HuffPo feeds into the exploitation of prostituted women in Columbia

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I am going to try and keep this one short and sweet. We have all heard about the so-called “Secret Service Scandal” that played out last weekend and has dominated headlines and air-time on local news stations. I blogged about it when it initially broke.

But today, I was consuming my daily news via Twitter and came across a Huffington Post article titled, Secret Service Escort PICTURES? Photos Of ‘Dania’ Surface. 

Please tell me what these pictures bring to the story or what they have to do with ANYTHING. The pictures are of one of the alleged women who was brought back to a secret service agent’s hotel room. The pictures of her show her in a bikini, in a t-shirt, and in a blouse and jeans leaning over a chair. She is appears to be happy in that she is smiling. But why is this important? Because the Huffington Post is succumbing to the assertion that “sex sells” and feeding into what they believe to be society’s desperate need to know what at least one of these girls’ looks like. It’s utterly disgusting and awful journalism.

I complained in my initial blog post about how no news was giving attention to the social injustice of sexual exploitation or to the 20 or so women that were brought back to the hotel in Cartenga that night. I thought my complaints had been somewhat alleviated when I saw that the NY Times had written a story about one of the girls. But all that story did for me was paint the picture of a glamorous, safe, lucrative escort service for society to equate to prostitution in general. The story did nothing to discuss the dangers and harm that are so pervasive in sex tourism – which is so non-chalantly used to refer to this “scandal.” The glamorization of the sex industry portrayed by the media is a very dangerous illusion. The commercial sex industry is very linked to human trafficking, coercion, violence, and degrading behaviors against women, men, children, and transgender individuals. But not many journalists want to illustrate that connection to this “scandal” portrayed by the Secret Service.

Fortunately, there are honest and accurate journalists such as Kirsten Powers who wrote a very real and truthful depiction of the U.S. military fueling the commercial sex trade when overseas. Powers did not see a need to post pictures of one of the prostituted women. She saw no need to talk about the presumed security breach and threat of national security that this “scandal” led to. Instead, she reported on the reality.

This is not the first time U.S. government officials have purchased women for sex nor will it be the last so long as the media and the government fail to hold these men accountable. Powers really said it best…

Representatives of the U.S. government should be setting the standard for the world, not feeding the problem of sex trafficking. The chances that the women or girls the Secret Service agents procured for their pleasure were there by free will is very low. Most likely, they were sex slaves.

 

The club where the agents went to buy the women has been described as a dingy, windowless brick building. Sex trafficking survivors would tell you that what goes on in such dingy windowless buildings is nothing less than torture.

So shame on you HuffPo. Consider yourself another exploiter of women in the commercial sex trade.

 

 

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Youth’s understanding of violence against women

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People try to convince me all the time that we are growing out of a “masculine” culture and that “patriarchy” is just a feminist phenomenon used to blame men and attack male behavior and attitudes. When I point to advertisements, movie scenes, TV shows, and news articles that portray these characteristics, I am told I am over reacting. Am I? You tell me.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to go into a charter school on the south-side of Chicago and educate juniors and seniors about human trafficking, sexual exploitation, gender & relationships, and media portrayals of these topics. I will now add my experience yesterday to the list of examples that I try to convey to people who argue that us feminists are just cray-cray and that masculinity and patriarchy are not having that big of an impact on society. I learned so much from these youth yesterday.

I learned that we are doing a huge disservice to our youth.

When we put of a picture of Chris Brown and then this picture of Rhianna’s face after the abuse Imagea handful of the students laughed. I asked them why they laughed and I specifically asked if it is because the picture makes them feel uncomfortable. They adamantly said it was not because they felt uncomfortable but because it was funny that we were talking about domestic violence, sexual exploitation and harm, and gender & relationships and yet we chose this topic. They could not see the connection. They told us how Rhianna did something to deserve it — one girl said she gave Brown a STD — and that Brown’s face was also scratched up after the incident. These youth likely have witnessed domestic violence at some point in their lives and yet no one has stopped to explain the cycle of violence or that no one has a right to touch another persons body without permission. The victim blaming did not stop there.

We discussed the proposed piece of legislation in Chicago to tax strip-clubs in order to raise money for rape crisis centers in Chicago considering the city allots $0 to these services. Many of the students clung to the idea that she took the risk (of being harmed, violated, and or harassed) when she took the job as a stripper. Even after we tried to educate them on consent and what that means and how many women and girls are trafficked and end up working in strip clubs, they still could not let go of the idea that she took that risk so she deserves whatever she gets.

It saddened me that they were at the last stages of their adolescence and they had undeniably heard of the Chris Brown/Rhianna domestic abuse story, they likely have witnessed domestic violence, they have experienced and witnessed other forms of violence, they have watched countless movies and tv shows that portray violence against women, and they have sung along to numerous songs that degrade women and add to the rape culture that we are living in — and yet, no one had thought to discuss these things with them. No one had tried to stop the normalization of violence against women and no one had talked about the socialization of a man. It scares me to think what their attitudes and beliefs will lead to in terms of behavior. And this goes for the males as well as females, as the males were not the only students victim blaming and holding these beliefs. Indeed, males are more likely to commit acts of violence if they hold these beliefs and females are more likely to think they deserve it if they hold these beliefs. It is a recipe for disaster and an extremely disappointing state in which we are leaving our youth.

I cannot tell you how thankful and grateful I am that these students have an amazing soon-to-be Teach for America alum as their teacher. She requested that CAASE come in to educate her students. She sends her students home with articles about prostitution and sexual assault. She sees the need to debunk normalization of violence and to prevent men from being socialized in ways in which the media tell them they are supposed to exist. But change cannot happen with one teacher and one handful of students on the south side of Chicago. Everyone in a child’s life has to have these conversations with youth. I emphasize with because we must allow youth to feel as though they can hold their own opinions. We must engage youth to be a part of the conversation. I learned very quickly yesterday that we cannot talk at youth, we must talk with them.

Nothing says beauty like a tube up your nose

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I am not sure what is more disgusting (a) having a feeding tube inserted in your nose for 10 days (b) the fact that women, brides-to-be specifically, are seeking out this extremely invasive and expensive diet plan to shed a few pounds before finding their wedding dress.It’s real, I swear. The diet involves a carbohydrate-free “puree” fed through the tube, providing the woman with 800 calories a day. Just to put this into perspective for those of us who skipped out on the nutrition 101 elective in college — according to the Mayo Clinic, a woman that is 30 years old, 5’6″, 170lbs, and somewhat active needs 2,050 calories per day. On average, it is said that women need around 1,700-2,000 calories per day. Well OF COURSE these brides are losing weight fast.

It makes me really sad to read about this new diet plan being sought after by so many brides. The diet, despite being monitored by a doctor, is not healthy. It is not healthy nor safe to lose 20lbs in 10 days. Plus, many women are losing weight faster than that. And for what? So they can go to the bridal salon, stand up in front of their girlfriends, mother, and grandmother and feel… skinny. Really? That’s where our society has led us?

I’ve been playing this scenario in my head.It can go two ways.

Option A:

“Honey, I’m going to go on a diet so I can fit into my wedding dress.” – Bride-to-be

“Sweetheart, you do not need to go on a diet. You’re going to look beautiful” – Groom-to-be

“No. I am going on this diet. I do not feel comfortable in my body.” – Bride-to-be.

(Bride is going to go on diet regardless of how much groom tells her she does not need to)

Option B:

“Honey, I am going to go on a diet so that I can fit into my wedding dress.” – Bride-to-be

“That is probably a good idea.” – Groom-to-be

(Obviously this should be a huge red flag for the bride, but for simplicity, I had to keep it short)

Option A tells me that the bride feels so uncomfortable in her own body that despite her own soon to be husband telling her she is beautiful, she goes ahead with the $1,500 procedure and is on a feeding tube for 10 days. It tells me that she has been so inundated by pictures of “what a woman should look like” in the media that she cannot possibly slip into a wedding dress until she loses 20 lbs.

Option B tells me that well, obviously her husband to be is a jerk. But it tells me very similar things as option a. Her husband has been extremely influenced by the media’s portrayal of ‘beauty’ that he needs his bride to look like that on their wedding day. Despite the love and commitment he displayed in asking for her hand in marriage, that commitment is actually contingent upon her fitting the mold of beauty.

Who do I blame for this? Society. We openly welcome pictures, advertisements, movie characters, music videos, etc. to show tall, big-chested, flat-stomached (a popular trend on Twitter today was #flatstomachappreciationday — no, I could not make that up), tan, blue eyed, blonde hair, toned arms, legs, abs, and ass women. I would even go as far to say that it is expected. And this goes for both men and women. I will be the first to admit that Zac Efron and Justin Timberlake are two very attractive, easy-to-look-at celebrities, just as my boyfriend would gladly admit that Megan Fox and Jennifer Love Hewitt are attractive women. But my boyfriend looks nothing like Zac or Justin and dear lord, I look nothing like Megan or Jennifer. Yet we can still be in a loving, committed, non-judgmental relationship because we acknowledge that the looks of these celebrities are not the be-all-end-all of someone’s self-worth and value. They are not objective characteristics, they are socially constructed traits that society has taught us to find attractive. Yes, our attraction is rooted in social constructions.

I am an avid Pinterest geek, but I am so disappointed in the amount of pins on fitness, body toning, and weight loss. People are no longer working out to stay healthy and somewhat in shape. They are working out to mold their bodies in Barbie-esque figures because that is what they have been told they need to look like.

This is what the media and society are defining as beauty:

It worries me that these brides cannot see past the social construction of beauty and that their marriages feel as though they are depending on how well she fits into her wedding dress. It boggles my mind how doctors are applauding this treatment and welcoming women to participate. Well, it doesn’t completely boggle my mind. The procedure is extremely expensive and therefore the medical field is profiting greatly from this. But at what cost to society?

So brides-to-be: Stop basing your judgement of yourself off of what you read in People or UWeekly or what you see on television. That is crap. It is fake. It is socially constructed and it is no way to guide your health and your well-being. If you have a man that will not accept you until you stick a tube up your nose, you should be walking away from him, not down the isle toward him. If you have a man telling you not to do the diet because you are beautiful, you should be running down that isle. Listen to him. You are beautiful. Find your beauty in places outside of magazines and movie screens.

 

Secret Service Purchased Sex in Columbia, but who cares about the prostituted women.

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Eleven of Obama’s Secret Service personnel were put on administratively leave on Saturday after each bringing a prostituted woman back with them to their hotel rooms while on “duty” in Cartenga, Columbia for the President’s Summit of the Americas. The hotel policy requires that all guests of guests leave by 7am the following day. One woman was still in the room as of 7am. Hotel staff went to the room to ask her to leave. The Secret Service personnel would not open the door. The hotel called the police. According to the news story, the woman was not leaving because the Secret Service personnel would not pay her. He finally paid her and she left.

“It was resolved quickly, the woman said she wanted to get paid, the agent said he didn’t have to pay her but he paid. There was no crime, no one was arrested.” – U.S. Rep Peter King, R-NY said after being briefed on the investigation.

Because the Secret Service has a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct and because “it compromised the agents themselves, it compromised America’s national security and it can put the President at risk” (King), the agents were put on administrative leave until a full investigation could be carried out.

For starters, I am happy to see that the 11 agents were put on administrative leave and that an investigation is happening. But I will not be genuinely happy until I see if they are held accountable for their actions. Prostitution is legal in Columbia so long as it remains in “tolerance zones.” Therefore, they were not arrested because they were in the jurisdiction of Cartenga, Columbia. But the news stories are saying nothing about the 11 women that were prostituted by these agents. They are just reporting that “sex tourism” is prominent in cities such as Cartenga.

President Obama declared the entire month of January to be Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The U.S. produces the Trafficking in Persons report every year, which is described to be

…the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it.

The 2011 TIP Report stated the following about Columbia, a Tier 1 country.

Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States

The chances that a percentage, if not all, of these women that were purchased by the Secret Service agents are victims of human trafficking are extremely high. Yet no U.S. news story is mentioning this. Nor is the investigation that is being carried out claiming to be looking into the safety and well-being of these women. The United States MUST carry out their own standards whether they are on our soil or not. I hope to see this investigation unfold properly and I hope that these men are held accountable. If this does not strike a dialogue within the U.S. Government about human trafficking, mark it as yet another disappointment and failure of our country to uphold the standards and values about which we boast. Perhaps this blog piece should serve as an example of facts that journalists should pay attention to and report on.

Choice.

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I started interning at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) in October of last year with very limited knowledge about human trafficking and the commercial sex trade aside from the fact that it was a pervasive issue. Over the past six months, I have entrenched myself in the research about human trafficking and prostitution. I have learned that there is estimated to be anywhere from 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls in prostitution on any given day in any given year in Chicago. Chicago, my new “home” town. I also learned that the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old. I have learned a lot of other facts and realities about prostitution, but I think I learned my most valuable lesson last night.

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of listening to a survivor give her testimony at a writer’s workshop hosted by the Neighborhood Writing Alliance and co-sponsored by CAASE and the Voices and Faces Project. She began her story at 12 years old when her father became her pimp, her mother already a prostituted woman. She recounted the trauma, violence, and force that she experienced as a very young child. As she paused and closed her eyes, tilting her head to the ceiling, I knew she was re-living some of her worst traumatic experiences while in the life. She told us about the man she met whom she believed truly loved her. But he then would set up cab rides for her to run tricks and beat her when she got out of the car when she was finished. She told us how she had his child. She told us how a police officer picked her up one night and put her in the back of his cruiser without handcuffing her or saying a word. He drove her to a parking garage where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. He left her in that parking garage after she finished. She fought back tears as she recalled when she was kidnapped and beaten so badly that the men knocked her front tooth out and popped her left eye socket, putting her into a coma. She desperately tried to portray how tired she was of this life and how she needed to escape. This survivor spoke to an audience of 30 strangers and told her painful, traumatizing story last night.She confessed that her journey has been difficult since leaving the industry and that she has not eaten because she could not afford it and refused to “lie down” again and be violated by entitled men.

At the end of the event, the floor was open for questions for the panel, including the survivor. One woman, a self-identified sex worker, raised her hand and challenged CAASE’s End Demand Illinois Campaign. She expressed pro-sex worker beliefs and alluded to the fact that there are many women out there who have freely chosen to be a prostituted woman. You see, since I started at CAASE I have been asked, “well what about the women who choose to be in prostitution.” I give my answer as succinctly as possible in that I rebuttal with the question: “If the majority of women in prostitution entered at the very young age of 12 to 14 years old, how could they have chosen.” And then I often hear, “well what about women who enter as adults.” My answer has always been, “I do not know of any adult who would choose to be in a so-called ‘profession’ that is filled with physical and sexual violence as well as emotional and financial abuse.”Furthermore, a choice is only possible when someone has other options or alternatives. These women and girls who enter prostitution have very limited resources and opportunities. Most will tell you they had no other choice.

But last night, the “sex worker” that shared our table allegedly had not experienced violence while in the commercial sex trade. Because there are women who do not experience violence while being in prostitution, it is believed that they should be allowed to sell themselves for sex. Well, perhaps in a perfect world where a woman could sell herself for sex without any chance of violence, this would be a belief that could be entertained. But the reality is more similar to the survivor who gave her testimony than to the sex worker who was able to attend the event and voice her opinion. Furthermore, men who purchase sex from the sex worker may not have inflicted violence against her, but that does not mean they had never purchased sex and assaulted or abused the woman or girl. Further, that man is contributing to an industry that is extremely violent and controlling.

…when faced with these arguments, I tend to state the facts that justify my beliefs and accept that I will not agree with everyone and that I will most likely not change the beliefs of others all of the time. But I could not go home and forget about this after attending a WRITERS WORKSHOP. Anne Ream’s profound motto of her Voices and Faces Project echoed in my mind and convinced me I had to write this blog piece….

The enemy of change is silence.

Anti-Choice Feminists Compare Today’s Feminism to Girls Gone Wild. Confused? Me too.

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In case you did not know, I consider myself a feminist — yes, that big ol’ scary f-word. Don’t like that word? Well, I have a synonym for you: human rights activist. Don’t catch my drift? Check out my first blog post describing why I am writing this blog to begin with, then join me back here for what I hope to be an enlightening conversation about the current hoop-lah about those damn feminists.

Lila Rose, a prominent anti-choice activist who proclaims to have penned the term “anti-choice feminist,” wrote an article in Politico arguing that the anti-choice feminist voice has been missing from the conversation during recent events (i.e. the War on Women being waged by the Republican Party). Who are these so-called anti-choice feminists? Well, Rose states that they they are the women coming out of the woodwork supposedly and building an alleged majority who do not agree with the “anti-male feminism” from the 1960s and the “girls gone wild” mentality that is seen so often today.

I am offended by this Ms. Rose. Feminists do not hate males nor do have they ever had an anti-male mission of their movement. Feminists are for and always have been for equality, meaning, men and women should be treated and viewed as equal. Why would we desire to be equal to a part of our species that we hate? Moving on. “Girls gone wild.” Really? You’re comparing my feminist values of equality and justice to a film series from the late 1990s that involves a camera crew following attractive (in a socially constructed way) women during events such as spring break, Mardi Gras or while on vacation at a resort or out at a night club. The women in these films are often encouraged, by men, to expose their bodies and perform sexual activities to earn Girls Gone Wild paraphernalia. You see, when you are trying to oppose an argument or a movement, you probably shouldn’t insult them with analogies to the very concept(s) they are striving to change.

Oh, what’s that? You meant Girls Gone Wild in a increased “availability and use of cheap birth control coincides with increases in the rates of sex addiction, divorce, unmarried childbearing and abortion.” kind of way? Oh, okay. So women using birth control have caused divorce, children out of wedlock, and abortions? But I thought birth control prevents pregnancy 99% of the time? So come again how birth control leads to pregnancy and abortions? Right. It doesn’t. I don’t see the connection to divorce either. And sex addiction? Well that’s a little drastic, but yes, perhaps more women are having sex because they are at less risk of pregnancy. OH NO!

You also meant that women using contraceptives and seeking legal abortions are increasing the exploitative attitude of men toward women, didn’t you Ms. Rose? (See quote: “We have also noticed that while contraceptives and legal abortion promised to eliminate the exploitative attitude of men toward women, they have had the opposite effect.”) I must be some silly feminist to think these exploitative attitudes were stemming from patriarchy and power dynamics, gender inequality, and men feeling greater than women throughout history. Silly me.

What these two statements really tell me is that you reject women having sex unless it is within marriage and for the purpose of reproduction. Well, don’t shoot the messenger, but Ms. Rose, these are not anti-choice feminist beliefs, they are Catholic beliefs. They are deeply rooted in strict religious beliefs that are contingent upon values of family, marriage, and love. Family is a biological creation, it cannot be disputed. However, marriage and love are arguably two controversial social constructs, especially in relation to sex and raising a child. Don’t get me wrong, you’re perfectly entitled to these beliefs, albeit religious not “anti-choice feminist,” but what you are not entitled to is bashing an entire movement (feminism) and comparing it to an extremely misogynistic, sexist, objectifying film series for the sake of making yourself feel better about the slippery-slope arguments you attempted to make in your Politico article.

And one last thing, Ms. Rose. You blame birth control and abortions for the condition of our society today (high divorce rates, single-parents, children out of wedlock, etc). Yet you conclude with what I presume you find to be promising:

Studies show pregnancy, birth and abortion rates among young women have decreased lately.

And then…

According to the National Survey of Family Growth, abstinence among 15-to-24-year-old females has increased by nearly one-third, to 29 percent, over the past decade.

Let me see if I have this right:

…in a country with a current Democratic President that supports a woman’s right to choose and her reproductive rights as well as her right to take birth control if she so chooses and therefore maintains birth control and abortions to be legal, the rates of pregnancy among young women as well as abortions are decreasing. And girls haven’t actually gone wild because abstinent females are increasing, which therefore means less women are having sex and decreasing women on birth control. So really, birth control and abortion have nothing to do with the problems you claimed because your research shows both birth control use and abortions are decreasing yet divorce rates and having children out of wedlock are not decreasing and exploitative attitudes towards women by men have not changed.

No further questions. I rest my case.