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OFF THE PLATE: JANUARY 2009

Stop Child Trafficking: A Conversation with 'Season of Light's' Emily Bain Murphy

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(Jan. 28, 2009)—In a Jan. 7, 2009 post on her Season of Light blog, Emily Bain Murphy talks about a promo she saw for a Law & Order episode, where the plot would center on the horrors of international child trafficking and child slavery in the U.S. Interestingly enough, I just so happened to catch that episode, and was so moved by it that I began my own research on the topic.

After maneuvering through Google searches and Twitter, I eventually came across Emily’s blog. Now, through our meetings on the World Wide Web, I am happy to have learned about Emily’s work.

Season of Light is an example of how a person or organization can use social media to affect social change. A Boston-based graduate of Tufts University and a high-tech public relations representative by day, Emily started her blog as a way to educate readers about child trafficking—specifically sex trafficking.

"I started a blog," Emily says in her Oct. 20, 2008 post Psalm 36:9. "I saw a three-minute video that maybe changed my life. That video led me to start purposefully opening my eyes to some hard realities. … Like the fact that UNICEF estimates the number of children trafficked annually falls around the 1.2 million mark. And that human trafficking is the second most lucrative crime in this world. … And while my eyes are wide open, I'm going to try to focus on the light that we can bring in the midst of all this darkness.”

In addition to Season of Light, Emily’s compassion for victims of these heinous crimes has led her to volunteer with a local area task force for an anti-child trafficking organization known as Love 146.

I spoke with Emily about child trafficking, how her work can make an impact and how anyone and everyone can get involved.

ASMAN: Please talk about the severity of child sexual trafficking right now.

MURPHY: Some days, it seems as though everywhere I turn, there are more stomach-turning stories of children being trafficked. It's a problem that touches every country—and likely, every major city—in all parts of the globe. Statistically, sexual trafficking is a problem that targets more girls than boys, but male youths are also commonly exploited. As of 2006, UNICEF estimates approximately 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, and the total market value of illicit human trafficking is around $32 billion. Slavery, which—up until a few years ago I thought was a thing of the past—is actually a thriving, multi-billion dollar industry. It's alive and well in the U.S. too. According to the Polaris Project, the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is a stunning 12-13 years old.

ASMAN: What are the societal causes that lead to child exploitation?

MURPHY: Poverty is hands down the number one issue. Child exploitation often results from a perfect storm combination of intense poverty, lack of education and disadvantaged communities—and then it is exacerbated by corrupt local governments or police forces. In some areas, poverty is so overwhelming that family members feel they have no other option than to sell one of their children to save the others. If the government or police presence in the area is willing to look the other away in return for some of the profits, it becomes a complex situation that needs to be addressed on a number of different levels.

ASMAN: What are some recent factors that could be contributing to the widespread problem?

MURPHY: According to Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, [one of the Republican cosponsors of the bi-partisan supported William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007], on his Web site:

"Human trafficking, while ever present throughout history, exploded in prevalence, sophistication and cruelty in the mid-1990s. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations, lent itself to a new black market where suddenly mobsters—many of them former KGB operatives—were buying and selling young women as commodities. This phenomenon, coupled with the rapid growth of Internet pornography, drove the demand for trafficking to a whole new level."

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The advancement of the Internet and global travel has made the international accessibility of child exploitation take on a whole new life. Sex tourists, 25% of whom are estimated to be Americans, according to statistics cited by World Vision—have never had an easier time traveling to foreign countries to have sex with under-aged children. Child pornography has exploded across the Internet. Being able to communicate anonymously over Internet forums and chat services has made the connection between buyer and seller much easier. A July 2008 ABC News report showed a reporter could travel to Haiti and purchase a child as a labor slave in just under 10 hours.

At the same time, I think the Internet will play a defining role in ending child trafficking and exploitation. After public outcry, Craigslist recently added registration policies for certain areas of their site to deter child slavery perpetrators from prostituting children on their site.

Through the Internet, people all across the world are joining forces to address the issue, crack down on child trafficking and child sex tourism and put pressure on local and foreign governments to make ending this industry a No. 1 priority.

ASMAN: Describe what victims might experience from the time they are sold into slavery to when they are trafficked from their homes and to the ultimate destination.

MURPHY: Many victims experience mental, sexual, emotional and physical abuse. Some are taken thousands of miles away to countries where they not only do not speak the language, but also have no idea where they are. Some form of bondage is used to keep them in their trafficked situation—whether this is physical or mental, such as a threat to kill them or their family—and often they are told their "transportation and living expenses" are a debt that they will almost never be able to pay off. Desperation, depression, and alienation often follow.  Many victims of child trafficking describe a loss of all hope that they will ever be free.

ASMAN: From which countries do the children come and to where are they sent?

MURPHY: The children come from all over the world, from every country. They are trafficked across international borders as well as local ones. For anyone interested, one of the best resources I've seen around geographical trafficking documentation is the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report. The report ranks countries in a three-tier system depending on the occurrence of trafficking and their efforts to take action against it. Tier-3 countries in 2008, in other words, countries that are in biggest violation of established human-trafficking statutes without showing noticeable efforts to improve, include Fiji, Algeria, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia.

ASMAN: How does Love 146 help?

MURPHY: Love146 works toward ending child sex trafficking and exploitation through prevention and aftercare programs. It is a BBB-accredited charity that trains aftercare workers, builds and maintains safe homes, aids socio-economic development programs in high-risk communities and provides a voice for victims of modern-day slavery. They currently run safe homes in several locations around Southeast Asia and have made a big difference in terms of raising awareness throughout the U.S.

Our local task force plans fundraisers and awareness campaigns, such as an upcoming gym walk-a-thon called “Tread on Trafficking.” We are also sewing quilts that say “Beloved,” which we will give to rescued victims. It's been very encouraging for me to realize that no matter who you are or what skills you have, there are so many different ways you can play a role in the fight against child trafficking.

You can find out more about them at www.love146.org.

ASMAN: Can you please talk about the importance of understanding the laws around child trafficking.

MURPHY: The most important thing about laws around child trafficking in the U.S. is getting them into existence. Before leaving office, former President Bush reauthorized the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which aims to increase prevention, prosecution and penalties against traffickers.

When no one ever talks about arrests, prosecutions, or jail time for child trafficking, it sends amessage to the traffickers they can get away with it. The more laws in place to fight them, and the more we publicize and understand those laws, hopefully the less appealing the act of trafficking a child will become.

ASMAN: How can we help with our new President?

 

MURPHY: International Justice Mission has drafted a letter to President Obama that you can read and sign here to hopefully make the issue of child trafficking stand out to the new administration.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: To learn more about child trafficking, child sex trafficking, please click on any of the external links referenced in this post. All of these links belong to other site owners and are not productions of The Astute Recorder.

To read and subscribe to Emily’s blog Season of Light, click here.

PHOTOS: No. 1: Emily sewing her "Beloved" quilt for a Love 146, courtesy of Laurie. No. 2. Emily's quilt, taken by Emily. No 3.:  Emily Bain Murphy.

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