Monthly Archives

December 2013
LVPD Det. Chris Baughman

By: Chris Baughman, Former Detective, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Many people argue that the legalization of prostitution in this country would make all the associated problems magically disappear. After years working as a detective in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, I am here to say that it wouldn’t work.

The main arguments in favor of legalization are that it would be better because we could create safe environments for the women and men who sell sex. They could be tested regularly and work in nicer conditions with medical care, and the government could tax sales and generate more revenue.

Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas, but there are legal brothels in nearby towns. The impact of them is seen in Las Vegas. Girls working in the brothels include those who are sent there by pimps. Those girls are beaten and threatened — not within the walls of the brothels, but when they leave. Brothel owners either turn a blind eye to this or feel powerless to do anything. Girls may be safer from attacks by johns inside a brothel, but we cannot regulate this violence outside the brothel walls.

Pimps and traffickers have told me that when our former Mayor talked about legalizing prostitution in Las Vegas, they thought he was seeking to help them. Why wouldn’t they? Pimps could then deploy every girl they have (and more) and have them working in plain sight with impunity. They are smart criminals, and to think that they wouldn’t place girls in legal brothels is naïve at best. And when all those brothels were set up on the strip — who would feed the monster? Pimps and brothel owners would inevitably be out looking for more, newer and better boys and girls. And who would they be? They’d be our sons and daughters.

Legalization does not benefit the people selling sex; nor does legalization produce female empowerment. What it does is serve the owners of brothels, pimps and the johns who frequent them. Furthermore, it is immoral to think that the government would want any part of profiting from this behavior. We have been down that road before and that was called slavery. Legalization of prostitution would legitimatize and increase modern day slavery.

Danielle-Survivor

By: Danielle Douglas, sex trafficking survivor and advocate

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

I was lured by a pimp as a 17-year-old freshman at Northeastern University and spent two harrowing years under his control. I managed to escape with the help of my family, and have spent the last eight years rebuilding my life. I am one of the lucky ones. I am a survivor. As a result, I have become a passionate advocate to help those less fortunate than I.

I am extremely thankful for the opportunities I have been given to speak out and fight against sex trafficking. I have learned to feel comfortable speaking publicly about what happened to me. In many ways, telling my story has helped me recover.

Recently, I have come to realize that the struggle against trafficking can be a confusing journey that often leaves me hopeless and saddened. It’s not only our shame as survivors and the prejudice we experience from members of the community that we have to overcome, but sometimes it’s also the intentions of those who seek to help us.

Survivors are not always treated as experts, even when talking about our own experiences. This is unfortunate. People who see themselves as friends in the anti-trafficking movement seem to have forgotten the true meaning of what it is to be a survivor. A survivor is someone who puts himself or herself on the line, battling their own fear, safety and mental and social anguish to fight for their own freedom and the freedom of others. The stakes are literally life and death. Survivors aren’t actresses or actors. We are not selling or promoting a product. We are not engaged in the issue because we are “mission driven” folks. We are engaged in the issue and in this struggle because we know how it feels to be hopeless, to be suicidal, to feel no self worth, to feel that we are disposable.

I find today in my life as a survivor that when I am mistreated, it brings me back to when I was under pimp control. I thought the pimp who had manipulated and beat me, mentally and physically, was dead and gone. I was wrong. He lives on. The PTSD is only one cruel barb or one misguided manipulation away. The general public needs to be educated and can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing better. But those who work on this issue must do better. At times it feels that in the search for a good story we are willing to sell not only our own souls to the devil, but also the souls of others, including those whose souls are just regaining their strength. What exacerbates all of this is who some of these soul sellers are. The fact is they can be anyone — strangers or the media — or they can be our so-called “allies,” abolitionists, NGOs and service providers. The same people who you think would understand and know how to support a survivor of sex trafficking.

I have been asked on some occasions if I can “look young” for certain media opportunities because they want to have an underage survivor. “It brings more attention to the issue.” “It causes more concern.” But where do we draw the line? Isn’t that just the same as a john asking me to put pigtails in my hair so I look 13?

Luckily, a majority of my experiences in the advocacy world have been positive, uplifting and motivating, including my work on the upcoming documentary, Tricked. Throughout the filming, I was encouraged and supported in sharing my story and experiences. I was given many freedoms regarding what was filmed, and this assisted me in reaching deeper into my recovery as a survivor. The experience returning to where I was trafficked was pretty terrifying, but I have no regrets. I feel lucky and honored to have been given the opportunity to work with Jane Wells and 3Generations and the amazing men in law enforcement that I share the film with, Chris Baughman and Dan Steele.

My hope is that the film is able to reach a wide range of people and possibly transform their beliefs around sex trafficking. The diverse stories and viewpoints depicted throughout the film allow for a fuller understanding of the issue. This is what makes the film so powerful: we hear from the pimps, johns, survivors, families and law enforcement officials.

Chicago Cityscapes And City Views

By: Nikolaos Al-Khadra

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

By the time I was 17, my dad concluded he had failed to humiliate, beat and torture me out of being gay. So he kicked me out of the house. Within two hours of leaving home, I had been targeted by a pimp and was being raped by his customers.

I was marketed as a high-price call-boy for the majority of my years in the sex-trafficking world. My pimps styled me as a “North Shore Boy,” using my upper-middle-class background to attract johns looking to pay for sex with a boy who looked like their neighbors. There was a lot of demand for boys like me, and both my pimps and my johns went to great lengths to psychologically and physically prevent me from leaving.

One of the mainstream myths about the world of escorting is that the industry functions as a legitimate business and does not count as sex trafficking, a.k.a. prostitution. When people do recognize escorting as prostitution, they believe it’s somehow safer than street level prostitution. It isn’t. Far from it. My pimp told me he would cut me open like a fish and throw me in the lake like human garbage. The following day was my first meeting with a “political john.” I took the Metro to the pimp. He blindfolded me and had me hide in the car en route to the hotel. Once we pulled into the parking lot, I was instructed to take the blindfold off and put the seat back. We were met by security at the back of the hotel, and I was delivered to the politician.

My johns were successful, sometimes famous men who had a lot at stake when it came to exploiting me: careers, reputations and marriages. It’s hard to underestimate how much they worried, if I snitched and the lengths they would go to protect themselves. Some of the johns were bitter divorcés; others claimed to be happily married. The common thread between all of the men who paid for sex with me was the way they flaunted their power. These wealthy johns literally enjoyed torturing those they purchased.

One of those political johns took me on a stalking mission in front of the former home he had with his wife. He went off about the divorce and how she took everything from him. After we had a drink in his new living room, he took me to the bedroom he had set aside for his son. He tied me to the bed and proceeded to rape me. I remember him calling me Robby. I looked over at the pictures of his son on the wall and had an anxiety attack. It was a combination of being tied down, him calling me his son’s name, his psychotic behavior and the stalking of his ex-wife. Right before I blacked out, my life was flashing before my eyes. I was sure he was going to murder me. After he finished, he saw my fear and the tears rolling down my face. He apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again.

These years were filled with psychological warfare, mind control and terror. Money and power drove the game. It wasn’t about sex. It was about control over another human being. By the end, I knew a john would either kill me or I would end up killing one of them.

I escaped that life, but the exiting was hard. There are zero programs to help young men get out of prostitution. I pray someday there will be.

Sgt. Dan Steele

By: Sgt. Daniel Steele, Denver Police Dept. Vice Section

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

What does the war against the trafficking of women, men and children look like on the front lines? Imagine, gangs, money, sex and violence; it has the makings of a great Hollywood thriller — edge of your seat suspense. A hard-boiled, square-jawed detective enters the seedy underbelly of society and rescues a beautiful young woman from the clutches of a maniacal terror; played by Anthony Hopkins nonetheless. If this were reality, wouldn’t it be so much simpler? A 90-minute ride through the horrors of modern day slavery, where the bad guy is always caught and the hero saves the day and gets the girl to boot.

Unfortunately, the front lines in the war on trafficking are not glamorous. The everyday battle being waged by the men and women in blue is always uphill, and the victories are few and far between. The true story is plagued by stops and starts; roadblocks at every turn. The vast majority of detectives investigating sex trafficking spend hours behind their desks, compiling thousands of pages of case file documentation. There are no high speed chases, no shootouts and there are definitely no suspenseful, last minute rescues. In fact, I would be hard pressed to say we as cops are ‘rescuing’ anyone at all. To rescue, is to free from confinement, violence, danger or evil. It’s true; cops rescue trafficking survivors in the immediate short-term sense, especially as it relates to confinement. But can a police officer truly deliver someone from violence, from danger and evil?

Trafficking survivors experience the penultimate horror, being bought and sold like meat. As a police officer, I can’t even begin to comprehend the emotional and psychological trauma invoked from sexual slavery. In fact, I have yet to speak with a survivor who, even years later, truly felt they had been rescued from the evil they experienced at the hands of their exploiter. So, no, cops are not rescuing people from trafficking. Rather, we are aiding people in becoming survivors, assisting them at the initial stages of what will be a lifetime of recovery.

So, wait, if I’m not saving the day, then what good am I? That’s the question that plagues every investigator working this heinous offense. The age old deliberation that eventually haunts every cop, “Am I even making a difference?” To that I say, “Of course you are.” After all, as cops, we are supposed to seek justice, we are supposed to stand and fight where others would not dare. While I may never swing in on a bull whip to save the day, I still count every person recovered from trafficking as a victory and every trafficker put in jail a triumph. Understanding that police are at the very forefront of a growing epidemic, understanding as cops we may be the first person to recognize trafficking and, thereby, understanding as cops we need to respond appropriately, is how we can truly make a difference. The better cops understand human trafficking, trauma bonds, coercion, manipulation and deception, the better we can respond to the needs of the exploited. After all, we don’t want to exacerbate the situation, becoming exploiters ourselves.

It is important to realize that the police cannot solve human trafficking alone. As a community, we must recognize that trafficking is the end result of much deeper societal woes — poverty, homelessness, gender inequality and more. If we want to abolish the sale of humans, we must look deeper and work to fix the root causes that lead to trafficking in the first place. The fight against human trafficking will not be won by cops or caped crusaders. Human trafficking will only be destroyed when we come together as a society and agree it is a problem, agree it needs to be stopped and agree to work together to stop it. Not really very glamorous is it? Honestly, it doesn’t even sound like “movie-of-the-week” material. Well folks, this is reality. The reality is we need everyone to wake up, step up and get involved in the fight. I’ll do my part and still go out and catch the bad guys.

Screen shot 2012-01-25 at 1.16.27 PMBy: Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Before we decided to collaborate on the documentary film TRICKED, one of us was filming street prostitution in Washington, D.C. (blocks from the White House) and the other was filming pimps at work in Chicago. When we discovered what we were both working on, we decided to partner on a joint film at a time when street prostitution was still flourishing in many parts of this country. Four years later, as TRICKED premieres, the landscape of sex trafficking has changed dramatically. Street prostitution is largely gone; two of the victims we filmed were recruited by pimps from their own living rooms via smartphones. Computer solicitations have turned into smart phone apps. Craigslist has been replaced by Backpage.com. And light plea bargains for pandering have turned into multi-year trafficking sentences.

At the onset of filming, we encountered severe misconceptions: “Sex trafficking only happens in Thailand,” or, “The girls do it by choice.” At the other extreme, jaw-dropping stats overstated the realities like sensationalized fiction. There is precious little data on the subject, and urban myths supporting both sides of the prostitution debate abound. We had to dispel the myths first; clarify the truths, second. As the basic landscape kept changing during production, we faced a constantly moving target as we made TRICKED.

On several occasions, we worked with devoted community leaders who fought trafficking alongside colleagues who openly belittled it as a victimless crime. Two opposite ends of the spectrum worked under the same roof. Embedded with law enforcement officers in several cities, we found some were enlightened and kind to those caught up in prostitution, while others were cruel and judgmental.

The variety of viewpoints and facts presented a real challenge. We struggled to tell the whole story from as many angles as possible, to try and show the real truth of sex trafficking in America without further victimizing those in the life or preaching from the soap box of the so-called abolitionists. We wanted to make a film that would be interesting to both male and female audiences. We wanted to let johns and pimps reveal who they were and how they ticked. Sometimes this was disturbing, other times infuriating. There was a great deal of gallows humor.

Making TRICKED clued us into the fact that sex trafficking continues to evolve, and the various factions continue to argue. The legalization and the pro-trafficking lobbies are strong. Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the country. The fact is, this is big business: industry stats, which we believe are accurate, say both sex trafficking and human trafficking combined are a $9.8 billion a year industry in the United States. At the same time, the number of anti-trafficking NGOs continues to grow along with their reach and impact. Although we’ve noticed positive change in the past year, and new legislation is before Congress, the road to permanent change remains long, uncharted and complex. Changing cultural norms is essential to progress.

While inaccuracy and denial continue to cloud the realities of domestic sex trafficking, our hope is that TRICKED does its part to spark a national dialogue and create change. The victims — our daughters, sisters, mothers and sons — deserve nothing less.

Interested in seeing TRICKED? The film will run from Dec. 13th-19th at the Quad Cinema in NYC. To purchase tickets, check out the Quad Cinema’s listings on movietickets.com.

Admission is free for law enforcement with ID.

John-Keith Wasson and Jutta

John-Keith Wasson and Jutta discuss Surviving Hitler: A Love Story

By: John-Keith Wasson

I was in Kigali for the 12th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It was my first time, and hopefully my last time, witnessing a mass burial of unknown genocide victims.

After the ceremony, a Holocaust survivor shared his story. For several teenagers, it was a momentous speech: it was the first time that they realized genocide had occurred elsewhere in the world. Genocide wasn’t just Rwanda’s problem.

Two weeks later, I began my first documentary, SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY. The film focused on Jutta, a teenager in Nazi Germany who discovered that she was Jewish. She joined the German resistance and met Helmuth, an injured soldier. The two became sweethearts and co-conspirators in the final plot to assassinate Hitler.

It’s a harrowing tale of war, resistance, and survival, but at the center of the documentary is a love story for the ages, with riveting narration by Jutta herself, original 8mm footage (shot by Helmuth) and, miraculously, a happy ending.

SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY enjoyed a successful festival run and aired on over a dozen TV stations including the BBC. Jutta’s main message was well received: stand up to evil– that and a little luck can change the world. With Jutta’s encouragement in mind, I set out to find a contemporary human rights story.

Jane and I met during that remarkable trip to Rwanda. While I went off to make a documentary, she set up 3 Generations. In 2011 we decided to join forces on TRICKED.

During the course of filming, the landscape of domestic sex trafficking evolved: computer solicitations turned into smart phones apps, Craigslist was replaced by Backpage, and plea bargains turned into multiyear sentences. We didn’t have the advantage of historians, time, or distance to offer perspective. Domestic sex trafficking was happening here, in America. We were chasing a moving target.

When I look back at how SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY influenced TRICKED, I realize that both films focus on people who struggle against evil. In WWII the evils happened to be well defined and Jutta lucked into a Hollywood ending. Meanwhile, sex trafficking has no ending. In fact, we’re only just reaching the first critical turning point.

Over the course of filming, Jane and I noticed a few promising changes. Press coverage, public awareness, and the culture of law enforcement all showed signs of improvement. There is real progress. It’s just slow. I hope TRICKED does its part to further the national dialogue.

In the words of Jutta, “Stand up against evil—that and a little luck can change the world.”

 

Interested in seeing TRICKED? The film will run from Dec. 13th-19th at the Quad Cinema in NYC. Check out the Quad Cinema’s listings on movietickets.com. Admission is free for law enforcement with ID.

To purchase VIP Premiere tickets for the 7pm showing, please go to our donation page. We hope to see you there!

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