February 29th, 2012
10:55 AM ET

Fighting sex trafficking in hotels, one room at a time

Kimberly Ritter could not believe what she was seeing.

Girls wearing almost nothing at all, suggesting all sorts of sexual acts, listed on page after page of Backpage.com's escorts section. When she looked closer at the photos, she noticed something eerie.

She could recognize the rooms.

Ritter is a meeting planner at Nix Conference and Meeting Management of St. Louis. She and her co-workers work with 500 hotels around the world and visit about 50 properties annually. She can identify many hotel chains used in escort ads by their comforters, bathroom sinks, air conditioning units and door locks. Sometimes, she can also identify a specific property.

Meet Kimberly Ritter, sex trafficking sleuth.

Read more of the story

Topics: Solutions
February 28th, 2012
09:54 AM ET

Lincoln's legacy fights modern slavery

By Athena Jones, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sheila White was beginning to feel numb. She had been beaten numerous times by a man who forced her to work as a prostitute on the streets of New York City.

"I done got beaten up in front of the Port Authority in Times Square," she said, a reference to a bus terminal on the city's West Side. "When stuff like that happens out in the open, you really feel like you're not even a person."

White was eventually able to escape her pimp and now works with victims of sex trafficking throughout New York state. But her story is proof that slavery is alive and well in America, 150 years after it was supposedly abolished.

While modern slavery may look different from the old images of plantations, slave cabins and auction blocks, abuse, coercion and manipulation remain the order of the day.

FULL POST

Ways to help: Making a difference
February 23rd, 2012
06:55 PM ET

Ways to help: Making a difference

The most valuable weapon in the fight against human trafficking may be you.

CNN is celebrating the work of ordinary people inspired to do something, to take action; to stand up against slavery.

People from West Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, have all joined the fight.

Watch the "Taking a Stand, Making a Difference" show here in three parts. In the first segment, viewers horrified by our expose of working conditions for people cocoa farming in West Africa campaign for more Fair Trade products.

FULL POST

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Topics: How to Help
February 22nd, 2012
10:04 AM ET

Bras liberate women from sex slavery

By Lisa Cohen, CNN

Editor's Note: How can individuals help combat modern day slavery? Watch "Taking a Stand, Making a Difference".

Denver, Colorado - Staring down a mountain of bras in her basement, Kimba Langas knew things had gotten out of hand.

The stay-at-home-mom started collecting unwanted bras as a way to help women on the other side of the world. It started small through word of mouth, and then a Facebook page.

But the bras quickly overran her home in suburban Denver, Colorado. They were in her basement, in her garage, in her car. They were in bags, in boxes, in envelopes. Her husband, Jeff, tried to navigate his way around them, but it wasn't easy.

"He was constantly moving boxes out of his way to access his tools," Langas said. "Down in the basement is where he keeps his table saw and other large tools, so besides having to move boxes, he would suffer a scolding from me from getting sawdust all over the bras!"

And the neighbors were beginning to talk, too. "If the weather's nice I usually count and box up bras in my garage," Langas said. "The neighborhood boys who are always around playing in the cul-de-sac try to pretend they're not watching!"

Langas collects unwanted bras for a charity called "Free the Girls" which gives them to young women coming out of sex trafficking in Mozambique - not to wear, but to sell in used clothing markets where bras are a luxury item and command top dollar.

The girls can make three times the average wage, more than enough to support themselves and not be trafficked again.

Sitting in her living room packing boxes of bras with her four-year-old son, Wyatt, she reflects on how quickly the little project took off.

It was the pastor of her church who came up with the idea for "Free the Girls." He was planning on moving to Mozambique for missionary work, and called Langas to see if she would run the project with him. She thought it sounded like fun.

"One of the things that was so appealing to me for "Free the Girls," besides the catchy name, was donating bras," she said. "I had probably five or six bras in the back of my drawer. As women, you know, we buy a bra, don't try it on, get it home, wear it once, it doesn't fit. And it's one of those items where you'd like to donate it when you donate clothes to a charity, but you're not sure. Do we donate bras? What do we do with bras?"

Apparently, that sentiment resonated with women across the U.S.. Shortly after launching the Facebook page, the bras started coming. The response was much bigger than she expected.

"I remember in the beginning how excited I would get to pick up envelopes and small boxes, and wow, if a box had 50 or even 100 bras that was crazy," Langas said. "And all of us of sudden, you know, 800 bras, 1,000 bras, 1,250 bras.

"There was a drive in Arizona and the women collected 8,000 bras. There's a church in Tennessee that collected 3,000 bras. There's a group here in Denver that collected 1,250 bras. It's just one of those things that caught on and spread."

It spread so much that Langas had to rent a storage unit to hold them all. But now she has a big problem: How is she going to move 25,000 bras 10,000 miles (15,000 kilometers)?

A shipping container would cost $6,500; money she says she just doesn't have. When she hears about people traveling to Mozambique, she asks them to take an extra suitcase with them, filled with bras. But her goal is to raise enough money to ship all of them.

In the meantime, she is encouraged by the volunteers helping her and motivated by the young victims she is fighting for, happy to do her small part in the fight to end modern-day slavery.

"Eventually it is going to change," she says. "I know it is. And if it's not in my generation, I hope that my son gets to see major change and I hope, by the time he's out of college or maybe even my age, hopefully sooner, he will be like, "Slavery? What? Oh, I read about it in my textbook."

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Topics: How to Help • Solutions • Uncategorized
February 20th, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Baby opens door into Indian trafficking ring

In a New Delhi hospital, a two-year-old girl is fighting for her life after a teenager brought her there three weeks ago, unconscious with severe head injuries and bruises, fractured arms and human bite marks covering her tiny body. All of India began following her ordeal through newspapers and television.

Police investigating the baby's case unearthed a suspected ring of human trafficking. The details sparked outrage among authorities and the public, who say the case raises a host of questions about child abandonment, exploitation and the poor treatment of girls and women in the world's second most populous nation.

Now the baby, named Falak by doctors, has thrust an ugly side of Indian society into the national spotlight.

FULL STORY

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Topics: In The News
Record breaking rowers
February 20th, 2012
01:36 PM ET

Naked rowers spotlight slavery

Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean may be an extreme test of human endurance but an all female crew who completed the feat discovered a secret tactic to ease the physical burden - rowing nude.

"We spent a lot of time rowing naked because when the sea water gets inside your clothes it increases friction against your skin which can cause sores," says Debbie Beadle, Skipper of the Row for Freedom team.

The trip followed a route previously used to transport slaves between Europe and the Americas in the 19th century, raising money for UK-based anti-human trafficking charities the A21 Campaign and ECPAT UK.

FULL STORY

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Topics: How to Help • In The News
February 20th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Trafficking in Mozambique: 'Every minute was the worst'

By Brent Swails, CNN

The mansion sits in the heart of Maputo, Mozambique. From the street it looks abandoned. Its walls are crumbling, the windows are broken and overgrown shrubs and trees hide the once grand entrance.

But inside there are signs that this place is still a home. The ceiling is black from cooking fires. In the bedrooms, mattresses line the floors and pages torn from magazines decorate the walls.

Local anti-trafficking activist Katie Magill often visits the mansion and other squatter housing in the city. She says its residents are at an age where they idolize the singers and actresses pictured on the pages. But they are much too young for the work they’re forced to do every night.

Many here say that Mozambique’s label of “the land of prawns and prostitutes” is well deserved. Prawns dominate trade by day, and at night, it’s Mozambique’s girls that are for sale. FULL POST

February 13th, 2012
05:53 PM ET

Hope for Vietnam's children of the dump

By Natalie Allen, CNN

Twelve-year-old Dieu wears a bright-green top sprinkled with yellow flowers as she squats in a pile of garbage with her mother.

The two talk and laugh while their hands work quickly, sorting plastic from the discarded food and waste.

A full bag will bring their family just pennies. But this is their life’s work. They live on a dump in Rach Gia, Vietnam, part of the Mekong Delta.

FULL POST

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Topics: Life In Slavery • Solutions
February 6th, 2012
08:43 AM ET

The new Christian abolition movement

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) — The truck-stop hooker is no Julia Roberts, the trucker in the cab with her no Richard Gere, and this truck stop off the highway could not be any farther from Beverly Hills, the staging ground for “Pretty Woman.”

Danielle Mitchell watches from the other end of the parking lot and shakes her head.

“We know from talking to other victims and other agencies that girls are taken to truck stops and they’re actually traded,” she says, sitting in her car, a shiny silver sport utility vehicle.

Mitchell is North Carolina human trafficking manager for World Relief. World Relief is a Christian nonprofit attached to the National Association of Evangelicals and is best known for its efforts to combat global hunger and respond to disasters around the world.

Mitchell is trying to tackle a disaster in her home state. And she is not alone.

Read the story from CNN's Eric Marrapodi at CNN's Belief Blog

Topics: Solutions • The Traffickers
February 3rd, 2012
05:25 PM ET

What's the role of faith in fighting slavery?

By David Batstone, Special to CNN

Editor's note: David Batstone is the co-founder and president of Not For Sale, which fights human trafficking and slavery. The opinions in this guest post are solely those of David Batstone.

On February 2, faith leaders gathered in the U.S. capital to pray. What difference will it make? What is the role of prayer, worship, and faith in ending social problems that I care about, like extreme poverty and modern-day slavery? FULL POST

Topics: Voices