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.