Below is information about Human Sex Trafficking in India, Nepal, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Asia and Guyana in South America
Human trafficking: exaggerated numbers?
|If media reports are to be believed, there would be no young girls left in Nepal. RAJASHRI DASGUPTA and LAXMI MURTHY find accurate media coverage on trafficking of women and children lacking.|
|Posted/Updated Thursday, Jan 29 11:14:43, 2009|
InfoChange News & Features, January 2009
Today, more than ever before in history, people are moving across the world in search of better opportunities of life and livelihood. Made easier by faster and cheaper means of transport and communication, migration for employment, and its linkages with development as a phenomenon, occurs in most societies the world over.
As global capital moves, so must global labour. In South Asia, the movement of persons in search of greater employment opportunity is usually from the poorer regions, rural areas and less developed regions and countries, to the more developed. With growing urbanisation, availability of services as well as the opportunity to earn cash income, rural migrants are drawn into the big towns and metros. Many argue that people move from labour surplus-low wage areas, to labour shortage-high wage areas. In some cases, migration is also due to political instability and religious persecution.
In 2005, the five major South Asia labour-sending countries (India,Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan) sent over 1.5 million migrant workers abroad legally. India sent 549,000 migrants;Bangladesh 253,000; Nepal 184,000. The number of migrants deployed rose in each country by 2007; for instance, according to Migration News 2008, the number of Indians deployed was 800,000, the number of Bangladeshis 833,000.
Remittance by migrant workers is said to be a major pillar that supports the economies of some countries. In 2007, the five majorSouth Asia labour-sending countries received $40 billion in remittances, led by $27 billion in India, $6.4 billion in Bangladeshand $1.6 billion in Nepal. Most South Asians earn about $200 to $400 a month in the Gulf oil-exporting States.
Globalisation, and the phenomenal economic growth in some parts of India, have resulted in complex patterns of migration across borders in the region. According to a 2006 report of the International Labour Organisation, women are increasingly migrating, and now account for half the international migrants. However, media coverage of trafficking of women and children, migration and sex work is confused and inaccurate. The media wrongly uses the terms ¿sex work¿ and ¿trafficking¿ synonymously, perpetuating stereotypes and stigmatization, and contributing to the violation of women¿s right to free movement and livelihood options.
If media reports are to be believed, there would be no young girls left in Nepal. Oft-quoted figures such as 5,000-7,000 Nepali girls being trafficked across the border to India every year and 150,000-200,000 Nepali women and girls being trapped in brothels in various Indian cities, were first disseminated in 1986, and have remained unaltered over the next two decades. The report that first quoted these statistics was from the Indian Health Association, Mumbai, written by AIDS Society of India secretary general, Dr. I S Gilada, and presented in a workshop in 1986. Subsequently, a version of this report was published as an article in The Times of India on January 2, 1989. To date, the source of this figure remains a mystery. Unfortunately, such a lack of clarity is more the norm than the exception when it comes to reporting on trafficking in women and girls.
Not surprisingly, figures about the same phenomenon differ vastly. For example, the news report, ¿Majority of girls trafficked are minors¿, Indian Express, Guwahati, March 9, 2007 cites the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as estimating that 150,000 people are trafficked within South Asia. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that between 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across borders. The news report quotes estimates by the same organisations, that between 5,000-10,000 Nepali women are trafficked every year to India for purposes of ¿commercial sexual exploitation¿, with an estimated 40,000-200,000 women and girls from Nepal working in brothels in various cities across India.
However, another report, from a different news agency, IANS, ( India Abroad News Service) that appeared in The Tribune onOctober 24, 2007, quoted the UNODC chief, Gary Lewis, as saying that 5,000-15,000 women and children are trafficked to India fromNepal. Where does the truth lie? Or do 5,000 women this way or that not matter at all?
With the right safeguards in place to protect women without infringing on freedom of movement, migration can be profitable and strengthening, and women should not be discouraged from exercising this right. However, domestic laws, as well as regional laws and policies in South Asia, have not kept pace with these population movements. Security concerns, as well as political upheavals and internal conflict in most of the countries in the region, have also prevented the development of a comprehensive migration policy.
The lack of easy avenues to migrate, has resulted in a plethora of illegal activities and organised crime in the business of getting people/labour across borders. Trafficking for the purpose of debt bondage, child labour, organ trade, begging, sex work and mail-order brides are only some of the more glaring manifestations. Smuggling of persons across the border, through dangerous means, albeit with their consent, is another outcome of the lack of safe migration opportunities. Further problems arise because of the common perception that all movements of women (especially across borders) are forced, and mainly for the purpose of prostitution. This also leads to the conflation of ¿prostitution/sex work¿ with ¿trafficking¿, with these terms wrongly being used synonymously.
Stigmatisation and the perpetuation of stereotypes by the media add to the violation of human rights of each of these categories of persons: migrant workers, trafficked workers and smuggled workers. Within these categories, women are more vulnerable; gender discrimination and violence makes women soft targets of trafficking, while traffickers thrive on vulnerabilities. However, due to these vulnerabilities and risks, all women who migrate are lumped (in popular perception, the media, laws and policies) with children in need of protection. Such a protectionist approach often ends up violating women¿s right to free movement, to livelihood options, and choosing a country of residence.
Globally, anti-trafficking initiatives have stemmed from a crime-control perspective, rather than a human-rights perspective. Thus, the focus tends to be on stamping out a vice through stringent laws and effective enforcement, in order to rid a society of a social evil. Such an approach dwells little on the lived realities of women, their complex situation, and their human rights which might get violated in the process of vice control. The media has tended to mirror and reinforce this view, rather than focus on safe migration for individuals and their families.
Media coverage on issues of trafficking of women and children, migration and sex work over the years has been far from ideal. In the first place, issues of migration and trafficking do not receive adequate coverage in mainstream media, and the quality of
coverage is also a major concern. Moreover, misinformation, alongside commonly held myths, overridden by the prevailing morality, contributes to media coverage of these issues being shoddy and lacking in a factual base. Further, when journalists are unable to recognize and put aside their own prejudices and biases, they are unable to tell it like it is. The attempt to sensationalize the issue, and draw more attention, is also perhaps one contributory factor to ¿spicy¿, but confused headlines and reports.
Facts, lies and statistics
One of the pre-requisites for dealing with this problem is the availability of accurate data from reliable sources. Media coverage on trafficking of women and children clearly reveals scanty and unverified data. Often, data is cited without quoting the source, and even when sources are quoted, the data is varied and contradictory. What is of more concern is that inaccurate ‘facts’ are regularly recycled in the media in the face of evidence that reliable data is scare. Discrepancy in agency reports is particularly significant, because the same report is picked up by publications across India, almost assuming the status of ¿fact¿.
There are conflicting statements given out on these issues by organizations such as the UN and the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau). One such instance is about the main region from where the majority of women are trafficked. Nepal, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal are variously quoted, with these reports finding their way into the press. Another such glaring dichotomy is evident in that a Press Trust of India (PTI) report quotes Malini Bhattacharya, member of the National Commission for Women,India, calling human trafficking a “kind of international terrorism”. Yet, the same news item says that it is estimated that 90% ofIndia¿s sex trafficking is internal. The usual stereotype in press accounts is of equating trafficking with prostitution, as evidenced by the “selling girls for prostitution” reported from various police stations in the country. Further, by mentioning ¿girls¿, it is not clear if it actually means minors, or whether ¿girls¿ also includes adult women. Such ambiguity does not enable an accurate assessment of the problem.
Very little data is available on the actual implementation of the anti-trafficking law, and convictions arising out of this. A rare report can be found on nepalnews.com date November 2, 2007(¿5,000 sex workers in Valley: A study¿). According to this report, “About 7% out of the total of 2,210 prisoners are serving jail terms in the Kathmandu valley in cases related to human trafficking. Most of the imprisoned male traffickers are from Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Dhading and Makawanpur districts.” However, no source for this data is quoted.
Recycling unverified data
The analysis of newspaper clippings and electronic clips revealed that published data tends to make the rounds of media outlets. Even if the data is not attributed to any reliable source, it is quoted repeatedly. The following is one such example:
The Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi), New Delhi, of January 14, 2007, in a report titled ¿Deh vyapar ka karobar ek lakh karod ka¿ (Flesh trade to the tune of one lakh crore) contains some interesting facts and figures:
1. After drugs and arms trafficking, trafficking in children and women is the next biggest money-spinner in the world.
2. These women and children are used in the sex trade, and the business amounts to 10 billion dollars annually.
3. India shares 1/4th of this booty.
4. In India, 1 crore women are trafficked, and 1 lakh crore rupees change hands.
5. In Mumbai, the women involved in sex trade goes up to 1 lakh.
6. In India, there are 500,000 women from Nepal andBangladesh.
7. Every year, around 10,000 women from Nepal, and 7,000 women from Bangladesh are trafficked to India on the promise of employment and better marriage prospects.
8. Most of these are below 16 years of age.
9. The girls from Nepal are sold for Rs 2000-60,000.
10. According to the Centre for Development and Population Activities, 200 women are added to the sex trade in Indiaeveryday.
A point to note is that the source for the data for points 1 through 9is attributed to “various human rights agencies and NGOs” without naming them.
Significantly, these statistics were quoted in two news reports on major TV channels in India: The report ¿Tackling Trafficking¿, aired on NDTV 24×7 on December 4, 2007, while reporting the newly launched Ujjwala scheme, quotes the Dainik Bhaskar data, but no primary source. Similarly, a report on Doordarshan on the same day (December 4, 2007) on the Ujjwala scheme, also quotes the same Dainik Bhaskar figures. Journalists must be alert to the process of recycling data without checking original sources, especially when the data thus quoted is contradictory.
Getting off the beaten track
The majority of the reports that appear in the media can be called hand-out journalism – either from official sources, press releases, or NGO publicity materials. Rarely did any of the stories explore new angles, or break new ground in exposing the roots of the problem, nor did they suggest innovative solutions to the problem of trafficking in women and girls. A few articles did attempt to highlight little-known facts, such as the extremely low conviction rate for the crime of human trafficking (¿5,000 sex workers in Valley: A study¿), the lack of training for police (Sreyashi Dastidar¿s ¿Never too young to be sold¿ in The Telegraph, Kolkata, October 15, 2007). But these continue to be rare, illustrating the need for more analytical and investigative reporting of these issues.
This critique of coverage in print, online and electronic media must be read in the context of the crucial role played by the media. The media can also provide a platform for healthy debate and airing divergent views. However, if the media takes it upon itself to play either moral guardian, or police mouthpiece, it is hardly likely that this will generate an informed debate. (Rajashri Dasgupta is an independent journalist based in Kolkata.)
Cambodian Marriage Law, Foreign Men Over The Age Of 50, Banned From Marrying Cambodian Women
The fight against human trafficking is supposed to be about protecting the basic human rights of those who are perceived to be victims. Unfortunately the result of over zealous and fear mongering politicians, media and independent agencies are often counter productive. In March of 2011, the government of Cambodia introduced a racist and discriminatory policy outlawing marriages with Cambodian women and foreign men over the age of 50.
When asked to comment on the newly introduced law, Cambodian government officials stated that “We are preventing fake marriages and human trafficking”. So in an effort to protect basic human rights, they use a tactic of racial and age discrimination. In addition to the age limit, there is also a monthly income requirement of 2500USD for foreign men under the age of 50. There is no mention of what happens in the case of a 50 year old foreigner wanting to marry a 45 year old Cambodian bride, presumably this would be illegal under Cambodian law.
If you’re a Cambodian woman, you have, effectively been denied the right to freely choose a spouse as enshrined in international human rights law. Head of the Licadho human rights group comments “This is discrimination against women because they will not be allowed to marry men who are over 50 … while Cambodian men can marry any foreign woman they choose,”
It is illogical to think that this policy will have any affect on human trafficking, those who are involved in the sex trade likely have no intention of marrying anyone. The fact that anyone supports these kind of policies is appalling! Human rights advocates that are involved in the fight against human trafficking should appose these kind of policies that take away a woman’s right to choose her partner.
Tuesday 2 November 2010
How NGOs are adopting a missionary position in Asia
A sex-worker rights activist in Thailand tells Nathalie Rothschild about the reality of the prudish, neo-colonial anti-trafficking industry.
We all know that there is a big sex industry in south-east Asia. In fact, it often seems that sex is the only thing we hear about in reports from this part of the world as the media peddles salacious stories about ‘sex tourism’, ‘ladyboys’, virgins for sale and girls tricked into prostitution. But in recent years another kind of trade has boomed there: the anti-trafficking industry. And local sex worker rights activists tell me that this industry is a far bigger problem for them than punters looking for sex or company.
Today, there are hundreds of non-governmental organisations in Cambodia alone working to ‘rescue and rehabilitate’ sex workers. Local sex-worker representatives even claim that there are more anti-trafficking activists than there are genuine trafficking victims.
Indeed, last year an audit of the USAID Counter Trafficking in Persons project reported that in 2009 the Cambodian government convicted just 12 people of trafficking offences. As for trafficking victims, the audit concluded that it was beyond the scope of the five-year project – initiated in 2006 with a budget of $7.3million – to establish ‘baseline data’ on the numbers of victims.
Andrew Hunter from the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) tells me that there are NGO-run women’s shelters across Cambodia that rely on funding from donors like USAID and that they use ‘lurid stories of sexual abuse to raise money. It’s kind of pornographic in a way – but it seems making up stories of the enslavement and sexual degradation of women raises more funds.’
The USAID report explained that other organisations and researchers had also failed to establish just how many trafficking victims there are in Cambodia. One of the obstacles identified was that ‘Human trafficking victims may be unaware, unwilling, or unable to acknowledge that they are trafficking victims, so it is difficult to reach them…’
For Andrew, saying that women are unwitting victims – even if they vehemently deny it – is tantamount to denying ‘the idea that women have agency’. (Ironically, the anti-trafficking industry is to a large extent made up of self-described feminists. But feminists have traditionally fought for women to be regarded as autonomous, free-thinking individuals, not as clueless victims.)
As for enforced prostitution, Andrew says that ‘women (and men) generally take up jobs because they need to earn money’ and the same is true for sex work. ‘The fewer skills you have, the less choice you have, but many women do choose sex work.’
‘Large numbers of sex workers in Cambodia are former garment workers’, Andrew continues. ‘They find conditions in the sex industry better than in the garment factories. In fact, a few weeks ago, Cambodian garment workers organised massive strikes demanding higher wages– and sex workers were on the picket lines supporting them.’
Yet a recent BBC documentary claimed that thousands of young girls are being sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia and that prostitution is not something women take up voluntarily.
The documentary was presented by Stacey Dooley, who made her television debut in the 2008 BBC series Blood, Sweat and T-shirts, in which six young British ‘fashion addicts’ toured factories and slums in India. Up until then, Dooley had been interested in little more than clothes and makeup, but now she goes around the world investigating topics such as the use of child soldiers and child labourers in the developing world.
In her report from Cambodia, Dooley hardly has a dry-eyed moment. As Alang, an 18-year-old prostitute, tells Dooley her story (she was sold to pimps by her aunt at the age of 12) the young Brit weeps uncontrollably. After waiting nine hours to accompany police on a raid to ‘bust some brothels’, Dooley starts crying because the cops fail to catch any pimps. And so on. She also visits an impoverished widow whose youngest daughter attends activities organised by the Sao Sary Foundation. This is an NGO which runs lessons for rural children whom they’ve identified as being at risk of falling prey to traffickers.
Andrew has heard it all before. ‘The idea that large numbers of women are sold into the sex industry by their families is based on a premise that poor people are stupid, ignorant and naive – not to mention cruel.’
‘Yes, this kind of thing used to happen’, Andrew tells me, ‘in the period after the civil war when Cambodia started “opening up”’. During the time of the UN peacekeeping operation in 1992-93, women from rural areas started going to cities to find work, but were often forced into degrading situations. But as women went back to their villages and told their relatives of their experiences, people started to learn, explains Andrew. ‘The same is true all over south-east Asia. Ten years ago, when sex workers in Cambodia were crying out for assistance on this issue no one was interested. So they formed their own unions to fight for their rights as workers. Since anti-trafficking money became available, however, suddenly every NGO is worried about “rescuing sex workers”.’
The anti-trafficking industry boomed in the early Noughties, when then US president George W Bush launched the ‘war on trafficking’ as a ‘soft power strategy’ to accompany the global war on terror. However, the thinly veiled agenda was to abolish any form of sex work. Funding to organisations that ‘promote, support, or advocate the legalisation or practice of prostitution’ was suspended.
In addition, two years ago, the Cambodian government passed the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, drafted with the support of UNICEF. As researcher Cheryl Overs has shown, it criminalises ‘almost all social and financial transactions connected to sex work, whether they are abusive or consensual, fair or unfair’. According to Andrew, this has had devastating effects, driving sex workers onto the streets where they are more vulnerable and into karaoke bars where they are not allowed to carry condoms.
In her documentary, Dooley also meets a young girl who was tricked into prostitution at the age of 13 and has suffered horrific abuse, including being forced to drink alcohol mixed with crushed glass. Andrew says this kind of abuse becomes more likely when the sex industry is driven underground and sex workers cannot organise to protect their rights.
Moreover, ‘many of the agencies working with “trafficking victims” in fact illegally detain sex workers after they have been rounded up in police raids. I have met sex workers who have been held against their will for up to three months in so-called shelters.’ Andrew tells me that many shelters are set up specifically for ‘protection cases’ – ‘young girls taken by NGOs from villages in order to hide them from traffickers’. So, in order to prevent young girls from being taken away from their families, NGOs take them away from their families… ‘Usually, they teach them things like sewing and in that way offer ready-trained workers for the garment industry, where women are indeed exploited and paid paltry wages.’ Also, ‘there are plenty of US-backed DIY-NGOs in Cambodia who want to save young girls, offering them bible study dressed up as literacy classes.’ This is a missionary position indeed.
Over at Dooley’s blog, there is now a lively discussion going on, with Cambodian activists and researchers refuting some of the claims made in her documentary. Others are appalled at Dooley’s patronising tone. Indeed, she speaks to the Cambodians she meets as if they are children, looking at them with puppy eyes as they tell her of their hardships and explaining, in simple, clearly enunciated English (even though there were translators in the film crew) how she would do her best to help them and how she feels their pain.
For Dooley, who confesses she is a bit of a prude and has never met a prostitute before, the red light districts of Cambodia are understandably overwhelming. It’s hard for her to imagine that anything other than ‘brothel busting’ could be the answer to the exploitation some girls experience. But good intentions and sympathy can do a lot of harm. Dooley may want to show that she understands poor people’s desperation, but, in the end, she comes across as a wide-eyed, ignorant, well-heeled westerner wanting desperately to Do Something. She lectures and hectors everyone from western men to Cambodian police for failing to help girls in need.
Yes, Dooley is a ditzy young woman who got a gig with the BBC by fluke, but she perfectly epitomises the neo-colonialist streak to anti-trafficking. Documentaries such as hers only help portray developing world countries like Cambodia as places of vice and beastliness on the one hand, and ignorance and innocence on the other; as places filled with people who need to be rescued and civilised.
My guess is that Cambodians could do without such ‘help’ and that British television viewers could do with some programmes exposing the dubious interests and machinations of the anti-trafficking industry in south-east Asia and beyond.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.
reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/9843/
Philippines – GOVT SEEKS SOURCE OF SEX TOURISM / US ENVOY APOLOGIZES, ASKS PHL TO REFINE ANTI-TRAFFICKING LAWS
MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2011 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla – Malacañang wants to know from US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. (photo) the source of his information when he revealed that 40 percent of male foreigners fly to Manila primarily for sex tourism.
“Apparently, he claims to have some basis. That’s the reason why he issued such a statement. What we want to know is where that basis came from,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing yesterday.
Filing a diplomatic protest at this point would be premature, according to him, because the Philippine government has to ascertain first the veracity of the information that the American envoy got.
“It’s already speculation at this point if we want to file something when we don’t even know yet the basis of the claim of Ambassador Thomas. So, we would like to ask the good ambassador, again, the basis of his statement,” Lacierda said.
More than anything else, the Palace official said they were “more curious than offended” with Thomas’ surprising remarks, precisely the reason why “we wanted to know and ask from them the basis for their statement.”
“We will wait for the response of Ambassador Thomas,” Lacierda said.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima denied the claim of Thomas that he got his data from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
De Lima said it is not their duty to ask foreigners if they were sex tourists.
“As far as DOJ is concerned, there are no such records. The DOJ does not collect statistics on sex tourists. Because, in the first place, like Secretary De Lima said, we don’t go around asking them if they are sex tourists,” Lacierda said, quoting De Lima.
“So, there’s no statistics to that effect and Secretary De Lima, in fact, wrote a letter to Ambassador Thomas to ask the good ambassador the basis for his claim,” Lacierda said.
Nonetheless, they are leaving such matters to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). “After receiving that particular explanation, we’ll leave it with the DFA to decide on the best course of action.”
Thomas has rejected calls for him to apologize for his remarks that 40 percent of male tourists in the Philippines are only after sex with local women and children.
“I’m not going to apologize. I will never apologize for trying to combat child sex. I will never apologize for trying to combat children being forced to labor. I will never apologize for trying to help children in Smokey Mountain,” Thomas said in an interview in his Forbes Park residence in Makati City recently.
He maintained that he based his assertion on records on the sex trade and child trafficking culled by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working with the National Bureau of Investigation.
Thomas drew flak for his comments from some politicians, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Miriam Santiago.
US envoy apologizes for sex tourism story By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) Updated October 08, 2011 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. has apologized for his remarks that 40 percent of male tourists visiting the Philippines come only for sex tourism, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.
Del Rosario said he received a text message from Thomas who expressed regret over his statement at a forum last month that should not have been made without supporting data.
“I am sending you a response expressing regret for my comments. I should not have used the 40 percent statistics without the ability to back it up,” Thomas said. “I regret any harm that I may have caused.”
Del Rosario received the message in Hanoi while attending the 7th Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam.
He said Thomas has been working closely with the Philippine government in addressing the challenge of human trafficking in the country.
Lawmakers challenged the data on sex tourism cited by Thomas and said the American envoy should back up his statement with solid proof.
Thomas’ statements were challenged by various sectors that included Malacañang and the Department of Tourism.
Thomas, however, earlier said he would not apologize over his remark about prostitution in the country and stressed he was only telling the truth when he cited the statistics.
Article Link: http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl111154.htm
On September 15, 2010, truck loads of armed personnel from the Philippine National Police raided four bars in the entertainment district of Angeles City, reinforced by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (headed by the Philippine Department of Justice), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Two hundred sixty-eight bar employees—managers, mamasans, cashiers, waitresses, and bargirls, including three of our interviewees—were placed in detention for one week. Tala (an interviewee) contacted us upon her release with the news of the raids.
In addition to the detentions, as a result of the closing of these four bars some 300 other workers were displaced from their jobs, and everyone involved with provisioning the bars, cleaning the bars, washing uniforms, and recycling bar trash were out of a job or lost sales.
Officials said the raid was to “rescue” victims of “trafficking,” a claim as admirable as it is bogus. Our field interview data, available on this blog and presented in detail below, clearly show that young Filipinas work in these bars of their own volition, for reasons that make sense to them. We find no evidence whatsoever of human trafficking in the entertainment district of Angeles City.
This raises the question of why the Philippine authorities would conduct an anti-trafficking raid in a place where trafficking does not exist. Perhaps they were ignorant about the Angeles City bar scene. More likely they wanted to prove they are cracking down on what the U.S. State Department, The United Nations, and anti-trafficking organizations are convinced is a global problem.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to the Philippines hangs in the balance.
The Political Context of the Raid
Philippine Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, whose office supervises the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, stated in a news conference the day after the raid, “They rescued last night more than 200 trafficked persons from 10 establishments. Many of the victims are minors.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported:
De Lima . . . said the owners and managers of these establishments would face charges. “This is a breakthrough in our anti-(human) trafficking initiatives,” De Lima said.
GMA News.TV reported on its website:
De Lima, who assumed office last July, had instructed . . . the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking to step up efforts to combat human trafficking. The Philippines is in danger of losing some $250 million in aid from the US State Department if it does not improve the prosecution of trafficking syndicates. . . . The US State Department’s 2010 human trafficking report retained the Philippines’ “Tier 2 watch list” rank, indicating that the country “does not fully comply with, but is making significant efforts to meet” the agency’s standards.
Others Filipinos didn’t see the raid as a rescue of trafficked girls. According to the Philippine news agency, ABS-CBNNews:
Some relatives of the bar girls complained that the women were illegally arrested.
Authorities responded that the detention was not illegal, because the girls had been rescued, not arrested, so in a sense the fact that they were forcibly detained was somehow different.
An official from the raiding team, however, clarified that the raids were part of a ‘rescue’ operation. “There’s no illegal detention because the minors and victims were rescued by the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and not under arrest. Only those involved with the transactions constituting trafficking in person were arrested,” a text message from the official stated.
The Angeles City municipal government knew nothing of the pending raid. Municipal officials were not notified in advance of the raid. When the raid took place the mayor of Angeles City, Edgardo Pamintuan, was in the United States on official business.
The mayor and owners of various Angeles City bars have contested the government’s story, expressing concern about the damage done to the city, as well as to the enterprises and their employees. They disputed the allegation that the bars employ underage girls, and questioned the government’s statistics on prostitution.
The official Angeles City website, angelescityonline.net, said in an article titled, “Meeting Between Mayor and Bar Owners Regarding Recent Raids in Angeles City,”
The purpose of the meeting was for Pamintuan to address the very serious issue of the raids conducted by national law enforcement authorities over at some bars in Fields Avenue and the consequent damage to the image not only of the nightlife strip’s businesses but of the whole of Angeles City as well.
The mayor referred to the meeting between (Philippine) President Aquino and US President Obama this week, as well as Obama’s campaign against human trafficking in line with the UN 2015 Millennium Development Goals, as part of the cause of such oppressive attention from national government agencies . . . It must be stated that the keen participation of the Philippines in Obama’s campaign and in the furthering of the Millennium Goals for developing countries has very recently gained by way of President Aquino some $434 million from USAID.
Pamintuan claimed that the recent raids . . . were incited by the US and even the UN, were beyond his control.
Another important issue that bar owners raised was the release of the employees of Forbidden City, Dirty Duck and Club Camelot. A total of 12 girls from these bars are still detained in Precinct 174, ostensibly “rescued” after being declared minors by a hastily-conducted dental check-up. All while the girls were able to present valid IDs and documents declaring them legitimate workers. Some of the detained individuals apart from the 12 alleged minors are employed as cashiers, bartenders, waiters and waitresses – clearly having nothing to do with human trafficking and unworthy of such charges.
The problem goes further than the detained employees, however, as the three bars have no way to help even their other employees numbering close to 300, who have been out of a job since the bars were closed.
Angeles City has always been hounded with “bad press” for harboring a “red-light district.” However, Pamintuan himself insisted that our city’s nightlife entertainments pale in comparison to other “fun” cities like Las Vegas and Pattaya. Unfortunately, however, the stigma of prostitution is particularly felt in the Philippines, and outsiders who do not understand the inner workings of Angeles City are prone to make erroneous and tragic assumptions about its image as a tourist city.
During the open forum, Agnew cited an article which claimed that 75% of 500 interviewed workers in Angeles City bars are underaged. He added that this misinformation is a ‘disgrace’, and the real number would be under 2% which could be brought down much more through better screening by the issuers of IDs by the city hall. Pamintuan agreed, citing his own experience with being presented with outrageous figures of prostitution and human trafficking in the Balibago tourist belt by supposed authorities in the national government. He also added that, apparently, Angeles City is considered second only to Manila in engaging in the trafficking of persons.
“It’s really beyond me, what happened, because they got all their facts wrong,” said Pamintuan.
On September 28, 2010, Philippine President Benigno Aquino proclaimed that he’s taking a tougher stance on human trafficking and expected more arrests “soon.” The fact he was in the United States from September 20—26, 2010, and that he managed a brief meeting with U.S. President Obama during his stay, should not be considered coincidental.
What is Human Trafficking and How Prevalent Is It?
The Trafficking Protocol, adopted by the United Nations in 2000 and signed by 117 countries, defines trafficking as:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth [above] shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth [above] have been used. . .
This broad definition may not hold up to strict legal or logical analysis. The essence of it seems to be that trafficking occurs when a party or organization recruits individuals through coercion or deception into an enterprise that benefits from their labor or services.
The Protocol is especially concerned with the coerced or deceptively acquired labor of women and children, with children being defined as anyone under 18 years of age. It requires signatory nations to enact laws making it a criminal offense to attempt, participate in, or direct others to engage in such activities.
The UN Protocol is but one expression of pervasive contemporary publicity about trafficking. The concept of trafficking has entered our modern consciousness. Everyone these days seems at least vaguely aware that something called “trafficking” is going on out there, and it’s bad. Trafficking is written up in newspapers and weeklies. It is talked about on television talk shows. Lurid stories are retold. Movies are produced. Numbers of trafficked women and children are bandied about. Groups are formed to eradicate it. Governments mobilize.
Despite the angst, we know little about the real extent of trafficking on a world-wide basis. Estimates fluctuate wildly. The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of prostitution, labor, and other forms of exploitation every year. The U.S. State Department estimates that 12.3 million adults and children were trafficked in 2009. We get the picture of a vast slave trade, run by international mafias, seizing and dealing and transporting people all over the world.
How reliable are these numbers? Curiously, certain agencies of the U.S. government and the UN themselves, the very bodies engaged in policing trafficking, have serous questions about our trafficking statistics and the research methods that generate them.
The U.S. General Accountability Office says in its 2006 report HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Better Data, Strategy, and Reporting Needed to Enhance U.S. Anti-trafficking Efforts Abroad:
The U.S. government estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders annually; however such estimates of global human trafficking are questionable. The accuracy of the estimates is in doubt because of methodological weaknesses, gaps in data, and numerical discrepancies. For example, the U.S. government’s estimate was developed by one person who did not document all of his work, so the estimate may not be replicable, casting doubt on its reliability. Moreover, the quality of existing country level data varies due to limited availability, reliability, and comparability. There is also a considerable discrepancy between the numbers of observed and estimated victims of human trafficking. The U.S. government has not yet established an effective mechanism for estimating the number of victims or for conducting ongoing analysis of trafficking related data that resides within various government agencies.
For at least two years the UNESCO Trafficking Statistics Project in Bangkok has dedicated itself to finding and tracing every trafficking statistic in circulation back to its source. According to David Feingold, past International Coordinator of the HIV/AIDS & Trafficking Projects of UNESCO, “Very often, we found no source or a source that provided no methodology.” He further states, “One must constantly ask the question, ‘How could this number be derived from any source?’”
The US General Accounting Office critique goes further, saying the government has no idea what their anti-trafficking programs are doing:
the U.S. government has not established performance measures or conducted evaluations to gauge the overall impact of anti-trafficking programs abroad, thus preventing the U.S. government from determining the effectiveness of its efforts or adjusting its assistance to better meet needs.
Clearly there is a huge disconnect between the stated goals of anti-trafficking organizations, the U.S. State Department, and the UN on the one hand, and the actual impact of their efforts on the other. There is also a disconnect between the intensity of the concern about human trafficking and what is actually known about its global prevalence.
Are These Girls Trafficked?
To get a perspective on trafficking in Angeles City, let’s hear from some of the people who are directly impacted by this policy – the bargirls themselves, the young women in supposed need of rescue.
The following are verbatim transcriptions of what seven of our interviewees told us in late 2009, about a year before the raid, when we asked them about the circumstances of their arriving in Angeles City to take up bar work. We offer this information in detail, so the reader can decide for himself or herself if these women fit the definition of trafficking quoted above. The names of the girls and bars are aliases. We report what they had to say word for word as they told it to us.
(Recording 091017_001) Tala is 33 years old. She has been working at Paradise Bar since she was 29. She was living with her parents and son in her home province when a girl friend approached her to see if Tala wanted to accompany her to Angeles City to find work.
So, when you came to Angeles, Tala, first time, it was because of your mamasan, right? She was from your village in (her province)? She recruited you?
No. My mamasan she is not totally hired but she have brother there in (province). Then my friend… You remember the waitress name Alexa?
She go to my house. She said, “Tala, you like we go to Manila, Angeles?” I said, “What’s that?”(She said) “It’s a bar.”
What was the name of it?
No, the bar’s name.
Did you know where Angeles City was?
No, I don’t know but my friend she’s telling me about here (Angeles). Then we go to my mamasan’s brother, he talk like that. Supposed to be the brother of my mom (mamasan). He don’t hire us because Alexa and me is old. That time I was twenty-nine year old.
Is that when you came here? You were twenty-nine?
Then I said… Then the brother talk to my mamasan. “Belinda, three (two) girls here need job. But they’re old. Twenty-nine and her sister (friend) same.”
Then I said, “Please, I need job, I have child.”
Then the brother, “Okay, I talk to my sister.”
The sister said, “You look first the body of the girl.”
So the brother look my body. He said, “Your body is okay, and Alexa.” Because I’m not fat.
I said, “Please kuya, I need job. I don’t have husband. I have son now.”
Then he said, “Okay.” Then next day then the brother said, “Okay, you bring your clothes.”
I thought we wear only… not bikini. He don’t tell me that we wear bikini. Only shorts like this. Then he (unintelligible). Then okay, I bring clothes. Next day we come here, take ship, ship three nights, two nights. Then when I look, I arrive February… No, March… February 5? I arrive here February 2006. My first job is dancer. I dance Dragon, Dragon Bar.
(Recording 091022_006) Selina, a dancer at Paradise Bar, is 23 years old with no children. She has a teaching degree, but hasn’t been able to raise money for her teaching board examination, because she sends nearly everything she makes to her parents to pay for schooling for her younger siblings.
Her cousin and sister were working at Paradise Bar before Selina started. Her parents supported her decision to travel to Angeles City to work in the bars. She is a cherry girl (virgin) so she does not have sex with customers.
… so my cousin Leila (who worked at Paradise Bar), she came in our place, and I talked to her that I want to go with her in Angeles to find a job…
She bring me here. That’s the reason why I’m here.
When did you come here?
Last February, 2009.
How do you like being at Paradise (Bar)?
I like Paradise because sometimes I forget my problems, my family problems, because I like the shouting of the girls, you know many people. They come there, the customers, you’re talking with the customers, you enhance your English with the customers. Then, as a cherry girl, I can’t go out with the customers. Only bar hopping. That’s all.
Do customers ask if they can barfine you?
Yes, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of customers. There’s one customer, he wants to buy my cherry with the 50,000 (pesos), but I don’t like.
Yeah, but I don’t like because I don’t love him. I prefer my cherry for the man I love.
And do you have any idea where you might find this man?
I don’t know. Maybe at Paradise. I’m still searching as of now. I hope I can find the right guy for me, because some of our neighborhood they get work in a bar, they have a good life now. They look like a princess when they come there in our town because they married with a foreigner like you, then their husband bring (them) there in the USA to get work so they can send money for their family. They can build their own houses, so when you go in your place you’re just like a princess.
You say you went to college?
Yes, I was the… I graduate for teacher, but I decided to work in a bar.
Are you saving money?
As of now, not yet, because my money is always send to my family. Because my father… We have bad weather in our place, so my father cannot go in the sea (and) catch fish… That’s why my family they depend on me only. All my salary I send to them.
But before I came here I was talking with my family, my father and mother. They said, “It’s up to you. Make your own… You make your happy,” like that.
Were you telling them that you’d be working in a bar in Angeles?
Oh yeah. All of our neighbors there in our place working at the bar.
As of now, so I have any there in Angeles, I’m happy! Because I can buy whatever I want because I have money now. Then I can eat whatever I want, because I have money.
Tell me more about Paradise. You were always a waitress?
Yes. Paradise is a good bar. It’s a nice bar. Their rules and regulation is very good.
(Recording 091022_001) Jhean, a virgin, who’s full interview is presented elsewhere in this blog, came to Angeles City from her home in the province of Samar at age 18, right out of high school. She came with her cousin, who proposed the idea.
Because I came from a poor family. Broken family. Yeah. That’s why I want to work. My family. Coz my mother have sick. She have a seizure. And then I want to help. And then my siblings, also.
So finding a husband is your main goal?
No, ah, I want to help my family also. Because, you know, if I work in Samar, maybe the available work, the available saleslady, house maids, and then the salary is so cheap. Two thousand (pesos) in one month. Here in Angeles one week I can earn money, 3000 in one week. Or 4000 sometimes. In Samar, my god, one month 2000 only one month, my salary, if I work there, saleslady or housemaid.
That’s why many Filipina in Samar, some girls come here. Samar girls. Because . . .because earn money here is easy.
So it’s well known among girls in Samar that there is employment here, in bars?
Oh, they marry foreigner. And then they go back to Samar. They come build house, big house. Yeah. In Samar many a lot of big house. Filipina marry a foreigner.
So the girl and the foreigner move together back to Samar and build a nice house?
Yeah. And marry.
And you saw that before you came here? You observed and knew about that?
Yeah I saw. I think the Filipina girl she is lucky. Like that. She is lucky. . . Because Angeles well known in Samar. Very well known. And then, some girls, some Samar girls, wanted to go there. Yeah.
(Recording 091115_002) Olesia is 27 years old, a virgin, and is a waitress at Knights Lady Bar. She has never before had a boyfriend because of strict and conservative parents. She initially came to Angeles City to stay with her sister, a cashier at Savory Bar. Olesia held several jobs in Angeles City—petrol station attendant, money changer, and hamburger maker for vending machines. One day she talked with her sister about getting a job in a bar.
My sister she told me, “Why you don’t working in the bar?” Then I said, “I’m scared.”
Why did your sister say that? Did your sister work in a bar before?
She’s a cashier in Savory Bar before.
So, your sister said, why don’t you work in the bar?
And you were scared.
Yeah. Then she said, “Why you scared?” (I said) “Because I’m cherry to a foreigner (laughing). I don’t know how to speak English. That’s why I’m scared.” Then she said, “Why don’t you study English? You read a book.”
So what was the first bar you worked at here?
In Knight’s Lady.
How did you get the job?
Because my sister she know the mamasan. Then she recommend to her to find me a job. Then the mamasan she give me a waitress in Knight’s Lady. That’s why I’m here.
(Recording 091114_001) Reyna is 29 years old. She has one child from her previous Filipino boyfriend. The child is cared for by her mother in her home province. She was working in a cell phone shop in Manila when a friend suggested she get a job in Angeles. After two weeks working as a waitress in a hotel, she decided that working in a bar would be more lucrative. She applied directly to the management of Knight’s Lady Bar and was offered employment as a waitress. Within three days she met a British man and stayed with him for two years. During this time she continued to work sporadically at Knight’s Lady, even though she was receiving money from the father of her child and her British boyfriend.
And then she said, “Much better you work in a bar and it’s much better you go to Angeles.” And then I decided one day that, oh, much better that I go there, and I work here for money…
Because Reyna applied directly to the management of Knight’s Lady, she has no mamasan. She answers directly to the bar manager. She tells us why she likes her boss.
Why I like him he’s so very nice guy. Not the same with the other guys, other managers… And some of the management, they kick you out of the bar if you don’t have lady’s drinks, or you don’t have barfine for one month. But he, never. And he takes care of the girls.
(Recording 091012_003) Analyn is 23 years old. She says there are few jobs in her home province, and wages are very low. She came to Angeles City with her daughter to visit a friend. Because her husband had run off with another woman, Analyn needed to find work. She applied to two bars in the entertainment district of Angeles. Analyn begins the interview by talking about the work situation in her home province.
Then, uh, poor province. No work. Hard to find work there. You can find a work but not enough for your family. If you have family, not enough.
So you come to Angeles?
I don’t know this place before but my friend tell me that, “Come here. Okay, come here. Just a visit only. Just a visit.” Then I don’t know what kind of work she have work here. Then, “Okay, I will come there. Only one week I stay here.” (Her friend said,) “Okay.”
Then, she’s the one telling, “I am the one providing your food (during) your stay with me one week,” she said. Okay. Cause I guess I have only (enough money) for my first back-and-forth so, Okay.
Then after one week she don’t like me to go… She don’t like me to go home in province. But I already have one daughter before. Just last 2007.
And she was with your mom in province? Your daughter?
No, she live with me. We live together. Together with my friend.
So how did you get to work at Paradise Bar?
Uh, because of problems (laughing). No more choices. Last 2007, when I come here, I don’t like this kind of job. But because I have my daughter, then my husband going crazy (unintelligible)with another girl, so I don’t have choice. What can I give food for my daughter? Then, I don’t like to ask for my friends I need like this to buy milk, to buy food, like that. So even I don’t like that kind of job, I go applying alone. And my friend didn’t know that I applied before to Paradise (Bar), because she’s working in Dragon (Bar). Then I applied in Paradise, then Angel Club.
Why not Dragon?
I don’t like.
You applied in Angel Club?
To be in big shows?
Yeah. Angel Club before not already open. They are not yet finished the building. Then they need three hundred girls, dancers, then one hundred…
Yeah, dancer only. Then one hundred, more than one hundred waitresses, mamasans, clerk, checker, like that. Then they notice what (that) I have reason why I am applying with that bar, with the bar. So, they like you. Then…
Did you work at Angel Club?
No. Because I need to… We need to wait one week for the interview. So, after Angel Club I go to Paradise, applied again. Then Mommy Arlene (mamasan) says, “Okay, yeah. If you have uniform, white and black skirt, you can work.”
(Recording 091024_001) Finally we hear from Mommy Michelle, who’s complete interview also appears on this blog. As a mamasan she’s responsible for hiring girls to work in her bar. Is there any evidence that she does it “by means of threat, or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud” or anything else that defines trafficking in the UN protocol?
Mommy Michelle took a hiatus from bar work, worked for a while in a sewing assembly job, then started up as a mamasan again in 2008.
So how did you recruit girls?
I let my mother. My mother is staying in (part of greater Manila). So I told her that I want to work as a mamasan again. Because I know, I don’t have any choice, I’m tired of being a sewer, of working as a sewer. So my mother said that, “OK, if you want girls, I will get some girls here for you.”
At that time my mother came with seven girls with her.
How did she get the girls?
Yeah, telling them that if you want to work in Angeles City, in the bar.
I told my mother just to tell them the truth. Not to say that they’re just waitresses, tell them they are dancer, they will go with the customer. But no Filipino customers. Foreigners customers.
So, they came here to work.
So some of my girls just come and apply. Apply here to work. We were two mamasans in here before. The other one was just quitted last April.
So your mother found you the original seven girls. You told her to tell them the truth about what bar life was like, what they’d be expected to do, the costumes they’d wear, going with customers . . .
I told her, before she gets some girls for me. I don’t want you to tell them lies, I told her. Tell them straight that they will work in a bar, that they will go with the foreigners customers, and they will wear . . . before we were wearing two piece. Bikini and bra. We just changed the costume.
OK. If it’s ok to them. If they’re interested to work.
You must have seen some of your girls come and go. Then you have to replace (them). Is that hard to do?
Sometimes it’s hard, but they just come to apply, so . . . It will be the replacement of the girl who goes with the foreigner or lady.
I see signs all over town “Mamasan Wanted!”
With girls, yeah. Because some girls are capable of going another bar, another bar. When they don’t like again, then go somewhere they like. They will be moving to another bar. They don’t like it there they go to another bar. That’s what they are doing. Looking for a bar it feels them comfortable. Sometimes there are bars that are not comfortable for them. So of course they will leave. Yeah.
Human Trafficking in Angeles City
These interviews offer us a view of Filipinas like Analyn, Tala, and Rehna and the others as making rational, free decisions about how they want to run their lives.
They declare they have choices. They choose whether or not to leave the bar with a particular customer. They choose what they will or won’t do in both inside and outside of the bar. Indeed, they choose every day whether or not to continue working in their bar or any bar at all. All of our interviewees held prior jobs—factory worker, fish cleaner, seamstress, money changer, hamburger-maker, baby sitter, clothes washer, fish peddler, secretary, shop-keeper, retail clerk. One thing they have in common is that each of them chose on their own to leave these jobs to go to Angeles City to work in the bars. They are often encouraged by friends or relatives. In Tala’s case she actually pleaded with her subsequent mamasan’s brother to accept her—“Please kuya, I need job. I don’t have husband. I have son now.”
The girls say they make good money working in the bars, better than they could make elsewhere. Some report that they have fun working in a bar. They meet new people. They improve their English. They are buoyed by the possibility that they’ll meet a partner and helpmate, something that occurs more often than one might think.
If you asked them, they would surely reject the notion that they are trafficked, probably in dramatic language.
As Mayor Pamintuan observed, the government “got all their facts wrong.”
The Philippine government isn’t entirely to blame for the injustice dealt to the bars and bargirls of Angeles City on September 15. The United States government and the UN, pushed and provoked by anti-trafficking groups, are equally culpable.
They are the ones who burden aid packages with trafficking-conviction stipulations, without having any idea, as the GAO and UNESCO reports state, of the extent of the problem or the repercussions of their policy.
So what if the trafficking numbers for the Philippines are inaccurate, as they probably are? What if the Philippine government has difficulty finding actual traffickers? What if there are few traffickers? After all, no one knows how many there are. Might not the authorities then be tempted to shoot a sitting duck to keep aid money flowing?
Ironically, if this is the case, then the parties behind this raid—and Philippine, U.S., UN, and the anti-trafficking organizations as well—may be guilty of perpetrating what they claim to be combating. When government forces rolled in to Angeles City on the night of September 15, 2010, here’s what they did: they used force, the threat of force, and abuse of power to abduct, move, receive, and harbor people to exploit their services as “rescued victims” for vast monetary gain in the form of millions of dollars of foreign aid.
Which sounds a lot like human trafficking.
WHY ARE WE ASKING FOR EVIDENCE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING?
The government and the United States are not reading from the same page when it comes to human trafficking. Every year in which the United States grades Guyana’s anti-human trafficking efforts, there is a diplomatic row over the grade mark.
This year is no different, and the subject minister has made it clear that while there has been an improvement in Guyana’s ranking, the report is nonsensical. We have heard that before.
The government must know by now that these ratings and rankings are really tools by which the United States seeks to control internal policies of governments. So we have a human trafficking index which if it reaches a certain threshold can invite sanctions against the defaulting nation. There is also a transparency index which measures the openness of the economy. If the government were tomorrow to decide to ban all public contracts, thereby removing the risk of corruption, it would still be accused of lacking transparency.
Some governments, of course, simply ignore these reports produced by agencies of the United States. Venezuela, for example, does not care two hoots about what the United States has to say about human trafficking in their country. If the United States wants to impose sanctions on Venezuela, that country knows that it can withstand these measures and retaliate with it own sanctions.
Guyana does not have the same liberty. Some of our leaders are concerned that instead of just trade sanctions, Guyana may be subject to visa sanctions and this will affect them. So that when the first Human Trafficking Report came out, Guyana was afraid of US sanctions and so rushed to pass human trafficking legislation.
It seems, however, that Guyana and the US are not on the same page when it comes to human trafficking, or rather, Guyana is not aware of some of the things that constitute human trafficking.
Instead of therefore asking the US to produce the evidence of incidents of human trafficking, the Guyana authorities should recognize the broad range of activities which can be considered as human trafficking.
If someone brings an interior resident to work in the city and that person complains about exploitation, that can be taken to be human trafficking.
At present, there are number of females working in bars in Guyana, and often these women are subject to harassment. Some men try to put their hands up these girls’ skirts. This is not only sexual abuse, but human trafficking.
There are women from the city who provide sexual services in the mining districts. Some of them may pretend that they are businesswomen, but never quite reveal the true nature of their business. This too can be human trafficking.
Guyanese women who are taken to Suriname to work and end up having to sell their bodies just to survive are considered as human trafficking victims. Even if you go voluntarily, once you are providing sexual services you may end up being considered as a victim of human trafficking.
The Guyanese authorities have to therefore understand what the United States considers as human trafficking and decide what action they will take.
In some instances, they have to drop the pretence that persons are not being prostituted in Guyana. It is public knowledge that there are private clubs in Guyana in which Brazilian women strip naked, dance around a pole and provide sexual services. This is public knowledge and some of these places are frequented by some prominent businessmen, unknown to their marriage partners.
It also rumoured that there are orgies at private residences and joints, also said to involve foreign women who are paid for their services. These things are also part of human trafficking as defined by the United States, and therefore if the Guyanese authorities are serious about improving human trafficking, they would ensure that laws are passed outlawing some of the lewd things that are taking place at these private clubs, many of which are open to the public and therefore not fully private at all.
The activities of some of these private clubs are degrading to our women, and it is strange that none of the women’s activists or groups have called for these joints to be shut down.
But just the mention of casinos and there is an uproar from sections of the society who seem to give the impression that they do not know about the pole dancing and striptease and prostitution that is happening.
Wake up Guyana! Take action against human trafficking before the United States shuts this country down!
Somaly Mam Sex Slave Story Revealed to be Fabricated.
Somaly Mam using fake sex trafficking victims to commit fraud
Meas Ratha was a teenager when she appeared on French television telling a tragic tale of how she was sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh and imprisoned as a young sex slave. Now, almost 16 years since her story was first broadcast on the France 2 channel, Ms. Ratha and members of her family have revealed that her story of abuse was carefully fabricated and rehearsed, on the instruction of Cambodia’s then-emerging anti-sex trafficking celebrity activist Somaly Mam.
In June 1998, Somaly Mam stood on the stage of Spain’s Campoamor Theater shoulder to shoulder with six of the world’s most celebrated women as she received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. Six months prior to winning the award, and sharing that podium with, among others, Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, and Olayinka Koso-Thomas, a Nigerian-born doctor who had campaigned for decades against the circumcision of women, Ms. Mam had been virtually unknown.
Six months earlier, in January 1998, Ms. Mam was propelled from relative obscurity into the international media spotlight largely owing to the harrowing on-camera testimony of the young Meas Ratha and other alleged victims of Cambodia’s child sex industry.
Meas Ratha stands outside her home near Phnom Penh last month. (Simon Marks/The Cambodia Daily)
Ms. Mam’s work as president of her own Phnom Penh-based NGO, Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), was being featured on French television as part of the popular weekly show “Envoyé Spécial.”
The documentary opens with the camera focused on Ms. Ratha, who was then a chubby teenager of about 14-years-old from Takeo province. Ms. Mam is seated at the young girl’s side as she tells a dismal tale of sexual slavery in an unnamed brothel somewhere in Phnom Penh.
“My name is Meas Ratha and I am 14 years old. I was born in the province of Takeo and I have seven brothers and sisters. My family is very poor. My father has disappeared. One year ago my mother fell seriously ill. I was completely distraught. I was very young and I didn’t know what to do,” the young Ms. Ratha says to the camera. She then cries and receives a comforting squeeze of support from Ms. Mam.
“They locked me up in a room and at that time I knew I had been deceived,” she continues.
The documentary goes on to explain how the young girl had been promised a job as a waitress in Phnom Penh, but wound up a captive in a brothel. Later, she is filmed playing musical chairs, skipping rope, singing alongside other girls being cared for inside the Afesip center and helping Ms. Mam treat an AIDS patient called Tom Dy.
Sixteen years since the documentary was televised, Ms. Ratha—now 32 years old and married—said her testimony for the France 2 channel was fabricated and scripted for her by Ms. Mam as a means of drumming up support for the organization.
“The video that you see, everything that I put in is not my story,” Ms. Ratha said in an interview last month. Ms. Ratha, who was simultaneously anxious and determined to let people know the truth, said that she did not want to cause trouble for Ms. Mam’s NGO, which had provided an education for her, but that she could no longer continue a lie that had followed her for half her life.
“Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well,” Ms. Ratha said.
“You know, my reputation has been lost because of this video,” said Ms. Ratha, who speaks competent English, adding that she had struggled to live with being typecast as a former sex slave since agreeing to tell the fabricated story.
“Everybody saw me and say ‘I a prostitute. Her mother sold her.’ They say like this. Everybody looks down on me.”
Now, Ms. Ratha lives a simple life with her two-year-old daughter and husband, who is a pharmacist and sells medicine out of their home.
Asked if she wanted the public in France to know the truth about her life, Ms. Ratha was unhesitating.
“I want them to know too. But if they know, Afesip will be in trouble. I don’t want Afesip to be in trouble, so that it can help other girls,” she added.
Today, Ms. Mam is at the center of the global campaign against the trafficking of children and women into the sex trade. As president of her hugely successful foundation in New York, she rubs shoulders with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and actress Susan Sarandon, both of whom are members of the Somaly Mam Foundation’s board. In 2009, Ms. Mam was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Her foundation raises millions each year, and Ms. Mam is a jet-setting ambassador for her cause.
She owes much of her fame to the harrowing and brutal stories of girls just like Ms. Ratha, who have relayed to audiences across the world painful stories of sexual slavery in order to raise money and awareness of the Somaly Mam Foundation.
But the fabrication of Ms. Ratha’s sex slave story is only the latest incident of false information to emerge from Ms. Mam and her organizations.
Last year, Ms. Mam finally admitted, following public scrutiny, that she had made false claims in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, in which she said that eight girls she rescued from the sex industry had been killed by the Cambodian army after they raided her organization’s shelter. Police officials and Ms. Mam’s ex-husband also last year strongly denied long-standing and highly publicized claims by Ms. Mam that her daughter was kidnapped by human traffickers in 2006 when she was 14 years old. The traffickers, she claimed, had videotaped her daughter being gang-raped in retaliation for her work with victims of the sex trade. Police said they were baffled by the claims, while Ms. Mam’s former partner said the story was a publicity stunt to raise funds for her organization.
A separate Cambodia Daily investigation conducted last year also uncovered that one of the Somaly Mam Foundation’s most highly-publicized sex trafficking victims, Long Pros, had fabricated her harrowing story of gruesome mutilation at the hands of a brothel owner. In numerous interviews and in a prime-time television documentary, Ms. Pros said she was imprisoned as a young teenager at a brothel in Phnom Penh where she was held as a sex slave and had her eye gouged out with a knife for refusing to have sex with customers. However, medical records and interviews with Ms. Pros’ parents and her eye surgeon showed she had her eye removed in hospital because of a tumor that developed in her childhood. Ms. Pros’ parents said she was sent directly from their home to Ms. Mam’s organization in Phnom Penh simply to get an education and she had never spent any time in a brothel.
The Somaly Mam Foundation’s press office in New York declined a request to interview Ms. Mam for this latest article. Ms. Mam also declined to be interviewed in relation to false comments to the U.N. General Assembly, the alleged fabrication of the kidnap of her daughter, and the alleged fabrication regarding Ms. Pros’ eye.
“We don’t know why, nor will we speculate on why Meas Ratha has allegedly made the claims that you report,” Afesip’s communication team said in an email.
“What are clearly facts is that in the 15 years since the filming of that documentary, the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) and AFESIP have led successful programs to help thousands of young women and girls escape from sex slavery and rebuild a life of dignity,” the organization said.
“Those women who choose to publicly share their personal stories about sex trafficking are courageous and strong, and we are saddened when forces work to silence their voices and seek to distract from building awareness of this critical global problem,” it continued.
Afesip declined to provide any information regarding the brothel from which Ms. Ratha was allegedly rescued, or where her case was filed with police. Afesip also did not provide such information related to the alleged mutilation of Ms. Pros or the alleged kidnap or Ms. Mam’s daughter.
The Somaly Mam Foundation also helps with the Voices for Change program, which is run by Sydney-based non-profit Project Futures—a charity that raises awareness about human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Australia and Southeast Asia.
The organization launched an investigation into Voices for Change after The Cambodia Daily’s investigation of Ms. Pros, who is a member of the program. When asked about the status of the review, the press office said that it was still in progress.
At Ms. Ratha’s family home in Takeo province, her father, Kong Tith, a bony man in his sixties who has kept his family afloat by doing everything from logging to building houses, said a relative had proposed that he send two of his daughters to Afesip back in 1997 because he was poor and unable to properly care for all of his seven children.
“[Ratha] went to the NGO run by Somaly. My cousin saw that I was poor, so he took two of my children to Somaly’s organization. They were not mistreated” by the NGO, he said. But, Mr. Tith said, when he learned of his daughter’s participation in the documentary, he traveled to Phnom Penh to confront Ms. Mam.
“I was the one who followed the case by going to the NGO and asking them about it,” he said in an interview last month.
“This was just an opportunist taking advantage of my child,” Mr. Tith said of the false claims his daughter made in the documentary, adding that he did not take his complaint further than Afesip because the organization had helped to educate his two daughters and provided them with shelter.
Ms. Ratha still remembers the fuss her father kicked-up because of the false story she told in the documentary.
“My father brought my relatives and police to the NGO and they really freaked Afesip out,” Ms. Ratha said. “In the end they talked and understood the issue, so the problem was solved.”
“I told him, ‘father don’t you worry [about the documentary], it is the NGO’s rule.’”
Flicking through photo albums of her son’s recent wedding, Ms. Ratha’s mother, Meas Sokhom, said she was shocked to learn of her daughter’s appearance on television back in 1998. Ms. Sokhom described her daughter’s childhood as difficult due to the family’s poverty. But not one exposed to the horrors of the sex industry or slavery in a brothel.
Ratha, she said, was a happy child, and out of all her sons and daughters, she showed the most natural intelligence. It was that natural smartness that they had hoped Afesip would cultivate, which was the reason they let her go to the organization in the first place, she said.
“We cannot say such a thing [sex slavery] happened to my daughter. We are her parents and we lived here the whole time,” she said. “If these things did not happen, why did they document her life like this?” she asked.
“I asked her about it [the documentary], but she did not say anything. She just stayed quiet.”
A 30-minute drive from Ms. Ratha’s childhood village, her sister, Meas Sokha, lives in a modern two-story home with a pond in the back yard for breeding fish. Ms. Sokha has two children and spends her days as a housewife. The village where she lives is a postcard perfect portrait of rural Cambodia surrounded by fluorescent green rice fields and tree-covered hills on the horizon. But she remembers harder times, when her family would sometimes have to go without food in the evening.
Ms. Sokha was the other child in the family to go to Afesip with Ms. Ratha in 1997. The two sisters slept, ate and worked together for approximately six months at Afesip in the hope of gaining an education and finding a job. At no point during their journey from their rural home in Takeo to the NGO’s center in Phnom Penh was her sister sold to a brothel, she said.
“We were desperately poor but I was not abused. She [Ratha] wasn’t either. We are from here and were sent there [to Afesip] because we were poor and did not study much,” Ms. Sokha said. “[Ratha] is now educated, so she can work at anything.”
Ms. Sokha said that she remembered how staff at Afesip had taken an interest in her sister, as she was a confident speaker.
“They only filmed her because she was smarter than me. She was better at talking than me. I was no good at that,” she said. “The point is we are good girls, but they say that we are not good and that we were sold” to brothels, she said.
“She was not raped or sold. She was not abused but we were very poor.”
Doubt over Ms. Ratha’s story emerged shortly after the France 2 show was broadcast. French national and long-time resident of Cambodia Marie Christine Uguen cared for Ratha when she was a teenager in the late 1990s. Ms. Uguen said she had been deeply shocked at seeing Ms. Ratha appear on television telling a version of her life she had never heard before, despite living with her for months. She saw the documentary on France 2 while she was visiting Battambang province on a work trip.
“I turn on the television to see an ‘Envoyé Spécial’ on Afesip. And there I see Ratha on television speaking, squirming and crying and Somaly who takes her hand,” Ms. Uguen said.
“I did not understand at all where this story had come from. I sat Ratha down in front of me and asked her what is this story about? What have I just seen on the television?
“…Then Ratha tells me, ‘Aunty, basically, I know you are not going to agree, but Somaly asked me to go to a home in Tuol Kok with several other girls and I was the one who acted the best, so she asked me and it was me who she chose,’” Ms. Uguen said.
“I said to her ‘What’s that, you did a rehearsal?’ And she told me ‘Yes we did a rehearsal in a home in Tuol Kok and at the end it was me who was selected…’”
Pierre Legros, Ms. Mam’s former husband and one of Afesip’s original founders, denied knowing anything about Ms. Ratha’s coached story for the French TV crew. He said that his job at Afesip in 1997 was not to manage the victims but to help raise funds for the organization and set up offices in other countries in the region.
Mr. Legros said that Afesip at the time cared for both victims of sex trafficking and other girls who were taken in because they were considered to be at high risk of falling into prostitution.
“Could Somaly have taken her in as a preventive case and afterwards say she has been trafficked? Yes, that is possible,” Mr. Legros said.
“Ask Somaly. She had direct contact with Khmer people (victims and family.) I was only managing the structure,” he said in a subsequent email.
Back at her home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh earlier this month, Ms. Ratha prepared to finally watch the documentary she had appeared in 16 years ago but had never actually seen. Watching a DVD recording of the documentary on a laptop computer at her home, Ms. Ratha was visibly moved at seeing the young girls from Afesip and her past.
On the screen appeared Srey Veng, “13 years old, raped, beaten and sold to different clients for two years,” the voice-over in French says. Next on screen was 12-year-old Sokha, “the youngest, sold and raped at the beginning by her step father,” the commentary continues.
Ms. Ratha looked perplexed. Sokha, known then as A’tour, was not supposed to have been in the documentary, an amazed Ms. Ratha said.
According to Ms. Ratha, Ms. Mam had told her that the story she was to recount for the filmmakers was true, but was the life-story of another young girl, Sokha, who had been too traumatized to speak about her past.
Ms. Ratha said that she agreed with Ms. Mam to tell Sokha’s story because then it was not really like lying. That Sokha was also featured in the same documentary telling a totally different story of rape and brothels was a huge shock to Ms. Ratha.
“I don’t understand why she is in the video,” Ms. Ratha said. “Somaly lied to me…. She said this story is [Sokha’s] story,” Ms. Ratha said.
“At that time, I was not happy since what I was saying was not my true story. But I cried because I felt sorry for [Sokha],” she said. “I don’t understand.”
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Once Coached for TV, Now Asked to Keep Quiet about Sex Trafficking Hoax
The woman who claims she was coached by global anti-sex trafficking advocate Somaly Mam to fabricate a story of sexual slavery for French television in 1998 says she has been approached by a Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) staff member, who has begged her to stop talking to the media.
Meas Ratha, 32, revealed last month that as a young teenager she was selected by Ms. Mam to appear on the France 2 television channel in 1998 after undergoing rehearsals with a group of other young girls to falsely recount how she was sold to a brothel owner in Phnom Penh.
Days after her revelation was published on October 12, Meas Ratha said she received her first visit from the SMF staffer.
“There was a girl…came to me begging with tears to stop speaking to the media. Of course whatever I told you was true—that I was filmed to lie to the world and that I was a victim even though I was not,” Ms. Ratha said in a telephone interview on October 24.
“But now I can no longer speak,” she said.
Ms. Ratha identified the visitor as Sina Vann, a longtime employee of the SMF in Cambodia and program manager for the organization’s Voices for Change (VFC) program. The VFC program is run by SMF and aims at giving a voice to victims of sex trafficking in order to raise awareness about the issue.
The second visit by Ms. Vann was on October 23, said Ms. Ratha, adding that the SMF staff member had stressed that speaking out about her past could greatly damage the reputation of Ms. Mam’s organization.
“She was not here to intimidate me. But she begged me and cried in front of me and said that it would be a disaster for the organization if I keep talking to the media. She also asked me not to talk to other journalists if they approached me,” Ms. Ratha said.
“If I keep talking it will bring trouble to everyone: myself, the organization and you [journalists]. I used to stay inside the [SMF] organization so I want to help it,” she said, adding that she would heed the call and no longer speak about the fabricated story from 1998.
Ms. Ratha, who is now a streetside food vendor to garment factory workers on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, said she was admitted to Afesip in 1997 because her family of nine was struggling to survive.
Her parents and sister—who also stayed with Ms. Ratha inside an Afesip training center—backed-up Ms. Ratha’s claim that she was never enslaved as a prostitute inside a brothel in Phnom Penh.
Ms. Vann could not be contacted for comment.
Afesip CEO Sao Chhoeurth said on October 24 that he was not aware of any visit having been made to Ms. Ratha.
Hayle Welgus, policy and liaison manager for SMF in Cambodia, said Ms. Vann had not been sent by the organization in an official capacity.
“SMF hasn’t sent Sina [Vann] in an official capacity so I need to speak to her to see if she visited on a personal level,” Ms. Welgus said on October 24.
Contacted on Friday, Ms. Welgus declined to comment and referred questions to the communications department at SMF.
Asked about Ms. Vann’s alleged visit to Ms. Ratha, the SMF communication’s department declined to comment.
“The statement that was sent to you previously is all that we have to share on this matter,” the communications department at SMF said in an email.
The SMF communications department was referring to a statement in which Afesip said in October that it would not speculate on why Ms. Ratha had denied the story she had told France 2.
Afesip has also declined to say from which brothel Ms. Ratha had been allegedly rescued or to which department of the police her case of alleged enslavement and rescue had been filed.
Though Ms. Ratha insists the visit from the SMF’s Ms. Vann was only beseeching, she admits that she is now unwilling to speak out about the truth behind her story due to any repercussions that could stem from harming Afesip’s reputation in Cambodia.
After The Cambodia Daily reported its findings in October 2012 into the story of Long Pros, one of SMF’s most publicized members of the Voices for Change program, the young woman’s father, Long Hon, said he was paid a visit from Afesip staff who had also asked him to cease speaking to the media.
Ms. Pros had long told a horrific story of having an eye gouged out at the hands of a brothel owner. However, medical records show that Ms. Pros’ eye was removed by an eye surgeon in hospital—the victim of a large benign tumor that covered one of her eyes for many years during childhood.
Ms. Pros was only sent to Afesip after undergoing her operation at the Takeo Eye Hospital, her parents said, a claim that was also confirmed by medical records and images obtained showing Ms. Pros’ medically-removed eye.
While members of the SMF staff now appear reluctant for Ms. Ratha and the family of Ms. Pros to continue speaking to reporters, a huge amount of Ms. Mam’s success and global fame stems from the highly public testimony and many media interviews conducted by the young women inside her organization who tell harrowing tales of sex trafficking.
The high-media profile of the SMF, and support from board members such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, has helped the foundation’s revenues and expenditures rocket in recent years.
In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, spending by the SMF increased to $3.53 million. The SMF’s annual fundraising gala in New York on October 23 was a star-studded event where tickets for some tables went for $100,000.
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Anti-Sex Trafficking Aid Worker Claims Fabricated Fake Victim Stories Are Common. Somaly Mam, Long Pros
Weighing in on revelations that fabricated sexual slavery stories were used to promote the work of Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip) in Cambodia, which was founded by global anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam, a longtime aid worker said that staff at the organization were aware that some victims were not in the desperate situations they claimed to be.
Pierre Fallavier, who said he advised Afesip between 1999 and 2007, wrote in a series of recent emails that from the beginning of his relationship with the organization, concerns were raised by staff that information on victims that was being disseminated by Afesip was “exaggerated.”
Mr. Fallavier, who holds a Phd from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has worked for NGOs and multiple U.N. agencies in Africa and Asia, also claimed that, like Afesip, many aid groups create “composite” stories of the lives of people being helped by their organizations as a means to raise funds.
“I started working as an adviser to Afesip in 1999, and stopped in 2007. From the start, people around me—all Khmers—were saying the stories Somaly told about herself and some of the girls were exaggerated. At that time I did not want to listen, because I could see the good Afesip was doing. The level of violence against women then was higher than anywhere else in Southeast Asia,” Mr. Fallavier wrote in an email.
“A few courageous individuals then set up organizations to rescue such women. Among them, Afesip decided it would also lead a ‘political’ struggle to get the rights of women and children recognized…. [S]o at that time, what counted were results. Everyone knew that some victims lied and were not in the desperate situations they claimed to be, but they were still in so much need of help that it did not seem to matter,” he wrote.
“And then, at the same time, donors were getting an interest, and were sending their people with crews of journalists to take pictures and extracts selling stories. I used to tell Somaly to send them away, that all they wanted were exotic stories of violence and sex, with the picture of a beautiful hero saving children so they could sell their papers. But they came with the funders, or with promises their articles and reports would help advocate for the rights of women. And they were the first ones to manipulate the images and the stories.”
Mr. Fallavier said that the recent spotlight on the Somaly Mam Foundation, following revelations that at least two alleged victims of the sex trade helped by her organization had fabricated stories, should be extended to include many other humanitarian groups.
“[I] find it unfair to point solely at Afesip for fabricating stories about its typical beneficiaries. This has been and still is the approach that all major international NGOs use, in Cambodia and elsewhere,” he wrote.
“They take bits and parts of the life stories of different beneficiaries and make up a ‘typical’ sob story that they use to raise funds with.”
Mr. Fallavier, who worked for Handicap International (H.I.), said that he left the organization because of such a practice in 2000 because he believed it to be “unethical.”
“But the point is that all NGOs do so, that they are unapologetic, and that it is well known to anyone working in that sector,” he continued.
“Just take one of the stories from Cambodia that Oxfam, World Vision, Care, etc. use in their advertising campaigns ‘at home,’ and try to trace them. You will see how the majority of these stories are ‘composite’ of different realities,” Mr. Fallavier claimed.
“They justify it very bluntly: This is marketing they need to raise money, and it is only with extreme stories that they will get people to give the cash they need to undertake their work. In fact, in many cases, back home, private marketing companies are in charge of the advertising, and they sell NGO work in the same way they would with any other service.”
Responding to Mr. Fallavier’s claims, the communications department at the Somaly Mam Foundation said it would not comment as Mr. Fallavier had never held an official position with Afesip.
“[W]e can’t speculate about allegations made by someone who had no formal affiliation with the organization,” the communications department said in a statement.
“Mr. Fallavier has been a good friend of Somaly Mam and supportive to Afesip Cambodia on a personal and unofficial capacity. He has never held any official positions or roles at Afesip Cambodia. We do not know when his relationship with Afesip and Somaly Mam began, yet it is an amicable and supportive one that still continues today,” the statement continues.
Pierre Legros, who helped found Afesip in 1996 and is the ex-husband of Ms. Mam, confirmed Mr. Fallavier had advised Afesip.
At one time, Afesip’s funding from the European Union (E.U.) was sent through H.I. and Mr. Fallavier had acted as an intermediary between the two organizations, Mr. Legros said.
“In 1999 we received money from the European Commission. This money we could not receive directly as we had to pass through an NGO that had an agreement with the E.U. So we received money passed to us by an intermediary NGO. It was Handicap International that was chosen to be the intermediary with Afesip,” Mr. Legros said.
“Pierre Fallavier was hired by Handicap International to serve as someone who was responsible for the programs run by Afesip using Handicap International money. He was the adviser to Afesip in making the link between Handicap International and Afesip.”
Mr. Fallavier’s emails followed a recent story revealing that a 14-year-old girl being rehabilitated by Afesip had been coached in 1998 to tell a fabricated story of sexual slavery in a documentary for French television. Other stories promoted by Afesip of sex slavery, trafficking and even killing have also proven to be false.
In his emails on the subject of victim fabrication in the aid industry, Mr. Fallavier reserved some of his harshest criticism for Handicap International France (HIF).
According to Mr. Fallavier, in 1999, when he was working in Cambodia with HIF, the organization launched a campaign to send hundreds of thousands of letters to raise funds from individuals in Europe using stories of child victims of land mines. The campaign, run out of HIF’s headquarters in France, gained immense traction because of its focus on child landmine victims. However, child victims of landmines represented only a tiny proportion of the work HIF was actually carrying out in Cambodia—most of its work was in roads, irrigation and access to water.
Though he does not claim that the landmine stories were fabricated, Mr. Fallavier said they greatly exaggerated the extent of the problem.
“I learned that if work with children victims of landmines represented less than ten percent of HI operations worldwide, the fundraising campaign that showed HI largely as supporting these children brought in 90 percent of the private funds it used to complement institutional funding in all its operations,” Mr. Fallavier said.
“So, somehow HIF was collecting the majority of its funds on a belief they built among the public that the money would be used to support these children,” though Mr. Fallavier admits that a disclaimer was written in tiny print at the bottom of H.I.’s call for funds.
Arnaud Richard, head of the Federal Information team for H.I., said last week that the organization “does not fabricate stories” when publicizing its work in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“The stories are personal stories which give the general public an insight into both the wider situation and the lives of many of our beneficiaries. This enables us to raise the awareness of the public and private donors in countries where HI is represented by national associations (UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and USA). We would also point out that beneficiaries are informed of HI’s actions and are asked to give their permission to use their image,” he said.
“Several people who have worked for our organization for many years remember that Mr. Fallavier once worked for Handicap International. However, he left the organization more than 13 years ago, and we do not currently have any further information on his reasons for leaving Handicap International,” he said.
Mr. Richard said that H.I. promotes its work abroad through a team of four people dedicated to gathering testimonies and information from its operations and programs.
These four people, dubbed the “Federal Information team,” regularly travel to the field to meet with beneficiaries. The stories can then be used as part of the organization’s attempts to raise funds.
Asked about Mr. Fallavier’s claims that H.I.’s fundraising techniques were misleading the public, Mr. Richard said the organization engages in focused campaigns in order to draw the attention of donors to its activities.
“These campaigns were indeed run during the period you have mentioned in order to raise funds,” Mr. Richard said referring to H.I.’s campaign carried out during 1999 and 2000.
“However, to be totally clear, at no point during these fundraising campaigns did the organization state that the money collected would be specifically used for our actions in Cambodia. We are always careful to point out that donations are used to help people with disabilities and to improve their living conditions. For example, we might highlight the cost of fitting a disabled person with an orthopedic device or providing them technical aids in order to give donors an idea of the potential impact of their donation.
“In order to avoid misunderstandings on this point, however, the documents sent out to donors specifically state that the testimonies are offered as examples only. The reply slip also clearly states that, by making a donation, the donor ‘authorizes Handicap International to allocate its aid to the most useful and urgent activity.’”
Mr. Richard also took issue with Mr. Fallavier’s interpretation of H.I.’s work.
“We strongly refute the idea that these stories were invented or that we misled donors regarding the use of their donations. Although we are sure that Mr. Fallavier—who appears to have made a good impression on those who worked with him at Handicap International—is acting in good faith, his interpretation of an activity of which he has very little knowledge—fundraising—is totally false,” he said.
Other organizations in Cambodia working with women and children also denied Mr. Fallavier’s claim that they engage in exaggerating stories, and that any stories on victimhood are presented accurately using real, consenting people or composites of real life situations.
Talmage Payne, CEO of Hagar International, said the practice of using victim testimonies in order to sell an NGO’s work abroad raises serious questions due to the pervasiveness of using images in fundraising that fully identify the face and names of sexual abuse or trafficked minors.
“This violates a number of best practice protocols about protecting clients and many national laws—even if the story is true,” Mr. Payne said.
He added that the Somaly Mam Foundation’s use of a 14-year-old alleged victim of sex slavery could even be in violation of Cambodia’s Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which states that “Newspapers and all other mass media shall be prohibited from publishing or broadcasting or disseminating any information which can lead to public knowledge of identities of victims in the offences stipulated in this law.”
“The well known and well regarded [NGO] brands are very careful about this with strict protection standards. It’s a problem on the fringes. It’s not a norm or mainstream,” Mr. Payne said.
Mr. Payne said that in his organization’s publications a researcher may create a composite case study of many stories in order to “create victimology of certain types of abuse and recovery,” all of which is disclosed in any writing on the matter. He added that all stories are based on the subject’s consent and that identifying images are never used in cases of trafficking or sexual abuse.
Andrew Moore, country director for Save the Children, also said fabricating victims’ stories is not practiced by his organization.
“Save the Children does not fabricate stories for fundraising purposes,” he said. “We adhere to high standards of child protection and child safeguarding in gathering stories from the field, and all our staff are trained on child safeguarding.
“Our publicity work is done in-house, with thorough approval protocols that ensure that only factual reports that safeguard the interests of children are released.”
In a recent article, Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends International, an NGO that helps disadvantaged children living in urban areas in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico, Egypt and Burma, said the situation regarding the fabrication of victims’ stories had arisen as “a direct consequence of the interconnected actions of the child protection organizations, the media, the donors and the general public; all wanting the best for these children, but instead turning them into victims.”
“[A] large number of organizations get sucked into using children to raise funds: making them talk about the abuse they survived in front of a camera, having their picture in a pitiful situation published for everyone to see, allowing non-professional visitors into their centers [like orphanage tourism],” Mr. Marot wrote.
“In worst cases, the truth is distorted or the stories invented to attract more compassion and money,” Mr. Marot said in the article published on his organization’s website.
“The impact on the lives of these children is terrible: if they come from an abusive situation, such a process retraumatizes them and in any case it stigmatizes them forever.”
Mr. Marot said the media was complicit, and searched out and published emotionally-charged stories in order to attract readers. Moreover, donors tend to react to these stories.
“As regulators of the money it is easy, if specific guidelines are not in place, to fund projects on a purely emotional basis. For example we have witnessed a rapid increase of orphanages in Cambodia (funded by local and foreign private donors), despite the fact that most of these children are not orphans and it is against current Cambodian Government policies,” he wrote.
“Like the general public, donors react to highly emotionally charged stories that in some cases are built to please them or are told at the expense of the same children they want to protect. Many donors do not have the capacity or desire to check these stories, so we end up in situations of ‘embellished’ story lines.
“A main consequence of this is that in some instances organizations end up selling the wrong problem to the donors: since donors will fund based on emotions and not on the more mundane facts, this can lead to the creation of programs built on entirely wrong assumptions which do not provide the right solutions to the beneficiaries. They may give the ‘right’ message/image back to the donors but end up further hurting the children with the money that was intended to protect them,” he continued.
Aarti Kapoor, who was a legal adviser to Afesip between 2003 and 2006 and still works to combat sexual abuse against children, said child protection has become highly sensationalized.
“The image of human trafficking has become highly sensationalized, often to get media attention and raise funds through emotive reactions. The reality of trafficking is often more complex,” Ms. Kapoor said.
“The tragedy is that sensationalized perceptions of trafficking end up hindering our ability to identify and respond to the majority of cases on the ground.”
Since its creation in 2007, the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) has attracted top U.S. business leaders and Hollywood stars to the worthy cause of
combating the trafficking of children into Cambodia’s sex industry.
Growing out of Somaly Mam’s Phnom Penh-based organization Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), which was launched in 1996 to care
for child victims of the sex industry, SMF is the global fundraising arm of the Cambodian NGO.
SMF was created with the help of U.S. Air Force Academy graduates Jared Greenberg and Nicholas Lumpp as a way to raise funds for the work being
carried out by Afesip and five other sex trafficking organizations. The SMF’s mission to raise funds for groups fighting against sex trafficking has been
At the annual SMF gala dinner, scheduled for October 23 in New York’s 1920s-era Gotham Hall ballroom, a donation of $100,000 was required to secure
seating for 20 guests at two “gala chair” tables.
The fundraising prowess of the SMF is largely due to the foundation’s board of directors and global advisory board, which includes: Jennifer Fonstad,
managing director of the multibillion dollar venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson; Brandee Barker, former head of global communications and
public policy for Facebook; Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO; actresses Susan Sarandon, Daryl Hannah and Lorie Holden; supermodel Petra Nemcova;
and Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.
Thanks to the foundation’s fundraising efforts, the SMF has grown considerably in recent years with spending increasing from $348,283 in 2008 to $3.53
million in 2011, according to financial reports filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Revenues raised by the SMF between 2009 and 2010 increased 47 percent to $3.17 million. At the same time, the foundation’s expenses increased 100
percent from $1.52 million to $3.04 million, according to the IRS filings.
In 2011, revenues fell 40.8 percent to $1.88 million compared to 2010. Expenditures, however, rose that year to an all time high of $3.53 million. Among the
SMF’s expenditures, which include salaries, travel and advertising, are funds transferred to actual projects for the purpose of ending slavery and sex
trafficking in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
In 2009, grants and additional assistance from the SMF to organizations outside the U.S. (in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries—the SMF now
has links to projects in Laos and Vietnam) amounted to $835,480. In 2010, that amount was slightly less at $759,338. In 2011, the figure totaled $808,838, still
less than in 2009. Figures for 2012 are not yet available. While grants and assistance to projects reduced between 2009 and 2011, travel expenses for the
SMF between 2009 and 2010 increased threefold from $112,378 to $357,463, according to the IRS filings. Spending on advertising and promotion also
increased from just $13,501 in 2009 to $221,887 in 2010 and $211,672 in 2011.
“Compensation” for the SMF’s current officers, directors, trustees and key employees also grew from $152,370 in 2009 to $324,461 in 2010. In 2011, that
figure reached $492,755, an increase of 51.9 percent year-on-year. Another entry in the SMF’s IRS filings relates to “other salaries and wages,” which
increased from $63,542 in 2009 to a sizable $378,384 in 2010 and a whopping $641,946 in 2011.
Sex-trafficking, fraud and money at the Somaly Mam Foundation
Cambodia Daily just ran two controversial features on Somaly Mam, a well-known trafficking survivor and head of the anti-trafficking non-profit, the Somaly Mam Foundation that funds shelters in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Somaly Mam, Cambodia’s most well-known anti-trafficking activist, partly due to Nicholas Kristof whose “live tweeting” a brothel raid with Somaly Mam was roundly criticised by other NGOs in Cambodia, is accused of false stories of abuse, murder and kidnapping of young women, and the organization of hugely over-paying top staff including Somaly Mam herself.
Sex Slave Story Revealed to be Fabricated interviews one of the women who as a teenager spoke about her ordeal as a survivor of trafficking to raise funds for SMF, a story she now says wasn’t hers but a script she was chosen to repeat because she was bright and well-spoken, in exchange for free education at a shelter. Another survivor’s story, Long Pros, is also in question with an alleged childhood injury instead of a brothel owner’s eye gouging. Also mentioned is the UN speech where Somaly Mam claimed young women in a brothel were shot by the Cambodian police during a rescue attempt, later recanted, and her earlier claims that her daughter was kidnapped and gang-raped in response to Somaly Mam’s work, a claim denied by her ex-husband (who now runs an anti-trafficking NGO himself in Cambodia) and the daughter. Why use false or exaggerated stories? As the accompanying feature The Rise of the Somaly Mam Foundation reports, because it pays very very well. Somaly Mam’s salary has steadily increased along with other executive staff to nearly 14% of the 2011 expenditures, nearly as much as the 16% that went to the main shelter in Cambodia. That puts SMF in company with other charities with highly-paid executive staff and less going to the actual programs – Somaly Mam Foundation in 2011 managed to hit just 23% in programs grants, the other 77% else going to fundraising, administration and staff. Ron Robinson who topped Charity Navigator’s list for overpaid charity executives, took 3.4% of Young America’s Foundation, less than half the share that the CEO position at SMF, held by Bill Livermore and then Rigmor Schneider, US$253,429 for 7% of the total budget. The SMF’s annual financial report for the same period reports a very different picture from their 990IRS form for 2011 (Charity Navigator requires registration), claiming 66% of their expenses went to “grants and other programs”. Bangkok-based journalist Andrew Drummond’s tabloidish take and Khmer440, an expat forum with bleak humor, discuss the new reports and rumors. Criticism of the SMF and Afesip has simmered for a long time, from sex workers and sex work organizations, other aid workers and others in Cambodia.
There was just one problem: The women claim they hadn’t actually been trafficked.
Instead, the women said they were willing sex workers who had been rounded up off the street during a police raid and sent to Afesip, headed by the internationally renowned anti-sex-slavery crusader Somaly Mam with funding from the foundation that bears her name.
They said they were confined there for months as purported victims of sex trafficking. Srey Mao claimed that she, her friends and a number of other sex workers in the centre were instructed by a woman to tell foreign visitors they had been trafficked.
“I was confined against my will,” Srey Mao said on Saturday.
The person she said instructed ordered her and others to lie was Somaly Mam.
For the better part of a decade, Mam has been the celebrated face of anti-human trafficking efforts in Cambodia.
With her undeniable charisma and tragic back-story as a former child sex slave, she has rubbed shoulders and traded hugs with Hollywood stars such as Susan Sarandon and Meg Ryan. CNN dubbed her a “hero” in 2007. Glamour Magazine made her a “woman of the year” honoree in 2006.
In 2010, then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited an Afesip shelter here and later spoke about her moving encounter with Long Pros, a former sex slave who said her eye was gouged out by a brothel-keeper. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, one of Mam’s strongest supporters, wrote about Pros and his “hero” Mam.
Mam’s star-studded image abruptly lost its sheen on May 28, when she was forced to resign from the Somaly Mam Foundation following a Newsweek cover story reporting that she had lied about her past.
Not only had Mam not been an orphaned trafficking victim – reporter Simon Marks revealed in Newsweek that she grew up with both parents and graduated from high school – but she reportedly encouraged and coached girls to lie as well.
One of these girls was Pros, who, according to Newsweek, actually lost her eye to a tumor and was sent to Afesip for vocational training. The same was reportedly true of Meas Ratha, a teenager allegedly coached by Mam to say she had been trafficked when in fact she was sent to Afesip by an impoverished farming family, desperate to give their daughter a better start in life.
Afesip representatives did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics’
Although the stories of Mam, Pros and Ratha have now been widely scrutinised in the media, less examined have been Mam’s frequent embellished statements about the scale and nature of sex trafficking in Cambodia.
The term “trafficking” has become trendy among donors in the Western world for the pure horror it evokes – a horror that Pros embodied for many – but it leaves out a whole spectrum of complex choices and negotiations, and often erases women’s agency entirely.
Sebastien Marot, founder of the nongovernmental organisation Friends International, which works with street children and other vulnerable populations, has lived in Cambodia since 1994. In all his years in the country, he said he has encountered only a handful of what he considers clear-cut cases of sex slavery, despite the lavish funding and massive attention from celebrities that the cause attracts.
“There’s definitely fashions in the donor world,” he said. “The big thing now is trafficking – people say, ‘Oh my God, trafficking’ – but how do we define that?”
Mam and her foundation have interpreted the term liberally, claiming repeatedly, along with Afesip, that sex slaves in Cambodia number in the tens of thousands.
In 2011, Mam told an interviewer that there were 80,000 to 100,000 prostitutes in Cambodia, 58 percent of whom were trafficked. In a 2010 Somaly Mam Foundation video, Hollywood actress Lucy Liu solemnly intoned in a voiceover that “the low-end estimate for the number of sex slaves in Cambodia alone is over 40,000”. Mam has also claimed that it is commonplace for children as young as 3 to be sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.
The source for these numbers is unclear, and according to some, wrong.
A study published in 2011 by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Trafficking based on data collected in 2008 stated that the number of sex trafficking victims in Cambodia is 1,058 at most, including 127 children, six of whom were under the age of 13. The majority of these cases involved women who had fallen into debt to their brothels, or prostitutes under the age of 18. These are both abhorrent and illegal, but they are a far cry from the extreme scenarios Mam often invoked – girls put in cages, tortured with electricity, having their eyes gouged out by pimps.
“We never encountered any such thing, and we certainly looked for it,” the study’s author, Thomas Steinfatt, said this week. “We couldn’t find any instances of that … In terms of people tortured, I think they’ve been watching too many movies.”
Steinfatt, a professor at the University of Miami, said the figure of 1,058 is still an accurate estimate of the number of sex trafficking victims in the country. Although he has been criticised by some anti-sex-slavery activists for producing such a low figure, he is the only researcher to have systematically canvassed Cambodia seeking out brothels and collecting data on the women and girls inside.
“Sex trafficking is actually one of the smaller portions of trafficking,” he said. “Much more [trafficking] goes on in labour or domestic work. It’s quite literally the ‘sexiest’ topic, and it’s something that really bothers people – which it should, but it’s not the largest.”
Helen Sworn, the founder of anti-trafficking coalition Chab Dai, noted that other researchers have disputed Steinfatt’s findings and methodology, though added that Steinfatt’s estimate “was the best available number” before laws introduced in 2008 and 2009 that caused “a significant shift underground of incidents, which was not addressed in the previous research”. However, Sworn said Mam’s resignation should be an impetus for soul-searching from NGOs on how to proceed in the future.
“Of course this will have repercussions on the sector, which is why we need to be intentional and professional in the way we implement programs,” she said. “Funding has always been a challenge for those who don’t exploit the dignity of others, so maybe this just makes for a more democratic platform where it will be equally challenging.”
Mam’s embellishments have also distracted attention from the very serious problems Cambodia still faces, including the structural reasons why 1,058 women and girls might be forced into prostitution and why sex work is often seen as the best job available.
‘Victim’ or ‘prostitute’?
“Abolitionist” NGOs such as Afesip take the position that sex work is by definition coercive, and that it is impossible to choose to be a prostitute. In a 2008 interview with the Phnom Penh Post, Mam noted that she preferred to use the term “victim” rather than “prostitute”, and that women who thought they were voluntary sex workers could actually be sex slaves.
In 2006, in response to complaints by sex workers that they did not like being sent to NGO-run shelters after police raids, Afesip advisor Aarti Kapoor told The Cambodia Daily, “We don’t believe prostitution is a legitimate form of work”. This led Afesip to support a draconian anti-human trafficking law, which was passed by Cambodia’s parliament in 2008 and, some advocates claim, ramped up police abuses against sex workers like Srey Mao.
Srey Mao said she became a prostitute because she believed it was the best option to support her aging parents and young daughter. Months in the Afesip shelter did not change her mind. She claims that after she arrived at the shelter, she was not given access to anti-retroviral drugs for five days or allowed to see her family. Instead, she was enrolled in a yearlong sewing course, entailing eight hours a day of study or garment work.
“I was not happy to be there … Very often, during our short break for lunch, Afesip staff and sometimes Mam Somaly came to us and told us to tell donors and foreigners who would come to visit shelters that we were victims of human trafficking.”
Seven months into her stay at the shelter, Srey Mao ran away and returned to life as a prostitute.
The Story of Somaly Mam – click below for larger image: