23 September 2014

#WhyIStayed and Victim Shaming

Recently, video footage was released that showed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay Palmer, in an elevator this past February. The video has lead to Rice's release from the Ravens and indefinite suspension from the NFL (which he is appealing), and sparked two social outcries.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
The first criticism circling through the media is regarding the NFL's delayed/lack of action against Rice until the widespread viewing of the footage, and the subsequent accusation that their lax policies on domestic violence are directly allowing such abuse to continue. A valid argument with many supporting examples that demands to be addressed, but this isn't the platform to delve into that conversation.

The purpose of this post is to highlight the second major criticism, one that is not at all unique to the NFL or even domestic violence: victim blaming/shaming.

Victim blaming occurs whenever the victim of a crime or abuse or other wrongdoing is held responsible, at least in part, for the actions of the perpetrator. Have you heard the claim that a woman who has been raped shouldn't have been wearing such a short dress? Or that a store owner who was robbed brought it on himself because he forgot to lock the door? Or recently, when celebrities' intimate photos were stolen and leaked online that those individuals should have been more careful where they stored such personal files? All absurd claims. All victim blaming. The ONLY person responsible for a crime is the person who committed it.

Let me be very clear. If someone hurts you, be it physically, verbally, emotionally (including use of manipulation) or otherwise, it is not your fault. You are not culpable for the actions of others. Period.

Ray Rice, former Baltimore Raven
After the video of Rice and Palmer surfaced, a lot of people started speaking out with statements like, “I can't believe she still married him after that” and “Well, she lunged at him before he hit her, so it's partially her fault.” No. It's not Palmer's fault that Rice, a very strong professional athlete, struck her so hard that she fell unconscious to the floor and had to be dragged out of the elevator, completely limp. I don't care what they were arguing about. I don't care if he'd had a rough day. I don't care if she said something that hurt his feelings. His behavior was unacceptable and was also 100% not her fault. Ray Rice is the sole individual in charge of what his own fists do and don't hit.

As the shaming amped up, Beverly Gooden decided she needed to respond. As a former victim of domestic abuse, she understands the nuances involved in a relationship involving violence, and knew she needed to spread some awareness. So she headed over to Twitter and began sending out reasons for #WhyIStayed. The hashtag took off, with people all over contributing their own stories of why they stayed in a violent situation. If you want to read some of those, I'd encourage you to start with this article. Stories include elements of fear, manipulation, believing they deserved the abuse, love for their partners. They reveal the complexities of relationships and how it's not a simple matter of just walking away. There are multiple layers to any such situation, and it's not always clear how to best handle them – and that's assuming the victim can even recognize they are being abused and acknowledge they should be treated differently.

Why does this topic belong on a blog written by a counter-trafficking organization? Because these same tactics – fear, manipulation, physical restraint, threatening loved ones or children – are used by traffickers to control their victims. Additionally, many victims of trafficking believe they are in love with their abusers. They often willingly enter into a relationship with the trafficker, seeing him or her as a boyfriend or girlfriend, seeking love and acceptance and approval they've previously been denied, not realizing they are being prepped for exploitation. By the time the abuse sets in, victims can't see it, can't cope with it, won't accept or address it, and will deny that it is even an issue.

So, then, when an outsider makes the statement of, “Why doesn't she just leave?” it's not only insensitive, it's also ignorant. Think of the bond created between lovers, and the devotion that develops as the relationship strengthens. You're committed to that person, and willing/desirous to see life through with them, no matter what. Those same elements still exist when domestic violence or trafficking occurs. Those desires to please your significant other, to work out whatever “struggles” arise, to overcome “challenges” your relationship may face. When struggles and challenges take the form of abuse, the bond/devotion/love doesn't just go away.

That's also why so many victims return to their traffickers. The emotional connection they feel and the elements of fear/manipulation engrained in them keep pulling them back. Until we can understand that, at least on a logical level if not an empathetic one, we cannot begin to offer any real relief from abuse. The psychological hold is a difficult one to break, worse than any substance addiction you might experience.

So the next time you see someone locked into a cycle of abuse, don't respond with condemnation and accusation. Unless you've been there yourself, you have no idea what they're going through. Let's stop blaming victims for the actions of their abusers and adding yet another element of guilt on top of their already-weighty emotional state. Whatever you think about Janay Palmer's decision to go through with her marriage to Ray Rice and to stand by him as he appeals his suspension, you're looking at the situation as an outsider. Try to remember that.



15 September 2014

"Warm Heart of Africa--Malawi"



The realization that human trafficking is a serious local security issue is prompting “Members of Parliament (MPs)” in Malawi to meet and discuss the Trafficking in Persons Bill on the table. Although it has taken seven years, from start to finish, the bill is now ready to move beyond development and into play. For a country that is one of the only sub-Saharan countries to be without a human trafficking law and at the same time, is considered a source and transit country as well, this is a significant move.

For me, the value of a human life is priceless. Not only is human trafficking unjust, it is also a health and safety issue. The loss of life, the spread of diseases, and the instability of people in relation to human trafficking are unnecessary and preventable. I am thankful for the advocates of the Malawi people who are pushing forth this bill to increase penalties to offenders of human trafficking.

However, it is not only a matter of creating laws and raising awareness, but also of enforcing these laws. With the appropriate penalties in place, prosecutors would have the necessary backing to enforce the laws. The Executive Director of the organization, The Eye of the Child, Malawi Maxwell Matewere, states that Malawi needs to “invest in young people and come up with means to reduce poverty, corruption and unemployment which has led to increasing acts of human trafficking”. Gender Justice Coordinator, Habiba Osman, said “the law will also give a chance to victims to seek help from the fund allocated for human trafficking programmes as a way of combating human trafficking”. 

All of these are positive strides that Malawi is taking to ensure that another generation of the Malawi people do not fall victim to the perpetuating cycle of harm that human trafficking brings to society.








08 September 2014

Cambodian Inspiration Leads to a Global Model of Collaboration


I am sitting in a hot dilapidated meeting room with our local team right now in Cambodia. I am listening to the amazing hopes and plans that they have committed themselves to, in order to see the vision of collaboration and working together become a reality. I can also see their passion for partnership and how critical it is to addressing trafficking and abuse.  These young Cambodians are setting an example for the rest of us right now, and here is why...

Most NGOs in Cambodia (as well as in other developing nations, no doubt) are used to being the recipients of external assistance in the form of monetary aid, foreign experts as well as in program frameworks and development theories from ‘westerners’ and other developed nations. 


Of course, these elements have assisted Cambodian society move on from its post-civil war environment and have helped established both frameworks and infrastructure for many aspects of the nation’s growth. However, the result of this has been two-fold in brief: those bringing to Cambodia, although with good intentions, develop a sense of entitlement and superiority with little true accountability and collaboration with others. Secondly, Cambodians are now saying that they are through with being regarded as a ‘victim’ nation, viewed as having little capability to become responsible for the future of their society.

This makes the scaling up of a locally ran coalition to a global learning community, even more than just a replication of a successful model.

It means that Cambodians are now innovators. When they export their grassroots practice of collaboration to the developed world, it empowers and encourages their national population to see themselves as more than just recipients and more as contributing counterparts within the international anti-human trafficking movement.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too optimistic in thinking that we can make a difference through partnership, even though I have been committed to this for more than ten years. But as I listen to our team, I believe the dream is still alive and worth pursuing.

One hopeful pilgrim....

01 September 2014

The Importance of a Learning Spirit

My husband, Charlie, and I recently met with two social entrepreneurs from Australia. They are interested in replicating their social enterprise cafés in Cambodia, as a transitional employment and training venture for survivors of trafficking and exploitation. So much of our conversation was inspiring and interesting that I thought it was important to share it with the community.


Their original idea was to run a four-story center, including a large café, a training center, and housing for their employees. As we discussed the implications of sustainability for their business in Cambodia, adaptation to the original plan was already in effect. 

Although the lead person on this project works for an NGO, he is first and foremost a businessman. He identifies greatly with Chab Dai’s ethos on collaboration and the idea of sticking to one’s expertise. When he heard that we already have a number of aftercare programs in the area, whose competencies lie in counseling, trauma recovery, and survivor reintegration, he quickly started to re-evaluate his plan and think about how to build a business that supports pre-existing organizations.

He was also told by a number of people that sit-down, higher-end cafés are already saturated in Phnom Penh, but when he visited a centrally located gas station / coffee hub, and saw a long line of customers waiting for coffee at 8:00 a.m., he knew this model could be successful in other key areas of the city. 

They also recognized that Cambodia has the largest number of NGOs of almost any country in the world and prefers to join the cause as a socially minded business, rather than an NGO doing business. One of their top priorities is financial sustainability and they want to  use their business principals to prepare young survivors for integration into mainstream economic activity.

This new social business idea is still in its nascent stages, but what I loved about meeting these two visionaries was their flexibility and willingness to learn in a new environment. They are excellent at what they do in Australia, but recognizing that they need to adapt their model, marketing, and strategic plan to accommodate the needs of both the Cambodian market and survivors, makes this business a compelling site for innovation, cultural adaptation and success. 

This is the type of collaboration and open-mindedness we need in order to create effective change and to equip Cambodian people with the essential tools needed for success. 

26 August 2014

How the Media Causes Harm

Today, there are numerous sources to acquire your news, from newspapers, magazines, and television to online media and social platforms. With the fierce competition between media outlets, there is a frenzy to provide up-to-date and exciting coverage to maintain and increase viewership. Media coverage is often the only way we receive information about different cultures, city problems, and global issues and have a large impact on how we are perceiving the world around us. Depending on what the media chooses to show us, it can often encourage extreme emotions that can influence us to love and immortalize a person and/or condemn others and create animosity.

Media events such as the kidnappings by Boko Haram, the rise and fall of Somaly Mam, and the CNN Freedom Project, we see every sliver of information related to these situations splashed everywhere in our media outlets. Of course, this only happens for a few days/weeks, until something else grabs national attention.  

When a single event is in the spotlight, as was with the fall of Somaly Mam, it can cause a backlash.  No one can argue Somaly Mam brought worldwide exposure to human trafficking. However, her swift rise to the spotlight and the vicious portrayal of her downfall may have caused long-lasting damage to many anti-human trafficking organizations that do right by the individuals who are trapped in this vicious industry. Many organizations around the world may now have to go through additional levels of investigation before they are given funds, which will delay their programs. 


There will always be an abundance of news, but it is important not to get caught up in this whirlwind of media coverage because the media influences how we see see each other and the world, sometimes negatively. Having our views shaped by the media can change them in ways we may not have wanted. We may view organizations and individuals through new lenses that have vilified or glamorized another organization or individual. So what can we do?  Avoid the media? Of course not.  But tread lightly and never just accept what lies before you. Consider it your duty to look deeper and analyze how your thoughts and words are affected by the way the media presents the world around us. Ask yourself why you are being called to action.  Why a certain photograph is being used. How will vilifying one person who is the face of anti- sex trafficking affect others. Ask yourself questions and look deeper to what is the real message that is being conveyed.  

You may be surprised to find the answer.