Sunday, March 29, 2009

Suburban Nomad

1:43 PM

Well now that I have officially moved out of one permanent location and cannot move into the next permanent location until April 11, I'm a bit of a nomad. It's nothing too serious, as I have plenty of friends and family in the area to couch-hop to. But I am definitely living in a state of restlessness. I can only settle in "so much" before it's time to move on to the next place. I limited myself to 1 suitcase and a laundry basket. It's freeing in a way though. My decision on what shoes to wear that day are no longer one of 20, but one of 4. What book should I read? Well, I only have one. So its that one. And with that I begin my temporary adventure as a suburban nomad. Should be an interesting two weeks!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things I'll Miss...

2:31 PM
--Walking in the front door and hearing "Joy."

--Taking tons of pictures on Macbook with all the goofy filters

--Being told my room is messy and I need to clean it

--And then having help to clean my room

--Being told my clothes don't match/are not liked

--Getting hugs and kisses goodbye on my knees

--Hearing joyful laughter through my wall

--The natural assumption that I'm in my room. Watching TV.

--Always having to know where a stuffed green frog is

--Waking up too early on Saturdays to Daddy's little helpers

--Smell of pizza dough baking on Sunday afternoons

--Being tackled while just sitting on the floor minding my own business

--Living as a "Garage Dweller"

--Hearing my name yelled through the wall when I'm needed

--TV room concerts

--Sewing days

--Being reminded that kicking people is a sin

--Hugs for no reason

--Throwing random Spanish into everyday conversation

--Reading the same picture books over and over

--Dancing to the Wall-E soundtrack in the kitchen

--Having to know where everything comes from

--Wearing boots together

--Explaining that I have to work everyday

--And explaining why I don't get naps at work

--Being rescued from bugs [real & paper]

--Knowing its time to wake up in the mornings when I hear a car squealing out of the drive

--Standing in the shower on squishy green frogs

--Being called Joy Rhooooodes

--Ked. Amelia. Ilana. Titus.


Saturday, March 21, 2009


10:22 PM

I had the privilege to hear from yet another trafficking survivor. I will never tire of hearing their stories, learning about the agony the faced, and seeing their strength in the face of opposition. Kika's story was most impacting and I hope my words can capture her passion.

Kika was born in Venezuela. At at the age of 8, she was raped by her stepfather, and she lived in constant fear of him. At the age of 14, Kika began pregnant by an abusive boyfriend. Her family disowned her and she lived on the streets until she had her baby. She was able to finish her high school education with the help of night school, and soon got a job as a bookkeeper at a Hilton hotel. It was there that she befriended a man named Daniel. He was kind to her and she trusted him implicity. Daniel eventually moved to the United States, and soon asked Kika to join him there. He promised her a good job. She acquired a 6 month visa, and arrived in New York. Upon arrival, Kika immediately taken to a basement, where she wasn't allowed to leave, answer the door or phone, or even speak. The woman who Daniel had been living with, Sandra, enforced these rules. Sandra also took Kika's passport and the $2,000 she came with. They told Kika that she had cost them some money and she would have to pay them back, not only her own debts but Daniel's also. Sandra was verbally & physically aggressive and Daniel was emotionally maniputlative. Kika found out that Sandra was involved in a prostutition ring and she was to be part of it. Kika began working out of home in Queens, and her first night she had 19 customers. Daniel and Sandra were both responsible for the psychological force on Kika. They gave her a new name, new look and marketed her as a "prostitute from the Phillippines". She worked out of their brothels for over 3 years. She was never allowed to talk to the johns, she was there as a sexual object. She witnessed two of her coworkers being shot and killed. Sandra was her pimp and still calling the shots. The fees that the men paid to sleep with Kika went directly to Sandra. Kika was only able to keep tips. Occasionally she was forced to work in a high class bar, in which the men paid $300 - $500 and expected sex without condoms and other risky sexual behaviors. Kika feared sickness and disease because of this lifestyle, and she knew had a child to raise. Kika was arrested 3 different times for prostitution. Not once did anyone ask why she was there, how did she get there and was it her "choice". She recalls some of her most consistent clients were NYPD detectives. Police would often conducts "raids" on brothels, and would come in and close down the brothel, have sex with the women, and then choose who would get arrested and who wouldn't. After 3 years of this lifestyle, one of Kika's clients, Arnie, proposed marriage. He proposed with a diamond ring in one hand and a gun in the other. Kika felt she had no choice but to say yes. She was married to Arnie for 10 years, and they had two children together. But during that time Arnie was physically and emotionally abusing her. She eventually filed for divorce and left him, and was living in a shelter with her daughters. Time after time she appeared in court to get sole custody of her daughters, and she was repeatedly denied because of her arrest record. Eventually, she was seen by a sympathetic judge who was familiar with human trafficking and the truth of Kika's story came out. She got the divorce, the protection, and the physical and emotional resources needed for a recovery. Her and Arnie now share custody of the girls, and he is a Staten Island police officer. Kika has her green card and lives a normal life with her girls.

Kika was a picture of bravery and courage as she stood there to tell her story. She has told this story countless times before, and she still is overcome with emotion as she recounts her experiences. My heart breaks for pain she endured and for all the other "Kikas" still out there. It ignites the passion needed to continue this fight against sexual slavery. I pray we can see an end in our lifetime.



10:05 PM
Bradley Myles, Deputy Director of the Polaris Project was our first speaker on Friday. He was a young, passionate and very well-informed abolitionist. He provided us an abundance an information that could takes days to process, so I will spare you the nitty gritty. But here are some highlights:

  • Myth: Trafficking implies movement. Reality: it's a crime of exploitation and control, not always transportation. Someone can be a victim of trafficking and never have left their own city.
  • Three common trafficking circles are: (1) Latina women & girls working residential brothels, escort "delivery" services, hostess catina bars. These groups victimize only Latina women and advertise their services specifically to Latino men. (2) U.S. women & girls controlled by a pimps. More on this below! (3) Asian women & girls working commercial front massage parlors, residential brothels, escort "outcall"services, hostess clubs/room salons.
  • Pimp: a person, esp. a man, who solicits customers for a prostitute or a brothel, usually in return for a share of the earnings; pander; procurer. The glorification of pimps in our society has allowed our culture not to see pimps as the controlling traffickers that they are. They brand their women, they abuse their women, and they control their women. And pimps are not seen as "dangerous" figures, they are seen as cool. Fraternities host "Pimps & Hoes" parties. Oscar winning song of 2006 was "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp". Hey MTV, "Pimp My Ride"! It's everywhere and seen as a normal part of our conversation. A shift needs to take place.
  • Johns: the men paying for sexual services. They are often the silent partner in the prostitution world, but in reality, it all starts with them because they are creating the DEMAND. We can rescue girls all day long, shut down brothels, and arrest pimps. But unless we change the demand, it's a never ending cycle.
Bradley spent alot of time of legislature that is currently on the books for crimes of trafficking, prostituting, etc.. which is a focus of the Polaris Project. He challenged with need for better laws and better enforcement of these laws. It was a privilege to hear him speak!


Friday, March 20, 2009


11:37 PM

This next post I'm going to do my very best to convey the emotion with which I heard it. It is the story of trafficking survivor, Joana. To ensure Joana's privacy and protection, she was not photographed.

Joana was a beautiful, young Brasilian college graduate. She had a good life in Brazil, working and owned a car. She met a woman at her hair salon one day that told her about a job she could in America, in Atlanta, Georgia, working retail earning $200. It sounded good to Joana, so she paid the $8,000 to get her visas and began her journey to the US by way of Mexico. It took several days longer than she expected, and Joana and the other girls traveled at night by unmarked vans and slept in dried up riverbeds. It seemed suspicious to Joana, but she was anxious to get to America. Once arriving, she only had $5 to her name. And instead of being taken to a retail store for work, she was taken to a massage parlor in an apartment complex. At this parlor, there were several girls in provocative clothing, forced to work from 11pm – 7am. She tried to explain that wasn't the work she wanted to do, but the pimp didn't listen. After only three weeks of being in America, Joana discovered she was pregnant. The pimp tried to force Joana to get an abortion, but she didn't budge. She began seeking honest work, posting her contact info in stores that sold Brasilian items, hoping for a job cleaning houses. She prayed for God to do something. And He did. A woman saw her ad, called and offered Joana a job cleaning her home. Although Joana worked hard, she only made $40 a day and was barely getting by. There were days she went without food. The madam of the brothel allowed Joana to stay there and keep her baby, in hopes to prepare her for prostitution once she delivered. After several months, Joana finally felt comfortable enough to confide in the woman she was working for. The woman got the police and the local church involved and that was the turning point in Joana's life. She was taken out of the brothel and placed in a hotel, and then a shelter. She delivered her baby while in this shelter. She connected with Tapestri, an Atlanta-based trafficking victims recovery ministry. Tapestri provided the physical and psychological needs Joana required. Even though she was never forced into prostitution, Joana suffered the emotional trauma of being a trafficked victim. Joana credits her faith in God as what kept her going most days, as well as her son. Because of Joana's bravery, the other women from the brothel were also rescued and granted U.S. Working visas. Joana still has goals and dreams for her future. She aspires to use her hospitality management degree here in States. Mercer University has awarded Joana with a full scholarship to their English language institute to allow Joana to master the English language and continue reaching her dreams.

Joana's story was powerful because it showed that any education level, any income level is susceptible for human trafficking. Joana was one of the lucky survivors, and sadly many are not so lucky. Joana is committed to being a voice for this cause and I applaud her for her voice.



10:53 PM
Patricia McCormick, author of Sold, opened the conference on a great note. Her award-winning book is a fictional account of a 13-year old girl from India sold in prostitution. I have not yet read this book, but after hearing Patricia's story, I will be. She didn't spend a lot of time recalling parts of the book, but instead took the time to take on her journey of writing it. She traveled to Nepal and India to see firsthand the trauma this victims were facing. She discovered Nepal is more susceptible to victimization because of their lack of communication with the outside world. It is a very remote country. The majority of women are illiterate and have no value in their world. If a woman's husband dies, she loses her home and risks being displaced. Families live so close to the poverty line that one bad harvest could mean they are no longer able to feed their families. This is why girls are being sent away by their own families. They believe they are giving their child a better life in the big city, a chance to earn a living, but in reality they are lost and confused and often manipulated. When a child goes missing in Nepal, there are no Amber alerts and pictures don't appear on milk cartons. It's just another day.

Patricia also spent some time in Calcutta, India. There are 13 million people in Calcutta and 250,000 are prostitutes. There are brothels on every street corner and in every alley. Many of the women working in these brothels have children. These women are still forced to work as prostitutes whether they have a child or not. The children are often giving sleeping drugs which allows them to sleep under their mother's bed while she works. As a result, children ages 2 and 3 years are old are drug dependent. Women in this culture are viewed as possessions. One man sold his fiancee because he wanted a new motorcycle. He had one possession and wanted a different one. To him it was a simple transaction. To us, it's heartbreaking.

Patricia's photos spoke loudly of her time in Nepal and India, and I'm sure her book does the same. I am looking forward to reading it!


Sex Trafficking Opposition Project (S.T.O.P) Conference

10:50 PM

This week I attended the Mercer University S.T.O.P Conference in Macon, GA. It was a conference dedicated to having discussions about ending sex trafficking. The most impressive part of the conference to me was the fact it was student initiated. Two classes from Mercer University got inspired by this cause and wanted to do something about it in their community. This conference is the result. Speakers from across the state and country attended and I was challenged and overwhelmed by each one. My posts will not only be for educational purposes but also a chance for me to process the multiple pages of notes I took over the past day and a half. Happy reading!


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trafficking that touches Tampa

1:26 PM
She came from Guatemala, a woman in her early 20s smuggled into the United States for what she thought was a housekeeping job.

The journey from her small town to the Texas border took 26 days. From there she was whisked to a safe house near Houston, then brought to Tampa and moved once more to a house in Jacksonville.

There, an enforcer for the human trafficking operation told the woman her debt had jumped from $5,000 to $30,000.

The enforcer demonstrated how to use a condom by rolling it over a beer bottle. He said she'd have to pay back the debt as a prostitute, according to authorities.

She turned 25 tricks the next day and nearly every day for eight or nine months.

This tortured existence — the daily life of a human trafficking victim — ended May 22, 2007, when authorities intervened. The woman's captor, Juan Jimenez Henao, was arrested in Clearwater. But the investigation went much further. It connected with an international human trafficking network.

Carlos Andres Monsalve, 29, the ringleader, was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Henao served a short prison term and is scheduled to be deported.

In total, seven people were indicted and six victims identified.

A Clearwater task force did much of the work that led to the arrests. The task force, formed in 2006 when the Clearwater Police Department won a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Justice Department, is now a model around the country.

Human trafficking plagues Florida, California and Texas, among other states. Unlike smugglers, traffickers don't just transport human cargo; they exploit the travelers for purposes ranging from manual labor to prostitution.

Clearwater Deputy Chief Dewey Williams, three Clearwater police investigators and a special agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sat down with a St. Petersburg Times reporter to talk about the case.

Monsalve, the kingpin, owned houses across the state, including in Tampa and Pasco. Police said he lived a middle-class life. No gold chains. No fancy cars. A legal immigrant from Colombia, he helped run a clothing store in Tampa.

But his main business was more sinister. Monsalve made the circuit of Hispanic communities, passing out business cards offering women for prostitution. For years, his ring was composed of willing prostitutes. At some point in 2005, authorities believe, he began to use forced labor.

His operation set up in Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties, as well as in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

The women would charge $30 per sex act. The organization skimmed half that amount off the top and applied the other half toward the women's debts. Victims fell back on tip money to pay for food, condoms and other expenses, authorities said.

Detectives said there were six to eight women in the ring, each bringing in as much as $6,000 per week. One woman became pregnant, according to a report from the FDLE. The organization made her have sex with clients until she was "too pregnant" and then kicked her out onto the street.

The story of Clearwater's involvement starts as early as 2004, when police got a tip about a Hispanic brothel at an apartment complex near U.S. 19 and Drew Street.

In these types of cases, police said, the tip often comes from people who think it is a drug house. A steady stream of customers comes in, staying for only minutes, all of them men.

Police managed to get an undercover officer into the brothel and bring about a raid, arresting one woman on prostitution charges.

Police learned she was a willing prostitute, but the brothel was part of a bigger operation that included forced prostitution. That led police to apply for the Justice Department grant.

Thanks to the grant, two people are assigned to work full time on human trafficking cases at Clearwater police headquarters: Detective James McBride of the Clearwater Police Department and Special Agent Cal Cundiff of the FDLE.

They came upon Monsalve's trafficking ring in a roundabout way.

One night in 2006, two young women were spotted running down the road in Tallahassee. Police determined they had been brought into the country and forced to work as prostitutes. They were running from the trailer where they had been held.

Police arrested the man who had delivered the girls to the trailer and began burrowing into the network behind this brothel. Monsalve's name emerged, but no one knew the organization's structure.

FDLE Special Agent Eric Yopp eventually learned Monsalve was based in Tampa Bay and told the task force in Clearwater.

As it happens, the local task force had come across business cards Monsalve was distributing at U.S. 19 and Drew Street. The cards said "Tacos and Gorditas" and included a cell phone number on the back. People in the know understood the code words for prostitution.

Authorities set up an undercover operation and arranged to have one of the women delivered to them on May 22, 2007.

Henao, the driver, was arrested and found to be working for Monsalve.

After months of interviews with the Guatemalan victim, whose name has not been released by police, authorities came to understand the inner workings of the organization.

The woman explained that the police and military had been bribed all the way through Central America. The traffickers warned her that if she did not go along with their plan, they would notify immigration officials or harm her family, including her 6-year-old daughter in Guatemala. They even told her that the police in the United States would show no mercy if they found her.

"When we came in and were taking the trafficker into custody she thought … we were going to kill her," McBride said. "She thought the police, we were going to kill her."

The woman explained that the prostitutes rotated each week through brothels in Tampa Bay, Orlando, Tallahassee and Jacksonville areas.

Police in Clearwater pooled their information with state and federal authorities, eventually leading to Monsalve's arrest in September 2007 in Houston. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced in the fall.

"Our very first meeting on the task force, we stated that we are not interested in stopping that transporter that brought that trafficking victim," said Clearwater Sgt. Steven Sears, "our goal was to take down the organization."

The Clearwater task force has been at work on other cases since then, some still ongoing. In all, this task force has dealt with five human trafficking victims. It is in the third and final year of its grant, but plan to reapply.

"In this area, nothing has been done like this (investigation)," Sears added later. "With these types of cases it's not something that is reported. It is not something that gets a lot of press. It is very subtle and low-key. For us to develop it from nothing into this, it was very satisfying."

And it's not just the police work. Sears said an organization called World Relief and other partners helped the woman. Among other things, they took her to doctor visits, set her up with educational services, provided her with transportation to church and helped her contact her family in her home country.

The woman was allowed to take up residence in the Tampa Bay area in exchange for her cooperation. She has since moved out of the area and is living somewhere in the southern United States. Police said she is hoping to be reunited with her young daughter.

This article appeared here:


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Passing Afternoon

10:38 PM
So today I did something in Tampa that I have never done before. I went to an art festival. And not just any art festival, but the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, which brings out over 1,000 artists both local and national. Seeing an occasion not to missed, it's where I spent my afternoon. And it was packed! What I love about art shows, festivals, and galleries is the wide range of "art". I love how someone can call leather purse making "art" just like someone calls sculpture "art". Every artist is inspired by something different, and they express their inspiration differently. It's a beautiful thing, the creative process! Today I spent some time looking at acrylic painting, mixed media pieces, sculpture, oil paintings, and pop art. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. And I was finally able to appreciate a city I had grown up in and disliked for so long.

I used to feel like moving back to Tampa or staying in Tampa was settling, because this is where I'm from. I should be branching out, seeing the world and making my place somewhere on my own. But lately I feel less like that. I feel like God has me in Tampa for this inexplicable season of my life. It's not what I wanted or expected, but I'm happy to be here.

And take a look at the awesome piece of art I bought today by artist Dolan Geiman: