Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ignite Conference: I am Not Only My Story: Survivors Speak to Action

We have all heard the phrase, saving the best for last.  That is surely what happened at the Ignite: Sparking Action Against Sex Trafficking conference.  Participants heard from 3 survivors of sex trafficking, all of whom are living proof that there is life after being trafficked.  However, all 3 were very articulate in speaking about the systemic barriers that make that transition very challenging. 

Holly Austin Smith who was lured into sex trafficking as a vulnerable 14 year old middle school Walking Prey she provides ideas on how to address this important subject with these vulnerable youth.  On her website under resources she offers a curricula guidelines for advice on the education of human trafficking and prevention of child sex trafficking.  there are numerous other resources available on her website also, including Holly's sharing of her story. to get to her website, click on this link.
Left to right, Kimberely Ritter, Katie
Rhoades, Holly Austin Smith and
 Christine McDonald
graduate spoke about the need to raise awareness in middle schools about sex trafficking.  With the average age for entry into trafficking in the US being 13 years of age, middle school girls are especially vulnerable.  In her book,

Christine McDonald was trafficked at the age of 15.  She spoke about the need for housing, employment and trauma treatment.  She noted how the stigma of being involved in the sex trade impacts the type of help a person can receive. Her comments on how the legal system, by treating those who are trafficked as criminals instead of victims, really hinders their leaving the life.  Imagine trying to get a job with felony convictions for prostitution. 

Katie Rhoades, who shared her story with us at both the US Federation Event and at the LCWR conference in St Louis, focused on the lack of specialized services.  She shared that no one agency can do everything that is needed for people coming out of trafficked situations.  There is a need for victim specific services but also for better training on the specialized needs of these people along with a deeper understanding of the importance of complex trauma care.

All three emphasized the importance of the community coming together to address barriers to services, to improve collaboration among service providers and to do more to prevent young people from ever being lured into trafficking situations.  There is a need for doers from every walk of life, mental health professionals, attorneys, law enforcement, educators, the health field and the faith community.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ignite- Sparking Action Against Sex Trafficking

Srs Of St Joseph and colleagues at Ignite
The first Exchange Initiative Conference is going on at the Union Station Hotel in St Louis, a hotel that has trained all its staff on how to identify sex trafficking.  There is no shortage of Sisters of St Joseph present.  The Congregation of St Joseph is a silver corporate sponsor and the US Federation is bronze.  We are a sizable group with a notable presence.

I was taped for a TV interview news today which should air tonight and be on our Facebook page tomorrow.  I was able to convey the strong sense that human trafficking is an important issue for sisters and we
Don Gallaway and Farrah Fazal
from KSDK interviewed me at the
Province House
are proud to collaborate with others in this nation-wide effort to stop sex trafficking. 

Congresswoman Ann Wagner
During the interview I was also able to talk about a new effort in which the Sisters of St Joseph will engage.  At the Ignite conference, one of the speakers was Congresswoman Ann Wagner.  She let us know about a bill that she is introducing to address human trafficking.  The bill will be known as the SAVE Act.  This stands for the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation  Act. It would make it a crime to sell or commercially promote an advertisement in reckless disregard of the fact that the advertisement facilitates a crime such as human trafficking or sexual abuse of a minor.  The bill is aimed at closing online classified websites like that makes millions of dollars per year off of selling advertisements to human traffickers. The SAVE Act also contains a limitation of liability provision that would protect innocent actors like Facebook, Google and Twitter, along with telecommunications services providers like Verizon and Comcast.
Representative Ted Poe introduced
another bill, "Justice for Victims of
Trafficking Act"

The Sisters will begin a massive effort to encourage their congressmen and women to co-sponsor this important piece of legislation.  It will be an important tool to assist law enforcement in stopping human trafficking. 

Congressman Ted Poe, a very effective speaker, shared his perspective as a prosecutor, a criminal judge and now as a Representative.  His commitment to changing the way people perceive those women and children who are trafficked was greatly appreciated by the participants.  It is clear that he believes the people who need to be stopped and punished are the traffickers and the customers.  Those who are trafficked are victims of crime and need specialized help during their recovery from the trauma they have experienced.  His legislation HR 3530 would do just that.

Tomorrow, I'll update you on some of the other workshops that we attended.