Category Archives: Familial Violence

A Call to Action: Why sexual and domestic violence organizations are crucial to the anti-trafficking movement

profile photoBy Becky Owens Bullard

Over the past 6 years working in the anti-trafficking field, I’ve seen an enormous amount of positive growth in conjunction with many negative challenges.  I’ve often attributed this to the anti-trafficking movement being in its “adolescence,” as it is technically much younger than the anti-sexual and domestic violence movements that began in the 1960s and 70s.Human-Trafficking-Word-Cloud

This so-called adolescence has its benefits: the anti-trafficking movement is energetic, optimistic, and very popular. Everyone seems to want to work on human trafficking, the news media consistently covers the topic, and donors are looking to fund anti-trafficking efforts.  Additionally, passionate organizations and experts are doing ground-breaking work to combat trafficking. The field is understandably taking advantage of this energy and popularity by gaining some of the strongholds that the domestic violence and sexual assault movements were able to gain in the 80s and 90s – longer-standing organizations are solidifying their leadership, shelters are developing and programs expanding, and anti-trafficking laws are moving through political gridlock to assist survivors and hold exploiters accountable.

However, adolescence also has its “growing pains” and the anti-trafficking field can sometimes be just as erratic and impetuous as your average teenager.  New organizations with little understanding of the crime seem to be forming every day; some even end up harming victims further.  New individuals in the field may seem to claim expertise overnight, after seeing a movie or hearing a presentation on trafficking; some even falsify or elaborate on their credentials. Many of my colleagues in the sexual and domestic violence fields have told me they wouldn’t want to work in the anti-trafficking field for these reasons – because it can mean trying to reason with zealots who think they can “rescue” every victim or deal with individuals trying to “make a name” off of a new and burgeoning field.

Being the “popular kid” has its costs as well. When other anti-violence fields see that the anti-trafficking movement continues to garner the attention of news media and donors, it can feel incredibly discounting.  When the crime of human trafficking is so often painted in the extreme as an issue “like no other,” it can feel extremely alienating.  This frustration and alienation can be damaging, leading to a lack of collaboration and leaving other fields feeling like trafficking doesn’t intersect with the issues they work on.  But for sexual and domestic violence organizations, we can’t walk away from working on human trafficking – both because the anti-trafficking field needs our voices and because it is without a doubt “our issue.”

IMPORTANCE OF THE INTERSECTIONS

In my capacity as a trainer on the intersections of human trafficking with sexual and domestic violence, I’ve also seen exciting growth and frustrating challenges in the sexual and domestic violence fields’ work on human trafficking. There has been amazing progress towards incorporating exploitation into sexual and domestic violence programs as well as tremendous leadership in these fields to be a part of, and even at the helm of, the anti-trafficking movement.  However, I still frequently hear the sentiment that human trafficking just doesn’t fit squarely into these fields, making it more understandable why sexual and domestic violence agencies do not dive into anti-trafficking work.

For sexual assault agencies, sex trafficking typically feels like a natural fit into the parameters of working on sexual violence, whereas labor trafficking may not.  I remember doing a training for a state coalition that asked specifically for the presentation to “stick to sex trafficking” and not go into labor, thinking that their member agencies wouldn’t have occasion to encounter these victims.  However, when I asked the organizations what types of trafficking they had seen, many mentioned cases of individuals being sexually assaulted within situations of domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

For domestic violence agencies, finding parallels to this work may feel like an even bigger leap, especially with the way trafficking is often portrayed. The media and even anti-trafficking speakers typically highlight the more sensational stories of brutally violent “stranger-traffickers,” and rarely depict a trafficker as the husband selling his wife for sex or the father forcing his children to work. But as with many other crimes, traffickers can be those closest to their victims and exploitation can be a part of intimate partner violence and familial abuse.

The intersections are real and cases of human trafficking will fall into the laps of those working on sexual and domestic violence regularly. It may not be the primary case you see, but exploitative abuse is ever-present in your work, making it essential for you to be an integral part of the movement to combat trafficking.

On the other hand, even organizations that clearly see these intersections and want to be involved may not necessarily get invited to the anti-trafficking table as equal partners. At the first meeting of my organization, the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance, I asked how many of the 40-plus diverse agency partners in attendance had worked with a trafficking victim and almost all raised their hands. When I asked how many had attended a collaborative meeting on human trafficking, only a small number raised their hands.  I also remember a state sexual and domestic violence coalition telling me that anti-trafficking organizations in their state used their member agencies when they needed shelter for a victim, but wouldn’t include them in funding or collaborative discussions. This lack of inclusiveness has underpinnings in some of the issues of adolescence mentioned above, and is a significant barrier to providing a comprehensive response to human trafficking.

CRUCIAL VOICES IN THE FIELD

While the anti-trafficking movement may not be actively seeking sexual and domestic violence organizations’ participation, your voice is critical to anti-trafficking work. As mentioned before, being in its adolescence means the anti-trafficking field has several energetic, amazing organizations and experts doing exceptional work; however, the field is also vulnerable to inexperienced organizations and self-proclaimed “experts” that can do serious harm to victims and survivors. Sexual and domestic violence organizations can help prevent this harm by bringing a time-tested, trauma-informed perspective to the anti-trafficking table. This perspective and the non-harmful services available to victims through sexual and domestic violence agencies are essential to support the anti-trafficking movement where true expert voices may be in the minority.

At this point, let me be clear (because I can visualize some people getting worked up about now), I am not asking you to drop your work on sexual and domestic violence and become an anti-trafficking “only” organization or to take on “one more thing” with no funding behind it. I am asking you to recognize human trafficking as part of your existing work on abuse. Because, let’s be honest, you are already doing the work. If a man is sexually assaulted by his employer who is also trafficking him, your organization will serve him if you can because he is a victim of sexual violence. If a woman is sold for sex by her husband to “make ends meet,” you will serve her if you can because she is a victim of sexual and domestic violence. Right?

CALL TO ACTION

So now is the time to claim your seat at the anti-trafficking table and to add your voice to those of anti-trafficking advocates working to help the movement mature past its adolescence. By doing this, your organization can provide services to trafficking survivors that are time-tested and trauma-informed, take part in collaborative funding opportunities to support those services, and vet agencies and individuals whose experience may be lacking and ultimately harmful to survivors.

Your voice is not only important because the sexual and domestic violence movements are technically in their “adulthood” and have a seasoned perspective of trauma-informed service and collaborative work— it is also critical to this work because human trafficking is, without question, your issue too.

Also posted on the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault Blog  http://www.ccasa.org/a-call-to-action/

Image credit: http://catalinamethodist.org/event/human-traffiking-workshop/

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Violence Against Women

Take off the cape: Why using the word “rescue” is harmful to anti-trafficking efforts

Becky Owens Bullard

By Becky Owens Bullard

Originally Posted on the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) Blog

When I came to the human trafficking field from working on domestic and sexual violence, I was shocked by a lot of things. It was disturbing to learn about the various ways traffickers abuse and exploit victims for labor and sex and surprising to see how frequently human trafficking intersected directly with intimate partner violence, sex assault and child abuse.

However, a different type of unsettling surprise for me came not from the crime itself, but from the terminology used to discuss it. More specifically, I was shocked by how commonly the word “rescue” was used to describe identifying and assisting victims and survivors of human trafficking.

This was so foreign to me because in the domestic and sexual violenceTake off the cape:  Why using the word “rescue” is harmful to anti-trafficking efforts fields it would be unthinkable to refer to victim identification and assistance as a “rescue” or “rescue mission.” I can only imagine the faces of my former colleagues if I had said that my work with an individual had “rescued” them from their abuser. There would have been some serious questioning of my ability to provide appropriate, trauma-informed services to that person without doing considerable harm as well as my motives for doing the work in the first place.

Having come from disciplines where the use of this term would be seen as highly inappropriate and demeaning to a victim or survivor of crime, it was very odd to me that “rescue” was a term used not only in everyday language around the issue but also in awareness and education, news media and even in the names of anti-trafficking organizations and programs. Although “rescue” is a word that evokes images of life-saving missions to pull people from a burning building, I soon found out that the anti-trafficking field had essentially reclaimed the word to convey uniqueness in the ways trafficking victims are identified and given assistance.

Now you may be wondering, “What harm can using a term like this really do?” Unfortunately, the frequent use of “rescue” has a serious impact on victims and survivors of human trafficking as well as to the human trafficking field as a whole. Here are some reasons why:

Trauma Bonding & Psychological Abuse

Some of you may have been thinking “but human trafficking is unique and usually involves kidnapping and confinement, so rescuing fits!” However, more often than not, traffickers aren’t complete strangers utilizing brute force but are known or become known to their victims by forming relationships and strong trauma bonds, making it difficult to leave because of love, hope and fear involved. Some victims are even trafficked by intimate partners, parents and other relatives. Also, anyone who has worked with trafficking survivors will tell you that the dynamics of this crime are complex and the forms of power and control employed by traffickers are often psychological rather than physical, similar to domestic violence.

Impact: So if your idea of a human trafficking victim is someone waiting to be rescued, you will find yourself confused when, instead of holding out their arms to you in relief and gratefulness, a victim uses some choice words to tell you where you can go and returns to their trafficker over and over again. Using the word “rescue” simplifies this incredibly complex crime and promotes misconceptions about who traffickers are and how they control and manipulate their victims. This is not only detrimental to law enforcement and service providers’ ability to identify victims, it is also harmful to our capacity to prosecute traffickers when a jury expects a victim who was chained up by their trafficker rather than one who leaves and returns to a trafficking situation multiple times.

Uneven Power Dynamic between “Rescuer” and “Rescuee”

Wondering why my previous coworkers would have been concerned if I said I “rescued” someone from their abuser? Because when you say that you “rescued” someone, that statement is about empowering and aggrandizing yourself while disempowering the person you think you rescued. This is because “rescuing” creates an uneven power dynamic where the “rescuer” (read: hero) has all of the power in the relationship and the “rescuee” (read: helpless victim) has no agency or role in the exit of his or her abusive situation. While not everyone using the word “rescue” is purposefully trying to pump their own egos and disempower victims, they are certainly using the term without thinking of its true meaning and impact.

Impact: A relationship built on inequality with an empowered, potentially self-serving role for the “rescuer” and a demeaning and demoralizing role for the victim mirrors the uneven power dynamics they experienced with their trafficker. This unequal relationship is the antithesis of trauma-informed care, as it doesn’t allow for mutuality and true empowerment, and ultimately inhibits a victim’s path to healing and survivorship.

Everyone wants to Rescue a Victim!

The use of the exclamation point is for sarcasm and the point is that this simplistic view of human trafficking gives a simplistic idea of the solution. Well-meaning, compassionate people hear about the horrors of human trafficking and how victims are just waiting to be rescued, and think, “Hey, that is something I can do!” without understanding of the complexity of the situation and the necessity for a trauma-informed professional response. Look no further than Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Skywhere he discovers in his chapter entitled “Rescuing Girls is the Easy Part” that taking women out of brothels doesn’t mean they won’t return or that all their problems have been magically solved.

Impact: Multiple organizations are forming with the idea of “rescuing” trafficking victims without professional experience in victim services and trauma. Sometimes these organizations even plan their own undercover rescue missions or try to be a kind of renegade force to fill in where official law enforcement can’t respond. A week doesn’t seem to go by that I don’t hear of a new organization that wants to “rescue” or “save” victims of human trafficking. And while they may have good intentions, ignorance and inexperience can be incredibly harmful to victims and survivors who need professional trauma-informed services. Moreover, the ease with which organizations are able to form and claim expertise in this relatively new field of human trafficking is astounding and frightening. Because the field is younger than say the domestic violence or sex assault fields, new organizations can often form without much question from funders or even partners in the field as to how qualified they are to be providing services in the first place.

For all of these reasons and the harmful impacts they have, the anti-trafficking field has to reevaluate the use of the word “rescue” in everyday language among practitioners, in communication to the general public and most importantly, to victims and survivors themselves. We should rely on more traditional, professional terms when we talk about discovering and working with victims of this crime that truly reflect its’ nature, such as “identification” and “assistance.”

This reevaluation and revamping of our terminology is crucial because before we can meaningfully move forward in our efforts to end human trafficking, we have to communicate the correct information about what this crime looks like and have appropriate responses and services that don’t further disempower victims and survivors. It’s time we take off the “rescuer’s” cape and elevate our language around anti-trafficking work to the trauma-informed, victim-centered place that it should be.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Ending Violence against Women is “a responsibility for all of us”

By Becky Owens Bullard

“This is not just a women’s issue, this is a responsibility for all of us. This violence is an outrage and it must be stopped. Time has run out for complacency or excuses. Let us show the will, the determination and let us mobilize greater resources to end what is a scourge of humanity, violence against women.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director November 20, 2012.

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Photo from Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women

Every November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, yet I’m always surprised at how little coverage this day and the issue itself receives.  In some countries around the world, including my own, this time of the year is a time where most people are consumed with upcoming holidays and what presents to get our loved ones.  So most often, this day of awareness is lost on these countries and the millions who inhabit them, but the importance of raising awareness to eliminate violence against women and girls can not be understated.

With some of the progress that we’ve seen in issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, femicide, forced marriage and rape as a method of war, it may feel easier to overlook violence against women and girls as an issue deserving of serious attention at this time of the year or really at any time of the year. However, violence against women and girls continues to be incredibly pervasive, much more so than you might think. In a multi-country study conducted by the World Health Organization finds that in most countries between 30 to 60 % of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, with the highest proportion of findings at 71% of women in Ethiopia.

Additionally, people will often ask why the focus on women? And aren’t men affected by violence too? While a number of men and boys are certainly affected by violence, the unfortunate reality remains that violence disproportionately affects women and girls. This is a result of discriminatory gender norms that view females as the weaker sex, as property, as subservient to men, and as objects to be gawked at and grabbed whenever men please.

The most common number taken from the WHO study above and additional studies on the subject is that on average around the world 1 in 3 women will be affected by some form of abuse or violence in her lifetime. So if women and girls make up half the world’s 7 billion human beings, over 1 billion of these individuals have been victims of some form of violence. over 1 billion people.  This constitutes a pandemic of very serious proportions. Nonetheless, it is an issue that is commonly placed behind other international, national and local priorities even though violence against girls and women between ages 15 to 44 cause more death and disability than war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.

For example, in the U.S. during the most recent elections there wasn’t a single question in the presidential debates concerning this pandemic or the long overdue ratification of the Violence Against Women Act, even though 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence, 1 in 6 women are victims of rape and 1/3 of women murdered in the U.S. are murdered by their intimate partner.

Sadly, what we did hear were various comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy, rape being “something that God intended to happen” that girls don’t get pregnant from statutory rape or incest, pregnancy from rape being similar to “having a baby out of wedlock“, and that “some girls they rape so easy“. Disturbing comments like these show a troubling lack of understanding that half the world’s population is at very serious risk of becoming a victim of very real violence.

These persistent misogynist attitudes and the staggering statistics on violence perpetrated against women and girls clearly demonstrate why we cannot ignore this issue and the opportunity to raise awareness about ending this violence today or any other day of the year.

But why should you be bothered with this difficult and depressing issue, especially at this time of the year?  Because you know her.  You know a woman/girl who has been sexually harassed, you know a woman/girl who has been so terrified of her intimate partner that she’d do anything to calm him down, you know a woman/girl who has been a raped.  While you may be thinking, “I don’t know anyone who has had that type of horrible experience”, these statistics aren’t just numbers and the prevalence of violence against women and girls is very real. You know her I guarantee you, you’ve just never heard what she’s been through.

So during this time of the year when we are supposed to focus on love, togetherness and humanity, do your part to raise awareness about this issue.  Do your part to help the women/girls you know who have been affected by violence. And like with any issue, if we work together to educate ourselves, our children and our communities on the important role that every single one of us has, we can end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.

Ask your government to commit to end violence against women.

Take action against gender violence during the 16 days between today and December 10th (International Human Rights Day).

Learn how to help someone who may be suffering from abuse or from sexual assault.

And finally – share this post on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with your family and friends to raise awareness!

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Gender Equality, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Stalking, Stranger-Street Harassment, Violence Against Women

Reproductive Coercion: A New Term for an Old Problem

By Karen Moldovan, Guest Blogger and Program Manager at CCASA
Originally posted at and re-blogged with permission from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA)
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently worked with women (and girls) who are pregnant.  As an advocate at a domestic violence shelter, it was not uncommon for pregnant women to access residential and other supportive services.  When I became a teacher at a Florence Crittenton program, all of my students were pregnant and/or parenting teen girls, between the ages of 12 and 18.  In those settings, it wasn’t uncommon to have conversations about morning sickness, baby names, back aches, and the logistics of getting to and from countless OBGYN appointments.  While those conversations came easy, I gradually realized how complicated it was to have conversations beyond the more mundane pregnancy and birth talk.  As I was able to build trust with the women and girls I worked with, I slowly learned about the mounting physical and emotional safety needs that were often a quiet struggle.  One student was a twelve year old 7th grader, who flatly refused to tell anyone, anything about the male who was no doubt involved in her pregnancy.  Yet other students would quietly murmur about how the biological father was a grown man, and she didn’t want to get him in trouble.  Apparently her family didn’t want to get him in trouble either, because he did have steady employment and would be able to financially provide for the baby.

Still to this day, it’s painful to think about the struggles of many of these young women.  Pregnancy was often closely intertwined with intimate partner violence, incest, inter-familial sex trafficking, and rape.  There was a young women who refused to speak about or even acknowledge her pregnancy, a young woman who confided that she could not hold her baby daughter without breaking down into tears due to the flood of traumatic memories she could not stop, and the young woman who flatly refused seeking any sort of child support because the most important thing was being away from the man who impregnated her.  I bring up these cases because they changed me as an Advocate.  Now I look back and see that the context of the pregnancy was often the “elephant in the room.”  As an advocate, baby names and OBGYN appointments felt okay to bring up, but I really didn’t talk integrate the following facts into my work:

  • Approximately one in five young women said they experienced pregnancy coercion and one in seven said they experienced active interference with contraception (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005).
  • Girls who are victims of dating violence are 4 to 6 times more likely than non-abused girls to become pregnant (Silverman, 2004).
  • As many as two-thirds of adolescents who become pregnant were sexually or physically abused some time in their lives (Leiderman, 2001).
  • Homicide is the second leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and recently pregnant women in the U.S. (Chang, 2005).

Considering what we know about perpetrators of intimate partner violence (and the power and control they demand), it should not be surprising that sexual coercion and forced pregnancy are frequently used as tools of abuse.  This abusive behavior may manifest as threats and/or violence if a partner does not comply with the perpetrator’s wishes regarding contraception or the decision whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy.  It may manifest as intentionally interfering with the couple’s birth control, or forcing invasive fertility treatments.

In my own personal life, my partner and I have spent the past two years seeking medical advice and intervention regarding (in)fertility.  In our journey to try and become parents, we’ve seen numerous doctors and medical professionals. When exchanging small-talk before or after an appointment, they’ve all asked me what I do for work.  As I explain CCASA, the tone of the conversation shifts, and more than one Fertility Specialist has shared case examples of reproductive coercion.  One case involved a couple coming in to seek in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  The Doctor just sensed something wasn’t right and (smartly) decided to talk to the husband and the wife separately.  When separated, the wife confided to the Doctor that she didn’t want to be pregnant and didn’t want to do IVF, but that her husband was forcing her.  Another Doctor told me about a situation where she had performed an Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) procedure for a couple, which was successful and resulted in twins.  Shortly after, the couple was back with the husband demanding IVF.  The Doctor was perplexed by both his urgency and demeanor.  Within a couple months of that appointment, the husband was arrested for both child abuse and domestic violence.  When these stories have been relayed to me, the Doctors each seemed incredibly saddened, baffled, and unsure of how to both identify warning signs and respond appropriately.

Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I think it’s important for all of us to think about how we can collaboratively improve outreach and awareness around reproductive coercion and the unique considerations of survivors who are pregnant.  I’ve found that health care providers want assistance with these issues, yet are often just too busy to be the ones outreaching to community agencies. The good news is resources are available.  Futures Without Violence (www.futureswithoutviolence.org) has numerous, groundbreaking tools for addressing reproductive coercion and facilitating cross training and collaboration between health care providers and advocates.  Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus’s book, “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women” is a must-read for anyone working directly with survivors who are pregnant.  Research determines that a physically-abused woman also experiencing forced sex [is] over seven times more likely than other abused women to be killed (Campbell, 2003).  In light of this horrific statistic, these conversations are absolutely worth having.

Karen Moldovan is the Program Manager for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA). She joined CCASA with strong experience in advocacy, education, community organizing and international development. Her professional experience has often focused on working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, individuals experiencing homelessness, and pregnant and parenting youth. Karen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Gender Studies, and a Masters of Arts in Teaching. In 2009, she completed service as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. She is a founding member of First Response Action, which advocates for comprehensive reform for sexual assault prevention and response within the Peace Corps.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Intimate Partner & Familial Human Trafficking: when Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking Collide

By Becky Owens Bullard

Image source: preventconnect.org

Today marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an awareness month that is particularly meaningful for me. Domestic violence was the first issue I worked on as an advocate, and I remember my first training vividly – the power and control wheel, the cycle of violence, and the myths surrounding intimate partner and familial abuse. I remember the women and children that I worked with in shelter, support groups and in the courtroom, and I can’t forget the devastating impact I saw this issue have on so many people’s lives. So, when I left my work on domestic violence in Nashville, TN and shifted my focus to the anti-human trafficking field in Washington, D.C., I carried my first passion with me.

Although I had little expectation that domestic violence would be so closely tied to human trafficking when I arrived in D.C. to work for Polaris Project, I did have an inkling that my work with domestic violence victims was far from over.  In my first week of training, I quickly realized that the power and control used by traffickers was incredibly similar to that of batterers and I subsequently developed the Human Trafficking Power and Control Wheel to raise awareness about these similarities in non-physical forms of control. The abuse was similar, cycles of violence and coercion were present, and to top it all off, the case that brought me to the anti-trafficking field in the first place was both a case of domestic violence and human trafficking.

On the surface, the case appeared to be a straight-forward domestic violence incident where a woman and her child had been physically abused by the woman’s live-in boyfriend. However, while waiting to testify, the woman expressed fear of being in trouble with the police because a Vice Detective had been questioning her about the defendant. I was confused, thinking she meant a DV Detective, and seeing my confusion she explained that her boyfriend had not only abused her and her child but had also forced her to engage in commercial sex. With this disclosure, I felt fairly helpless as an advocate.  I had worked on plenty of cases of intimate partner sexual abuse, but sexual exploitation (i.e. human trafficking) had not really occurred to me as a potential form of intimate partner abuse. The case and my feeling of incompetence stayed with me, opening my eyes to the intersections of domestic violence and human trafficking.

However, when I came to the anti-trafficking field, I couldn’t seem to find an appropriate place for this woman I had worked with. There was no mention of an intimate partner as a trafficker and her story was lumped into a fairly large category of “pimp-controlled” trafficking. While my take on pimp-control was that it was intimate partner violence anyway, she still didn’t fit the idea of pimps having a “stable” or controlling multiple women at one time. And what if her abuser had started selling her daughter for sex?  There was also very little recognition of family members or parents as traffickers.

Maybe it was just a rare case and not the norm for human trafficking? Maybe I was over-thinking it? Nevertheless, a few months into my work on the national hotline for human trafficking, I realized that her case was far from unusual. I ended up working on multiple cases where family members and intimate partners were perpetrators of both sex and labor trafficking and in 2010, we started to categorize them as such. In a few months, 10% of hotline calls were reports of intimate partner or familial human trafficking and I had heard multiple stories of intimate partners, parents and other family members who compelled their victims into commercial sex, domestic servitude, sexual servitude and labor.

Although it is rarely the type of exploitation or abuse highlighted by the media or by either field, it is happening and it’s time we start calling it what it is – both Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking.

When a mom and dad sell their daughter for sex to make their car payments – it is familial sex trafficking and child abuse.

When a husband forces his wife to sell herself for sex by threatening to take their child away – it is intimate partner sex trafficking and intimate partner abuse.

When a teenage boy convinces his girlfriend to sell sexual favors to feed his drug addiction – it is intimate partner sex trafficking and teen dating violence.

When a parent makes their child work long hours at the family restaurant under duress instead of going to school – it is familial labor trafficking and child abuse.

And when a husband forces his wife to work, taking all of her wages and beating her if she loses her job – it is intimate partner labor trafficking and intimate partner violence.

But why don’t we call these crimes what they are?  What stops us from understanding that domestic violence and human trafficking can not only involve the same types of power and control, cyclical violence and manipulative perpetrators, but can also directly collide, mixing the two crimes together completely?

Unfortunately, there are several myths that keep us from identifying these crimes and inhibit our understanding of intimate partner and familial human trafficking:

The myth that traffickers are usually someone unknown to the victim, not their mom or dad or intimate partner – even though we know that those closest to us, those who are supposed to love and care for us, can also exercise forceful bonds of control, manipulation and abuse.

The myth that abusive partners and family members wouldn’t go so far as to exploit – even though we know they commonly dehumanize, sexually abuse and economically manipulate.

And the idea that intimate partners (especially husbands) and family members (especially parents) somehow have a right to force their loved ones to work but not calling this forced labor – even though if the perpetrator were a stranger or an “official” employer, we would recognize it as human trafficking.

These myths and discriminatory ideas inhibit us from recognizing the intersections of these two issues, keeping domestic violence and human trafficking in separate silos. When we treat these issues as completely distinct, we risk misidentifying victims, providing inadequate and uninformed services, and missing out on crucial collaboration between the domestic violence and human trafficking fields.

So as we work to enhance the public’s understanding of abuse during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s also improve our own understanding of the types of abuse that we can encounter in our work. By acknowledging that human trafficking is one of these forms of abuse and that it can intersect directly with domestic violence, we can ensure no advocate feels ill-equipped when they come across their own case of intimate partner or familial human trafficking. By uniting the domestic violence and human trafficking fields around this issue, we can amplify our voices and work together to end abuse and exploitation by those closest to victims: their family members and intimate partners.

For more information on the intersections, please see the following resources:

Issue Brief on the Intersections of Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking

Intimate Partner and Intrafamilial Exploitation: How the Intersections of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking can profoundly affect our Work by Becky Owens Bullard

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Violence Against Women

A Picture says a Thousand Words: sending the right message about the realities of abuse through our images

By Becky Owens Bullard

The power of an image is immeasurable, especially when it comes to promoting awareness of an issue that people don’t exactly understand.  When we want every day citizens to engage in an issue they’d rather pretend doesn’t exist, we try to pique their interest by providing a photograph or video that they can associate with the issue – an image that will be burnt in their memory and make the issue real for them. Often times, these images that we use in awareness campaigns and community education on issues of abuse are our best chance of catching someone’s attention long enough to raise awareness and promote positive social change. Unfortunately, to inform our already media-saturated public we often resort to flashy visuals that do very little to accurately portray the crimes we hope to stop.

Image found at sf-hrc.org

Example: human trafficking.  Try looking up “human trafficking” on an image search and you may see what I mean about exaggerated or inaccurate portrayals of abuse. While there are some clever images (for example,  humans with price tags representing the idea that people are still bought and sold), the photos most commonly associated with human trafficking are of people shackled or locked in a cage. Now think about the movies you’ve seen or the books that you’ve read on human trafficking.  Most have likely contained a story line about someone who was kidnapped by a large criminal operation, thrown into a brothel and “rescued” by someone from their trafficking situation. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke with individuals when I worked on the national human trafficking hotline who were outraged about human trafficking because they had just seen this type of over-the-top image or video on human trafficking.

While these images and media portrayals of human trafficking are fairly compelling and may serve to spark interest or outrage in the issue, they are also misleading. A human trafficking case where an individual is physically chained or caged is not the norm. In fact, the “chains” that keep a victim tied to a trafficker are often the things that you can’t see – fear, shame, hope and love.

So how harmful are images that portray human trafficking victims as shackled, caged and battered? While some may argue that they are just an innocuous way to grab someone’s attention, these images often promote misconceptions about the issue and make it difficult for victims and survivors to speak out about what happened to them. For example, if someone’s understanding of human trafficking is limited to images of slavery, chains and rescue missions and they sit on a jury for a human trafficking case where they hear testimony from a victim who had a cell phone or was able to go to the store alone, that person would likely think, “this isn’t human trafficking.”

And they would be wrong. Cycles of violence and various non-physical forms of abuse are extremely common in both sex and labor trafficking. The failure to clearly communicate these dynamics is damaging to the issue as a whole and is what led me to create the human trafficking power and control wheel while I worked at the national hotline to detail forms of abuse beyond physical violence that occur in trafficking situations.

Image from Identity Magazine

Example: domestic violence. Now try an image search for “domestic violence.” You will likely see images of women and children bruised and battered, being choked, silenced and slapped. Think of the movies or music videos you’ve seen about domestic violence – they are often aggressive and extremely volatile. While we’ve started to get more creative with domestic violence images and encourage people to see beyond the physical forms of abuse (see this portrayal of verbal abuse), it is still all too common that a black eye is what is associated with abuse instead of the manipulation, isolation and emotional abuse that survivors often say are the most damaging. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “it’s not like he punched me square in the face” when I worked as a domestic violence victim advocate in court. The pervasive images of fist punching and serious bodily injury is what the general public, as well as victims themselves, associate with intimate partner and familial abuse.

So how harmful are images of domestic violence centered on black eyes and bruises? Just like with human trafficking, the flashy image of physical injury may seem completely harmless and a way to get a non-interested citizen to agree that domestic violence is a bad thing. But think of that person that is now sitting on the jury for a domestic violence case. When they hear that the defendant threatened the victim and restrained her from leaving the house, but there were no visible injuries, they just might think, “doesn’t sound like domestic violence to me.”  Again, they would be very wrong.

These narrow images paint an incomplete picture of abuse, resulting in unintentional victim blaming. Understandably, the general public may have a hard time reconciling the reality of abuse with the images that they are familiar with and wonder “why didn’t s/he leave if they weren’t chained up?” or “is it really domestic violence when s/he didn’t get hit?”

What’s worse, these images may also persuade victims to minimize their own suffering and think, “I am not a victim because I wasn’t locked away” or “I can’t be a victim because I didn’t get punched in the face.”

While the anti-violence movement has to find thoughtful ways to educate the general public about crimes that affect millions of people each day, it is important to do it the right way. Even though it is necessary to be catchy and inventive to engage individuals who would rather not hear about the prevalence of violence, resorting to exaggerated or inaccurate images that perpetuate misconceptions does nothing but harm victims and survivors while miseducating those who can help us end violence.

So let’s be true to what we know about abuse in the images we use for our education and awareness efforts – that it isn’t all big black eyes and someone chained to a wall. Abuse is complex, psychologically manipulative and incredibly difficult to end without an accurate understanding of its dynamics. It’s time for the anti-violence movement to rise above the desire to be provocative and instead, refocus on our passion of empowering others to end violence by providing images that truly reflect the crimes we seek to eliminate.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labor Trafficking, Pop Culture, Sex Trafficking, Violence Against Women

Mr. Wrong or Mr. Abuser?

By Erin Meyer

from “Mr. Wrong ft. Drake” – Mary J. Blige

Let me start by saying that Mary J. Blige is one of the most empowering female hip-hop artists of the past two decades and her songs have seen me through many a relationship; the times to celebrate and the times to re-evaluate my choices.

Mr. Wrong” is a song that speaks to all of us.  We have all been there; been in that relationship where you know you aren’t getting what you need, but you still feel that desire, feel that commitment and want to be with him regardless of the cost to yourself.  So if we can all understand this feeling, this draw to the painful, why can’t we understand the cyclical nature of abusive relationships?

What is it about that relationship that makes us say “she should have left…she should have known better”? Is it the physical violence?  Is it that point where we all say to ourselves “if anyone hit me, I would leave him no matter what!”

But most domestic violence relationships don’t start with physical abuse; they start with the emotional.  The emotional abuse leaves just as much of a scar and trains the heart to be more and more vulnerable to the physical abuse as the abuser escalates.  So how do you know when it goes from just the sort-of emotionally abusive of “Mr. Wrong” to the gateway abusive and cyclically escalating abuse of intimate partner violence?

Is it when we convince ourselves that “even though he breaks my heart so bad…we got a special thing going on”. Is that when we tell ourselves that if it gets worse, we’ll be able to leave? That this consuming feeling we have now that “even if I try, no, I never could, give him up cause his loves like that”, will change?

Then it does…

…It is just a bit worse this time; no big deal.  He didn’t mean to hurt my feelings when he called me names and then he took me out to a nice dinner on Saturday night, so he must have felt bad about it and won’t do it again.

…He just broke the window this time.  It wasn’t on purpose.  I just made him so mad because I wanted to visit my family this weekend and he loves me so much, he needs me to be with him.

Drake summed it up perfectly, it’s “a terrible pattern…it goes up and down, it’s just up and down; she’s crying now but she’ll laugh again..” Something the victim convinces herself to be true and a belief that the abuser relies and thrives on.

So if abusive relationships start off so ‘innocent’, how do we know when to get out?

As, on average, an intimate partner violence survivor attempts to leave her situation 7 times before successfully doing so, it is vital that we educate ourselves as a community and understand victims’ mindsets. We must do this so that we can not only recognize the signs and increase prevention, but so that we can also be that support, that strength, for our loved ones when they are ready to explore their options.

Throughout the escalating cycle, abusers have been using isolation and manipulation to make their victims believe that no one will understand what they are going through, and that no one will love them as much as he does.  When a victim tells us her story and we respond with “Well, what are you thinking? Leave that man! How could you stay with him?”, we are proving the abuser right.  We are showing that victim that we don’t understand, we don’t support her, and even worse, that we are judging her and she is alone in this.

Instead we can utilize safety planning resources to help empower survivors to leave their relationships and re-build their lives.  We can direct them to resources, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, for personalized safety planning, local resources, and emergency assistance.

We must understand the mindset of victims and understand that being caught up in these relationships is not so foreign as we might wish to believe.

We must remember, it is not so different from loving a “Mr. Wrong”, and we need support from our communities to be ready to move on.  In the words of Mary J, we’ve done “enough cryin and don’t need no more drama in our lives“.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Pop Culture, Violence Against Women