“. . . standing shoulder to shoulder with predators in a small room. Looking at little girls through a pane of glass . . . All of the girls wore matching red dresses.”
“They stood, blankly watching cartoons on TV. They were vacant shells. There was no light in their eyes; this was shattering. This light has been stolen; this life has been stolen. She is raped each night. Seven, ten, fifteen times each night. She is raped. She is thirteen, eleven, five-years-old. Cigarette burns cover her back. Scars we cannot see, cannot conceive of, cover her. Everywhere. Envelop her. But there was one girl who wouldn’t watch the cartoons. Number 146. She was looking beyond the glass. She was staring out at us. Her piercing stare! There was still fight left in her eyes. There was still life left in her . . .”
“It was in Thailand, where we encountered child 146, that our work began,” says Rob Morris, co-founder and president of Love146. “Our projects have since expanded to Cambodia, the Philippines, India, and, soon, Sri Lanka. The countries within which we work are among the predominant centers of the child sex trafficking and slavery industry.”
Thailand is widely recognized as a hub of sex tourism. Cambodia is without a comprehensive anti-trafficking law; legislation has been in the drafting process for the last seven years. The Philippines saw only one conviction of a trafficker in the past year. India is home to two million child sex workers between the ages of five and fifteen; it is estimated that an additional 500,000 children are forced into the sex industry each year.
But the gory details of child sex trafficking is not confined to developing countries only. According to ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), approximately 400,000 women and children are currently being prostituted in the U.S. annually! And, surprisingly, only ten to twenty percent of prostitution is street-based. The traffickers and predators are mostly thriving on the convenience and accessibility of the World Wide Web.
Craigslist, an Internet company well known for enabling users to conveniently advertise everything from jobs to housing, has now become a popular marketplace for the sale of human beings in the United States. With its free postings and relative anonymity for its users, Craigslist’s “Erotic Services” site has become a vehicle for the sexual trafficking and exploitation of women and children. There have been numerous reports of children falling prey to traffickers advertising on Craigslist, and victims as young as four years old have been sold on the Erotic Services site.
In the light of the 2008 New Year, Love146 initiated a “Call to Action” campaign to combat child sex trafficking and exploitation on Craigslist. Love146 urged Craigslist to make a New Year’s resolution to follow in the footsteps of MySpace and Google and implement better preventative policies and monitoring efforts to protect its site from being used as a resource for child traffickers.
However, as Craigslist failed to respond to their correspondences by January 1, 2008, Love146 requested their patrons and partner organizations to boycott Craigslist until Craigslist publicly declares a 2008 resolution to implement safeguards and monitoring procedures that will eradicate the sale of human beings on the erotic services section of their website.
Love146 is not alone in this effort. They have been greatly encouraged by the flood of supportive responses, all committed to joining in a collective challenge of Craigslist’s lackluster efforts to eradicate human trafficking from its site. Other organizations have also rallied to this cause, such as The Salvation Army, Polaris Project, National Organization of Women, The Loose Change to Loosen Chains Campaign, Students and Artists Fighting to End Human Slavery, and many more!
In addition to advocacy initiatives like the Craigslist Campaign, Love146 works to impact children’s lives as directly as possible. While they are not directly involved with the rescue of children from brothels, they provide rescued children with housing and therapy through their aftercare programs, and work toward preventing children from being commodified.
Love146’s Prevention Program emphasizes education projects for children and communities in high-traffic areas. For example, Love146 partners with CHO (Cambodian Hope Organization), an organization in Cambodia to train rural village leaders about the ploys of traffickers and how to address sexual abuse within their own community. O’Chrov, District Education Director of the Kingdom of Cambodia, mentions that CHO has helped many school teachers and school children to keep safe from traffickers. “As these schools are located on Khmer-Thai border,” explains O’Chrov, “most children cross border illegal easily and their condition life are at risk.” With dedicated teamwork and a holistic approach, Love146 is able to address the awareness deficits for the people most vulnerable to being trafficked.
Love146 caters to aftercare in two specific ways: by providing intensive training to caregivers and by expanding the number of safe homes for rescued children.
Love146’s Aftercare programs are devised and directed by Dr. Gundelina Velazco, a recognized international consultant in counseling psychology. The innovative, intensive training programs in Aftercare are helping to fill a void with qualified, effective trauma counselors, child psychologists and social workers who can help rescued victims of sex slavery. Recently, Love146 completed trainings in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.
Joy was 14 when she went to Love146’s safe home in the Philippines. She was living on the street in a plastic bag. At a young age, she was raped by her stepfather; her mother then sold her into prostitution. Joy was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and had also attempted suicide many times because of the terror in which she was living. The day after Joy went to the safe home, one of the caregivers asked her, “What is your wish in life?” Joy answered, “My wish has come true. I am home.”