Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trafficking Children in Tennessee

Imagine being a 13 year old girl or boy whose family has betrayed you in some way, maybe by sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, or through neglect.  Now imagine an older teen girl or guy, befriends you, acting like they really care about you, and you are starved for attention.

Then, all of the sudden, your life changes dramatically.  You are driven or flown to another city, conscious or unconscious, then used and sold as a sex slave.  You have become a prisoner of a sick, big business, called human sex trafficking.

Trafficking happens all across our nation, here in Nashville and throughout Tennessee. Selling bodies crosses all lines, including socioeconomic, racial, religious, age and geographic boundaries.  No longer is this something that happens to someone else. This happens here. 

A  state-wide victim advocacy non-profit organization, You have the Power, has partnered with several other community groups and private parties to spotlight this ever-growing, inhumane system by creating a documentary film called, No Girl’s Dream. No child asks to be sold into a life full of violence, fear and entrapment. This nightmare can damage their lives forever.  

Recently, spokespeople from End Slavery Tennessee, The Hannah Project, and the TBI reported horrifying statistics like 1 in 3 runaways are enslaved with 48 hours of leaving home.

The good news is that several groups have gathered to create more powerful laws that seek to punish those who buy and sell people in the sex industry. The courts also order “johns” to pay for and participate in a program that teaches them that what they are doing is re-victimizing kids who are already victims.  Coordinating this training is Magdalene, founded by Becca Stevens, a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. All men who trade money for sex need to understand that they are not paying a kid to help them have nice things.  Rather, they are supporting sex slavery.

These children have no choices, they are tortured with weapons, threatened and raped if they try to leave the system that traumatizes them.  Some who have been victimized by this system move up the ladder and become pimps, perpetuating violence just like they have received.

Only when we work together as a community, and when men and boys can challenge each other about their behaviors, can we decrease the sale of human bodies.  Men and women in power and consumers of such services need to intervene in the functioning of this monstrous business.

Let us help Tennessee and our nation become healthier places for all people, finding ways to enforce punishment and treatment for abusers and continuing to develop and fund treatment programs for victims. If you want to become involved, contact End Slavery Tennessee (, The Hannah Project Nashville, or the Magdalene program (

An exploration into a hate crime, or why do people act out?

During the past several months, it came to the attention of Vanderbilt police that someone had been stealing O&AN newspapers out of its boxes on Vanderbilt’s campus, particularly around the medical center. The boxes would sometimes be totally emptied overnight. Although this is a free newspaper, a sign on the box asks for payment after taking one copy.

This cloak and dagger story has already been written about and even talked about on TV (link to the TV piece?). Why would someone do such a thing?

When interviewed on TV, James Grady, the current editor of O&AN, (link?) described these actions as a hate crime. When asked to further explain how that term fits this set of events, Mr. Grady said that any action with the intent to target a minority is considered a hate crime. Was some homophobic person stealing the newspapers in order to achieve some goal?

Turns out that one newspaper box was videotaped and the perpetrator was finally caught stealing the newspapers. The Vanderbilt police talked with the news hound and he admitted to having done this dastardly deed, agreed not to do such a thing again, and will pay restitution for the papers he stole. The justice system is not planning to prosecute the man at this time.

I began to wonder whether this man was some right wing nut, some fundamentalist/religious fanatic who hates gay people and who might have a mission to eradicate such “filth” at least in his small corner of the world. Being a mental health provider, it is not ethical for me to speculate about this man’s intentions without clinically interviewing and evaluating him so I don’t really know why this particular man performed these acts.

What I can do is to wonder why someone would do this. It seems that this man has had a very ill spouse who has been hospitalized for many months and that he is the only person helping to care for her during this lengthy hospitalization. What I do know about is that taking care of a loved one in a hospital for months on end can make any of us crazy-feeling and crazy-acting. The grief and exhaustion alone are enough to cause even the healthiest of us to act out in some ways, this man being no exception.

Without making light of the hate crime nature of this man’s behavior, if I had been in this man’s shoes, having to be at a hospital for months at a time, I may have wanted to eat all the ice cream in the cafeteria. Self-destructive rather than other-destructive. Or, I may have gone screaming into the night as I left my loved one, while I felt helpless about her illness and powerless to change the situation. She may have been in great pain and not recuperating well from surgery, and it is very painful to watch our loved ones suffer. Many of us do not always act appropriately when dealing with such major stress.

On the other hand, maybe this poor man was from out of town, staying night after night with his wife, sleeping poorly, eating fast food all day, worrying about finances. and being away from his natural support systems. A few years ago, when my father was in a hospital in Mississippi, I watched a hospital handle his case all wrong (in my opinion). I felt agony about his illness and also felt helpless for awhile. But, then my mother and I challenged the doctors and demanded different treatment. Things changed. But, such challenges don’t always have such good results.
The obvious guess is that this man objects to or outright hates the LGBT community and anything that reminds him of the existence of people who are very different from him. Or maybe he had unconscious fears about being gay himself, maybe he had been abused as a young child, or maybe someone molested his child. Perhaps no one taught him how similar LGBT people may be to him, even though there are also differences. Maybe he was taught all his life by his family, church and/or community that being gay is an abomination, that gay people will go to hell, or that they are predators of young children. We don’t know what this man’s beliefs are or where they came from.

What I can say is that I can get very active sometimes when faced with injustice toward any minority, when people are not being treated equally, and when there is little fairness about legal consequences for certain types of people vs. other, more privileged types. I am glad that I can speak out about my concerns and that sometimes newspapers even print what I write about in my outrage.

Maybe this guy wants to be an activist but he doesn’t use his voice to speak up. And, like many people, perhaps all he knows to do is to act out (like we all do at times) in a way that helps him to feel powerful and better about himself and the world. Unfortunately, his act was indirect and criminal, full of hate and/or fear, unproductive to say the least. That sometimes happens when there is no dialogue, when people are unable or unwilling to discuss issues about which they disagree. At times it may be easier to crucify “the other” rather than try to get to know them and work with them to create a more peaceful planet.

Let’s not crucify this man. And, also, let's not crucify each other.