Saturday, July 28, 2012

National Dance Day

It’s National Dance Day and what a better way to acknowledge the occasion than to take a break from whatever is overwhelming, worrying, or simply annoying you and join in on the fun with thousands of people across the globe (or at least around the United States). Similar to what they did last year, the creators of So You Think You Can Dance (my favorite show ever!) have offered a selection of routines for those interested to learn a few moves and relax. Being the great person that I am, I have posted these below. As James Brown would say, “Get up offa that thing/And dance till you feel better.”


Hip-Hop Master Class 

 - Krasi

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Human Stupidity

A wise man once said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.” That wise man went by the name of Albert Einstein and he is considered to have also said, “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

I have no idea what Einstein meant by stupidity, but I understand it in a sense that transcends the modern surface-level acceptance that stupidity applies to those who are not able to achieve a high score on some test or obtain a degree or other such arbitrary measurement of one’s intelligence. 

Human stupidity is mostly expressed in people’s extreme level of arrogance and specifically the belief that we are invincible, powerful, and the ultimate rulers on the third planet from the Sun in the Solar System. We use resources as if they are limitless, we act as if we will live forever, we treat others and the planet as if they are made of indestructible materials, and we excuse all of the above as if that would make a difference to the negative impact we have on everything around us. Some of us comprehend that taking anything for granted on a personal level might have unpleasant consequences; not many, however, realize that taking anything for granted on a global level will have dire consequences. Then one day we wake up and wonder what happened. If that’s not stupidity, I don’t know what is.

Modern advances in science, technology, and quality of life supposedly suggest that the human being has evolved into a high-functioning and successful organism. However, when I look around and take note of the damage done and being done, I often wonder if instead of moving forward, we are unwittingly moving backwards and becoming less human. What is truly scary is that as Einstein realized years ago, human stupidity has no limits and just when we think that we can’t make things any worse, we surprise ourselves yet again. 

-      Krasi

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Human Trafficking as the Issue of the Day

Now that I have my first year at DU completed, I have a lot more time to catch up on TV shows and films people have recommended that I see. After a few weeks of diligent watching, however, I have begun to notice an interesting trend in all the shows I focus on: no matter what the main theme of the show, there seems to inevitably be an episode that happens to revolve around, or at least briefly mention, the issue of human trafficking. 

Following the most recent depiction of the problem in an episode of Drop Dead Diva, I started to wonder about the importance of such presentations of a problem I am interested in investigating. After some reflecting, I realized that I am somewhat uneasy about human trafficking as the newest fad in subject matter for popular TV shows. I get the idea. This is a serious problem. Most people will not voluntarily educate themselves on such a problem. We need to get them to pay attention. So the topic is inserted in an episode of a show watched by millions. Is making people socially aware what the writers of TV shows are really concerned about, though? 

Furthermore, the manner in which the fictional characters across various channels stumble upon the issue appears to be very restricted. They are either outraged and surprised to find out that such an issue exists or they act as if this is a common problem most people are aware of. The truth is that advocates in the field have been fighting to expose the problem, investigate its characteristics, and find promising practices to eradicate it for years. Getting people outraged and determined to do something is not their ultimate goal, however. Acting with no idea what would work often brings more damage to those we are trying to assist. Engendering sustainable changes that would transform the way in which society is constructed and eventually lead to less vulnerability and opportunity for exploitation is hard to achieve, in one day or in one year. Simply stating that the goal is to free as many people as possible is not a solution. Freeing as many people as possible is not a solution. The issue is multifaceted so the solution will not be as simple as often presented in popular media. 

-      Krasi

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Different Worlds No More

A little over ten years ago, when I first traveled to the United States, it was plainly clear to me that I was entering a very different world from the one I have known. Even though I moved from one small village to another (sorry Athens, WV, but by most standards, you are a small village:), the atmosphere and people’s attitude convinced me I was not in Kansas (or Krasnovo) any more. Aside from the obvious surface-level differences, however, what truly made an impression on me was the obsession with material items, credit cards, and any kind of products for any kind of occasions and moods and even more, the preoccupation with “beauty” or what advertisers and the media tried to sell as beauty. The one thought on my mind was, I am so thankful I did not have to grow up surrounded by such messages! Don’t get me wrong, I did get my fair share of brainwashing messages about the specific roles of girls and such on an everyday basis, but at least no one was urging me to buy stuff to be happy. 

Forward ten years later, and Bulgaria has not only reached America in its obsession with the ideal of beauty, but in my modest opinion, my fellow country-men (and women) have totally surpassed the attitudes of those in my adopted place of residence.

Multitude of media outlets now focus on the newest diets and the fastest ways to a sexy and toned body. The girls in high schools are more concerned about what’s the latest in fashion they need to buy and wear and less worried about tests and other school assignments. Often, when I go back and walk the streets of the city where I went to high school, all I see are girls in high heels and handbags (!) and no backpack with textbooks and notebooks in sight. And the saga does not end once they leave high school. There are plenty of websites with the newest fads when it comes to motherhood and what’s trendy in the stroller world. No matter at what stage in her life a woman is, she is bombarded with the best of the best of whatever products she is thought to need, desire, or without which she absolutely cannot live. 

The number of products one “needs” has increased exponentially and there is no hope for the end of this obsession with the material world and outrageous notions of beauty. Meanwhile, greedy businesses try to take over what I consider true beauty in nature and focus on building new resorts so people have somewhere to go and show off their new possessions.  

I am not sure if it is my recent attempt to read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld or my desire to view Bulgarian news online, but I am just fed up with this fixation on the idea of something perfect: the perfect look, the perfect job, the perfect life. I don’t know about you, but I have now developed the tendency to run in the opposite direction the moment someone mentions or offers a perfect something. Keep it to yourself, please!

-          Krasi

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Can't They Just Leave?

Recently, I had a friend visit for a weekend and I just could not miss the opportunity to discuss the issue of human trafficking with her. Following a brief introduction to the problem and what it constitutes, the inevitable question came at me, “Why can’t they just leave?” Advocates of domestic violence and sexual abuse victims are painfully familiar with that question and have tirelessly worked for years to provide an answer that is concise and clear, but at the same time does not belittle or assault the questioner. Upon further conversations with my friend, it became evident that without a plausible explanation in response to her question, she, as many others unfortunately, was ready to conclude that there is just something about those people that sets them up for the kinds of situations in which they inevitably find themselves. In other words, it’s their fault. 

Such a conclusion, though, is quite easy to make when one views the issue from a privileged position and without ever having to experience such an abuse. Even more difficult to understand is the concept of psychological coercion. With the occasional ghastly exceptions, the majority of trafficking victims are not chained or in any way physically restricted. This fact makes it harder for my friend, and others unfamiliar with the power of psychological influence, to figure out why despite the horrendous conditions, trafficking victims stay. What they don’t realize, however, is that their exact attitude is one of the main reasons it is not simply difficult to leave a trafficking situation, but also it is often impossible to return to somewhat of a normal life. When a community views a survivor as faulty and broken, the reintegration of that person would be painful and far from successful. Consequently, when the time comes to choose between a return to normal life or a return to a trafficker, many women often make the latter choice. 

The bottom line is that leaving an abusive, destructive, dependent and violent relationship (whether it is a husband and wife or a trafficker and a victim) is extremely hard and requires a lot of strength and support. Until society grasps the validity of psychological coercion and its incredible impact on vulnerable populations, the element of protection when it comes to human trafficking will not be properly attended to. 

-      Krasi

Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 Human Trafficking reports

The past few months have been quite busy in the written world of anti-human trafficking efforts with the major organizations and agencies releasing reports and delivering the most recent data and information on the crime of the trafficking in persons. Even though personally I believe that it is hard, if not impossible, to estimate any numbers when it comes to a hidden criminal activity, others seem to be quite obsessed with statistics and numerals. Don’t get me wrong, I do try to read them in their entirety, but I often find contradictory information from one report to another and wonder if it might just be better to admit that we simply don’t know. 

Below is a selection of the most significant, or most discussed, or most criticized, or most (pick any strong verb here) ones.

Trafficking in Persons Report June 2012: Following years of dedicated focus on prosecution and putting traffickers behind bars, this year the report unveils an interest in the protection of the victims. To access the report, click here

International Labour Organization [ILO] Global Estimate of Forced Labour: The document includes a comprehensive review of each aspect of this so-called “modern-day slavery” and provides shocking estimates about the levels of rampant exploitation around the globe. To read a summary of the report, click here

Polaris Project Annual Report 2011:  The report analyzes data regarding calls received to the national human trafficking hotline [1-888-3737-888]. The document includes information about the types of calls, the callers’ demographics, the type of trafficking situation identified, and other valuable statistics. To read the report, click here

The Protection Project 100 Best Practices: Even thought a clear definition of a best practice is never identified and it is not suggested that what works under one set of circumstances might not necessarily work in a different environment, the document does provide a list of valuable efforts taking place around the world. To read about all 100 practices, click here.

-          Krasi

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sex Trafficking: The Demand Side

Through the monthly newsletter I receive from Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition, I found out about a case of a “John” (the customer using the services of girls and women in the sex industry) who was charged with the crime of sex trafficking. Anyone familiar with sex trafficking and the controversial issue of targeting the women, not the men using them, as criminals, could view the event as a great milestone.

Regardless of the still existing glamorization of the so-called “pimp lifestyle” in modern news and media, most people, even with a dearth of knowledge on sex trafficking, would readily assume and believe that the methods traffickers use to control the women serve as a proof that they are evil and quite dangerous individuals. It has been pointed out that the focus of the Bush Administration was to portray the traffickers and similar abusers of the innocent as “evil”. Even though research on the nature of traffickers, the reasons behind their actions, and factors that contribute to one becoming a trafficker is not abundant, most advocates readily agree that those are evil people. As a result, most efforts to fight the illegal sex trade have been targeted at traffickers as they are assumed to be the criminals driving this business. Certainly, traffickers could be dangerous and regularly torture the women they possess and as such, they should be punished, but they are not the only important actors in the equation of sex trafficking. 

Even if the treatment toward traffickers and pimps is varied and punishment not as severe as deserved, even less of a proper courtesy has generally been extended to the people on the demand side of the equation. The buyers of the services of trafficked females are an important variable in the business of sex trafficking and their demand is what stimulates the growth and sustainability of the trade. Academics and researchers argue that the established international documents against the traffic of women into the sex industry have failed to acknowledge the strength of the demand and the need for harsher policies to target its reduction. Even though the fines for arrested pimps are ridiculous, the consequence received by buyers is close to being non-existent. The “johns” are generally released if caught and even if fined, the fine is purely symbolic. They are considered to be men acting as men and using a prostitute can even be viewed as a rite of passage. What is even more disturbing is that certain societies blame foreign women, and not the men who purchase and abuse them, as the sole reason for the degradation of morals in that society. Should buyers be labeled as criminals and punished accordingly? The answer to this question is much more multifarious than it might seem at a first glance. That they deserve the appropriate consequence is without argument. However, describing them as a homogenous group of evil, emotionless sex addicts coming from the lowest rungs in society and who possess a complete lack of empathy and no morals might not necessarily be appropriate and would probably not help the exploited women. Certain cultural, social, and historical factors contribute to and sustain the increase in the demand for sex services and the resulting increase in the traffic of women to satisfy this demand. These factors and their origins must be thoroughly examined and evaluated for a comprehensive understanding of the trafficking process that contributes to modern-day slavery before any successful attempts to curtail the demand are made.  

Therefore, further research on the factors contributing to the wide-spread demand for women in the sex industry and indirectly impacting the increased trafficking of women is paramount in the understanding and eventual eradication of existing exploitation in the sex industry. I believe that an understanding of the demand side of this equation is just as important as the understanding of the actors on the supply end. International and domestic organizations are gradually becoming interested in and acknowledge the importance of research on male demand and the factors that impact it. For as long as there is a demand for a product, there will be a person or persons supplying it. Therefore, to successfully approach the issue people need to look at both sides of the transaction: the traffickers as well as the consumers.

-       Krasi

Friday, July 6, 2012

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

As a young girl, I had the great fortune to be raised in the countryside of Bulgaria and learn the value of working one’s land and grow one’s own produce. Even though at the time I often complained about having to spend time helping my parents instead of playing with my friends (it was summer vacation after all), I now realize that this was a positive experience that taught me the true cost and worth of labour. Taking into consideration the literature on forced labour and exploitation I have been focusing on during the past few years, I clearly understand the importance of being able to work one’s own piece of land, however small, and be able to support one’s family. In my opinion, everyone should have the chance to work on a farm at least once in her life, especially if that person is interested in eradicating labour exploitation. And now I have learned about the perfect opportunity to achieve that. 

Recently, through one of the many newsletters I subscribe to, I found out about the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that combines two favorite activities of mine: traveling around the world exploring different cultures and working on a farm contributing to a sustainable way of living. Apparently, this idea first made an appearance in 1971 and I can’t believe I am just now hearing about it. It puts couch surfing to shame as far as I am concerned. The hope, of course, is that I will actually have the time and opportunity to participate in this wonderful and adventurous opportunity. Maybe I should just quit school for a while and start traveling and being productive:)

-          Krasi

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Drive-in Theatres

A friend of mine once posted on Facebook a picture of speakers at the drive-in movies from the 1970s. The purpose of the picture was to show that if a person knows what’s on the picture, she must have lived during that time. I had no idea what was on the picture and promptly asked, “So what is it?” 

The truth is I had the rare opportunity to go to a traditional drive-in theater as a college student in the Appalachian Mountains in the state of West Virginia. And I went more than once. I have always proclaimed myself to be a movie addict and while in high school, I even dreamed about working at a movie theater so that I could get to see all the movies. Following my first visit to the traditional drive-in theatre, however, I was whole-heartedly hooked on this unique activity and being in a regular theatre was no longer the wondrous experience I once thought it to be. 

Paying $10 per carload to see two movies and having the opportunity to relax under a clear and starry sky, breathing the crisp mountain air, seemed like the perfect night out for the money-deprived college students who love the outdoors and movies:). I naturally wondered, why aren’t there more drive-in theatres around the U.S. and why isn’t everyone demanding their existence? Upon further research (yes, I researched the issue of drive-in movies!), I found out that even though they were once very popular (with over 4,000 spread around the U.S.), in the 80s and 90s, there was a sharp decline in interest. According to the latest estimates, the number of theatres is now down to a little over 350. Of those, it is not clear how many are traditional drive-ins.  

Even before I encountered outdoor theatres, I had difficulty understanding people who adamantly believe that watching a DVD at home could even remotely compare to watching a movie in the cinema. After the experience in a traditional drive-in theatre, I am now truly baffled as to who would prefer to watch a movie inside. With the emphasis on surround sound, and Blu-Ray, and 3D, and other such effects I am not familiar with, it appears that similar to everything else in our fast-paced, material, and complex lives, we demand more and more when it comes to the simple experience of watching and enjoying a movie. And while waiting to see the latest blockbuster, we complain about the outrageous ticket prices and the cost of concessions in the theatres. Then we wonder why no one seems to be content with their lives. Simple sometimes is better. 

To find where there’s a drive-in in your state, please visit DriveInMovie

-          Krasi