I Am Jane Doe — Special Viewing & Panel Discussion

On the evening of July 18th, I had the opportunity to attend the special viewing and panel discussion of the film I Am Jane Doe. Since my novel True Mercy deals with the topic of human trafficking and I want to be involved in the movement to end slavery, it was important for me to attend and learn more.

That evening I encountered many women and men at the meeting dedicated to ending slavery. However, as we watched the film, we learned about the obstacles anti-human trafficking organizations, attorneys, law enforcement officials, and politicians have in confronting these underground organizations. One of those obstacles, as shown in the film, is the quest to shut down Backpage.com’s ads selling children for sex. Despite numerous court battles throughout this country, Backpage.com keeps prevailing.

Some background on Backpage.com: it was started in 2004 and is now the second largest buying and selling of products and services website (Craigslist.com is the largest). They control 80% of the market for sex ads. Many of their ads feature underaged teenage girls in provocative poses under the guise of “escort services.” Backpage.com even helps pimps create and develop these ads, using code words like “fresh off the boat” for “underaged.” One would think this criminal activity would be easy to stop, but in court case after court case, from Seattle to Boston, Backpage.com has prevailed. Judges keep dismissing the cases.

There are an estimated 150,000 underaged human trafficking victims in the US alone. When a teenage girls runs away from home, they are susceptible to strangers who pretend to understand and care about them, and before they realize what is happening, they are manipulated or tricked into human trafficking. This includes being raped and given drugs like heroin and meth. In the film My Name Is Jane Doe, former victims and their parents discussed their experiences. Fortunately, these girls were spotted being advertised for sex and then rescued, but when both parents and children filed suit against Backpage.com, this website hired expensive attorneys who used first amendment rights of free speech and CDA 230* to successfully triumph in every lawsuit.

Currently, Ann Wagner, the Republican representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, introduced the bill HR1865 on April 3, 2017 to amend Section 230 so owners of the websites like Backpage.com can be held responsible.

I urge readers to join in their efforts. You can do this in many ways: watch the film I AM JANE DOE—check media listings for when it is being presented; call your US representatives for support of HR1865, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Trafficking Act of 2017;” sign the petition at CHANGE.ORG, which urges Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to stop their support of child sex trafficking; and log onto organizations on social media to spread awareness. For instance, in New Jersey, there is NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking on Facebook and @NJ_Coalition on Twitter. And of course, a donation of any amount to help fund the efforts to enact HR1865 would be most welcome.

*Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that “’No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’ This portion of §230 is often characterized as granting website owners complete immunity regarding any content posted by users. “

–Taken from “The Lawless Internet? Myths and Misconceptions About CDA Section 230” By Mary Anne Franks

Share this:

Book Review: The Confusion of Languages

I was on vacation last week, attending a beautiful family wedding in Columbus, Ohio.

This past weekend I read a book I couldn’t put down: The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon. It intrigued me because it takes place in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan during the Arab Spring and the characters are Americans connected with the US embassy. How often do readers get the opportunity to read a story in this setting?

However, politics was not the main subject. Rather, it was about two wives of US soldiers and their intricate relationship involving loyalty, jealousy, and dependence. Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw strike a friendship but tension lies below the surface: Margaret has a baby while Cassie is infertile, Cassie is vigilant about security while Margaret laughs off her concerns, and Cassie is organized while Margaret is careless. Then one day Margaret asks Cassie to babysit her son while she is supposed to go on a quick errand but ends up disappearing. Cassie then discovers her friend’s inner turmoil and realizes what she has observed on the surface is far more complicated. Adding to the friction are the misunderstandings in behavioral protocol between the sexes on Margaret’s part, which results in tragic consequences.

The relationship between the women weaves a tale not to be easily forgotten. Despite the tensions and resentments, there is love, loyalty, and forgiveness. The writing is exquisite and the reader can feel empathy for both Cassie and Margaret. The male characters, however, are vague, their actions and motivations at times unclear. But this story is a page-turner that will leave the reader reflecting about the trials of the characters long after finishing the book.

Reading about everyday life in Jordan is a rare opportunity. Author Fallon explains the mores and values of this Islamic country and gives one a glimpse of Middle Eastern culture. Since Fallon has lived in Jordan, this glimpse feels authentic. The reader sees the good as well as the challenges. For instance, Arabs demonstrate great hospitality to strangers; yet when a conflict arises, they will defend their own over what is right.

While I don’t want to give away the ending, I’ll say luck does not change for the characters—they don’t experience the redemption they crave. However, one couple learns to appreciate what they have even if their lives are less than perfect.

Blog Readers: Do you enjoy reading thrillers? Check out my book True Mercy, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. I would love to know what you think of it.

Share this:

Luck Can Change

It was highly unlikely anyone would have ever heard of this man. He wasn’t born into a famous family. His beginnings offered no hint of greatness. By the nature of how the world operates, he should have lived his life in obscurity, his existence forgotten long ago.

This man was born in 1887 and was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. Evidently, being born a Native American in the 19th century was by no means a promise of a privileged life. And he was beset by tragedies while still young: his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia at the age of nine. The twins were attending the Sac and Fox Indian Agency School in Stroud, Oklahoma at the time, and Charlie had helped him get through school. After his brother’s death, he kept running away so his father had to put him into the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas. Both his parents died when he was in his teens.

As you can see, this young boy did not have much of a chance in life. After all these tragedies and setbacks, he could have just given up.

But he didn’t. He persevered. And eventually, his luck changed.

In 1904, at the age of sixteen, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This school was funded by the federal government and served as an Indian boarding school. One of the school’s coaches happened to be Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, a football coach who years later would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Warner recognized this young man’s athletic talents, but since he only weighed 155 pounds, the coach feared he would be too easily tackled. Instead Warner steered him toward track and field. But this young man finally convinced Warner to allow him to serve as a substitute football player. Warner would write that he “ran around past and through them not once, but twice.”

In 1911, under Coach Warner’s direction, this young man played as a running back, a defensive back, a placekicker, and a punter. He scored all his team’s points in a pivotal match against Harvard, beating them 18-15. At the time Harvard was one of the best teams in the beginning years of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In 1912, Carlisle Indian Industrial School won the national collegiate championship largely due to his efforts: he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points for the team. He earned the All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912.

But this young man wasn’t finished yet.

In the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he won gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon. He also placed fourth in the high jump final and seventh in the long jump. Incredibly, the day he won his medals someone had stolen his shoes so he had to compete with shoes he found in a garbage bin.

Impressive, huh? But that’s not all.

After coming home from the Olympics, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s All-Around Championship in Queens, New York. This competition consisted of ten events. This Native American born into poverty won seven events and placed second in the other three. Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, had previously set the record for this All-Around Championship by scoring a total of 7,385 points in 1909. This young man broke his record by scoring 7,476 points. Sheridan watched him break his record and had this to say about him: “He is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

So who was this man who suffered so many setbacks and tragedies early in his life and went on to accomplish so much?

He was none other than Jim Thorpe. He is remembered as being “the greatest athlete in the world.”

Many of us feel stymied and frustrated. We weren’t born into a prominent family or wealth, which gives one an edge to achieve great things. We feel life refuses to give us a chance. In those low moments, remember Jim Thorpe—a shining example that luck can change.

Information taken from Wikipedia.

Share this:

A Lesson in Persistence

Sports teaches us many lessons about life, yet it is only a microcosm of what we ordinary people have to endure in our lives.

What comes to mind as I write this article is the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 4th game of the NBA World Championship of 2017 that took place only a few weeks ago.

The finals were not looking good for the Cavaliers. Not good at all. They were down zero to three games to the Golden State Warriors and it looked as if they were might as well throw in the towel.

With the deck stacked against them, no one would blame them for going into game 4 with only a half-hearted effort. Their chances of winning the championship were just about nil. I myself didn’t think the game was even worth watching. I compared them to sheep awaiting the slaughter.

But then magic happened.

Instead of entering the game with fear and trepidation, they approached with strength and determination.

“We have championship DNA,” Lebron James, the Cavaliers’ star player and acknowledged leader of the team, was quoted.

Indeed they did. The Cavaliers set the Finals record for points scored in the first quarter (49) and the first half (86). James broke the record set by Magic Johnson by achieving his ninth triple-double. For the entire game, the three best players, James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, scored a combined 94 points.

It was a magical, meaningful moment. Despite the 0-3 deficit against the Warriors, the Cavaliers played like champions and won 137-116 in game 4.

However, their good fortune would not last. In game 5, playing in Golden State, the Warriors defeated them 129-120 for the 2017 NBA Championship.

Giving up is easy. Persistence is not. Despite all the hurdles placed before them, win or lose, they fought a good fight.

Then again, most of us are not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t make millions of dollars a year. We don’t rise to the level of playing for the National Basketball Association or any other top tier organization. We face more hardships than they do on an everyday basis such as paying our bills on time and hoping there’s enough left over to enjoy life. Despite our will and hard work, we seem to only make progress in much smaller increments and no matter how much we dream, work, and plan, we keep coming up short and disappointed.

Our will to forge ahead actually shows more strength and determination than earning millions as a world-class basketball player because we carry on despite the lack of reaching those career heights and the lucrative salary that would allow us to live out our dream life.

Lebron and the Cavaliers are not the only ones with championship DNA. We the ordinary people who get used to having our hearts broken every day and feeling we are falling further and further down the abyss are the true champions while we wait for some magic to happen in our own lives.

Share this:

Where Has Our Humanity Gone?

Forty years ago this was a very different America. It used to be when an employee faithfully worked hard for a company for twenty-five years or more, a retirement party would be thrown in recognition of the employee’s efforts and contributions. Sometimes, the officers of the company rewarded this individual with an expensive watch or other gift as a form of appreciation and a fond farewell. The employee would then retire with dignity and satisfaction.

Those days are fading. Instead, a disturbing trend has taken over America that affects morale and destabilizes society. More and more, older employees that are only a few years shy of retirement are being let go. No party. No appreciation. Often, they are escorted out the door. And that’s just the beginning of the turmoil these individuals face.

Many still have mortgages, children in school, and other major expenses. They eventually lose their health care benefits, which often makes proper medical care unaffordable. Unemployment is a fraction of their previous salary and only lasts for so long. Thus, loss of income from employment can put these older employees and their families in financial straits. Unfortunately, that’s not all.

Many companies advertising open positions often subtly or not-so-subtly practice age discrimination. “You’re overqualified,” interviewers tell them when they apply for a comparable job. Of course, what they are really saying is they don’t want to pay older and experienced people what they’re worth. As a result, older workers looking for a new position face substantial hurdles added to the difficulty of finding a good-paying job. Often older workers settle for minimum wage jobs when their unemployment runs out just so they can pay their bills.

And lest we forget, the psychological effects of workers losing their jobs, particularly when they expected they would be working for the same company until retirement, are often profound: depression, feelings of failure, and lack of direction now that they don’t have somewhere to go every day. Arguably, people are the healthiest if they feel they are productive, making contributions to society, and providing for themselves and their loved ones. Added to that, those reentering the labor market after twenty-five years or so encounter an entirely changed job market and application process, which only heightens their stress.

These “forced retirements” destabilize not only the older workers’ lives but also those closest to them. They have to scale back their lifestyle and now struggle with paying their bills. Some lose their homes and must find a less expensive place to live. Their families or significant others must endure these cutbacks, college plans can be derailed, they must dig into their nest egg, and they’ll have less funds for their future plans when they thought they were going to retire.

Who benefits from letting older workers go? Companies may enjoy more profits in the short term: younger workers expect lower salaries. For instance, the pay scale of recently graduated teachers are half that of much more experienced educators. However, resentment for these inhumane practices will linger and putting older workers in financial straits will likely lead to serious repercussions to the nation’s economy in the long-term. In other words, greedy behavior may lead to benefits in the short run but will eventually backfire on them.

Share this: