Outside Advisor

I wish that I could give as heartfelt a post to Ms. Wendy Gallagher, my outside advisor, as I had my inside advisor.  I feel, however, that since we had never met in person that by reading her own words you might be able to judge her ambition, dreams, and opinions on my topic and willingness to help than from anything I could have written.

Here’s an interview that we conducted over a series of emails:

 

1.  What personally brought your attention to human trafficking, and how was your approach different from other activists in the field?
I first found out about human trafficking when I was working as a volunteer mentor for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) international.  The organization had published information on it and marked it as their cause of the year back in 2009 (I think I have the date right).  I found myself concerned about the issue and I had an overwhelming urge to help somehow.  I began to research the issue on the internet and my research continues today.  
As far as my approach, instead of just jumping into the fray I have decided to return to school as a political science (international relations) major.  I know it may not sound like much, but the dream is to try and get a job working for the Department of State as a foreign service officer in one of the many embassies that we have.  I would like to work with an immigration and human trafficking task force in order to make a difference.  Right now I am doing my senior thesis on the effectiveness of U.S. human trafficking policies in the reduction of trafficking victims and an increase in the number of traffickers convicted for their crime.  My main objective is to find better ways to assist victims and see them become policy.  I also enjoy developing events to help raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking.
 
2.  How do the human trafficking specialists you met in Sicily and the Ukraine approach their job differently, and in what ways do you think they could learn from each other?
This is a really good question and I wish I had discussed their approaches with them.
From what understand the issue of trafficking in Sicily stems more from immigration/migration.  Many immigrants come to the country from Africa with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing.  Having no money, no home, and no jobs within their entrance country they are persuaded by unscrupulous people to do demeaning labor.  Often times you will find grown men walking around the city trying to sell roses.  These men are victims.  They are forced to sell the flowers and return with a set amount of money.  In Sicily it is a matter of assisting immigrants.  When the immigrants are given security within the entrance country then they are not swayed to become victims.  Another aspect to consider is during the immigration process many victims will be claimed.  The smugglers will take passports and other identifying papers from the immigrant to force them into a human trafficking situation where they are required to work for the money to pay for the return of their papers.  Most often they are never able to buy that freedom back.
As for the Ukraine, the woman I spoke with works in the U.S. embassy in Kiev, so she takes a more diplomatic approach.  She works in cooperation with the countries government.  I wish that I had gotten more information from her then, but I do have her email address.  Maybe I can email her and get more details for you.
3.  What has been the key/central resource for your research throughout your honors project?  Why this source?
The main sources that I have relied on for my senior thesis are government reports and policies, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011, the UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, and the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of the US Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Because I am doing a policy analysis this part is important.  My honors project, on the other hand, will revolve around raising public awareness of the issue.  In the past (the last event I developed) I had worked with Polaris Project and The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.  These two NGOs are significant contributors in the fight against human trafficking.  They are knowledgable about the issues and were able to supply speakers to the forum who where informative.  The speakers presented on the use of technology in luring, buying and selling victims, as well as its use for rescuing victims.
4.  Have you ever met a victim of human trafficking, and if so, what was the most memorable to you from this encounter?
I have met a gentleman who came to the U.S. as an immigrant.  When he arrived here he was forced to go to Florida where they would truck him and several other immigrants to a large field for work.  These men would be left with no food and little water, from sun up to sun down, and were told that if they didn’t want to work they would be left there or given over to the authorities for deportation.  When I listen to the stories of some immigrants I am amazed at the resilience that they have.  They suffer so much to try and fulfill a dream and to many that dream ends up being shattered by reality.  That is as close as I’ve come to meeting with a victim, but I hope that will change with the path that I’m on.  You always wish that you can help them all, but you realize that it’s baby steps that will get the job done.  What we can’t finish the next generation can.

  

5.  Has there ever been any opposition you have faced while trying to conduct a forum or speak to other students about your project?  For example, I know that advertising for my event was difficult because  it had to do with prostitution.  Those who read my emails, signs, and Facebook seemed to not hear the ‘forced’ part of forced prostitution.
I think that many people are blind to the reality of the issue.  I know that when I hosted my forum there were a lot of people that didn’t understand what I was doing and I had to explain what human trafficking is.  I think the biggest obstacle in ignorance!  Even if people have heard of the issue many chose to turn from it and act like it doesn’t exist.  Luckily I didn’t encounter any open opposition, it’s all been ignorance and I feel that it is the responsibility of those that are in the know to educate and enlighten those that are living in the dark.
6.  Do you think that the internet is used to lure unsuspecting people into being trafficked, such as internet dating, or that the internet mainly has an Amazon or Ebay quality where individuals are sold?
OK, this is a large and very important question and I have a lot to say on this so my answer may be quite lengthy.
The internet has become the go to place for traffickers and for buyers.  It is easy, convenient, readily accessible, and can be used to both find and recruit victims of all ages.  Traffickers can often times find vulnerable young girls (sometimes boys) who are looking for love, attention, or a way out of what they deem is a bad situation.  Traffickers will gain their trust with kind words and promises and offer to meet them someplace.  Once the meeting takes place the victim, thinking that they have something good going on, ends up in a nightmare.  I’m not sure about the numbers to date, but an FBI investigation in 2008 found that more than 2,800 children were advertised on Craigslist for the purpose of commercial sex.  U.S. law enforcement has also identified online sex ads as the #1 platform for the buying and selling of sex, so it’s not a streetwalker business anymore.  Tech savvy pimps and other forms of traffickers have found that the internet is a  quick way to sell their wares anonymously.  Both parties can hide their identities and no one is the wiser for it.  Another website that has been accused of allowing these forms of postings is backpage.com.  The main problem here is that the “johns” know exactly where these websites can be found and how to go about ordering/buying what they want.  As for having an amazon/ebay quality, yes!  The websites will list the victims like a commodity.  The post will go up with the victim dress scantily and offering a good time.  Another think that sellers use are code words.  I know that they exist, but I’m not sure what they are.  These words will be listed in the posting so that the “john” can get an idea of how old the victims is (underage or not) and if the victim is a virgin.  So, the internet is used to find, recruit, buy and sell victims, but it can also be used to help victims.  There are law enforcement agencies that have tapped into the internet sites and are working to uncover trafficking rings.  The internet is also used to monitor victims in trafficking situations.
7.  Have you ever been able to interview a trafficker, or read an interview of one?  How has that changed your perspective, if at all, on the process of human trafficking?
I have not had the chance to interview a trafficker, though I would love to do that.  I would love to know how they view humanity when they can so easily hurt another human.  I’m sure that talking with a trafficker would have some kind of impact though I can’t estimate what that impact might be.  I can never understand how one person can see or inflict pain on another!
8.  What statistics or story do you feel inclines individuals the most to sympathize with victims of human trafficking?
The most penetrating statistic is the age of victims.  We are talking about children averaging from ages 9-19, and some have been reported as young a 6.  To me that is horrifying.  You have to think, that’s someone’s daughter or son, someone’s brother or sister.  I also think that the knowledge of how victims are kept obedient is another important marker.  Most often they are threatened with death or the death of a family member, they are beaten, raped, starved, overworked, humiliated, and degraded.  This is not the life that anyone would want to experience.  During my forum in 2011 the speaker from Polaris Project told the audience about a young 13 year old girl they called Vanessa.  When she was found she was malnourished and overworked.  Her pimp had her servicing up to 21 men in a 20 hour work day. 
9.  Do you know of anyways that the internet is used in a positive way, besides spreading awareness of human trafficking through the websites of non-government organizations?
OK, I touched on this a bit in question 6, but I’ll cover a bit more for you.
I know that the government has task forces that are working with decoy ads on the site most prominently used for trafficking.  They also have decoy victims.  I would have to read up about other info. in this area.
10.  Who do you believe is the most susceptible to buying an individual who has been trafficked?  Do they possess similar profiles, characteristics, or mentalities that make them the consumers of this commodity, even if they are from different cultures or countries?
Most often victims are transported to wealthy countries or areas.  This may lead to the conclusion that it is the wealthier individuals interested in purchasing another human, though I have no empirical evidence to back that claim up.  I believe that one of the main factors driving the demand on trafficking victims, sexually exploited victims specifically, is the mind set of men.  Girls are in high demand with men so it may take an attitude adjustment to decrease the demand.  I know that some victims, those placed into forced labor situations, often find that they are working for a company of some sort.  This would lead me to believe that a lack of a cheap labor ready workforce may be the case in these situations.  Sometimes an area can come to rely on forced labor as a means to stabilize the economy (check our the book “Terrify No More” by Gary A. Haugen for an example of this type of situation).  
As for the profiles, characteristics, or mentalities I’m not sure how to answer that.  I would need to do research into that area.  As a political scientist I’m about the numbers and such so I’ve never investigated the personality prospective.
 
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