Thursday, January 26, 2012

C.R.E.A.M. Human Slavery Alive And Well in U.S.

At a marketing firm in a major U.S. city, there is a 28-year-old sales representative named Todd.  He works 9 to 5, drives a Hybrid, has a serious girlfriend, and spends holidays volunteering at a soup kitchen.  One Saturday night, Todd attends the bachelor party of his college friend Larry, who is getting married the following weekend.  The party is held at a local strip club.  Todd has no intention of cheating on his girlfriend and probably wouldn’t do anything sketchy like paying for sex anyway.  However, simply by paying his cover charge at the door, he unwittingly contributed to human slavery.

Sex trafficking—the illegal trade of human beings for sexual exploitation—is a global problem.  It is one of the word’s largest criminal enterprises, tied with the arms market and second only to the drug trade.[i]  You’ve probably heard about it.  It may not surprise you that large numbers of Burmese women and children are smuggled into Thailand to work in brothels.  Or that in the last few years roughly 100,000 Ukrainian women were exported into the sex trade in western Europe.  Or that related problems occur in other countries across Europe and Asia, as well as Africa, Australia, and Latin America.[ii]  However, sex trafficking is not the exclusively foreign problem that such statements would lead you to believe.  What may surprise you is just how big this problem is in the United States. 

Let us return to the strip club.  One of the girls working that night, Tina, is from South Bend, Indiana.  Her father was an angry, abusive man and her mother coped by drinking heavily.  When Tina was 13, she met a man named Jake.  He listened to her.  Unlike her parents, he seemed to care about her.  She quickly fell in love.  After a few months of being together, he convinced her to leave her miserable horrible home life and move with him to the "big city".   When they arrived, he got her a job at the club.  She became a stripper, believing him when he said it was the only way they could support themselves.

When he started insisting that she have sex with the patrons, she tried to resist.  He then beat her, raped her, and chained her to the wall for several days.  Both emotionally and physically under his control, she obeyed his orders.  Tina now has sex with several clients a night and gives the money to Jake.  She sees no way out of this life.  Jake has told her that if she goes to the police, she’ll be the one in trouble.  She is the prostitute, after all.

Though this story and its characters are fictional, they represent thousands of real situations across the country.  Because of the underground economy and the fear and coercion used to keep victims from coming forward, statistics on sex trafficking are difficult to come by.[i]  However, analysts estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are sexually exploited in the US and that the average age of entry into the trade is 12 to 14 years old.[ii] 

It gets worse for the club patrons with fewer reservations than Todd.  Due to the nature of their work, sex trafficking victims have a comparatively high risk of HIV infection.  They are forced to sell sex, usually to multiple partners and may not be given access to condoms.  Additionally, the sex acts that occur are often of a riskier nature.  For example, injuries inflicted during violent sex may not allowed to heal properly before future encounters, increasing susceptibility to the virus.[iii] Those who solicit sexual services from the club dancers, therefore, put themselves at risk of contracting HIV. 

It is important to understand that human trafficking is very much tied to the legal sex trade.  Pimps frequently start their victims off in strip clubs, massage parlors, escort services, or pornography.  After progressing to prostitution, these venues provide a cover for the illegal activity.[i]  What many people would declare a harmless way for guys to blow off steam in fact feeds into one of the most evil institutions in the world.  Sex trafficking exists for one simple reason: it is profitable.  If there were no demand, there would be no market.  Patrons of the commercial sex industry, legal or illegal, are part of the demand that keeps this market alive. 

Every year in January, Human Rights Organizations bring attention to Sex Trafficking around Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  While the sex trade, and sale of woman and children is a global pandemic, the connection between the trade and HIV and overall sexual health must be part of the dialogue, especially in the United States. 

If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 or visit

To find out some of the warning signs that someone may be a trafficking victim, please see

To learn more about human trafficking, check out

--Melanie Pino-Elliott
GET DOWN Youth Blogger

[i] Shared Hope International.  “Demand: A Comparative Examination of Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Jamaica, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States.”

[iii] Amanda Kloer.  “Sex Trafficking and HIV/AIDS A Deadly Junction for Women and Girls.”

[i] Chuck Neubauer.  “Sex Trafficking in the U.S. Called ‘Epidemic.’”
[ii] Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Protecting Our Boys 3: Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

In part three of GET DOWN’s series Protecting Our Boys, we  question whether parents and caregivers are pro-active in investigating their minor child's extra-curricular activities and after school programs. Take a read.

All That Glitters isn't Gold.

It’s 3pm, school’s out – do you know where your children are?  After school and extra-curricular activities used to be where young people honed their unique talents, showed athletic prowess and often served as creative outlets for young people.  I was a product of the Carter Administration, which provided an abundance of youth programs.  It was my introduction to participating in activities outside of my home that only included my family members.  Those programs afforded me additional nurturing that eventually led to me becoming a professional actor at the age of ten.

Those years were formative years that developed me into the man that I am today.  I was thrust into situations that exposed me to a variety of adults, some healthy mentors and others who knew nothing about a child being a child.  It was the involvement of my family though that provided the security needed to help protect me from outside forces.  Now, after school and community program often serve as a dumping ground for young people whose parents or guardians are not active in their lives.  

Two weeks ago, Patrick Lott, a middle school vice principal was arrested on charges of invasion of privacy, and more than two dozen charges of endangering the welfare of a child for videotaping male students showering nude at Immaculata High School in Somerville, NJ where he serves as “volunteer coach” and videographer.  In another high profile case, alleged pedophile and former Penn State assistant coach Sandusky was accused of using his Second Mile youth foundation as a way to find his victims.

One area I know we can all support to ward off these hideous acts is active parenting.  Now this is not to place blame on parents alone, but it is the parents who are the primary caregivers in a child's life.  Too often we as parents trust our children to adults and programs that we know nothing about or haven't thoroughly investigated.  Many predators are trusted individuals in respected programs.

I know as a parent I want my children to be in a reputable program where they are safe and engaged in productive activities.  As is common we are all over worked and challenged with the daily task of making it through daily life.  Having our children in a program or mentored seems to solve a big problem of “what is my child doing when I'm not around”, but again how thoroughly have we look into the program and the people that service our children? 

As a parent it is our responsibility to do the extra homework.  How much do we really know about the organization, institution, or adults that our children encounter regularly?  I have and currently oversee youth programs where I have never had any contact with the parents.  Do we even know the names of the adults we entrust our children?  What are our roles as parents and how do we get the necessary information that is needed?

As a parent, primary caregiver of my partners' children, and having mentored hundreds of children over the years; I can say communication with our children is key.  I am the parent, the adult, and it is my sole responsibility to take care of my child.  It is my job to be nosey and ask as many questions as needed to both my child and the overseers of my children.  How often have I visited the program of my child?  How often do I communicate with the program and the adults?  What actually are the scheduled activities and the timeline of the program day?

These are questions I wished parents would ask me when I am solely responsible for their child while in my programs.  Yendor Productions works with children of all ages in performing, visual, and wellness arts programs.  Children are trusted to my programs to not only learn various art forms from theatre, photography, and poetry just to name a few but to be safe in their role as the child and student.

Recently, my godchildren wanted to bring a friend to a sleepover at my house.  I explained that I would need to meet the parents so they would feel safe about their nine year old being with a total stranger for the weekend.  In their defense, they are close to my kids mother, but don't know me from a can of paint.  I met the father asked if she could come over the following weekend for a sleepover.  He replied sure but never asked for my full name or address. What?!!!

It takes the additional work and as I stated earlier communication and being the parent has served me best as a father and educator.  I let my children and the youth that are in my program know that I care but that it is my responsibility to make sure that they are safe.

--Rodney Gilbert
Yendor Productions