May 26, 2009

International Exploitation of Children and the Sweden Solution

Educating yourself about the international exploitation of children for sexual purposes is painful. It is much easier to turn your face away and imagine a world in which such evil doesn't exist. It is much easier to not know that even as you read this, there are many children being exploited and hurt, abused and used because of sex tourism, the international sex trafficking trade, and prostitution right here in the United States.

But not knowing doesn't help these children.

I recently read The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It by Victor Malarek. Combined with a viewing of Sex Slaves, a Frontline documentary, I got a very balanced view of the sex trade. Malarek has an axe to grind, and his judgment of the Johns throughout the book is palpable, but nevertheless largely absolutely correct. He exposes how the hatred of women and backlash of feminism factors into the decision of so many men to participate in sex tourism. Often, these men turn a blind eye to the fact that children are also being exploited or that the women they are buying are not willing participants or may be underage. But some specifically seek underage children.

In a video put out by Foundation Peduli Anak, Indonesian street children discuss being hit on by older male tourists who attempt to win them over with toys and food or a small amount of money.

The Frontline documentary provided a better look into the way in which the trade works and how women are brought into it. Less focused on children's issues, the documentary instead shows how the trade operates, which is beneficial to understand if the goal is to consider what policies might reduce the trade.

Malarek's book upholds Sweden as the best example of policies that reduce the sex trade. Sweden decriminalized prostitution in 1999 and instead focused its efforts on prosecuting those who buy, not those who sell. Since the switch, the sex trade has virtually stopped in Sweden as it is no longer economically beneficial to the traffickers. Further, the number of prostitutes in the country has reduced by 2/3 since the law changed.

The Swedish solution certainly seems promising in result, but it was more than just the switch in policy. Sweden also attempted to switch the cultural understanding of prostitution by making official the position that all prostitution is violence against women perpetrated by men (this of course leaves male-male prostitution in an philosophically awkward position). Some feminists see this position as problematic in casting women always in the role of victim, when certainly some women do choose to use their bodies for economic gain.

For me, the risk of casting women into a victim role by changing the culture to perceive Johns as the criminal rather than prostitutes is one I am willing to take. The large majority of women engaged in prostitution are not doing so because they enjoy it, but because they are either forced by someone or by circumstances. Tolerance of the purchasing of women for personal exploitation,even for an hour, is a tolerance that permits sex trafficking of women and children to continue not only to exist but to thrive. A cultural, legal and political change toward vilifying the purchaser rather than the purchased would put children who are being exploited in a much better position to receive help, because it would make it easier for them to come forward and seek help and services when they are being abused. Further, it would reduce the demand for sexual services and would therefore automatically reduce the supply, including children.

In the meantime, I urge everyone to educate yourself about the issues of sex trafficking and support organizations struggling to end it. It is not a small isolated problem. It's global and it's huge, and it is absolutely catastrophic.

Some good organizations to get you started:

The Project to End Human Trafficking

The Polaris Project

Children of the Night

Foundation Peduli Anak

And consider joining the UN Blue Heart campaign against Human Trafficking.

May 11, 2009

Twitter's #simplysaturday

The Twittering community knows well that on #followfriday you post the names of people that you think other people should be following on the popular social networking site.

@We_Care_ProJect and I (@llhinkle) began two weeks ago to promote the idea of #simplysaturday. Each week on Saturday, #simplysaturday, Twitter users can post something simple that anyone can do to help advocate for children. Some examples might include:

Posting a link to a blog or community group that is doing great work for children.

Suggesting political action: write to a politician about an issue related to children.

Promoting a solution to a problem in child welfare.

Reminding people to report if they see signs of child abuse with children they know.

You can also check the Twitter search for all the posts by searching the term #simplysaturday. You can check these out even if you are not a Twitter user.

This is just one small way you can help advocate for children.

May 4, 2009

Reform Ideas for New Jersey (and Everyone Else!)

In March, Governor Corzine of New Jersey lauded the improvements to the child welfare system in New Jersey in a press release. Additionally, new reports show that the system is improving, and I would certainly agree that my state is better situated in child welfare than it maybe ever was.

However, if New Jersey wants to be a leader in child welfare (maybe it does, maybe it doesn't...but I'd like it to be!), I have some proposals that appear below.

To: Governor Corzine

From: Lynda L. Hinkle

Re: Reform to New Jersey’s Child Welfare System

Reforming New Jersey’s Child Welfare system will require a true commitment to building child-centered protocols and changing the culture of the current system to encourage professionalism and professional responsibility among those who work with children. It will also require a change in public perception of the process.

- Create a licensing system for DYFS workers that requires professional education to address protocols and developing strategies for successful case management.

- Develop contractual requirements for DYFS workers to continue their education in the same manner that teachers and lawyers must in order to retain their licenses.

- Initiate a transparent “complaints” system in which parents, children, and law guardians can appeal to the oversight of an outside source when they feel their cases are being mishandled by a DYFS worker or other arm of child protective services. This system could be modeled after the way in which the state manages complaints about mediators, by providing a task force of professionals in the area who can investigate.

- Provide additional, annual training to judges who will be managing child welfare cases, and to their staff. Address not only the philosophy of child welfare, but seek to provide uniform procedure and methodology that is appropriate for judges to approach these cases.

- Create tax incentives for private industries that provide grants to agencies who advance child advocacy in New Jersey through programs, services, and trainings. One such program that could be funded by private industries would be a website for children in foster care that provides information about their rights, how to complain about problems they are having, and a discussion board so they can share information with other foster children (modeled after the STEPS program used as a mental health promotion initiative in high schools, information available at

- Initiate a public relations campaign to educate the public on how to spot and report abuse, and encourage people to change their perception of reporting. Include in this campaign outreach to schools where abused children may be made aware that there is help for them. Create and distribute lessons that teachers can use in classrooms to help children to develop an understanding of abuse and how to report.

- Incorporate into the Core Curriculum Standards a section on spotting and reporting abuse as well as on managing anger and depression so problems can be caught before children grow into adults who abuse. These standards should be implemented beginning early as part of the Life Skills module.

These are just some of the reforms that would help New Jersey to emerge as a leader in child welfare and child advocacy.