Human Trafficking Crisis in India

I spent an evening at my local Dining for Women, a global organization of women dedicated to empowering women in the developing world.  I socialized with some delightful, like-minded women and then we watched a video about the human trafficking crisis in India and the inspiring work Her Future Coalition is doing for rescued women and girls.

Prostitution is legal in India but human trafficking is not. Government statistics show that every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India.  A human trafficking report in 2016 by the U.S. State Department wrote that India serves as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children victimized by slave labor and sex trafficking. Another study completed in 2018 wrote that the number of victims brought to India from Nepal rose by a staggering 500% between 2013 and 2017.

Why is human trafficking so prevalent in this region? There are a number of factors:

  • Men come to the region to work in the commercial cities, so girls and women are kidnapped from poor families to satisfy the demand for commercial sex.
  • The poorer the family, the greater the chance one of their daughters will be sold, particularly in the Northeastern region of India. Sadly, some families are so desperate they are even willing to sell their own daughters.
  • Believing their children will receive education and jobs, parents are tricked into sending their children to these agents.
  • Girls and women are trafficked for forced marriages because there is a shortage of available females due to female infanticide.
  • An estimated 11.7 million people work for debt labor. When families are short on cash, they sell their sons and daughters to obtain money. Often these children don’t get paid for years.

Unfortunately, many times after girls are rescued, they are rejected by their families and treated as outcasts once they find out they were forced into prostitution.

The situation is bleak but there are people willing to donate time and money to help them.  Organizations in India like Her Future Coalition work hard to rescue these women and girls, providing them shelter and job training so they have the tools to lead lives of independence and freedom. Her Future Coalition works with local agencies to construct shelters for rescued girls, where they are can stay for a long term and be safe and supported.  The shelters provide food, clothing, medical attention, and counseling. Since the majority of those rescued have very little education, Her Future Coalition sponsors educational programs leading to job placement.  The film showed examples of the most popular fields: nursing, jewelry-making, bee-keeping, and accounting. To date, over 700 survivors have benefitted from their educational programs. Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, but there are dedicated individuals working to combat it. The more the better.

Readers interested in finding out more information or donating to the Her Future can go to https://www.herfuturecoalition.org.

Women who want to find out about their local Dining for Women can go to https://diningforwomen.org.

References

Giri, Avinash, (2019, January 3). What’s wrong with India’s Efforts to Check Human Trafficking? [Blog post], Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/whats-wrong -with-indias-efforts-to-check-human-trafficking/

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Book Review: Not of This Fold—A Mystery that also takes a Critical Look at the Mormon Church

A Mormon Mystery

Not of This Fold immediately draws the reader in through the engaging personality of Linda Wallheim, a Mormon bishop’s wife and an amateur sleuth. Since this is the fourth installment of Linda Wallheim mysteries, readers know that she figures out who the murderer is at about the same time as the police. In this book, she has a sleuthing partner, Gwen Ferris. Gwen is also married to a Mormon bishop but is having a spiritual crisis due to the Mormon stance on a variety of issues.

                Gwen and her husband are unable to have children, which is a heartbreaking situation for any couple. But it is compounded because, as Linda describes it, the church tells women “We were told so often that raising children was the most important thing we can do with our lives, that mothering was an eternal role, and even when we were resurrected and living in the celestial kingdom, we’d be silently serving our spirit children, . . . ” (p. 18). Gwen has other issues with Mormonism: the church’s attitude toward immigrants from Hispanic countries, the prohibition of same-sex marriages, and the male domination of church leadership. Gwen has quit her high-paying job and plans to enter the police academy to make a difference, but her complaints are leading to marital strife as she contemplates leaving the church.

                Since Linda is a grandmother and Gwen is in her twenties, Linda looks at her as the daughter she never had and guides her while they investigate who killed Gabriela Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant with three young children. Gwen works in the Spanish ward and had befriended Gabriela, so she wants to see justice done. She and Linda do a lot of traveling and interviewing of potential suspects, which draws the ire of the police, who insist they are interfering with the investigation.  

                I could relate to Linda because she is a real person and not a stereotypical Mormon bishop’s wife with a perfect life. This is her second marriage, one of her five sons left the church and another is gay, and she is also questioning the church’s rulings and practices. The story leads me to believe that Mormon author Mette Ivie Harrison is voicing her own inner conflicts with the church.

                I felt the character Gwen Ferris was too one-dimensional. She kept repeating the same slogans throughout the story: Mormons look down on brown-skinned people, Mormons refuse to give women leadership positions, and the church must change with the times. It becomes obvious she is taking out her own unhappiness and unfulfillment on religion.

                Overall, Not of This Fold is a fast, enjoyable read. It certainly makes the reader think about the Mormon’s traditional positions when society is challenging traditional beliefs. In fact, I think the social issues often put the mystery story itself in the background. I also noted missing words in the text. This I do not blame on the author, but rather it is the proofreader’s responsibility. Other than that, I find this story riveting because it has such a unique twist. But those looking for a mystery that solely concentrates on the whodunnit may not appreciate Harrison’s work.

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Book Review of Walking Prey: Sex Trafficking of America’s Youth

Author Shares Her Child Sex Trafficking Nightmare

After reading so many headlines about child sex trafficking, I decided to read and review Holly Austin Smith’s Walking Prey (2014). The author is an unusually brave sex trafficking survivor who travels across the country relating her experience when she was only 14 years old. Smith cites many statistics, provides reasons for the prevalence of child sex trafficking and gives practical advice on prevention and the rehabilitation of victims.

Smith recounts being an awkward teenager who felt disconnected from her family and alienated from her peers when she ran away with a man named Greg who turned out to be a pimp. She candidly recalls her weeks on the streets of Atlantic City, her rescue, and rehabilitation treatment. The following is a few reasons young girls may be vulnerable to manipulative older men seeking to lure them into prostitution:

  • According to a 2012 Ohio Human Trafficking Commission report, young people involved in sex trafficking in that state experienced neglect (41%), abuse (44%), sex abuse (40%), emotional abuse (37%), and physical abuse (37%).
  • In 2011, an FBI report stated that many gangs use prostitution, including child prostitution, as “a major source of income” by “luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse.” The report estimated that there are 1.4 million gangs in the United States.
  • There are many cases of girls and young women promised well-paying jobs and then smuggled across the Mexico-U.S. border to be trafficked for commercial sex. Smith believes that American teens may also be lured into going to Mexico for this purpose.
  • In our consumer-driven society, children are constantly viewing advertisements sending the message that in order to be popular and accepted, they must obtain certain products. Many cannot afford all these products and those that do purchase them inevitably find they do no fulfill expectations. Compared to the images in the ads, children come up short. They then seek other avenues where they feel desirable and accepted. Pimps are on the look-out for girls who appear lonely and vulnerable and entice them with a lot of attention.

Smith is emphatic that these teenagers should be treated as victims rather than criminals. Pimps lure the ones who suffer from difficult family lives, low self-esteem, and little or no support.  And once these children are rescued, they require a great deal of help so they can enter back into society and live productive and stable lives. The author cites many cases, including her own experience, where survivors are treated like criminals. Some survivors actually end up becoming advocates and help put systems in place to facilitate the rehabilitation process for young survivors.

Surely, society must do better to prevent occurrences of sex trafficking in the first place by providing more support and resources for troubled youth.

Smith concludes that “Too many children and teens across the country, as well as their parents, have never heard about child sex trafficking in the United States, and this must change…Community members in general must be made aware of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children” (pp. 167-168).

I highly recommend Walking Prey to everyone, particularly parents of teenagers. It is an eye-opening experience that they cannot afford to ignore.

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Interview with Wattpad Star Benjamin Sobieck

Writer Benjamin Sobieck
Ben’s The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad

At the Greater Lehigh Writers Conference last year, I listened to Benjamin Sobieck introduce and explain Wattpad, a social storytelling platform for readers and writers. Writers post their stories, often a chapter at a time, and readers from all over the world read them, offer comments, and vote on them. Wattpad began in 2006 and in 2007, it became available through mobile devices. Today Wattpad has millions of readers and hundreds of millions of stories.

After the class, I took Ben’s business card and emailed him a few times with questions, but I didn’t feel ready to try it until six months later when I read his book The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad: The Comprehensive Guide to Building and Sustaining a Successful Career. This time I wanted to put my current book project on Wattpad and I emailed Ben about enrolling as a writer. He graciously answered my questions and I was now ready to take the plunge.

Wattpad is a whole new writing world that has the potential to reach people all around the world. Many writers have begun successful careers and readers enjoy a vast selection of stories and the opportunity to offer feedback and become actively involved in story development.

I noted Ben’s enthusiasm and willingness to help from our first meeting. He is a crime and thriller writer and a member of Wattpad Stars. His website is crimefiction.com. Ben agreed to do an interview for my website.

1.) Q. Ben, please tell me about yourself and your writing career.

First off, thank you for hosting this interview. The short version is that I went to school for journalism and creative writing, got a job as a reporter, moved over to magazines and wound up working for a large publisher of print, digital and broadcast content. That continues to pay the bills, but if you’re a writer, you know you won’t stop there. I kept writing on the side, and eventually picked up some fiction and non-fiction projects. 

2.) Q. How did you first come across Wattpad? It seems like a perfect match for you and the stories you write.

Thank you! I’d hit a dead end outside of Wattpad with some stories that I thought had legs. I posted them to Wattpad to see what would happen, and the rest is history. It wasn’t overnight, and there were times I felt like quitting. But I knew I had something good to share, and it worked out in the end.

As far as matching content to Wattpad, I write, in general, thrillers. Horror, YA and romance all do well on the platform, too, but that shouldn’t put off anyone not writing in those genres. Wattpad is an enormous place, with 70 million monthly users. If you can find even a tiny, tiny percentage to give your work a read, you’re on the right track.

3.) Q. Wattpad is geared toward millennials and Generation Z. Do you think there is room for older writers/readers?

Of course! The demos certainly skew to those generations, but you’d be surprised at how open minded and advanced those readers are. Remember, these are voracious readers. They want compelling stories. I never intended to write for the 18-25 demo, but that makes up a big chunk of my followers.

For adult readers, there’s plenty of content, too. It takes a little more digging, but you’ll find what you’re looking for. And, hey, even if you don’t, you didn’t spend a bunch of money to find out!

4.) Q. I am a writer that is older than the targeted audience. I am presently posting a chapter a week of my new novel on Wattpad. The main characters are in their forties. Would you say this novel would be a tough sell on Wattpad?

I wouldn’t mistake a slow burn for a tough sell. All Wattpad stories are a slow burn, because it takes time to build up momentum. Writers who frequent Wattpad will see a pay off in reads, votes and comments. It’s just a matter of sticking with it.

As an example, Zandra, the lead character in my “Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective” series, is in her 40s. She deals with adult issues, and there is zero romance. On the surface, that doesn’t look like a Wattpad story. However, it won a Watty Award in 2016.

5.) Q. It is mentioned quite a few times in your book that there are currently 65 million users and 400 million stories. These statistics suggest it would be exceedingly difficult for a writer to stand out. Yet the writers in your book are very encouraging about joining Wattpad. Why do you think they believe new writers have the potential to do well if they stick with it?

It’s up to 70 million now! That sounds intimidating, yes, but remember that of those millions of stories, most of them are one-offs, just for fun or not written by someone interested in a full-fledged writing career. The dedicated writers there to build an audience, and therefore a career, are smaller in number. I don’t know what that number is, exactly, but the readers will always want new material. They enjoy following writers putting out good work. If you’re doing that, the readers will come. It just takes time.

6.) Q. Have any plagiarism concerns come up? After all, many writers are sharing their works in progress.

Yes, unfortunately. There are websites off of Wattpad that post work, and there are “writers” who imitate or copy Wattpad successes. Issue a DMCA notice or alert Wattpad directly. Piracy is always a risk. Hopefully, the benefits of Wattpad outweigh the risk of plagiarism.

7.) Q.  Most of the chapters are written by women. Is that because there are more women writers and readers than men? Do you see a closing of this gap anytime soon?

Wattpad users are female, and I think that reflects readerships at large and Wattpad’s makeup behind the scenes. Most workers at Wattpad HQ are women. That trickles through to the user experience, too. So, no, I’m not sure that will change, but what they’re doing is working.

8.) Q. Many writers mention Watty Awards, the Wattpad Top 100 Hot List, and Wattpad Star. How do writers achieve these benchmarks?

The Watty Awards are an annual competition that anyone can enter. It’s as simple as tagging a story. The Hot Lists are based on reads and votes, but not entirely on reads and votes. The more active you are on Wattpad, the more likely it is you’ll wind up with a ranked title. Wattpad runs a lot of algorithms, and I doubt they’d ever disclose the specifics.

The Wattpad Stars program is by invitation. It used to be that you could apply for it, but that’s since changed.

9.) Q. Would you mind explaining the role of Wattpad Ambassador?

To put it simply, the Ambassadors are there to ensure users have the best experience possible. That can take on a number of forms, from addressing trolls to getting the word out about contest, and they all do great work. 

10.) Q. Some writers have even captured the attention of television executives, movie studios, and publishers! Do you have any statistics on how often this occurs? 

They do! The exact figures are kept close to the chest at Wattpad Studios, the division that licenses content in that way. Should an opportunity come up, though, Wattpad contacts the writer directly to gauge interest. Writers own all the rights to their work. The only time Wattpad would sell those rights to a third party is after having a conversation with the writer and signing a contract. No surprises.

11.) Q. Author Daryl Jamison wrote the chapter, “Writing for Wattpad campaigns.” She mentions ways writers can make money on Wattpad. Would you mind touching on this briefly?

Wattpad Next, Wattpad Futures, Wattpad Books and the branded campaigns are all ways for writers to make money directly through Wattpad. These are invite-only programs at the moment.

12.) Q. Do you have advice for writers on how to become successful on Wattpad?

Keep posting! Keep writing! Build your audience! That’s the best way to do it.

13.) Q. What about story length? Are most short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

You’ll find work in a variety of lengths, but complete novels seem to do the best.

14.) Q. Ben, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Give Wattpad a try! I did and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my writing career. If you can build an audience that cares about your work, you can port that into any other avenue in publishing. You can’t buy devoted readers, but you can build them. All you need is a tool. Wattpad gives you an entry ramp for readers to find you. For me, it’s home base.

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Covenant House-Resource for Young Trafficking Victims

Since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I am devoting all of this month’s posts to human trafficking information. For this one, I am writing about an important resource for victims. Covenant House is a privately funded agency that provides temporary housing, food, crisis care, and many other services for young people ages 18-21 who are homeless or victims of human trafficking.

Covenant House operates in many locations all over North and Central America, but I would like to focus on the Newark site, which is one of their seven locations in New Jersey. The crisis center allows young people to come in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These youths are welcomed when they have nowhere else to go. The staff permits them to stay while they get help and work toward a stable life by setting constructive goals. They also protect victims of human trafficking and make every effort to stop the perpetrators.

Most human trafficking victims in the United States are forced to have relations with many partners against their will so traffickers can make money. Human trafficking is so prevalent for two reasons: traffickers can make large profits and the risk factor is low. Why? There are so many vulnerable young people who desperately need guidance from a concerned adult. With no one watching out for them, traffickers find them easy prey to manipulate. Another reason is the large number of homeless youth. I reached out to Covenant House in Newark to interview a representative. Unfortunately, no one responded in time for this post. If you would like more information, log onto their website https://www.covenanthouse.org

 

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Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl

Next month is the annual Super Bowl. While legions of fans will gather for parties and cheer on their sports teams, please keep in mind that this is also the time when human traffickers are their busiest, forcing their victims to have sex with strangers so they can make money. People who work at airports, hotels, and other popular venues for football fans should be extra vigilant. Victims generally do not carry luggage, may have bruises, and pay in cash. Everyone should be aware of the signs to combat this growing crisis. Call 911 if you see anything suspicious.

 

In Idelle Kursman’s debut novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is an escapee from an international human trafficking ring. She wrote the story to spread awareness for the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, IngramSpark, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

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