NEW Sexual Assault 101
The new Sexual Assault 101 is designed to help advocates see the change to the field after the impact of COVID-19 and the continued impact of rational reckoning. The training will walk advocates through empathy building activities and critical thinking excercises/role plays that they would encounter on a daily basis at a local rape crisis center. Sexual Assault 101 takes a deeper dive into medical advocacy/ hospital response, ethics, acute and non-acute crisis intervention skills and trauma informed care. The goal is for Advocates to leave the training feeling that they have a sense of who they are as advocates.
Click here to register. Limited spots available.
NCCASA and NCCADV are starting off 2024 with an in person Region Meeting for the Council for Women and Youth Involvement Eastern Region. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday 2/15 from 10-1. This will be the first of two meetings for this region. The second date and location will be announced soon.
The meeting will take place in Lumberton at 120 Glen Cowan Rd. There is a training room that has been reserved for us.
Below is the registration link. If you have a topic that you would like to discuss for your region, please answer the question on the registration form asking for that information.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to Deanna at NCCASA @ firstname.lastname@example.org .
HR 2601: The National Human Trafficking Hotline Enhancement Act
This bill was introduced last week in the House Judiciary committee, drawing a quickly organized group of survivors who were also attending the nearby JuST Conference to communicate their disapproval of the bill.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline Enhancement Act would force the hotline to disclose information on request by law enforcement including any information that is characterized as a “third party tip.”
While reporting to law enforcement can be a vital part of a survivor’s journey, it should NEVER be coerced. This Act would turn the hotline to a tip line for law enforcement regardless of survivor consent. This Act would take away survivor choice and take away a vital resource for survivors and service providers who depend on the hotline, especially in areas where resources and advocates are limited and funding is absent.
I was also in DC that day for the JuST Conference. I sat at a table discussing the bill with a friend of mine and other survivors who had just returned from the Gallery. One survivor stated emphatically: “I will never call the hotline again.”
Other advocates and national organizations have weighed in, such as the Freedom Network, and the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Read here the National Survivor Network’s sign on letter. You can also watch the bill introduced here.
The Fraternal Order of Police shared their stance on the bill, which I find very enlightening because they get what’s at stake:
Recently, Polaris has altered course and has decided, without consulting their law enforcement partners, to only share self-reported information with State and Local law enforcement if they have the explicit consent of the person calling the Hotline. The Hotline was established so potential victims and witnesses could provide law enforcement with information to stop these crimes and help victims. The Hotline seems to be changing its mission from serving as a tipline to prevent crimes and help victims to now just focusing on connecting survivors with resources and services. This decision is crippling the ability of law enforcement to address human trafficking operations.
“Focusing on connecting survivors with resources and services” sounds like pretty good work to me.
Courtney Dunkerton, Human Trafficking Program Coordinator, NCCASA
OCTOBER IS NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH!
Observed each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. With this year's theme of “Advancing Access and Equity,” let's take a moment to celebrate disabled talent, and review the reality of the Disability Divide and how it impacts opportunity in society. As part of a new series, Each month we will be sharing new information highlighting disabilities and sharing ways to be more inclusive in your organization. This month’s highlight is for working with neurodivergent folks in the workplace. Be sure to check back each month for continued conversations regarding inclusive workplaces and closing the disability divide.
Embracing Neurodiversity: Unlocking the Power of Differences in the Workplace
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. While diversity often refers to various dimensions such as gender, race, and ethnicity, it is crucial not to overlook the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity encompasses the natural variations in the human brain, including conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological differences. Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace not only fosters a more inclusive environment but also unlocks the untapped potential of individuals with unique perspectives and abilities.
Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving and differences are NOT viewed as deficits. The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of ALL people while embracing neurological differences. The term was first coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, who coined the term “neurodiversity” to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities”. While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how our movement views and addresses certain disabilities and neurological conditions. Neurodiversity challenges the traditional notion of “normal” by celebrating the diversity of cognitive styles and neurological conditions. It recognizes that neurological differences are not inherently superior or inferior, but are simply variations of the human experience. Just as biodiversity is crucial for the health and balance of ecosystems, neurodiversity is vital for the growth and innovation within organizations.
What Conditions Can a Neurodivergent Person Have?
People who identify themselves as neurodivergent typically have one or more of the conditions or disorders listed below. However, since there aren’t any medical criteria or definitions of what it means to be neurodivergent, other conditions also can fall under this term as well. People with these conditions may also choose not to identify themselves as neurodivergent.
Some of the conditions that are most common among those who describe themselves as neurodivergent include:
- Autism spectrum disorder (more on this below).
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Down syndrome.
- Dyscalculia (difficulty with math).
- Dysgraphia (difficulty with writing).
- Dyslexia (difficulty with reading).
- Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination).
- Intellectual disabilities.
- Mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and more.
- Prader-Willi syndrome (a rare genetic condition that affects metabolism) .
- Sensory processing disorders.
- Social anxiety (a specific type of anxiety disorder).
- Tourette syndrome (uncontrollable movements and vocal sounds called tics).
- Williams syndrome (a rare, neurodevelopmental, genetic condition characterized by many symptoms including unique physical features, delayed development, cognitive challenges and cardiovascular abnormalities).
Neurodiversity and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with differences in communication, learning, and behavior, though it can vary from person to person. People with ASD may have a wide range of strengths, abilities, needs, and challenges. In example, some people with ASD are able to communicate verbally, have an average or above average IQ, and live independently. Others might not be able to communicate their needs or feelings, may struggle with impairing and harmful behaviors that impact their safety and well- being, and may be dependent on support in all areas of their life. Additionally, for some people with autism, differences may not cause any suffering to the person themselves, instead, the suffering may result from the barriers imposed by societal norms, causing social exclusion and inequity.
Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace
- Enhanced Creativity and Innovation:
- Neurodiverse individuals often possess exceptional problem- solving skills, unique perspectives, and creativity.Their ability to think outside the box can lead to fresh ideas, alternative approaches, and innovative solutions to complex challenges.
- Attention to Detail and Accuracy:
- Many neurodiverse individuals excel in tasks that require a high level of attention to detail, precision, and accuracy. Their ability to focus intensely on specific areas can be a tremendous asset to organizations.
- Diverse Skill Sets:
- Neurodiversity brings a wide range of skills and talents to the table. While some individuals may excel in logical and analytical thinking, others may possess exceptional artistic or technical abilities. By harnessing these diverse skill sets, organizations can create dynamic teams that complement each other’s strengths.
- Increased Productivity:
- When workplaces embrace neurodiversity, they create an environment where individuals can thrive based on their unique strengths. This leads to higher job satisfaction, increased motivation, and ultimately, improved productivity.
Creating an Inclusive Workplace
To foster an inclusive environment that embraces neurodiversity, organizations can take several steps:
- Promote Awareness and Education:
- Educate employees about neurodiversity and the different neurological conditions to foster understanding and reduce stigma. Provide training sessions and workshops to create a culture of empathy, acceptance, and inclusion. There are a wealth of great resources available. Some organizations to check out are:
- Autism Self- Advocacy Network - autisticadvocacy.org
- Neurodiversity Network- neurodiversitynetwork.net
- Neurodiversity Media- neurodiversitymedia.com
- Neurodiversity Hub- neurodiversityhub.org
- Flexible Work Arrangements:
- Implement flexible work arrangements that accommodate neurodiverse individuals’ needs, such as allowing remote work, flexible schedules, or providing quiet spaces for focused work.
- Accommodations and Support:
- Offer accommodations and support tailored to individual needs, such as providing assistive technologies, sensory- friendly workspaces, or offering alternative communication methods. The following articles give examples of useful accommodations:
- Sensitize Recruitment and Hiring Practices:
- Review recruitment and hiring practices to ensure they are inclusive and considerate of neurodiverse candidates. Focus on skills, abilities, and potential rather than relying solely on traditional interview formats. For example, Neurodiversitymedia.com has an extensive resource library that includes articles such as How To Interview A Neurodivergent Candidate.
- Foster Collaboration and Teamwork:
- Encourage Collaboration and teamwork by creating diverse project teams that bring together individuals with different strengths and perspectives. This promotes mutual learning, creativity, and the exchange of ideas.
There are many things people can do to be supportive of neurodivergent individuals. Some of the most important things you should keep in mind include:
- Listen. People who are neurodivergent may feel misunderstood or left out. Be willing to listen to them. Let them know you hear them and respect them and their choices.
- Communicate in ways that help them. Sometimes, people who are neurodivergent prefer written communication such as instant messaging, texting or emails over a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Give them the time and tools they need to communicate.
- Avoid value-based labels. Experts recommend against using the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” to describe conditions like autism. They often assume a person’s level of function based on how much they behave like someone who’s neurotypical.
- No two neurodivergent people are the same. The personalities and preferences of neurodivergent people can be widely different, even when they have the same underlying condition.
- Don’t assume that anyone is incapable or unintelligent. People who are neurodivergent often have conditions or preferences that make them stand out or appear different.
- Treat everyone with respect. You can “normalize” and provide others with accommodations in a way that honors their human dignity.
“Neurodiversity” is a word used to explain the unique ways people’s brains work. While everyone’s brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or “neurotypical” person. This may be differences in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and/or ways of perceiving the environment. Because of this, a neurodivergent person has different struggles and unique strengths. People who are neurodivergent can benefit from education and programs that help them develop their strengths using them to their benefit to live happy, healthy lives.
Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for organizations. By creating an inclusive environment, employers can foster a workplace culture where employees are respected and empowered to contribute equally, as well as be supported with access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of individual demographics and neurologically diverse backgrounds.
Antitrafficking Pop Culture: A Few More Thoughts
Responses to the movie Sound of Freedom movie raise important questions about victimhood, saviorhood, and how survivors are represented in the media. Because of the ways people are still engaging with SOF, I felt some additional commentary would be helpful. For us at NCCASA it is always all about survivors and whether they are getting the help they need, which is the focus for this follow-up to my earlier piece, The Sound of Freedom and Antitrafficking Pop Culture.
The Truth Should Set Us Free.
Portrayals of sexual violence in the media only represent popular narratives about who are the victims, perpetrators, and heroes reinforce myths that keep survivors silent and sidelined. Here are some ways it happens:
- Stranger danger and abductions are the assumed norm for people who experience sexual violence and human trafficking. These assumptions are connected to the idea of the “perfect victim” in which survivors are either credible or complicit in their own assaults. Innocence is only reserved for the status quo, which communicates to marginalized survivors that they don’t matter.
- Pop culture plays on fears and assumptions about the criminal tendency of foreign nationals who can only be vanquished by super cool white saviors. Radical forms of patriotism and “we look out for our own” can be “weaponized” to stoke these fears.
- Popular culture that promotes the bad brown man vs the good ole boys provides cover and misdirection for the white perpetrators who hold positions of power and respect such as the ones who sit on city councils and mentor at-risk youth.
Pushback to the Pushback
The tendency in American public life to value the voice of the status quo over the voices of those with lived experience stands in the way of truthful representations of how we perceive, talk about, and receive information about sexual violence.
For example, some survivors who have spoken out against Sound of Freedom are publicly shut down as is shared in this article:
“If I share anything publicly that’s opposing the film I get a lot of name-calling, a lot of lashing back,” Jose Lewis Alfaro, a sex and labor trafficking survivor who now works as a consultant and lived experience expert on trafficking issues, said. “It’s just really interesting to me how people are more than willing to hear a wealthy rich man’s superhero story and aren’t willing to trust and listen to those who have actually lived through it.”
We have heard of instances where those who raise issues with SOF are called groomers or pedophiles. This is irresponsible. “Groomer” and “pedophilia” are technical terms used to discuss child sexual abuse. They carry serious weight. Unfortunately, they have become popular nomenclature in the culture wars and are intentionally or unintentional misused and confused with other terms related to child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking.
These powerful words should not be slurs or used to shut down cultural/political opponents. Those who use these words to shame or accuse others may be providing cover unknowingly for the real groomers who exist within one’s own cultural or political circles. Child sexual abuse exists everywhere and those who are sincerely concerned with children’s health and safety will deal with their own implicit bias when it comes to who is harmed and being harmed.
Will the Real Heroes Please Take the Stage?
When we make “saving survivors” all about one man, one family, or one organization, we expose our belief that good intentions cover all. We expose our biased judgments that the wealthy and strong are the right ones to speak for and rescue and the poor from themselves and others.
Raids-based human trafficking response focuses on the spokesperson, how much they care, and their tactical knowledge and networks. It focuses on the activity of the raids and how grateful the rescuers are for their sacrifices.
The cool person on the rescue organization’s website mentions aftercare but gives no description of what that means to a survivor. The only details are reserved for the rescuer and what they have endured and given up snatching those kids and transport them to “aftercare.” The word “aftercare” sounds so nice, so neat, but those who do the work use other words to describe survivors’ journey from hell to healing.
Let’s honor those who, without fame, notoriety, or fortune, wear themselves out to help kids who have endured the trauma of sex trafficking, who pick up where other organizations have dropped: kids who were judged to be too difficult, too damaged, too broken, too defiant or distrustful to accept the help offered them. How organizations talk about survivors who no longer want help, or do not change fast enough gives tremendous insight into the quality of their work.
Instead, listen and learn from those in your community who serve youth who live and struggle with the trauma from sex trafficking. Those who don’t make the work about themselves, and often labor unseen and unsung.
I’d like to end with a few mentions:
- I am grateful for those in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program whose job it is to view child sexual abuse materials in order to identify the victims and perpetrators– work that many of us cannot even fathom being able to do.
- I am grateful for North Carolina’s rape crisis and domestic violence agenices whose work in serving 368 human trafficking survivors from July 2020 to June 2021 is represented in the NC Human Trafficking Commission’s 2022-2023 Fact Sheet.
- I am also grateful for the work of survivors who created the resource Survivor-Vetted Films About Human Trafficking which offers accurate representations of human trafficking. The project is headed up by Sabra Boyd, a journalist, public speaker, and child trafficking survivor whose work is invaluable.
“Antitrafficking pop culture” is probably not going away anytime soon. However, the more survivors’ voices are lifted and regarded as the real experts, myth-based awareness and vanity pieces of would-be heroes should fall to the wayside.
By now conversation about the film Sound of Freedom, the “movie of the moment,” that loosely depicts the leader of an antitrafficking organization that sponsors extraction type military operations to rescue trafficked children in foreign lands, has probably reached your neighborhood chit chat and social media networks.
My concern about this film is twofold: One: media with sensational representations of human trafficking diverts attention and resources from organizations and initiatives that provide intervention where trafficking is occurring, and Two: that trafficked survivors who are not represented in such films remain invisible and unhelped.
It is right and good to demand justice for innocent children who are sexualized and sold to turn a profit. It ought to grieve and move us to action. That there are victims and perpetrators of child sex trafficking is lamentable and should draw out all natural feelings of anguish and anger. But if we are moved to action, what action? If we do not possess accurate and reliable information about the problem, any solutions will be misguided as well, especially when they are founded on the shifting sands of Americanized hero worship.
Antitrafficking experts and others have heavily critiqued Sound of Freedom for its documentary-style genre that exaggerates the moral superiority of a man who fabricates accounts of overseas rescues of children. Some of these operations have put children at further risk and further commercializes children by including pay to play donors that get to take part in the adrenaline pumping extraction operations:
“People who participated in and witnessed OUR (Operation Underground Railroad) operations overseas recounted blundering missions—carried out in part by real estate agents and high-level donors—that seemed aimed mainly at generating exciting video footage and that, in their view, potentially created demand for trafficking victims….Meanwhile, OUR’s overseas operations, and the “jump team” it says conducts them, are the jewel in its crown: the subject of innumerable fundraising emails, interviews with Ballard, two documentaries, and Sound of Freedom…” —Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity’s Blundering Overseas Missions
The film romanticizes and memorializes what seems to be a money making and proselytizing enterprise of one man who benefits from a very loyal following of white suburban women. The film is marketed as a game changer, but it offers no real solutions besides financing the organization.
While there is documented evidence of children trafficked outside of the US borders, there is plenty of evidence that child trafficking exists here as well. The victims of these crimes cut across every demographic, but most at risk for experiencing trafficking are those living in on the margins of society’s care and concern: black, brown and indigenous communities, gender minorities and those living with developmental and intellectual disabilities. These children are not honestly represented in the popular stories we hear and share about human trafficking.
Films that play on our emotions without offering any real solutions lead us in circles:Anger unfortunately leads to scapegoating political sides and ideologies. Moral panic and outrage can urge us to just do something even when that “something” is performative or helpful to no one. Calls to “get involved” sometimes means donating to causes and campaigns with no proven transparency or track record for helping trafficked victims. And it leaves us vulnerable to those who take advantage of our empathy and sense of justice.
These films also take our money. If one man can rescue all these kids, then we need to keep him in business. If one man is moved by child trafficking in such a way that he risks everything to save them, then we need to keep up the donations. We cannot call feeding a superego antitrafficking work! Everyday families and advocates and churches and communities take care of those who have suffered abuse. They also agonize. They also give up and risk and wear themselves out with no applause, no big paycheck, and no celebrity status. Survivors are asked to show up at conferences, interviews, and retell their trauma for free so that antitrafficking organizations can fundraise and build their careers from exploiting the very people they claim to care about. We should no longer call this antitrafficking work.
What shall we call it?
ANTITRAFFICKING POP CULTURE
Pop culture is a thing or idea with broad appeal and mass produced. Pop culture is mass produced, consumable, commodified and easy to digest. It is an important place for generational “markers” and art forms, but it can’t carry topics that require complexity and nuance. Antitrafficking pop culture is what happens when we use a popular idea like stranger danger, or the superhero rescue genre and mass produce it via social media or the entertainment industry.
Antitrafficking pop culture includes generalized narratives about child trafficking with a general acceptance and predictable impact: mile wide and inch deep. You have all probably heard some version of a mom who was convinced someone almost trafficked her child in Target and how Wayfair secretly sells children via coded product names. It would be funny if people didn’t clog up crisis lines in a mass panic.
We need to be honest about the reality that Antitrafficking pop culture is harmful to survivors and creates barriers to those trying to help. The following are some of these examples:
- Misinformation that is harmful and exploitative. We in the field sometimes call these “myths” or even “misinformation” when the narratives are intentionally misleading to further a cause. Human trafficking stories can be manipulated to further a cause or ideology. This is one of the reasons the moral panic around human trafficking has been fertile ground for groups like Q-Anon and white supremacist organizations.
- Confirmation Bias. Popular narratives perpetuate the “perfect victim” myth that doesn’t challenge strongly held biases not rooted in evidence. It doesn’t tell the whole truth, only the truth we want to see.
- It platforms unexamined sentimental feel good stories with just enough drama, danger and daring for audience consumption. And boy, do we love a hero—not just any hero, but the one who stands out, above and alone: muscled, masculine and American on a backdrop of military might reminiscent of the “good old days” when we were the good guys fighting the bad guys on foreign soil. And what is more morally superior than rescuing children who have been snatched and violated in all the worst ways?
- It Lets Us Off the Hook. There is something that pleases the dominant culture’s sense of equilibrium that the violence is “over there” and “we” are the heroes. Even though we are frustrated at not being able to kick traffickers in the face at least we can fund a superhero to do it for us.
- It reduces a complex human rights issue to soundbites and talking points (see below). It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that the reality of human trafficking is vastly more nuanced and expansive than what is represented in mass media.
Here are some examples of real-life stories that antitrafficking pop culture cannot carry:
- The incarcerated woman who says her mother was her first trafficker.
- Kids who are kicked out of their homes who depend on trading sex to meet their daily needs.
- The foster parent who “homeschools” their children and makes them work 18-hour days.
- The hometown hero who creates and trades sexual images of local boys
- The minister who grooms minors at his inner-city ministry and pays them with alcohol and weed to have sex.
These children are here in our midst: in our classroom, youth clubs, and Sunday schools along with many other children who are victims of sexual and physical violence, existing in isolation. Would we recognize them? Is anyone trying to rescue them? There are the ones that the message of Sound of Freedom cannot reach.
I conclude with some words of wisdom from the folks at My Life My Choice who want to set the story straight:
“Some may believe that any dialogue about human trafficking raises awareness and builds the movement, and therefore “Sound of Freedom” has an important role to play. We disagree. This film takes attention and investment away from the true work of supporting survivors and shifting the circumstances that makes CSEC possible.”
The good news is there ARE reliable sources that accurately reflect the problem and provide evidence and survivor informed solutions. The things that move us to respond and prevent violence against children won’t be found in popular culture, but it is found in trusted individuals and organizations not in it to make a name for themselves. They are the heroes nobody knows about except the children they help. And for many, that is enough.
- 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State
- Executive Summary | Human Trafficking Institute
- Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program | Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
- National Children’s Advocacy Center
- National Runaway Safeline
- National Survivor Network
- The Trevor Project
- Take Action Against Trafficking of Black Girls | Youth Collaboratory
- Love146 – 10 Facts about Child Trafficking
- strongheartshelpline.org : Deconstructing the Myths About Victims
Antitrafficking Pop Culture Talking Points with Responses
- It can literally happen to anyone.
- While this is true it is also true that some people and groups experience greater risk for being trafficked.
- The border crisis is creating more victims of human trafficking.
- Anything that creates greater vulnerability for exploitation of any kind is a “driver “of human trafficking.
- These stories may be exaggerated but at least they are getting the word out.
- Misinformation must be replaced with reliable information which does not always happen.
- It’s the fault of (insert political party or politician).
- Victims and perpetrators of trafficking are not aligned with one political party. Bad policies that result in more poverty, unemployment, food and housing insecurity and less access to health care are contributors to human trafficking.
- We need to teach our children to keep themselves safe from traffickers.
- Adults are responsible for keeping children safe.
- We need to do something!
- YES! And learn from survivors/those in the field what the “somethings” are.
Thanks for reading!
Human Trafficking Program Coordinator, NCCASA