Caught in human traffic Lies!

Here is a story that I read last week entitled “Caught in human traffic”. Coincidentally, I also happened to read it the day before I was presenting my paper on human trafficking of Indigenous women/girls which argues that these new anti-human trafficking legislation(s) and/or policies are in effect an attempt to control Indigenous women’s bodies/sexuality, and in a much broader significance, Indigenous sovereignty. I am not alone in this argument as Laura Agustin describes this social phenomena in similar terms. Smith on Agustin writes,

She said that the words “human trafficking” started entering the lexicon in a serious way around 2003 and 2004. Now, she maintained that the language is shifting to emphasize slavery. She bluntly described this movement as a colonial initiative. (Smith, 2011)

I was not impressed with the above LFpress story and the significant claim being made by the alleged victim in this story. After speaking to multiple mutual friends who both know the victim in this story and the dancer who committed suicide (who is mentioned in this story), I decided to write this blog post. The article reads,

Most importantly she throws a lifeline to the women being trafficked on the circuit she once worked. But sometimes the rope misses. “The hardest part is losing them,” she said, referencing a girl who hung herself three months ago. “Her stage name was Alex, but I want to say her real name out loud – it’s Michelle – because she was a real person,” said Stacey. 

The suggestion that this victim knew Alex/Michelle well enough to know her reasons for suicide is a falsification of Alex/Michelle’s story to sensationalize the alleged victim’s own story to solidify the argument that human trafficking in London ON (or in Ontario in general). Most importantly, it is also a complete disregard for the families/friends of Alex/Michelle. I even commented on the article and another reader suggested that I was in denial that her suicide was connected to human trafficking. I can tell you right now that the suggestion that Alex/Michelle committed suicide because of human trafficking is a blatant lie. I can also tell you that the victim in the story did not know Alex/Michelle. In fact, she was not allowed in the club or anywhere near the club where Alex/Michelle worked (from a mutual friend who knows the victim and Alex/Michelle). So to suggest she tried to “save her” is another blatant lie. Also, the article has Alex/Michelle’s death date wrong because she died last August 2012 not three months ago. To put it plainly: another blatant lie, and she just doesn’t know what she is talking about when it comes to someone I lived with, was my neighbor, had a relationship with, knew her parents, was there for the birth of her child, and a magnitude of other life events.

This idea that anti-human traffickers make up statistics or stories or use the lives/deaths of people no longer around anymore always seem so distant to me. However, after reading this article, I knew that I had to do something; hence, I am writing this blog post.

I am not here to suggest that people who are exploited or victimized should not have their stories acknowledged; however, if claims are going to be made about certain populations then these claims need to be legitimate and not further exploited for financial gain which is what is happening here with this idea that human trafficking occurs in London ON. I wrote about the research that suggests that “1:5 in sex workers” are trafficked (you can read more HERE). There are huge amounts of government grants and research grants that are being poured into program planning and program implementation locally, nationally, and internationally. In fact, Agustin mentions that one does not even have to mention “trafficking” to receive funding. I guess that is why the research report that I cited in my previous blog post “Human Trafficking in London?!?!’ mentions “Aboriginal women” only briefly (I mean, there are loads of money pouring into organizations and institutions that seek to investigate the lives of this “vulnerable population.”). While describing the picture of two white-abled bodied men drawing attention to “vulnerable women,” Agustin writes,

They don’t mention trafficking too loudly, but that is now the keyword to access much funding for ‘women’s issues’. It wouldn’t matter that these two guys are unlikely to have met any trafficked victims or know what to do if they did.

Another issue that needs to be addressed with the anti-human traffickers’ crusade is the organizations involved. As state in the article, the alleged victim received help from the Salvation Army and is a member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking coalition (LAHTC). I had a class last year and it was entitled “Sociology of Deviance.” In this class I learned that the LAHTC argues that the strippers/exotic dancers who are being trafficked travel in groups along the Windsor Corridor which is also described in the LFPress article. The reason strippers/exotic dancers travel in groups to various clubs in Ontario is because it is safer! It can even be argued that it is suggested that non-sex work women should not travel alone or employ safe travel practices when traveling alone like changing rooms if a stranger over hears the hotel agent announcing the room in the lobby while presenting a room key to the female guest. So then why is there a difference in traveling advice/tips for sex workers? Must they absolutely travel alone in order not to be considered a trafficking vicim? Must they put the consideration of anti-human traffickers and their ideals of sex workers above their own income/employment by sticking to one club, absolutely?

Not only does the LAHTC propose outlandish ideas that suggest a sex worker is being trafficked, the training manuals that have been created also create problems for all those involved in this anti-human trafficking crusade. This short 6 minute video is a fine example of the problems associated with training for the rehabilitation of human trafficking victims:

Although not obvious, the training manual suggests that prostitution can be found at health clinics (???), and that God intended for sexual relations to only happen between man/woman (hello transphobia/homophobia), and the there needs to be a “restoration” of sexuality to this natural intention, and finally, what to expect from human trafficking victims: masturbation (!?!?!?), confused sexuality (!?!!??!), and STIs (!?!??!). So not only does it cause stigmatization among the victims, it assumes that the only way for a victim to be truly saved he/she must conform to societal gender/sex norms. It also suggests that all those in the sex industry have STIs. I always wondered where this idea came from and why the reader in the above LFpress article suggested that prostitution be legalized (not decriminalized which is what is really being asked of the courts with the Bedford et al. case before the SCC), and that all “prostitutes” should undergo mandatory STI testing–I guess this is where the idea originates from that all those involved even those who are considered human trafficking victims will have STIs which is also indicated in this US based website. Hello stigmatization!!!

In addition to the above paragraph, what is really alarming about this video is the role-playing suggestions for facilitators of groups and as the voice-over announces, “it is a perfect example of sexual exploitation” because the facilitator must call on a volunteer (actually a woman), then blindfold one and then gag the other, and having the gagged-other to call out for help. A big WHAT-THE-EFF! This training manual is the training manual of the same Christian/Faith based organization mentioned in the LFpress: the Salvation Army.

So hey people of London, while you read about these stories and these suggestions that human trafficking exists in Southern Ontario, please be critical of where you are reading the information, who is presenting the information because it is clear that the organizations involved will exploit the lives/deaths of others for their own agenda and own gain.

Mental Health and Substance Use

Today after reading an article titled University Faces Mental Health Crisis.

I was more inclined to write this article especially after having met with an out-patient psychiatric nurse this week. I saw her because of a referral I received…last year (summer 2011). I completely forgot about the referral, and besides, by the time I went to see her, I believe that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist.

I had developed some coping skills, and new techniques to help me with my anxiety or stress. I can give thanks for the student development services (specifically, to a counselor who finished her placement with me and the new one I am now seeing). I also had to give myself some credit because this year was the year that I finally decided,

I have to be honest with myself and with who ever I decided to receive help from because if I wasn’t honest…I wouldn’t get the help I actually needed

I was honest, and I also decided that I would cut back on drinking and stop doing drugs. I started noticing a pattern–less drinking and no drugs meant less anxiety attacks, less nightmares, less depression-bouts, less interrupted sleeps. It’s not that everything all of a suddenly magically stopped all together, but I noticed I was significantly feeling better. I didn’t and sometimes don’t still feel perfect. I still have my insecurities. I still have my fears. I have my flashbacks…still. I still look over my shoulder when I am walking alone. Double check, if not triple check that my door is double locked before bed. Sure, some people may call me paranoid, but I know that’s my coping method. Albeit, not a good one, but it works.

I think that is the most frustrating part about trying to get care for mental health: everything looks okay by the time the referral comes, but really…the person may have just developed new coping methods.

My new coping methods aren’t the best but they certainly are better than doing drugs and drinking every day. Even when I tried to get help when I was still using, mental health care professionals would say to me “Why not try to quit drinking and quit doing drugs and then we can make an appointment, okay?” I just want to yell out, “Can’t you see, I am doing drugs and drinking because of these mental health problems!”

I was using, and it was my coping method.

The thing with this article that I read today was that it focused on lack of resources to meet the high demand for students at the University. The article mentioned in only one instance “substance abuse.” Even the words together don’t sound nice.

You don’t have to be abusing substances in order for them to be affecting your mental health. In fact, you don’t even have to be a repeated user in order for substances to affect your mental health. In fact, you can even die on the first time you use substances. (Yes alcohol is a substance, and yes you can die from drinking too much in one sitting and not just over time)

I think the issue with University culture and mental health issues is that the two fail to acknowledge that substance use or substance abuse or substance experimentation may either further aggravate mental health issues, create new mental health issues, allow old mental health issues to resurface and even hide mental health issues–in my case, it did all that. But if I were to be honest with you, I did use a lot and I used every day. I wasn’t in school then though. I don’t think anyone who did what I used to do could ever complete first year or any year of university, and if they are… well I guess that is their coping method.

Individuals go away to school, and sometimes they are trying certain aspects of life for the first time. Everything from living on their own for the first time, having sex for the first time, being single for the first time, maybe even being drunk or high for the first time. When it comes to university, there are three aspects to it:

  1. academics
  2. social
  3. personal

Academics deals with marks and going to class and even passing or failing. Social deals with the partying, relationships (friendship or more), etc. Personal deals with finding yourself or well, losing yourself (freshman 15 anyone?).

In the article above, it states that there needs to be more resources. Yes, I completely agree. But what also needs to be is more awareness and education, not just on mental health but perhaps things that might hid, might exacerbate, or might even create mental health issues. Yes, I am kind of biased when it comes to speaking about mental health and substance use/abuse, but I’ve been there. Nobody ever told me, drinking might be the cause or doing drugs might be making it worse, because drinking and doing drugs was my coping method.

I’d like to make a further point or connection. Earlier today, an LFpress article was posted titled Growing number of schoolgirls using painkillers.

The interesting thing about this article is highlighted a statement by an officer, and the officer statement reads:

“The schools aren’t doing enough to educate parents on the subject…Their kids are taking the pills right out of their medicine cabinets, out of their purses. They’re either using them, selling them, or in many cases both.”

And here is another article that highlights the issue of young people finding drugs in their parents’ drug cabinets. Dated 2007: Student use of painkillers on the rise.

How many years later and kids getting drugs out of their parents drug cabinets is still a problem? That’s four years.

In four years, I moved to London, earned a college degree, and was accepted into a university and even completed first year university.

I am not blaming parents for substance abuse or substance use problems, or for their own child’s mental health issues, what I am making more apparent is the fact that sometimes in the University culture and the University experience is that some young people may want to experiment with substance use (and like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be substance abuse; it can be even first time use) which can sometimes create, hide, or exacerbate mental health issues. Yes, as noted earlier, alcohol is considered a substance. Yes, under aged drinking happens on campus. And not that I have witnessed, but I smelt it, drug use happens also.

Parents should also be made aware or educated on how substance use can affect mental health issues. I know that universities give tours during summer months to groups of parents and their child(ren). I believe universities should also give a quick workshop on substance use and mental health issues, and how sometimes the two go together, and tell the parents straight up,

Just because you think your child is an angel and you believe that they won’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t mean that they won’t. So here is some information to make you as a parent more aware and more able to help your child cope.

And yes parents, your child isn’t perfect and just because he/she says he/she is, doesn’t mean they won’t put themselves in situations where substance use occurs and he/she just wants to try it for the “first” and “only” time.

Now, I am not even going to say that one should stay away from substances completely, but what I am saying and what I do believe that more awareness needs to brought out to Universities about the issues with partying and drinking and how it can affect your mental health, and not just your physical health.

Ever hear that one saying, “These are for the nights I can’t remember with the people I won’t forget.” (Or however that over used quote goes…).

Yes parents and universities, it is referring to black out drunk. But I don’t think its cute or funny to use that quote with pictures of an individual holding a 26er of vodka. University experiences should be made to be memorable, and not just by pictures or recall through friends telling you stories the day after. Not. Cute. But that’s just my opinion.

Drugs, Violence and Under-agers

I am writing this post neither for nor against strip clubs, but perhaps coming from a different perspective. Someone other than a by-law officer or perhaps a city councillor.

So the issue in this post: Strip clubs in London Ontario.

These bars are sometimes a women’s only source of income. Some of the women that work in them, do actually go to school and are really studying to become lawyers or doctors. Some of these women are also parents, who were left stranded by their baby-daddy and with the lovely social assistance that is available… They are left to turn to only the “sex-trade.” That’s the partial, harsh truth.

I don’t think that people should look to strip clubs as necessary bad for a city or region. **Enter Sarcasm** I mean the only patrons who do go in there are adults? Right? Oh wait, except for that one under-aged dancer… but don’t under-agers sneak into most bars anyways. I can walk downtown Richmond Street in London ON and witness girls dancing on stages at Jacks or at The Tap House or the classic JBRs. These stages also have poles. The girls wearing short skirts, almost next to nothing, and some even wearing close to no bottoms. The only difference, those girls are not getting paid. They just get drunk, get their picture taken, and oh look… their photo is on Facebook the next morning. Sucks to be you, JBR-bar-star-FB-Queen.

The strip clubs in this region are already highly targeted by the local police force. Why? Well, I am sure they must be looking for something or someone. Perhaps crime? Well, if you go looking for something you will find it. Anywhere.

With what has been said so far, you might be wondering now, I must be for keeping strip clubs around. Hmmm, I said earlier that I was neither for or against them.

I say that I am not for them because I do realize the exploitation that does happen within these bars. Pimping. Prostitution. Bad things do happen in these bars, but you know what bad things happen everywhere. By getting rid of strip clubs, you are not going to get rid of people wanting to do sexual things or “deviant behaviour.” People will always find ways to fulfill their desires. That is the reality. And banning such establishments may lead to “underground” sex trade which can be even more dangerous for women involved. Perhaps council should look at a more safer regulation of these places. Perhaps one suggestion I read in the UWO Gazette on January 25, 2011: Licensing for dancers. Read that article HERE. But this only includes regulation of the dancers. What about the rest of the players in the game?

Let me just close this post with this: This is a tricky subject. I will admit that much. The argument is always “Not in my backyard.” Well, whether it is visibly in your backyard or not, the sex trade is going to still exist. It has existed for years before and I doubt it is going to stop just because you send a few by-law officers and plain clothed detectives out to do some extra, heavy patrolling. Just remember, drugs, violence and under-agers (employees or not) may exist at any bar, strip club or not, and also remember that if you go looking for something–crime–you will find it.

To read the LFpress article, click HERE.