Protect Our Children

ncjw

April is Child Abuse Prevention month. It is a time to acknowledge the importance of individuals, families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families Last month I had the privilege of marching on the hill in DC. with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) telling the senators to Do Their Job. NCJW is committed to endorsing for laws, programs and services that protect children from abuse, neglect, bullying, exploitation, trafficking and violence. I urged Illinois Congressional leaders to fully fund the Runaway Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act to Illinois.

Every day in this country, youth run away from home, are kicked out, exiting juvenile detention centers or welfare systems with nowhere to go. According to the National Runaway Safeline (Formerly the National Runaway Switchboard,) between 1.6-2.8 million youth runaway each year in the United States.  Children can begin running as young as ages 10-14. The youngest are the most at-risk for the dangers of street life.

According to the National Runaway Safeline, children runaway because:

  • 47% of runaway youth report conflict between them and a parent/guardian in the home.
  • Over 50% of youth in shelters or on the streets reported that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care
  • 80% of runaway & homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abuse.
  • 43% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.

marian wright edelman

For over four decades the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RYHA) provided three types of assistance to help communities deliver lifesaving supportive services for youth. The Basic Center Program provided shelter and basic necessities for younger children up to 21 days. The Transition Living Program is geared for older children 16-21 providing developmentally appropriate and readily accessible trauma informed services. The Street Outreach Programs provides service referral, crisis intervention at street locations and drop in centers.

 

In 2103 the money ran out. Since then state and local agencies have been attempting to fulfill those roles. But like many states, Illinois is cutting back on mental health services and needed care. Today with bipartisan support The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (s262/hr1179) would reauthorize and strengthen these three critical programs in addition to collecting trafficking data, adding a nondiscriminatory clause and increase the length of stay in Basic Center to 30 days, requiring suicide prevention services in transitional living programs

 

Runaway and homeless youth are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.   Traffickers prey on their vulnerability. They say” I will take care of you. I can provide food and a place to stay. Let me help.” The National center for Missing and Exploited Children said 1 in 5 of the 11, 8000 runaways reported in 2015 they were likely to be victims of sex trafficking. Furthermore, 28% of the youth living on the street trade sex for basic needs such as food. A growing number of homeless youth identify as lesbian gay, bisexual or transgender. (LBGT): Data suggests they make up 40 percent of runaways today. This bill gives them protection from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation or gender, much like Violence Against Women Act or Head Start. The non-discrimination language is key not re-victimize youth when seeking care

We know for forty years that RHYA has worked. Each year 25000 youth find shelter through the RHYA street outreach program. In 2104 after receiving trauma informed counseling and care, 85% of youth exited these programs and returned safely. In 2103, 72% of youth RHYA temporary housing reunited with their families.

In addition federal programs like this are cost effective. Homeless and runaway youth are disproportionality involved in public healthcare, juvenile justice systems. In 2009 the public cost of services for a homeless individual in Los Angeles, including shelter, health care was $2897 per month- significantly higher than $605 per month for residents in supportive housing. I know what it is like to be sexually abused. I did not run away but I know plenty of people who did. I know what I have spent on healing. The long term consequences of abuse, physical, mental and social are devastating. The actual dollars spent on additional health care is huge for the individual.  Studies indicate moving 500 youth from the juvenile justice system to transitional programs could save anywhere between 5 and 20 million dollars.

 

The modest investment in Runaway and Homeless Youth act programs has laid a foundation for a national system of services for our displaced youth. This essential program must continue. Please write your legislatures today and tell them to fully fund the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.

 

 

 

 

 

Sex, Power and the Big Game

StopHumanTrafficking

Sex, Power and the Big Game

Children as young as 11 are being sold for sex in the United States. It is estimated that 16,000 to 25,000 women and children are trafficked each day in the Chicago land area.

How can we raise awareness, spread the word and change the prevailing attitudes and misuse of power over women?

Creative Activist, Mary Bonnet’s play Shadowtown 11: the Johns begins to look at how pornography and prostitution/ sex trafficking affect the family. I am an aware, educated activist in this arena and I was deeply moved by her play. The portrayals of the innocent bachelor party with 13 men having sex with an underage girl, to the father playing out his sex fantasies or the son a porn addict unable to have intimate relationships thinking he is in love with the prostitute was gripping. It was powerful and thought provoking.

 My father, pre- internet used to send porn through the mail to his female friend wrapped in a brown paper bag. Until I saw this play I did not get why my mother was “crazy “. She felt less than, worthless and unlovable. No wonder she acted out. I never had the complete story why my mother was called a “ball buster”. Now I get it and I have more empathy for her situation.  This play made me wonder about my attitude toward men, relationships, sexuality growing up. What story did I tell myself to justify my fathers’ actions?

January is now National Slavery and Human trafficking Prevention month and Super Bowl Sunday is being hosted in Phoenix on February 1, 2015.

Traditionally, advertisers spend millions during the game to promote sex and booze. What kind of messages are we sending to young men?

Last year in January there were numerous articles written about the myth that human trafficking increases during sporting events. It does not matter if the numbers don’t hold up for that day. The NFL has had real domestic violence issues and child abuse allegations this year. The league is supposedly cracking down with cuts, mandatory education and censure. It is not enough.

 Broadcasters, ESPN and anyone who covers the game has an opportunity and the responsibility to add Public Service Announcements about trafficking, porn addiction, violence against women and child sexual abuse.   Millions of men and boys around the world need to hear the truth about sex trafficking. It is not sexy, it is not fun, the girls don’t want it. If they are not being part of the solution then you are part of the problem. We need to take responsibility for what is happening and begin an awareness campaign. Actually football players should be wearing navy blue gloves/ribbons for sex trafficking awareness.

 Learn the facts. Become educated.

A trafficker can be someone you know, or your family knows. A child may be still living at home, attending school and being sold for sex.

Sex trafficking can occur through an escort or marriage service, brothels, bars and clubs. It is big business, 32 billion dollars globally. If men/ boys don’t buy they go out of business.

Signs a child could be a victim:

Unexplained gifts, jewelry or cell phones

Controlling boyfriends or relationships

Vague stories about their whereabouts

Marked changes in behavior and speech

Hidden communication/emails/texts

Unexplained school absences

Run away from home

 

 

Call to Action: If you know anyone at ESPN that can make this happen…call them. Let them know how important this is. Share a PSA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6Rs8NadYCo

If you are in Chicago you can still see Shadowntown 11: The Johns through November 23

Stop Sex Trafficking in Chicago

Stop Sex Trafficking in Chicago

Sex trafficking sounds like something that happens in other countries. But sex trafficking is happening right now in Chicago. Since 2012, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department has picked up more than 300 children forced into prostitution.

Mary BonnettCreative Activist Mary Bonnett (Producing Artistic Director) created and cofounded Her Story Theater.  Mary holds a BFA in Theater Arts, BFA in English Literature, MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, England. She has won numerous awards for excellence and outstanding contributions in professional theater, writing, directing and theater education.

 

 

Why did you start Her Story Theater? I went into a kind of a third phase of my life. I’ve done theater and I have taught theater. When I stepped into this third, I don’t think final phase, I thought what can I do and what do I bring to the table?  I can direct and I can write and I can organize. And the next question being, “what is my passion?” Social Justice for women and children. So I created Her Story Theater, and decided to put it in Chicago’s backyard. And the mission is to shine bright lights on women and children in need of social justice and community support. It is three pronged: It’s raising awareness, getting an audience charged up to be proactive and then to raise funds for a partner, a Chicago partner, that’s doing great work on that specific cause.

 

The first one we did was a piece on homeless women and we partnered with Deborah’s Place which does residential care for homeless women.We interviewed about 30 women. And then I took the information and looked at  lots of research to see what the issues are and who is homeless. I selected characters to represent who is out there:  mentally ill, the runaways, domestic violence victims, migrant worker, the economically challenged, ex-con. We set it in a spa, a beauty spa, and salon, and we got real technicians in real time doing work, so the prisoner was getting her hair done, and the mentally ill was getting the facial, and the economically challenged was getting make-up, and so on. And so the audience would go from room to room. There would be a music cue to move people from cubicle to cubicle so they could hear the before and after stories. I had a wonderful photographer who took pictures of homeless on the streets and homeless who had been to Deborah’s Place. We sold art work to raise funds.

Since then we have tackled human trafficking called Shadow Town which was addressed to young girls. It was based on interviews with people involved with sex trafficking in Chicagoland, from undercover detectives, vice squad, social workers, therapists, johns, pimps, and the women and girls trafficked.

Uniquely woven with dance and music, this memory piece follows the lives of 4 young girls’, Marisol from Humbolt Park, Tatiana from the West side of Chicago, Samantha from Naperville and Ling Ling from China, and their journey into ‘The Life’ and modern day slavery. Did you know there are 18000 – 25000 children trafficked every day? The average age is 11.

The next one is Shadow town 11: The Johns, which is about the men who buy girls and what is costs. This second part shows the demand side, how it impacts the purchasers, their families and those trafficked. Human trafficking is big business. Globally, it’s a $32 billion economy that survives by feeding the desires of men who buy sex.                                                                                                                                          mad-sex-trafficking-play-shadow-town

Bonnett researched the play by interviewing Chicagoland trafficked victims and Johns. The Johns were diverse, financially and otherwise. Some were old, some young. Some had families, others didn’t.The one thing they had in common? Denial. Most of these Johns perceive these girls as wanting to be there,” Bonnett said. Few would admit that the girls they bought were underage despite perhaps knowing otherwise. As Bonnett said, “you know the difference between an 11-year-old and a 23- year-old.” “Never once in all those conversations with the Johns did they acknowledge their actions as potentially harmful,” she said.

Bonnett says that generally men buying sex don’t brag about their activities, but “one man told me he’d been married for 37 years and never got caught. He’d been buying sex for decades.”

“We particularly want men’s groups attending this play to start understanding the issue and how they can be part of the solution to this new modern-day slavery, to see how our current culture impacts our young men and women,” she added. Once awareness is raised, re- form will follow.. This nontraditional powerful drama has music and humor. Art and theater have long had the ability to facilitate social change, and the  “The Johns” will be that vehicle.

Shadow Town II: The Johns” opens at the Mayer Kaplan Theater, 5050 Church St., Skokie, on October 16 and runs through November 23. Check website for dates and showtimes. Order tickets online here. .” The cost is $50 and the proceeds benefit the Dreamcatcher Foundation.

I have long held the belief that theater is a powerful tool for social change. Stop Sex Trafficking in Chicago. Tell your friends and buy a ticket.