Friday, April 11, 2014

David Mitchell

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, has quickly catapulted into my top five favorite authors, of any genre.  He rocks.  Anyway, in one of his novels, Number9Dream, one of Mitchell's characters writes a poignant history of her enslavement that I want to share with you.  The novel is set in Japan, but it might as well be set in any so-called civilized country.  I'm going to italicize the part that I think is most important, because I have to remind people of the phenomenon of blissful, hopeful ignorance all the time.  Because we think we have made the world such a better place than fifty, a hundred, two hundred years ago, we ignore the realities that our own attitudes and ignorance create, and so we then vehemently reject the truth that there are 27 million slaves in the world today.  I hear so many voices ringing in my head arguing with me, "There can't possibly be that many!  I would know about it.  And in the United States?  No.  At least, no more than a few thousand."  What?  Are you serious?  That's more than ignorance; that's a harmful arrogance.

Without further ado, I will quote Kazue Yamaya's account with no further commentary.

"The doorbell rang.  I answered it, and three men barged in the door and snapped the chain my husband had trained me to use.  They demanded to know where my husband was hiding.  I demanded to know who they were.  One slapped me hard enough to dislodge a tooth.  "Your husband's case officers," he snarled, "and we [not my italics] ask the questions."  He and another searched the house while the third watched me to try to reassure my screaming son.  He threatened to maim my son if I didn't tell him where my husband was.  I called my husband at work and discovered he had phoned in sick that morning.  I called my husband's cell phone and discovered the number had been disconnected.  I called his pager--dead... My son watched with big scared eyes.  The two other thugs returned with a box of my husband's personal effects and all of my jewelry.  Then the bad news really began.  I learned that my husband had run up debts of over fifty million yen with a yakuza-backed credit organization.  Our life insurance policy had been doctored to name this organization as sole beneficiary in the event of his suicide.  The house and contents were their property if my husband defaulted on repayments.  "And that," said the most violent of the three, "includes you."  My son was taken into the next room.  I was told I was now responsible for my husband's debts.  I was then beaten and raped.  Photographs were taken "to guarantee my obedience."  I had to endure this torment in silence, for the sake of my son.  If I failed to obey their orders, the photographs would be sent to every name in my address book.

A month later I was living in a single windowless room in a buraku [not my italics] area of Osaka.  I was indentured to a brothel, and I was not allowed to leave the building or have any contact with the outside world, beyond sex with my customers.  You may doubt that sexual enslavement is practiced in twenty-first-century Japan.  Your ignorance is enviable, but your disbelief is precisely why such enslavement can prosper unchecked.  It happens; it happened to me.  I myself would have doubted "respectable" women could be forced into the sex industry, but the owners are masters of control.  I was dispossessed of every item from my old life that could have reminded me of who I was--except my son.  I was allowed to keep my son--this prevented me from escaping by suicide.  My customers not only knew about my imprisonment, they derived pleasure from it, and would have been implicated in the crime had it become public.  The final wall between me and the real world was perhaps the strongest: a phenomenon psychologists label "hostage syndrome"--the conviction that my fate was deserved and that no "crime" was being perpetrated.  After all, I was a prostitute.  What right did I have to bring shame to my old friends or even to my mother by appealing for help?  Better that they carry on believing I had disappeared overseas with my bankrupt husband.  Six other women, three with babies younger than my son, shared my floor.  The man who raped me was our pimp--it was him we had to beg for food, medicine, even diapers for our children.  He also supplied narcotics, in careful quantities.  He administered them personally to ensure we couldn't overdose... In time our old lives became detached from what we had become."

The account continues, but this is enough to capture, despite its being fiction, the reality of the cruelty that sex slavery is.  And, of course, this story could have easily been about some other form of slavery.  It's all equally unexpected and horrible.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Unknowingly Supporting Trafficking

One of my major arguments in this blog and in my book is that we all unknowingly support human trafficking in some way.  The uniqueness of my argument is that I say it is not only the things that we do that support human trafficking, but the way that we think and talk, too; our very attitudes contribute to slavery, whether we like it or not. 

There are more tangible ways that we contribute to slavery, too, of course.  I don't focus on the tangible so much as I should, though that's partly because I truly believe that if we can change our very beings to be aware and compassionate of the humanness of others then tangible acts would become unnecessary.  In helping think about the tangible, my fiancee pointed out this article to me: Unknowingly Supporting Trafficking.  

If you have been concerned about slavery for awhile now, you may have thought about how buying clothes, chocolate (or coffee and other goods) that's not fair trade, and fruit can contribute to trafficking.  You've probably also given thought to the massage parlor industry, especially considering that this blog and my book have talked a good deal about some of those.  Still, it's worth the reminder that slaves are working in various industries that produce what we consume.  The article is a quick read so I hope you'll read it.  I don't have anything in particular to add to it except that I hope you will think long and hard about how you consume products: just because consuming products does not bring us face-to-face with another human being does not mean that we can stop being aware and compassionate of the humanness of others.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Belle Knox

If you have not heard of Belle Knox, then you can Google her and learn a whole lot very quickly.  Be careful when you do so, though, because she is what most people term a "porn star."  In my book, I did my best to refer to those working in pornography as "pornographic actors," trying to return some of their human dignity back to them.  Pornographic actors are human beings just like you and me, and yet the problem with pornography is that we are able to degrade what we view through a medium--usually a computer or TV screen--to less than human; and once we do that, it's not a far jump to degrading people that we actually encounter in life to less than human.  This is why I talk about pornography in my book and on this blog: the relationship between pornography and slavery is not a thin one.  We like to think that it is so that we can go on viewing pornography whenever we have the urge, or at least accepting its presence in our society; and all the while not confront the reality that we are also contributing to the attitudes that create and sustain slavery.

Belle Knox is an interesting figure.  By now you may have paused to look her up and read some about her, so my telling you who she is might be unnecessary.  But anyway.  She is a young student at Duke University, using pornography to pay her way through school.  If you spent a lot of time looking up Belle Knox, you might have realized that there's a lot of speculative writing about her that's not based in fact.  Worse, there's a lot of negatively biased writing about her, suggesting and implying that she is a scourge.  Worse, she has become a target for hate.  Pornographic actors are victims, through and through; just as slaves are victims.

Look, does anyone really think that Belle Knox is the first or only college student paying her way through school with sex?  And why is she not the only one?  Because pornography pays!  And why does pornography pay?  Because we are a society of hypocrites!  We put up a front to the world saying that we are a good person, trustworthy and an upholder of the universal moral code, and then in private we like to degrade and demonize others in a misguided attempt to feel power, love, and self-worth.  Pornography is a major business because of our hypocrisy. 

And we do not like to admit that we are not the good people that we portray, we do not like to admit that we are insecure, we do not like to admit that we do not love ourselves, we do not like to admit that we struggle to find worth, community, and an outlet for our desire for power, so we blame all of our inner struggles on others: the pornographic actors themselves.  That way, we can degrade them all we want while we take advantage of them through a medium, then turn off the screen and walk away as if nothing happened.  What happens, though, if we ever meet a pornographic actor?  Well, then the crap hits the fan, because then we have to acknowledge that there is a part of ourselves that we do not love, and that is likewise unable to love--the part of ourselves that would rather blame others for our faults--the part of ourselves that would rather laugh at, insult, and attack Belle Knox and her family for her existence, than to ever look inward at our own darkness.  Our negative reaction toward her and her family is indicative of just how desperate we should be to change who we are. 

The reaction to Belle Knox's career choice is not surprising to me in the least, but it is extremely disappointing.  Though Knox is not the first or only female or pornographic actor to be blamed for the sadness, badness, and madness of others, the fact that we still have so much room for improvement in ourselves frustrates me, and should frustrate you.  I applaud Knox's bent toward social justice, but I pray that her motive will go beyond the rights of sex workers and instead focus on changing the hearts and minds of citizens everywhere so that one day there will be no need, no demand for pornographic actors or sex slaves: where there is no demand, there will be no supply.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Houston Trafficking

I've decided that anyone who posts anything about human trafficking on my website, on my Facebook, or on the 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves Facebook page, I will write about it here, because as I always say: more awareness leads to wider-open eyes, and wider-open eyes leads to changed lives that end slavery and, for those who can, more energetic, tangible combating of slavery.  A friend posted this article to the 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves Facebook page:

Houston Trafficking

Parts of this article are amazing to me.  Amazing in the sense that I, despite writing a book in which I try to understand people in regards to slavery, cannot understand people.  Two things stand out to me.

First, the fact that most of the people found in the house, in the squalid conditions, are from Central America.  I almost laughed a little.  We self-dubbed Americans complain and complain about "dirty foreigners," usually referring to Mexicans or other Central/Southern Americans, coming to the U.S. and "stealing" our jobs... yet it is pretty clear that we are constantly taking advantage of those less privileged in the southern American climes.  Taking people from their homes in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and other countries, probably with the promise of better lives, and then traffic them into slavery in the apparently civilized United States, is absolutely cruel and terrible.  More than that, it's also an indication of how we are taking advantage of them all the time: we shine a beacon of hope, then force Central/Southern Americans, and other down-on-their-luck foreigners, to do jobs that many of us wouldn't dream about doing.  This is one reason why I am very proud of my in-laws: all of them are honest, hard-working citizens who will do anything it takes to support a family with the utmost integrity (not that my family isn't, but since I've been born I don't know anyone in my family who has worked in a factory or at McDonald's or anything like that).  In general, though, we take advantage of those less lucky than we are, and then we complain about the very problem we create by taking advantage of them.  We shouldn't be surprised that this attitude produces human trafficking in our country.  The filth that the victims in this story had to endure is worse than awful, but there is a more disgusting filth: American attitudes that create and sustain human trafficking in this country and around the world.  Our venom is pathetically misplaced and so terribly logically inconsistent that it's laughable.

If you've read my book, the following statement will seem like a repetition: attitudes are extremely serious, and changing our attitudes, what we say, and our lifestyles, we can change the world for the better.  Even if we aren't directly involved in human trafficking, we could very well be involved in the worst evil known to humankind.

Secondly, the police that responded to the missing persons registered surprise that so many people would be at the house.  It would seem that a native of Houston was the cause of uncovering the trafficking scheme, which should jar our conception--if we can read this blog and still hold this conception--that only non-Americans are trafficked.  But anyway, why are the police surprised?  I can imagine that any time you encounter a location of slavery you'd be dismayed beyond words.  And you or I, certainly, would be surprised.  But in 2012 86 people were found in a house in the Houston area.  Five years ago an equal or greater number of people were found in a house in the Houston area.  Clearly something is going on that you can't ignore.  Yet surprise suggests that it is being ignored, at least more than it should be.  I'm not trying to suggest that the enforcement agencies of Houston aren't aware of what's going on or aren't working hard to end human trafficking, but the tone of the article is wrong.  Rather than surprise, which suggests, "I can't believe this is still going on," the tone should be, "Man, we're working hard, but we should be working harder." 

We all need to work harder.  I can't possibly say that without also giving you the following link, which, after you click on it, fill out a few lines, will be your letter to your political representative to help end modern slavery.  The world will thank you.

Polaris Project

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Children of God

A friend of my brother's who has read my book has become my new best friend.  She clearly has her eyes open more than I do.  I doubt reading my book had much to do with that, but I'm glad that she has read my book and begun to direct me to certain things because I have a blog that some people read and so her passion can have a greater range.  That's how awareness works: one person's awareness can make a second person aware, and then those two people might lead to four person's being aware, and then eight, and then sixteen, and so on; soon we have an army.

Anyway, this post isn't about how awareness works (technically, all my posts are about how important simple awareness is, since I really believe that simply being aware is indeed half the battle).  This post is about the following video that Pamela, my new best friend and hero, pointed out to me:

Child Sex Tourism

Please watch the video.  The video was enough to convince me to sign up for upworthy.com's daily e-mail.  There's also a petition to sign at the end to help stop child sex tourism.

If you don't read on, that's fine, it means that you watched the video and then didn't have time for any more reading.  Good!  Watching the video and not reading more is better than not watching the video and reading more.

As I commented to Pamela, while watching the video I thought a lot about pornography in general.  I feel more strongly than ever that my emphasis on pornography and its relationship to modern slavery is justified, because more strongly than ever I see that our attitudes towards pornography are the same attitudes that will later justify propagation of slavery and child sex tourism.  One of the experts in the video talks about how men are sitting behind their computers in far-away countries virtually abusing the ten-year old Sweetie mentally and bodily, and then once they get off they also shut off the computer, go back to work and think nothing of what they've just done to a ten-year old girl.  Is pornography not the same?  We sit behind our computers or TV screens, directing the action (in the sense that we can choose and search out for whatever type of pornography we want), virtually using and abusing--a high percentage of pornography nowadays is about abuse--the bodies and minds of women and men, and then once we get off we shut off our computers and TVs and think nothing of what we've just done.  Child sex tourism is obviously a far more cruel and heart-wrenching phenomenon, but do you see how our attitudes toward pornography can quickly escalate to child sex tourism?  And then virtual child sex tourism can quickly escalate into face-to-face child sex tourism.  And then face-to-face child sex tourism can turn into local child sex abuse/slavery.

At the bottom of all of this is an inability to see everyone as a child of God.  When slavery in the thirteen colonies and the United States was at its height, slave-owners did not want their slaves to be educated in religion.  Why?  Because slave-owners, as heartless and/or ignorant as they may have been, knew that God probably didn't look kindly on enslaving fellow Christians: once someone accepted Christ as his/her savior, well, then that slave was... was... was a real person!  Oh my goodness!  We can't enslave real people!  I don't mean to say that we all need to be religious or that we need to educate slaves in religion.  Since post-modernity began its reign, I'm not sure that being religious would save a slave in the worldly sense.  I am saying that we all need to see all other people as children of God.  We don't need to be religious or even believe in God ourselves to do that.  All we need is a sense that if a person is alive, then they are just like us, a real, live person.  When we allow pornography into our lives or into our society, we acknowledge in some small way that not all people are equal.  In that case, some people are worth physically or virtually taking advantage of, worth using and abusing. 

Even if we aren't talking about pornography, there are far too many of us going around thinking that only people of the same or higher social status as ourselves are real people.  There are others of us who go around thinking that only our friends are real people.  Stop for a second and consider whether you are one of those people who don't truly believe that all persons are indeed persons.  If we think about the way we and our acquaintances talk and think, we will find that we are often or come close to being someone who doesn't view all persons as persons.  And that is our problem.  There's far too much devaluing of real, human persons going on.

Want to end child sex tourism?  Want to end slavery?  Then evangelize.  Whoa, that's a scary word.  It shouldn't be scary, though, when we are evangelizing to the radical yet not-so-radical idea that all persons are actually persons.  If we do that, then no one will be able to use and abuse another human being and then continue on with their life as if nothing happened.  We are all children of God, after all.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Book Review

I recently read Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, Snuff.  If you don't know what Discworld is, I encourage you to look it up.  I encourage you to look it up not because I'm too lazy to describe it but because I just spent thirty minutes trying to describe Discworld and realizing I wasn't doing a good job.  Basically, though, it's a world of comic fantasy that I highly recommend, if you're interested in either fantasy or laughing hysterically for hours. 

Anyway, I wrote this book review on Goodreads and thought that I would share it with you.  If you are on Goodreads, then you can find my review and click to "like it."  I encourage you to "like it" so that others may see it.  Unfortunately, though the book is clearly about the drug and slave trade, because it is a part of Pratchett's running Discworld series--a running satire on everything--I doubt that many people who have read the book will have the same, necessary perception of the book as I do.  Whether you are on Goodreads or not, I encourage you to read Snuff, because it is a fantastic (see what I did there?  Discworld is fantasy, and I just said a Discworld book is "fantastic"... ha ha), non-direct look at how certain forms of slavery develop such a strong hold in our world, all the while being hidden from the public eye.

(Note: I've taken out some of the review that focused more on the style of the book)

"Regular Discworld copper Sam Vimes goes out to the country with his wife, Lady Sybil, for a vacation... until he finds trouble, as Vimes always does, and then has to take down a drug and slave trafficking racket.  Because of my own experience and involvement in fighting slave trafficking (check out my book, 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves) I love and appreciate this book.  Sam Vimes is, in a sense, the last person you'd expect to respect the rights of perceived lower-species (in this case, goblins), which makes the anti-slave purpose of the story all the stronger.  We can all learn a lot from the rough-and-tumble Sam Vimes about why we need to take on modern-day slavery with much more enthusiasm and strength.  Pratchett also perceptively connects the drug trade to the slave trade.  A wonderfully meaningful story is Snuff.

One of the most powerful comments that I've ever read in a Pratchett novel gets repeated by Vimes in various forms throughout the book, "You could have done something."  If you read my book, you'll learn that, indeed, when we are faced with an evil like slavery, we all can do something.  Little changes in our life, our attitudes and/or our lifestyles, can make a big difference in the world.  As the rough-and-tumble character that he is, Vimes has something specific in mind when he says, "You could have done something," but even if we disagree with his notions of literally fighting back, we should still hear his words ringing in our ears... "You could have done something."  Slavery is unacceptable in our world today, and we can all do something.

Another great aspect of this book is that it shows how hidden slavery can be.  Vimes shows up in the countryside and everything seems clean and fine.  No one likes the goblins (the potential slave population) because they are poor, uneducated thieves who can barely speak the language.  At first Vimes thinks that this is such perfectly normal behavior that he doesn't give it a second thought.  It's not so much a question of, "Who cares about the goblins (or, who cares about the poor, uneducated, possibly foreign population)?" but rather a question of, "Who even thinks about the goblins?"  The answer is, "no one really," because we all walk around with our eyes shut focused on the lives of the wealthy, hoping that one day we might join their ranks.  We might care about the rights of all people, but our eyes aren't open enough to see all the people.  We aren't a true community in any sense.  This is how slavery becomes hidden, this is how there are 27 million slaves in the world, many of whom are in the United States, without our knowledge.  If it weren't for Sam Vimes's inclination to find trouble, he wouldn't have known what was going on because he wouldn't have opened his eyes.  And by the end of the story, Vimes hasn't even necessarily accepted goblins as equal, but he does come to understand, by viewing the horrors of slavery, that all people, including goblins, are indeed people.

...

There's nothing inherently wrong with an action novel about dismantling drug and slave trafficking.  That's quite good, in fact!  I love it!  Let's write more of them! If you have never read a Discworld novel before and have a beating heart, you will love this book [and find yourself wanting to fight slavery all the more!].  But if you are familiar with Discworld, you have certain expectations that are not met. Which is okay, of course, since I'm not sure that I want to laugh while reading about the drug and slave trade.  I just wish I had some forewarning that my life experiences with slavery would come a-haunting.

And it's possible that Pratchett realized that this shouldn't be a proper Discworld satire.  There is a point in the novel when Lady Sybil, Vimes's wife, loses some of her power over Vimes and decides to just become a supporting wife as Vimes goes out to make the world a better place.  This is a powerful transition.  Yes, Snuff may not be what I was expecting or even hoping for as a Discworld novel, but, as Lady Sybil recognizes, what are expectations of a Discworld novel in the face of the drug and slave trade?  Nothing.

So at the end of the day I of course really liked this book for its focus and its story.  Sam Vimes is, in a way, your stereotypical conservative, American Southerner.  If even he can find it in his heart to respect lowly, poor foreigners who can't speak good English--I mean, goblins, and fight to keep them from being enslaved, then so should we all."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Recognition

Recently I received in the mail an official recognition from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for my trip and the writing of the book, 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves.  Offered by representative Kate Hogan and signed by Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, the House of Representatives extends its sincerest thanks for my work.  The recognition caught me by surprise, since I didn't think that the release of my book was all that earth-shattering.  But the recognition (now obviously hanging on a wall in my office) taught me two things.

First, I really need to update this blog.  The pages and links on this website still all refer to my trip two years ago.  It's been less than two years, actually, so I'm not totally guilty, but still the blog is clearly out of date.  A change in my life and a change in purpose for this blog, plus the fact that there is a whole bunch of worthwhile information out there that I should include, dictate to me that I need to change the blog.  An overhaul is necessary.  If people are recognizing me for my work in raising awareness against human trafficking, then I should probably not look so lazy.  My goal for this month is to make those changes.

Second, the little things that we do seeking to end human trafficking, a) do not go unrecognized, and b) do not flame out.  Oftentimes doing good work in social justice areas feels like a thankless task, but there are plenty of people out there who see what we do and are forever grateful for what we do.  To some, publishing a book may seem like a big deal; to me it's not at all (writing is what I do).  So whoever we are we should realize that what we consider to be a small, unrecognizable task, is not a small, unrecognizable task in the eyes of all people; to some people, those tasks will seem like monumental achievements.

Also, whatever good we do seeking to end human trafficking remains forever.  What I mean is that each step we take toward the end of modern slavery has such great influence on others--encouraging them to also work to end slavery--and on the world that that step cannot ever be demolished once we take that step.  We build on what we've done before and need not re-build.  Sometimes we may need to repeat, over and over again, but that doesn't mean that what we have done has not helped make progress or has gone unrecognized.  We can and should take heart knowing that every little thing that we do to help end human trafficking has unending significance.  Unending significance.  Even if you only do one little thing to end slavery, that one little thing will continue to have significance for all time.