How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking?
I am a survivor of incest, child rape, child labor and child prostitution, as well as extreme child abuse. I was also born and raised in a Mafia family. I grew up in the United States. America, like every other country, is a great country, and like every other country, also has citizens that suffer greatly at the whims of others, thus having their rights violated.
After a forty-one year history with human exploitation and sharing my story with the public for the past twenty-six years, I am thankful people are listening and the awareness is greater than ever before, but honestly, as ungrateful as this may seem, the terms ‘human trafficking’ and the other terms that have become politically correct, irk me to no end. I have said it for many years and will continue to say it: abuse is abuse; everyone can relate to abuse. But human trafficking sounds so exotic; it is easier to picture it in a far away tropical locale than in our own backyard. And to say it is ‘modern day slavery,’ implies that slavery ended in America when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, when, in fact, slavery only changed into a new format.
And I feel very strongly that survivors should be developing the terms, not the Vatican, not non-survivors, no matter how well intended. For those of us who have gone through our abuses, it and related issues are still a highly personal set of spectres we face every moment of the day. To have someone other than we develop the terminology is another violation. The fact that the abuses I endured, and so many others are still enduring, has a fancy catch name that sparks attention lends me to ask: Are we so brainwashed by marketing that we have become jaded and only care for a person in need if their need is given a name? And now that human trafficking is the new buzz phrase and people are spreading the buzz words around, really what practical impact is that going to have upon the children and their families to come? It may seem that I am clouding up issues but in reality, human rights abuses take on many forms and affect every, and all, generations.
Slavery and human exploitation started when the first person realized they could manipulate someone’s misfortune for their own selfish gain. Human exploitation will exist until the one of the last two persons dies or unless the world has a change of heart.
What draws you to support and advocate for people enslaved by traffickers?
I wish I could give you a noble answer. I am still a person crying out to be heard and helped. Basically, I’m in constant search for answers to my own personal questions and solutions to my own family’s issues. This brings me before many people who are also looking to do the same. We help each other. And when I have the opportunity to speak to the public, I am speaking for myself, my family and for my fellow victim survivors and survivor activists and their families. We are all in a constant state of healing. That includes our children. My children, a few years ago, brought it to my attention that since they were born that ‘my story’ became ‘their story’. My one son stated eloquently that child abuse is a holocaust upon the generations and the other stated that human exploitation is the scourge of all humanity. It was quite interesting to see that same sentiment stated in an article last week, three years after my sons admonished me with their statements.
What does your work involve?
In the early days, going back twenty-six years ago, I shared my story in schools, churches, events, TV, radio and in written format. Later, I found myself helping people out of abusive relationships, and prostitution, and even to leave organized crime. Then, after a time, I came to network with organizations to develop community programs that helped promote community safety. These programs would decrease the potency of the atmosphere that allowed for prostitution, drugs, and even domestic violence to thrive.
For the past fifteen years, I’ve been advising organizations, NGOs and governments. I also stay in contact with victim-survivors, survivor-activists, and their families, listening to their needs and searching for solutions. Lately, the most intense work is spending time with homeless women in Skid Row and hearing their stories, getting to know them, helping to meet their needs, helping case workers see through the eyes of their clients who have been victimized. Domestic abuse, sex abuse, human trafficking/exploitation have such a direct connection with homelessness. Malnutrition runs rampant also for the victims of abuse, exploitation and homelessness. Once Upon An Eden works to address these needs.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking?
Well for starters, the people who make the laws could actually obey the laws and hold themselves accountable to the laws they write. Local officials and education programs could inform their citizens of their local, state and federal laws. Pardoning victims for the crimes committed under duress and or in self-defence would be great. We are all breathlessly awaiting the release of Sara Kruzan. I read her story and think how easily I could be in her place; it makes me shudder. How many more people are in her shoes? I would like to see rape charged with the same intensity as murder, personally. Gender-neutral laws coordinating family law, rape/domestic violence laws, and immigration laws need to be designed to address some of the complexities associated with such issues happening today. Trade agreements need to be read and understood by activists. Organized crime hides behind the trade agreements. Again, this links back to lawmakers. There are too many backdoor deals that take place undermining the anti-human exploitation laws being written and the efforts and safety of advocates. Policies of the UN and EU and other global agencies also need to be examined by independent third party agencies from outside of the UN and EU for their promotion of an atmosphere that permits violation of human rights. Accountability, and reform or abolition, need to be expected as per outcome of the examination given by the independent third party agencies from outside the UN and EU.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
Studying about abuse is a great help, but one cannot stop there. Awareness without action is apathy – and apathy kills. The actions do not have to be elaborate. Get to know one’s neighbours. Be involved in the neighbourhood watch. Have block parties. Be more attentive to your child’s words, listen to their hearts and minds. Never stop seeing the world through the eyes of your child. Let your children influence you for the better. Share your heart and mind with your child. Teach your child self-defence. More eating around the table, more games nights, more family fun nights, more dates with your significant other. Put the electronics away once in a while (hopefully more often). Use and encourage creativity and arts in your household. Shop locally more often. Avoid chain stores when possible.
Understand we are the human family, not a bunch of races or nationalities. Please stop being shocked and surprised by reports of sex abuse. Please stop being in denial and coming to the side of religious leaders when accusations of sex abuse are made. Hold the institution and the person accused accountable if found guilty. Please do get to know and try to understand the issues survivors face. Please recognize that boys and men are also abused. Please recognize there is a real war against innocence, safety and well-being.
Please do support organizations that strive to make the communities safer such as Tiny Stars (a non-government agency dedicated to working with US Federal Law Enforcement gathering evidence to prosecute extreme human rights abusers) by joining their Bucket Brigade teams. Please know that you can help. Twenty-six, twenty-seven years ago, agencies such as Tiny Stars did not exist. It was the actions of average citizens that helped me get out of a troubled, dangerous lifestyle. Nowadays, we have agencies such as Tiny Stars that encourage citizens to get involved – citizens who are informed and aware, that’s a powerful combination, which will make a huge difference for generations to come.
What are your plans for the future?
An internet radio program is about to be launched in March. Once Upon An Eden has partnered with Majestic Dreams Foundation (Aimee Galicia Torres) to shoot a documentary which should be done by June. OUAE is in the process of designing training videos about human rights abuses, organized crime, and the needs of survivors and their families. We have partnered with anti-poaching groups in South Africa to come against human exploitation. We have also partnered with Leaderspeak to form a program for homeless veterans, and ultimately, our goal is to form an army of men who will help fight human rights abuses. We have some gardening-community design projects that we are looking forward to implementing. And my autobiography will be published this year. OUAE has also pulled together teams to address issues that survivors face. We are hoping to design laws that address these issues. Currently, these issues are isolated and become ‘moral platforms’ that pundits campaign on. We are hoping to help the public see how these issues interlink and affect their loved ones. This is exciting for us because the teams comprise organizations and individuals outside of the ‘human trafficking’ community. Most exciting is the fact that many are men’s groups. OUAE has also been asked by a men’s group, comprised of male lawyers and judges from India, to help design programs for the men of India in response to the riots that took place recently.
Recommended websites/further reading:
Tiny Stars (Founder/Director, Jake Collins) needs volunteers to fund and help out with community projects anywhere in the country
Leaderspeak (Founder/Director, William Cody Bateman)
- Michelle Carmela‘s interview about the issue of child sex abuse images on Facebook can be read here.