Friday, July 24, 2015

Slavery Footprint

Not long after my last presentation on my book and human trafficking, one of my parishioners let me know how horrified she is that she has around 100 slaves working for her.  She figured this out by looking at, an excellent website to learn more about how we can tangibly reduce our slavery footprint (like a carbon footprint).  My wife said the same thing when she discovered that she had over fifty.  Some of the questions are hard to answer accurately or refer to one-time purchases and may skew the actual result, but the conclusion remains the same: OH NO!

The purpose of is not to alarm you.  The purpose is to inform you.  Of course, your alarm serves a purpose, too, in that once you see how terrifying your slavery footprint is you’ll be more likely to want to change.  The website then gives you a bunch of detail on what goes into your slavery footprint so that you can adjust your lifestyle and choices accordingly. 

 Even then the number will probably remain high.  I suppose that I am slightly more simplicity-oriented in life and slightly more informed on slavery than the average Westerner, and so I have made slight adjustments to reduce my slavery footprint, and yet I still have thirty-seven or slaves working for me.  At the end of the day, even if we entirely remake our lives to limit our footprint, we probably won’t eliminate our footprint until we also influence society to remake itself.  That’s an unfortunate truth, but we know it’s true looking at how we reduce our carbon footprint.  If we ride our bikes everywhere we go, don’t use electricity or have solar panels that cover our electric usage, and have geothermal systems to heat and cool our homes, we’d still have a carbon footprint (which is sad, considering how expansive and demanding these changes to our lives I’ve listed are).  How?  Well, where do we buy our food?  Is it all local?  If not—and it’s almost surely not because in most places it’s actually impossible to only buy local and still eat anywhere near healthy—then we have a carbon footprint because our food had to be transported.  Dangit!  We’d then have to change the way our society produces and distributes food to completely eliminate our footprint.  One example of at least a handful.  Another example: do we use paper? If yes, is it hemp paper?  If no, and it’s paper made from wood, then we are contributing to the rise in carbon dioxide in the environment because trees breathe on carbon dioxide.  Moral of the story is simple: we must make radical changes to our own lives and also make radical changes to how society operates.

 Moral of the moral: go to and learn how you can make a difference with, often, simple life changes.  Find out how many slaves are working for you and how exactly you can reduce that number.  Remember, a law of economics is that supply always seeks to meet demand.  If we limit demand then we limit supply.  And when we consider that the supply consists of human beings, each and every one of whom deserve dignity and respect, then we should get to work.  We also see that sometimes a product can look so enticing that having a supply creates demand, but that side of economics relates more to societal changes and that comes later.

 One quick lesson to take away with you, especially if you don’t go to right after reading this: don’t upgrade your cell phone.  Or, at the very least, make sure that you recycle your phone in a place that will properly reuse the parts of the phone.  All cell phones, the way they are made today, require the use of a metal the mining of which, at the moment, uses slave labor.  Upgrade your phone and don’t recycle the old one and you are using slave labor.  Unless your current phone is broken, why do you need to upgrade it anyway?  What’s up with that?  Take better care of your cell phone in the first place, too.  Even if we recycle our current phones, the rate at which we buy and upgrade our cell phones is not sustainable using recycled product only.  If it works, keep using it; if you’re behind the times, so what?  The “times” aren’t so kind to 27 million slaves.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Worst Evil

Recently I've done a number of presentations on human trafficking and my bike trip.  Human trafficking and my bike trip always go hand in hand when I do presentations because most of my unique contributions to the fight against slavery--my reflections to help ordinary folk change their lives to combat the evil--come directly from my bike trip.  Anyway, during the presentation I always discuss how and why I think human trafficking is the worst evil imaginable.  Well, at one of the presentations a community member posed the question: "Isn't child abuse the worst evil imaginable?"  I was suddenly struck dumb.  In many cases, child abuse is related to child slavery in one form or another, but is child abuse and child molestation that is not considered trafficking actually a worse evil?

To be honest, I don't think the answer to the question matters.  Perhaps child abuse not related to trafficking is a worse evil.  That a parent could mentally or physically harm his or her own child on purpose blows my mind, especially he or she does so for some self-gratification.  Yet, as I say with pornography, I don't think that we can say there is such a thing as child abuse not related to human trafficking.  Any parent who does abuse/molest a child clearly does not view the child as a dignified human being.  Any person who uses another person for gain, as a slave, clearly does not view the slave as a dignified human being.  There's a reason why, during the African slave trade, slave owners did not want the slaves to become Christian: the owners would then have to view the slaves as dignified human beings.  If we all were to perceive our brothers and sisters in this world as dignified then there wouldn't be slavery.  So, in my book, anything that encourages someone to view another human being as not a human being is related to human trafficking.

Really, the inability to perceive all other persons as dignified and worthy of respect is the worst evil in our world.  It takes different forms but they are all related.  And it's all horrifying. 

Friends, if we want to combat human trafficking, we need to start treating one another better.  That starts with how we talk about our fellow persons.  We can't go on-line and post at the end of articles and call people creepy, idiots, ****heads, or otherwise people who don't deserve to breathe and then say, "I can't believe there are people out there who use slaves."  Well, simply by talking like we reject the rules of decency demotes culture's perception of humanity.  I mention posts at the end of on-line articles because I see that often and it's disgusting.  Indeed, on my other blog an anonymous person posted some rather demeaning statements about me.  Now, I'm not saying that we need to be nice to everyone.  Sometimes we need to have some difficult conversations with one another.  Dialogue often needs to happen so that one or more people can start acting better.  But we should always be polite and respectable because the people we are talking to and about are human beings.  In all seriousness, this simple change in cultural attitude will make a serious difference.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sen. McAllister

I haven't written in a while.  Unfortunately the motivation for writing now is a local case of trafficking.  Since I moved to Swanton, Vermont, away from the city (by Vermont standards, anyway) of South Burlington a few months ago, I thought that I had moved away from the high-danger zone for trafficking.  Of course, I knew better: trafficking can happen anywhere at any time.  The contributing factors of human trafficking exist everywhere: poverty, desperation, humans--who have the potential to be monsters.

Last week, a Vermont news story broke here in Franklin County, Vermont.  A state senator named Norm McAllister, a resident of the town over from Swanton, was taken from the statehouse in Montpelier into custody on charges of sexual assault and prohibited acts, aka human trafficking.  McAllister is accused of taking advantage of his tenants and women who worked for him.  Some might classify what McAllister did as a "light" form of human trafficking.  He did not physically enslave anyone nor did he threaten anyone's life.  Yet that doesn't lighten the monstrosity of what McAllister did: coercing women to perform unwanted sexual acts so that they wouldn't be kicked out onto the streets.  I have spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on what pushes someone to do what McAllister did and so on some level I understand it, no matter how disgusting and appalling it is.  What I cannot understand, however, is that in public McAllister was an advocate for the poor, saying earlier in his legislative career that he is concerned for the poor because he sees how difficult it is for his tenants to pay the rent.  Essentially what he was saying, then, is that his reason for caring for the poor is that he takes sexual advantage of his tenants because they struggle to pay the rent.

No matter how often I have written and said that people who use and abuse slaves are humans just like the rest of us, meaning mostly that we should reflect inward on ourselves rather than only lash out at perpetrators, and no matter how often I have said that users and abusers will publicly look and act like the rest of us, I have come to a point where I give up.  I don't give up in trying to fight human trafficking but I give up in trying to understand.  I do not understand how a person can publicly say, "I see my tenants struggle to pay the rent and I care for them," and then privately take advantage of them, forcefully invade their bodies, and perhaps irreparably harm their mental and emotional space.  I have been going around saying the last few days, "I understand a lot of things, but I don't understand how he could do that."  I do not understand.  Many times I have written that we humans often create a Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario in which our public and private lives are vastly different and our public mind almost doesn't know what the private self is doing.  I can almost guarantee you that to some extent you do the same.  I certainly do.  In that sense, I understand; I understand McAllister's motivation; but I do not understand how he could publicly express concern for his tenants while actively abusing them and trying to prostitute them.

I suppose what this should teach us is that we can never know when we might encounter an abuser.  So many times I have said that trafficking can and probably does exist right around the corner from where we live (even if we need to define "corner" as forty minutes away), but today I want to focus on the persons involved.  Often we think of trafficking as an object: some thing that exists.  When we think that way, it's easier for us to believe that we and our loved ones will never become a victim.  Certainly, I don't want to scare us into thinking we'll become a victim, but the likelihood of our becoming a victim probably increases when we think, "If I only avoid that dangerous neighborhood, that spa, that place..."  Human trafficking is not a thing and it is not a place.  Human trafficking involves persons and is perpetrated by persons.  Many of the 27 million slaves--trafficked persons--in the world were lured in by a person (I would say all except that some are still born into slavery like on U.S. plantations in the old days and some are kidnapped without any warning signs).  And because the perpetrators will publicly look and act like the rest of us, we should be aware of how prevalent human trafficking is and should be aware of our resources.  Victims are no longer treated as criminals.  Victims shouldn't be embarrassed to seek help, even when the perpetrator seems powerful, like Sen. McAllister.  We should feel confident to call 9-1-1 and, better, we should know these phone numbers: 888-3737-888 (National Human Trafficking Hotline); 888-984-8626 (Vermont Human Trafficking Hotline); and 2-1-1 (United Way of Vermont).  We should also review this website: Polaris Trafficking Resources.  If we find ourselves coerced or duped into a violating situation by someone that we thought we could trust or someone who has power over us, then we should know where to go.  Thank God that the victims of Sen. McAllister eventually sought help in the right places.

While my main theme usually is that we need to look inward to make sure that we don't ever use or abuse, or somehow contribute to human trafficking, and thereby eliminate trafficking one person at a time, I'm now thinking that there may be some people who are so far gone that such a tactic won't work.  If that's true, then the rest of us need to be aware of our resources to help ourselves and help others from "a crime so monstrous."

(It is, of course, important to note that Sen. McAllister has not been proven guilty.  He has plead not guilty.  A charge or accusation does not equal guilt, no matter how strong the evidence.  A court of law must decide guilt.  However, in this case, a determination of guilt should not be necessary for us to realize how important it is to know our resources as we grow aware that trafficking can and does occur in all places and at the hands of all sorts of people.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi: Public or Private? His Word or Hers?

If you listen to public radio, you probably know the name and voice of Jian Ghomeshi, the host of the Canadian radio show Q.  Personally, I love the show because it makes my drive home late on Wednesday evenings more interesting.  So I was absolutely shocked to hear on Monday afternoon (I think that's when I first heard it) that Ghomeshi had been fired by the CBC based on allegations of sexual violence.  Very disheartening.  If you haven't heard the news yourself, here's an article: Toronto Star

What added to my displeasure in hearing the news is that most of the allegations concern events from years ago and that Ghomeshi claims that whatever happened was consensual.  He admits that he's not a saint and prefers certain rough and demeaning activities in the bedroom but that he always uses safe words and acts with mutual assent.  Perhaps it's because I like the man's radio show, but I felt bad for the guy as I asked the following questions: Why would these ladies wait until now to bring these allegations against him?  Is it because they felt that the social climate is more receptive to victims of domestic/sexual violence?  Or because after all this time they knew they wouldn't have to prove a false claim and they wanted fame?  Why, if some of the ladies didn't want to reveal the facts because they were afraid of Ghomeshi's image and power, why are they coming out now when Ghomeshi is even more recognized and celebrated than a few years ago?  Or is his greater fame exactly what the women wanted to gain something from the exposure?  Is it fair that Ghomeshi has to pit his word against the word of these ladies, when we know the female will always win?  How will anything ever be proved?  Is it fair for Ghomeshi to be fired with no actual proof and with no corresponding police reports?  And isn't Ghomeshi right, that what he wants to do in the bedroom is private and shouldn't have any public significance?

My wife can confirm to you that indeed I have been struggling with these questions.  I will continue to struggle with these questions.  And I'm sure that a whole lot of other people are asking the same questions, probably in defense of Ghomeshi.  Yet there are two realizations that have made my questions irrelevant, inspired by my last question: 1) These women probably weren't aspiring to be recognized as one of the ladies who brought allegations of sexual violence against Jian Ghomeshi.  If that is the height of their ambition, then they are beyond desperate.  This isn't like the Tiger Woods situation.  With Tiger, some women may have thought, "Hey, I can become a local celebrity by saying I've slept with Tiger Woods, even though it will ruin his image and marriage."  I don't see anyone's thinking, "Hey, I can become a local celebrity by claiming that I've been sexually abused and violated."  So we can't question the women as possible fame-seekers.  The only motivation they could possibly have is revenge, which after all this time seems ridiculous, or that the allegations are actually true, and after all this time they've finally built up the courage to say something.

And, 2) Most importantly, it doesn't matter whether these sexual actions were consensual or not.  To me, it really doesn't matter.  I've said again and again that the trend toward more and more aggressive and power-hungry sexual behavior blurs the line between acceptable behavior and slavery.  Seriously.  I know that some women like being controlled and dominated in the bedroom, and many men obviously do, but that doesn't mean that we should accept, and thereby encourage, the nastiness of pride and power-greed seeking to exert itself in the most intimate of forms: sex.  If we do accept, and thereby encourage, such behavior, and the men in the world who prefer such activity cannot find a self-respecting woman to demean, then where will those men turn to?  What outlet will they have?  I think we know the answer to that question and it's not a good one. 

If we want to end slavery in the world today, I think we should take heed of Ghomeshi's own admission that he's not a saint.  How many of us are saints?  Not many.  That doesn't mean, however, that we should ignore the spiritual emptiness that much of the world feels.  Ghomeshi, whether he intended to or not, pointed to a spiritual emptiness and spiritual longing that has gone unmet in his own life.  Many of us, too, experience the same emptiness and longing.  I suspect, though, that the answer isn't in finding the next girl to dominate and rough up sexually--or to find the next man to abuse us sexually, if we're a woman, a path that will only lead us to the brink of and indirectly in support of slavery.  Rather, the answer to our emptiness and longing, which create the impulse to dominate and abuse or to be abused and dominated, is to care for our emptiness and longing. 

We don't need to condemn Ghomeshi, because so many of us are secretly or publicly suffering in the same way, but we also don't need to defend him because his actions, public or private, consensual or not, are truly dangerous.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Civilized Civilization

Recently on VPR I heard a story about human trafficking that occurred in the heart of civilized civilization, Great Britain, in Rotherham.  Around 1400 kids, many boys, disappeared and were then pressed into service as sex slaves.  This went on for years--obviously, 1400 kids don't go missing all of a sudden without anyone's noticing, and yet people did know about it AND told authorities.  Why, then, was nothing done until recently?  Ignorance and stupidity.

Look, ignorance--meaning, lack of awareness--and stupidity are common among authorities and law enforcement.  Sure, I may be mostly libertarian, but still, I have no qualms with authority in general as long as it does what authority is supposed to do: protect and serve the public from harm, physically and financially.  It absolutely astounds me when people in authority purposely shun their duty because they are ignorant or not thinking straight. 

Last week I had a conversation with someone in a small town of Vermont where many kids have been accused and charged by the police for under-age drinking... without anyone's ever asking the kids where they got the alcohol.  Isn't the illegal, willful distribution  of alcohol to under-age kids a worse crime than the a 15-year old accepting the alcohol?  Whether we agree with our country's laws or not, there is a reason why we have established the drinking age at twenty-one and the voting age at eighteen: we believe, as a country, that human minds and souls are not developed enough until eighteen to vote intelligently; we believe, as a country, that human minds and souls are not developed enough until twenty-one to handle alcohol, not because there's something inherently wrong about under-age drinking.  It's not the same as stealing or murder.  Why, then, would a person in authority crack down on a kid when the kid is simply proving the law worthwhile, rather than cracking down on the actual violator of the crime?  We've deemed the kid, in our laws, as unable to properly make decisions concerning alcohol, so why blame the kid for that?  We should blame and crack down on the distributor, because the distributor is basically saying, "Screw the law, I think kids should drink alcohol."  Only recently have some areas of the country started to realize how poor the logic of our law enforcement has been and begun campaigns to investigate the distribution of alcohol to minors.  Isn't it amazing, though, that it's taken us so long to realize that, considering the reason why we have the under-age drinking law established as it is, the drunk minor is not the cause or source of the real problem?

It's the same with human trafficking.  On one hand, we're idiots and have believed that prostitutes and others who sell their bodies for sex are the real problem, rather than the behind-the-scenes pimps and producers and consumers that create and facilitate the on-going distribution of slavery; and on the other hand, we're ignorant and don't believe that human trafficknig or sex trafficking are serious issues perpetrated in our own back yards.  In this particular news story, the authorities didn't do anything because they couldn't believe the reports.  They were, apparently, also afraid of a PR nightmare: the brains behind the trafficking scheme were Pakistani, and nobody wants to appear racist.  I do not belittle the harsh reality that racism still exists in this world and the very real possibility that Ferguson and other circumstances may be examples of that, but the fear of appearing racist has gone a bit far.  When ignorance and a fear of that kind combine, then we do our neighbors a serious disservice.

The ultimate lesson here is that, while we might not be able to do much about the sometimes absence of logic in the authorities, we can at least ensure that our neighborhoods and our elected representatives are free from ignorance.  Awareness really does go a long way.  That's why I talk about it so much.  Simply being aware can stop news stories of this kind from popping up.  Indeed, awareness is also the first step in re-enforcing logic in our law enforcement agencies: if those with power know that trafficking is a real, wide-spread problem, then maybe they will accusing and arresting the victims, the helpless souls, and begin to crack down on the distributors, the producers, and the consumers.

Here's the news story, though I warn you that it might be tough to read.  I'm getting tired and mentally and spiritually exhausted from reading about these stories.  The reality of all forms of trafficking is just too cruel for me to handle: Rotherham Kids.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sex Trafficking, Sex Work, and Yes All Women

My fiancee (if you've been paying attention to the promotion that I'm offering, then you'll know she's only my fiancee for one month longer) found this article and found it interesting: 9 Lies We Have to Stop Telling About Sex Workers.  I find it interesting, too, and so am commenting on it a little.

First of all, this article is about prostitutes.  The author, as far as I can tell, is what I call a high-end prostitute, and therefore doesn't really deserve the term of prostitute.  We generally think of prostitutes as people who stand out on the corner of a street and wait for clients.  Many prostitutes do that, but many prostitutes do not.  Those who do stand out on the street offering themselves up for sale are the definition of a prostitute: from the Latin for exposing and offering up for sale.  That is what the word means and it sums up what is going on quite well.  There are others, though, who put themselves out there, advertise and sell themselves with far more agency.  What the author of the article says applies to these sex workers more readily than it does to the stereotypical prostitute.  A high-end sex worker does have freedom, agency, and can earn a significant amount of money (shouldn't be surprising considering how desperately our cultures are wrapped up in sex).  With that said, this article is not about sex workers who are not working, who are forced into what they do.  What this author says about human trafficking in the article is understandable, but a little misguided: if you are not in the world of human trafficking, how can you properly use your experience as a measure?  Can I truly say, "Human trafficking isn't a problem where I live because I haven't met a single slave"?  No, I can't; I know human trafficking is out there, and I will find it if I look hard enough.  Indeed, my fiancee and I found it just a few weeks ago and we weren't even looking very intently.  This author's experience with a certain form of sex work should not suddenly derail all the hard work people are putting into making us aware of how massive human trafficking is. 

Before going any further, I do want to say that the general tone of this article is appropriate and much needed.  Sex workers, pornographic actors, and of course sex slaves, are all human beings.  Sex workers have lives with meaning, the same as all of us.  Sex workers have the right to choose and make a living how they see fit, the same as all of us.  This is a good and necessary reminder.  Often we get so caught up in talk of human trafficking and forget that we are talking about human beings; often we make philosophical decisions on pornography and prostitution and forget that we are talking about human beings.  At the heart of what we are doing is, or should be, the concept of full living: we are working to provide a full life to all people everywhere; not a life that is diminished or degraded by slavery or by the lack of appropriate choices. 

While I appreciate this article (especially No. 9, since the same could be true for slavery), it's my last phrase that catches me up: we do not want anyone having to live a life diminished or degraded by the lack of appropriate choices.  Yes, sex work can be work, but then what does that mean?  Can we really separate out "good" sex work from "bad" sex work that is degrading or under the umbrella of slavery?  Should we be okay with sex work, knowing that for at least some it is a choice of last resort, of only resort?  Should we be okay with sex work, knowing that for at least some it will be degrading and will mean that they can never find work that they feel is meaningful?  Or, perhaps more importantly, should we be okay with sex work, knowing that it's very existence and propagation are signs that our society is desperate for sex, meaning that our society survives without a center, without meaning, without sustained confidence, and without hope?  If we respond "yes" to this last question, or respond to this last question by saying, "hey, your question is misleading!" then we must also be okay with the fact that sex work leads to slavery, for it is in our cultural blood to want what we want at the cheapest cost, at the least effort; and if pornography or high-end sex workers are out there offering us more and more of what we want, then eventually we will find what we want for less, for the cheapest: slavery. 

At the beginning of the cycle that takes us to slavery is the lack of appropriate choices.  We must be able to create a world where people can find meaning and joy and hope without having to turn to sex.  The Isla Vista killer, Elliot Rodger, could not do that and so turned his rage on those that he perceived to be robbing him of his destiny.  Well, how great would it have been if he could see that women are not his playthings, that women are not around for his enjoyment?  How great would it have been if he could have found meaning without sex?  How great would it have been if he could have found meaning on his own?  Not all men are like Rodger, yes, but our culture breeds men (and women) like Rodger, who are incapable of finding meaning without sex, without power, without money.  There must be more opportunities out there, there must be a greater standard of living for all people so that we can spend more time on ourselves and being okay with ourselves.  Until that happens, the reality of Rodger and other men like him--indeed, the reality of slavery will haunt us.

Folks, we live in a world where slavery, in this case particularly sex trafficking, and fools like Elliot Rodger exist because we cannot come to grips with one simple fact: we are lost.  The #YesAllWomen hashtag is necessary because we are lost; I'd even go so far as to say the unique perspective in my book, 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves, is necessary because we are lost.  And those who are so-called good people refuse to see how they are contributing to our cultural lost-ness by not doing anything.  Our very attitudes must change.  Sex should not be such a desperate goal, whether we are inclined to pornography, prostitutes, high-end sex workers, or murderous intentions.  Sex will not save us, no matter how much Rodger may have thought so, no matter how much those who knowingly and unknowingly contribute to slavery may think so; only God can save us.  And if we don't believe in God, then only we can save ourselves. 

Changing our attitudes toward sex and love (and power) while simultaneously putting an end to slavery and all related activities are urgent tasks.  There are human beings out there who are crying out for our help, and there are many women and men that we can preemptively save from bewildered idiots like Rodger.