Thursday, June 21, 2012

Safe Homes, Part I: Why does a home for trafficking survivors need to be "safe"?

Amirah's vision is to establish "safe homes" for trafficking survivors.  Why is safety such a concern?  And how do we create a home that really is safe?  I'll address the first question here in Part 1, and the second next time in part 2. 

Conscience lost    
The problem of safety starts with men and women who have chosen to be pimps and traffickers and to live a life steeped in deception, intimidation, violence, greed and abuse, all for the sake of personal gain.  Somewhere along the way, they stopped caring for human life except their own; and this loss of conscience that somehow makes trafficking people OK in their minds also makes them just fine with taking aggressive action to locate and recapture the women who have escaped from them.

But why would pimps come after the women, rather than just letting them be?   
(1) Self-protection.  They’re on the wrong side of the law and don’t want the women speaking with authorities about them. The World Health Organization says about pimps and traffickers: “Because so many aspects of trafficking are criminally punishable (e.g. immigration violations, illegal labour conditions, underage, debt bondage, violence, kidnapping), individuals involved in trafficking do not want women to speak with outsiders.” (see link, p. 12)

(2) Power. Many pimps and traffickers are on a pathological power trip, and don't want to be "shown up".  They want to send a message the other women they're trafficking that bad things will happen if they try to escape, and don't want to allow the women any reason to hope for their freedom.    

(3) Greed.  Not only does each woman generate income that is lost if she escapes, but in many cases the pimp has set up an elaborate, unsatisfiable debt system that she is supposedly "paying off" and puts the pimp in control.  When a woman leaves, the pimp perceives this as a combined loss of resources and power, and may feel provoked to do whatever is necessary to regain both.   

If the pimp decides to pursue, there’s potential for violence
I just finished reading Somali Mam’s The Road of Lost Innocence, and in it she describes a situation in Cambodia where eight pimps who had been arrested were released and came to her safe house in Phnom Penh.  “At around noon...about thirty armed men smashed down the gates... Their ringleader hit the staff members and threatened to kill them.  The men forced all the girls they could find into cars or onto motorbikes that were waiting outside.” (p. 177)  

I recently heard from someone who works in a local emergency room about a situation in which they identified a woman as trafficked and enacted a safety plan.  The pimp was in the waiting room, and when he realized she wasn’t coming out, he began threatening harm to the hospital staff.  Armed security rushed to the scene and escorted him out.  

These examples give a glimpse into the type of responses pimps are capable of.  It's important to note that, so far, conversations with other agency and safe home leaders have indicated that they don't typically experience aggressive and violent interference from pimps or traffickers. But it does happen.  And because there's real potential, we need to establish "safe homes" that are as hard to find and invade as possible. 

Next time, in Part II, I'll look at some of the things we do to make our homes "safe".   

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