WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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

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

New 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.

blogpullquoteHumanTraffickingUtilizing 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.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books) and a JBMTI working paper, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, examining CSEC through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens.

 

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Children's Rights Are Human Rights

june4blogpic handsChildren's Rights Are Human Rights

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed June 4th as International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression(resolution ES-7/8)in 1982 to recognize the “physical, mental, and emotional abuse” many of the world’s children endure. Unfortunately, we even need to have a day to acknowledge such horrific tragedies. According to the Children’s Defense Fund every day in America:

- Every 30 seconds during the school year a public school student is corporally punished;
- Every 47 seconds a child is confirmed as abused or neglected;
- Every seven hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect.

Yet, even reading these statistics, we may have become desensitized or rationalize that these realities only exist for particular communities. Stereotypes place such brutality specifically in “urban neighborhoods” (often read: Latino and/or Black communities) or low-income areas. However, additional CDF statistics confirm:

blogpullquoteChildrensRights- Every 58 seconds during the school year a Latino public school student is corporally punished, every 57 seconds for Black students, and 48 seconds for White students;
- Every day, 402 Latino, 360 Black, and 797 White children are confirmed as abused or neglected;
- Every day, one Latino, one Black, and one White child is killed by abuse or neglect.

The long-term social and health effects of childhood abuse and neglect are poignantly illustrated by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). The study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and a California HMO, found that one in four f the 17,000+ middle-income subjects had endured at least one of the “adverse” categories (i.e. abuse, neglect, divorce, household substance abuse or mental illness). Furthermore, one in eight people had experienced four or moretypes, which led to graded risks for health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, heart and liver disease.

Luckily, thanks in large part to such empirical evidence as the ACE Study, as a culture we are beginning to understand and to accept that childhood trauma deeply affects our daily lives. We are also increasingly acknowledging how trauma deeply affects adults which, with proper treatment and support, can act as violence prevention in our families and communities.

For instance, a soldier returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and his family can now receive support, whereas this wasn’t always the case. Actor Patrick Stewart recently eloquently spoke out at comic book convention about surviving domestic violence as a child of a WWII veteran father who suffered from what was then referred to as “shellshock.” Blogger Heather Skye had acknowledged Stewart during a convention panel for his recent speech at Amnesty International against domestic violence, while also identifying herself as a domestic violence survivor. Stewart’s emotional reply implored that violence is “never” the answer, and that “men can stop domestic violence.”

As adults, we are charged with protecting children. We know this is the “right” thing to do, and yet, we can often get caught up in protecting only “our” children: members of our families, our communities, our schools, and our places of worship. But for children who were born to parents who cannot keep them safe--children who have (to paraphrase Warren Buffett) lost the biological lottery--we must also take responsibility for keeping them safe. All too often, violence remains a “private family matter.”

On this International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, I am making the plea that the United States take a big step forward in keeping all children safe by endorsing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which only the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan have not ratified. Yes, such documents are often viewed as “only a piece of paper.” However, I believe there is power in taking a public stand as a country, especially when one signature proclaims that the United States supports protecting and ensuring children's rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.” All children deserve such a vow.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of childhood sexual exploitation, Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books), examining child prostitution through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens. An audio recording of her March 2012 WCW seminar, “Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience in U.S. Prostituted Children,” is available online, and a copy of her recent working paper by the same title is available through WCW Publications.

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