Friday, May 27, 2011

I’m an Abolitionist

I went to a screening tonight of the film “Call + Response”. It is an eye opening documentary into the world of human trafficking. Musicians and actors provide responsive songs & reflections to help connect the rest of the world.

Think slavery doesn’t exist in today’s world? Think again. 27 million of the world’s dirtiest secrets need to come to light.

I sat in an auditorium with maybe 30 people? Some were well familiar with the plight, others had no idea this sort of tragedy existed in our current, modern society and it was a bit of a shock. Where do you stand on that spectrum?

I didn’t learn anything new this evening, I more so went to make contacts – and that I did.

ACT Alberta – Action Coalition of human Trafficking
is a group comprised of representation from MANY local organizations all trying to coordinate their efforts in order to best help our local victims of trafficking.

Did you know trafficking is not just an over seas issue? It is widespread in Canada – thousands in Canada! The city of Edmonton included.

Did you know trafficking does not necessarily just involve foreign individuals? Local young girls & boys can be vulnerable to coercion, manipulation and exploitation.

Did you know trafficking involves more than the sex trade? Women, children & even (at times) men can be held against their will and forced to do labour of various types.

- A story mentioned this evening told of 19 construction workers that were trafficked males – locked in the building over night, fed on scraps. During the day, they were working along side other workers who had no idea what was going on right beside them. This finally came to light & they were rescued when someone noticed things that just didn’t add up in terms of these particular workers.

Trafficking is not going to stop unless people are willing to get involved. ACT wants to help educate people to know how to recognize trafficking – many stories involve people living amongst other people who have no idea they are there against their will. Many stories of rescue stem from someone noticing something off and trusting their instinct, following up (with a call to the police – please don’t intervene on your own).

The manipulation & coercion tactics used by traffickers would suggest they have the equivalent to a degree in psychology. These people are very skilled in managing their people – to the point many victims will often not recognize they are victims. Even amidst physical, psychological and exploitative abuse. Many will defend their trafficker.

The governments will only do what the people they are governing want them to do. If we make noise, they will have to respond. But, as long as we shrug our shoulders and look away, they will remain quiet.

Documentaries like this make me feel ill. Undercover individuals going in to brothels with hidden cameras -little girls living in cells, expected to “entertain” male clientele. SO many in a day. Refusal? Food might be withheld, or perhaps a beating will be received or threats against a loved one will be made. Do you really think little girls WANT to be doing this? Repeated rapes, beatings & loss of food break these little girl’s spirits and make them easier to control. My heart breaks for those children.

Girls ages 7 and up, being sold as virgins for a price (virgins will guarantee a customer he is not being exposed to any STDs). She will be kept for a few days, raped repeatedly, and then brought back to the brothel. Her hymen will be resewn and in a few days she will be sold again. The trauma to her genitals will of course cause bleeding with the next customer – which the he will take as a sign of her virginity and be well pleased. Girls as young as 3 have been found in this situation. I can hardly stomach that. My own daughter is 3.

These kids are NOT doing this by choice, but our governments again work for us. If we say nothing, they are not likely to step in.

In Canada the average age of a trafficked sex trade worker is 15.4 years old. Girls who are targeted are generally already classed as high risk. Aboriginal girls and women (and even boys & men) are in one of the highest categories. Regular teens though are not immune.

The abolition of slavery in Britain started with a group of men deciding this was wrong. They lived in a culture that believed slavery was moral, ethical & even biblical. They were HUGELY in the minority in what they believed was important to stand for.

20 years later,slavery was abolished in Britain.

27 million slaves today. Many of them children being forced into sexual slavery. Each and every one is someone’s daughter or son.

It’s time to tell our government that we don’t support this.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Cell Phone

The cell phone I've been carrying the last 3 years has still had a number from our previous province attached to it. These phone companies do NOT make it simple to break a 3 year contract and the fees paid to drop it were actually greater than just finishing out the contract and paying long distance charges whenever I used it.

Now, 8 months after our move, my cell phone is no longer responding to a 1-204 number. It will be nice not to have to tell people to dial long distance to reach me. Dumb.

As I've mentioned in other posts, cell phones are nasty nasty when it comes to conflict minerals. Something that has been such a helpful tool in OUR culture has had a devastating impact partway around the globe.

I did NOT want to buy another cell phone. NOT that I'm saying technology is bad, I quite enjoy it! BUT I am not down with the conflict methods used to obtain the necessary minerals for these phones & other devices. Wondering what I'm talking about? Check back here to a previous post of mine; "BUZZ WORD".

Reality check; how I feel does not exempt me from being part of this culture. When my kids are at school or participating in other programs, I am expected to leave a number where I can be reached. If I'm not going to be at home by my phone, I am expected to leave my CELL #. And for safety & concern when I leave my kids anywhere, I WANT to be reached. So, I need a cell that I can carry with me just like everyone else.

It is times like this I wish I never had read that initial book. If I didn't know how some of the components of a standard cell phone were acquired, I could just go with my first choice - a pretty pink smart phone I admired! BUT, I don't really wish I hadn't read that book. MY life would be easier, but perhaps my knowledge and desire to share can actually help make someone ELSE'S life better. And that's important to me on a whole new level.

Yesterday I took in my current cell - now dead - to some stores (in fact 6 were in the mall I stopped into). I was told my phone was just not compatible with the current technology. Crazy that after only 3 years, my totally fine, fully functioning phone is now useless. I didn't like that. Where did it leave me?

I asked a couple of the larger stores if they carried any phones that contained fewer of the minerals that would have been obtained through unethical means? Blank looks. Sigh. One store pulled out a phone and said "This is our new green phone - it contains fewer harsh chemicals & is considered less harmful to the user"

It's not ME I'm concerned about!! Green is great, but not my priority at this moment.

Looking online later back at home, I tried to find a used phone to avoid purchasing new. Wow! People want big bucks for their phones! Like $400++. I just don't have that on hand for this. I checked out refurbished options and a few existed, but ordering them online & having to wait while they come through the mail is a risk I'm too familiar with - I don't like that option.

I did some more research. Which of the big companies actually make a little bit of effort to manufacture their product a little more ethically than everyone else?

I revisited a site I had been to awhile back. It rates big companies in terms of their attempts at certifying their supply chain. If you are interested, this can help you out.

While it may not be the fancy pink phone and it may not have all the cool features of some other ones out there, I am picking my phone based on supporting a company that is trying to take steps in the right direction.

I'm still not totally on board with this, but I feel it is a logical compromise that I can live with.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Old Wives Tales

I recall years ago being told that slavery still exists. I didn't believe the person. I remember being told by a friend in highschool that genocide was a constant reality in the country where her family was from and relatives still lived. I thought "Surely not!" Not in this day, not in this culture, our civilized world wouldn't stand for it. I brushed her off and didn't give it much more thought. Now, nearly 20 years later, I've spoken to that friend again. I told her I was sorry I didn't believe her. I really struggled thinking such a thing could exist today.

As I've shared before, genocide is widespread both historically & currently. Beyond the holocaust - which Hollywood has brought more to light through various pieces such as Schindler's List & The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas This bit of history saddened me greatly. I didn't know it went beyond. I thought whatever evil had existed 70 years ago was long gone. This was the past, not the present. How wrong I was!

Our world is full of atrocities. My eyes have been opened and my heart broken.

I have made purchases at stores like Ten Thousand Villages and not really known what purpose it served. What does it really mean to purchase things at fair market value and send the profits to those who worked for them? It is called dignity.

Something I take for granted. Something I hold to as a right.

As a teen, we would hear stories of sex marketing. Mostly, I thought they were a tool to scare us into behaving. Reading about the markers of what may put a teen in a higher risk bracket for being trafficked, I was not high risk. I am thankful for that, but I definitely recall those that would have fit in that category.

What I thought was tales, stories and exaggerations, I'm learning now was actually not.

I am now recognizing many people, many groups who work hard every day to bring a voice to those who have none. They speak out to the governments, their peers & society as a whole, trying to help others know. They also work hard to be a practical support to victims.

There are such organizations in my own city, dedicated to helping people. It is my hope to connect in and become one more person helping to fight, helping to inform and plain old just helping anyway I can.

I wish they were just old wives tales like I had always thought, but they're not.

Sex slave at age 11, little girl bravely tells her horror tale to save others

Sex slave at age 11, little girl bravely tells her horror tale to save others

Human traffickers tough to prosecute | The News-Sentinel - Fort Wayne IN

Human traffickers tough to prosecute | The News-Sentinel - Fort Wayne IN

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reality Check

Do you recall the movie Matrix? It was huge to consider a parallel reality. One that existed beyond the realm of what the common person knows to exist.

I feel a bit like I am on a similar ride and it all started when I chose to pick up that initial book. My eyes were opened as I was introduced to a startling reality that goes well beyond what I was ever able to see in the world I lived in.

My life is grand; my reality offers no reason to complain. I have access to food, clothing, shelter and my freedom.

What I have learned though is that much of that has come at a cost – no, not the costs of our military fighting for the freedom we so often take for granted, but at a cost to the thousands of faceless people who make my comforts a reality.

I have spoken in this blog context about the realities of slavery as it pertains to coffee, and chocolate, but there is so much more and I am still learning.

Reading the current book “Invisible Chains”, I am seeing so much more into the world of human trafficking and I am so deeply saddened at how often the country I am so proud of has citizens that take no issue with the exploitation of other people to somehow earn themselves profit or gain sexual pleasure.

I find I think more about things now. Driving through Edmonton’s downtown this morning and through the interesting section known as Chinatown, I wondered who might be living here who wishes they could be anywhere else. Reality dictates that our city, among other large Canadian cities, is a harbour for many illicit activities involving detaining people against their will – for sexual or other purposes.

I question more now. Rather than think critically of the young ladies who are lingering, waiting for some interest, my heart breaks. I doubt any one of them woke up this morning thinking “Yes, I think today I’d like to sell myself.” See the guy watching her from the car over there? She's not here because she wants to be.

The sad thing is, it all comes down to economics. If there is demand, supply will be made available. There is obviously a profit for someone. That someone is not the person being sold however. Why is their life disposable?

In the Matrix, the lead character has the opportunity to select a pill. One will enable him to continue the path of gaining greater knowledge; the other will give him the chance to forget.

I feel like I can’t forget. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to pretend this isn’t happening and go back to not wondering about how my comforts come to be.

People may not openly support human trafficking, but in the broad sense of economics, most people have decided to accept it or to simply ignore it.

People don’t want to know how their coffee came to be, how their chocolate was harvested, where their clothing was manufactured.


I choose to believe it is really that people don’t know the reality. Consider the movie of a few years ago “Amazing Grace”. The abolitionist William Willberforce’s story of how slavery came to be outlawed in the UK. He believed that people just didn’t know the reality. He chose to believe they were ignorant of the conditions that their slaves endured during their capture and transport into their custody.

He chartered cruises for people. Rich people who were used to comfort. It was a lovely affair with dinner, drinks & music. However he very strategically brought the cruise ship around to the other side of the harbour. The people smelled the slave ships before they saw them. The atrocities “their” slaves had endured were finally revealed. Reality was brought to light.

I truly believe the greatest way to fight a war is with education. In my heart of hearts, I believe very few people would support modern day slavery. It is happening though, it is real. It exists on a much larger scale than ever before in the history of man.

Please take a moment to consider reality. Do your research and do what you feel you can to help support the abolition of modern day slavery.