Monday, November 26, 2012

Human Trafficking Definition

A somewhat expected theme discussed at theconference was the debate on how to exactly define the crime of human trafficking. Most importantly, are the terms modern-day slavery and human trafficking equivalent? Are there similarities and differences between the Atlantic Slave Trade and human trafficking? 

In order to properly define the crime of human trafficking, activists need to not only know what it is but also what it isn’t. There are two major issues with that. 

First, there are those who view the enslavement of Africans during the Atlantic Slave Trade as something so horrible that no other practice could possibly compare to it. As Jowl Quirk, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Witwatersrand, shrewdly observed, the tendency, labeled as strategic minimization, to minimize and excuse slave-like practices is responsible for the lack of acknowledgement of human trafficking as akin to what has now been termed “the old slavery.” 

I am sure that upon significant research and examination, we can determine (and many already have) that there are numerous similarities between the practice of slavery in the past and the contemporary crime of human trafficking. Of course, since the context is different, we can also find a lot of differences. This, however, should not prevent us from acknowledging that the conditions most human trafficking victims live in significantly resemble the conditions enslaved Africans lived in. 

The second major issue with defining slavery is the tendency to expand the boundaries of slavery, labeled as rhetorical inflation, for the purposes of sensationalism. For those who become entangled in the tentacles of rhetorical inflation, it becomes very difficult to define what slavery is not. Basically, it creates the perfect conditions to refer to any mild inconvenience as slavery. 

The above is the issue I seriously have a problem with. Rhetorical inflation seems to be a common side effect of living in a world of instant gratification and convenience. The moment something goes wrong, some are immediately inclined to label the situation as slavery, or torture, or any other example of extreme pain and suffering. 

Somehow I feel that this obsession with defining the crime detracts from the very real and very torturous experience survivors go through, but I am not sure what the solution to the problem would be. There is a need of a clear definition in terms of the law, but how can we make sure that we include and exclude what is actually appropriate to be included or excluded? 

-      Krasi

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Sense of History

One of the many interesting panel discussions at the conference I recently attended focused on the role of historians in the fight against slavery and their contributions to the understanding and handling of this oh-not-so-modern issue. 

As David Blight highlighted, ‘the sense of history’ is important to human rights activists and survivors, and any human being really, because it teaches them the valuable lesson that they are not alone. I can expand on this idea and add that history can show us that what activists and survivors face is not necessarily something that has not been encountered in the past by someone else and that success is certainly an option, however difficult the fight might seem at first (or on most days). 

The study of history, in my opinion, should definitely be included in the training and education of any present human rights activist. The panel certainly agreed and emphasized that history can give humans self-knowledge and most importantly, inform them of the conditions, both personal and structural, under which progress occurred. After all, history is important not only to help us learn from mistakes, but also to help us learn from the successes of those who fought long before we were even born.

Following up on the above comments, I guess I can safely conclude that if we truly want to understand the reach, magnitude, and all aspects of human trafficking and learn how to better approach and defeat it, we should begin by familiarizing ourselves with similar fights from the past and at the same time conduct rigorous research to uncover present trends. 

-      Krasi

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Music and Lyrics: Am I Wrong For Liking That?

I love my music y'all. Music is how I start my day; I wish I was one of those folks who starts it with the news or NPR. I tried that but came back to my music.

I listen to a broad {in my opinion} mix of genres and artists. Back in the college days I listened to a lot of rap and R&B both of which have a disproportionately large number of misogynistic lyrics. I don't really listen to those types of songs anymore but hold the ones of my youth in a special place.

Great! I'm not endorsing or listening to {at least regularly} music that has blatantly sexual and demeaning lyrics about women. Super. But wait....that's not all we have to look out for!

Who has heard, in the last hour, a song about a woman who doesn't know she is beautiful, that is what makes her beautiful, or one who doesn't love herself but that's OK baby cause

Is that so bad? I'll be the first to admit that some of those songs are darn catchy and I love them but I recognize their messages: a woman is incomplete until a man loves her; she is not beautiful until someone tells her so; its ok to think negatively about yourself as long as a man is there to validate you.

Therefore I'm torn: of course someone caring for me is nice and desired; heck, it could be argued its a human imperative BUT the moment it becomes an issue for me is when the message takes on the tone of a 'benevolent benefactor'; in this case a man who elevates you somehow by caring for you or attributing a characteristic to you that you don't. In that benevolence, you are whole, complete or better. I'm all about better but why does it have to come from another? Songs with this message disproportionately feature a man/men singing about a woman.

Songs like these are both a product of and producing the current zeigeist wherein many women have low self-efficacy and look to bolster it externally.

Basically, this is what I look like when listening to these songs:

So my compromise with these catchy songs that are stuck in my head: I listen when they're on the radio; I will not buy them. Most importantly, I make subtle faces when they are played and I'm with others; after rolling my eyes, I continue to jam. If people want to know, they'll ask. :)


What do you all think? Find yourself jammin to these tunes? Hey, I'm not judging; just pointing it out so we can be conscious consumers.

- A

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


As I mentioned in my previous post, there were several broad themes that emerged out of the panel discussions at the conference I attended last week. Of these, the most interesting and engaging one was the topic of storytelling and specifically, the importance of former slaves to be able to tell their own stories in their own voices.

One of the historians on the panel, David Blight, focused on Frederick Douglass’s narrative and the meaning of a former slave having not only the opportunity to tell his story, but also to write it himself. Those of us who take the ability to read and write for granted will likely take some time to grasp the magnitude of such an accomplishment. With the written words, Douglass’s voice materialized and was able to reach a bigger audience. In his case, learning how to read and write set him on the path to freedom.  

The significance of storytelling in the context of human trafficking cannot be overstated; however, I think there definitely needs to be a warning against sensationalistic attitudes. Since human trafficking seems to be the issue of the day, I continue to see many celebrities become involved and perform songs or direct movies around what they imagine the issue to be. Their intentions might be good, but are they truly able to represent the challenges and transformation that a survivor of the practice has to face? As Alicia Peters, an academic, pointed out, the overemphasis in the media on sex trafficking of young girls shifts the discussion of the issue in one very specific direction and many survivors in different trafficking circumstances become overlooked. Ultimately, the story told in the media is not inclusive of the variety of human trafficking situations and many will not be able to see themselves in the story and perhaps assume that their situation is not as bad. Peters further stressed that every trafficking survivor’s experience is unique and the prominence of one particular narrative renders many others invisible on the background of an already hidden crime. She eventually concluded that the type of trafficking should not be the main focus of discussions; rather, it is the condition of exploitation, complete lack of choice, and utter misery that should be regarded. I completely agree. Suffering in any form is unacceptable and no one situation of exploitation is worse than another. 

It is interesting that the topic of storytelling came up in a workshop I attended right before driving to the conference. The focus of the seminar was documentary storytelling, or how to tell the story of your organization through videos. Two major points made were that it is important to allow the actual people you work with to tell their stories and that the story must be representative of the actual transformation the population goes through. These points definitely resonate with the conclusions made by many panelists at the conference. Zoe Todd, for example, elaborated on the power of an image and narratives as vital tools in the protest against injustice. 

In conclusion, storytelling is important not because it allows the media to sensationalize a horrendous crime, but because it allows survivors to define the crime in their own words and to ultimately set themselves on the path to freedom. Therefore, it is crucial that we, as advocates, do not end up abusing the narrative to obtain some goal we have deemed worthy. Telling the story for survivors further keeps them in a situation of dependency. Allowing them to share their experiences in their own way, at their own pace, leads to empowerment and to a future of no exploitation for them. 

-      Krasi

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gilder Lehrman Center's 14th Annual International Conference

This past Thursday, my colleague, Jody, and I drove a little over 300 miles to get to New Haven, CT and attend Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center's 14th Annual International Conference entitled Abolition, Past and Present: Scholars, Activists, and the Challenge of Contemporary Slavery.

Aside from the opportunity for another long-distance long trip, I was equally, if not more, excited about meeting and hearing in person the people whose books I’ve read and considered in my research and work on issues pertaining to the human trafficking field. Not to mention the amount of interesting and thought-provoking information I was ultimately able to attain!

The array of panelists included many notable in the anti-human trafficking field individuals such as author and researcher Siddharth Kara, co-founder of Free the Slaves Kavin Bales, investigative journalist Ben Skinner, the director of Anti-Slavery International Aidan McQuade, and many other prominent academics, lawyers, historians, activists, and even former slave Jean-Robert Cadet.

In the course of the two packed with presentations and panel discussions days, several different themes emerged that went beyond the boundaries of each individual presentation or discussion. Because I consider each of these themes important, I have decided to develop a post on each one. Expect these in the upcoming weeks.

Let the sharing of information begin!

-      Krasi



Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pre Election Thoughts

I'm nervous y'all.

I'm nervous that this election is going to divide this country permanently.

I'm anxious that people are going to vote based on a single issue rather than a holistic view.

I'm sad at the thought of having to deal with the frustration and disappointment on both sides after the results are in.

Most of all, I'm sad that we can't seem to have a civil discussion with each other on a national platform.

Yet I will vote because it is my civic duty {and because I want the sticker}! Maybe I'll bring chocolate or cookies to hand out while I'm waiting in lines. No better way to cross party lines ;-)

What about you all? Is anyone attending an election party? Watching the news coverage on Tuesday night with bated breath?

- A

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Friday kids!

Happy Friday and welcome to November! Can’t believe it already is November! 

As I am off to a wonderful reunion of college roommates in NYC, here is a great song to get you through the day. 

My favourite line: “I’m only one voice in a million/but you ain’t taking that from me.” That’s what I am talking about!

-      Krasi