Asian stories of trafficking find local meaning in Jacksonville

It was very brave of this young women to share the horrific nightmare she endured as a victim of sex trafficking. Please understand that what this young women suffered happens to young men and women here in the U.S. However victims of sex trafficking from other countries are treated much differently than victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. When people hear of stories such as this young woman’s people will cry and become angry at the fact that this is happening in our world. But when it comes to Americans that face this same abuse, our society will criminalize them, call them names such as hoes, crackheads and juvenile delinquents. Why does this happen? Why do we treat our victims so badly?

Our society needs to understand that many of our children are forced into prostitution. Many of our children do not have a choice in this matter. BUt we still treat these children as criminals. Granted that many of them are rude and defensive. But understand that this is part of their defense mechanism. This is a part of the trauma that they have suffered.
So please, the next time you hear of a story such as this one, remember that someone in your community has gone through the same thing.

Jacksonville has its own exploitation cases that mirror those of Cambodian women.
Posted: October 22, 2010 – 11:00pmPhotos Back Photo: 1 of 2 Next

Liya Chang
Back Photo: 2 of 2 Next

Transitions Global psychologist Sola Long (center) offers support to Srey Neth Chan (left), who along with Liya Chang, told their stories of being human trafficking victims in their native Cambodia Friday at the University of North Florida.

By Kate Howard
Liya Chang was 15 when she was manipulated into serving at a Cambodian brothel.

She was forced to serve 10 men a day, endured beatings and gang rapes and became addicted to drugs. She was treated, she said, as if she wasn’t human. She was a slave.

Chang, now 19, is traveling the United States to tell her story with the organization to whom she credits her recovery. She and another young woman, Srey Neth Chan, 21, volunteered to speak about their experiences as child victims of human trafficking after finishing their own therapy programs. They were nervous when they arrived for their speech at the University of North Florida, they admitted, and they said it was still hard to speak about the details of what they endured. But they’re doing it for one reason: They want to be heard.

“I hope when you listen,” Chang said through a translator, “you will share with other people who were not here, and make sure your children understand the harmful experience of working in a brothel.”

The women went through a multi-year recovery and education program with Transitions Global, a small organization for victims of human trafficking in Cambodia run by an Ohio man. They will speak twice more in Jacksonville – at Jacksonville Life Church and at a yoga center – before moving on to other big cities. This trip is their first time outside of Cambodia. They will return home and to their jobs as yoga instructors in November.

“It’s hard to tell our story, but then I feel so relieved,” said Chan, who was sold into a brothel at the age of 14. She entered the Transitions Global program after being rescued by police. “There are a lot of people listening to us, and I know they’re going to help.”

More than 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, according to the United Nations, and it’s a problem not only in Southeast Asia. Criminal charges have been brought in three documented cases of human trafficking in Jacksonville in the past few years, most recently in August.

A 15-year-old girl who had run away from home met some men in Jacksonville and agreed to trade sex for cocaine. But she was held captive for a month and forced to prostitute herself before she could break free and call her mother.

In 2008, a man was arrested for forcing two girls, 15 and 16, into prostitution at various Jacksonville hotel rooms. He met them at a party in Virginia and promised them a better life in Jacksonville if they joined him. They were spotted by a motel security guard who saw a parade of men visiting the room.

Awareness of those types of signs is the purpose for the speaking tour, said James Pond, founder of Transitions Global. Many Americans have no idea these types of things happen here, he said.

“It takes more people knowing,” Pond said. “We as a nation love to hide our heads in the sand, because it’s difficult to face.”

In Jacksonville, several groups have formed to provide infrastructure to treat trafficking victims when they’re found. They have a special set of needs, said Crystal Freed, a lawyer who is a member of the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Task Force. Trafficking goes deeper than prostitution or abuse: It creates a truly broken person, Freed said, and they could easily be living right under our noses.

The city’s advocates are developing a network of services and shelters so they’ll have a treatment plan and all the resources they need next time they’re called upon for help.

“When we have trafficking victims, we want to help rehab them right here in Jacksonville,” Freed said. “What that’s going to look like, we don’t know yet.”

She hopes people will pay attention to the signs: young women who aren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves, are spoken for by others, are not allowed to keep their wages or are being forced to work to pay off a debt that never shrinks.

“We need to look at the people doing our nails, cutting our hair, serving us our food,” Freed said. “There could be victims among them, and we are missing them.”

What is human trafficking?
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the exploitation of human beings – be it for sexual exploitation, other forms of forced labor, slavery, servitude, or for the removal of human organs. Trafficking takes place by criminal means through the threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of positions of power or abuse of positions of vulnerability.
Trafficking is not just a transnational crime across international borders – the definition applies to internal domestic trafficking of human beings.
Source: The United Nations policy paper on human trafficking

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