FAILING TO UNDERSTAND

[NOTE: This post references an article I posted on our FaceBook page. For those of you not following us on FB, I’m providing a link to NCO Justice Coalition so you have the opportunity to read it for yourself.]

Ohio teen charged with raping 4 children

Dominique Seem

As we speak to the girls and boys detained in the detention wing of the Erie County Justice Center, we illustrate how the economic model of supply and demand is at work within the crime of human sex trafficking. This may be a rather grotesque application of the model, but a valid one nonetheless: producer, consumer, and product/service: the pimp who forcibly enslaves and then sells the victim to a predator who is in the market to rape her/him: producer-pimp, consumer-predator, and service-victim.

With the girls our goal is to equip them to be proactive; for them to have the necessary knowledge to NOT become a victim. [NOTE: Oftentimes the girls we’re working with add to OUR information base! Being THE demographic traffickers are looking to ‘groom’ (female, early teens, vulnerable (broken) in some way), they experience this active recruitment around them in their everyday lives ALL of the time. There have been sessions when we’ve walked away wondering who taught who more… them or us! But this simply serves to underscore that this phenomenon is very real and happening in ALL of our communities.]

With the boys our emphasis tends in a different direction. While we certainly hope the arc of their lives doesn’t take them on a path to becoming a pimp, our more immediate focus attempts to shine light on cultural factors that, if not recognized and examined, could possibly lead them to becoming buyers of sex. And I wish to emphasize the ‘possibly’ part of that last sentence. While sexual objectification, harassment, dating violence, acquaintance rape, and pornography increasingly proliferate our culture (indeed, many global cultures), statistics that I have seen suggest that it is only a small percentage of males who actually cross the line into the domain of human trafficking; repeatedly gratify their sexual urges by seeking out and then purchasing a minor victim to rape for half an hour to an hour. And yet, even if only a small percentage… that is nevertheless, WAY too much.

But then along comes a story such as the one unfolding in Warren, Ohio and I find myself at a complete loss to even begin to fathom how an 18-year-old boy could EVER be motivated to (allegedly) rape four children ages 2 – 9. This is a level of brokenness that screams at me for understanding. How does one so young develop a mindset leading to such egregious acts? What have been the mitigating factors in his upbringing that have helped foster his psychological state?

And just so you’re aware, while I may be limiting the stories I post to our FaceBook NCO Justice Coalition site to those pertaining to Ohio, these types of incidents do pop up from time to time in my Google Alerts from around the country: perpetrators far too young, abusing even younger children. They’re not widespread, mind you, but they do occur with a regularity that I find both unsettling and alarming.

In our neat, almost textbook presentations to teen boys, there is a noticeable gap between the cultural factors we present and how that could possibly connect to a life like Dominique Seem. And realistically, even not knowing any of the background factors in this young man’s life, there likely ISN’T a neat, connect the dots like trajectory. His are some incredibly deep psychological woes.

But rather than becoming dejected by this story, it serves to bolster my motivation to do what I know how to do best… teach. While I may not always appreciate the value our presentations may (or may not) be having on the recipients, it is SO important to me to keep up the effort. We certainly don’t have all the answers and likely aren’t even asking all of the pertinent questions… but I remain confident that we ARE presenting at least a glimmer of the culture in which these young men are growing up in. And that culture IS grooming them to believe that somehow, just because they’re males, they have a certain entitlement when it comes to sex and relationships… an entitlement that doesn’t include young ladies as part of an interdependent equation… an entitlement, thereby, which isn’t entirely healthy. And THIS is a message worthy of spreading.

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BROKENNESS

[NOTE: This post references an article I posted on our FaceBook page this past week. For those of you not following us on FB, I’m providing a link so you can read it for yourself.]

Muskingum County not immune to human trafficking

It’s difficult not to be sickened, outraged, and completely incredulous with this story coming out of Zanesville, Ohio; that a mother sold her eight-year-old daughter to a 76-year-old man for sex. It wasn’t for the jury either, who found her guilty after deliberating for only 30 minutes.

But as horrifying as this is (and truly, it IS horrifying), it has caused me to once again revisit how the scourge of human trafficking is a symptom of an even larger problem within our culture: brokenness. Do any of us really know what might be going on behind the closed doors of our neighbor: always quick with a smile and some friendly banter, living in the upscale home with beautifully manicured landscaping? Because, behind some of those doors we find children who are being sold by a parent (or guardian): children who keep going to school, living at home, and suffering in silence.

Just because it may be easier to conceal trafficking in communities where, by all appearances, no one would EVER suspect it happening, doesn’t mean it ISN’T happening. As one takes a closer look at constantly emerging news stories: stories that expose myriad (sometimes unfathomable) ways parents, guardians, teachers, coaches, pastors, police officers, adults in general abuse and assault children: it becomes apparent that we as humans can become broken in unimaginable ways. And it is because of this brokenness in both ourselves and our communities, that the sexual exploitation of children can (and does) flourish.

In a rather crass way, the Zanesville story actually acts as a kind of exemplar of the point I’m attempting to make:

BROKEN VICTIMS: This poor child has been irreparably broken. From what we know from similar cases, to overcome the damage to her self-image and self-worth will now become a monumental challenge, if not a lifelong pursuit. And if not adequately addressed, this will likely perpetuate an ongoing cycle of abuse throughout her life.

BROKEN EXPLOITERS: We have no clear information on the mom’s background, so her brokenness is but conjecture. However, it doesn’t seem a far flung leap to suspect that SOMETHING occurred in her upbringing to predispose her to selling her own child. In what way is Lori Henry broken? We don’t know, but simply by the fact that she DID sell her daughter for sex points to her brokenness.

BROKEN CONSUMERS: Again, we have no detailed information on this 76-year-old man. But all I need to know to make my case is that HE HAD SEX WITH AN 8-YEAR-OLD! In no way, shape, or form can this EVER be construed as anything but broken. Yet something in his upbringing prepared him to not only accept, but act upon having sex with this child.

BROKEN HELPERS: Now we arrive at the caveat and my bottom-line point: Those of us who are engaged in the work of eradicating sex trafficking from our communities need to be EVER mindful of not becoming a part of the problem; exhibiting brokenness ourselves.

Anecdotally, I have several scenarios to draw upon, but will only a share a couple:

  • In a group discussion, the well-meaning but misguided person who ends up re-victimizing a survivor, “Suzy, you were once a prostitute. Why don’t you share YOUR story with us?” If Suzy shares her story, it is HER decision to make.
  • Or at a presentation, the well-meaning but misguided participant who can’t WAIT to share from their fount of sensationalized innuendo, launching into an ongoing diatribe of meaningless information that benefits absolutely no one in attendance.

If we are TRULY willing to be helpers in this cause, we have to ever be circumspect in checking ourselves for our own brokenness. Are we being humble and sensitive to others or do we decide when and what they should share self-righteously believing it is in their best interest? Are we sure we’re only sharing accurate information in an attempt to edify or do we delight in spewing forth the latest sensationalized rumor, looking only for its shocking effect?

And finally, do we hear a story such as the one from Zanesville and immediately shout, “I hope she fries,” or, while being completely and understandably outraged by the incalculable damage done, allow another more empathetic part of us to kick in trying to fathom the magnitude of brokenness of our fellow human beings that led to this horror? Trying to understand the brokenness that we all share, so that we might be that one open to receive and respond with mercy should a person caught up in brokenness seek out someone, anyone, who will listen without judgment? I, for one, aspire to be such a person.

How Our Message Has Evolved

In the late spring of 2013 when we began this Justice Coalition journey, the people who were drawn to gather at The Chapel (Sandusky campus) had hearts on fire to do whatever was possible to eradicate human trafficking. Our formative discussions focused on just what exactly we COULD contribute to the fight against the scourge of modern day slavery.

As we moved into that summer, a continuing conversation prompted by our study of “The Just Church” by Jim Martin, helped clarify that ours could become a meaningful voice by educating the community about the reality of sex trafficking… not just overseas… not just in Cleveland or Toledo… but right HERE in our midst. That emphasis has not changed. We now have a bevy of presentations designed for various target audiences: public, parents, teens, church groups.

Then in the winter of 2015 we began a relationship with the Erie County Justice Center that continues to this day, regularly speaking to the teens in the detention wing. What is different about these presentations is that they aren’t given to a mixed group, but separately to the girls and then the boys. Making that adjustment was when our message began to evolve.

We sat in that room at the detention center listening to the girls share the vulnerabilities and threats they encounter on an almost daily basis and listened as the boys touted a perspective akin to entitlement. And it began to dawn that for these kids, the potential for human trafficking was very real… a highly possible endgame (victims for the girls; buyers for the boys). It seemed that to really have any sort of meaningful impact, we had to start digging into the cultural factors with which these kids are being bombarded… talking about human trafficking wasn’t enough… somehow we needed to be equipping them with knowledge about the world around them that they could use to be proactive in their own lives (if they so chose).

Sometimes we walk away from those sessions wondering if any of it got through. But then from to time we receive an encouragement such as the two that follow… encouragements that let us know that we’re on the right track… that these kids want and benefit from learning more about topics such as internet predators, sexual harassment, acquaintance rape, dating violence, and pornography. Difficult subjects for sure. But we now have developed further resources (PowerPoint presentations) to address these in ways suitable for middle thru high school groups, mixed or separate, and also for parents and caregivers.

Sooo… for those who are also following us on our FaceBook site, expect to see postings on those subjects as news organizations in Ohio report on them. And in subsequent blogs know that I will be exploring these cultural topics in much more depth, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Until next week…

DEBUNKING MYTHS: It Doesn’t Happen Here…

Since my retirement from public education seven years ago, I have been passionately vested in a new teaching cause: informing anyone who will listen on the reality of human trafficking and that it occurs even here in North Central Ohio. Admittedly, this is a hard subject for most people to accommodate. In fact, I haven’t known a single person who has become actively interested in being involved in this work who hasn’t, early on, experienced something akin to a paralysis at heart. The darkness of what this entails: forcibly enslaving innocent youth to multiple daily rapes by individuals willing to pay for momentary sexual gratification, the entirety of “profits” accruing to the trafficker and none to the victim: easily becomes overwhelming as one begins to dig beneath the surface.

I have now been involved in presenting to various groups long enough that certain patterns have emerged: certain questions and prevailing attitudes have become typical and almost expected at each and every presentation. One of them goes something like this, “OK, I have heard that Toledo is one of the biggest cities for human trafficking. But SURELY it doesn’t happen here in Perkins Township. I’m not so naïve to think that we don’t have our share of problems, but surely human trafficking CANNOT be one of them. This is a SAFE community for our children.”

And by and large, there is truth to that argument… Perkins Township DOES provide a safe community in which to raise a family. Are youth vulnerable to a variety of risks in today’s world? Yes. Has the danger of human trafficking risen to such a pervasive level that we need to be in a panic over our children’s safety? No of course not. BUT… does human trafficking exist in Sandusky and Perkins Township? One only needs to purvey the escort section of Sandusky’s Backpage site to quickly realize the answer to be yes.

Without intending to re-victimize the young girls “sold” for sex here in our community, from time to time I visit the Sandusky escort page on Backpage and grab screen shots to be used in our presentations (and yes, despite what you may have heard or read in the news, Backpage is still VERY active in the escort business). We use the ads and pictures of these young women to help verify that human trafficking DOES happen here: young women who are being victimized in our motels: young women who are OBVIOUSLY minors.

In addition, I’m always on the lookout for local news that further helps to buttress the contention that yes, human trafficking DOES happen here. To wit, last Tuesday there was a brief article in our paper, the Sandusky Register, with the headline:

Police raid home as part of sex offense investigation

SANDUSKY REGISTER

May 30, 2017

PERKINS TWP. – Perkins police raided a home on Whispering Pine Road last Friday as a part of a sex offense investigation (Hull Road near Great Wolf Lodge).

Sandusky Register

I’ll leave it for you to read the entire article if you have the interest (it’s only a couple of paragraphs).

While this investigation is still in its early stages and the police are not yet able to provide much in the way of details, it does suggest that a sexual offense WAS occurring in a home here in our ‘burbs that warrants an investigation. (CAUTION: We ever need to be careful NOT to project onto an alleged situation such as this. Is this an example of a sex ring happening in our midst? Perhaps, but we simply do not have enough information at this time to make that claim and we NEVER want to be in the business of spreading sensationalized rumors).

But the point I hope I’m making is this: the next time you hear someone suggest (or find yourself thinking) that human trafficking, as horrendous as it is, cannot possibly be happening here in our safe community, please keep in mind that yes… it actually does!

 

NOTE: I want to thank each of you have signed up to receive an email notification each time I post this weekly blog. THANK YOU! For those of you who have a FaceBook page, I’d like to request a favor. In an effort to drive more traffic to our FaceBook site, would you kindly go there and “like” us?! In that way, each time I post something it will show up in your news feed for your friends to see, thereby helping to grow the number of people aware of the information we are sharing. Thanks in advance!

NCO Justice Coalition (FaceBook)

Until next week… Ken out!

Equipping Activists? How? What does that even mean?

This week I’d like to share some of the insight that helped form our mission statement:

Equipping anti-trafficking activists to unite their communities with one voice demanding, NO MORE… NOT HERE!

I mean how in the world can we be so bold as to suggest that a little ol’ community action group such as ours could somehow impact entire communities to rise up against human trafficking? P-U–L-E-A-S-E! However, if you listen to the larger national organizations like the Polaris Project (and we do!), they declare in no uncertain terms that the first step in combating human trafficking is empowering the community to understand and recognize the issue. And that is EXACTLY what our work is all about: educating others with accurate and current information.

Rodney Riggs, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, recently spoke at a human trafficking symposium in Detroit. He shared that the two ways people can help stop human trafficking is first, by becoming educated about it and then, to report suspicious activity. So as we move beyond being informed, how CAN concerned community members report what they suspect might be a possible trafficking situation WITHOUT putting themselves in harm’s way?

First, we need to understand that while sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude are also prevalent. The agriculture, restaurant and domestic service industries in our area are common avenues for forced servitude. Oftentimes it can be occurring right in front of our eyes. So here are some warning signs you can be looking for:

  • Someone inappropriately dressed
  • Appears submissive or fearful
  • Not able to speak for themselves, or answers sound rehearsed
  • No personal possessions, especially identity documents
  • Works excessively long or unusual hours

The list of red flag warnings is much more extensive, but should you think someone is involved in a human trafficking situation, you can immediately dial the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 (888 3737 888). This hotline is run by the Polaris Project.

Please heed the caution to NEVER intervene directly: a call to the hotline keeps you safe while accomplishing the task of alerting law enforcement. And for those hesitant to make that call, Rodney Riggs offers some further advice, “Some people think, ‘Well, what if I call and I wasn’t right, or I misread a situation?’ There’s no backlash on the caller. There’s no harm in calling in and just reporting it.” Your call to the National Human Trafficking Hotline is COMPLETELY anonymous. They will take your information and then pass that info along to law enforcement in YOUR area.

So our mission to equip activists involves educating a growing number of community members to the reality that trafficking DOES exist right here in our midst, red flags they can be vigilant to detect, and if they suspect trafficking may be occurring, dialing the hotline. Our work can sometimes seem a painstaking process as we continue to persevere in gaining traction. But we hold fast to the belief that a tipping point CAN be reached whereby our community no longer tolerates ANY form of human trafficking: enough people are vested to keep their eyes alert and report any suspicious activity: that we are a united community with one voice demanding,

NO MORE… NOT HERE!

To close, I’m including a link to a YouTube video posted in 2014 that provides a peek into the National Human Trafficking Hotline offices. It is VERY informative and worth watching.

As always, please contact us if you know of a group interested in learning more about human trafficking. We accommodate all audiences and tailor our presentations to specifically address the information the group is seeking.

Thanks for reading and until next week… Ken out!

 

NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE

888 3737 888

How Polaris Project is using data to help victims of human trafficking

Published on January 21, 2014

FAREWELL TO A WARRIOR… JENNIFER KEMPTON

“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”

― Pearl S. Buck

The unexpected death of Jennifer last week (Thursday, May 18) continues to have a rather devastating impact on me. We have lost a courageous warrior in the fight against human trafficking. These past several days have found me dwelling on her tragic loss with a swirling emotional mix of sadness, grief, and anger. But somehow through all of that, I have also been reinvigorated to carry on with our abolition work, finally attending to two dormant rebranding tasks that have awaited my attention: creating a social media presence on FaceBook for the North Central Ohio Justice Coalition and a weekly blog on WordPress (linked to the FB page). And yep… this is the FIRST of what will now become weekly posts!

Although only in existence a few short years, I had become enamored by Survivors INK and its creator, Jennifer Kempton, showing the YouTube video posted by the U.K. publication, The Guardian, to every group I could. What a brilliant and inspired way to assist survivors in their recovery (herself included)… replacing the tattooed reminder of their enslavement each time they looked into a mirror, with an aesthetically reimagined declaration of their freedom… oftentimes replacing the pimp’s name with their own.

tattoo-01.jpg

And then last Tuesday (May 16) it was SUCH a privilege to finally meet her and hear her present her story to the juniors and seniors at Perkins High School here in Sandusky. What a remarkable woman… I was SO incredibly impressed, both by her message, but also by her energy and passion. And those of our group who were present were excited to continue our conversation with her, planning for her return to Erie County in what we hoped would be the near future.

Hers was a passionate voice for justice. And that only compounds our profound sense of shock at her death. Her brokenness at the hands of the pimps and johns that abused her… her addiction, first as a coercion tool by her pimp, but then as a means to numb the pain of her circumstance… in the end snuffed out her burning desire to be instrumental in helping others currently trapped in the nightmare of sex trafficking.

So with a heart that is broken, I wish to express my farewell, “God bless you, Jennifer… our love for you will never diminish. Now be at peace in God, you, our warrior for justice. We will remain determined to continue on with your fight as best as we are able.”

Guardian

Guardian Docs

Survivors Ink: Erasing the marks of sex trafficking