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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!

Our friend Stella Marr, on behalf of The organization Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) sent me the following press release this weekend. It asks for the recognition, support and respect sex trafficking survivors surely deserve. It is sad to see yet another area of human rights work that has become politicized over the impulse for credit and the fight for funding. At 3 Generations we have sought to find an ecumenical path through the issue and to do our work IN SUPPORT of existing NGOs, not in competition. We are proud that we have done so, and it has not always been easy. Survivors of sex-trafficking are the experts on the subject. They have far more than their stories to contribute to lasting change. We are happy to share this call from STSU and look forward to a long cooperation with them.
N.B. Danielle Douglas, featured survivor of our upcoming documentary TRICKED is a member of STSU.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 26, 2013 An Open Letter to the Anti-Trafficking Movement

Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) is a survivor-led and survivor-founded international nonprofit organization. Our 130 members include sex trafficked women and men who have escaped their traffickers, often with no assistance, and who have banded together to raise awareness and assist sex trafficking victims. Though other survivor organizations exist, STSU is the first International organization that was conceived by and is made up of sex trafficking survivor leaders.

We have been disturbed and disappointed to see that large organizations having no survivors in their upper ranks are leading the anti-trafficking movement. It is astonishing to us that these groups receive the vast majority of anti-trafficking funding, while long-term survivor-led organizations working directly with victims struggle to stay afloat. Our experience with many of these organizations has been exploitative. We have found that though they often seek us out, their interest is in our personal stories, which they present as examples of the horrors of sex trafficking. We are also often invited to speak at conferences and events, but offered fees far lower than those of non-survivor speakers. Sometimes, we are offered no compensation at all, even though our professional credentials are equal or superior to other speakers. We have been asked to share our program curricula, methods and other educational materials, only to find that those requesting such assistance quickly adopt and promote these as their own, competing with us rather than partnering with us.

Most importantly, we do not receive invitations to lead or partner with other organizations in large anti-trafficking education and policy initiatives despite our extensive knowledge and experience in regard to sex trafficking operations and victims’ needs. We are not saying that only survivors of sex trafficking should be doing this work, but using us to promote agendas which we had no role in developing sends a destructive message to us. This situation is amplified by the many unqualified “experts” in the field. If one is not a survivor, or has not been classified an expert in a court of law, or has not had any experience in front-line or management positions working with vulnerable people in the sex trade, or has no formal education in organized crime, trauma victims or counseling, they are not an expert over ‘our’ life experiences. We are deeply concerned that anti-trafficking initiatives promoted by non-survivor organizations often fail to recognize or acknowledge important truths about domestic sex trafficking operations, or the full range of victims affected. This contributes to further harm for those still trapped.

Despite popular stereotypes depicting sex trafficking survivors as too damaged to be competent and effective partners, STSU’s members include executive directors of survivor-led organizations providing direct services to minor and adult victims, medical doctors and other health professionals, social workers and family therapists, crime victim advocates, and college professors. Not only have we experienced and escaped the complex world of sex trafficking and healed, many of us have earned college degrees, founded small businesses, established nonprofit victim services organizations, and earned other professional credentials.

As survivors of sex trafficking, we drew on our own pain and suffering to raise awareness of victims’ experiences. Being exploited by individuals and organizations claiming to be our allies and protectors is something with which we are very familiar, and it is emphatically wrong. Supposedly we are fighting for the same cause. We challenge the individuals and organizations leading the anti-trafficking movement to recognize and correct their own privileged actions, and to work with us rather than against us.

www.SexTraffickingSurvivorsUnited.org

SexTraffickingSurvivorsUnited@gmail.com

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It’s official! We’re happy to announce that our ground-breaking documentary, TRICKEDwill officially premiere on December 13th, 2013 at the Quad Cinema on West 13th Street, NYC. The film will have a week-long run at the legendary theater, so you’ll be able to see the film even if you can’t make the premiere. To get VIP passes to the premiere and party, visit our donation page.

Info about other screenings coming soon.

 Sgt. Dan Steele getting "techy" with Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the United States and Vivian Graubard and Danica Macavoy of CGI

Sgt. Dan Steele getting “techy” with Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the United States and Vivian Graubard and Danica Macavoy of CGI

This week, Jane Wells and TRICKED star, Sgt. Daniel Steele, were invited to participate in the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. The meeting’s theme, ‘Mobilizing For Impact’, brought together hundreds of the world’s leaders and thinkers and provided Jane and Dan with the ideal platform for them to share their work. On Tuesday, Jane participated in the ‘Storytelling: A Tool For Action’ session in which she shared 3 Generations’ efforts to utilize storytelling as a tool for both survivor healing as well as advocacy. On Wednesday, Dan spoke on the ‘Human Trafficking: Sporting Events as Opportunities for Advocacy’ panel, sharing his personal experiences fighting sex trafficking in Denver and discussing how we can combat human trafficking at the upcoming Super Bowl*. Jane wrapped things up yesterday, speaking at ‘The Myth and Promise of Data for Social Impact’ session in which she discussed 3 Generations’ efforts to coordinate cross-sector support for our film, TRICKED, and action in combating domestic sex trafficking.

Reflecting on his first experience at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting Dan feels that, “participating on the panel at C.G.I. was a truly great experience. Not only were the other panelists extremely knowledgeable and compassionate, but the audience was participative and fully engaged in the discussion. I felt honored to be included with such an impressive group.” Jane seconded Dan’s comments, adding that the most exciting thing to her at C.G.I. was, “the promise of collaboration and the heartfelt offers of members of this administration to support everyone’s efforts in fighting human trafficking.” As an organization, we’re so proud to see Jane and Dan standing alongside so many of the world’s most innovative thinkers and leaders. Their dedication, and the dedication of every other leader at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, shows not only the impact that one individual can have, but more importantly, what can come from the concerted effort of a group of dedicated leaders. Let’s pray these feelings of hope last!

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