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From Victim to Advocate: Lessons from a Sex Trafficking Survivor

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By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series on sex trafficking of young Black women and girls in America. In this installment, a survivor talks about how she got into the life, how she now works to help others escape, and some of the factors that contribute to this crisis.

LOS ANGELES—Asia Graves was once trapped in a life of sex trafficking, but today she works one girl at a time to help others escape and rebuild their precious, fragile lives.

Her first sexual experience was at age six at the hands of her mother’s then-drug-dealing boyfriend. The abuse continued until she was 10-years-old, Ms. Graves said.

Her father, an alcoholic with 19 boys and two girls, didn’t have time to focus on what was going on with her, according to Ms. Graves, who is based in Compton, Calif.

Her mom would get clean, relapse and during those times, the abuse would resume, she said. “That same drug dealer kept coming back and my mom knew that this man was touching me. She allowed him to touch me so that she could get her drugs, and that made me feel as if I was only worth sex,” Ms. Graves said.

Today, her mother is sober and the most supportive person in her life.  “She encourages me to be a woman of dignity and of the lord. I call her my best friend,” she said. The 26-year-old recently recounted her journey during a forum on human trafficking and intervention hosted by Nu-Alpha Delta Multicultural Sorority at Good Shepherd Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles. Ms. Graves tries to impart what she’s learned to young girls she encounters on streets and in safe havens.

Tragic stories of sexually exploited girls


Ms. Graves shared the story of a madam, a female pimp, sentenced to eight years in federal prison for trafficking her 13- and 15-year-old sisters. The madam was just 18-years-old, said Ms. Graves.

“For people who think it doesn’t happen in their community, trust me, it does,” she told The Final Call.

Ms. Graves and other advocates say it’s not as easy to stop sex trafficking as people think. Pimps are tech savvy, they said. Pimps are moving girls online and advocates don’t have the resources to match what pimps are doing. “We can’t tell by looking at a picture. I’m sure you see these girls walking down the street. You can’t tell how old they are. The girl may look about 21, 22 but only be about 16-years-old,” she said.

Ms. Graves, who is usually good at spotting minors, once found a girl online she thought was about 19, though the girl looked younger. It turned out the girl was only 12-years-old, she said.

“My youngest client was only eight-years-old. She was still playing with Barbie dolls and wearing Hello Kitty! I got her a Hello Kitty book bag.  Her mom basically let her boyfriend sell her so she could have money,” Ms. Graves told The Final Call.

According to Ms. Graves, most people think the major link to sex trafficking is poverty, but it’s sexual abuse.

“I don’t know any other job industry other than the sex trade where 80-90 percent of the people who worked in that field have been sexually abused. If you think about the average age of a girl entering prostitution is 12-14 years old, then you’ve got to think that they’ve been abused before that,” she said.

As for the eight-year-old Hello Kitty fan, she’s 11 now, back in school, doing well, Ms. Graves said. The girl’s mother moved the child to another city and she’s in therapy, which advocates said is crucial to recovery.
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Sharee Sanders Gordon, deputy city attorney and Neighborhood School safety attorney, argued sex trafficking is becoming a big issue and gaining publicity because it’s spreading into other communities. But young, Black girls have been sold in the midst of silence for decades, she said.

The biggest victims of prostitution are teen runaways and young ladies and young men in the foster care system, said the prosecutor.  Thirteen is the average age of a newly recruited girl who is sex trafficked, she said, citing a University of Pennsylvania study.

In the U.S., 300,000 children are at risk of becoming forced sex workers, added Ms. Sanders Gordon.

Although the majority of teens forced into prostitution are runaways from poor and inner city neighborhoods, the percentage of girls from upper and middle class homes is going up, she continued.  “And that’s why this has become such a big topic now, because it’s not just in the poor communities.”

What’s even more alarming is pimps are recruiting children with learning disabilities, according to Lt. Andre Dawson, officer-in-charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Human Trafficking Division, which works to get pimps off the streets.

Sex trafficking: Black females main targets

“Race and Prostitution in the United States,” a 2005 study conducted by Dr. Donna Hughes, professor and Carlson Endowed Chair of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island,  underscores Ms. Graves’ and service providers’ reports that women and girls from racial minorities in the U.S. are disproportionately targeted and used by domestic sex traffickers.

Some service providers have reported that the percentage of Black girls they help is higher than the percentage of racial minorities in their city populations, according to Dr. Hughes’ study.  In addition, while pimps are less than one percent of all prostitution-related arrests, women and girls who should be seen as victims make up 70 percent to 90 percent of arrests for sex sales.

According to the FBI, Dr. Hughes’ study continued, Black children were 55 percent of all under-18 prostitution-related arrests in the U.S., more than any other racial group, and most of those arrested were Black girls.

Foster care: A gateway into sex trafficking?

Ryan Thompson of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science said understanding the link between sex trafficking and foster care is crucial for seeking solutions, though he doubts the problem will ever be eradicated.

He understands the need and urgency to focus on gang member involved in sex trafficking, pimps and getting girls off the streets across the country, but crisis must be viewed from a larger lens, said Mr. Thompson, who holds a masters degree in public health.

“A lot of times we talk about the trafficking of our young sisters into prostitution, but a lot of times, well all of the time in the meetings I’ve been a part of, we don’t look at gateways into prostitution,” he said.

Mr. Thompson has been looking into the problem through his work with the California Partners for Permanency, a federally funded project to reduce the number of children in long-term foster care.  It’s one of six across the country funded through a $100 million presidential initiative.

“What we found out when we were talking to these sisters who were participating in prostitution is that they were former foster care kids,” Mr. Thompson said. When he’d further question young women on the link between prostitution and foster care, he was saddened but not surprised by the answers that came back.

“The sisters would say, ‘Listen.  I’m a former foster care kid, but I prefer to be out here on the streets with this person (pimps or managers), then to be inside the foster care system where a lot of trauma would occur, from sexual assaults to physical, mental assaults.’  So they were literally forced out into the streets and obviously prostitution or pimping is one of those vulnerabilities that presents itself,” Mr. Thompson told The Final Call.

The girls are looking for someone to confide in and the pimps appear with food, clothing and shelter, and at once, there’s a gateway into prostitution, where the girls have chosen the lesser of two evils, he said.

“What we like to focus on is, okay, we understand pimping is bad, and we understand there’s an immediate need, kind of like healthcare. You deal with the acute symptoms, but you also want to find the etiology of it, the beginning of it and make sure that this doesn’t continue and this is not a chronic disease,” he said.

“California has some of the best children’s laws on the books in this nation, but they don’t follow them because obviously this is a multi-billion dollar system. There’s a lot of money being made off the backs of our children … and making money off the backs of descendants of enslaved Africans continues to this day.”

Good legislation just a start

California voters adopted Proposition 35 in 2012, which imposed stiffer criminal penalties on sex traffickers. The law requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, and it imposes fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims. The legislation also mandates law enforcement training on human trafficking and requires sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts.

In Georgia, the Human Trafficking Notice Law, which passed in 2013, requires certain businesses and establishments to post notices to enable victims of human trafficking to obtain help and services. Failure to post a notice could mean a fine up to $5,000.

In New York, the Safe Harbor Law was created to protect sexually exploited children from being charged with juvenile delinquent offenses, in appropriate cases.  The law defines children who are involved in these crimes as victims, not perpetrators.

There must also be places to seek refuge for girls and women trapped in the sex industry. Resources across the country must include overnight shelters or drop in centers, according to Ms. Graves. Many girls try to exit the life but only find protection in centers that remain open during traditional business hours, she said. When day breaks, they have to leave, and the pimping starts all over again.

“They have to get out and the pimps know that, so when they have to leave the shelter, the pimps are waiting outside in all their fancy cars,” said Ms. Graves.  “These drop-in centers play a crucial role in making sure the girls have a safe environment to hang out in during the daytime, get job training programs, work with survivors like myself, and have strong, African American women role models, which they need because a lot of our girls are girls of color,” she continued.

During her efforts to help girls as a consultant for the Department of Justice and in cities including Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York, only about 10 percent of girls she encountered were not Black, Ms. Graves said.

“A lot of girls, they get into this because their families aren’t there for them, so we need to make sure that in our communities, the fathers are actually around their kids and if that father’s lacking, the mother needs to step up to the plate, because she’s the one who did the deed with that man, and take responsibility for the fact that she’s made a child,” Ms. Graves asserted.

“It’s our own trafficking our own children. Pimps don’t care who they traffic. They’d traffic their mama if they were going to make a profit on it,” said Ms. Graves.

Congressional Black Caucus Leads Effort in Voting Rights Amendment

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Fudge, Others Demand Immediate Action

By Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer


Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) led a contingent of caucus members and other minority groups in a public plea to Republicans last week to take up legislation to restore voting rights protections. (Courtesy photo)

Not even the Supreme Court can stop the Congressional Black Caucus from moving forward in its mission to protect African-American voters and others at the polls.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), led a contingent of caucus members and several minority groups in a public plea to Republicans on June 18 to take up legislation that would restore the voting rights protections shot down last year by the nation’s highest court.

“Voter discrimination is real in America,” said Fudge, 61. “We have a voting rights bill that has been sitting in the House for months and months and it’s being held up by Chairman Bob Goodlatte.”

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and other Democrats have urged lawmakers to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the High Court voted to strike down key components of the law, including allowing nine states to change their voting requirements without advance approval from the federal government.

Fudge and other Democratic legislators said Goodlatte, (R-Va.), who serves as the House Judiciary Chairman, has blocked efforts to get a bill passed that would restore portions of the law that the Supreme Court struck down.

Democrats are seeking greater protection for minority voters and they want to ensure that individuals aren’t turned away from the polls because they don’t have proper identification or for other reasons.

Goodlatte, 61, has vowed to protect voting rights.

“I fully support protecting the voting rights of all Americans,” he said. “As Congress determines whether additional steps are needed to protect those rights, I will carefully consider legislative proposals addressing the issue.”

However, with June quickly coming to a close and legislators preparing to return to their home states for summer break, without a resolution Congress would be hard pressed to pass a bill prior to the November midterm elections.

It’s that scenario that Democrats said they fear because many minority voters could find it difficult to cast their ballots with the way the law currently stands.

“Voting is the language of the American democracy, if you don’t vote, you don’t count,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Northwest.

“This principle has been echoed time and again by resounding bipartisan majorities in Congress and by presidents from both parties,” said Henderson, 66. “The issue of voting rights has historically been, and will forever be, bipartisan. The House Judiciary Committee cannot shrink from this historic obligation.”

CBC members and leaders of several other groups said they recognize this time as being crucial in the battle to achieve a more balanced voting rights law.

Lorraine Miller, interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it’s imperative that Congress act now.

“This is a critical time for action. As we approach the anniversary [of last year’s Supreme Court decision], we must act with renewed urgency in advancing the Voting Rights Amendment Act through the congressional process,” Miller said. “The looming risk of voter disenfranchisement threatens our democracy and failure to advance this legislation gives a free pass to voting discrimination.”

More Kidnappings and Bombings in Nigeria; NY Activists Respond

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By Nayaba Arinde
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News


Just at press time, details were announced of an explosion in a shopping mall in Emmab Plaza in Wuse II, Abuja. At least 20 people were killed. This cycle of violence continues as citizens continue to rally and fight back in the wake of radical Islamist group Boko Haram’s vicious reign of terror.

With the kidnapped 270 Chibok girls still being held by the group two months after their abductions from their school, protestors are demanding that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan rescue them and bring them home. Fear that the terrorists will use the teenage girls as human shields has led to reports that the government is involved in conversations with the group to do an exchange with some of Boko Haram’s incarcerated leaders.

Meanwhile, the news is that last week, at least 91 people—more than 60 women and girls, and 31 boys—were abducted in Boko Haram raids on villages south of Maiduguri, Borno state. Reportedly, about 30 people were killed in this assault.

The protests and demands are a loud, daily occurrence in Nigeria, and here in New York, activists such as Ronke Olawalem, Ruth Evon Idahosa, Nkechie Ogbodo, the Rev. Cheryl Anthony, Micheal Adeniyi and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry have been keeping the flame alive with constant protests. There will be another one on Friday, June 27 at 12 p.m. in front of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, located on Second Avenue between 44th and 45th streets.

“While the news from Nigeria continues to be depressing, one Nigerian official said that the girls are probably scattered and married and it would be difficult to find them. We are still hopeful that at least, some of them can be rescued,” Daughtry told the Amsterdam News. “We will continue to march, demonstrate, have prayer vigils, write and speak out on their behalf. We are hopeful that once they have been rescued, there would be sufficient material support for them. We will continue to hold the noon prayer vigils on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Ralph Bunche Park across the street from the United Nations.”

Daughtry also continues to hold Interfaith Religious Leaders meetings at his House of the Lord Church (415 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn), on Saturdays at 4 p.m. He said, “I will be participating in the rally this Friday at noon in front of the Nigerian Mission. I hope that the governments and leaders of the world will not give up, but will intensify their efforts to rescue these children.”

New York activist Ruth Evon Idahosa added, “For months, I have heard commentators contend that Nigeria has two options in connection with the 276: either launch a military operation or negotiate with Boko Haram. The harsh reality that we have watched unfold over the last two months is that the Nigerian government has carved out its own third, disheartening option which reflects the morbid disconnection of its soul from humanity, i.e., we will play the role of ‘onlooker’ and let the chips fall where they may. However, to quote the words of Karl Marx, ‘Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor.’ I beg to differ—as the Nigerian government has proven, as abductions become our weekly reality—that it can simultaneously be both.”

Olawalem stressed the panic felt by many over the girls, stating that of the other 300 girls kidnapped, “about 57 escaped, but some 272 are still being held against their wish, and nobody knows their state of health and/or whether they are living/dead or when they would be rescued. Their parents, friends and schoolmates are traumatized. We can’t continue to be quiet about this unfortunate state of affairs here in the U.S., so we have decided to join forces together with our friends from other parts of the world to stand in solidarity with the girls and their families, and continue to challenge the Nigerian government to rescue these girls.”

Olawalem urged attendees to the rallies, including the one on Friday, to “consider wearing red and bringing a sign to help amplify our voices.”

Idahosa has gone even a step further, stating “If you are in Nigeria, please join me; my mother, Archbishop Margaret Benson-Idahosa; and other spiritual mothers of Nigeria on Saturday, June 28 at 10 a.m. at Lagos’ Tafawa Balewa Square, when thousands will gather for a national day of prayer for the #276 abducted #Chibok Girls and their families (#ReturnRestoreRebuild #careforourgirls #Nigeria=I’Mpossible).”

Wal-Mart Holds Supplier Diversity Forum in D.C.

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Local Manufacturers and Service Providers Come Together to Learn about Working with Retail Giant

Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Wal-Mart hosted Thursday a forum in D.C. for local manufacturers and service providers to learn how to become suppliers for the retail chain.

The event, held at the Washington, DC Economic Partnership offices in Northwest, was attended by more than 30 businesses owned by women, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, veterans, disabled veterans and individuals with disabilities.

Managers from Wal-Mart’s Supplier Diversity and Construction teams joined Nina Albert, Wal-Mart’s director of community affairs, and guest panelists to speak on behalf of the program. Several panelists, including Martin Mayorga (Mayorga Coffee), Marcus Johnson (Flo Brands) and Walter Nash Jr. (Lefty’s Spices), were on hand to share their experiences about qualifying for and being suppliers to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

“The Lefty’s Spices brand has continued to grow since my products became available at Walmart,” said Nash, CEO and co-owner of the Waldorf, Maryland-based company. “Today’s forum is a valuable resource for other local manufacturers and service providers to better understand Walmart’s requirements for and process to become a supplier.”

The program is designed to improve and increase the participation of minority-owned businesses within the supply chain, offer a broader assortment of products that customers want at prices they can afford, while providing growth and development opportunities.

In 2013, Wal-Mart procured over $12 billion worth of goods and services from over 3,000 diverse suppliers in the U.S.

“Wal-Mart’s Supplier Diversity Program was created to build capacity and achieve long-term success for businesses owned by diverse suppliers,” Albert said. “By embedding the Supplier Diversity Program into Walmart’s overall strategic business objectives, we ensure an inclusive set of products that meets our customers’ needs.”

Dallas County Accidentally Backs Reparations

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

It was a mistake … but it was well executed.

During a meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court last Tuesday, officials voted on an item called the “Juneteenth Resolution,” in reference to the annual commemoration of the day U.S. soldiers arrived in Texas to free slaves after the end of the Civil War (June 19, 1865). The only Black commissioner, John Wiley Price, submitted the resolution. The resolution eventually came up for a voice vote and was passed unanimously.

But Price’s resolution talked addressed more than Juneteenth. Price’s resolution addressed everything from the injustices of slavery to Jim Crow laws to predatory lending practices that Blacks have been subjected to.

The final paragraph of the provision, which most of the commissioners overlooked, revealed one more thing.

“Therefore, be it resolved in the Dallas County Commissioners Court that Juneteenth and its historical mimicking of freedom is just that, and that the United States of America is derelict in its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the African-American people,” it read. “Be it further resolved that the dereliction that has caused 400 years of significant [inaudible] to millions and significant suffering to the descendants of those who have been enslaved Africans who built this country, should be satisfied with monetary and substantial reparations to same.’”

Dallas County had unwittingly advocated for reparations for Blacks.

Price also read the entire resolution out loud, but commissioners seemed to not hear him. Later on, they complained about not being given copies of the resolution before they voted on it. They also complained of the resolution not being up on the Commissioners Court’s website and that it wasn’t part of their meeting packet.

Price told a local news station that he was inspired by the recent cover story in The Atlantic, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that presented a case for reparations for African-Americans. Price told the Dallas Morning News that other groups, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans, have been compensated for past wrongs.

“We are the only ones that haven’t been compensated,” Price said.

The only Republican on the court, Commissioner Mike Cantrell, later changed his vote to an abstention and also told the Dallas Morning News, “The reason why I didn’t abstain this morning is that I had not received a copy of the resolution.”

Others, like County Judge Clay Jenkins, kept their vote as a show of solidarity with others over the celebration of Juneteenth. He did advise everyone to read the resolutions next time.

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