Monday, December 31, 2012

Urgent End of Year Appeal - We're More Than Half Way There!

Thank you to everyone who has helped us reach over $11,000 in donations for our end of year appeal!  We still have work to do and a $20,000 goal to reach.

In our world today, young people face a multitude of risks, known and unknown. Keeping children and youth safe from violence and exploitation is critical to the health of our communities and our world.   

In partnership with IOFA, you can:
  • Stop a 14-year old child from being sold as a prostitute
  • Prepare an orphaned young person to safely leave their care center and start of life of independence
  • Build ground-breaking research on the most critical issues faced by our young people today
We invite you to help build a safer world for all of us.

If you agree, please consider an end of year gift to IOFA this holiday season. Our goal is $20,000. 

We believe that we can get there.

Your donation is tax deductible for 2012, if you make your donation before midnight tonight.  Please donate today! 

Wishing you a happy 2013,

Shelby French, Sehla Ashai, 
the IOFA Intern Team
and The IOFA Board of Directors:
Alison Boak
Jennifer Greene
Meghan McGrath
Philip Roy
Monica Thornton


Monday, December 10, 2012

Global Human Trafficking: How Migrants Are Impacted

Migrant women are at an increased risk for becoming targets of human trafficking perpetrators. It is estimated that 27 million people are trafficked for labor and sex trafficking  globally. Women comprise 80-98% of those who are sexually exploited across the world. United Nations reports that of those who are trafficked,  95% experienced physical and/or sexual abuse while being trafficked. Migrant women who lack support structures in  their destination country and come with low funds, can find themselves coerced into being trafficked. Whether they came under the guise of a job or continued education, or met a trafficker who befriended them with one goal in mind, migrant women can find themselves in a triple bind. They are poor, female, and undocumented while being trafficked in a foreign country. The Inter Press Agency (IPS)states that “migrant women who get involved in the commercial sex trade face multiple challenges. These include “insecurity in relation to the immigration status (such as) the potential breach of immigration law on top of prostitution-related law; criminalisation by the state; isolation and lack of friends; disorientation from the constant movements around brothels in different towns; vulnerability to extortion and blackmail; control by pimps and advertisers and lack of medical care (apart from certain clinics for sexually transmitted diseases).”   

Not only do these women suffer  the dehumanizing treatment of being victims of trafficking, they also lack access to health and medical care. As a result, many women attain a variety of illnesses that go untreated and further erode trafficking victims lives. Migrant families also face job discrimination whether they enter a new country through legalized routes, as asylum seekers, or as undocumented families. Women, who are still globally denied basic human rights, face extreme barriers to finding work in a new country and can fall into stereotypical gender roles which pay low and demand long hours (IPS). Thirty-two percent of trafficking  victims are forced into economic exploitation, over half of this population is female. Global profits for human trafficking is around 32 billion dollars and climbing. Worldwide, prostitution is an act which women and girls, due to severely oppressive factors, can become imprisoned.

 Migrant men also face great circumstances and make up a large number of those found in the forced labor market. The Solidarity Network writes that migrant is a person who leaves a country in pursuit of work. In North America, there are 18 million migrant workers. The migrant worker population, which usually consists of domestic workers, construction workers, contract laborers, low-skilled service sector workers, agricultural workers, and export production factory workers. Often, those who possess these jobs have left countries to find the work in which they are engaging. The need for work, puts this group in a precarious position and makes them vulnerable to being exploited through lowered wages, unlawful working hours, and other forms of abuse. Here too, a lack of proper documentation gives traffickers further power over the lives of migrant families. To be a migrant family, asylum seeker, or refugee in a new country is to be presented with unique problems. Those seeking the ability to provide for family members, those needing an economic boost, or those fleeing prosecution should not be subjected to further disempowerment, discrimination, or undue hardship. What can be done to aid migrant families and keep them from getting lost in human trafficking circles? Give us your ideas and feedback.

Sherie Shields
Task Force Intern IOFA

The U.S. Lags Behind in Ratification of Human Rights Convention

Happy International Human Rights Day! December 10 was chosen to honor the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. According to the UDHR, human rights are indivisible and inalienable, and encompass three categories: 1) civil and political rights, 2) economic, social, and cultural rights, and 3) rights that extend beyond the confines of a country and an urge for all countries who have signed the UDHR to mutually safeguard these rights for each other.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UDHR

This morning, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, released a press statement celebrating the important of human rights and also reiterating the United States’ priority commitment to protect human rights for both its citizens and those abroad. “Human rights cannot be disconnected from other priorities,” she wrote. The U.S. is no doubt in a privileged position, with both political power and technical knowledge that allows it to contribute to far-reaching human rights work. Our nation seems to excel in the open discussions of many human rights issues and does not have as serious of human rights violations as some other countries. Isn’t it uncanny then, that the U.S. has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?

The U.S. is among one of seven countries who have yet to ratify the CEDAW, placing it alongside Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. It is also the other country besides Somalia who has not ratified the CRC to this day, although it has ratified two provisions: 1) prohibiting the involvement of children in armed conflicts, and 2) prohibiting the sale, prostitution, and pornography of children.

Both the CEDAW and CRC are crucial in protecting the freedoms of children. The CEDAW promotes equality for women in the legal system, in political and public life, in access to education, in the right to equal pay, in the right to enter marriage, in the right to maternity leave. It protects women from discrimination linked to parental responsibilities and places women on the equal footing as men to enjoy human rights. The CRC protects children from neglect, abuse, exploitation, sexual abuse, underage labor, and deprivation of a national identity, healthcare, and education. It even calls for pre-and post-natal care for mothers, and seeks to ensure that children have adequate living standards that are conducive to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development.

There are several reasons for why the U.S. has not reached ratification of both of these long-overdue treaties. Opposition to the CEDAW comes from the contentious debate on women’s rights in the U.S. with regards to family planning, reproductive rights, and gender equality. Some of the same individuals and organizations that protest adoption of the CRC fear that parental rights to raise children at each parent’s discretion and traditional family structures will be undermined. However, the CRC does emphasize the importance of family involvement and guidance in nurturing the child.

It has been 31 years since the CEDAW and 12 years since the CRC went into force. The women and children of the U.S. have been waiting to have their rights. The people of the U.S. have a responsibility to recognize them and do them justice by serving them as equal human beings. 

Esther Liew
AATOP program development intern

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thank You From IOFA

Happy Thanksgiving!
IOFA is thrilled to finish up our 14th year of working to uphold the rights of young people around the world.  With your ongoing support, we have so much to be thankful for this year:

From our new and emerging programs:
  • 50 plus orphaned youth graduated from the IOFA Project Prepare Ethiopia pilot program 
  • Over 500 first responders including law enforcement, legal professionals, and social service providers were trained on human trafficking in the United States
  • In partnership with UNICEF, Susan Rosas, IOFA rep in Cambodia developed a safe process for orphaned youth to transition out of abusive orphanages into permanent loving homes with families
  • The Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project, targeting labor and sex trafficking victims in Chicago’s isolated ethnic communities was launched in partnership with the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the Chicago Bar Association

In addition to new and continuing grants, we raised an unprecedented amount of private funds:
  • We doubled the IOFA 2011 End of Year Annual Appeal donations from 2010, raising over $18,000 and an additional $5,000 in our Spring Appeal
  • IOFA Champion, Tracy O’Dowd raised over $2,000 for IOFA by competing in the exhausting Chicago Triathlon 
  • IOFA IVY Giving Member, Nabeela Rasheed and the South Asian Community helped raise $5,000 for IOFA at our summer Bollywood Nights Event attended by over 100 supporters
  • IOFA Board Members, Meghan McGrath and IOFA Co-Founder and Board President raised over $6,000 for our local and Ethiopia work in Pound Ridge, New York
  • $4,000 in seed money was awarded by the Asian Giving Circle for the launch of AATOP
As always, we are more than thankful for our wonderful interns and consultants from 2011/2012 and our new interns for 2012/13 who worked so hard to keep our programs running:

Nikel Bailey, University of Chicago, SSA, IOFA Ethiopia
Charlotte Cahill, PhD., Northwestern University
Marianna Ernst, Hillsdale College
Mikiyas Feyissa, Program Coordinator, IOFA Ethiopia.
Summar Ghias, University of Chicago, SSA
Amy Gilbert, Loyola School of Law, Child Rights Fellow, IOFA Ethiopia
Laura Horner, DePaul Law School
Esther Liew, University of Chicago, SSA
Carly Loehrke, University of Chicago, SSA, IOFA Ethiopia
Nikitha Murali, University of Chicago, Summer Links Fellow
Kelleen O’Leary, Loyola School of Law
Camil Palumbo-Sanchez, Washington St. Louis University
Chanthy aji Renaldo, IOFA Cambodia
Susan Rosas, University of Chicago, SSA, IOFA Cambodia
            Aatifa Sadiq, University of Chicago, SSA, Human Rights Fellow, IOFA Ethiopia

And we are incredibly thankful for Sehla’s new arrivals - Nuriya and Amaan Mufti – new IOFA team members who will be starting their internships once they can keep their heads up!

More than ever, IOFA graciously gives thanks to the hundreds of donors that have allowed IOFA to grow and expand it’s work to support the most vulnerable adolescents in Illinois, New York, and around the world.  

We look forward to hearing from all of you.

Blessings to you and your families!

Shelby French, Sehla Ashai, the IOFA Board, and the IOFA Team

Monday, November 19, 2012

More Than Exchanging Drugs and Weapons as Gang Activity

Gangs in the U.S. have generally been known for drug trafficking, the exchange of weapons, and violent crimes that result in shootings and deaths. However, according to the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, they have shifted from activities which are more dangerous and risky to less visible ones such as human trafficking, alien smuggling, and prostitution. At the time of the report, 35 states and U.S. territories have reported gangs in their jurisdictions who are complicit in these activities. These crimes involve a lower risk of detection and are also more profitable because humans are considered a more expensive commodity. After all, the criminal exchange of humans has become the second most profitable industry globally after the drug trade. If the traffickers are out of sight, the trafficked are the ones who will get into trouble with the police because they are positioned vulnerably on the front lines.

Some gangs have combined the trafficking of drugs and humans, where girls and women will transport drugs and at the same time, engage in commercial sex. Gangs in the U.S. are both locally based but also have transnational ties, enabling the movement of trafficked victims across state and international lines. Gang members act as pimps who first lure young girls into their care, then will control them through physical and psychological abuse. Gang-related human trafficking, many cases of which are sex trafficking, is evidence of the escalating prevalence of the domestic sex trade in both U.S. cities and suburbs.

Gang members have used social networking websites to recruit girls. They prey on girls by complimenting them on their looks, asking to get to know them better, and extending offers for opportunities to make monetary profit with their good looks. If these girls, who are mostly young teenagers, agree to meet their solicitors, they will be asked to provide a cell phone number where they can be contacted for an in-person meeting. The girls are quickly taught the ropes of commercial sex, sometimes by older girls who have had more experience in this work.

Sometimes, girls are recruited through “skip parties”, where young girls succumb to the enticing option of going to a party instead of sitting in a classroom during school hours. The masterminds behind these parties, knowing that girls like to travel in groups, conveniently encourage them to invite friends to the skip parties. Girls are then passed on from member to member, until she is “seasoned” for the streets and deemed ready to work.

The FBI has identified Asian gangs, Somali gangs, Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, MS-13, SureƱos, Vice Lords, and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs to have engaged in human trafficking. 27-year old Justin Strom, leader of the Underground Gangster Crips in Fairfax, Virginia was convicted in September of this year for recruiting high school girls online, then trafficking them for commercial sex. MS-13, the first gang that the U.S. has named as a transnational criminal organization in October, has been notoriously known for its violent crimes, numerous murders, beatings, and infamous attacks with machetes. The presence of MS-13 is most heavily felt in LA County and the Washington, DC area. One of its mottos is “Mata, roba, viola, controla”, which translates to “Kill, steal, rape, control”. To ensure payment from the girls’ customers and that the girls were not hurt, MS-13 members would carry weapons while accompanying the girls to work.

Young boys are no exception to being victims of trafficking. They are considered low cost, low risk, and expendable to gang members who traffic them for labor purposes. While girls are more likely to be subject to sex trafficking, boys at age 7 are recruited to transport drugs, steer customers toward designated drug exchange locations, and as lookouts when law enforcement investigates suspicious drug-related activities. These boys are offered protection, food, and shelter when they cooperate, but are deprived of them when they do not. They will be socialized to gang norms, desensitized to violence, may grow up to belong to the gangs themselves, and will likely be incarcerated.

The nation’s first ever state-based wiretap investigation targeting human trafficking involved a case in Chicago that lasted one and a half years in 2011. Operation “Little Girl Lost” resulted in charging nine individuals with ties to street gangs who trafficking children and young women, some as young as twelve years old. The nine were charged with Involuntary Sexual Servitude of a Minor and Trafficking in Persons for Forced labor, punishable up to 30 years. Throughout the investigation, police found dozens of young women and girls who had suffered extensive emotional and physical abuse and were then provided social services that could give them safety from their traffickers. IOFA played an important role in this case as a partner with the State Attorney’s efforts to refer victims to recovery and after-care services, and at present continues to be an important presence in the city as a co-collaborator on the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force.

With the involvement of gangs, human trafficking is becoming an increasingly organized and networked crime. Although some tactics that gang members use to coerce girls into working for sex are similar to non-gang affiliated traffickers, it behoove anyone whose work involves interventions to reduce and prevent gang violence to address human trafficking. Three San Diego professors have received a $399,999 federal grant to explore the intersection of gang activity and human trafficking in their region. Although this issue is relatively new in comparison to other gang-related activity, it will continue to be a fast-growing business if there is not a concerted effort to target these specific victims. We cannot let the drugs, weapons, and shootings overshadow human trafficking, for this is a vile human rights violation.


Esther Liew
IOFA Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project program development intern

Monday, November 12, 2012

Political Conflict and Women in the Sex Trade

           Rape and other forms of sexual exploitation have become expected tools of warfare. For centuries, rape continues to symbolize the ultimate destruction of society by its impact on the family unit. Unfortunately, this ritualistic act almost goes unquestioned as an expected byproduct of war. For many of us, we pause to reflect on the crimes committed, but can easily put it aside in our minds if associated with an active conflict zone. Only within the past two decades, an increasing amount of attention has been paid by peace-keeping operations to provide services to individuals that are victimized. This also raises concerns since many peace-keepers have also sexually assaulted women during peace-keeping (Bastick, et al., 2007). However, for many, such as those affected by the conflict in Kashmir, sexual exploitation does not end with a simple truce or an interim in fighting. Rather, the conditions created by conflicts propel and exacerbate circumstances that make sex work one of the few options for income, especially among adolescent youth.
            According to an article written by Aliya Bashir for the Women News Network titled Sex Workers: Victims or Victimless Members of India’s Society?, Justice Bashir Ahmad Kirmani, a retired judge from the Jammu Kashmir High Court reported that more than 25,000 Kashmiri girls are working as prostitutes in Srinagar, a major city of Kashmir. This represents a conservative estimate since sex workers opt not to identify or report themselves. Some girls, including minors, are black mailed and coerced into joining the sex trade as demonstrated by the major sex scandal uncovered in 2006. For others, sex work may be their only option. The driving factor behind the decision to work as a sex worker remains primarily economic. The ongoing violence in Kashmir has brought displacement, poverty, exclusion, and a lack of opportunity for women in the area. Many girls were forced to become child soldiers or concubines for military forces in the 1990s. These girls have grown up, and as women, struggle to find better financial opportunities for themselves. Due to the conflict, many of these women are the only heads of households, placing pressures on children to help their mothers financially (Bashir, 2012). It also creates opportunities for human traffickers to lure children seeking to help their mothers into the business with false promises of money.
There has been little research to document the experiences and the number of single women forced into the sex trade as a means of survival after losing male family members to the ongoing conflict. However, investigative journalistic pieces can shed light on the issue through personal narratives. For example, Bashir discusses the story of Heena, an 18 year old Kashmiri girl that turned to sex work to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments. At the time, a pimp provided her with the money she needed in exchange for being a call girl. Seven years later, Heena is still involved in the sex trade, unable to escape, yet keeps her profession hidden from her mother due to cultural stigma.  Another example is Shaista Begum, a 35 year old woman who started selling sex as a means to buy food for her family. Begum admits that she would never have thought that she would work in the sex trade, but because she is illiterate, job opportunities were scarce (Nizami, 2012).
The stories of Begum and Heena are only two voices from among thousands in similar situations. More attention needs to be paid to the push factors involved in increasing women’s participation in sex work as a means for survival, especially in conflict zones where exclusion, poverty, and loss of male family members makes women more vulnerable to pull factors such as pimps and traffickers, and the opportunity to make money.

Bashir, Aliya (2012). Sex Workers: Victims or Victimless Members of India’s Society? Women News Network.

Bastick, M., Grimm, K., & Kunz, R. (2007). Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

Nizami, Salman (2012). Kashmiri Women and the Sex Trade. Daily Times.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project blog

Hello IOFA Talkers!

The Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) is an up-and-coming IOFA initiative that is focusing on gathering agencies and organizations in Chicago that are invested in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community to:

  1. Increase identification of Asian American victims of trafficking in the Chicago metropolitan area
  2. Build the capacity of Asian American-serving organizations to provide appropriate mental health and offer services to victims of trafficking in the Chicago metropolitan area
  3. Increase participation of Asian American organizations in anti-trafficking coalitions and task forces

AATOP held its first community forum last Wednesday with potential partners to brainstorm ways to move ahead with this program as trafficking among the API population is an issue that does not garner enough collaborative attention or support from API-serving organizations in a city with a large Asian American population.

Check out AATOP's blog here to keep updated on our next steps and future plans!

Esther Liew
AATOP Program Development Intern