Monthly Archives: April, 2009

Big Anti-Trafficking Tent

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. A coalition by definition is a diverse group that comes together for a common purpose. We all have to work together and practice tolerance. Yeah.

I told myself that for about a year, and then I had to drop out. I didn’t want to be disruptive, or even a speed bump in the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. But I continually felt that the goal we started with was being changed.

It was less a big tent than a big bus, being steered down a different road.

While in the Coalition I volunteered to sign on to Prof. Donna Hughes’ listserve, Dignity. Recognizing that the listserve is intended to include opinions from a variety of viewpoints, I tried to take it as simply an information source. However, I couldn’t fail to notice that many groups I considered to be extreme right-wing were claiming to be the ‘New Abolitionists’. There were groups that had agendas directly opposite to my sense of right and wrong.

I never wanted to be a part of a moral crusade using law as a weapon. All I cared about was legal protection for people who are trafficked, and punishment for the traffickers.

To fight immorality, I would use other weapons– reason, persuasion and example. Laws against immorality have never been very effective, and have often been cover for worse crimes. Remember the Scarlet Letter?

Morality, like patriotism, provides a convenient cover for other agendas. This is an example from the Dignity listserve today.

Protecting pedophiles, by Jan LaRue

If House Democrats have their way, pedophiles will be included in the Hate Crime bill, but not veterans and pregnant women. Catholic League president Bill Donohue explains :

“The House of Representatives will vote this week, possibly tomorrow, on a hate crimes bill championed by gay groups that includes pedophiles under the rubric of sexual orientation. This is the ultimate confession: liberal Democrats think of pedophiles as indistinguishable from homosexuals.

“When this subject came up last week in the House Judiciary Committee, an amendment to the hate crimes bill that would have excluded pedophilia from the definition of sexual orientation was defeated by Democrats along party lines, 13-10. This was considered good news by gay organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, left-wing groups like the ACLU and various Jewish groups like the ADL. [the rest, if you can stand to read it]

I cite this piece of work because, although it does not say anything about trafficking, it showed up on the Dignity listserve. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League doesn’t want to debate the Hate Crimes act on the basis of what it actually contains, but instead links it to criminal, immoral behavior and uses the guise of morality and protecting the innocent. I think this showed up on Dignity because someone thinks it’s relevant to the cause, and not the cause of combating bigotry.

Anti-trafficking is a human rights issue, and a very important one. But it is not safe to assume that every group that crams into the tent makes human rights a priority. In difficult times, when anti-immigrant sentiment is rising, it may turn out that the victims who need help are not always immediately recognizable as victims. The lines between victim and perpetrator are not always clear, in reality some people are both.

I hope that we get a good law in place, I think the bills concerning minors are a good start. I commend Prof. Hughes for her dedication and the good work she has done on this issue. But the legislature is right to be cautious, ask questions, and consider the danger of unintended consequences. If we can get a law in place that provides a way out for Americans and immigrants trapped in forced work of any kind, this will be a great step forward for justice.

If, on the other hand, we get a law that makes us feel righteous about our stand against immorality, and that law drives marginal people further away from help, then we will have increased the very problem we want to solve.

Anti-Trafficking vs Anti-Prostitution

When I joined the Coalition Against Human Trafficking I was not thinking of working to eliminate prostitution.

I think that just as selling a kidney to pay the mortgage is something no one should ever have to contemplate; renting out your body is not a benign, harmless way to make a living. Prostitution hurts people and communities. I say as a sex-positive feminist that the recognition of the right of women to equality in work is precious and hard-won. The right to be free in your sexual life is still being fought. When coercion is social and financial it may be hard to even recognize as oppression. I have much to say about the subtle, 21st century way of putting women back in their place, but that’s a long story.

Enough to say that prostitution, like addiction, is a complicated problem that will not be solved by any law, much less by ‘closing a loophole’.

Trafficking, on the other hand, should be prosecuted. All the evils of trafficking–kidnaping, assault, rape, blackmail–are already felonies. Conspiracy to commit any of these crimes is a felony. There’s no rational reason that any of these are less severe when they are committed against a prostitute.

Trafficking also includes coerced labor–in factories, restaurants, farms. The suffering of workers who labor without rights, without hope, is not to be underestimated.

Putting people outside the law makes it harder for them to come forward when they are victims of crime. Anti-trafficking laws try to address that. How much success we will have, I don’t know.

Why I Wasn’t at the Rally Against Human Trafficking

I’ve been concerned about trafficking for prostitution in Rhode Island since the 1990’s, when the Providence Journal ran a story about a brothel called Club Osaka. I wrote to the Attorney General and the Mayor. I talked to my representatives. I was at the Providence forum hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women that led to the formation of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. I joined and worked with them for a year before leaving in discouragement and worry about the direction we were going in.

We on the Coalition worked to pass legislation that would rescue trafficked persons and punish criminals. Apparently all our work was in vain, and the only remedy is to ‘close the loophole’ that fails to criminalize indoor prostitution. It seems that this is where we started. But a lot of good people are still working on this issue.

I am very encouraged that Rep. Joanne Giannini and Sen. Rhoda Perry are both sponsoring bills against human trafficking that offer increased protections to minors under age 18. (click on their names to see the bills–short and simple to read. click here to read some fine reporting from ProJo. ‘Eye of the Storm’. )

I continue to have serious concerns about anti-prostitution bills and how the laws would be enforced if passed. Dr. Donna Hughes, one of the experts in the study of human trafficking, has cited the Mann Act as a legal tool to fight this scourge. But the Mann Act has a dubious history of being used selectively to target individuals whose celebrity or politics created enemies. Although reformed in 1978, we should not ignore the history. Sen. John Mc Cain recently led an effort to clear the name of boxer Jack Johnson, whose conviction in 1913 under the Mann Act is widely considered a punishment for transgressing racial boundaries.

This is not to say that we should not have a law, but the debate and caution of the Rhode Island legislature is well-founded. And once a law is passed, the coalitions and concerned groups need to be vigilant in watching how the law is implemented. After all, adjoining states that don’t have a ‘loophole’ are not free of prostitution and related crimes. Corruption goes all the way up and there’s an awful lot of money to persuade with.

Oh The Outsourcing — of RI State Jobs

Veteran Cranston politics reporter Scott Mayerowitz (we only train the best!) tells the disturbing story of state benefits administration jobs that are being outsourced to India. Scott did some of his state-by-state research in Rhode Island, and learned that we, too, have farmed out many of our state’s call center jobs to India, though some calls are reportedly now being handled “domestically.” From ABC News:

[...]Other states struggled to answer questions about their call center locations.

“Who would have ever thought it would be such a difficult question to answer,” said Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the governor’s office in Rhode Island. She eventually learned that JP Morgan was sending the state’s food stamps calls to India but now keeps them all domestically.

Kempe later told ABC News however that JP Morgan was still routing calls for unemployment benefits to India. Unemployment in Rhode Island now stands at 10.5 percent.

Does anyone else see the irony here? Should we laugh or cry?

Ain’t I a Woman?

Good news via Americablog. A statue of Sojourner Truth was dedicated at the US Capitol today.

One of America’s great patriots, a woman who lived her life for freedom and justice, belatedly honored for her service to our country.

Don’t Cough on Me

Truly work is the curse of the blogging class. I barely have time to scan the headlines, never mind the ProJo or NYT today. It’s my weekend on and going to be a busy Sunday.

Flu is in the headlines. Mexico City is wearing masks. The possibility of an outbreak in the US that could close down schools and public gatherings was a big subject of speculation a few years ago. The passing of many flu seasons without a really bad one has calmed people down. This new outbreak is a warning–don’t think it can’t happen here.

Laurie Garrett wrote a book called, ‘Betrayal of Trust–The Collapse of Global Public Health’. It’s very readable, although the chapter on the US was so depressing I had to put it down.

We have had a national public health system in place and dismantled it over and over again when complacency set in. If you are old enough to remember the Zambarano TB sanitarium, or lining up for the polio shot then you saw it in action.

We don’t even have a surgeon general now. The President should make that a priority.

My job requires me to deal with people, especially sick people. It’s not as risky as being an elementary school teacher, and I see fewer people than a checkout clerk. I am constantly washing my hands. You all do that too, and if you like disaster movies, think about a real public health emergency in our patchwork, profit-driven, health care ‘system’.

PS–with a heads up from Wonkette, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, the guy who was mulling over whether to secede from the union because Texans don’t need no stinkin’ federal government, has asked the federal government for flu assistance.

Slumdog–More Messing With the Kids

You know, you can say it was just a joke– you just tapped them, but you forgot you were wearing brass knuckles. And there they are, lying on the ground, screaming that you broke something.

That’s the evil of power disparity. You think you mean well, but the consequences are out of your control.

Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, tried to do it right. He is still sponsoring donations to the poor children of Mumbai. But when he recruited two lovely, charismatic children to act in his movie, to give it heart and verisimilitude, he did not consider that he might be taking away more than he gave.

A child-actor’s wages are a cup of water on the Sahara sands when applied to one of Earth’s great desperate slums. A cup of water attracts desperate people and not-so-desperate profiteers. I don’t trust the motives of the British tabloid news reporters who enticed Rubina Ali’s father into going for this sting…

MUMBAI — Indian police in Mumbai are probing accusations that the father of a child star of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire tried to sell his daughter for 200,000 pounds.

The mother of 9-year-old Rubina Ali protested after a sting operation by a British tabloid alleged her father tried to sell her.

This has ripped up Rubina’s family…

Meanwhile, authorities in Mumbai have recorded the statements of Rafiq Qureshi; his “Slumdog” daughter, Rubina Ali; and his former wife, Khurshida Begum, senior police inspector Prakash Salunke told CNN.

Qureshi has denied allegations made in Britain’s News of the World that he tried to sell 9-year-old Rubina for £200,000 ($290,000), Salunke said. In her statement, the child-actor favored her father, according to the police.

Qureshi’s former wife, whom he divorced several years ago, endorsed the allegations leveled against him by the British newspaper.

Squalor for entertainment has a familiar ring to anyone who watches American daytime TV. There are scores of innocent American children who will some day be confronted with a video of their father denying his paternity until the DNA test comes through on camera. Public hanging is out of fashion, but there are substitutes. The blood is real.

Now we get to see a poor Indian father exposed as a person who would sell his daughter. Rubina is nine years old. This will follow her all her life. I hope she writes a book some day, ‘Director Dearest’. I wonder if Danny Boyle would have found his own gift if a rich foreigner had intruded on his childhood this way. Rubina Ali has to deal with her mother, her father, and a whole lot of money. I hope there is a very good social worker involved in this. And a trustworthy financial adviser is sorely needed.

The poor of India are watching. If any harm comes to these children it will be hell to pay. There are too many bereaved parents, too many parents of the disappeared.

Rosa Parks was not young, not uneducated, not taken by surprise. She trained all her life to be ready for that day on the bus. Rubina Ali is nine years on this earth. She is for the moment distinguished among the six billion of us. May the spirit of Rosa Parks, and the spirit of Rosa’s teacher, the great soul, Gandhi, raise their sheltering wings over this child.

Vehicle of the Soul

Some years ago I did a few days of meditation at the Zen Center in Cumberland, (a scary town full of trees and deer ticks), and they had a kind of in-joke. When the monks and nuns got sick they would call it ‘car trouble’.

Around that time I studied martial arts with a young and athletic doctor. She said that when she had to visit a mechanic she felt empathy for what her patients went through when they were not firing on all their cylinders. It’s tough to have to trust your wheels to a disdainful guy who may not like your kind. (You girls know what I’m talking about).

Well, we’ve progressed. Bob at D’Ambra’s Service Station on Hope St. has taken very good care of my cars. Having spent more time searching for an honest mechanic than true love I have a high respect for mechanic’s skills. After all, you have to trust them to keep your car prepped for the high speed lane.

As for that other vehicle–

Andrew Sullivan
makes a good comparison when talking about the free market approach to health insurance, explaining why health insurance is different from car insurance…

To continue with the car insurance analogy, pretend that everyone has one car that cannot be sold. Some people have lemon cars whose brakes fail every week, or have continuous oil leaks, etc. In other words, the insurance company knows that it will have to pay out on the people with lemon cars, not just occasionally, but continuously. There’s absolutely no incentive to insure these people at all. We could, as a society, say well, that’s tough. Only, eventually, we all end up with lemon cars – we’re all going to die one day, and the large majority of us will be sick for some time before that.

This is a brilliant insight. Your soul has one vehicle in this world. Is your value as a human being defined by your ability to go from zero to sixty in under 10 minutes? Can your worth to society be measured in your yearly income?

Sullivan touches on the question of what we are. A society that cares for its own, or one that holds profit as the supreme value. Right now Steven Hawking is sick. His contribution would have been lost to us if we discarded all our citizens who need care to get by.

Poisoned Waters Tonight on PBS

Quick commercial for PBS here — looks like this might be worth watching.

Poisoned Waters on PBS Frontline 9 – 11 pm est

More than three decades after the Clean Water Act, iconic American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are in perilous condition and facing new sources of contamination.

With polluted runoff still flowing in from industry, agriculture and massive suburban development, scientists note that many new pollutants and toxins from modern everyday life are already being found in the drinking water of millions of people across the country and pose a threat to fish, wildlife and, potentially, human health.

In FRONTLINE’s Poisoned Waters, airing Tuesday, April 21, 2009, from 9 to 11 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith examines the growing hazards to human health and the ecosystem.

Thanks to Suzanne Arena for passing along the information. A two-minute preview of the show is available here.

Mainstream Attention to Human Trafficking in Rhode Island

I’m proud to say that Kmareka, and our tireless blogger and human rights advocate, Nancy Green, led the mainstream media in discussing human trafficking at length and in detail — and now the topic is front-page news at the Projo:

PROVIDENCE –– Just around the corner from the restaurants along Atwells Avenue, Tammy Dudman scrunched down inside a parked rental car outside a suspected brothel and counted “Johns.”

She wore a New York Yankees cap pulled low on her forehead; whenever someone looked in her direction she quickly ducked.

A man walked through an unmarked door.

“That makes seven!”

I nominated Nancy Green’s piece on Tara Hurley’s movie, Happy Endings?, for the Metcalf award for excellence in journalism this year, because it’s still an issue that needs to be talked about. One thing I learned while doing a 10-hour seminar on sexual attitudes was that while I am liberal and believe there is plenty of room for imagination and creativity in sexual matters, the buying and selling of sex is still something that disturbs me profoundly. Thank you to Nancy Green and to Tara Hurley for continuing to explore this complicated issue, searching for ways to strengthen human rights for those involved in the flesh trades.


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