International Women’s Day: My Thoughts & Three Conclusions

Author: Rebecca McDonald, President & Founder
March 1, 2022


As I’ve traveled the world, I have heard of horrific stories of the lack of rights, some unrepeatable. In many lands, a woman raped must have a witness because a man’s word is literally worth 2 women. If he comes up with a male witness to say the opposite, she must find 4 witnesses. I’ve discovered faith systems where the women are not allowed to take part in ANY part of the worship. They can cook for the men but have NO say in their faith. Should their family cease to produce a male, their faith dies completely out. Men can get a divorce just by saying so 3 times, but a woman can never divorce. In rare cases, if she does, she will never see her children again. Women are denied school, can’t hold jobs even if trained as doctors or lawyers, must not run a business…the list is endless.

Growing up as an American in lands where women and girls had next to NO rights had a profound effect on me. My home was a safe place where my voice was precious & heard. Being an only girl with 3 brothers helped with the “princess status.” But seriously, my parents took me seriously to the point that my word carried more weight than my older sibling due to our approach to things. I was treated like the oldest child in many ways. Meanwhile, outside my home, my girlfriends had almost no say. They were bought and sold in a marriage contract. The culture even had “marriage brokers” the same way we approach buying a home to find the right details, price, pedigree, etc. for the male family to “consider.”


Three distinct events left an impression on me.

1) You recall my 14-year-old village girlfriend was raped (by family), fought back, and had acid poured down her throat to “silence her” literally.


Nehru: My 14 yr. old girlfriend forever silenced with acid poured down her throat.

2) For the wealthy, it was even harder in some ways with more at stake. I remember 2 upper-class girlfriends. One, the daughter of the Minister of Education, a power elite family, “met and fell in love with” a high-class boy while in the USA getting their education. From the richest Bengali family, it was “OK.” BUT, they had to go through the charade of pretending it was an arranged marriage and they’d never met. Heaven forbid a woman should choose her own path…or a boy for that matter.

3) Then as an adult, I sat in the home of another wealthy family related to the nation’s President who babysat his young son. That night while my son played with the President’s son, their daughter came in angry from university classes. Her father had arranged a marriage to another wealthy family. The sisters of the “groom to be” came to “check her out” looking her up and down in the door of the classroom like she was “a cow for sale at the market.” She complained bitterly that any family whose women treated her like “property for sale” was not a home she wished to marry into. Very simply (so liberal of him), the father just said, “Ok…I’ll look for another.” She walked off happily. I sat thinking about the fact that she was submitting happily to his giving in yet still in charge of who she’d marry.


What Does All This Prove?

Simply that for all our progress as women, we have a long way to go in many lands. I have 3 conclusions from a lifetime of working to empower women.

l) I love America despite its many many flaws. I am a woman that founded an organization and has a voice in any setting and platform I wish to pursue. Yes, it may be that I have had to fight harder, dig deeper, swallow slights…but I am willing to do so if it means lifting the broken, the voiceless, the wounded, the hurting. At the end of the day, there is no slight, indignity, or put-down that compares to those of the lives we represent. So for them, we willingly take up that cross and march on. I’m patriotic not for apple pie, motherhood, or football, but for our right to speak out! I beg you to hold your rights as a privilege and luxury. The day we lose the right to speak freely, we are not a great nation anymore. I know what that looks like. I grew up with girlfriends that had no voice. We must always allow the voice of the silenced no matter whether we like its sound or not. It is what makes us great. When you silence anyone, you give predators power. Our right to free speech in every aspect is truly what sets us apart.

2) I am a mother of 3 boys (& 1 daughter), a sister to 3 brothers, grew up as an American surrounded by the “Taliban mentality,” & work with law enforcement and clergy (male-dominated). I know the world of men and I respect it. I don’t want you to bash my boys any more than my daughter. While we must find rights for women, we must not do it to the detriment of our boys. Fixing a wrong by going to extremes only hurts everyone in the end. I have an article on this on our website. Suffice it to say, All Voices Matter Regardless of Genders. We need to stick together to lift all voices in the fight for freedom.

3) Four decades of being the “Voice of the Silenced” proves those who suffer have the most profound insights. We’d be wise to listen first to them, the experts. They may not have the solutions to the problem politically, legally, or structurally. But their voices should be the template, the mentor, the guard rails that guide significant changes. To fix something without the insight of the experts is to not fix it at all. With 2 ears and only 1 mouth, listen first and twice as long. Then be the voice of the silenced no matter how small you think you are.

Passionate to be the Voice of the Silenced:
Becky

Weinstein, MeToo, and TheyToo

Brittany Swart, WAR, Int’l Intern
June 19, 2018

As the black SUV pulled up, the crowd pulled out their cameras and phones, and as the man of the hour stepped out, devices started clicking and flashing. People pushed forward, jockeying for the best spot, as the crowd clamored to see him. Most had likely arrived early; this was an exciting day. The moment had come. The crowd, however, was not at a long-awaited premiere but at a courthouse. And the man they had come to see was there not to hear his praises sung, but to hear a list of charges filed against him.

The man was Harvey Weinstein, cofounder and former chief executive of the independent film studio The Weinstein Company. Weinstein, accompanied by law enforcement, turned himself in to authorities on May 25, 2018, nearly eight months after allegations of sexual assault began to surface. Thanks to accusations made by singer Lucia Evans and an unidentified woman, Weinstein was charged with rape, a criminal sex act, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct. While he maintains his innocence (Weinstein pleaded not guilty on June 5), more than 80 women have accused the film executive of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. Known for having produced some of the biggest movies in Hollywood, he is now recognized as the match that set a movement on fire.

#MeToo

“Me, too” – this short phrase has created massive waves of shocking revelation and outrage in our society. Started by Tarana Burke, founder of the nonprofit youth organization Just Be, Inc., the #MeToo movement has let women share their stories of rape, sexual assault, and harassment on social media in solidarity with others. Ever since dozens of women came out of hiding to accuse Weinstein of rape and abuse, the movement has been gathering steam and continuing to speed up, bringing down such powerful and influential men as Roy Moore, Charlie Rose, Russell Simmons, Mario Batali, Danny Masterson, and Bill Cosby.

Alleged to have perpetrated acts ranging from indecent exposure to rape, these men (and dozens more) have all been accused of committing various sexual crimes against women. Most have either resigned their positions or been fired because of the allegations. Some have been charged; a jury in a recent re-trial found Bill Cosby guilty of sexual assault.

We have watched as the #MeToo movement has exposed some of the most influential, beloved men in popular culture, portraying or revealing them as abusers of women, while also validating many abuse survivors whose quest is to be heard and taken seriously. This movement has made many of us stop and rethink what is acceptable socially and what is not.

Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) stands with these women who have bravely and boldly made their voices heard—not only for themselves, but also for others facing the same battles. We believe that darkness loses its grip when experiences are brought to light. Some of our staff have long given voice to their own stories, knowing that one person’s courage to say #MeToo may free another from the imprisonment of thinking, “only me.” Whether on social media or with a trusted individual or group, sharing their stories can help survivors of assault, abuse, and other forms of risk to find others who will walk with them on the journey to healing.

#TheyToo

As the #MeToo movement continues to empower thousands of assault and abuse survivors to find their voices, let us remember to stand up for those who are still unheard, including thousands of sex-trafficking victims throughout the United States. Once lured into the sex industry by force, coercion, or fraud, many victims are not only used but also abused by their pimps or traffickers, who may beat, drug, threaten, or isolate them to keep them cooperative and silent.

Like the celebrities who have come forward with their stories, #TheyToo have faced harassment, assault, and rape—many on a daily basis. #TheyToo have been denied the dignity and respect they deserve. #TheyToo have felt afraid and helpless, and #TheyToo have been bullied into silence. Although they have no platform on which to speak out, #TheyToo deserve to be heard.

As more victims are heard and more perpetrators are held accountable, let’s guide these rivers of righteousness and justice down to the thousands of women, men, girls, and boys who are trafficked in the United States and preyed upon by corrupt individuals. They may not be able to fight for themselves, but we can fight for them: through awareness events and preventative outreach, calls to politicians and the media, and everyday conversations. Just as the light exposed Weinstein and others, we can shine a light on this billion-dollar criminal enterprise. As the #MeToo movement gave voice to many, let us be a voice for the victims of trafficking.

Because #TheyToo deserve to be heard.

Everyone can do something to fight harassment, sexual assault, and human trafficking. To learn how to recognize and respond to these issues in your own community, consider taking part in a Civilian First Responder conference. Women at Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) has educated thousands of professionals and ordinary citizens across the United States through live anti-trafficking training conferences. Now, for the first time, these trainings are now available in a digital format, allowing anyone anywhere to access this training! We also offer a variety of other opportunities to get involved, help the most vulnerable, and make a difference.

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