by Michelle Golden
One day my boyfriend said I had to wear more makeup, straighten my hair everyday, and wear heels weather permitting. I didn’t know whether to blame his idiocy or Heidi Montag and her fake sex appeal. All I knew was it seemed that my appearance wasn’t good enough and that he was instantly attracted to a certain type of Barbie girl. Then I thought back to my own Barbie dolls I used to play with. Their hair was always long and straight. Their skin was always soft and free of acne. Their eye makeup was always perfectly (and permanently) applied.
That’s when I realized it’s not poor Heidi Montag and her plastic bimbo self who is to blame for creating this unrealistic image. Of course she isn’t my number one role model and I wouldn’t bring my daughter if I had a daughter near her with a ten-foot pole. But Heidi doesn’t know any better. She, too, was probably brought up with Barbies.
I’m telling you, it’s Barbie. Barbie is to blame for some of women’s body image views and men’s distorted fantasies of what women should look like. Barbie and Photoshop. But Barbie came first.
As women, our expectations of what we should look like often mirror fantasies of what men and society want their girlfriends to look like. When we get older many of these artificial expectations are based on our ideals of women who come across as perfect on the television screen, in magazine spreads, or in movies. However, as a young girl playing with my Barbie doll collection, when Ken finished work for the day, he would come home to an attractive Barbie with big boobs, a small butt, a tight stomach, and a dress that slips over her slim (actually really, really skinny let-me-try-to-suck-in-my-tummy-like that) waist – and that’s what made a perfect girlfriend. Barbie wears high heels. She wears fancy dresses. And she also wears tight mini skirts. She would make the perfect trophy wife. Her plastic life was certainly fantastic.
Caitlin Boyle creator of the empowering movement “Operation Beautiful” focuses on forming positive messages for girls. “I think the core issue is that our society tells us over and over again that we’re never good enough the way we are. We are never thin enough or never pretty enough. It’s not only about being thin. It’s about being perfect in every single way.”
In my opinion, Barbie has been a silent, deadly, and far from innocent (and actually a rather false) advertisement for young girls for nearly fifty years. As young children we are sponges and we mimic a lot of what we see and interact with. Though this bendable doll seems like the perfect holiday gift to give to a little girl, it may actually cause more harm than good to her in the long run.
Why? She’s only plastic, you say. Well, so is tabloid queen Heidi Montag and look how great of a role model she turned out to be — ten plastic surgeries in less than a year.
Although only a toy and meant to only be a toy, Barbie, still, nonetheless, represents something that no girl can measure up to. Because of her “perfect” appearance, Barbie focuses too much on physical beauty and ignores a girl’s capability of developing intellectually and emotionally. I know she’s just a doll and she doesn’t know any better but think about how many little girls get Barbies for their birthday, for holidays, for just-because-they-won’t-be-quiet-in-the-grocery-store days. We didn’t mean for Myspace to be the spot for 40-year old men to prey on teenagers but it somehow happened. Barbie was just a doll and is still just a doll but packaged with a lot of internal messages of beauty and perfection.
Author and teen Katherine Schwarzenegger knows what it is like to struggle with body image issues and isn’t a stranger to girl’s lack of confidence. In her book, “Rock What You’ve Got” Katherine celebrates the female form. “I think it is important for girls to understand that the media puts a certain view of beauty out there and that it’s not realistic,” said Schwarzenegger. “Girls need to focus on their own unique beauty and not compare themselves to the views in the media.”
In her book Schwarzenegger cites studies that suggest Barbie’s proportions would be impossible to achieve by a real live woman. Finland’s University Central Hospital in Helsinki says “If Barbie were alive, she would lack the required 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to have her period. Her measurements are certainly unhealthy and mostly unachievable.”
Maybe Barbie is unachievable. But some girls still try to be that perfect Barbie girl living in a Barbie World whether for their boyfriends, parents, peers, or for their worst enemy, the mirror. With Barbie Girl stuck in my head, I told my boyfriend, “If I’m not good enough the way I am, there’s the door.”
By Hannah Penfield
Imagine you have a job. It’s your dream job, but only because you cannot get any other jobs as an illegal immigrant. You are paid around $10,000 US a year, if you’re lucky. That’s less than half of the poverty threshold for a family of four. You have none of the normal rights of a US worker: no right to organize, to overtime pay. You have no health insurance, sick leave, vacations, pension, or job security. This is the life of a farm worker subjected to forced labor, as described by antislavery.org.
There are no firm numbers, because forced labor is a secretive criminal activity, but antislavery.org estimates that about five percent of farm workers are subject to forced labor. The vast majority of these workers are migrant workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. Most of those are undocumented, and therefore are easy pickings for traffickers looking to exploit these vulnerable immigrants.
However, not all of these migrant workers are undocumented. Legal workers and even US citizens can be victims of forced labor due to the need to find work, transportation, and shelter. People who are in serious need are the most vulnerable.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a workers’ rights activist group based out of Florida, documents cases of forced labor. Every case they have documented involves some form of debt bondage. Debt bondage is forcing someone to work off a debt; the debt is generally inflated over time with interest or the initial amount is raised without warning. In these cases, traffickers promise to provide transportation to work locations on credit, saying that the debt will be paid off quickly through work. Often, the workers arrive thousands of dollars in debt. This gives the trafficker all the power.
Once this power structure is in place, the worker is forced to work 12 to 14 hour days, generally from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Their wages, which are the only means the workers have of paying off their debt, face deductions for transport, accommodations, food, work equipment, and supposed tax and social security payments (a scam to take more money). Wages are sporadically paid, but often there are so many deductions that the wages are reduced to nothing.
Employers also expend some effort to protect their free labor. They work in what can be described as concentration camps, facing total domination and brutality. Workers live in small, poorly kept trailers with 11 to 15 fellow workers. They are under constant surveillance and are tracked by armed guards. The employers and guards also threaten the worker’s family. In some severe cases, public beatings, pistol-whippings, and shootings are used as intimidation.
This type of slavery is the easiest to fight back against. Simply choose carefully where you buy your food. Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, and Bon Appétit have all signed agreements with CIW to pay fair prices for their vegetables and to not work with companies who use forced labor. The companies that CIW is currently boycotting to stop using slave labor for their stores and restaurants are Kroger, Ahold (parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant), Publix, Aramark, Sodexo, and Chipotle. Avoid these companies and visit ciw-online.org to find out more.
Special thanks to antislavery.org.
“Hey, I put some new shoes on,
And suddenly everything is right,
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on, and everybody’s smiling.”
Paolo Nutini’s lyrics sum up just what it’s like to strap on a new pair of shoes. Despite his Y chromosome, Nutini nails the feeling of confidence that seems to well up from new kicks. For women, though, the right shoes not only ignite feelings of confidence, but also a sense of simply “feeling pretty.”
Ateba Crocker, shoe lover and founder of the women’s online boutique Shoe Revolt, knows all too well how girls want to feel confident and beautiful in the clothes and shoes they wear. Her abusive father, however, robbed her of that feeling at an early age.
“My mother bought me this dress,” Crocker reminisces. “When I did a spin, it made this hoop thing – like in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ He said that I looked like a prostitute. At that moment, I remember my heart just shattering because I thought I looked really pretty.”
Just like that twirling dress, Crocker’s life soon spun out of control, and her father’s words would eventually ring true. After becoming pregnant as a teenager, she joined an escorting agency to support her son Maleek.
“My body was already broken as a little girl, but it got worse,” she explains. Feeling broken both on the outside and inside, it took a few words from her young son to spark a trip to a local church. While riding in the car one day, Maleek said, “Mommy, mommy, I want to be a meacher.” By “meacher,” Maleek meant “preacher.” Crocker questioned how Maleek could possibly do this if she was a prostitute.
At a church service soon afterwards, she heard the story of Lazarus, a man Jesus raised from the dead. “That was my life,” she says. “I was dead emotionally. I was dead on the inside. My heart was hardened. I wanted to become alive.”
And she did. Crocker decided to follow Christ that day, and he took her on a journey out of a world of prostitution, bondage and addiction.
“I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to work through addictions, your childhood abuse, your pain, to go through all that counseling, and then to go to school to get your degree so you can become someone in society,” she says. “It was because of God and because of my tenacity and that I didn’t give up.”
After receiving her master’s degree, working for the Nike Corporation, establishing a family of her own and teaching at a university, Crocker decided it was time to step out and help other girls and women who have fallen victim to sexual abuse, human trafficking and prostitution. She now assumes the full-time role of heading up Shoe Revolt
Crocker explains how she channeled her anger at the commercial sex industry by starting this revolt: “I love shoes, and I figured other women love shoes. I wanted to ignite that energy and that power and get women fired up and feisty.” She adds, “God loves us, and he values us so much. Men and women are exploiting girls, and it makes me mad, and I want other women to get mad and fight with me.”
And what a fun way to fight – by buying a pair of shoes! Phase Two of the revolt will launch Aug. 1, when the boutique will open its online store. For now, Shoe Revolt is seeking donations for used shoes in excellent condition or new shoes that people or corporations are willing to donate. The goal is to have 5,000 shoes by July, but Shoe Revolt’s ultimate goal is to create a multi-billion dollar industry to kick human trafficking to the curb.
Since the commercial sex business is also a multi-billion dollar industry, Crocker says the best way to fight these exploiters is with money. “We have to have something to establish us financially so that we can compete with them.”
Shoe Revolt’s profits will be donated to Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), as well as other organizations seeking to provide assistance and transitional housing for girls victimized by trafficking and prostitution. Shoe Revolt will also help create scholarships for victims.
“Victim” is a word that means a lot to Crocker. “We are not criminals; we’re victims,” she asserts. Shoe Revolt will also work to reestablish society’s view of prostitution. “For many girls, freedom is being taken away from them. I want them to know that it’s not their fault. I want society to know it’s not the girls’ fault.”
Crocker wants to encourage girls to find life on the other side of prostitution. “I know there are girls out there who are being enslaved into this lifestyle. It’s not impossible for them to come back. They have an opportunity to really change their life.”
Shoe lovers, or “shoeistas,” as Crocker likes to call them, have the opportunity to help change lives by simply donating a pair of boots, heels, wedges, flats or sandals – or making a purchase when the store opens in August.
As Crocker works to assemble the shoeistas, she knows there’s a big fight ahead.
According to UNICEF, as many as two million children could be sexually exploited each year. The Polaris Project sites this number at one million and also reports that an estimated 244,000 children in the United States are at risk for sexual exploitation. To add to the problem, many of the children who come out of sexual trafficking and slavery have no long-term treatment options. A recent article in The Los Angeles Times reported findings of a study by the Department of Health and Human Services; only four rehabilitation centers exist in the United States for children exploited through prostitution.
Statistics like these are driving Crocker to fight and to encourage others to do the same.
Nutini’s lyrics now take on a much deeper meaning: “Hey, I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything is right.” The fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls may not end suddenly, but women around the globe can help make things right – one pair of shoes at a time.
For more information on how you can donate shoes, visit www.shoerevolt.com.
You can also join Shoe Revolt’s Facebook fan page and follow Ateba Crocker on Twitter @ShoeRevolt.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the need for relativity may very well be the mother of inspiration. At least, that’s how president and publisher of The African American Pulpit Rev. Martha Simmons discovered her inspiration to create the first African American Lectionary.
A lectionary is a listing of fitting scriptures and sacred readings that can be used on special occasions in the church. Simmons was using a traditional lectionary when she realized the need for an African-American lectionary.
“It didn’t excite me. It was a lot of text, and I didn’t understand how I could related it to the black community,“ Simmons said.
Simmons first polled nearly 10,000 black clergymen to decide if the need was valid. Simmons then pitched the idea to the Lilly Endowment and received a grant for almost $2 million.
The lectionary launched in December 2007 with the support of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Kelly Miller Smith Institute. It has developed into a free, online resource containing content such as videos, poems, scriptures, readings and hymns traditionally used in the black church. The content is particularly slanted toward special days and occasions such as Young Adults Day and Youth Sunday. The site was designed to be visually stimulating and user-friendly.
“The feedback has been great. We’ve gotten hundreds of emails on how stunned [users are] at how much information is there. The most common response is ‘I can’t believe this is all free.’ And it is all is relevant,” Simmons said.
The Lectionary Team, a small group of black Christianity experts, hand-selected the content and contributors for the site. Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagan, the founder of singing group Sweet Honey and the Rock, serves as the Cultural Resources Team Leader. Nolan Williams, the music editor of the African-American Heritage Hymnal, serves as head of the Worship Division.
Despite the academic nature of the contributors, the site has a very personal feel and message. Simmons said her personal goal for the site is it will inspire others to— well, inspire others.
“I hope young people, girls especially, will be inspired to take this and make it their own. We’ve got videos; they should add videos. We’ve got poems; they should add their own,” said Simmons.
Simmons emphasized the key is relevance, being able to apply the pre-researched information and ideas to real-life situations that may affect your community and church.
“Let’s say a you’re a youth worker. If a young black girl comes to you and says there’s a lot of violence in my neighborhood. A you may say, ‘I’ll pray for you.’ That’s good, but you may ask is there anything else I can do?” Simmons said.
Simmons shared stories of churches using the lectionary to start programs and host services on topics that particularly affect today’s times such as incarceration, cancer, and absent fathers.
‘I’d like to see a lot more people use [the lectionary] who are teaching people about religion and faith. I’d like to see people use it who are teaching people how to live out their faith in today’s hard times,” she said.
With the hardships that exist in 2010, there are plenty of opportunities to practice faith. The African-American lectionary exists to inspire people to continue to share that faith in creative ways, despite such hardships. That spirit of creativity, endurance, and faith is what lies at the center of the black Christian experience.
To use The African-American Lectionary visit www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org.
By Michelle Golden
It’s no surprise that magazines, advertisers, and marketers use the “art” of airbrushing photographs to alter what reality looks like and to convey a certain type of image. Covers of magazines show flawless actors, actresses, singers, and models. We’re all aware of this as consumers. We know these models don’t really look the way they are portrayed on the glossy pages, but for some reason we’re okay with it. We still go ahead and buy the products being advertised or the clothes being modeled. Then we get upset when the bathroom cabinet piles up with a collection of face washes that never really worked, cover –ups that advertise miracles and provide none and mascara that claims to never clump and does so after the first use. Still surprised that Vanessa Hudgens appears to have no zits as she advertises for Neutrogena’s skin clearing cleansers? Don’t be. Two words: Adobe Photoshop.
Recently there has been a lot of talk in the media world concerning the evils of airbrushing, a photo editing technique that is used in the mentioned and infamous Adobe Photoshop, providing a means of shaving off any imperfection. The messages behind many advertisements have been increasingly misleading.
The question major companies have been faced with is when have we taken airbrushing too far?
On September 29 an advertisement that appeared only in Japan, by fashion clothing line Ralph Lauren, featured model Filippa Hamilton who appeared to have a waist smaller than her actual head. Airbrushing images already illustrates an unnatural appearance, but as viewers, we still accept it, because although the models look perfect, oddly enough, we still think this beauty is realistic. However, Ralph Lauren, in this advertisement, showed the world exactly how distorted some perceptions of beauty can be.
Looking at the ad and of this poor model whose body was obviously not accepted for what it was, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. She doesn’t even look simply skinny. She looks sick.”
After reading follow-up articles, I was astonished and rather revolted at the fact that Ralph Lauren actually had fired this model just a few months before they used her image for the advertisement. Hamilton, who had worked with Ralph Lauren since 2002, said in a New York Daily News article, published October 14, that she was fired because she weighed too much and could no longer fit in the company’s clothes.
Yet, Ralph Lauren still used her face and her body… well, only a sliver. The rest was edited away.
Promoting an unrealistic body image hurts the average teenager in more ways than just one. Do we really want to further encourage eating disorders or other unhealthy lifestyles? No. So how can we, as the voices of the next few generations, and the new faces in the social media world, alter this distorted so-called-ideal perception of beauty? How can we bring the natural back in beautiful?
One of the causes sponsored by JChoice, the new social network engaging Jewish youth in creative ways to make charitable contributions to diverse and meaningful causes of their choice, inspires teens to look beyond appearance. The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) offers programs to guide teens to make healthy choices that will positively influence their self-esteem individually and those around them. Since food plays such a huge role in our society, family, and different cultures, eating disorders is a horrible aspect of reality that is coupled with the concept of food. Specifically among Jewish preteens and teens, eating disorders have been a prevalent concern. As mentioned on the JChoice website, a study conducted by the Jewish Women International site, has found that three in four Jewish girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen, have engaged in unhealthy eating and weight lifestyles. The mission of MEDA is to reach out to these preteens and teens in Jewish communities and to continuously raise awareness. MEDA reaches out to their targeted communities by creating different projects to remind our youth the importance of staying healthy and loving one’s body. One example of such a project is where interested members design a mirror with affirmations. These mirrors are then delivered to young teens that have been hospitalized for their eating disorders. In my opinion, such a project really emphasizes on the importance of loving the body you’re in. It encourages the power of the mirror as a reflection of one’s self and how essential it is to treat it with the utmost care, because, the body is probably one of the more fragile things in life.
What makes MEDA different from perhaps other health-related organizations is that the actual organization itself is comprised of six members who have recovered from an eating disorder. By being able to relate on such a personal level, these members can truly engage in helping both Jewish and Non-Jewish teens from many different communities recover from the dangers of eating disorders. MEDA partners with other eating disorder treatment facilities nationally. Founded by Rebecca Manley in 1994, MEDA was envisioned upon the idea that it would act as a safe haven for those individuals struggling with an eating disorder and a place where family members and friends of such patients can learn more about the illness and how to support their loved ones.
Through educational presentations, workshops, and speakers, MEDA reaches out to many diverse audiences to explain the causes of the illness and the emotional and physical effects. Together with organizations such as MEDA, we can work towards editing away eating disorders from society and providing a new, healthy model and face for all those magazines creating their own false and dangerous idea of beauty. Together recovery IS possible.
By Janie Dumbleton
This holiday season give a rare gift that is often overlooked: a listening ear. The power of listening and truly hearing someone’s story, whether it’s a quick anecdote or life journey, is an enlightening experience that propel personal and humanly understanding. The non-profit organization StoryCorps encourages everyone at any age to tell a story, and to listen to a story as well. The mission of StoryCorps is “to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.” The organization urges people to record their stories, and storycorps.org reveals that “since 2003, over 50,000 people have shared life stories with family and friends through StoryCorps.” The website gives visitors a chance to listen to other stories online and claims to be “the conversation of a life time.” StoryCorps encourages people every where to record their stories in the StoryBooths, sound proof recording studios currently located in New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; and Atlanta, GA. Mobile Tour Locations are also listed on the StoryCorps website. Communities can also sponsor on-site story recording if the StoryBooth locations are inconvenient.
StoryCorps provides every human with the inspiring idea that each person holds a unique experience worth sharing. This seemingly simplistic idea of “listening” allows people the often times lost dignity of personal story. So, this gift-giving season, challenge yourself to a rewarding experience and tell or listen to another human’s story. Instead of giving Grandpa another tie, listen to his journeys or visit an assisted-living community and spend and afternoon with open ears. We can learn so much from others by lending an understanding listen.
Information from www.storycorps.org
by Hannah Penfield
Many American families employ some sort of help — nannies, housekeepers, or cooks. Some even hire live-in help. This is, on the surface, a harmless American trend.
However, this practice is not as innocent as it seems because many of these “employees” are slaves.
The blissful American suburbs are the last place most people would expect slavery to exist.
However, America’s backyard is one of the largest nests of slavery in this country.
It may be difficult to imagine the local PTA president chaining up a teenage girl who speaks no English in the basement; forcing her to cook and clean, feeding her just enough to keep her alive, and physically punishing her to make sure she obeys. It’s a strange, almost absurd picture, but it is happening.
Evelyn Theodore, 74, and Maude Paulin, 52, lived together in their South Florida home. According to a March 5, 2008, New York Daily News article, Theodore ran an orphanage in Ranquitte, Haiti, and Paulin was a teacher in Miami-Dade County.
The two were convicted of keeping Haitian teen Simone Celestin as a slave for six years.
According to the article, prosecutors claimed that Celestin was kidnapped at age 5 and made to pretend she was an orphan at Theodore’s Haitian orphanage. At age 14, she was taken to the US on a temporary visa. For the next six years, Celestin was forced to worked 15 hours a day for no pay and received no schooling.
In her testimony, the article reports, Celestin said she slept on the floor and bathed from a bucket or a garden hose. To get clothing, she had to dig through cast-offs in the garage. When she should have been in school, she was scrubbing floors.
Celestin also reported being beaten severely. She claimed Theodore and Paulin would strike her with their hands, shoes, or whatever was available. These other items included a curling iron and a mortar, reports the News.
In 2005, Celestin escaped with a help of a friend of Theodore and Paulin’s. Clearly, the friend had seen Celestin often enough to determine that she was a slave.
In fact, this type of slavery is often unhidden. Guests in these households will see the victims cleaning, cooking, serving food, or caring for children. The owner will not mistreat the slave in front of outsiders, and guests automatically assume everything is on the up-and-up.
It doesn’t help that the vast majority of domestic slaves do not speak English, and are often illiterate even in their native languages, making communication practically impossible.
Claudia Flores is a staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who has experience representing freed slaves. She told Paul Vitello in a December 7, 2007, New York Times article that the slaves they do see are “only the tip of the iceberg.” “We are only seeing the women who are lucky enough and capable enough to find assistance,” she explained.
Escape is especially difficult as even two slaves in the same home who speak the same language “are forbidden to talk to each other.”
“Their phone calls are monitored. They are not allowed to go anywhere unaccompanied,” Flores concluded.
Modern slavery usually does not initially consist of kidnapping or violence. Slaves are generally tricked into work by employers who insist they are hiring the victims for legitimate work.
According to Vitello’s article, the victims often sign employment contracts which seem especially generous to women who come from impoverished countries.
For example, Vitello cites an example where two slaves from Jakarta, Indonesia, signed a contract for $100 a month, and their employers helped them to get temporary visas.
While this seems like an ideal situation for foreign women who want to come to America, Vitello argues the temporary visa system is flawed. After three to six months, the temporary visas expire, which allows the people enslaving the victims to hold the threat of deportation over their slaves’ heads. This gives them leverage against the victims, making them less likely to try to escape.
What is particularly intriguing about this form of slavery is that most of the time the slave owner could afford to employ help. However, they choose to pay an extremely low initial fee and no salary ostensibly to save money. According to freetheslaves.net, today’s average slave costs about $90, an all-time historical low.
Suzanne Tomatore, director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project of the New York City Bar Association, spoke to Vitello for the same article. She answered the unspoken question of what kind of person enslaves another person: “All kinds of people. Doctors, lawyers, professionals, business people, diplomats — the only thing the employers have in common as a group is they all have the resources to pay someone a fair wage, but they choose not to.”
However, these people act in highly contradictory ways. While saving money is supposedly the point, slave owners act as though their slaves are disposable, claims freetheslaves.net. Since the average slave is so inexpensive, any sort of inconvenience with the slave often leads to them being dumped.
If a slave gets sick, injured, or somehow outlives their usefulness, they are unceremoniously dumped or even killed. It is easy and cheap enough for the owner to find a replacement. According to freetheslaves.net, the extreme low cost of slaves “is a dramatic change in the economic equation of slavery” that “means that slaves have stopped being capital purchase items and are now disposable inputs in economic processes.”
Domestic slavery is quite possibly the most difficult to combat. Because it is incredibly difficult to identify, most domestic slaves have little to no chance of freedom. However, there is a foundation for change.
Laws are in place that make slavery and human trafficking illegal. Holding someone against their will is a crime, no matter the circumstances. However, these laws are not being enforced.
Write to your congressman and senators. Let them know that the government is not doing enough to fight slavery. Also, discuss how the US has a flawed visa system that perpetuates slavery and needs reform desperately.
Next month, read about how buying fruit at the local grocery store is helping to fuel slavery.
Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 4 part series on slavery.
Most people believe that slavery in the United States was abolished in 1865 with the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution. In fact, only legal slavery was abolished at that time. Illicit slavery continued to be an extremely profitable enterprise in the US. Even today, almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War, slavery still flourishes in this country.
For the next few months, contemporary slavery in the US will be explored in a series of articles. Modern slavery can be classified in different categories. In each article, one of these categories will be examined in-depth and how it pertains to teen girls. The first classification of slavery to be explored is sexual slavery, also known as sex trafficking or forced prostitution.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as a situation “in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.” In other words, if someone profits off of forcing someone to have sex, that is an instance of sex trafficking. Also, if someone profits off of a minor performing sex acts, even if the minor is a willing participant, that is considered sex trafficking. Because minors cannot consent in the US, any child who performs a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, is a victim of sex trafficking.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which houses refugees and other foreign victims, says minors are arguably the most vulnerable demographic to sex trafficking because children lack the strength and maturity to escape from traffickers and to cope with the harmful effects of trafficking. This is especially true of women, who are often much physically weaker than their male captors and are the vast majority of sex trafficking victims.
Many of these sexually exploited girls come from other countries. A 2001 University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work study estimated that approximately 17,000 children aged 17 or younger are trafficked into the US each year. Additionally, at least 8,500 of these are sexually exploited. They also estimate that one trafficked child can make a trafficker $30,000 or more.
The 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, produced by the State Department, states that parents are often tricked into handing over their children to traffickers who promise to give their child an education or a lucrative job in the United States. These children are trafficked largely from Mexico and East
Asia, but also countries in South Asia, Central America, Africa, and Europe. Children are often smuggled illegally into the US, but on occasion, they migrate legally. Once in the US, they quickly learn that the education or employment they were promised does not exist.
Child victims who are trafficked into the US face one or more of several tactics used by the trafficker. According to the LIRS, some children are simply forced into exploitive work. The trafficker may be violent, threaten violence, or threaten the lives of the child’s family back home in order to coerce the child. Others are told that they have unpaid travel expenses, or “debt,” that must be paid off through work. Many societies abhor cheating someone out of what they are owed, and children do not know enough to question this mysterious “debt.”
Other possibilities include the child being passed over to a different person or group of people. This may or may not come with an exchange of money. Generally, says the LIRS, the trafficker is an acquaintance, or even a relative, of the child’s family. This leads the child to trust the trafficker more than they would a stranger.
American-born children also face commercial sexual exploitation. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, USA (ECPATUSA.org), says that these children are more often treated as “bad” kids who need to be arrested and reformed. However, these children are as much victims as the children trafficked into the country.
In a 2005 report for ECPAT-USA, Sara Ann Friedman states that prostituted American-born girls are often products of abusive or apathetic families. More often than foreign girls, American girls are not traditionally “forced” into prostitution but choose “the life.” However, according to US law, any minor prostitute is automatically considered trafficked because minors cannot consent.
Most of these prostitutes are runaways. Friedman cites an estimate from National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART): nationally, 450,000 children run away from home each year, and one out of every three teens on the street will become prostitutes within 48 hours of leaving home.
When arrested, these girls often pass themselves off as adults by flashing a false ID. Their pimps will pay their bail, and the girls will slip away, says Friedman. If they are identified as minors and put in the juvenile justice system, they are either returned to their abusive homes, released onto the street, or sent to group homes that do not have the resources to help these girls.
Anecdotal evidence and experience, Friedman suggests, that while teen prostitutes do not come predominantly from any racial or ethnic group, they are most often from poor families. Additional evidence indicates 13 or 14 as the typical age for girls to enter prostitution. However, some advocates claim that age is closer to 10 or 11.
American girls who are lured into prostitution are often emotionally vulnerable. Living in poverty, pimps’ claims of money, love, and glamour can be very seductive. Also, the majority of prostituted teens have been sexually abused. In fact, a 1994 National Institute of Justice report claims that sexually abused children are 28 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution at some point in their lives than those who didn’t suffer abuse.
Friedman cites other factors contributing to the vulnerability of teen girls. Many prostituted girls are “throwaways,” meaning they are rejected, abandoned, or ejected from their homes and have no other alternative for survival. In addition, the abuse these girls face makes pimps seem like saviors; pimps claim to care or even love the girls they traffic.
Pimps generally will approach their victims as a potential lover, Friedman says. The emotionally vulnerable girls fall for the pimps and trust them quickly. Once the pimp has the victim under complete control, he will make her start turning tricks. This can be a gentle coercion, but often the girl is simply gang raped as admission to the pimp’s stable of girls.
In order for the pimp to extract as much money from the girl as possible, he needs to keep her under tight control. This takes a twofold approach, Friedman claims. Firstly, the pimp uses violence as a scare tactic to keep the girl off balance and in line. At the same time, he convinces the girl that she is worthless and useless and he is the only one who will ever love her.
In her report, Friedman tells the story of Sonya. When she was interviewed, she was 19 and had been out of “the life” for nine months. She became a prostitute at age 12. Sonya says she doesn’t remember exactly, but she worked for “somewhere around a dozen pimps” in “about” nine states.
Sonya’s young life was difficult. She had just entered middle school and didn’t have any relationships with her teachers. Her father had left, her older sister was a drug addict, and her mother worked all the time. Sonya says, “I could have left at any time and she wouldn’t even notice.” She ran away.
Her introduction to “the life” came early. “I hopped on a city bus where I met a lady, named Jenny, who was a ‘ho,’” Sonya tells Friedman. “She asked me if I wanted a job. I said sure. We went to her home where I helped her around the house.” Sonya continues, “She paid me with drugs …. I looked up to her as a mom, and felt that she cared. She would sit and talk to me, about things that moms are supposed to talk about with their kids and showed me a whole lifestyle. Then her cousin Thomas Monroe, Tommy, showed up and he was the one who got me into it [the life].”
Tommy overwhelmed Sonya with affection. Constantly telling her she was beautiful, he gave her many expensive presents. “Oh my god, it was so cool,” Sonya reminisces with Friedman. “I wanted somebody just like him. I believed everything he said.”
Tommy and Sonya would smoke, drink, and do cocaine together; Sonya was an addict. Tommy wanted her to have sex with him and be his girlfriend. “I said,
‘No! You’re too old.’ Then one day, he just raped me,” Sonya says. Sonya became Tommy’s girlfriend.
“A few months later, this white guy came over and said I was pretty,” continues Sonya in the report. “Tommy asked me right in front of him, ‘Why don’t you go [expletive] him?’ After that he made me walk up and down the street everywhere we went. If someone looked over their shoulder, he’d holler for them to come back. I’d get in the car and do it. Then he’d come and collect me.”
Sonya’s dream boyfriend soon became a nightmare. One night while he was high, he randomly accused Sonya of having sex with his cousin. “He grabbed my ear, started hitting me and then tied my feet to a doorknob. He made me just sit there, made me cry, and then had sex with me.”
At age 14, Sonya was trafficked across state lines for the first time. They drove to an apartment in Chicago where a lot of young girls were. “I asked who they were and he said, ‘These are my girls.’ He sat me down and told me, either I am with him this way or not at all.”
“The girls showed me about the escort service and working the block,” Sonya tells Friedman. “Then Tommy began treating me badly. He locked me in a room and left me with food or water. All he left me was some coke [cocaine]. He said this was my punishment, but I didn’t know for what.”
After what Sonya thought was three days, Tommy came back and picked her up. “All the way home, we would stop and go with truckers and then go back in his motel room,” Sonya says in the report. After a time, she was able to escape when Tommy passed out from drinking and using drugs. She grabbed her stuff, climbed down a drain pipe, and ran. She eventually made it home, and Tommy was arrested for dealing drugs.
Sonya tells Friedman that she tried to go back to school, but she was already a full year behind. Her mother was glad to see her at first, but after awhile, she began criticizing and beating Sonya again. Her home life was still as unpleasant as it had been before she’d run away.
Sonya needed money to feed her drug habit and to buy the nice clothes she had grown accustomed to. She worked for a number of pimps over the following years. Each time she found a new pimp, it was the same routine. At first, the pimp treated her well. However, “they were all the same,” she says.
During her time on the streets, she was arrested multiple times. Most of the time, she passed for 18, and she would be released on bail that was paid by the pimp or one of his girls. After some time, she was identified as a minor. She did time in a juvenile facility in Iowa. She had been arrested and charged with aggravated robbery, auto theft, prostitution, and drug charges. She ran away multiple times, but never got very far.
Sonya says in the report that she had had several pimps who trafficked her interstate. She can compare them: “Tommy’s girls didn’t like me because I was making so much money. That would make them work harder and he would still beat them. Harley’s girls were a lot nicer. We would always talk to each other, and I wouldn’t feel so alone or scared.”
“The life” wasn’t perfect, however. Sonya tells Friedman she tried to leave multiple times, but every time, her pimp would lure her back or she’d just return on her own. Eventually, she wound up in prison again. This time, an agency called Breaking Free, based in Minneapolis, approached her. She was able to talk about her experience and figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
“I never had any goals before,” she says. “Now I have goals.” Life is still a struggle for Sonya, however. She has applied for many jobs, but her criminal record makes her a less-than-ideal candidate. Her past is weighing her down, and she’s only 19.
In their report “Questions and Answers About the Commercial Exploitation of Children,” ECPAT makes some disturbing claims. Girls today are at extremely high risk for sex trafficking. The wide availability and usage of the Internet means that sex traffickers, pimps, and pedophiles have increased access and persuasive power. It is easy for an experienced trafficker to lure a girl into meeting him in person, sending nude photos of herself, or record sexual acts on a webcam. Pictures and videos can later be used as blackmail to force the girl into prostitution.
What can the average girl do to help? First, an attitude shift is necessary. Teen prostitutes are victims, not criminals. They are not “bad girls acting out”; they are confused, manipulated, and lost.
Also, be aware. If a friend or peer is feeling rejected at home and has run away or is considering running away, tell a trusted adult immediately. Remember: one out of every three teens on the street will become prostitutes within 48 hours of leaving home. It may seem like an urban legend designed to scare girls, but teens do not have the resources to survive on the streets on their own.
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) is an organization designed to help girls, both native and immigrant, who have been commercially sexually exploited. On their website, gems-girls.org, they recommend five things you can do in the next 24 hours to help: make a donation to GEMS; watch on Netflix Very Young Girls, a documentary about prostituted girls in New York; use their online information to learn about the Girls Are Not For Sale campaign; join their Facebook network, follow GEMS on Twitter, or join the Council of Daughters social networking site; and shop at the GEMS store, where you can buy GEMS T-shirts and other merchandise to support their efforts.
Come back next month to read more about slavery and how to stop it.
By Hannah Penfield
By most expert opinions, methamphetamine is the most dangerous drug known to man. According to drugfree.org, the drug goes by many aliases: meth, crank, crystal, glass. The most telling name for it, however, is “the monster.”
Meth looks like a large, rock-like chunk that flakes off into a powdered substance that looks like glass. Depending on the purity, it is generally either white or yellow, according to drugfree.org. It can be taken orally, injected, snorted, or smoked.
At first glance, one can understand the allure of meth. Immediately after the person smokes or injects the drug, they experience an intense, pleasurable feeling called a “rush” or a “flash.” Snorting or swallowing meth causes a euphoric high rather than a rush. After the initial effects, users generally experience severe agitation that can lead to violence. Drugfree.org reports other effects such as wakefulness or insomnia, decreased appetite, or anxiety.
During meth use, a user will most likely experience a loss of inhibitions, a false sense of control and confidence, and an increased libido. According to drugfree.org, this makes meth users susceptible to hepatitis and HIV because of their unsafe sexual practices. Users can also contract these diseases from sharing needles. Some studies written about it on drugfree.gov even suggest that meth use after the contraction of HIV can speed up the progress of the disease.
However, the long-term effects highlight the deadly threat of meth. It is highly addictive and users can develop a tolerance quickly, according to drugfree.org. Often users will spend days “bingeing,” or using the drug continuously. Binges can result in three to five sleepless days, although some sleepless binges last as long as 15 days. As they “crash,” users will experience depression, paranoia, and aggression, followed by a collapse from exhaustion in which the user sleeps for long periods of time.
Additionally, according to drugfree.org, chronic meth use can cause paranoia, hallucinations, or repetitive behaviors, such as compulsively cleaning or grooming. Delusions can also occur, including the feeling of parasites or insects crawling under the user’s skin. Long-term usage can cause complete psychosis, often displayed through violent behavior and paranoia. Meth use has even been known to cause strokes and death.
Sergeant John T. Scruggs is a police officer in the Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) in the Portland, Oregon police department. He has had many encounters with meth users and has seen the effects. “We’ve had incidents where people high on meth have gone into a psychotic rage,” he says, “punching out windows, screaming, chasing people, and running into traffic.”
“Meth use increases the likelihood that an offender will be violent,” adds Scruggs. “We’ve also had incidents where a person [who] was high on meth showed unbelievable strength and a high tolerance to pain.”
Scruggs has one particularly memorable experience of “a naked man running through yards and jumping fences on a 30 degree night. We received multiple calls from neighbors saying they just had [a] guy run [through] their yards, yelling and grunting.” He continues, “The guy was running so far and fast that it took us over 45 minutes to finally catch him. Officers had to wrestle the guy to the ground as he was sweating, grunting, and screaming.”
“As we waited for an ambulance to transport him to a hospital for the methamphetamine overdose [and] psychosis, there was steam coming off his body,” he says. “I looked at his feet and noticed he had worn all the way through his skin on the bottom of his feet and he was bleeding profusely.” Scruggs concludes, “I [remember] looking into his eyes and I can only describe his look as pure rage.”
Meth use can also have a toll on physical appearance. According to the American Dental Association’s website, ada.org, meth can have severe oral health effects, causing what is known as “meth mouth.” Meth can cause xerostomia, or dry mouth, which reduces the amount of saliva produced and makes teeth more susceptible to decay. Also, during binges and crashes, users often abandon oral hygiene. They are also likely to grind or clench their teeth.
Scruggs has seen meth’s physical toll in person. He says that the drug’s “most common indicator is a bad complexion and rotting teeth.” He adds, “Prolonged meth use will also result in teeth rotting and [falling] out.” In addition to meth mouth, he has observed “bleeding sores and scratch marks from self-inflicted itching and scratching.” Lastly, “it is common for hard-core meth user to look significantly older than they really are.”
Various household ingredients can be used to make meth. These include over-the-counter cold medications, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze, according to drugfree.org. Cooking meth produces highly toxic fumes, vapors, and spillage; these are combustible and hazardous to both people and the environment.
Despite meth’s deadly effects, young people still use and abuse the drug. According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, a study of American young adults, in 2008, 2.8 percent of high school seniors reported having used the drug at least once in their lives. A smaller, but still concerning, 1.2 percent had used meth at least once in the last year. Comparatively, 2.8 percent of seniors reported trying crack cocaine at least once, and 1.6 percent reported using crack in the last month.
Other disturbing effects of meth are being discovered through the latest research. This includes meth’s continuing effect on the brain after a user quits. According to drugabuse.gov, long-term meth users can stop feeling pleasure or happiness from anything besides the drug. This makes the drug especially difficult to give up.
New information is becoming known as scientists using brain imaging techniques study meth users’ brains. According to drugabuse.gov, scientists have discovered that even three years after chronic meth users had quit using the drug, the dopamine and serotonin neurons in their brain were still damaged. This helps to explain why users who no longer take meth continue to not feel happiness, be paranoid, and have hallucinations months or even years after their use has stopped.
The damage to the dopamine system may also have other effects. Brain imaging studies have shown that damage occurs in areas of the system associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Recent studies have also shown severe structural and functional changes in the brain which may explain emotional and cognitive problems observed in meth abusers. Meth can also cause permanent damage to blood vessels in the brain, making strokes still possible after quitting.
Scientists have also compared meth to its fellow stimulant, cocaine. According to drugabuse.gov, many argue that meth is a “worse” drug than cocaine. While 50 percent of cocaine is quickly metabolized and removed from the body in just one hour, the same amount of meth is removed after a full 12 hours. This indicates meth is present in the brain longer and therefore has prolonged effects. Also, cocaine is plant-derived while meth is man-made; this isn’t a valid argument except in considering that users never can be sure what exactly is in the meth they have.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, found at nida.nih.gov, has collected data on drug-related emergency department (ED) visits to hospitals. The most recent data, from 2003, shows that stimulants, or amphetamines and methamphetamine, were involved in nearly seven percent of all drug-related ED visits. For non-emergency visits due to drug abuse or misuse, stimulants accounted for 10 percent of visits. NIDA also has data of the admissions to publicly-funded substance abuse treatment programs, most recently from 2006. In that year, 8.7 percent of people were admitted because of stimulants.
Another devastating effect of meth is the formation of meth labs. Most meth labs are now located in Mexico. Scruggs explains, “Meth labs in Oregon are very rare now, due to restrictive legislation on the sale of precursors. Oregon, like many states, has limited the quantity of products that people can buy that contain pseudoephedrine, a necessary ingredient in the making of methamphetamine.”
However, Scruggs has seen local meth labs as well. “Every lab I have seen or discovered [has] been inside very messy houses,” he says. “The labs have had all kinds of corrosives lying around with the living conditions in the rest of the house totally filthy.” He adds, “Meth labs are mostly discovered through the chemical smells, during a call for service for something unrelated, citizen informants, through traffic stops, and explosions and house fires.”
Meth users and cooks are not the only ones affected by labs. According to methamphetamine.org, approximately 40 percent of home-based labs seized have young children living in or adjacent to the lab. In addition to neglect, the children can be harmed by the toxic ingredients and fumes from cooking meth. The ingredients and process are both highly combustible, so labs often catch on fire or explode.
Preliminary data has shown that about 38 percent of children removed from California meth labs have tested positive for meth, according to methamphetamine.org. These children also had higher-than-expected incidences of respiratory, dermatological, and dental problems. Other data from San Bernardino County, California, found that 43 percent of children removed from meth labs had abnormal medical exam results following the seizure. A further 42 percent of developmental exams showed at least one developmental delay or two cautions also known as signs of possible future delays.
Even a child who does not live in a meth lab, but who lives with a meth user, can have serious issues stemming from the presence of the drug. According to the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (ncsacw.samhsa.gov), children can ingest meth through secondhand meth smoke. In addition, parents high on meth may become violent or not provide adequate supervision, resulting in abuse and neglect. Often, they live in poor conditions, lacking food, water, gas, and electricity; many children [also] lack medical care, dental care, and immunizations.
According to NCSACW, children are more likely than adults to have negative health effects from exposure to chemicals. Children have higher metabolic rates, their skeletal and nervous systems are still developing, and their skin is thinner and absorbs chemicals faster. Also, some fumes or gases heavier than air sink down to the level of a child walking or crawling.
Scruggs has witnessed the horrific effects of meth on children. “Meth addicts have left children unattended for long periods of time or have not provided food to eat,” he says. “We’ve also found children that have become victims of physical and sexual abuse,” Scruggs adds. “Most meth houses are extremely filthy[...] We’ve found kids crawling around in the mess and chemicals.”
Despite the destruction meth has had and continues to have on children, families, governments, and police, Scruggs believes there is hope. “Education, prevention, treatment, mental health care, and law enforcement combined is the only strategy that will be successful” in stopping meth abuse, he says. Scruggs also believes “a change in societal attitudes” is necessary. “The less people [who accept] drug use or tolerate it by their peers, friends, and relatives, the less people will use or try drugs,” he says.
Scruggs also believes that meth users can ultimately recover “if they quit soon enough.” He explains, “I know a very successful apartment manager who was addicted to meth and lost her kids. She went to jail, got clean, and was finally able to get her kids back.” He concludes, “She then worked her way up and now manages a large apartment complex.”
To help combat meth’s devastating effects, drugfree.org has multiple suggestions. They recommend volunteering at a local treatment center, hospital, or burn center, or offering time to social workers helping youth whose parents are addicted. Also, advocating for an in-school meth education program at PTA meetings can be helpful. Joining a meth education, support, or activist group is simple but very helpful. Lastly, look to bigger organizations and groups in the community for help; these include newspapers and TV stations, places of faith, neighborhood watch programs, colleges and universities, and parents’ organizations.
by Hannah Penfield
Kifaya Husayn was a 16 year old Jordanian girl. She faced unfathomable trauma when she was raped by her 21 year old brother. In the Western world, she would have been protected and sympathized with. Not so in the extremist politics of the Middle East.
Husayn’s uncle convinced the girl’s eldest brother, 32, that she was a disgrace to the family for no longer being a virgin, wrote Syed Kamran Mirza on IslamWatch.org. In response, her brother tied her to a chair and slashed her throat. Afterwards, he ran out into the street and yelled for the neighbors to hear, “I have killed my sister to cleanse my honor.”
These types of murders are not rare. In fact, themuslimwoman.org claimed that almost one-third of the reported homicides in Jordan are so-called honor killings and has said that the woman is seen as the “vessel of the family reputation” who can be tarnished through adultery, rape, or even mere rumor. Officials from Jordan’s National Institute for Forensic Medicine have come across several bodies of girls who were killed after rumors spread that they had sex before marriage. However, autopsies ultimately revealed that the girls were actually virgins.
Middle Eastern women’s rights activists claim that even rape victims have been murdered for dishonoring the family. Many believe that the loss of virginity, even through force, is shameful. Women are blamed for their own rapes, instead of that blame falling on their rapists.
Due to rampant fundamentalist influence, many governments in the Middle East are based on the principles of Sharia law. Sharia law is a radical Islamic code whose rules prescribe oppression and forcible control of women. Thus honor killings are rarely prosecuted, and when they are, the perpetrators usually receive light sentences.
Some Middle Easterners claim that honor killings are due to Islamic tradition. According to Mirza on IslamWatch.org, one of these people is Ghazi al-Qusaibi, the Saudi ambassador to London. He said that since stoning is “at the core of Islamic faith,” stoning women to death is a legitimate punishment that Westerners should respect.
Another person Mirza mentioned is reporter Al Skudsi bin Hookah, who has said: “Our way of life is under attack. And we are not fighting back. Deep down, we know that when a woman has disgraced her family, nothing will restore honor except by killing her.”
He continued, “And make no mistake about it: a woman does tarnish her family’s honor by engaging in pre-marital sex, or by getting herself raped, when she seeks divorce [or] when she marries against her family’s wishes.”
Mirza even wrote about a Jordanian with an American doctorate, Bassam al-Hadid, who said, “I would do what I have to do,” when asked whether he would kill his daughter if she had sex outside of marriage.
However, others disagree. Some believe it has its roots outside of Islam and is entirely unacceptable. Houzan Mahmoud from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) writes editorials at EqualityinIraq.com. She said oppression of women “is not a matter of ‘culture,’ but a political system. It is because of these governments … that millions of women are forced by them to live in hell.”
Yanar Mohammed, president of OWFI, explained on EqualityinIraq.com, “It has also become another ugly face of the atrocious sectarian war where assaulting females of the other sect is considered a political victory and punishment.” Many point to the fact that honor killings were around before Islam. The origins of honor killings were in the pre-Islamic era. They sprang from the primitive Arab society which had powerful and strict tribal family rules. Also, there is an argument that honor killings are perpetrated by non-Muslims as often as they are by Muslims.
In most Middle Eastern countries, “honorcide” has been widespread for years. Themuslimwoman.org has written about Sabrin, of the Abu Ghanem of Ramala, Israel, who was murdered by her cousin after she refused to marry him. They also wrote about Shirahina, also from Israel, who was 15 when she decided to pursue a career instead of marriage. According to the Web site, she was “butchered” by her brothers for this decision.
According to The Independent, a British newspaper, the number of honor killings has sharply increased in countries like Iraq, which used to be stable. Shawbo Ali Rauf, a 19 year old Iraqi, was shot seven times by her in-laws simply because they found a phone number they didn’t recognize on her cell phone. Another Iraqi, 17 year old Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death by her father for falling in love with a British soldier who was serving in her town, reported The Independent.
According to OWFI, speaking through Mahmoud’s editorials, the six years of the US occupation have seen another startling new trend. Leaflets have been appearing in neighborhoods all over Iraq warning women to adhere to strict rules. If a woman goes out unveiled, wears makeup, shakes hands, or “mixes with” men, she can be punished. These are not empty threats; dozens of women have been killed for ignoring the leaflets.
Honor killings may seem like a strictly Middle Eastern phenomenon, but immigrants from the Middle East to the West have brought this practice with them. In Canada, Mohammed Pervez killed his 16 year old daughter Aqsa when she refused to wear a hijab. In the United States, an Egyptian taxi driver living in Texas murdered his two daughters for dating non-Muslim boys; Yaser Abdel Said shot his two daughters and left them to die in his taxi. Plus, Britain has seen an increasing number of honor-related killings in recent years, Mirza on IslamWatch.org reported.
Some honor killings are being publicized in the modern world through the Internet, themuslimwoman.org wrote. Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17, was part of the ancient, non-Muslim Yazidi tribe of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Allegedly, she was planning to elope with a Muslim man. Aswad’s male relatives stoned her to death while a mob of 2,000 watched. Police officials looked on as people filmed the nearly hour-long process with their camera phones.
The video exploded on to the Internet on both women’s rights and fundamentalist Web sites. Both outrage and fanatical support followed. The new millennium’s mix of extremist politics and wide availability of technology means that private conflicts are broadcasted to a global audience.
Why has the radicalization of the Middle East occurred and why has it led to the oppression of women? Mahmoud said that the major reason is the degeneration of these countries through perpetual conflict. Countries ravaged by war and social evils cannot maintain a government free of corruption. The people who stay in power are those who aren’t afraid to use violence: fundamentalists and fanatics.
By using the politics of fear, these people can control the general population. The public cling to the abusive practices forced upon them because they fear the powerful and they fear change. Adopting the current popular code allows them to feel secure.
Women are the targets because men can physically dominate and overpower them. Therefore, the fundamentalists can set any rules they want for women, such as no driving, going out alone, or talking to strange men. On IslamWatch.org, Mirza argued that they justify these actions by pointing to specific stories in the Quran and the Hadiths, which are the rough equivalents of the Christian Old and New Testaments.
Helping to stop these atrocities is difficult as honor crimes are often dealt with as family matters. Also, changing the mindset of an entire population will take a lot of time. However, there are some things you can do to help. First, find and support organizations that promote women’s education in the Middle East. Research and anecdotal evidence shows that educating women helps them to avoid these situations, and many Middle Eastern women are denied education and schooling.
Other organizations to support are the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization (ikwro.co.uk) and Stop-Stoning.org. You can also check out reformislam.org/honorcide to learn more about the “Stop Honorcide” campaign. This campaign is trying to add honor killings to hate crime legislation in the United States. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and those around you. Ignorance is the weapon of oppressors; don’t help fuel these atrocities.