How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking?
I found out about a woman who was trafficked to a massage parlour in DC. I was disgusted to learn that she had to ask twelve ‘customers’ or johns – men who pay to use her body, for help. It was a very brave thing she did because the traffickers would have beat her severely if they knew she had asked any johns for help. The business of the trafficker is aided considerably by the perception of the johns that the women or girls want to be there, which is, of course a lie. I ended up attending a happy hour where I heard from people from Polaris Project and from DC Stop Modern Slavery. At a later meeting of DC Stop Modern Slavery, the founder of that organisation, Ray Lian, asked if anyone would research and write letters on behalf of Sara Kruzan. Once I knew her story, I made it a goal to see her free before I die. Injustice is a very powerful motivator.
What draws you to support and advocate for people enslaved by traffickers?
I am a veteran of the US Army and of the war in Afghanistan. After more than six years in the army, one value I came to deeply appreciate is that of the right to pursue happiness. Contrast that with people being enslaved and you can get a sense of how much slavery in the United States of America offended my sense of what is right and wrong. I wasn’t drawn so much as compelled. I had to be part of resisting and stopping this evil in our midst.
People sometimes ask me about ‘prostitution’. It seems unjust to say that people are in prostitution. I’ve seen studies that suggest very high percentages of the people that are called prostitutes are actually little more than slaves of a pimp and that the pimping out of these women started with a process of grooming (really, brainwashing) long before they were adults. When most people say the word prostitute, they are thinking of the myth of prostitutes. The myth they are thinking of is that of a money or sex lusting thing that will do anything for that money and/or sex. Most people fail to see that this grooming process starts when these women are children and that it is designed to systematically take away their freedom to the point where they have no good choices left. When you look past the myth, you see a system of child abuse that extends until the pimp can force no more value out of the child/woman he has so long abused.
What does your work involve?
Mostly, what I do is draw people’s attention to what has become obvious to anti-human trafficking activists: how pimps operate, how they target, prey upon and brainwash their intended victims, how they curtail their freedom constantly by withholding food or rest, and through beatings, humiliations and threats as well as through ‘drops of kindness’, how laws and practices of police forces sometimes assist the pimps. I call out bad behaviour when I see it, and teach others to do the same. I connect people and ideas and causes and actions to resist the evil we call human trafficking.
Besides that, for the past few years, I have agitated for the freedom of Sara Kruzan. Sara Kruzan’s story represents not just what happened to her so many years ago – but it represents what is still happening today. There are still children being abused: physically, emotionally, and sexually as a precursor to being the target of and predated upon by pimps. Pimps are still using a combination of beatings, humiliations, threats on their victims and/or threats on those they love, denial of food, water, sleep or shelter, and small tiny acts of ‘kindness’ so as to effectively brainwash the child. So, when the public learns that child protective services knew she was physically abused in her home, and failed to remove her, when school districts knew or should have known that she was missing from school and never sent anyone to her last home on record to ascertain the condition of the child, when Kruzan’s only experience of a father figure was in fact a violent pedophile pimp, when the city did nothing to help Sara as she was being prostituted during the ages of thirteen through sixteen, when her pimp’s words, that the law was all on the side of the pimp, came true, well then, that story deserves attention by all.
Kruzan was eleven years old when her pimp first targeted her and molested her. Today, girls as young as eleven are still being called ‘teenage prostitutes’ by news services like Reuters. Furthermore, her story and supporters got a sitting Governor to commute her sentence, a miracle in itself. Her story and supporters also got a sitting California Attorney General to publicly change her mind and declare that: “We also recognise that it is perverse to suggest that a minor who has been sexually abused and exploited from the age of eleven should be entitled to lesser defences than an adult who has been in an abusive dating relationship.” And just recently, we got an agreement finalised which effectively makes her eligible for parole this year.
Sara Kruzan was the only innocent person in all of this. G.G. Howard, the pimp who did all this to her, dug a pit and fell into it himself. My own feeling is that until the law recognises what manipulations, pressures and dangers are forced upon young girls, there will not be, and cannot be, justice for them. I think, in this one case, we have forced the powers that be to look at such things. I think we have progressed the whole movement in this way.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking?
The spread of human trafficking is driven by two factors: Lack of risk on the part of the trafficker, and the huge amount of money a trafficker can make by selling the trafficked person over and over again. So I’d like to greatly increase the amount of risk to a trafficker and I’d like every bit of property of traffickers to be seized and sold and the proceeds claimed by the trafficked persons. Pimps routinely send prostituted girls into situations that are dangerous physically, mentally and emotionally. I think there should be additional charges for that. I think if a pimp forces a trafficked person to break a law, the pimp should bear every bit of responsibility for that and the prostituted person should bear none of it.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
There are so many ways to help. When I can afford it, I lend money through Kiva.org, particularly to women in developing countries. I believe a huge part of trafficking stems from a culture that doesn’t respect, educate, or care for women and girls. Kiva helps women by providing them with access to credit so they can start or expand businesses. Another way to help is to educate yourself and others. Once you are sure about something regarding human trafficking, share what you know with others. Other ways are connecting with like-minded people and enlisting their help in writing petitions or letters to the editor or letters to Congresspersons or Senators. Vote. Also, encourage businesses and community leaders to hire persons formerly in so-called sex trade professions. It is quite common to hear that communities try to run out of town persons who were formerly prostituted, or involved in the production of porn, even ten or more years after. This has the effect of forcing people to continue in a situation they probably never wanted to be in in the first place and bolsters the traffickers claim that “once a whore, always a whore.” That message does more to doom people than any other.
What are your plans for the future?
I have recently become involved in a volunteer organisation called RailsGirls. Their website says: “Rails Girls aims to open up technology and make it more approachable for girls and women.” But my personal mission is to find women who are dedicated to fighting injustice through code. That seems like such a far away goal. In the meantime, the more women who are helped by RailsGirls, who learn that they can create their own web applications using Ruby on Rails, and who earn a living doing it, I feel like that in and of itself is fighting human trafficking. It is practically cliché that women get entered into being prostituted because they had no other choices. I feel like by introducing women to programming, and getting them to know the awesome Ruby community, they can take advantage of, or even create, more opportunities for themselves. That’s on an individual level. More than that though, if we can grow a community of women in countries all over the world who create software for the web, we can help women gain respect, and they, in turn, can more easily help bring the changes necessary to end or sharply curtail human trafficking.
Recommended websites/further reading:
GEMS Girls (Girls Education and Mentoring Services)