Where No One’s Looking

The Rhode Island legislature is moving to ban indoor prostitution. The most likely result will be arrests at the spas.  In police raids the women picked up are adults. They say they are in it for the money. Real trafficking is harder to find than through the doors of a storefront. If we want to fight trafficking, especially of children, we should be looking in the parks and under the highway overpass. The New York Times has a 2-part series this week on runaway children…

Around the country, outreach workers and city officials say they have been overwhelmed with requests for help from young people in desperate straits.

In Berks County, Pa., the shortage of beds for runaways has led county officials to consider paying stipends to families willing to offer their couches. At drop-in centers across the country, social workers describe how runaways regularly line up when they know the food pantry is being restocked.

In Chicago, city transit workers will soon be trained to help the runaways and other young people they have been finding in increasing numbers, trying to escape the cold or heat by riding endlessly on buses and trains.

Part 2 describes how girls are pressured to trade sex for shelter and affection, and then induced to work as prostitutes. Getting them out of that life can’t be done with just arrest. Sgt. Byron A. Fassett is one officer who works with girls at risk…

In 2005, Sergeant Fassett created the “High Risk Victim” unit in the Dallas Police Department, which flags any juvenile in the city who runs away from home four or more times in a given year. About 200 juveniles per year fit that description. If one of those children is picked up by the police anywhere in the country, the child is directed back to Sergeant Fassett’s unit, which immediately begins investigating the juvenile’s background.

The unit’s strength is timing. If the girls are arrested for prostitution, they are at their least cooperative. So the unit instead targets them for such minor offenses as truancy or picks them up as high-risk victims, speaking to them when their guard is down. Only later, as trust builds, do officers and social workers move into discussions of prostitution.

Repeat runaways are not put in juvenile detention but in a special city shelter for up to a month, receiving counseling.

Three quarters of the girls who get treatment do not return to prostitution.

Closing the loophole will not make the problem go away. To protect children and other vulnerable people takes commitment of time and money, and success is measured one child at a time. Do we have treatment for children that will keep them away from predators and pimps? Rescue by arrest hasn’t wiped out prostitution in other states. What will make Rhode Island different?

Valuing Himself

If the name ‘Levi Johnston’ rings a bell with you, you might be guilty of reading the ‘tabs’ when you’re stuck in line at the supermarket.

Unlike the women in the ‘spas’, he is not risking arrest for selling sex, because it’s ‘Playgirl’ magazine. Rumors are it’s the Full Monty. It’s art. Or literature. Or gender-studies research. Or a political manifesto. Or a triumph of marketing. God bless America. Enjoy your fifteen minutes Levi, eventually you are going to have to get a job.

Change the Mission, Declare Victory, Move On

Three years ago a gathering of diverse groups and individuals formed the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. A year of work resulted in a bill against trafficking persons, and proposed amendments being debated in the legislature would strengthen that bill to offer better protections to minors.

The law sits unused. In hard financial times, with a Governor who has declared illegal immigrants to be the cause of all the state’s problems, where is the political will to rescue victims?

Much easier to go after the ‘spas’–the most visible face of prostitution in Rhode Island. It has worried me from the first that the workers in them– almost always female and Asian, had no voice in the effort to ‘rescue’ them. Now they are speaking, but too late. They are about to be put outside the law. Some of our legislators who have taken much unfair criticism for not ‘closing the loophole’ met with women to hear their opinions firsthand.

A woman who later identified herself only as Jasmine was among the most vocal.

Through a translator, she said she fell into prostitution three years ago after answering a newspaper ad.

“I was very hungry. That’s why I started,” said Jasmine, a petite woman of “older than 40” who wore a Ralph Lauren winter coat and now works at a Providence spa. “It’s better than stealing, or breaking the law. This is a way of life. There are people dependent on this.”

As Sunday’s meeting progressed, a collective sense of fear and frustration grew as the women realized an unwelcome political reality.

Many had hoped for a compromise that would protect them from jail. Jasmine suggested increased taxes on spas.

“For reasons that are hard for me to understand, the legislation is more harsh than we would like for the women,” Segal responded. “There’s still a small chance that the severity could be lessened… But you need to understand that’s a small chance.”

So it’s a case of bait and switch. We wanted to prosecute trafficking, we wanted to stop crimes like extortion, fraud, threats, kidnapping, rape and murder. Heinous crimes that urgently need to be prosecuted. Instead we get a law to arrest women.

There will be very few arrests of customers, because it will be almost impossible to prove the crime. When the city of Providence wanted to stop streetwalking, it was relatively simple to have undercover policewomen identify men who solicited them for sex. They didn’t have to entrap. These losers were cruising around bothering everyone. That’s why they were a nuisance.

But how on earth are they going to prove that a man solicits for sex indoors? Nope. They’re going to arrest some women and make a lot of lawyers richer.

The website of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) hasn’t been updated since April. However, Happy Endings reports that RICAHT members were at the meeting to speak with the women. Prof. Donna Hughes started a splinter organization called Citizens Against Trafficking , allegedly because RICAHT didn’t support making prostitution illegal.

Meanwhile, real crimes of forced labor and forced prostitution are committed against those who have the least power to seek the protection of the law.

Polaris Project, a national organization against trafficking is active in Rhode Island, and they are working on behalf of victims, with many success stories. There are other advocacy organizations that reach out to people where they are, and quietly save lives. They will still be here when the moral crusade has declared victory and moved on.

Providence Daily Dose also covered the meeting.

Rhode Island’s Future has some constructive ideas on how to help trafficking victims.

In a related post on things no one should have to sell, ‘Desperately Selling a Kidney’. There’s always profit in finding new ways to use poor people as a human resource.

His Sister Was a Thespian

Some people don’t get satire, and some people don’t look things up. Here’s a good example of a political triple-cross–

Part of American political lore is the Smathers “redneck speech,” which Smathers reportedly delivered to a poorly educated audience. The “speech” was never given; it was a hoax dreamed up by one reporter. Smathers did not say, as was reported in Time Magazine during the campaign:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.[7]

The Smathers campaign denied his having made the speech, as did the reporters who covered his campaign, but the hoax followed Smathers to his death.[8]

You’d think it would be easier to avoid falling for this kind of thing now, with the internet and all, but some right-wing pundits got all excited about a Barack Obama college thesis that he never wrote. They failed to notice the word, ‘satire’ on the post.

Yes, Leeden and Limbaugh got all worked up, trashing the president for a paper he didn’t write in college 25 years ago, relying on a satirical blog post. And for real entertainment value, notice what Leeden and Limbaugh did when they realized they’d fallen for a dumb joke — they blamed Obama anyway.

Leeden conceded he was wrong and apologized, but added, “It worked because it’s plausible.” Limbaugh said the text he touted was fake, but it didn’t matter because, “I know Obama thinks it.” Yep, even when they’re wrong, it’s only because the president makes it easy for them to be confused.

Wow, that’s a way different approach to the facts. For instance, it’s plausible to me that Rush Limbaugh is a secret cross-dresser. If you can picture J.Edgar Hoover in a dress, Rush could be his sister. And I know he thinks about cross-dressing. I know what lots of people are thinking. It’s a superpower I have. So that is the same as knowing what he does. Right? But maybe he’s a thespian and he’s auditioning for a revival of ‘Some Like it Hot’. Or maybe it’s his sister who’s a thespian. If he has a sister. But don’t quote me on any of this. IT’S SATIRE.

War on Halloween–More Plastic

There’s a wonderful meditation on the circle of life circle of plastic by Mark Morford. He had an epiphany in a discount store while shopping for Halloween party decorations.

Who makes the plastic eyeballs full of bubble stuff that never actually work? What happens when we throw them away? Whence all these screaming skulls for $1.99?

Now I’m not going to do a Bill Donohue and get all aggrieved about the War on Samhain. ‘Put the ‘Sam’ back in Samhain’ doesn’t make sense in any language. And as much as I love my Celtic heritage, my passport doesn’t say ‘Irish’, even though I have relatives there. I’m made in America, where citizens– wherever born and of whatever religion, are citizens. Despite much grief and injustice in our founding. Despite the many ways and times we failed to live up to the ideals of justice and equality. Our aspirations exceed our reality, but we never codified a second class or a state religion.

If any Pagans are reading this, you will understand where I’m coming from. The following are Pagan ‘dog whistle’ phrases. We practice an Earth-based spirituality. Watch out for these subversive ideas–

When you put out the trash, it doesn’t just disappear.
Every manufactured thing you encounter was made by someone.
They needed materials to make it.
Also energy.
Don’t buy junk you don’t need at the super-cheap store. It was probably made in a factory where low-wage workers are hungry and tired and worried about what tomorrow will bring.
At this time of year the veils between the worlds are thin. Do you feel the fingerprints of someone a half a world away? She made this cheap ornament.
And speaking of disappearing trash– diamonds get stolen, plastic is forever.

As Mark Morford observes…

I envision some sort of massive, teeming, low-rise slab of a Chinese factory that was, not a month or two prior to my visit to this particular store, stamping out a zillion plastic skulls, shiny tinsel and all sorts of junk, then shipping it to the nearly 1,000 Targets in the United States. It is simultaneously a dazzling testament to the power of capitalism and human ingenuity, as well a thoroughly depressing statement of holy crap we are so screwed.

It’s also just another reminder that we are, as voracious consumers, still famously detached from the true source of our beloved stuff in nearly all we devour, from iPods to meatballs, T-shirts to coffee cups. The Green movement aside, we still give little thought to where those truckloads of goods come from and just what resources were used/abused in the making of it all, not to mention how our actions, purchases, decisions fit into a larger schema, how these tiny plastic spiders essentially connect me with the world. Amazing.

Well yeah, and don’t think that the people who labor on the assembly lines just disappear when the season is over. What goes around, comes around. America is a nation of workers who searched for an opportunity in the global market. All of us who are not Native American are descendants of immigrants, or descendants of those who were kidnapped from Africa to supply cheap labor. And, incredibly, Halloween is made in America. A minor Celtic custom that meets a need for a little misrule in a Puritan culture.

The best thing that Halloween can do is to slip though the noose of commercialization that strangles everything that is original in American culture and be its anarchic self.

Halloween was brought here by Irish workers who just needed to vent after a year of scrubbing floors and walking the beat. And the Irish do know how to party till dawn and still make it to Mass on time.

The Celtic wheel of the year is based on astronomy, (not to be confused with astrology). For skeptics, (you Unitarians know who you are) it can be a set of guideposts along the way, so that our time does not get past us. The Narragansetts, who can make a fair claim to being the Real Americans, observed the change of seasons. There’s something to be said for deities who can be depended on to bring the light and the dark on schedule.

The Christian calendar is not indifferent to the cycles of nature. The ‘prosperity gospel’ may preach that you can get something from nothing, but our ancestors lived closer to the land. They had to sweat for everything they ate. So after the harvest, they were careful. A feast on the cross-quarter day of November 1st, and then Advent– a time of moderation. A glorious celebration at Christmas/Solstice. Then the food is running short. It’s Lent. Bless the sacrifice we must make past the Equinox until Easter/Eostre marks the time that you can get some green sprouts from the Earth again.

November 1st is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic calendar. All Saints Day. A fine time to remember all those who have passed sainted by none but the One who knows all. And wouldn’t it be funny if–

Some of the saints were people who spent twelve hours a day, seven days a week making plastic eyeballs for Halloween? Some of those who were certain that they had title to a condo in the gated community of the Elect– find themselves in the slammer. With an ankle bracelet and a parole officer whose first language is not English. But Officer Heraclito is not a bad guy if you can just get past his voice mail. Meanwhile, you spend eight hours a day stamping out plastic eyeballs for the amusement of the heavenly host, who will recycle them back to you– and if Heraclito doesn’t call you back the fiends will send you to the level where the recycling is sorted.

Is that a scary Halloween story or what? So thanks to Mark Morford for opening the crypt of mindless consumption. And here’s a public option for Halloween fun. Drive out to a local farm and buy some local cornstalks. This is Rhode Island. Stop whining. You could walk there. Or just pile up your yard waste. Or hang a sheet over your porch rail. Bill Donohue will not give you an Imprimatur, so it’s okay to be messy.

Buy a pumpkin and decorate it. If you’re too tired to carve– there’s cake icing. Put together a really weird home-made costume. It’s your chance to be creative.

Enjoy. If October 31st is clement, it’s a certainty that following days will be colder. The veil between the worlds is thin. Look across and wave.

More on home-made costumes here.