Author Archives: mattnfs

Trafficking and Technology

Article: Sex Trafficking In California: State And Tech Companies Build Alliances To Combat Crime 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 as an open-source database

Part of me thinks shutting down any adult/escort listings on 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.


Mexico’s Congress Approves Anti-HT Bill

Just this past week Mexico’s Congress approved of a bill to combat human trafficking. The bill sounds promising enough as it doesn’t simply deal with prosecution, but it also includes protection and aftercare of victims. However, it’s also important to consider who the bill is aimed at, and who gets left out.

The bill includes prison sentences of up to 40 years for those convicted of sexual exploitation and abuse. While this sounds substantial only time will tell whether offenders being prosecuted will receive such lengthy sentences or not. For example, in the Netherlands the average sentence that offenders of human trafficking receive is around 4 years while the maximum penalty is 16 years.

The bill also is to create a fund to offer car to victims. It is crucial to include the 3 P’s: prevention, prosecution, and protection. Through law enforcement we hope that the first 2 P’s will be covered, and through this bill it is hoped that victims will begin to receive protection through aftercare services. Furthermore, a separate bill was approved to provide protection and rewards to victims of human trafficking who assist in the investigations and prosecutions against offenders. While the idea of offering protection is good, it should not be dependent on whether or not victims assist law enforcement. So, while both of these bills seem strong in offering protection to victims I am not convinced on how effective they will be. In order to be effective law enforcement cannot force victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions and there must be robustly detailed directions on how the fund to offer care to victims will be used.

A big thing the bill seems to be missing is that it does not cover labor trafficking. As I have discussed in my previous blog posts there amount of labor trafficking cases is much higher than sex trafficking. According to a report received by Congress last month regarding sex trafficking, the federal Attorney General’s Office estimated that at least 47 sex-trafficking rings operate in Mexico and 800,000 adults and 20,000 children fall victim each year. That is a very high number and that is only in relation to sex trafficking. The number, then, of labor trafficking victims is at least the same and most likely much higher. Labor trafficking victims cannot afford to be ignored by this bill.

Finally, while this bill is promising, as are many anti-human trafficking bills passed in countries, the effectiveness of enforcement and support to victims will be determined over time. Many countries pass such bills as this, but due to the complicated nature of human trafficking, as well as corruption, the bills lack teeth. In fact, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) correlates most strongly with the amount of trafficking occurring in a country when compared to other indexes such as poverty level, education level, infant mortality level, and GDP. No country is immune to corruption and it is corruption that plays a huge part in the proliferation of human trafficking. We can only hope that overtime corruption will decrease and the human trafficking bills put forward by countries such as Mexico and Thailand will prove effective and unhindered in their purpose.

Check out the article HERE.

Reflecting on the Past and Looking Forward

There’s only 2 months left in the Not For Sale Fellowship. Time has flown by. Despite the end of the fellowship quickly approaching, things are by no means slowing down – which is great! As Not For Sale’s momentum continues to grow, we (fellows) are given more and more work, more opportunities to prove our aptitude, and more chances to truly show our ambition and test our potential. We’re also given more responsibility, which says a lot about Not For Sale and the Fellowship Program.

Not For Sale is at the front-lines of the movement to combat human trafficking and they put a great deal of trust in us fellows. We’re not confined to a certain area, nor given menial projects to ensure we don’t screw up. Rather, we are tested daily (ensuring constant individual growth) to find out where our limits are  – and we are encouraged, challenged, and pushed to explode past the boundaries.

In the end, the Not For Sale Fellowship has given me confidence. I’ve gained confidence in my abilities, my value, and what I have to offer. I know now that I can complete whatever task is put in front of me. While the fear of failure may forever linger in the background, it is no longer a paralyzing force, but rather a sentiment I can use to motivate myself. I don’t know where I’ll be after this fellowship, but now when I look at job postings I don’t think, “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do this job to the proper standards”. Instead I think, “Sure, I can do this. Here’s what I’d do… I would change/improve things by… I can offer…” That fear has been replaced by confidence and it’s liberating.

The Not For Sale Fellowship has also provided me with clear direction. When I first applied to the Fellowship all I knew was that I felt like I had a purpose in combating human trafficking and working to end modern-day slavery, but I didn’t know what my exact role would be. I thought the Fellowship would be a good chance to find out where I fit into the movement, where I could offer the most, and it has. Of course, it’s still too early to say where I’ll be 20 years from now, but I’m much further along that road now than I was before. The NFS Fellowship has also reinforced my desire to work in the movement to end modern-day slavery. I’ve seen the good that has been done, but I’ve also seen how much more work there is to be done. (Check out the NFS 2011 Impact Report to see the results of our smart actions!) In my future job search, it’s no longer just about what I can offer an organization. It’s also about finding an environment where my skills and passion meet with an uncompromising purpose that is determined not by politics or ideology, but by the unfiltered needs of those vulnerable to human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

I won’t be satisfied unless I am able to devote myself to creating change in the movement and truly living as a smart activist.

I’ve been challenged, critiqued, and entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. I’ve fallen, but I always get back up, stronger and more driven. I’m a smart activist, and I’m ready to lead.

Heroes in the Movement

When I am asked who my hero is in the movement to end modern-day slavery, I draw a blank. There is not one person that I can constantly look up to for inspiration and motivation. However, this isn’t due to the lack of skill, courage, will, and talent of those leading the movement. This is because there are just so many individuals that could qualify for such a title.

My heroes are the abolitionists who dedicate themselves to the movement to end modern-day slavery. Those who rarely get recognition for their work, but continue to strive on for the sake of over 30 million slaves.

What constitutes a ‘hero’ in my mind ultimately comes down to dedication. So many people that I work with at Not For Sale have been working extremely long hours under large amounts of stress for years and years. They are combating a clandestine issue, and so, their efforts don’t always produce immediate, tangible results. Yet, they know that progress in the movement to end modern-day slavery can rarely be measured in hours, days, weeks. Human trafficking is such a complex issue that there is no simple solution. Progress takes time -and a lot of it. Not For Sale staff, therefore, aim to end modern-day slavery in their lifetime. These particular words were chosen partially because of the complexity of the issue, but also because Not For Sale staff realize that the decision to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Not For Sale was created in 2007 and celebrated its 5th birthday in February of this year. Since Not For Sale’s inception, the organization pushes harder and further to become more efficient and effective in combating human trafficking. In that time, a lot of progress has been made by Not For Sale staff and partners. At the same time, they understand there is a lot more work to do. They have been working for years with long hours and under stress, but their motivation and determination never waiver. The sheer amount of dedication found within the staff is amazing and an inspiration.

While change may be slow, I believe there wouldn’t be any significant change at all if it weren’t for abolitionists in the movement like the Not For Sale staff, Directors, fellows, and volunteers. Not only must abolitionists combat a complex, clandestine issue, but they also must do so simultaneously against the apathy of billions. It is extremely discouraging at times to see how apathetic some people are to victim’s plights. However, despite this, those at Not For Sale and other abolitionists across the world don’t let apathy hold them back. Apathy just makes them push harder, work harder.

That is what I find inspirational and a good reminder to myself that we can’t take things too personally, we can’t let our emotions get the better of us and wear us out. Traffickers definitely don’t let their emotions keep them from trafficking human beings, so why should we let ours hold us back from ending modern-day slavery? Not For Sale staff, abolitionists across the world, and I are all in this to win.

So, to those of you out there who may feel stressed or discouraged, know that your efforts are not in vain and you are an inspiration to those around you. This is not a campaign that will end anytime soon, and so we may find ourselves sometimes faltering. It is because of that that we must support each other by reminding ourselves why we chose to enter the movement in the first place and embolden each other’s dedication and determination. We must keep each other in the campaign, we must win. We must end modern-day slavery in our lifetime.

Is it about your passion or their needs?

Previously I’ve discussed, as have the other fellows, the concept of working ‘upstream’. The concept of working ‘upstream’ is based on the idea that it is more important to address the root of the causes of human trafficking and modern-day slavery (poverty, gender ideology, etc…) rather than simply treating the symptoms. What I’ve come to see, however, is that it’s not as simple as targeting a different population. When Not For Sale moves ‘upstream’ to fight the battle against modern-day slavery, it is constantly moving against a strong current of ideas, opinions, and stereotypes that are often contradictory to the goals of NFS and ending modern-day slavery. Many organizations focus on sex trafficking only, or only focus on rescuing victims of human trafficking. Yes, both of these are important aspects to address, but by focusing solely on these aspects so much is ignored. For example, the ILO estimates that for every 1 instance of sex trafficking there are 9 instances of labor trafficking. So why are businesses just now beginning to take a look at their supply chains? Why is labor trafficking in general much less focused on compared to sex trafficking?

NFS addresses the issues of human trafficking comprehensively by creating futures for victims and vulnerable communities. Yes, there is less glory and reinforcement of self-worth in such work. We don’t come to work and say ‘we pulled out 5 girls from a brothel today!’ But that’s fine, because we’re not in this to pat ourselves on the back or boost our egos.  By creating futures, sustainable employment opportunities, for not only victims but vulnerable communities as well, NFS is able to address the vulnerability of populations to trafficking and slavery. To some, however, this is too lackluster. Some would rather see 1 individual pulled out of slavery than providing for 10 futures from vulnerable communities, because it makes for a good story. But here’s the thing, the story NEVER ends at the point of rescue. Too many people don’t realize this.

If people truly care, they’ll begin asking the tougher questions. Sure, you or your organization pulled a couple of girls out of a brothel, that’s fantastic! No one should be in slavery, but what about all the other girls that were left there? Will they be punished for the actions of the victims who were able to escape? What about the new girls that will be brought in? Will the traffickers move further underground, making them harder to trace? What will happen to the girls that were rescued? Are there services in place to support them? Will they be sent back home? What happens when they’re sent home to the same environment they were first vulnerable to trafficking in? What direction must we go to keep girls out of brothels in the first place? Who is helping the girl or boy across the street from the brothel stuck in debt bondage that is being ignored in place of the “righteous” work of freeing girls from a brothel?

Many won’t think about these questions. I mean, why should they? Isn’t it easier to pull a fish out of the water and then set it free further up the river? That way, at least, you know that the fish will eventually work its way back and you’ll be able to save it again, thus completing the circle of self-importance! Are organizations here to feel good about themselves, to always stay employed by addressing symptoms rather than causes, or are they here to end slavery? To continue with the analogy, Not For Sale works to lay nets upstream, so when that fish is put back in the river NFS won’t let it follow the same path. Vulnerable populations will be protected.

The whole mindset of directing your efforts so that necessary action (fighting slavery) can be aligned with a reinforcement of self-worth needs to stop. Human trafficking and modern-day slavery must be addressed comprehensively. Even if it’s lackluster and the results of your actions aren’t immediately tangible, have faith that by having an open mind and addressing the root causes of trafficking that you’re making a real, permanent difference.

What it comes down to is this: many people are driven by their passion and they decide to find needs in the world that align with their passion and morality. While these people may be doing good, it is still somewhat selfish in that it is them, their passion that is the catalyst to action, not the needs of others. Not For Sale is different. NFS first and foremost focuses on the needs of those who have been trafficked, those currently in slavery, and those most vulnerable to falling into slavery and then NFS incorporates its passion to help those most vulnerable in order to efficiently and effectively drive its actions. It is only after NFS pivots, adjusts, and changes to meet the needs of women, men, and children who are caught up in modern-day slavery that NFS adapts its passion in order to ruthlessly execute on every single one of its game plans.

To see how Not For Sale is working to create sustainable futures for those most vulnerable, head over to the website at While you’re there check out the free2work app, which grades companies supply chains and reviews industry responsibility standards. The free2work team and app address the largely ignored population previously discussed, those who have been trafficked not for sex, but for labor.

Investing in Futures: Working ‘Upstream’

Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are clandestine issues. They are hard issues to track and address because of this. Yet, hidden within these hidden issues is the less acknowledged ‘why’ people are susceptible to being trafficked and brought into slavery. Many organizations like IJM and the FBI do great work in arresting traffickers and knocking down doors to rescue victims. However, they address only a very small portion of the problem. The real issue is that less acknowledged vulnerability of individuals to being trafficked. This is especially important when you consider that many victims that are rescued from trafficking are actually deported home and then re-trafficked at a later point. So, how do we address this issue? We address it the Not For Sale way, by investing in futures and working upstream to prevent trafficking.

By investing in futures we can create sustainable employment opportunities for victims and vulnerable communities. Sure, it’s more glamorous to kick down a door and rescue a victim, but by investing we can prevent that victim from being re-trafficked. Furthermore, by investing in futures we can also prevent individuals from that person’s community or other vulnerable communities from facing a similar fate. We must be more than just a reactionary organization that rescues victims; we must be proactive in preventing vulnerable populations from getting trafficked in the first place

When we invest in futures we are creating programs that train and develop victims and vulnerable communities to have personal and professional job-related skills. Then we offer them programs of sustainable employment. In doing so, we are addressing issues that make communities vulnerable such as poverty and lack of opportunity for employment.

Now, we also have to be sure to make smart investments. Our investments must not only address the vulnerability of men, women, and children who could be potentially trafficked, but also we must empower those individuals. It is not enough to develop a standalone microfinance program where groups of women in villages are given loans and expected to start a business and pay back those loans (with interest). We must also take a look at the social rather than just economics, as money alone is not enough to empower vulnerable populations.

Investing in futures is important. As Not For Sale says, we must move upstream and address the vulnerability of populations for being trafficked and re-trafficked, not just rescuing those already in captivity. We must also remember to have empowerment as a goal and pair our investments with social programs that address this. Many NGOs ignore the social impacts of their programs. For example, women in microfinance programs often come from patriarchal households with traditional gender roles where even though these women make money it is their husbands that decide how that money is used.

Some of the ways Not For Sale pairs investments and sustainability with empowerment are through vocational training, providing childcare facilities, and providing education for victims. These programs address job-related and gender-related issues, creating opportunities for victims to have a sustainable and dignified future. When we invest in futures, when we address vulnerability and empower individuals we can prevent the need for kicking down doors altogether.

Visit the Social Ventures page to see how Not For Sale is working ‘upstream’ and addressing individuals and communities’ vulnerability to being trafficked.

For example, women in microfinance programs often come from patriarchal households with traditional gender roles where even those these women make money it is their husbands that decide how that money is used.

Gender and the Movement: Men, Interventions, and Gender Ideology

Gender and the movement

While I was living in Bangkok, Thailand I heard about an organization that helps combat human trafficking by offering women in the red light district (Patpong) alternative work such as making jewelry. Women from the organization would go into the clubs and begin talking to the girls, building a rapport with them and eventually offering them an alternative lifestyle. This sounded like excellent work, so, I sent them an email asking if they needed any help. What I received back from them was a message telling me that the only work they had available for me was in administration work. I then realized that, as a male, it isn’t as simple as going into clubs and helping girls get out. The dynamics revolving around gender and the movement are complicated and need to be carefully considered.

Going into clubs in Thailand and trying to help victims of trafficking as a male (especially without fluency in Thai) was a foolish thought that I didn’t hold for long. Nothing was wrong with my intentions, but practically speaking it just wouldn’t work.  As a male going into such situations much more caution needs to be taken. Not only would I be addressing the issue of human trafficking, but I would be challenging traditional gender roles. After all, the majority of the sex trade is perpetuated by my gender.

I believe that a big part of helping a victim of trafficking feel comfortable and safe is them being able to relate to those trying to help them in some way. How significant it is, I can’t be sure, but I do believe that a sort of ‘female solidarity’ exists that creates a means of breaking through barriers between victim and those looking to help. It seems like women would be more comfortable sharing their feelings and emotions with other women rather than a male.

Now, I’m not saying that a male can’t do all of these things, I just believe that it is more difficult and may take more time. From the first moment a female being forced into sex slavery sees a male that has come to their business they judge him as a customer. That means that, as a male, that viewpoint/judgment must first be addressed before you can begin really communicating with the victim. If a victim who was working saw a female come into their business they would be less likely to have that judgment. Also, often victims of human trafficking are told by their captors that they can’t trust law enforcement

This has only been a discussion on the difficulty of being an interventionist in situations of sex slavery as a male. I am by no means saying that men can’t be interventionists in the manner previously discussed, just that it may be more difficult. There are more barriers that you must break through before you can make a difference. However, breaking barriers and challenging traditional gender roles in order to break about more equality between the sexes is precisely what we need to do.

Even in countries that claim to have egalitarian gender roles, there is still a need to address and discuss gender ideology, such as the objectification of women that is one of the reasons the sex trade exists. Whether you’re male or female there is an endless amount of work you can do to help the movement, but it is important to always consider the gender ideology and roles of yourself and the culture you are working with/within.