The tendency towards palatability

I was having afternoon tea with some out of town visitors this last week. It was lovely. And they are lovely. In the midst of our conversation the husband mentioned domestic violence. He was talking about how we've cleaned up the words of "giving your wife or kids a bash" to this term domestic violence. I had to stop and think about it cause I'm just very used to calling it that. But he's right. The term domestic is not a commonly used term outside of flights and talk of terrorism in some contexts. And while it has become a colloquialism to say you're having a domestic with your spouse here in NZ(very tongue in cheek that one) doesn't it just do the job of making us a little more comfortable discussing it around a plate of biscuits and a cup of tea? 

The reason this struck a chord is, I heard recently a similar argument for not calling human trafficking human trafficking. The call was to replace it with modern day slavery. Which is more uncomfortable. Let's be honest, we don't like to talk about slavery unless it's well removed an in the past. And even then it has to be pretty sanitized for us to be ok with it in discussion. 

However, working in "human trafficking" do you know what one of the first questions is to most people I start a conversation with is? "Human trafficking....what's that?" In one way this can be a good thing. It's nice to not have people assume they know what you're talking about and therefore shut off. But on the other hand, using the term in broad advertising and advocacy to shed light on the problem means that the message likely isn't getting out there unless you're having a one on one. 

Also, it makes it easier to distance yourself from. If I talk about human trafficking, I sound like I'm maybe giving a lecture. A lecture is something the listener can either toss out as silly and unfounded or listen to and interact with. Do I want listeners to be able to dismiss what I say about this issue as an intellectual exercise? Well, no. 

Because this topic isn't an intellectual exercise. Not at its core. It's young women in horrible home situations going out to make their lives better and being taken in by even more abusive people. It's parents selling their children into work or sexual slavery because they are so poor they don't see other options. It's women being desperate and taking a job in another country only to have their employer enslave them. It's men trying to make enough money for their family only to be killed because of horrendous working conditions and not enough pay to even get back home. 

Modern slavery is every bit as horrific as what slavery in the past was. And it's a lie that it ever went away. It did not. It just changed it's face so that people would stop looking at it and fighting against it. And I'm not sure we're doing those men women and children any justice when we refuse to even be inconvenienced enough to call their situation what it is. Slavery. Abuse. Horrific. 

I'm not saying this is easy. It's not. It's awful to look at human suffering and the degradation that causes it. But are we being as respectful as we can be to the victims if we are more worried about how it feels to us to describe what they've gone through? I'm not sure. But it's worth pondering. And I think for me I'm going to adhere to the advice to call it modern slavery. 

Nestle: evil or ethical?

Interesting question eh? I recently went to the Tip of the Iceberg conference at the Wellington Anglican Cathedral and I was surprised to see that on the speaking list was the media relations person from Nestle Australia. 

My knowledge of Nestle was that they are big corporate...which often means less scruples in business. As a former employer of mine told me the business community is a pack of wolves and money is what they love. Not an encouraging thought for someone who loves justice much more than money. I also had memories of my mother being very anti Nestle and boycotting them for years. She was a part of La Leche League and there were reports of Nestle pushing milk powders as better for babies than breast milk. And then of course we all remember the clip of the former chairman saying water is not a human right. So basically evil, right? 

You can imagine her presentation was met with a lot of skepticism. I heard many comments and mutterings about it before it happened. And then this lovely lady got up and she started talking about this company that from her own words, "I am absolutely proud of Nestle and feel proud to work for Nestle." Hmm...she seemed normal enough so I listened. 

She went on to describe all of the community development projects that Nestle is involved with in the Ivory Coast where they source most of their chocolate from. She shared how they incentivised better and more sustainable farming practice to benefit the farmers, ensure long term cocoa supply and make the cocoa plants healthier. She talked about how many schools they have started to make sure children are going to school and not working full time on the farms. 

Now, if you're a little skeptical, like me, of big business you may have the thought...yeah, that's what they're doing to appease their unethical business practice guilt. I guarantee you that was exactly the thought that went through my head. And to her credit, I think this rep knew her audience. I think she knew that would be a sentiment that went through many in the crowd's heads. 

She then told us about their sourcing practice. And thought, here will come the rationalizations. Imagine my surprise when I was completely and totally blown away by the ethicality of it! What?!?! This is Nestle! They are evil! Right???

What she showed was how they were doing business some years ago. And it looked like what most people would expect: lots of middle men, lots of co-ops, lots of confusion, no clear traceability. It was a nasty chart that looked like the stuff of nightmares for anyone who is ethical conscious. 

But, next to it was another chart. She explained how they realized they would never untangle that first mess. So what they did was to go to the ground. They built relationships with the farmers themselves. They got to know them. That's how they started the programs to teach better and more sustainable farming practice. So there was a large block at the top that was FARMERS. Then there was a slightly smaller block underneath it that said Farmer CO-OPS. She explained how they helped the farmers set up their own co-ops that had no middle men involved. These co-ops now receive some of the money from incentivised programs and in general they put the money back into community development not into someone's pockets. Then, there was an even smaller block that showed PROCESSORS. Each tier had an arrow drawn directly down to Nestle. Which says that Nestle sources for each individually and with their own separate relationships. They know exactly where all their chocolate is coming from and what hands it's passed through. And they can ensure there is no child labour and no slave labour involved in the farming or processing of their products. WHAT????

Yep, Nestle is not Fair Trade certified, but it certainly can be considered ethical.

And then it happened, someone in the audience raised their hand and asked the question on all of our minds. "If Nestle is this good, why are they evil in my mind?" The answer was three fold: they aren't good about telling their positive traits, negative press goes far more viral and than positive press, and media and the digital world often spin stories that shouldn't be negative into negative stories. For example, the clip most of us have seen of the chair person saying water is not a human right. Shocking and horrible out of context. In context, he was arguing that if you charge a legitimate market rate for water people protect the water and make sure it's clean. He was saying that unlimited water use is not a human right. Hmm...sounds a little bit like come of the political debates going on in NZ right now about water rights, eh? Also in context it's a point most people who are socially conscious, environmentally conscious etc would agree with. But when it's in a tiny sound bite....as so many things are these days it sounds sooo different. 

All in all, I would just encourage everyone to do more research before naming and shaming. Do more research before sharing that clip that sounds so outrages. And I'm speaking as much to myself as to other people. I have been guilty of the name and shame game. But it does the cause of justice no value. Where as naming and faming the people, organizations and companies who are going to great lengths to make our world a more just place adds loads more value to the cause of justice. So for me, I shall be buying that Milo for my kids and feeling good about it. :)

Housing Forum

You may be wondering why I would want to write about the housing forum I went to last night. At first glance in social justice things can often seem unrelated. What does a lack of good housing have to do with modern day slavery? Well, quite a bit really. 

One of the factors of modern day slavery that doesn't get talked about often enough possibly is the correlation between poverty and the resulting vulnerability to being enslaved or trafficked or taken advantage of in general. There is a reason that the TIPs report for New Zealand put Pacific Island and Maori populations at more risk for various types of modern slavery. That reason is the staggering difference in the risk for these communities to become impoverished. And how does that relate to housing? What's the one thing most people would try to not live without? The answer is safe, secure housing. And when they can't find access to safe and secure housing any housing becomes important. 

The massive problem in terms of modern day slavery with this is that it gives abusers more power to abuse. If you're worried you might be fired from your underpaid job with an abusive boss who is basically treating you like a slave, and that horrible job is the only difference between being on the street and having some sort of roof over your head.....well, you're less likely to speak up for yourself. Or as one Pacific Island nun at the Tip of the Iceberg conference put it, "too many islanders are clearly being abused in their work. But they say, 'at least I have a job'." 

That right there is a terrible report card for New Zealand on how we treat the most vulnerable in our communities. That's a few too many cracks for people to slip through. I don't know about you, but when I think of things I don't want "in my backyard" I don't want vulnerable to be so at risk that they would do anything to keep a roof over their head. Even if that roof is very substandard and makes them sick. Even if that roof means their family can only eat 1 or 2 meals in a day. 

Bishop Justin said some very very excellent words last night at the forum in response to the politicians politicking. He spoke to the crowd and told us that we all have to care. We have to care about the most vulnerable in our society. That it needs to be our problem too. And I couldn't agree with him more. I truly believe we have a burden of care to the most vulnerable in our society and our world to say this is not good enough. And we are going to stand until it's a whole lot better. He then challenged the politicians that we need more affordable housing for New Zealanders, we need more social housing and we need more healthy and affordable rentals for people in New Zealand. And again, I couldn't agree more. If people are not having to hustle quite so hard to just to keep an unhealthy roof over their head, they can begin to stand for themselves. They can also being to move forward in life, not be stuck. And truly, this issue doesn't just impact the levels of slavery we will see in New Zealand. It will also impact the levels of crime and incarceration, child poverty, health and wellness and many other areas of life in society. 

We can't abandon the poor. We have to stand in solidarity with them. What impacts them, will in turn impact you, no matter where you stand on the privilege ladder. 

Tip of the Iceberg

There has been a lot going on in the last few weeks for me and by extension for JusticeKiss. We recently relocated from Auckland to Wellington. This is presenting interesting challenges as well as exciting opportunities that haven't necessarily been available until now. One thing that has become apparent is the difference in culture between Auckland and Wellington and how that impacts things such as activism. 

As you may be aware, I started JusticeKiss just over a year ago while living in Auckland.  It just made sense to start a business to do something practical to combat big problems in the world. Apparently, that's an Auckland thing. I didn't realize at the time how much your city's culture can impact how you engage with an issue that seems completely unrelated to what city you are in. While up there I met all these great grass roots companies started by other world travelers that just want to be a part of the solution in the world. People who want to be ethical and sustainable and put their money where their mouth is in a commerce context. I also got to attend conferences and they were largely all about grass roots initiatives and how we can all be a part of the solution. I suppose you could say that in essence they were about driving the culture to change and thereby solving problems. 

Shortly after moving to Wellington I had the opportunity to attend the Tip of the Iceberg conference. It was a fascinating conference. There were immigration officials, business officials, ministry officials, police officials as well as some lovely Catholic nuns and a few Anglicans and some students. You may wonder why that stood out to me. I'll tell you. It's because in nearly 2 years of going to conferences and working on the issues related to human trafficking, this was the first experience I had to hear from policy makers on the issues around human trafficking or modern slavery in our wider world and also in New Zealand. But as I heard several times throughout the conference, that's Wellington for you. 

I unfortunately can't give a lot of specifics about the conference at this moment. I'm waiting for the official report to come out as per agreements made. But I did want to share one thing that I realized and that I think it's quite important in this struggle. I've said it before, but it has a whole different nuance to it now. It's gonna take all of us to solve this problem. 

When I have made this statement in the past my mind really did envision millions upon millions of people standing up and saying "No! Not in my country, not in my back yard, not in my world!" And that's a grand vision. I still see it in my mind and it's beautiful. But there's a new nuance there now. In that group stands a bunch of people who every day to a government office. They sit and they care and they try to persuade those around them why they should care too. They develop policy and language and laws to try to shift this country to a more just and fair environment for migrant workers and the marginalized who are easily taken advantage of in society. They meet with big business to try to get them on board as well. I have to say I am more appreciative than I have ever been that there are some amazing people who work in government and who genuinely care. 

One statistic I heard at the conference was that 69 of the top 100 economies in the world today are actually corporations. The money, the power, and the influence in that statement is astounding. I realized that while I'm more grassroots and I think we are important, so are the policy makers. We need to be working together. We need to collaborate. I think we grassroots activist have a good opportunity to encourage society to come forward with accurate stories that can be collated into evidence for the government and the police about how it really is for migrants in NZ (or whatever country you're in) Those of us on the ground, we can make the relationships in ways that researchers and government officials can't because of the ethics of their position. We can reach out and care about our neighbors and those we see around us. We can befriend them and encourage them. That way maybe the next time a researcher wants to do a study of migrant workers they'll get more than 150 participants. Without accurate and real research, the government can't act. And anyone being taken advantage of in their workplace is already going to be cowed down by the manipulators and abusers who are trying to take advantage of them. So maybe another way we can help is to give some of our courage to them. Cause let's face it, activists are angsty and courageous. If we can figure out a way to give away some of that courage, maybe those who are being violated will be able to stand and tell their stories. And that's what we need. We need to hear accurately and clearly from those in our society who are being treated as slaves even though it's 2017. Just a thought to ponder as you walk your street, go to your job, volunteer, live your life. Who and how can you encourage others to tell their story? Because the government needs the answers and the data. And so do we. We need to understand what is going on otherwise we're just flying blind.....which is the worst way to fly. 

Copy of Solutions

Why is it so hard to talk about trafficking? This is something I have been thinking about for a while. Cause it is hard to talk about trafficking. It's hard in so many different and varied ways. 

First off, it's hard because I have no desire to gain recognition or fame for standing up for those without a voice. And I keep being assured that's what I need to do. Give the voiceless a voice. And I believe it with all my heart. But also, it makes people look at me. And I want them to look at them, not at me. So that's personally hard. 

It's also hard because it feels like no blog, photo, video, talk is ever going to be sufficient to communicate what trafficking really is and how subtle and horrible and huge and scary it is.  I watched a few episodes of American Crime a few months ago. It was probably one of the better ways I can think of to really immerse yourself in what it would be like to be someone trafficked from a number of different perspectives. That being said, hug a kid afterward because it is hard. So very very hard. 

And I think that's the crux of it. I can't give you a clear picture of everything I have seen without potentially demoralizing you. And if I demoralize you, then I'm not a part of the solution. And trust me, I know how much this topic can be demoralizing. It's like watching a car crash in action. Only it doesn't last a few seconds, it lasts a life time. 

In a way I'm so glad that there is dramatic interpretations of trafficking situations coming out. Because it is a huge problem. And people do need to be aware. And sometimes that's easier to follow on a TV drama. But sometimes it's easier to just put it in the made up category when it's on TV too. You know? The reality is just a bit overwhelming for most people. 

The reality of the trafficking world is that it's so incomprehensible to the average person. The average person like you or me is never going to want to own another person for any reason. The vast majority of us do not have deviant sexual desires making purchasing a person for sex a tempting idea. Most of us would get to know our workers and so would feel horrible if we knew they were starving or getting sick because we were working them so hard and paying them so little. 

So our lives do not encompass this. And that is wonderful. Man, imagine how dark and horrible the world would truly be if every one of us could only imagine the darkness of the world of some of these problems. I also tend to read a lot of books. And I've noticed a trend in the genre that I read. There are some authors who can talk about the darkness and retain hope. And there are other authors who want you to give yourself over to the dark. I think potentially that's the way they see the world....they also potentially need to be better medicated for their life. 

I desire to be one of the authors who talks about the dark stuff, but still retains the hope. Because we have to have to look at the problems. We need to know the problems inside and out. Not just a passing intellectual argument's knowledge. We need to feel something when talking about these things. It has to sink down into our hearts and make a difference. But we also can not allow it to rule our hearts. If we don't look well we will operate out of sympathy, our minds will tell us to feel guilty and maybe throw a little bit of resource at the problem.

But when our hearts get a hold of the problems, we develop empathy. We see ourselves reflected in the tears of the mother who has to send her children away so she can work at an unsafe job, with not enough pay, and not enough time to be a mamma. We can say "there but for the grace of God go I" when we see the young girl or boy who gets caught up in dangerous prostitution situations. And we don't judge them for trying to survive in a world that has been trying to tell them they are worthless and only meant for the abuse of others. We can then begin to reject some of the common notions that we just need more and more and more.....without thinking that if I get more often someone else gets less. We even find ourselves having empathy for the middle class farmers who have lost their way and have decided to give in to pressures to underpay and mistreat workers. Because we know they didn't start the problem, they're just caught in the middle of it and have chosen a less than helpful path. Which means we don't need to rally against them, we need to advocate for better buying practice and fairer competitive practice so they can get back on the right path again. 

The reality of this world is that for every person you see doing a bad thing, you can look back a generation or two or three and see where the problem actually started. Unless you're dealing with a true psychopath who doesn't have the the ability to feel compassion or empathy. But they are a very small percentage of the population of the world. The majority of us are broken people making bad choices. That means our job in the world is to try to heal it. 

We are not God.  Individually we can impact very little. But! And it's a huge but, if we all unite together with the intent to heal our world I think we can change things. If we all do our part to look at, wrestle with and then participate in a way that makes sense.....there is hope. We have to have to look at the other side of life, the darker side of life, the nasty parts. Just like wounds on a body that get worse with neglect, the wounds in this world are only getting worse because they're hard to look at. But we have to look. We need to assess. But we do not need to stay there staring. We need to become first responders to the situation. We have to assess the problem and then find where we can be a solution. 

For me, I realized I can write, and I can talk to people and I can pick out pretty stuff. So JusticeKiss was born. For you, it might be that you look and you say, I know how to craft petitions & persuasive letters to organizations: advocate. For you it might be that you can look at what you're buying and think about buying a bit less and a bit more quality and only Fair trade : ethical shopper. Maybe you're a wiz at getting people to like your Instagram posts or Facebook posts, so you can pick an organization to promote through your skill: influencer/marketer.  You see where I'm going with this? It can be something that is your whole life and work, like me. But it can also be something that just comes naturally to you that you can turn towards the problem and become a solution. 

So which solution are you? 

Source: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox

Solutions

Why is it so hard to talk about trafficking? This is something I have been thinking about for a while. Cause it is hard to talk about trafficking. It's hard in so many different and varied ways. 

First off, it's hard because I have no desire to gain recognition or fame for standing up for those without a voice. And I keep being assured that's what I need to do. Give the voiceless a voice. And I believe it with all my heart. But also, it makes people look at me. And I want them to look at them, not at me. So that's personally hard. 

It's also hard because it feels like no blog, photo, video, talk is ever going to be sufficient to communicate what trafficking really is and how subtle and horrible and huge and scary it is.  I watched a few episodes of American Crime a few months ago. It was probably one of the better ways I can think of to really immerse yourself in what it would be like to be someone trafficked from a number of different perspectives. That being said, hug a kid afterward because it is hard. So very very hard. 

And I think that's the crux of it. I can't give you a clear picture of everything I have seen without potentially demoralizing you. And if I demoralize you, then I'm not a part of the solution. And trust me, I know how much this topic can be demoralizing. It's like watching a car crash in action. Only it doesn't last a few seconds, it lasts a life time. 

In a way I'm so glad that there is dramatic interpretations of trafficking situations coming out. Because it is a huge problem. And people do need to be aware. And sometimes that's easier to follow on a TV drama. But sometimes it's easier to just put it in the made up category when it's on TV too. You know? The reality is just a bit overwhelming for most people. 

The reality of the trafficking world is that it's so incomprehensible to the average person. The average person like you or me is never going to want to own another person for any reason. The vast majority of us do not have deviant sexual desires making purchasing a person for sex a tempting idea. Most of us would get to know our workers and so would feel horrible if we knew they were starving or getting sick because we were working them so hard and paying them so little. 

So our lives do not encompass this. And that is wonderful. Man, imagine how dark and horrible the world would truly be if every one of us could only imagine the darkness of the world of some of these problems. I also tend to read a lot of books. And I've noticed a trend in the genre that I read. There are some authors who can talk about the darkness and retain hope. And there are other authors who want you to give yourself over to the dark. I think potentially that's the way they see the world....they also potentially need to be better medicated for their life. 

I desire to be one of the authors who talks about the dark stuff, but still retains the hope. Because we have to have to look at the problems. We need to know the problems inside and out. Not just a passing intellectual argument's knowledge. We need to feel something when talking about these things. It has to sink down into our hearts and make a difference. But we also can not allow it to rule our hearts. If we don't look well we will operate out of sympathy, our minds will tell us to feel guilty and maybe throw a little bit of resource at the problem.

But when our hearts get a hold of the problems, we develop empathy. We see ourselves reflected in the tears of the mother who has to send her children away so she can work at an unsafe job, with not enough pay, and not enough time to be a mamma. We can say "there but for the grace of God go I" when we see the young girl or boy who gets caught up in dangerous prostitution situations. And we don't judge them for trying to survive in a world that has been trying to tell them they are worthless and only meant for the abuse of others. We can then begin to reject some of the common notions that we just need more and more and more.....without thinking that if I get more often someone else gets less. We even find ourselves having empathy for the middle class farmers who have lost their way and have decided to give in to pressures to underpay and mistreat workers. Because we know they didn't start the problem, they're just caught in the middle of it and have chosen a less than helpful path. Which means we don't need to rally against them, we need to advocate for better buying practice and fairer competitive practice so they can get back on the right path again. 

The reality of this world is that for every person you see doing a bad thing, you can look back a generation or two or three and see where the problem actually started. Unless you're dealing with a true psychopath who doesn't have the the ability to feel compassion or empathy. But they are a very small percentage of the population of the world. The majority of us are broken people making bad choices. That means our job in the world is to try to heal it. 

We are not God.  Individually we can impact very little. But! And it's a huge but, if we all unite together with the intent to heal our world I think we can change things. If we all do our part to look at, wrestle with and then participate in a way that makes sense.....there is hope. We have to have to look at the other side of life, the darker side of life, the nasty parts. Just like wounds on a body that get worse with neglect, the wounds in this world are only getting worse because they're hard to look at. But we have to look. We need to assess. But we do not need to stay there staring. We need to become first responders to the situation. We have to assess the problem and then find where we can be a solution. 

For me, I realized I can write, and I can talk to people and I can pick out pretty stuff. So JusticeKiss was born. For you, it might be that you look and you say, I know how to craft petitions & persuasive letters to organizations: advocate. For you it might be that you can look at what you're buying and think about buying a bit less and a bit more quality and only Fair trade : ethical shopper. Maybe you're a wiz at getting people to like your Instagram posts or Facebook posts, so you can pick an organization to promote through your skill: influencer/marketer.  You see where I'm going with this? It can be something that is your whole life and work, like me. But it can also be something that just comes naturally to you that you can turn towards the problem and become a solution. 

So which solution are you? 

Source: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox

Coopetition

Do you know what the word Coopetition means? I heard it for the first time this past Sunday. But the concept is nothing new to me.  Coopetition is the idea that businesses can work together for mutual benefit. 

One of the things that has always bothered me in our world is the precepts that often define the business world. I have a few friends who are quite savvy in the business world. They always talk to me about profit. Money, money and more money. That is the aim, goal, supreme end point. 

The question that swirled in my head was always, "but should it be?" I mean, what is money but a tool. Right? And tools can be used for good or bad purpose. So shouldn't the aim of business be something more than a tool? Call me an idealist, many many have, but shouldn't the aim of business be a principle? For me, the aim of business is to have more tools to help more people. I don't advocate that should be everyone's aim. But I do advocate that everyone should have a principle they are aiming towards, not a tool. 

For my principle in business, coopetition works perfectly. If the aim of my business is to have more tools to help more people, then working alongside others fits perfectly into that scheme. If we are all mutually benefiting, then things are getting better for all of us. And if things are getting better for all of us, then that's an okay aim in my book. 

Too often in business I have seen rabid competition that just hurt everyone involved. There's no doubt that running businesses and having expenses is stressful. We can let that make us into worse people or we can let the fires of stress forge us into better human beings. Better human beings don't step on others to get to their goals. Winning at all cost is just too costly in the long run. 

When I lived in Nepal I co-owned a cafe and a guesthouse for a while. The best parts of my memories of those businesses were when we got to help people. When we hosted events that promoted others work and saw the beauty of what they had created. When we could give our manager funds to cover some emergency medical costs for his child. When we could watch our workers lives proper and get better by working hard and being paid fairly. 

We did have some people take advantage of us. And that was hard. But instead of letting it make us jaded and cynical, we chose to see those people as having had bad experiences in their past that led them to believe that is the way the world works. Screw them before they screw me. And the only way to combat that thought process is to stand up and say no. There is a different way. I will treat you well and with dignity until you learn that you can treat others well and with dignity. There were consequences to us for our ideals and also to those who took advantage of us. Consequence is just part of life. Every action will have a reaction. But not every thing that happens in life needs to make me in into a worse human being. In fact, it's on me if I let the bad things in life shape me into a bad human being. 

Don't get me wrong. I don't like to judge others when they are in the mire of bad circumstance and struggling out. I'm only saying that while bad things knock us about, and though we stumble and fall, we have to keep walking forward. 

For me this walking forward has always led to coopetition. Working with others who have a little more life, a little more spark, a little more enthusiasm is so healing if you're being knocked about by life. It takes away the loneliness of trying to accomplish a goal. And in the end I truly believe it makes the world a better place. 

Whatever your goal is, find some co-conspirators and try some coopetition. See if it doesn't lift and inspire new creativity, new energy and general good feelings. 

Source: https://alicia-odhiambo.squarespace.com/co...

Words

Sometimes I struggle with words. I love words, but sometimes I truly and verily struggle with them.

I have read a lot of words over the last few weeks. Many of them very good words. Words telling me about the law changes in New Zealand to now protect underage girls from being brought here to be married off...also protecting any underage people from pedophiles in this country. Great words. So encouraging words.

I read words that told me about New Zealand winning it's first court case against a man trafficking in persons. Those were also sad words. To realize what this man and his family would do to others from their home country just to make some money. I'm so glad that this country did their part and convicted him not just for being a bad employer, but also for bringing people here with the intent to defraud them and degrade their humanity.

I read words about how Californian law changed so that no underage girl can be convicted of prostitution because the reality is that girl is a victim of her surroundings. These were hard but good words. So sad, but so true. And I'm glad that California took steps to correct these words in their legislation. I was saddened to read that the media refuses to use appropriate words like victim or trafficked person in regards to underage girls in the sex industry.

I've also written a number of words in the last few weeks. I've been attempting to write good words. Words that mean something. Words that convey the deep ache in my soul to see abused humanity set whole and free with dignity and grace. Many times the only words I have in my heart are literally, "Lord have Mercy" And I have to accept that sometimes those words seem so inadequate and yet have to be enough for now.

There seem to be so many bad words around. So many ugly and tormenting words. Words that pretend to be loving and righteous, but in reality cause harm and pain. I do not like those words, although I do understand those words. I understand where they come from, I understand where they've gone awry. I know that for any change to happen, it must first start with me. So I am choosing, imperfectly and clumsily, to participate with the pain of those words and the anger, mine and others.

If I humbly can, I invite you to consider your words these next few weeks. Consider others words. See if you can step beyond the commonplace face of things, and delve behind to the root of the words. Behind my words, sometimes I find surprising roots. And it proves the lie to my words, even though I thought I had the most honest of intentions. When I can do that I communicate better. When I can see the roots of another's words I may find a lie in the words, but the lie doesn't affect me because I can also see the root. And often the root is what is worthwhile addressing more than that words.

My interview with a sex-worker

So, I recently contacted the NZPC(New Zealand Prostitutes Collective). I spoke with the chairperson,Ms Healy,  who very kindly took time out of her schedule to let me interview her by phone. I found the conversation interesting. I did not agree with all of the stances of Ms Healy or the NZPC, but I did appreciate some of the work they have done and the opportunity to stretch my understandings of some things.

In terms of sex work there are 4 models that most countries adopt in response. First there is the traditional criminalization model where buying and selling sex is equally illegal. Then there is the New Zealand model, which is complete decriminialization of buying and selling sex. There is a slightly different model of legalization, which means that prostitution is legalized and therefore regulated by government. Then,  Tthere is a newer model that is being trialed in Scandanavia. Under this model selling sex is decriminalized, but buying sex is still criminalized. There is also a massive shame component to it, where the persons buying sex have their identities published in the papers. I personally have a lot of questions about all of these models.

One helpful thing that I believe NZPC has done is change the terminology around sex work. They prefer to use terms like sex workers, managers etc. And I believe this does give people encountering the issues less bias and more ability to talk about the issues with authenticity and not just dogmatic reproach. I believe it is important to respect every human whether I agree with their stance in life or not. Granted, I find it much more difficult to respect some individuals who choose to perpetrate trauma on others. But my actions and my responses define my character, not theirs. So I try. And I would encourage everyone to try.

I also support the legalization of selling sex. From all the studies and all the therapists who work with sex workers that I have talked to, it does seem the majority of sex workers have suffered previous sexual trauma in their lives. I see no need to further traumatize people who have made non-violent choices in response to their abuse. I also know that a lot of sex workers feel they do not have many other options. I would also not want to traumatize anyone trying to support themselves or their families by any means possible. Because the reality of the world is that it is a difficult place and it is hard to survive....let alone thrive.

One thing I did not agree with the New Zealand model is that with complete decriminalization also came complete lack of governing structures around the industry. There used to be a registry with the police. And I can absolutely see the need to have that one done away with, as it was used to harass sex workers from their point of view. However, because sex workers are not registered unless they are part of a brothel, I feel there is a gap in the protection of underage people pressured into sex work and in migrant workers, neither of which are legalized populations for sex work in this country. I would rather have legalized sex work where any independent contractor is required to gain a business license which checks things like legal status and age. I had to for my business, and it only seems logical to make that happen so that people who come from overseas to this country and underage people can not be forced into sex work and if they are their abusers can be brought to justice more easily.

The other interesting thing that I am still pondering is a critique Ms. Healy had of the Scandianavian model. She said that they had heard reports that in that model the sex workers were also named and the information was used to expel them from their residences. That doesn't seem just to me. I wouldn't want someone who is an atheist to find out that I am a christian and expel me from my house, so I wouldn't want anyone else to be in that situation because of a difference of beliefs either.

But at the core of it, one of the reasons I wanted to speak to NZPC was because I wanted to know from their perspective how much of a problem trafficking is in this country. Ms. Healy didn't believe it was a large possibility because of the difficulty in getting clients in this country.  I did further research on some of the reporting around sex work in New Zealand and found that although there are migrant sex workers the majority do not feel they have been trafficked, they came and are participating willingly.

What I came away with were questions around the nature of sex and whether it should be a commodity. Ms. Healy felt it should be okay if someone wanted to buy or sell sex. I was and am concerned about how that frames sex between humans though. I spoke with one psychotherapist who works with sex workers. She said that in her experience the way sex work operates is that the participants have to emotionally detach from the situation. And I don't think this is how humans operate best. At it's heart, I truly believe sex should be about relationship. And when sex is made a commodity it adds an unhealthy level of power brokering. If a woman sells sex to make herself feel more powerful against men, she is gaining power in very risky behaviour that has a great likelihood to cause herself harm. When a person buys sex, it is too easy for the brain to translate that to buying a body. Which is why you see so many cases where someone has purchased sex, but then believes they have purchased the right to harm the person they have hired.  Outside of relationship, the level of vulnerability required from the act of sex(any sex) is not something that can be given while maintaining healthy safe boundaries around one's self at all times. And while some jobs require a high level of risk because they are good for the overall society, like ambulance workers and police, sex is not a realm where high risk should be present in my opinion. Sex is a natural desire and need. But to demand its satiation by any means turns a beautiful, natural thing into lust. And lust is not beautiful.

But that's my two cents. I still really respect the NZPC and Ms. Healy for what they are attempting to do to bring more justice to the world of sex work.They do good work with advocacy for and education of sex workers.  And I do believe there needs to be more acceptance and compassion for sex workers on the whole in the world. But I maintain reservations around the nature of sex and paid sex.

 

 

SEX

I have been reflecting this week on the case of the Stanford rapist. I know it is not a case about human trafficking. But when you deal with any part of sex trafficking in the midst of human trafficking, things like rape get on your radar pretty quick too.

I have seen many things posted that have angered me. I have seen some things posted that have given me hope.

I wanted to write personally, not to toot my own opinion about the whole thing, but to talk about how rape culture impacts things like sex trafficking. Because I don't know that a lot of people understand how all these things intertwine to become nasty cesspools of horridness.

One thing I have seen come out of all the awfulness of that case is a lot of good men who feel threatened and judged for being men. And as I said recently, I hate that. It is never what I or any other person I know working with these issues want. We do not want to take your dignity because someone else's has been taken. Quite the opposite really. We want you, MEN, to be so confident in your dignity and the gift that it is to be male that you would ABHOR what others choose to do with their maleness. If you are a good man, who looks out for your daughters and sisters and neighbors etc, feel confident that you being a safe male is a major part of what teaches small girls about their worth and their dignity. And if we have girls that know what safety and dignity feel like, they are less likely to be taken in by someone who wants to manipulate them to misuse their body.

The other thing I have sadly seen is victim shaming. If a person chooses to harm another person, it is never ever ever the fault of the victim. You may not agree with prostitution, but do you think a prostitute's choice to use their body in that way gives others license to then beat them or kill them or do whatever they want? Sure, they have put themselves in a less safe environment. But does that make them responsible for what others baseness causes to occur? A girl or a guy who goes out and drinks does put themselves at risk. It's true. But does that mean that someone who beats up a drunk person, or steals their wallet, or rapes them is not the one responsible? No, because human beings that are good human beings have the responsibility to help those more at risk. Not to blame them for being more at risk. Also, a girl who is drunk and gets raped does not in any way need anyone saying that she put herself at risk. She knows that and she will most likely never live that one down. So let's all take a page out of Jesus' book and when a woman caught doing something we don't approve of, let's instead of shaming her, love her and tell her God loves her.

Now, how all this relates to the sex trafficking portion of human trafficking. Sex trafficking is only a thing because there are still people who believe that sex trumps everything. That it is a natural desire that needs to be quenched and to not do so is inhumane. Here's the problem, half that statement is true. Sex is a very natural desire. But, it is completely false that it is a desire that needs to be quenched or that not being sexually fulfilled is inhumane. The same horrid teaching (or lack there of) that tells some men they can rape a woman is the same teaching that tells other men they can buy a little girl to do with whatever they want. It's the same teaching that tells some men they can rape other men because they have a NEED and it HAS to be satiated. And the list goes on. Some will argue that it's not. And yes, there are other messages that have to go in with that message. But it's all from the same core. That sex is paramount and must be indulged. Start there and you find boyfriends who shame their girl friends into sex in high school before the girl is ready. Start there and you find pedophiles who will move on to why it's necessary for them to take advantage of that child. Start there and you find every person who has ever used another person for their body, whether visually through the internet or physically on a stage or physically through a pimp. And that is a twisted and disgusting version of sex.

Sex should be the culmination of two people loving each other so much that they want to be as intimate as possible. They say, "I choose to be as vulnerable as possible with you." That is a relationship and activity about respect and safety. And indeed, the relationship is paramount, not the sex. If there is a scenario where there is sex involved and one or neither side has said "I choose to be as vulnerable as possible with you" then sex is off the table. It is always wrong in that context. It is a beautiful thing twisted and warped into the ugliest and basest of acts. That is what rape culture is and does. It's the starting place for all the awful things that happen in the world. Sex is not the problem. Being male is not the problem.  The belief that you should ever be able to participate in sex without your first priority being the care of the other person is the problem.