SAHT Day of Awareness 2018
February 12, 2018
On Wednesday, Feb. 7, the Students Against Human Trafficking Club held their annual Day of Awareness, a day of assemblies providing information about modern sex trafficking and narratives about what it is like to work with or be a victim. Scroll to read about what went on during the different presentations.
During A-block, rape crisis counselor and author Robert Uttaro gave an informative presentation in the MLK room that highlighted the disturbing truth surrounding human trafficking. He used three different videos to convey the information.
Before getting into the information, Uttaro made it clear that if any student was uncomfortable, they were free to leave the room at any moment.
“You are not chained here,” Uttaro said, a cup of coffee in his hand. He made it evident that what was about to be watched would be disturbing and emotional, describing the crimes committed as “evil.” He then read aloud the number of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center hotline in case any student found themselves in a situation in which they would need it.
Next he told the group, about 100 students, to stand up. He began the activity by asking for students who knew of someone who has been a victim of sexual assault to stay standing. About one third of the students sat down. Next, he asked the people who knew someone who had been raped to stay standing. Another third of the students left remaining sat down. Lastly, he asked for students who knew that the victim’s perpetrator had gone to prison to stay standing. Only a few students remained.
This activity allowed the group to transition their mindset from an early morning frenzy into the serious and emotional conversation that we were about to have.
Throughout the presentation, Uttaro showed three separate videos, each conveying a different message about human trafficking.
The first video focused on trafficking in the United States, specifically on an organization that works to end it through the truck business. The organization is called Truckers Against Human Trafficking; its main goal is to train drivers to be able to identify signs of trafficking. The video gave both information about the organization and about the epidemic in general. A 15-year-old victim shared her story in the video as well.
The second video that was shown was from the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. This video explored trafficking not only in the United States, but internationally. A specific part featured Cambodia, revealing that some parents are the ones to sell their children into prostitution. Seeing the realities of trafficking both within our country and globally contributed to the power and influence of the information.
Lastly, a video of a victim named Jabali Smith was shown to the group. This man recalled his experiences and advocated for changes to be made.
After watching all three videos, Uttaro commented on how difficult but necessary it is to watch and learn about the epidemic.
“I love my job. I’ll never stop doing it. I’ll do it until the day I die,” Uttaro said. “I see people heal and get better. If that wasn’t true I wouldn’t keep doing it. People can heal from the most horrific things in life.”
The E-Block assembly in the MLK room featured members of the My Life My Choice organization, which works to support survivors from exploitation. They consist of professionals and victims who mentor youth. The mentors share their experiences to help prevent young individuals from joining the what they call “The Life,” and make better decisions. They mentor kids as young as 12 years old. The main focus of the assembly was the personal stories from victims.
The presentation began with a video, featuring anonymous females in Boston who were sexually exploited. Their powerful stories began with feeling alone, bullied and insecure. Many had poor family dynamics and sought attention from others who would lead them to eventual sexual exploitation. Their experiences were difficult to overcome, but by finding refuge in My Life My Choice, these girls were able to get their lives back on track. The video celebrated the organization’s fifteenth anniversary by revealing how each girl was able to escape “The Life” and lead healthier and more successful lives.
“I met a lot of selfish people. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I stuck around because I wanted someone,” one interviewee said.
The organization’s Clinical Director, Kathryn Haley Little, explained the basics of human trafficking. She defined commercial sexual exploitation and in what ways it can happen, the main tactics used for recruitment and how to help a loved one from getting involved.
Tonya Morris and Sharon Teed Medeiros were two victims who shared their experiences during the assembly.
Morris explained how she joined the life at a young age. She was raped by her cousin, who continued to set her up with other men, while he received the money. Eventually she had four exploiters, the last of which she married and had children with. She explained how he used her children to continue making her work for him. She escaped “The Life” by going to jail, an experience that she felt changed her life. She eventually met a woman who was involved in My Life My Choice, and began doing the same work as a mentor. She advises young individuals to trust themselves, have someone to talk to and not do anything that they do not feel is right.
Medeiros shared a similar story, in terms of getting involved with trafficking when she was young. She lacked attention from her parents, who were going through a divorce, so she sought out boys and older men. She explained how she dated an older boy when she was 13. When her boyfriend said he wanted her to provide sexual favors to his friends, this began the exploitation. After staying in “The Life” for over 15 years, she explained how her substance abuse also ended up with her going to jail. When she was sent to a detox facility, she recalled hearing another woman’s story that mirrored her own. That was the first time she had heard someone talk about this part of her life that she kept so hidden from the world, which allowed her to believe that she was not alone. She was eventually rehabilitated, went back to school and got a job. Now she also mentors at My Life My Choice, and continues to share her story.
Senior Ceci Cipullo, who helped organize the day, explained how powerful every assembly is on this day. She said her favorite and the most engaging assembly is the one with those who were directly affected by the issue.
“It’s so important to get women who have actually been in “The Life” because other than that, it’s just statistics,” Cipullo said.
“The basic motive is money. You don’t think about the people or commodities involved.” These were the words of Stacy Fleischman, Special Agent of Homeland Security Investigations, about what it is like inside the mind of a pimp. She would know–it is her job as an employee of the Department of Homeland Security to break up sex trafficking rings across the globe. Fleischman, as well as her colleague Group Supervisor Lauren Weine, shared their experiences with students during the C-block presentation on Day of Awareness.
Weine began the presentation with a brief explanation of the Department of Homeland Security’s role in fighting crime. According to Weine, she and her team deal with a high volume — but a broad diversity — of crime. What links all of them to her office is some kind of financial angle, often the trafficking of people, drugs or other goods.
Weine then turned the presentation over to Fleischman, who narrowed the topic down specifically to human sex trafficking cases. According to Fleischman, the department takes a “victim-centered approach” to investigations, meaning that part of her job is to provide rehabilitative services to the people, often women, who are trafficked. This may include services to aid their mental and physical health as well as visas if they are not American citizens.
Fleischman then walked the audience through one of her largest cases from the area, which she picked because it is both local (the ring originated in Boston and Jamaica Plain) and recent. The perpetrator, a man named Raymond Jeffreys, established his sex trafficking ring by using different names in different states and accumulating an intricate network of sex workers, managers (also known as “bottoms”) and hit men.
Fleischman attributed Jeffreys’s success and the success of many other pimps to “force, fraud, coercion and social media.” She explained what was going on in the investigation during the years it took to find Jeffreys, who eventually was sentenced to thirty years’ incarceration — but not before a man was shot through the head at Jeffreys’ instruction. Fleischman noted that the injured man miraculously survived and the charges against Jeffreys were dropped. Fleischman then turned the conversation towards the victims. According to Fleischman, she sees a “wide array of victim outcomes.” While some are able to escape their past, others end up back with pimps in a different sex trafficking network.
According to Fleischman, there are always plenty of rings for them to return to.
“The demand does repeat itself,” Fleischman said.
The F-block assembly featured Stephanie Clark, the Executive Director of AMIRAH Boston, an organization that provides safe homes for individual victims of sex trafficking. Clark said that through the help of specialists and volunteers, AMIRAH helps women work through their physical, mental, emotional, social, vocational and spiritual trauma.
AMIRAH, solely funded by donations, works with eight women at a time. The women are brought to doctors appointments and go through different phases of rehabilitation.
During the assembly, Clark explained that there are similar patterns between the women that AMIRAH works with. Clark said that women are often “roped in” to the sex trafficking industry at a young age. She said that many times, these girls are manipulated into having feelings for their future pimps. She said that often times, this is the reason that women stay in the sex trafficking industry for extended periods of time.
Clark said that the trauma that victims of sex trafficking experience is often extreme and can lead to substance abuse and addiction. AMIRAH works with women on an individual basis to help them move towards being “survivors” instead of “victims” of sex trafficking.
Clark said that AMIRAH employees and volunteers provide the “unconditional love” that the women they work with are often looking for in their lives. She hopes to expand AMIRAH to eventually have a safe home in every state in New England.