A Win-Win for Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Congress Passes Online Sex Trafficking Bill; FBI Shuts Down Backpage

Brittany Swart, WAR, Int’l Intern
April 20, 2018

Warning: This article contains links to documents from the Department of Justice and several news stories. Some content in these documents and stories may be disturbing to some readers.

With the advent of the internet, trafficking and abuse of women and minors has exploded. Left unchecked, the online world can become another plane of abuse, another place women and minors are used for the base desires of others. However, with the passing of recent legislation, the online world just became safer for current and would-be survivors of human trafficking.

Many trafficking survivors and their advocates are celebrating the passage of the Online Sex Trafficking Act, also known as H.R.1865, which President Trump signed on April 11. This piece of legislation states that victims of human trafficking can sue websites that either knowingly allowed human trafficking to take place on their sites or benefited from the sale of prostitution. These websites may be found criminally liable and receive a fine or jail time or both (115th Congress).

Detractors of H.R. 1865 say it hampers free speech and could open the door for the government to enforce further regulation on the internet. However, the Online Sex Trafficking Act specifically states human trafficking and prostitution as the reasons for prosecuting websites. Only sites advertising or benefiting from prostitution, trafficking, or solicitation of minors would face criminal liability.

Critics also claim that the bill endangers trafficking victims and voluntary sex workers: the elimination of websites used to facilitate sex-work could drive prostitution underground, exposing victims to “dangerous circumstances.” However, anti-trafficking organizations such as Shared Hope, Int’l point out that sites advertising prostitution do not protect human trafficking victims from harm—they simply act the part of the middle man and profit from the facilitation of rape and other violent acts. And women who used websites for prostitution were no safer than on the street; there have been several instances of solicitors murdering women they met online. Unlike victims of sex trafficking, who did not have a choice in advertising their “services,” those who purchased them did have a choice. Unguarded advertising sites made it terrifyingly easy for these buyers to purchase woman and minors for whatever they desired while remaining nameless and faceless.

Since the Online Sex Trafficking Act passed congress on March 21, Craigslist has voluntarily removed its Personals section, saying, “any tool or service can be misused; we can’t take such risk.” Backpage, an advertising site like Craigslist, is particularly known for the rampant prostitution that occurred on its site; it is sites like Backpage that H.R. 1865 targets. On April 6, the FBI removed Backpage and its related websites as part of an “enforcement action.”

The indictment…clearly presents a network of people who did not merely turn their backs on the prostitution and trafficking of women and minors but actively encouraged it through their insistence on profit over people.

The same day Backpage was seized, the FBI arrested seven people associated with the site, including founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin and CEO Carl Ferrer. They have been charged in Federal court on ninety-three counts related to prostitution and money laundering (Department of Justice). (Just before this article was published, Ferrer pled guilty to “conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce and to engage in money laundering.”) According to the indictment, the defendants knew that most of the site’s ads involved prostitution and, because of their tolerance, Backpage made over $500 million in profit from prostitution.

The indictment also accuses Backpage of facilitating the selling of minors, noting several cases in which the site edited a minor child’s age and then let the edited ad proceed. Backpage also allowed thinly veiled sexual terms such as “Lolita” and “fresh” to be used in numerous ads for underage girls, along with accompanying graphic photos. The indictment of Backpage’s founders and executives clearly presents a network of people who did not merely turn their backs on the prostitution and trafficking of women and minors but actively encouraged it through their insistence on profit over people.

The passage of H.R. 1865 and the shutdown of Backpage are victories for human trafficking survivors and victims, but advocates of the bill are not stopping there. Shared Hope, Int’l would like to see future anti-prostitution efforts targeting not those coerced or forced into sex work, but those who create and facilitate the demand. Instead of being given a jail sentence, women in the sex trade can be offered a safe haven, economic and educational opportunities, and the assurance that they are women worthy of respect and love, who deserve to be heard and given a future.

Women at Risk, International is also committed to helping women involved in the sex trade, whether they are there due to force, economic necessity, or other factors. Even if a woman chooses to continue in prostitution, WAR, Int’l desires to help her—our goal is to love her where she is and walk alongside her, showing her love and respect. Along with helping women at risk, WAR, Int’l is passionate about getting others involved as well. Whether through advocating for legislation, engaging in outreach, purchasing handmade products that benefit at-risk women, volunteering, reading a book, or simply talking with someone, everyone can fight human trafficking. WAR, Int’l offers multiple opportunities for people who want to join the fight— for those who want to stand and proclaim that the fight for justice will never stop until every woman, girl, boy, and man is free from slavery.

Human Trafficking Prevention Month:

How Can You Make a Difference?

By Ana Marie Bohr, WAR, Int’l Staff Writer
January 11, 2018

Human trafficking is going on all around us. It could be happening in your very own neighborhood, down the street, or even in the local grocery store parking lot. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Human trafficking is estimated to be the third largest criminal enterprise in the world. This is not a topic we can casually brush aside or turn a blind eye to.

What is Human Trafficking, Anyway?

The U.S. State Department defines human trafficking as “the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex purposes is considered a crime even if force, fraud, or coercion is not involved. In short, human trafficking is simply modern-day slavery.

Many people think this is something that just happens overseas, or that human trafficking in the U.S. takes place only in the big cities and poor communities. Others become fearful and think it happens as seen in the movies, and only to teenage girls and young women. But the truth is that behind closed doors, things are not always what they seem to be.

Human trafficking in the U.S. happens in wealthy suburbs, middle-class towns, and rural communities, to males and females of various ages. Some are preyed upon by strangers who hang out in public places such as malls, scouting out young men and women who appear to be vulnerable. Often, however, victims are exploited by someone they know and truly trust: family members, boyfriends, classmates, or even employers.

Trafficking victims can be as young as 12 years old, or even younger. But whether adults or children, recovering victims may feel defeated and even hopeless. Most often, they need all the help and support they can get emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.

How Can I Make a Difference?

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This is the perfect opportunity to take a step of action and make a change in your community!

You may be wondering how it’s possible to make a difference in an issue that is so widespread, destructive, and seemingly hopeless.  Here are some simple ways you can get involved:

  • Get educated and learn the indicators of human trafficking so you can identify a potential trafficking victim. Good resources include public awareness materials available from the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Be well informed. Set up a web alert to receive current human trafficking news.
  • If you suspect a trafficking situation, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • Host an awareness event to watch and discuss films about human trafficking.
  • Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization.
  • Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Remember that human trafficking includes labor trafficking as well. Be aware of who picked your tomatoes or made your clothing. Consider buying Fair Trade items!
  • Help support an organization providing services to trafficking victims by donating your time, talents, or money.
  • Work with a local community group or religious congregation to spread awareness on human trafficking.
  • Check out local community organizations involved in preventative action. Get involved in a mentoring program or street outreach.

Getting Involved With Women At Risk, International

No matter where in the U.S. you live, Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) offers a variety of opportunities for you to become educated and help in pursuing our mission to end slavery.

  • Host a Party or Event

    WAR, Int’l carries thousands of items crafted by trafficking survivors and other at-risk individuals in our partnering programs. Showing and selling these items is a simple, yet very effective, way to support the women and men who create them. Just $300 in product sales is enough to support an individual in a safehouse for an entire month! Click here for more information on hosting a “party with a purpose” at your home, your church, a local craft fair, or almost any venue you choose!

  • Organize or Attend a Civilian First Responder (CFR) Training

    We’ve conducted these anti-trafficking training sessions in numerous cities across the U.S. In one eight-hour session, we teach you how to recognize the signs of trafficking in your community, help you understand healthy ways to respond to crisis situations, and equip you to share this information with others in your circle! Visit our website for more information!

  • Volunteer

    We have volunteers all over the country who help us by staffing product tables at speaking events and conferences. If you live in West Michigan, we also offer volunteer opportunities at our headquarters. Check out our opportunities here, or email us for more information! The work of our hands-on volunteers saves us over a hundred thousand dollars each year, enabling us to use more funds to aid trafficking victims and continue our trafficking awareness and prevention programs!

  • “Like” and Share our things on Social Media

    Social media is an amazing platform for reaching and impacting people across the globe! It’s a great way to help spread human trafficking awareness as well! By liking and sharing our things on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you not only spread the word to others but also stay up to date with issues, current stories, and upcoming events. This is a great way to stay connected locally and globally!

  • How will you make a difference this month? Whether you get involved with WAR, Int’l or another anti-trafficking organization, we are excited to have you alongside us in the fight to end modern-day slavery!


    Resources to check out:

    U.S. Dept. of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

    Polaris Project

    Shared Hope International

    National Human Trafficking Hotline

Be the Change: National Make a Difference Day

By Darius Hall | WAR, Int’l Intern

As October begins to dwindle down, many people look forward to festivities at the end of the month while enjoying the last remnants of fall before winter hits. In the middle of all this, an important day has often been overlooked: National Make A Difference Day, celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday of October. In 2019, this falls on October 26.

What Is National Make A Difference Day?

Established in 1992,  this “national day of doing good” promotes the idea of volunteering as a positive and heartwarming event and emphasizes the impact that volunteering can have on one’s own community.  It strives to change the view of volunteering from an obligation to a privilege, helping us become a society that embraces the ideals of volunteerism.

National Make A Difference Day has been deemed one of the largest single days of service both globally and stateside. While it originated in the United States, it is also observed in about 30 other countries. According to the National Make A Difference Day website, the annual net value of the 30-million-plus volunteer hours documented would be worth about $635 million.

Why Volunteer?

Volunteering can greatly impact the community and can inspire others to serve. It is an opportunity for individuals of varying racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds to come together to serve, seeking to help others without expecting anything back in return.

The National Make a Difference Day website provides tools and resources for those who want to maximize their volunteer efforts. You can start your own project such as a recycling event, a food drive, or a 5k benefit run, or you may simply gather a group of friends to serve at a local homeless shelter. You may also choose to volunteer at an established project within your community. Search the hashtag #MDDAY on social media to learn about other service projects and spread awareness. As long as you are volunteering, you are fulfilling the goal of National Make A Difference Day.

How Can You Make a Difference through Women At Risk, International?

Women At Risk International (WAR, Int’l) understands the impact of volunteering and offers numerous opportunities for those who want to make a difference.

One of the most effective things you can do with WAR, Int’l is to host a party or event to sell products made by our partnering programs and promote awareness of WAR, Intl’s mission. Just $300 in sales is enough to sustain a woman in an international safehouse for an entire month!

At our West Michigan headquarters, we rely on volunteers for things such as tagging products and preparing mailings. These seemingly small tasks make a big difference, saving us tens of thousands of dollars each year. Some volunteers work in our boutiques or offer creative or professional skills. Whatever your contribution may be, your time and efforts make a difference for at-risk individuals throughout the world.

WAR, Int’l would like to thank those who have wholeheartedly volunteered and dedicated their time to our missions and goals. Every contribution makes a difference. We appreciate the loving support given by our volunteers as we continue to fight for the freedom and safety of those at risk.

Updated October 2019 | Originally posted October 2017

Magical Princess Tea Party


America Takes a Stand Against Human Trafficking

By Alexa Narsh, WAR, In’tl Intern

The year is 1847 and slavery is a prevalent force in American society, yet tucked away in Rochester New York one man stands to make a difference. Fredrick Douglass, an ex-slave, publishes the North Star, which will become the most influential anti-slavery paper of the era. Douglass was a warrior of justice, always fighting for freedom from all forms of slavery and inequality.

On July 12, 2017, that same fire and spirit that drove Douglass proved to also be alive in the hearts of American leaders today. In honor of all that Douglass stood for in his battle to end slavery, the House passed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, introduced by Representative Chris Smith R-NJ, and Representative Karen Bass D-Calif.


This federal Act is a momentous win in the fight against the modern day form of slavery: human trafficking. Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or coercion (such as abduction, deception, abuse, and bribes) for the purpose of exploitation (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).  It is one of the fastest-growing organized crimes in the world, with an estimated 40 million victims globally (27 million adults and 13 million children), and 80% of human trafficked victims are used for sex (Fact Retriever). Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, is not a foreign problem happening far away from American borders. In the U.S. alone, between 14,500 and 17,500 people (The Odyssey Online) are trafficked each year across our borders, and that number continues to rise. With such an alarming growth rate, it’s no wonder even world leaders are beginning to take a stand against it.


As the bill’s name signifies, it is a reauthorization of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000, which was one of the country’s most inclusive human trafficking legislation. With the newly added revisions, it has become more thorough and effective than ever before. The new provisions aim to diminish not only domestic trafficking but also international trafficking. One way the new bill addresses international trafficking is by preventing any goods made from forced and child labor from entering the U.S.; another is by monitoring migrant workers crossing our borders to ensure they are not trafficking victims. The Act also states that any country utilizing child soldiers will be penalized by restricting military assistance. With this bill, America will hold its partners and allies to the same standard, and have a zero-tolerance policy toward those who put no effort into preventing human trafficking within their borders.

Once it passes the Senate, the changes that take place in our borders will be more than noticeable. We can now expect our children to become more educated on the subject by having age-appropriate programs in schools that will show what traffickers look for, and how to avoid becoming a victim. Certain employees can also expect changes within the work place.

Medical personnel, social workers, those in the hospitality industry, and even domestic airline workers will now be required to learn how to identify a victim of trafficking, as well as the correct procedures to follow when reporting a suspicious situation to the appropriate authorities. Our law enforcement officers will also be receiving more extensive training on the matter, which is something many states previously lacked.

These are only a few of the many revisions made to this bill in an effort to seriously fight back against human trafficking, both domestically and internationally. This bill passed the House with no resistance, which means our leaders are recognizing a problem that thrives on being under the radar. These leaders are determined to shed as much light on this evil as possible. This step forward means we can no longer be ignorant of the issue, and we now fully recognize this as a domestic immorality that needs to be extinguished. These alterations are going to make America a leader in abolishing modern-day slavery as we set the example for countries all over the world. With the emphasis on trafficking awareness, and an intentionality of stopping the demand thanks to the new bill, future generations of Americans will be prevented from being victims.

Congress has also recently passed dozens of anti-trafficking laws such as The Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act (Rep Tim Walberg R-Michigan), and the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act (Rep Vicky Hartzler R-Mo. As the days go on, the passion that drove Frederick Douglass and continues to drive our leaders will continue to thrive in America. The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017 is proof of that.

Let us continue to rally together, pushing for better laws, for justice, and for healing from human trafficking and modern-day slavery. One very effective way to combat trafficking is to support programs that shelter and employ trafficking survivors and those at risk for trafficking. An easy way to do this is to host a party or event with WAR, Int’l, selling product made by rescued and at-risk women in these programs. Another is to help raise trafficking awareness in your own community by hosting or attending an anti-trafficking training event, inviting a WAR, Int’l ambassador to speak at your school, or having a representative from WAR, Int’l come and speak to your church or organization. For other ways to get involved with Women At Risk, International and aid in the fight against this injustice, see our Take Action page!