Category Archives: Not for Sale

Trafficking and Technology

Article: Sex Trafficking In California: State And Tech Companies Build Alliances To Combat Crime 

Backpage.com has come under a great deal of scrutiny as of late due to the number of cases of sex trafficking that involved advertisements on the site. Previously, the majority of sex ads were being placed on Craigslist until they were forced to shut down their adult pages for specifically the same reason Backpage is being judged.

At this point it is free and anonymous to post an adult listing on Backpage. Because of this it is very easy for traffickers to advertise their victims. The lead attorney for Backpage combats the calls to shut down the site by claiming the site has a great potential to be a tool against trafficking rather than a tool being exploited by traffickers. This, however, is questionable. Village Voice Media, who runs Backpage, makes upwards of $20 million a year from the adult listings and so they are demonstrating resistance to shutting down the listings.

When considering what actions would be best to take in order to combat trafficking several come to mind:

  • Would shutting down Backpage’s adult listings stop trafficking or would the listings just move to another site? Would the listings move further underground and harder to track?
  • How viable would creating a task force in conjunction with Backpage and law enforcement to combat trafficking by engaging backpage.com as an open-source database

Part of me thinks shutting down any adult/escort listings on backpage.com would be the right step, however, I also believe that Backpage provides a great opportunity. All of the postings are in public space and readily accessible.

Ultimately, I think Backpage cooperating with law enforcement and other agencies in order to combat human trafficking is the right choice, rather than completely eradicating the vulnerable listings themselves. By working with tech companies and law enforcement I hope that Backpage will be useable as a tool to combat trafficking. It is extremely important that any task force assigned to address the multitude of trafficking cases on Backpage and to search through the listings in order to find victims is at peak efficiency and capacity.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the meeting that takes place this week as part of the new Department of Justice task force on human trafficking in California. The article claims that by the end of the summer, the task force plans to issue a report that will contain best-practice guidelines for law enforcement, tech companies and services providers combating human trafficking locally and online. I do hope that the task force goes beyond guidelines. There needs to be collaboration amongst the tech companies to create an algorithm that will search through Backpage and flag the potential postings involving human trafficking so that law enforcement may then look at those listings and decide if further action is necessary.

There is no easy position to take when discussing human trafficking and technology. On the one hand if you leave the tools for traffickers online they will exploit them to their advantage and even with the right equipment and task force we wouldn’t be able to identify them all. On the other hand, if we take the easy route and simply ban Backpage from allowing adult listings then the advertisements will move to sites that may not be as identifiable and more disparate, making it harder for law enforcement to track.

It’s Not About You…

“The be-all and end-all of life should not be to get rich, but to enrich the world.”– Bertie Charles Forbes

 In sixth grade, I enrolled in a “Career Guidance” course.  The purpose of the class was to begin exploring our options after we graduated from high school.  Our term project required us to choose from a list of jobs that our teacher provided and to research the accompanying educational pre-requisites, potential income, and health care benefits.

As a somewhat idealist twelve-year-old, using such a logical and structured approach to planning my future did not bode well with me.  Alternatively, I compiled lists of more existential benefits to the jobs I aspired to have one day.  But as it turned out, ‘character building’ or ‘ending poverty’ were not the kinds of benefits my teacher had in mind.  I felt disappointed (and, quite frankly, even bored) having to present to my class about dental plans and paid sick leave—things that were only benefiting me, nobody else.

As I grew up, I came to realize my perception of a career was starkly different from the dominant definition.  Generally, careers are considered to be an enumeration of personal and professional accomplishments.  Education is often nothing more than a means; a mandatory pathway to generating a substantial income.  As such, universities tend to be structured to facilitate a direct transition from student life to obtaining a job.

Ultimately, we’re socialized to believe that it’s all about us and our own success. Volunteerism may have a role within one’s career, but it’s generally considered something a person does ‘on the side’ (and often, it’s something we do to make ourselves feel good).  But I prefer to see a career as a lifestyle that includes the accumulation of the activities we engage in that enhance the lives of others.  I refuse to perceive post-secondary education as just being a pre-requisite for earning an income, but choose to see it as a tool that can equip us to serve the world better.

I knew I was in the right place on one of my first days at Not For Sale, when I heard my fellowship director say to someone: “it’s not about you—it’s about the movement.”  I couldn’t have felt more relieved to discover that I was working with someone who could see beyond what they could get out of an experience and were focused on what they could give. 

At the end of our lifetime, the work we chose to engage in, the education we pursued, and the way we spent our time should not have been just about us.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “we haven’t started living until we have risen above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

It’s not about getting rich.  It’s about enriching the world.

Your ignorance is not bliss

A while ago this video was making its way around the Internet and I was sent the link a few times.

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I am fascinated by the change in expressions from the bystanders in a matter of seconds. When the girls first start dancing, the bystander’s expressions are those of amusement and intrigue. When the final words go up on the screen, there is a bewildered confusion on their faces that would allude to the fact that this information is something that never crossed their minds.

Prostitution is currently legal in Amsterdam. The original thought behind the decision was that legalizing prostitution would help to control it. If it is illegal, it will go underground and we won’t be able to help them. There is a lot of disagreement as to whether or not this works, and both sides have valid arguments.There are more than 25,000 girls in the Netherlands who work in prostitution. Even if they originally enter if by their own free will (which is rare), chances are they will get caught up in exploitation and are not free to leave.

Prostitution is usually a result of economic issues, which is why Not For Sale is creating alternative options for women and children who would otherwise be forced to sell their bodies for sex in order to feed their families or send money back home. Every week the Not For Sale Amsterdam staff walk the same streets in the red light district giving out homemade soup. Because of this new venture, they are able to notice who is new and have conversations with the girls behind the windows, learning where they are coming from and why they are there. They approach the women with respect and have normal conversations with them, usually getting a chance to explain what Not For Sale does. I would also be willing to bet that this is one of the few times these women are being talked to as equals, shown love, and not judged.

The men who are often responsible for the trafficking victims use psychological games and co-dependent relationships to coerced girls to start working in prostitution. This leads to grave dangers; girls quickly learn to disassociate with their customers, causing harmful psychological damage and identity issues. How can you trust men, have a normal relationship, or raise children after enduring something like this? The physical harm, emotional trauma, and psychological damage after this is something most people cannot begin to imagine.

Most of the men who purchase sex are married. I believe that many are under the impression that these girls want to be there, have come to Amsterdam by choice to make money, and enjoy their jobs. The ignorance that goes into this thought process is astounding to me. What on earth would make you think that anybody would choose this life for themselves? What kind of denial must you be in to think that someone wants to spend their day in a ‘profession’ that consists of standing half naked in a window, sleeping with hundreds of men in order to make money, being starved and beaten when you don’t get enough customers?

To all the men who purchase sex- that is someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, and I can guarantee you that they are not there because they want to be. If there was no demand, there would be no need for a supply of thousands of women who have been trafficked to Amsterdam, who have shut down and have been stripped of their dignity and respect. Ashton Kutchner is right; real men don’t buy sex.

Want to learn more? Check out ‘A Crime so Monstrous’ by E. Benjamin Skinner, or ‘Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery’ by Siddharth Kara

Week 16 | Canada’s Two-Tier Wage System

One of my closest friends from Toronto came to visit me last week.  I took a day off from work so that we could catch up on 4 months of developments  – what’s happened in our lives since January, relationship statuses, family updates, cross country moves… but one thing I was extremely curious about was  – what’s happened to our country?  I honestly admit that with keeping up with the Fellowship and Free2Work projects, I’ve back-benched my love for following Canadian politics.  The extent of my involvement is a quick skim over CBC in the morning, and this is proving to be less than sufficient.  I was shocked to find out what had happened in Canada this week; this is what I found out.

We Canadians have dealt with our fair share of governmental deceptions over the past term and a half.  Under the current government – we’ve endured 1.7 billion dollars worth of childcare cuts, frozen foreign aid to some of the most economically improvised countries, and cut funding for women advocacy groups by 43%.  With all these fallbacks, we still somehow managed to invest 29 million dollars in new fighter jets. But all that aside, the one item on the agenda that surfaced this past week – that really made my heart sink – was the Conservative Government’s introduction to the two-tier wage system.

Under this new rule, employers will now be able to pay foreign temporary workers 15 percent less than the average wage.  This new system was created to “respond to local labor market demands and support Canada through economic recovery.”  The targets for this new rule were employees working in already marginalized industrial sectors – mining, agriculture and fishing – areas where labor abuses have been documented.

Employers don’t have to prove there is a shortage in many occupational categories or even post a domestic ad. Employers can undercut the prevailing wage of jobs, which in turn reduces the demand by domestic experienced workers, thereby creating a market and “need” for foreign workers.  Migrant workers already lack the rights that domestic workers have.  This new rule will inevitably open new doors for poorer regulations, weaker worker rights, and exploitation of people that already have limited legal representation in Canada.

This new system will, not only impacts foreign workers, but it will inevitably impact domestic hires as well.  While this system will allow employers to cheaply exploit foreign workers, this system will bring down prevailing wages and benefits for all Canadians, keeping skilled Canadians unemployed.  Systems like this increase attitudes of bias, discrimination and xenophobia as Canadians lose their jobs and see temporary, foreigner workers move in.

Who gains from a system like this?

Please stand up for those that lack a voice in our country.  Being a multicultural, diverse country is one of the characteristics that makes Canada so incredibly special, don’t let this new rule take that away from us. Stand in solidarity with those that are fighting for worker’s rights and keep yourself up to date on what’s happening with labor abuses and worker rights in Canada.

Putting my money where my mouth is

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This past weekend some of the girls and I went into San Francisco for a fun day filled with shopping, eating, and nail salons. It was nice to get out of Half Moon Bay for a while and enjoy the beautiful weather. While we were walking down the street, I noticed a girl walking by us that was wearing an adorable green and white striped dress. I jokingly asked Katie if she would go and ask her where she bought it. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Katie ran over to the girl, complemented her dress, and asked her is she would tell her where she purchased it. Assuming that she had bought it at a small boutique or a high-end store out of my budget, I was excited when Katie returned to report that she had recently bought it at Forever21. While I was busy daydreaming about going to buy this dress, planning when I would be able to go find the nearest Forever21 store, Adrienne interrupted my thought process with, “Do you know that Forever21 received a poor grade for Free2Work?”

I spent the rest of the evening trying to find a way to justify shopping at Forever21 now that I know about their Free2Work Grade. What if I just bought the 1 dress and then never shopped there again? It’s so cheap! Surely 1 dress is not going to make a difference to their profit margins or their future productions of clothing….and on and on it went.

I have always had a passion for justice and tried to live my life in a way that reflects that. I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago because of the way they treat their employees and their lack of social compliance regulations. But let’s be honest- anything I can get at Wal-Mart I can get at Target. My friends comments of ‘but everything is so much cheaper at Wal-Mart!” is always met with, ‘but why do you think that is?’ I am willing to pay a little bit more for products that I know were made by people who receive a living wage and who are treated with dignity and respect.

When I got home I realized that my way of thinking was exactly the problem with our society. Companies can get away with human trafficking and labor abuses because we all think that our purchase isn’t going to make a difference. But what if everyone held these companies responsible? Today I pledge to not shop at Forever21 until they fix the abuses in their supply chains, even if that means I won’t be wearing an adorable green and white striped dress anytime soon.

Adrienne | Week 13: Moving past insecurities

“For me, every day is a new thing.  I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did.  And I get the sweats.  I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.” – Frank Gehry

It has been almost two and a half years since I read David Batstone’s book Not For Sale.  I was visiting San Francisco for the first time and little did I know I would be back in two years to become a fellow in the Not For Sale Fellowship program.  From the first few pages to the very end, the book cultivated a sense of passion towards the anti-trafficking movement within me.  I couldn’t help but think that this is where my heart belonged, which was followed by the daunting torment in my mind that I had chosen the wrong major in school.

As I learned more about the organization, I was able to let out a giant sigh of relief.  A core belief at Not For Sale is that everyone has a role to play in the movement to end modern-day slavery.  I wanted to dig deeper and find out what my role in this movement would be.  I wanted to make my passion a vocation, and Not For Sale had the tools I could use to get there.  I wanted to be part of this opportunity so much, but anxiety set in and I began to question myself:

 What if my lack of formal education in this area holds me back?

What if I’m much older than everyone else?

What if my finances don’t last?

Everyone around me is “settling down” – should I be doing the same?

…followed by several more what ifs and yeah buts

Listening to my insecurities was holding me back.  I was making excuses for myself that had the best of intentions but were really making me a coward.  What others envisioned for themselves is not what I wanted; I wanted to love what I do, and do something I believe in.  I downloaded the application for the Not For Sale Fellowship, took the time to convey what I had to offer and what I wanted to get out of the Fellowship, then sent it in, hands sweaty, hair messy, and full of apprehension.

I’m now halfway through this fellowship and I know that I have learned new skills and been part of new experiences that I could not have learned or received from any formal education or job experience out there.  Coming into work everyday is like walking into the maternity ward where mind babies are born, and as a fellow, I get to take that baby and help push it through puberty.  It’s incredibly fascinating, fast-paced and inspiring.  These past few months have been invaluable to my growth in not only my career in social justice, but as an individual as well.  It’s helped me build my confidence, allowed me to become an expert in the field, and has allowed me to be part of a movement that is making real change in this world.  I would not be where I am today if I had listened to my fears.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Growing up in a Korean-American home, I was raised with the dream of becoming a “professional” of some sorts. The Korean community tends to push their offspring to graduate as valedictorians of their high school, go to an Ivy-League university, and of course move unto medical, dental or law school. The TV show Glee’s description of the “Asian F” held true that anything below an A+ is equivalent to an F in the eyes of Asian parents.

My parents transitioned out of the typical Korean outlook on futures for my brother and I. When I told my parents about Not For Sale and modern-day slavery, they were exceptionally supportive. The world of nonprofits, however, was completely unknown territory to my whole family, including myself. When I first got accepted into the fellowship, my parents had millions of questions. “You’re paying to work as an unpaid intern?” “You’re moving across the country to California? “How exactly are you going to be helping these modern-day slaves?” Non-profit organizations were such a mystery to them that my mom didn’t even bother to explain to my grandfathers what it was that I actually did. Other family members asked me where I worked and after my initial response, they had no further questions but, “So, what’re you doing after?” They thought of my fellowship at NFS as merely an experience that would come to an end. And this killed me. I felt like I was holding back this wealth of information and passion about NFS that I just wanted to spew at them. But, they had no desire to learn. Did they know about the one million South Korean women enslaved in brothels? I wonder. And if they did, why did they remain ignorant? Are people more comfortable not knowing about the 30 million slaves in the world? I suppose ignorance is bliss to some.

Last week, I finally had time to fully explain each of Not For Sale’s platforms to my parents and brother. I was so happy to share about each of the international projectsFree2Rock, the Montara CircleFree2WorkFree2Play, and so on. I was stumbling over my words, because I was so excited… and there was just so much to say.

I asked my Mom what she told people about Not For Sale. She gave me a well-rehearsed speech that was so epic that I wish I had recorded it. (I could tell that she had basically memorized the NFS website and our videos.) “There are over 30 million slaves in the world… Dave went to an Indian restaurant and discovered that slavery is still alive, even in America… My daughter is an abolitionist… NFS creates futures for survivors of human trafficking. Oh, and charity is dead.”

I’m so appreciative for parents who aren’t ignorant and so supportive of the movement. And, of course, I’m also thankful for Not For Sale—this opportunity has been so much more than a six month experience at an international nonprofit. It has literally opened my eyes to a whole new world. It’s ironic that NFS creates futures for survivors of modern-day slavery, because whether they know it or not—they’ve created a new future for me as well.