Thursday, March 29, 2012

IOFA Welcomes Northwestern Intern, Meesoh Kim!

Meesoh Kim, IOFA Intern

Like most undergrads, I would describe myself as a navigator who keeps on trying new things in an attempt to figure out exactly what it is that I want to do with my life. Despite 3 years of new (and often random) experiences, however, I can’t say that I have found my path yet. But as I am looking back at my life to trace what has brought me to IOFA, I am noticing a broad but clear theme: a strong interest in children’s rights.

I believe it started 2 summers ago when I “interned” at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. I was merely a freshman in college at the time and had very limited knowledge in any human rights-related issue. Justifiably, my supervisor saw little use of me and dumped on me the humdrum job of translating some English documents to Korean. But I guess I was a good enough translator that one day, I found a couple of general comments on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on my desk for me to translate. As I had to carefully review every word on those documents, I quickly gained important knowledge as well as a strong interest in children’s rights that summer. Since then, many of the activities I have been involved in have been motivated by this interest in children’s rights and children’s rights advocacy.

And it is this interest that has led me to IOFA. While I cannot say I had a lot of prior knowledge in human trafficking issues, IOFA’s dedication to improve the lives of highly vulnerable adolescents deeply resonated with me and has thus led me here. I feel very blessed for this opportunity to learn more about trafficking and to contribute in alleviating the problem.

I will be mainly working on the Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project, which seeks to strengthen the capacity of Asian American-serving organizations in Chicago to serve the victims of human trafficking. I will also be involved in the Transition Initiatives in Ethiopia as I will be researching organizations that can help us aid adolescents transition out of institutional care into successful adult lives that are free of trafficking threats. I am excited for the insight I will gain during this work and I can already see myself coming out of this experience as a stronger children’s rights advocate. And who knows? I may even come out of this with a clear path I want to take after I graduate from college! Sounds ambitious? We’ll see…

But for now, let the work begin!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Anti-Human Trafficking Response in Ireland

When March 17th comes around, everyone feels a little more Irish. In light of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, I decided to learn more about Ireland’s response to human trafficking. Through the European G6 Human Trafficking Initiative, which produces the Blue Blindfold Campaign, Ireland joins the UK, Poland, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands in a unified fight against trafficking.

In Ireland, victims of human trafficking are entitled to a 60 day “recovery and reflection” period, during which they are protected from deportation, but are not required to cooperate with law enforcement. As cited on the Blue Blindfold website, “If there is reasonable grounds to believe you are a suspected victim of the crime of human trafficking, you will get 60 days to recover and escape the influence of the trafficker. It will give you time to gather information and decide whether or not you want to help the Gardaí [local police] with their investigation into what happened to you.”1

Retelling the story of one’s victimization immediately after the trauma can pose as an immense challenge to survivors of trafficking. A 60 day recovery and reflection period recognizes that victims need to time in order to stabilize before being asked to rehash their story and experience the re-traumatization that this entails. After the 60 day recovery and reflection period, the victims may receive permission to lawfully remain in the country for periods of 6 months (renewable) if they cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers.

Blue Blindfold also states that authorities will only grant 60 days of recovery and reflection on the grounds that the suspected trafficking victim breaks all lines of contact with the accused trafficker. While this mandate seems logical to most, dropping communication can also be quite difficult. Studies have shown that trauma bonding—by which a victim develops strong, emotional ties to the perpetrator of physical, sexual, or emotional violence—is a common occurrence among trafficking victims.2 Clearly, with continuously emerging evidence regarding human trafficking, the global community is only beginning to understand the complexity of the issues and nuances regarding human trafficking. There is not yet one clear best response; however, as we all work towards alleviating the injustices of human trafficking victims, it is interesting to turn our attention to the work and efforts of those around us and across the pond.

Carly Loehrke, Program Development Intern

[1] Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. (n.d.). Guide to procedures for victims of human trafficking in Ireland (Department of Justice and Equality publication). Retrieved from$FILE/Guide%20to%20Procedures%20for%20Victims%20of%20Trafficking.pdf

[2] National Human Trafficking Resource Center. (n.d.) Sex trafficking fact sheet. Retrieved from

Friday, March 9, 2012

When do survivor stories become exploitative?

As a journalist, I’ve grappled with the ethics of reporting when working with vulnerable populations. Often there is a perpetual conflict between wanting to raise awareness on undeniable injustices and participating in the creation of media sensations that can border on re-exploitative.This dilemma has continued to rear its head at IOFA as we celebrate accomplishments and promote our work as a social justice organization dedicated to helping with anti-trafficking efforts nationwide.

Human trafficking cases have been prevalent in the media this past year. Most recently, America’s Most Wanted did a two hour special on a trafficker who was subsequently caught a week later. Raising awareness on these issues is vital to mobilization and no doubt such coverage has its positive effects.

For victims, however, sharing stories can be re-traumatizing. Much like when put on the stand to testify, public scrutiny on extremely intimate details of a traumatic experience can reopen old wounds. So where should we draw the line?

Safety is at the fore of our work at IOFA. Publishing details of victim experiences can undermine that safety, so I was intrigued when I saw an online guide for journalists that spoke to the issue. At IOFA we’d argue that proper trauma-informed training for police, journalists, and the like is critical in order to prevent harming victim recovery.

So, we’d like to pose the question back to you: survivor stories can sometimes invoke the most empathy, but are they doing more harm than good? What do you think?

Summar Ghias, Program Development Intern