Derri Smith

Slacktivism or Activism?

Slacktivism blog post

by Derri Smith 

I learned a new word at a recent meeting for an issue that’s troubled me for some time: Slacktivism. Through experience and observation, I find many organizations, faith communities and individuals who earn the label. They love to “like” pages, be a fan, display a badge or widget, sign petitions and attend glitzy shows, usually with big name celebrities and shocking stories and images about human trafficking. Ardent slacktivists announce on social media that they will meet a real need, but privately don’t follow through. 

Slacktivism helps us feel good, look cool and be seen. The nonprofit community provides many prime opportunities for slacktivists. But, in the human trafficking field, the real-life outcome of slacktivism often hurts survivors and impedes the work of those engaged day-to-day and year-to-year in real, tangible efforts. Here is what I’ve seen and grieved over:

  • Slacktivist events and activities are like inoculations, simulating the feeling of really doing something to bring about systemic change or to aid survivors in a positive way. 
  • Slacktivist promotions divert attention and funds—often HUGE amounts of funds—away from actual, ground level, substantive work. Those media grabbing props are expensive! 
  • Slacktivist marketing schemes paint an inaccurate portrait of the issue. Disheveled girls in cages, behind bars and/or in chains do not reflect the reality of most victims. The vast majority are girls whose abuse and trauma prior to trafficking makes them vulnerable to the dream they are then sold by traffickers. They are trapped by psychological bonds stronger than any bars. Traffickers are master manipulators who in perverse ways meet a victim’s physical and emotional needs to keep them enslaved without need of handcuffs. The trafficked girls I’ve seen wear jeans and T-shirts and look like the girl next door. 
  • Slacktivist media disrespects trafficking survivors, prodding them to tell titillating stories. The exercise in voyeurism betrays a lack of real concern and compassion or, at least, understanding. And jarring images can be traumatic to the survivors inundated with them. One survivor, still in school, was deeply wounded hearing classmates gush with misguided passion about the trafficking they learned about at a slacktivist event, making trafficking seem exciting, glamorous and sexy.

Slacktivism requires little of us, whereas substantive ground-level work requires sacrifice of time and resources. Instant feel-good moments are rare for activists; but there is profound satisfaction in small victories, and great value in a staunch determination to stay on course to help survivors over the long haul. The “recovering slacktivist” wrestles with drama and disappointment in pursuit of a survivor’s best good. Activists stay humble, realizing that we are messy people trying to help messy people—not adrenaline charged slacktivists making symbolic statements for the sake of “those slaves.” Really caring means holding back on tweets, Facebook statuses or Instagrams when it might put the survivor’s safety and privacy at risk.

Recovering from slacktivism will likely mean facing unpleasant truths about self and trading the concept of “saving those people” for either walking humbly and wisely beside the survivor or supporting those who do. Slacktivist recovery is a great program for learning from those in the trenches—both survivors and those who daily give them care.

Slacktivists are mostly well-meaning people, and they are numerous, whereas activists are rare. They’re people willing to roll up sleeves and do the hard work of love, support, being there through failures and successes over the long haul and making sacrifices. When a few slacktivists become activists, the dynamics change in favor of survivors. 

Which path will you choose?

 

 

P.S.  Don’t get me wrong; sharing , “liking” and widgets certainly have their place. Let’s just not stop there. Ok?

Are You a Faith-Based Organization?

love in deed

by Derri Smith

“Are you a faith-based organization?” The question comes from many corners. End Slavery Tennessee’s approach to faith-based is not what many people expect.

We who lead End Slavery Tennessee are people who have faith in and a commitment to Christ.

Yet, some survivors of human trafficking tell me their horrific experiences with “Christianity.” I hear, “Yea, this guy who raped me had Bible verses tattooed on his back,” or “This preacher—he only wanted the really young ones.” And more. And worse.

Our approach to this work may not seem “Christian enough” to some. But pushing tracts and Bible studies on survivors and using churchy vocabulary is frequently like pouring vinegar on their wounds. Therefore, our general practice is to not even mention that we are believers, until asked.

These girls and women lived transactional lives. Their traffickers told them, “If you do this, I’ll feed you…If you don’t do that, Ill beat you.” So we avoid any semblance of reward-and-punishment transactions, especially where faith is concerned. Transaction-based care tells the survivor, “Act like you like Jesus and we’ll do stuff for you.” No, we’re not going there.

So what does it mean to be faith-based in this work? It means we love others, with respect, without judgment or shock and without expectation. It means we stand as equals before the cross, grateful for mercy and ready to extend it. It means when someone falls down, we’re there to help them get back up. Our faith motivates us to offer excellent professional services; to go the second - and third-  mile; to always seek the survivors’- and each other’s- best interests.

A survivor we served for several years told me, “I didn’t know there were people who could care about me without expecting anything in return. I didn’t know I had options. You saved my life.” Hearing these words gives me great satisfaction that we are fulfilling our mission in the right way.

Do some of those we serve come to faith? Absolutely. If someone asks about our motivations, do we share them in a respectful way that does not seek to shame, cajole or manipulate?  Sure. Our mission is about creating a community of support; a place to heal; to be God’s hands and feet, loving the people He created.

In the final analysis, “faith-based” is not so much what we say or do as who we are. 

Girls Are Not for Sale

by Shelbe Gibson (originally posted January 13, 2013 at TreveccaLive.com) This semester I am interning at End Slavery TN which is a non-profit organization that actually has an office right here on campus. End Slavery TN has a mission that I believe in very deeply. They work to provide victims and their advocates a single point of contact to services and service providers that can restore victims to wholeness in all aspects—spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. So, End Slavery really is attacking the issue from all angles; working with the survivors, but also striving to make much needed policy changes, as they continue bringing awareness of this issue to local communities.

I feel the need to fight for justice for these young girls because I don’t think that most people even understand what the issue is. How can it be solved if the average person has the wrong idea of what human trafficking looks like? We have all heard about human trafficking from an international standpoint. We know about the impoverished foreign girls who are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, and a good chunk of us have seen the movie Taken. But, human trafficking in America is very different from those pictures. And, unfortunately, escape and healing isn't as simple as it is in the movies—if only Liam Neeson was every girl’s father. In America, the words human trafficking are too often swapped with prostitution. It’s easy to have compassion towards a helpless foreign girl lost in America, but I have seen how quickly attitudes switch from compassion to almost disgust when a girl is seen as a prostitute. Prostitutes are there by choice, right? Wrong.

The truth is that a majority of prostitutes are NOT being paid for sex by their own personal choice—actually; they aren't being paid at all. The girls, who are many times under 18, are forced to hand over all of their earnings to their pimps. The pimps, aka traffickers, control every aspect of these young girls’ lives. With the average prostitute starting between the ages of 12 and 14, it’s super easy for the older men to manipulate and brainwash these innocent children. They are beaten, starved, humiliated and sold over and over. Eighty percent of child runaways will be exploited by a pimp, and this usually occurs within the first 48 hours after they leave home. Without exposing these ugly truths of the $32 billion a year sex industry in the US, how will we ever stop them? It’s time to stop glamorizing words like “pimps and pimping,” and it’s never okay to call a female a “whore, slut, or any other derogatory term.” Those are simple things we can and should do to alter this culture of wrongful sex.

It’s so important to care and love the victims of sex trafficking around the world, but it’s an injustice to ignore the ones living in our own backyards. The justice system in America cannot treat these sexually exploited children FORCED into prostitution as criminals as it often does. They are victims (more like survivors!!), and should be treated as such. These innocent babies are often times not even old enough to legally consent to sex, but can be thrown in jail for being paid for it. These contradictory laws need to be seen as such and then changed. Girls are not for sale. They deserve services, not sentences. John 3:18 says “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

End Slavery TN is a beautiful light in the dark world of human trafficking. They can only function with volunteer help, though! I encourage anyone who feels called to get involved without any delay. The organization can definitely utilize your goals and passions to fit into ESTN. Executive Director Derri Smith was so welcoming and great to me—intertwining my interests and talents into an awesome way to serve these wonderful ladies! To get on board with ESTN, visitwww.endslaverytn.org, “like” the Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, or feel free to contact me with anything at all!

For a more up close and personal look into today’s sex industry & the trafficking that takes place, I highly recommend Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us.

So What Is It You Do, Anyway?

When people think of anti-human trafficking work, they typically think of rescue and shelters. Rescues are exciting and shelters are needed and everyone easily understands why they are essential. But neither really does anything about ending slavery. If a victim is rescued, a trafficker brings in two more. And shelters are for after the fact. They are needed, like emergency medical workers are needed in an epidemic. But at some point, we need to cure the illness itself as well as identify those who have it; or leaving our analogy behind, to address the systemic causes that allow slavery to flourish, as well as identify victims so they CAN be rescued and restored. And that’s just what we at End Slavery do. Here’s an overview of our current and "in the works" initiatives:

  • IDENTIFY THE VICTIMS:  Distribution of posters, bookmarks, bumper stickers and other materials that help people identify victims/ web page with victim ID red flags

Community Watch type programs to enable neighbors to spot trafficking in their own neighborhood. Speaking to community groups. Fielding calls, e-mail, and Facebook messages and advising community members who suspect trafficking and are unsure what to do about it.

  • PROTECT OUR YOUTH: Presentation and materials for schools, inner city and immigrant service providers and other youth venues, warning youth, and those who care for them, of the tactics of traffickers.

Teen oriented web site warning of trafficking tactics with ways to share info easily with friends and to report, anonymously if desired, what is happening within peer group.

  • OPEN PROFESSIONAL’S EYES:  Training for professions likely to make first contact with victims (teachers, pastors, medical workers, social workers, legislators, apt. managers, maintenance workers etc.) 
  • SUPPORT THE SURVIVORS: We work with the FBI to provide help as needed for rescued victims and we hold events and home parties to increase venues for sale of goods made by rescued victims.
  • SLOW THE DEMAND: We teach at each session of the local John school (a school for men arrested for soliciting prostitutes), educating the attendees on how their choices feed human trafficking and slavery. Other initiatives are currently under consideration such as billboards, ads, flyers and/or other media targeted to the people buying the slave’s services or goods
  • LOOK TO THE FUTURE:  We teach in numerous college classes each semester so the next generation, the leaders of tomorrow, will not be ignorant of human trafficking and modern slavery.

We hold regular events on college campuses, spreading awareness and encouraging/equipping student involvement in ending slavery while they are still in school.

We have interns each semester who learn deeply about the issue and ways to work to end it.  In every case thus far, students continue to work with us after their internship is over and make career choices focused on ending slavery/aiding victims.

  • EDUCATE:    Through a monthly newsletter, blog, twitter, Facebook cause, and regular speaking engagements. This not only leads to victim identification, it is our belief that we can create a groundswell of outrage that will affect change makers in the media, legislators etc.
  • REPLICATE:  We were instrumental in connecting people who started a coalition in Knoxville and an anti-slavery group in Memphis and look to spreading anti-slavery work throughout Tennessee. We also train churches, and other groups, in Tennessee and other parts of the country, how to engage in ending slavery in their own communities.

This is a grassroots movement using ordinary people in all walks of life. We have two monthly volunteer groups, one in Nashville and one in Franklin. These groups further educate themselves on the issue and break into action groups focusing on various initiatives.

Additional notes:

In March 2010, an organization working among oppressed people in over 60 countries, asked End Slavery in Tennessee’s Director, Derri Smith, to help them establish teams around the world focused specifically on slavery and human trafficking. While taking on that non-paid director’s position with International Teams (ITeams), she remains committed to the work in Tennessee, as well. In fact, she is working on establishing ITeams’ first full-time domestic anti-slavery team in Nashville, which will serve as a training base for other teams in the US and around the world.

  • Derri is also currently engaged in starting/ expanding/considering anti-slavery teams in Uganda, Brazil, Thailand, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Australia, Cambodia, India and Russia.

Wanna Save Some Kids from Hell on Earth?

It’s a whole lot better to actually prevent someone from being trafficked than it is to rescue them after the fact, and it’s one of the most effective ways we can work in our communities.

Let’s think about the ways people get trafficked and what types of preventative measures might be useful.

In the case of sex slavery, sometimes girls* are recruited by a cute boy who acts like he has a romantic interest in them, a man who serves as a father figure, a girl who acts like a girlfriend or a woman who seems safe.  Did you see the movie Taken?  Remember the boy at the airport who shared a taxi cab with the two girls when they arrived from America for a European holiday?  That boy was a recruiter. 

 There are cases in which a “girlfriend” invited the victim to her home for a sleepover, then the man who was allegedly her father (but really wasn’t) popped a drug into her drink.  She wakes to find herself being raped by a succession of men. 

Often kids from abusive homes are befriended by a charmer who poses as a boyfriend.  He “loves” this girl and makes her feel special.  Over time, he says that if she loves him, she will sell herself for sex to make the money they need to buy a house and live happily ever after.  He becomes increasingly violent.  He follows tried and true methods for breaking a girl into sex slavery.  (There’s actually a manual to tell him how.  For real.) 

What if these young people—and their parents and teachers—had seen a presentation in school about the tactics and dangers of traffickers?  If we simply opened some naïve eyes, how much heartache might be avoided?

My dream is to create a presentation to do just that, and bring it to schools, youth clubs, inner city and immigrant service providers and the like.  It would take so little, to do so much good.

This project is very do-able, very affordable, and can be very effective.  Like the idea of a slave-free community?  Me too. Let’s make it happen! 

Here‘s what you can do:

  • Act in a short drama portraying the tactics of traffickers
  • Direct this drama or write the script.
  • Use your musical skills to write and/or perform a song that will stay in kids’ minds after the presentation, causing them to think twice if they encounter red flags.
  • Once polished, video the presentation so we can distribute it more broadly.
  • Take leadership. Organize and oversee this project.
  • Donate toward the cause, to "work of Derri Smith for prevention."

Contact us here

* Boys and men are trafficked too.  Because 80% of victims are female, I choose to use the feminine nouns and pronouns for victims.

Adventures in Turkey – Part 3

 

The adventure continued on the way home. We made our way through the tangles of multinational, multilingual lines at the airport: customs, passport control, and airline ticketing, arriving at our gate, where we chatted a bit with the German nationals awaiting the flight back to Munich. Without aid of a microphone, a Lufthansa Airlines crew member relayed news to people within earshot. As word trickled out through the crowd, we first learned that our flight was delayed two hours, and finally that it was cancelled due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

Then ensued hours of confusion and lines to retrieve luggage, re-navigate outbound passport controls that were not really set up for entry back into the country, obtain rebooking for the next flight and, finally, transport to a nice hotel for the night. By the next day, we were Turkish airport experts, as we maneuvered through the circuit to the departure gate, alongside our new German friends. It was like déjà vu, up to and including news of another flight delay. But we were eventually airborne across the Aegean Sea and on to Europe, albeit by a somewhat circuitous route to avoid the dust cloud.

In Munich, we stumbled into the hotel and grabbed a few hours sleep before the next leg of the journey.  Then, fortified by a lovely German style breakfast, we made our way back to the airport, through multiple stringent security screenings (including added precautions for U.S. bound travelers). I received eight body searches on this trip, thanks to my insulin pump. Good thing I’m not too ticklish, as screeners are not generally in the mood for laughter. Finally, secured and restricted into the Munich airport gate area, we had plenty of opportunity to ponder the blessings of the week through a four-hour departure delay–again the work of the that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland.

The next day’s flight from Munich to Washington took an unusual route north of Iceland to avoid the ash cloud stretching southward along the eastern Atlantic. Bone tired, jet lagged and very ready to be home, God provided refreshment late in the flight through connection with one of His people–an American living in Turkey who pastors Turkish Christians. This man has a heart for helping the victims of human trafficking, which he says is a HUGE problem in Turkey.

A final twist in the journey…my luggage was checked through from Turkey to the U.S., so for days I'd been wearing the same thin T-shirt dress and sandals, and was decidedly "ripe." I looked forward to grabbing fresh clothes and my walking shoes at a chilly and rainy Dulles airport before the final flight to Nashville. It was not to be. My suitcase, last seen in the airport in Turkey and containing gifts and my best clothing, did not arrive for inbound customs check. In fact, it did not even show up in the airline computers. Bill theorizes that the suitcase and contents are now on offer somewhere at a Turkish bazaar.

We left for home mid-day on a Sunday, arrived back home in the wee hours of Wednesday morning  and fell asleep so quickly I don't even recall my head hitting the pillow.

But the adventure isn't over. It is just beginning! We now have invitations to visit workers all over the globe and an opening to develop and support the work to end slavery. International Teams is perfectly positioned–as now are we–to engage the battle in long-lasting, effective ways through people who give their lives for the purposes expressed in the book of Isaiah, “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Adventures in Turkey - Part 2

The conference we attended was a wonderful collection of Jesus followers; leaders of various callings from around the world. The sessions where I spoke on human trafficking and slavery went well, I think, but I learned so much from the folks I met with throughout the week; people who work among the oppressed and hence those most vulnerable to the injustices I spoke about. I am a generalist; these on-the-ground people are the front line specialists I hope to support and serve. Among those I got to know were:

  • A family in Uganda actively helping child soldiers and encountering other types of slavery.
  • A woman in Honduras wanting to bring  sexual abuse into the light, in a culture where such things are simply not spoken of.
  • A couple in the USA with the desire to bring healing to Nepalese refugees who have been victims of sex trafficking.
  • A family in Russia who see many forms of labor slavery, including a virtual concentration camp for deceived/abducted Turkish men, and who want to develop a multi-faceted plan to help these victims.
  • Multiple people in closed countries, courageously reaching out to provide shelter and jobs for survivors of sex slavery.
  • A godly Dutch woman with a heart for prostituted women and children, and changing life circumstances that allow her more time to pursue this direction.
  • A family with a vision for working in rural villages in Thailand to prevent trafficking among these isolated and vulnerable people.
  • A woman who has given ten years of her life, enduring through many challenges and disappointments, to reach out with God's love to those trapped in prostitution in Greece, including trafficked Nigerian women. 
  •  A family in Bulgaria laying a foundation for aiding  trafficking victims among the Romani people (Gypsies) they live in community with.

Note: For security reasons I can’t include photos from the conference; we have many workers in closed countries. The woman with me in the photo above is Julie, my awesome, dedicated, hard-working, intelligent team-mate.

To be continued

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