Category: Blog

Blog updates from RJI Staff.

Annual 5K D.C. Stop Modern Slavery Walk

On October 23rd, the annual 5K D.C. Stop Modern Slavery Walk was held to once again raise awareness to the issue of human trafficking, to connect those interested in becoming abolitionists with anti-human trafficking organizations, and to allow supporters to raise money for what are continually underfunded efforts both here in the United States and abroad. Over 1,960 people participated in the walk to raise over $67,000 in donations. Richmond Justice Initiative volunteer, Mary Hampton Elam was one of the participants in this event. Thirteen different organizations participated in the walk, among numerous college students, and volunteers. Organizations such as Courtney’s House, Shared Hope International, Friends of Prajwala USA, The Protection Project, Challenging Heights, Bridge to Freedom foundation, and Global Centurion were just some of the organizations represented. Walkers were led by survivors of human trafficking, and encouraged along the way by music, cheers from the crowds, and chants such as, “What do we want??….FREEDOM!!” “When do we want it???….NOW!!!” It was truly a family event with parents pushing their babies in strollers, little children skippling along the route, and dog lovers walking their canines.

A rally was held at Constitution Gardens on the National Mall following the walk, where various advocates and sex slavery survivors spoke about human trafficking. A performance was also held by the Idan Raichel Trio. Activities awaited the walkers such as a resource fair and art exhibition. If you would like to know more about D.C. Stop Modern Slavery, check our their site at: https://www.stopmodernslavery.org. – Tina Nyczepir

Modern Day Slavery in Richmond

Like the ER Dr. who shocks the dead back to life, the panel of Law Enforcement and Faith Based Organizations shocked the community gathered at the Richmond Police Training Academy. The evening began with an announcement by Sara Pomeroy, founder of Richmond Justice Initiative, “Scheduled speaker, Special Agent James Melia of the FBI, will be unable to join tonight’s panel due to the rescue of two people suspected to be human trafficking victims, just hours before we gathered here tonight.” This stunning news meant we no longer had the privilege of thinking this was not a problem of industrialized nations. We had the horrific realization that this is happening in our own backyards.

The panel consisted of Josh Bailey of The Gray Haven Project, Major Steve Drew of the Richmond Police Department, Beth Bonniwell of the Henrico Police Department, and Sara Pomeroy – Richmond Justice Initiative. They held the audience captive as they taught us not only what human trafficking consists of but also of ways to combat it.

Faith Based Organizations such as Richmond Justice Initiative, and local organizations such as The Gray Haven Project, work together to integrate into the communites they love and live in – and affect change by using their creative talents, professions and passions to prevent the exploitations of the vulnerable. “Yes, we want to beat the crap out of all of those who buy humans in slavery. But, we remember, they were once innocent too. We go into communities and become a part of their lives. This is the key in establishing trust from people who have no reason to trust,” explained Josh Bailey.

The Police Departments are on the front lines of this horrific crime. Major Drew and Ms. Bonniwell assured us that the police departments use the law and education to catch the perpetrators. According to Ms. Bonniwell, “We can also use very creative tactics in order to deter perpetrators.” She cited an example of sending a notice to the home of a buyer in order to inform his family members of his despicable behavior.

The audience asked questions and provided their own insight into what is going on in their communities. We all agreed that the problem was a difficult one to solve and could only be accomplished with team work. The evening ended in a prayer led by Drexel Rayford, despite our religious diversity, he asked that we all close our eyes for a time of silence and unite together in prayer to overcome this atrocity. I prayed that God would rescue all of us from the suffocating grip of passivity so that we could motivate our community, moblize ourselves, and end the suffering of the innocent. – Ellen Andrusia

Sex + Money Documentary Touches Hearts

Friday, September 2nd was a rough day for me. As much as I love raising awareness about trafficking, some days its rough to think about the awful things in the world.  That Friday night was one of those days. I just wanted to crawl up on my couch and watch a mindless show on T.V.  With those thoughts in mind, I felt the need to take a little time by myself before the show to pray and focus my energy on what we were doing on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus that night.  The thing that is easy to forget in this fight against Human Trafficking, is that even though all the phone calls, emails, and meetings we have can at times seem mundane, at the end of the day we are taking a stand against evil and giving a voice to those that don’t have one. We also have the opportunity with each event to impart passion and knowledge to our audience.  That is by no means mundane, it is the catalyst to a movement that is changing the world….. With my new found outlook on the premier, I was excited and expectant to see what God would do! It was amazing to see how many students showed up on a Friday night to watch this documentary. Most Friday nights in college aren’t spent in this manner. But people continued to pack the small hallway of the theater as they took a minute to check out the merchandise and information on our tables.  As the movie started, I was impressed by how well done it was, the Sex and Money team did a phenomenal job portraying child trafficking in the U.S. It was bold and complex as they interviewed expert after expert in the field. They even gave a platform to protesters that felt prostitution should be legalized in our country.  One of my favorite parts of the film was near the end, where they discussed each of their personal takes on the issue after spending so much time entrenched in this dark world. It was helpful to see that even though we are all in the fight against injustice, each of us still has a different opinion about our approach. It was one of my favorite documentaries thus far!  The panel after the movie comprised of: Erin Kulpa from the Attorney General’s office, Major Drew from the Richmond Police Department, Delegate Watts and Sara Pomeroy founder of RJI, was extremely informative and the perfect way to wrap up the night. I walked into the Commons Theater that night feeling overwhelmed at the thought of sitting through another documentary. I walked out feeling hopeful that not only had we empowered the audience to get involved and do something, but we also helped give a voice to a child that will be rescued and have a place to go and receive real help.  Seventy-five percent of the proceeds from the film go to Streetlight, an aftercare facility in Phoenix AZ that helps breathe life into broken children. https://streetlightphx.com/  – Lea Whitehurst

Speaking Engagement at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

In what is to be the first of many such opportunities, Richmond Justice Initiative’s (RJI) Founder, Sara Pomeroy, held a lecture at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center on September 21st. The topic of her lecture: “A Look Beneath the Surface: The Role of Healthcare Providers in Identifying and Helping Victims of Human Trafficking”. Her goal was to primarily educate Emergency Room residents at the Medical Center on how to spot sex trafficking victims in their ERs, as well as elsewhere within the hospital.  The lecture was very well attended by medical students, Emergency Room residents, as well as by various Medical School faculty members.  Sara began her lecture with an introduction of how RJI began and a presentation overview. She then went on to explain such points as: understanding human trafficking; how victims are trafficked; who the victims of sex trafficking are; and understanding the mindset of a victim. Sara then went into depth discussing the Medical Assessment Tool  – what signs the physician needs to look for in identifying possible victims, and then the necessary response to take once a victim has been identified.  She also explained the importance of separating the victim from their handler for the purpose of questioning the patient further, in order to better assess their situation. What questions should and should not be asked of the patient were also stressed. In Sara’s final point, she discussed how to get the victims the help they need. The lecture was followed with a question and answer session, with many of those in attendance participating. Sara received a very well deserved round of applause at the end of the lecture. Sara stated, “I was so pleased with the response from the residents of shock, and genuine concern and care for these potential cases coming to their ER. They were asking many great questions with the intent to want to make sure they were doing everything according to protocol. I was blessed also with their gratitude and applause in the end, as well as for having this information! I am so excited to be invited back and am confident that this will result in rescue!” As a result of this speaking engagement, Sara was asked to be a part of the medical students’ regular “rotation”. According to some of the medical residents, such a request is a rare occurrence and only made if they felt the information was essential and informative. “I believe this brings us one step closer to fulfilling our mission by equipping these residents to not only identify victims of trafficking, but to place them in the hands of someone who can offer them rescue and services”, stated Sara.  – Tina Nyczepir

August Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking Meeting

The Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking Meeting was held in the Governor’s cabinet room during the month of August. The purpose of the meeting was to gather organizations throughout the state to form one voice as the abolishment movement for Virginia. Some of the attendees of this meeting included the Richmond Division of the FBI, Shared Hope International, the Office of the Attorney General, Courtney’s House, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Tahirih Justice Center, Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS), IJM Regent Chapter President, as well as Sara Pomeroy, Director and Founder of Richmond Justice Initiative. Ms. Kathy Cooper, State Refugee Coordinator for the DSS, presented. The main topic of her discussion was concerning the passing of the Victim Services Bill, and with its passing, how the responsibility of arranging services for victims of trafficking became that of the DSS. Other points of discussion during the meeting were also provided by Ms. Tina Frundt, Executive Director and Founder of Courtney’s House. Ms Frundt shared the recent sex trafficking trends in the state of Virginia. Shared Hope International provided an update on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Following this update, James Dold and Nicole Lebouf discussed the proposals to be presented during the 2012 Legislative Session. Some of the proposals are: 1.) to require all strip clubs to post the national human trafficking hotline; 2.)seize the assets of those convicted of human trafficking related offenses and use the funds to help the victims; 3.)to make sure that all of the sex-related human trafficking offenses are added to the registry; and 4.) increase the penalty for solicitation of a minor for prostitution. The meeting ended with an open discussion of what the Virginia abolishment movement hopes to accomplish and how this movement could be most effective.

In-district meetings with Senators’ Offices

Friends of the International Justice Mission attended in-district meetings on August 17th, with representatives from both Senator Warner’s and Senator Webb’s offices. We went with the purpose of seeking the support from both Senators for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), S.1301, and to encourage the Senators to facilitate the passage by the full Senate as quickly as possible. This landmark, bi-partisan legislation is set to expire by the end of September.

Our first visit was with Ms. Patrice Lewis, Outreach Representative for Senator Warner, followed by a later meeting with Ms. Louise Fontaine Ware, State Director for Senator Webb.  Both women were very attentive as we explained first, the magnitude of the sex trafficking issue not only worldwide, but in the United States, as well as here in our own state of Virginia. We then went on to discuss the importance of TVPRA in that it reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, originally passed in 2000. Certain amendments to the original Act were also highlighted. The Act would mandate greater collaboration in anti-trafficking strategy by the State Department regional bureaus and the overseas U.S. Embassies. “Child Protection Compacts” would be authorized for eligible countries so that they would receive additional U.S. assistance to end child trafficking. The Act would also offer increased protection for trafficking victims here in the United States. Additional points that were discussed were one, why U.S.  tax dollars should be allocated in the fight against modern-day slavery and  two, the importance of the Trafficking in Persons Office (TIP).

We ended our meetings encouraging each of the Senators to become a co-sponsor of the TVPRA.  Both offices expressed a genuine concern regarding the issue of sex trafficking, and that they would do what they could to support TVPRA.  – Tina Nyczepir

News from the Nefarious Screening

“God is highlighting the injustice of human trafficking in a pronounced way. I really believe that God is orchestrating a global awareness movement to draw people’s attention to this issue.  And one of the main reasons is so that we have begun to ask the question, “Why is this happening?””  Benjamin Nolot-President and Founder, Exodus Cry.

On July 24th, the Richmond Justice Initiative collaborated with Exodus Cry to present Nefarious at the Byrd Theater in Richmond. The evening included the movie screening and a local survivor’s story as well as commentary from Aaron of Exodus Cry and Sara Pomeroy, founder of the Richmond Justice Initiative.

The movie was shot in 19 different countries and 4 continents around the world and unveils the dark world of sex slavery in 30 different cities. Nefarious peers into the realm of where slaves are sold, where they work, and where they are held against their will.  Such evil happens not only in underdeveloped nations, but in prosperous ones as well.  This film presented viewers with first-hand interviews with real victims and traffickers while providing expert analysis from international humanitarian leaders.

The Byrd Theater was filled with hundreds of us who have been drawn by God asking “why?”  Our hearts were broken when Holly told us of her abduction.  Our minds were saturated with information and statistics from the film.  Our souls were lifted when survivors found restoration and yes, even joy, when they encountered the living God.

Before and after the film, we were photographed holding a bold statement in our hands:



Now, our question is “What can we do to end slavery?” One answer is to seek God’s direction in prayer.  I pray that God will send forth His Spirit to wake and rouse our allies and intercessors every day, rising up the full canopy of prayer and intercession to end slavery.

Another answer is to give generously, no.…. give until it hurts! – Ellen Andrusia

 

 

Cosmopolitan Features Human Trafficking and RJI

Cosmopolitan magazine featured an article on sex trafficking in their August issue, released in mid-July.  Thanks to Sara Pomeroy’s recommendation to the writer, my story was included along with two other women, Minh Dang and Carissa Phelps.  Minh and Carissa are both strong survivors and pioneers in the plight against human trafficking.  It was an honor to be featured with them. According to Wikipedia, Cosmopolitan magazine has “sixty-three international editions worldwide” and is “published in thirty-four languages with distribution in more than one hundred countries making Cosmopolitan the largest-selling young women’s magazine in the world.”  This article will certainly raise awareness to human trafficking in the United States and abroad.  A link to RJI’s website was included in the article and I’m excited to see what new opportunities this will bring!  Since this issue was released, I have been asked to speak at the University of Pennsylvania, and I was invited to sit on a panel of speakers at the Capitol in DC.  The panel will be speaking in a congressional hearing on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).  Sara and RJI volunteers, thanks so much for your support and fierce dedication to the anti-trafficking mission!    –Holly Smith

 

FACE Wraps Up for the Year

Monday, June 13, 2011 was the last Falcons Against Child Exploitation (FACE) monthly meeting at Fairfield Middle School for the school year. A human trafficking survivor was courageous enough to share her testimony with the students and several parents, which allowed the audience to further comprehend the depth of human trafficking and the consequences it has on victims from one perspective.

Overall, FACE has proven to be one of RJI’s most unique programs. It has given today’s youth a chance to educate themselves about modern slavery or human trafficking, and thus, inspire a generation to become abolitionists themselves. As many of you may know, the most targeted age group for traffickers to exploit is from 11 to 14. Therefore, implementing programs like FACE throughout middle schools, which students encompass the targeted age, is increasingly crucial.

I was blessed to be a leader in the FACE program this past school year. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with children and introduce dynamic learning tools to reach them such as inviting various speakers and showing constructive videos. In turn, the youth work equally as hard to spread their lessons about human trafficking to their schools and homes and brainstorm ideas on how to become even more involved this summer. We hope that the program empowers the children to believe that people can make a difference at any age. We are very proud of the kids involved this past semester and we look forward to expanding the program not only within the school, but to other schools as well.

-Kourtney H.

Human Trafficking Central Virginia Working Group meets with FBI, Police, and Homeland Security

On May 6th, 2011, the Human Trafficking of Central Virginia Working Group met with the FBI, police, and Homeland Security at the Richmond FBI field office.  Main speakers included Stuart Petro from the State Crime Commission, Erin Kulpa from the Attorney General’s Office, Peggy Roberts from Homeland Security, and Brian Hood, a civil rights investigator.

Stuart Petro reported the results of his research on the human trafficking issue in Virginia.

Erin Kulpa conducted a thorough analysis of current Virginia anti-trafficking laws, including § 18.2- 47(B) Abduction for Forced Labor, § 18.2-59 Extortion, § 18.2-356 Receiving money for procuring person, § 18.2-48 Abduction, § 18.2-346(B) Solicitation of prostitution, § 18.2-347 Keeping, residing in or frequenting a bawdy place (brothel), § 18.2-348 Aiding prostitution, § 18.2-349 Using vehicles to promote prostitution, § 18.2-355 Taking person for prostitution , or consenting thereto, § 18.2-356 Receiving money for procuring person, § 18.2-357 Receiving money from earnings of prostitute, § 18.2-374.1 Production of child pornography, and others.  Ms. Kulpa reminded those in attendance that while none of these laws use the words “human trafficking,” they are all useful tools in arresting and prosecuting human traffickers.

Peggy Roberts spoke about human trafficking from an illegal immigration vantage point.  She explained the differences between the S, T, and U visas, which could be used to help victims of trafficking.  She also shared a couple personal stories regarding forced labor that she has seen while on the job.

Brian Hood covered many court cases that have helped define the issue of human trafficking, some of which he had worked on.  Some of the cases included: U.S. v. Sabhanin, U.S. v. Farrell, U.S. v. Ubeozor, U.S. v. Afolabi, and a RICO case U.S. v. Askarkhodjaev.

The meeting was closed by the FBI and plans are in the works for the next Working Group meeting.