Become an Abolitionist
My freshmen year of college was when I first came across the cause of justice. Two things had a great impact on me that laid the groundwork for what I do now. First, I had an Old Testament class that showed me how God justice for the: poor, widows, orphans and the oppressed was very important to him. Second, I saw the documentary Call & Response. I was shocked and appalled that slavery still existed in the world today. Upon learning about the problem of human trafficking, I started to look for ways that I could help to bring about the end of slavery. The way that I could help in the fight against injustice was to engage the problem through advocacy.
I am connected with organizations that deal with legislation for California (California Against Slavery and the United States (International Justice Mission). With California Against Slavery, we are trying to get an initiative, the CASE Act, to toughen laws against human trafficking in California on the November ballet. You can go to www.caseact.org for more information. With International Justice Mission, we are trying to get the TVPRA, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, bill passed. This legislation is crucial legislation that marks the United States stance and efforts to combat human trafficking both domestically and internationally. You can go to www.ijm.org and click on the justice campaign tab.
What is the purpose of MISSSEY?
Our mission: Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY) advocates and facilitates the empowerment and inner transformation of sexually exploited youth by holistically addressing their specific needs. MISSSEY collaborates to bring about systemic and community change to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and youth through raising awareness, education and policy development.
Vision statement: We envision a world where children are protected and free from sexual exploitation.
When referring to your girls, why do you call them CSEC instead of young prostitutes?
“Prostitute,” simply defined as a person who exchanges sex or sexual acts for payment, commonly elicits inaccurate and derogatory assumptions related to choice, criminality, and character. Underage girls who are victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation do not choose to be victimized. They are often forced, manipulated, and abused into situations where their past trauma and current vulnerabilities are exploited. As children, they should be recognized as victims, rather than criminals, and treated accordingly. The term Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children also more accurately and specifically describes the issue as a type of child sexual abuse.
In your opinion, what are some of the root causes of CSEC?
The causes of CSEC are numerous—poverty, gender inequality and violence, child sexual abuse, racism, homophobia, and the sexualization and objectification of children to name a few. The causes also exist at multiple levels. For every CSEC who is victimized, there are individual, environmental, and societal factors that contribute. From my perspective, it is crucial to understand that the issue is complex and cannot be attributed to any one cause or even particular people. This is not solely about pimps or traffickers. In fact, such a simplistic evaluation is insufficient for a long-term solution. This is about systemic conditions that produce vulnerable groups of children. This is a collective failure for which our children are experiencing the punishment.
Why are CSEC so important to you?
CSEC are important to me because their experience is the product of a collective failure to provide our children with what they need to be safe, healthy, and successful. Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is often the most severe form of suffering these youth experience, but they are almost always very familiar with suffering already. Individual risk factors such as childhood abuse and neglect, inadequate health care, poor schooling, unstable housing, insufficient basic needs, lack of healthy relationships, unaddressed mental health needs, exposure to violence, and self-esteem deficits make for very vulnerable children even before the CSE begins. The overall lack of what every child needs to be a healthy and successful person in the context of larger systemic injustices makes for ripe conditions in which CSE takes place.
What’s your current greatest need?
To address the issue of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in a holistic fashion, through prevention and intervention client services, training and outreach, and policy development, MISSSEY relies on various sources of funding. In order for these endeavors to continue, MISSSEY, along with partners, need to increase awareness about the issue and elicit ongoing financial commitment to making our vision of the world where children and protected and free from sexual exploitation a reality.
Share a story of hope you’ve experienced with one of your girls/clients?
There are many stories of hope. One past client who participated in the MISSSEY program for several years has transitioned into being a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation and a leader in the field. She now works with CSEC, providing them support and mentorship and serving as a role model. This young lady has a spirit and smile that radiates to those around her and her way of being real and being bold empowers others around her to be the same.
Andy Lamb serves as National Legal Consultant for the Philippines with International Justice Mission and has served IJM in the Philippines since September 2010. IJM is a Christian non-profit that seeks to rescue and to restore victims of human rights abuses, and to ensure that public justice systems work for the poor. Andy consults with local IJM and government attorneys to help prosecute sex-traffickers. Most cases concern children – mostly girls, but also boys – trafficked for sex. The traffickers are women as well as men who “rent out” children mostly at nightclubs or as street pimps.
Andy wanted to help IJM since studying law at the University of Chicago. “While I was at the Law School, IJM’s founder, Gary Haugen, spoke about human rights abuses and the Christian mandate to fight back. Since then, I wanted to give part of my legal career to help counter these abuses – especially, human trafficking. I wanted to help young victims to find justice, and to help deter further abuse.” After law school, Andy worked five years at the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, DC. There, he helped to represent the mother of a young man killed while at the DC Jail in award-winning pro bono litigation (2010 Daniel Gribbon Award). He then decided to take the IJM plunge. “I felt that if I waited much longer, I could end up with professional or personal reasons hindering me from helping IJM or another organization like it.”
With IJM Philippines, Andy helps to propel casework and to strengthen the local public justice system. He has helped to prosecute sex-traffickers who exploited a fourteen-year-old girl and has represented IJM in successful petitions to close sex-trafficking nightclubs. He has also helped to train local prosecutors and IJM attorneys, and has consulted on improving the Philippine anti-human trafficking law. “We hope to see a strong Philippine law made even better.”
Along with his law degree, Andy has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He attends a church in Metro Manila.
Jean Schafer SDS has been active in the anti-human trafficking effort since 2001. As a member of the international Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior (aka Salvatorian Sisters) Jean served as the congregation’s leader for 12 years, overseeing 1300 members in 27 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. During her term (1989-2002) the congregation included the plight of enslaved women and children as part of its global effort.
“Seeing what was happening to women in Eastern European countries and Asian countries as they tried to find work abroad, our Sisters could not stand by and do nothing. It was obvious that women were being duped and exploited. If and when they returned home, they were broken and scarred. Now we are actively educating women locally to be aware of false promises. We try to develop alternatives to lessen the desire to leave home.”
The North American Province, headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, is a member of the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking, under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services. The Salvatorian Sisters also have a representative on the UN NGO Unanima International, which focuses on the ‘demand’ side of trafficking.
In 2003, after returning from Italy, Jean moved to California and began publishing the monthly electronic newsletter, Stop Trafficking, now approaching its 10th year. It has a mailing list of over 3000 readers.
“The feedback I get from readers tells me that ‘Stop Trafficking’ has become a ready reference for people to use in their efforts to educate others. Its themes offer a range of insights into the complex and interwoven network of trafficking in our country and globally. It is uncomfortable to learn how complicit we all are; but it is an invitation to get involved and do something.”
She and another Salvatorian, Sheila Novak SDS, founded the California Central Coast Coalition to Stop Enslavement, which now collaborates with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking.
Since 2008 they also operate SDS Hope House, a confidential transitional house for adult women survivors of human trafficking. Since relocating to San Diego County in March 2010 Hope House has served 12 survivors of human trafficking.
“We have not always been successful in assuring that some of the younger American victims did not return to the streets, but we believe they did experience love and support while with us. It takes courage to really break free. At the same time some of the women at Hope House suffered terrible abuse in labor settings. They are determined to make it in America and struggle to learn English and accept help from agencies poised to do all they can to save those exploited.”
Jean earned a PhD in Endocrinology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and taught physiology and other human sciences at Alverno College, Milwaukee, WI.
Kerry Decker is an ordained Pastor in the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and has served in that capacity since 1976. Since 2005, he has been actively working as an anti-trafficking advocate with an emphasis on direct services to victims, as well as designing strategies to assist law enforcement and to raise public awareness.
Kerry is the Founder and President of Million Kids, a public benefit 501(c)(3) dedicated to supporting law enforcement, educating the public, and assisting survivors and vulnerable persons. He is also the Associate Director of Rapha House, an anti-trafficking agency operating safehouses, vocational training and prevention programs in Southeast Asia. Kerry has visited Southeast Asia ten times not only to train personnel working with trafficked children but also to set up and monitor vocational training, prevention, counseling, and economic development programs.
Kerry is the author of two books designed to assist survivors and to equip their caregivers. “Healing for the Wounded Heart” is a therapeutically sound, faith-based curriculum for survivors of abuse and trauma. This curriculum and its companion inspirational book for survivors has been translated into Khmer (Cambodian) and Spanish and is currently being translated into Thai.
In addition to these resources, Kerry is currently writing on a Twelve Step recovery program to treat survivors who abuse alcohol or are addicted to drugs. Kerry is a popular speaker and trainer and is known for his engaging and memorable communication style.
Russ Bermejo served in Cebu City, Philippines (where he was born in 1970) from 2008-2009 as an Aftercare Fellow for International Justice Mission, where he worked on a project aimed in preparing sex trafficking survivors for vocational training and employment. As an IJM Fellow, Russ researched and drafted best practices for reintegration of trafficking survivors, conducted think tank discussions a nd training in the aftercare community, and also served as a clinical director for My Refuge House, which is a safe house shelter ministry for newly rescued victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Russ has nearly 12 years of experience in public child welfare practice, including nearly 10 years as a Senior Social Worker with Orange County Children and Family Services.
He presently serves as a Program Associate with the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare at Children and Family Futures (CFF), which is a non-profit organization in Irvine, California. He also presently does contract work with Dillon International, a Christian international adoptions agency and also serves as a Board Member of My Refuge House. Mr. Bermejo earned a BA in Sociology from UCLA and a Masters in Social Work, from California State University, San Bernardino.
His other passions include his wife, Megumi, their four children, Grace, Honor, Courage, and Hope, ages 11, 7, 4, and 1; St. Louis Cardinal baseball; reading books that convict (Oswald Chambers, A.W. Tozer, the Gospels) and comfort (Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, the Gospels). Serving in the Philippines was a life-long dream of his. Some of his dreams yet fulfilled include learning how to whistle, blow bubble gum, and snap his fingers – all of which his two oldest children can do.