Facebook, FISA, and the End of Privacy

Excellent report by the Corbett Report–full of twists and turns, come-uppins and Alanis Morissette-irony, slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.

But, for serious, watch Mark Zuckerburg get schooled on privacy, and learn about what your government is doing while you’re busy living life, in a holiday frenzy, doing laundry, taking care of your kids, on facebook, reading email…(Hint: you’re not the only one reading your email.)

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A New Dawn For the Worlds Oldest Profession–And Some Words on Sex Trafficking in America

Most people are unaware the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. I was shocked to learn.

I recently attended a movie screening of Very Young Girls, hosted by the Philadelphia Anti Trafficking Coalition. It was an eye-opening glimpse into a very overlooked problem of sex trafficking of minors in the United States.

The documentary centered around a prostitution recovery house, GEMS (Girls Education & Mentoring Services) in NYC, the first of its kind, and the struggles of about a half-dozen girls to get out of the Life.  In one heartbreaking scene, Rachel Lloyd, the founder, is counseling a group of girls; one points out that her pimp will always be there for her. “But be there to do what?” It doesn’t matter. The simple security of having someone never leave them is enough to withstand all the abuse.

One of the most compelling aspects of the film is just how hard it is for these girls to escape the profession once they are in. Pimps become their father, boyfriend, drug dealer, and captor all at once. Many fall in love with their pimp, and not knowing another kind of love, fervently hold on to this relationship regardless of all the abuse. As Rachel Lloyd points out in the film, these are extremely difficult bonds to break. Here’s what one victim has to say:

“Most people don’t understand why we stay with a pimp. Many of us have been exploited by our peers, society, and often by the people that we trust. When we’re the most vulnerable, pimps attack, promising us stability, a family life, a future. They reel us in. He becomes our father, and our boyfriend, until we see what he really wants. Then he intimidates us and reminds us constantly about the consequences if we leave. Most tell us that they’ll find and kill us, no matter where we go. We’re afraid of being afraid. Resources are limited and many of us do not see a way out.”

Getting away from the pimp is just the beginning of their journey. These women then have to deal with recreating their identity, both literally and figuratively. One of the techniques used by pimps to keep their girls under control is to confiscate identifying documents–license, birth certificate, green card, etc. Another is getting them hooked on drugs they supply. Further, the girls are homeless debt slaves. Regardless of how much money they earn they don’t own any of it. Basic needs like housing, clothing, and food are arranged as long as they stay with their pimp, which could be more than they were getting at home. And if they are to escape, how can they start over with no money, no ID, and no place to go?

Prostitution is no stranger to the courts. For centuries, those who perform an act sought by paupers and kings alike have been vilified, regardless of their motivation, and despite lenient laws and societal views against those seeking sex.  Shockingly the prostitute is punished far worse and more frequently than the “John” who may get a slap on the wrist if anything. For those that are forced into prostitution as slaves, this is an especially bitter pill to swallow. As pointed out in the documentary  in any other circumstance an underage girl wouldn’t be recognized as able to consent to sex, however, they’re being charged with the adult crime of prostitution. It is unlikely that a John would be charged with statutory rape, if charged at all. With respect to trafficking, there are some legal protections in place for illegal immigrants, but our own most vulnerable end up behind bars and back on the streets. New York recently passed safe harbor legislation for those charged with prostitution that are underaged, but other state and federal law has been slow to follow suit.

But a new dawn is breaking for those who want to get out of “the Life.” The pendulum of Justice is swinging from retribution to rehabilitation in Philadelphia for some sex workers. Instead of fines, jail, or drug rehab, some women have the chance to recover from a dangerous lifestyle, and reenter society.

Philadelphia started the “Project Dawn Initiative” in 2010, the first court of its kind. It consists of a specialized court with a designated judge that places individuals charged with repeat prostitution offenses in a recovery program, with the chance to expunge their records. The aim is recovery and a decrease in recidivism. The program is voluntary and must be applied for. It consists of four phases, two in a recovery house and two at home, intense therapy both for substances and trauma, and monthly updates with the judge. If completed without any relapses the program takes a year to complete. If the woman relapses or otherwise doesn’t comply with the program’s requirements she may be required to complete a task like write an essay or sit in a jury box to watch prostitution cases, and she must start her phase over. At the judge’s discretion a woman can “fail” the program and be sent to jail. If she is successful, their last case is dismissed with prejudice and she “graduates” into society. Read more about the program in a very excellent article here.

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Hear from a participant of Project Dawn

In 2010 Project Dawn accepted 28 women, and claims a 70% success rate. It recently received a $250,000 federal grant. In Philadelphia alone, it’s reported that about 800 women per year (and 200 Johns) are arrested.

The Philadelphia Anti Trafficking Coalition is working to improve legislation for victims. I urge you to contact your representatives to educate them about the extent of the problem of trafficking, and tell them to support this legislation. You can find out who your congress people are here, and contact PATC for more info.

If you or someone you know is struggling as a victim of sex trafficking, or if you have any information about a victim, there is a hotline to call. 1-888-3737-888.

When Fear Begins

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I am blessed with a five month old son. I am also fortunate to have a 22″ deep soaking tub. This is an Olympic sized pool for an infant. When Son was first born we would get in the bath together. I would clean him and he would float around in my arms, and seemed completely unphased by the experience, even cozy. I held him on his back and he would float in the water with my support. Eventually as he was able to hold up his head, I’d hold him under his chest and he’d kick his feet as I sailed him around the tub. He’d chase down the “temperature turtle” water thermometer this way, and immediately put it in his mouth, as is the fate of anything he can get his hands on at this point in his life. Recently he’s discovered the joy of splashing.

The discovery of splashing has been part and parcel of his discovery of the world around him. Within the last month it’s like a switch was flipped, and he is engaging in everything he can see, touch, taste, hear and otherwise experience. He watches the cats walk by and tries to grab them (and put them in his mouth). He grabs for his toys (and puts them in his mouth). He found his toes (and..you know.) He’s also trying out all sorts of new noises.

I noticed today however, something I’ve had a growing suspicion of. It was much more pronounced today. He’s developing fear along side curiosity. He is now very anxious about floating on his back, despite the support. He held his head above the water as much as he could, scrunching his little ab muscles and clenching his tiny fists. He furrowed his brow and closed up his eyes and mouth. Sure, he’d gotten water on his face in the past, but it was never more than a splash–there were no tears, and in fact he’d laugh if he ended up sneezing. He had felt so comfortable and confident that he was almost floating on his own.

As his sense of “me” versus “not me” develops, his external expansion into the environment is hand in hand with an internal contraction, even without provocation. I’m surprised by this development because I assumed that if he was comfortable then, he would be comfortable now. There has been no negative experience to change his mind. Exposure was experience, and it had been all positive. Yet he developed a fear of something he had been doing regularly since he was born.

It really is a fascinating window into how the imaginary prisons we build for ourselves can develop. I found myself reassuring him, “Relax! The more uptight and anxious you are about it, the harder it will be to float!” Five months old and he’s already teaching momma by example. With lots of smiles and support he did calm down…but still not to the point he was as a newborn. Perhaps this will pass as he learns to trust himself. His momma certainly has his back on this one 🙂

Schools Take a “No Huggin’, No Learnin’ ” Approach

We’re on our way to the place where “all restaurants are Taco Bell.” Schools across the country have been taking a stand against a dangerous activity: Hugs. Gone are the days of the displays of friendly affection and camaraderie. And good riddance.

Justifications seem generally to focus on the slippery slope from hugging to violence or “inappropriate touching,” but at least one school has also cited punctuality to class as a reason for the rule. Personally, I have a bizarre memory of a classmate acting out the SNL Spartan skit, “My name is Craig. I give good hugs. You’re not my friend if you do drugs!” He’d then give you a big hug. I remember him doing this mostly in the school cafeteria during lunch hour… geeze, that was a really disruptive and dangerous time–I’m sure glad my child won’t grow up in a world where that’s okay.

Schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina…the list goes on…have been making our children safer by designating their place of learnin’ as a Hug Free School Zone. And the U.S. is not alone, the folks Down Under are getting in on the action, er…not allowing the action…er…

The kids interviewed in these articles are generally caught by surprise, not realizing their sign of affection is a disciplinary offense. Occasionally they’re indignant that such a behavior would be punished, when so many other activities are allowed. Some have gone so far as protesting via “Hug In,” but to no avail.

One commenter on an article I read summed the issue up well. I’ll leave you with her words:

We live in a world where children feel so friendless and alone they take their own lives, feel ostracized enough to take the lives of others and bullied to the point they feel anguished and depressed at the thought of attending school. No one has found a definitive way to combat these issues, yet there is a ban on an action that instantly boosts moods, reminds you that someone thinks you’re special and let’s you know that someone’s got your back? How shameful. I remember with fondness the hugs I got from friends still near and dear to me to this day, and am thankful for having known I was never in anything alone.

Have we really gone this far America?

DemolitionMan