfect place to discuss CSEC since sexually exploited children are often invisible — literally, under the radar — of our public consciousness. We think CSEC happens “over there” in Third World Countries. Not so, and Ms. Crossley helped us raise awareness that CSEC not only happens, but is thriving in America.

The first two times I met Ms. Crossley I basically stopped her “on the street” — at the Simmons College cafe while I was on my way to class and then in my favorite women’s clothing store (she was beyond generous, BTW). Thankfully, the third time was for work. She moderated a panel we organized on the movie “The Help.” Each time I walked away more impressed with the woman I admired on WGBH.

So fourth time’s a charm. Appearing on Under the Radar did not disappoint. During the interview I had one of the moments of “Whoa…I did it…I am on Callie Crossley’s show.” So thank you, Ms. Crossley (and producer Abbie Ruzicka) for the opportunity. The pleasure was all mine.

Listen to the show: Survivor-led Program Aims to Curb Child Sex Trafficking



Education is Freedom

Freedom-School-Logo-square-LG-298x300I cried the first time I walked through the doors of the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston). My time had finally come to get my Ph.D. For decades I knew I would get my doctorate “someday” and the moment had arrived. I called my husband in tears. I needed to say the words “I am really going to get my Ph.D.” aloud –and for him to hear me – before the reality could sink in.

Education was my “way out” of a family locked in generational cycles of violence, substance abuse, mental illness and poverty. My mother had dreamed of escaping by going to college in Hawaii, but was told by her abusive father that she could learn everything in the factory where she worked that she could in college. The owners of the family pharmacy where my father worked offered to send him to the local college, but he turned them down. His priority was easy access to drugs rather than an education.

From a very early age I knew I needed to get away. My very first memory is of being sexually assaulted by my member of my immediate family in the back of a family friend’s bar. I was preverbal at the time, but I just remember feeling “shattered.” The world had somehow changed, but everyone was acting like nothing had happened. I continued to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by multiple members of both sides of my family until early adolescence. During that same time an immediate member of my family commercially sexually exploited me at truck stops and parties to support his drug addiction.

I knew I had found my escape route when I began to read in first grade. Books not only gave me a place to flee in my mind, but I also aspired to be like my teacher. She was kind, independent, and smart: my first role model. Learning made me happy and, for the first time, hopeful. I begged my mother to drive me to the town library 30 minutes away. My library card was my first passport. I felt independent and grateful for the opportunity to have a building other than church where I felt safe.

The sexual abuse and exploitation finally stopped when I was in middle school. The physical and emotional abuse continued, and so did my resolve to leave my family and my hometown by going to college far away (just as my mother had hoped for herself). In high school, I took several college-level courses at the very university where my father had refused to go. I turned 18 one day and graduated from high school the next. Three months later, my mother drove me college 2 ½ hours away. I had made it.

Yet, in many ways my work was only beginning. While my mother had encouraged my college education, she did not have any means to help me pay for my degree. My undergraduate degree took six years to complete because I had to take time off to work. Additionally, my mother died of cancer six months before I graduated. She waited until I had registered for classes to tell me her bone marrow transplant hadn’t worked for fear I would stay home to take of her instead of finishing school. Before she died, my mother told me to follow some friends to Boston and to get my master’s degree. I did both.

While receiving my master’s degree I started putting the pieces together about my abuse and exploitation history. “We study our pain,” is a common belief at the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research and action department of Wellesley College, where I now work as a social scientist. I initially focused on prostitution, which led me to the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). I had also started therapy during the same time, which also helped me to navigate the “roadmap” of my past. I confronted my abusers during this time and was told to never contact them again. I knew too much.

Thankfully I now have a true family and close circle of friends that support and care for me. I have been married for almost 13 years and we have an extraordinary 9 year-old son. Plus, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a profoundly inspiring tribe of CSEC survivors. These peeps, in addition to my Wellesley colleagues, are all encouraging me that the “time is now” for my Ph.D. The call for empirical CSEC research is pressing, even more so, I deserve to realize this final educational aspiration.