Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 2: First day of official NGO meetings!

Journal #2
First day of official NGO meetings!

            I struggled to wake myself up this morning, but once I got to my first event at 8:30 I was incredibly glad I did! I learned a lot from all of my sessions.
            Pathways to Peace organized the first event on sex trafficking. I learned that nearly 25% of trafficked women are from the U.S. I also learned that the U.S. is the number 1 destination of those who are seeking sex with children. I got to see clips from some amazing documentaries that told stories of trafficking survivors.
            One of the most interesting parts of this event was the story of a trafficker. Pathways to Peace works with a reformed trafficker who told his story. Listening to him speak, while infuriating, was also incredibly eye opening. In this session we talked about how trafficking can be routed in family just as trafficking can. We learned that many young boys are taught this from a young age. The trafficker who spoke with us was abused as a child and started trafficking at the age of 14. While this doesn’t excuse his actions, it gives an interesting perspective that I had never heard before.
            The overarching theme of this session really was that trafficking is happening in our backyards and the exploitation of women and media plays a huge role in perpetuating this. We talked about how the “Cinderella story” was so common in media. This idea that a man can come in and rescue a woman from sadness and “evil” is very damaging to young girls and perpetuates exploitation. Today, there are many women waiting for her Prince Charming to come and this does nothing but make women vulnerable to be exploitable by men. There was a quote on the screen that read “They don’t know that behind their Price Charming there’s a monster that is going to lead them into the world of prostitution and exploitation.”
            Unfortunately in our society and within our media, we have normalized the sexualization of women and girls and associated it with profit. In order to eliminate sex trafficking and gender oppression as a whole, we have to end this normalized sexualization. While this is important, it is also important to also encourage women to embrace their sexuality, as it is an essential part of being human. Currently, women’s and girl’s sexuality is exalted (women must remain virgins until marriage), commodified (women are sold into sex slavery) and vilified (women cannot be sexual beings until marriage).
            In the session today on sexuality and child brides, I learned that there is a law in some counties that says if a man rapes a girl he can marry her and stat married for at least 5 years and not be charged with a crime. I learned that child marriage doesn’t necessarily operate on the grounds of sex or money, but instead a control of sexuality. On the panel of this session were several individuals from various groups across the world looking to education young women and young boys on the ideas of sexuality. Each group worked to help young boys understand their privilege and role in eliminating gender oppression and worked to help young girls be empowered and confident enough to stand up for himself or herself and for gender justice. I love this idea because I feel that mentorship and education are so important to ending gender inequality.
            In the prostitution session I went to today, I got to hear the voices of many survivors and hear their opinions on prostitution legalization. They were there with SPACE international. All of the women were against prostitution legalization and for decriminalizing it for the women. I learned that much prostitution is intergenerational and it often turns into a lifestyle. Once you are a convicted of a prostitution crime or in the cycle of prostitution, it is extremely hard to escape.
            Even though prostitution is illegal in America, it is still happening and it is important for our legal system to stop only punishing the women and start punishing the pimps and the ones seeking prostitution. All of the women argued that we needed get away from the criminalization and vilification of the women in prostitution and start protect them. They are all for the Nordic Model, which states just this and attempts to also criminalize and punish the people (almost always men) who are the pimps and buyers. It is so important to support the women because without that, they have nowhere to go and no way to get out or be protected if they want to escape.

            In summary, the general theme of the majority of sessions I went to today was that we need to stop criminalizing and vilifying the girls and young women who are being trafficked, sold as brides and pushed into prostitution. We need to provide these women with resources and with ways out. Similarly, we need to harshly punish the men who are sexually exploiting these women as buyers and as pimps/traffickers.

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