Category Archives: Blog Post

JCAST Chicago August Blog

22 Aug 17
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About a year ago the social action committee at Lakeside Congregation invited Donna Fishman, a current Co-Chair of The Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking, JCAST Chicago, and a founding member of the Coalition, to speak at our monthly meeting. She introduced us to the advocacy and education work JCAST Chicago supporters are organizing. When I heard the overwhelming number of children sexually exploited in the greater Chicagoland area, I knew I needed to take action. After attending many training classes, I received a certificate of training in Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

I also became involved with Selah Freedom, a safe house located on the North Shore providing a holistic approach for women leaving sex trafficking. The house opened earlier this year and provides safety and housing for survivors.

On Sunday, August 13th, I volunteered to help host a birthday celebration for a sex trafficking survivor at Selah Freedom. Thanks to a team of volunteers who cooked, baked and decorated, the birthday girl had her favorite Mexican food and to end the meal, a piñata full of candy!
Selah is a Hebrew word meaning to pause, rest and reflect. Those words were never more evident than during this event. It was a time for me to reflect on the commitment I have made to volunteer and give someone a chance to feel loved and celebrated.

At the house, every evening after dinner, everyone forms a circle and shares a few words of encouragement, hope and strength through inspirational messages. Being a part of the circle after the birthday celebration was a very emotional moment for me.

Diane Zidman

“If I can change one life, I feel that I have succeeded.”

JCAST Chicago July Blog

20 Jul 17
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Join JCAST on 7/27 and Take Action!

In the last month, local news stations prominently featured stories of teens lured into sex trafficking. For example, in Texas, local authorities identified a confined Chicago teen advertised on Backpage. And, here in Glenview, police broke up a brothel.
Yet, many in our community don’t realize the danger of sex trafficking. They would be surprised to learn human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry grossing $1.34 trillion and selling as many as 100,000 children across the world. They believe prostitution is not harmful because it occurs between two “willing” adults. Yet the average age of a sex trafficking victim is 12 to 14 and most are runaway or locked out girls.

The Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking Chicago (JCAST) Chicago invites you and your friends to a special event on the evening of July 27th to learn more and be a part of a solution. We welcome everyone who is interested in this issue. Please circulate this event in your network and invite others who are interested. To RSVP and for more information contact JCAST Engagement and Development Director, Gayle at gayle@jcastchicago.org. See you there!

JCAST Chicago June 2017 Blog

22 Jun 17
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I Am Jane Doe

I Am Jane Doe is a film that tells the true story of a legal battle between several mothers of sex trafficking victims and Backpage.com. Two of the plaintiffs, who are identified using pseudonyms, and their families tell their story of the harrowing experiences they went through when they were trafficked, at ages fifteen and thirteen. Since reuniting with their families, they have taken on legal battles against Backpage, the website on which they were sold for sex. What started as two individual cases multiplied to include several court cases across the county as well as a United States Senate investigation. Backpage repeatedly argued that they were not liable for the ads sold on their website due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This act was created to protect new media from lawsuits due to the content on their websites. Backpage used this act and the protection of the first amendment to win or dismiss several cases filed against them. However, the battle is far from over, as the families of the Jane Does are willing to do whatever it takes to get justice for their daughters.

The screening of I Am Jane Doe that took place at Columbia College in Chicago was introduced by John McKay, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defense in Canada, and Lisa Madigan, the attorney general for the state of Illinois. At the conclusion of the showing, there was a panel of six speakers: Yvonne, a mother who tragically lost her 16-year-old daughter at the hands of a Backpage buyer; Gina DeBoni, an attorney representing the Jane Doe family; Yiota Souras, the Senior Vice President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Marian Hatcher, the senior project manager and human trafficking coordinator for the Cook County Sheriff’s office; Martin Castro, the former chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights; and Mary Mazzio, the writer, director, and producer of the film. They answered questions from the moderator, Lynn Sweet (the DC Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times) and the audience, adding their own experiences and knowledge to supplement the film. When asked what the audience could do to help, Hatcher responded that they should continue to educate themselves and those around them, and to call their representatives to voice their thoughts.

I was fortunate enough to see this film as a part of my internship with JCAST for this summer while I am home from college. While many in the audience were led to imagine themselves in the horrible scenario that the Jane Does’ parents found themselves in (What if this happened to my daughter?), I had a different horrible scenario in my mind (What if this happened to my friend? What if it happened to me?). The film demonstrated how easy it can be to fall through the cracks; before they became victims of sex trafficking, these victims were just normal kids. According to one study in the Midwest, 40% of children who run away from home are trafficked. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in every three homeless teenagers will be sex trafficked within 48 hours of leaving home. I Am Jane Doe tells the story of girls who were sex trafficked, and the legal battle of their families to make sure the people at fault are made to pay for their pain. But it also serves as an awakening for audience members of all ages and genders: what is happening all around us is wrong, and innocent people are suffering. I think everyone who saw the film would agree that they cannot go back to when they did not know about Backpage and the stories of the girls who have taken the name “Jane Doe.” We know, and now we have the responsibility to act.

I Am Jane Doe is currently available on iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon, Netflix, and DVD. 50% of all the profits will be donated to organizations supporting Jane Doe children. To learn more, visit iamjanedoefilm.com.

– Eliana Fleischer, JCAST Chicago Intern

JCAST Chicago May Blog

22 May 17
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Selah Freedom

Selah Freedom is a national organization that offers prevention, outreach and safe housing to survivors of sex trafficking. Selah is a Hebrew word which means to pause, rest and reflect. Here in the Chicago area, Selah Freedom provides a safe residence for survivors to discover who they are, set goals and re-launch their lives.

We met at a Selah training meeting that all the volunteers are required to attend. We really connected in our passions to help these women and to make a direct impact on their lives.  Our first volunteer opportunity was in April, where we planned a meal and worked with the residents to prepare it. They were so excited and grateful. They embraced us and we embraced them. We so enjoyed sitting around the table and sharing the meal that we had all prepared together. It felt like we had an immediate connection with them. Next time we will bring more new and unusual cooking experiences with us.

We are looking forward to further developing our relationship with these women and discovering other ways to help them realize their life goals. We are grateful to NCJW and JCAST for introducing us to this very worthwhile organization where we can interact with the people we are supporting.

Cheryl Susman

Joan Zahnle

We welcome Cheryl and Joan to the JCAST Chicago Steering Committee

JCAST Chicago April Blog

23 Apr 17
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The Nordic Model, pioneered in Sweden, is a legislative approach to prostitution, which makes it illegal to purchase sexual services.  Under this model, the individuals who are trafficked for commercial sex are not criminalized, and are instead offered support and social services.  The aim of this model is to change society’s views of prostitution and to eventually eradicate it completely.  Sweden has seen progress toward achieving this goal – the proportion of Swedish men purchasing sex has decreased since implementing the Nordic Model.  In fact, research by the Swedish government indicates that street prostitution has been halved since the legislation was introduced in 1999.

Following in Sweden’s footsteps, other countries have begun to implement similar legislation such as Ireland, France, Norway, Iceland, and Canada.  Recently, Israel has begun to take a step forward by introducing legislation inspired by the Nordic Model.  The Task Force on Human Trafficking & Prostitution (TFHT) submitted proposed legislation called the “Criminal Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services and Community Treatment Bill.”  The bill consists of two parts in accordance with the Nordic Model: 1) the prohibition of purchasing sexual services and 2) protection and support for survivors.  TFHT has an ongoing public petition that you can sign here to support the proposed legislation and ensure that your voice is heard in advancing this legislation in Israel.

Haley Braun, JCAST Chicago Intern

International Women’s Day – JCAST Chicago March Blog

20 Mar 17
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Eva, our family’s Au Pair from Czech Republic, commented to me on March 8 about the lack of care and attention paid to women in the United States on International Women’s Day.  Eva’s experience in Europe was a day for women to be cherished for their contributions to life, motherhood, and society.  It’s a day when men hand out small yellow flowers on the street to women, just because.

Part of our experience hosting an Au Pair is this cultural exchange; learning about traditions, language, and food from Czech has been fascinating.  This cultural difference had me interested.  So, I set about doing some research.

International Women’s Day began in 1909 as a response to women’s horrific working conditions.  It has become a recognized holiday in more than 25 countries since its inception and stands to not only appreciate women, but advocate for equality.  “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,” says Gloria Steinem.  International Women’s Day celebrates unity and advocates for action.

The 2017 theme of #BeBoldForChange made me think that this is a celebration beyond yellow flowers, it’s an opportunity to unite and make our voices heard for those who don’t have their own voice.

Through the lens of JCAST Chicago, being bold for change means standing up for the people who are lured into sex trafficking as young teens or standing up to our neighbors who are purchasing sex from those teens.  To me, being bold for change is ending the demand for paid sex, one group at a time.

What does being bold for change mean for you?  As you reflect on the women’s issues that make you want to be bold, I hope that you find your voice and an outlet for making change.

 

~ Jacqueline Babb, JCAST Chicago

Through the Eyes of a Docent

21 Feb 17
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JCAST Chicago February Blog
At the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center, 60,000 students enter to learn every year.  Some days we have 500 people within our walls wondering what happened so many years ago when a despot was given complete control.  Dehumanizing people as commodities, a genocide enslaving a population.  To this, we say,” never again!”
In the Holocaust, we see the absence of human rights, a population enslaved without choices. Why would someone choose to be hurtful? Hitler used force, fraud, coercion, and terror. Survivors were victimized with no resolution. Empowering is our job.  It is to make a difference, to help with the understanding of our own communities and to provide the venue to widen our world hoping to be the person that will make our world safe for democracy for future generations.
We emphasize respect, empathy, courage and through the Holocaust, treasure what we can learn from rescuers and survivors the qualities they exhibit, and how to transform them into our lives.  What actions did they take?  Where and with whom? Culture defines us. We emphasize convictions in one’s own beliefs, working together to problem solve.  Change is attainable. Activism is a venue, with the understanding of crimes against humanity, and taking a stand as an upstander.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center, “furthers preserves the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring those lost and teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice and indifference and human rights and the elimination of genocide.”
JCAST’s mission to come together with partners of those “concerned by human rights and the empowerment of women, and ending the community and take action to end the demand for purchased sex and protect children” reflects the mission of the Illinois Holocaust Museum with the power of education to make a difference. The Museum is working hard to change the thinking of people, broaden their understanding of the existence of history, and come together to fight and resist the inhumane treatment of those with victimless crimes.
Sex trafficking presents a similar picture. Abuse, control of one’s lives by others, exploitation, brainwashing, are all aspects of those that are trafficked. We look as women as survivors.  We are looking for a world without exploitation.
As a call for action, we need to talk, know the warning signs, be that person that is an upstander who involves themselves in the avenue of human rights for all of us.
~ Susan Block, JCAST Chicago Steering Committee Member

Worlds Colliding – JCAST Chicago January 2017 Blog

18 Jan 17
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I am one of 500 attendees at a national nonprofit management conference for students and educators.  Days into stale coffee, too-cold rooms, and information beyond my saturation point, my world of being a professor and my world of being a sex-trafficking advocate collided.

The keynote speaker declared that slavery exists around us.  Participants looked around bewildered, humbled.  Certainly, our country has moved beyond forcing people into labor.  Certainly not.

As students learned more about sex trafficking in the keynote address, eyes widened and students shifted uncomfortably in their seats.  I relived my own experience learning about this modern form of slavery.

The students that I talked to after the keynote imagined their friends, sisters, and girlfriends in these horrific situations.  They reframed their view of prostitution as a victimless crime.  They felt in their hearts and searched for solutions in their minds.

Students pursuing careers in the nonprofit sector are full of drive, energy, and will to make our world better one day at a time.  They asked the obvious question: “what can we do?”  Perhaps you are asking yourself the very same question.  What can I do to eradicate this modern form of slavery?

You can start the conversation.

Connect JCAST Chicago to your synagogue or church.  Invite your friends to coffee and have them read and discuss an article about sex trafficking.  Have your book club read, Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors by Anne K. Ream.  Write a blog post.  Harness the power of social media.  Go see Money Make’m Smile at Her Story Theater in Chicago this spring.

When paid sex becomes socially unacceptable, demand ends.  When demand ends, traffickers don’t earn billions of dollars from selling people as reusable commodities.  When traffickers don’t earn money, they stop victimizing.  And, only then, does this horrific cycle end.

~ Jacqueline Babb, Engagement and Development Director

 

 

Ripping Off the Band-Aid: Talking to my 12-Year-Old about Pornography

24 Dec 16
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After over a decade of working for the National Council of Jewish Women, my children have suffered through many a conversation on topics ranging from civil rights to why courts matter to reproductive justice.  Add my work with the Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago to the mix and they hear about trafficking, exploitation, violence.  Let’s just say that car rides with mom are really fun!

Recently, when so many cases of college rape are making the news, and when presidential candidates and political leaders joke and excuse assault as “locker room talk,” I realized that it isn’t enough to talk to my teen daughter about how to protect herself.  I needed to talk to my (almost) teen son about respect, exploitation and pornography.

I have learned from past experience that conversations with teenagers about sex, drugs, alcohol and similar topics seem to work best when you don’t face each other – car rides are good; so is sitting on the couch facing straight ahead.  How to approach the subject is tricky.  Do you wait until they ask; do you just bring it up?  I had joked with my kids about porn in a sense – if we were watching a film or TV show together and the action took a turn towards the sexual, I would yell “PORN” and they would cover their eyes.  But a flash of skin or prolonged kissing during prime time isn’t pornography – although I will say there are also shows that certainly push the boundaries!  I decided that I needed to talk to my kids seriously about pornography and the only way to do that was to rip off the bandage in a sense and just go for it!

So one evening, while my boy and I were watching television, I just brought it up.  It was mostly a one-sided conversation, but at least he listened.  I talked with my son about how pornography is easily accessible as well as how it is totally natural to be curious about sex and nudity and wanting to seek out those things is normal, but also that pornography is exploitive and has no basis in reality.  That many of the “actors and actresses” in these films or the “models” in these pictures may not be there voluntarily.  There is undoubtedly a percentage who are victims of trafficking.  That the images of women he might see are not representative of actual women and that the relationships depicted are not real relationships.

I read an article once (although I can no longer find the link) but the gist of the article was “Ok, we had sex; will you kiss me now?”  While I didn’t save the article, the message stuck with me.  Whether it’s due to pornography, lack of education, the influence of their friends or messages in the media, the issue with teen dating is no longer sex before marriage but sex before dating. Studies have found that frequent usage of pornography negatively impacts intimate relationships and affects the users’ view of women.

Pornography is readily available on the internet, but so are some great resources: Culture Framed is the first health promotion effort to recognize and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. They have an amazing website (www.culturereframed.org) filled with articles and ideas for educating your children about the harm of pornography as well as how to empower them to have happy and healthy relationships.  CAASE, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, has great information and fact sheets on their website caase.org including a tool kit for high school educators  which can be helpful to read as a parent to further a discussion with your child about sexual and sexually violent images in the media. CAASE addresses the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation. Their work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services.  Check out these two organizations and email me at Communications@jcastchicago.org with any additional resources you might find!

So as painful as the conversation was with my son, I was glad I did it.  It opened up a window of conversation that I hope will remain open as he develops into the amazing young man I know he will become.

~Melissa Prober, Communications Director, National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore; Staff, JCAST Chicago

Thoughts on Women Hold up Half the Sky

21 Nov 16
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I recently had the opportunity to attend the opening of a new exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  The exhibit, entitled “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” reflects upon the struggles worldwide to achieve equality for women.  Inspired by Nicholas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the exhibit seeks to share solutions and be a catalyst for change both here at home in Chicago, and around the world.

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” juxtaposes global women’s rights issues with those faced locally in Chicago.  I think we, as Americans, as Chicagoans, have a tendency to believe that the horrors of sex trafficking, gender based violence, and oppression of women are the problems of other nations. I believe we tend to distance ourselves from these horrors because they seem far too appalling to be happening in our own neighborhoods.  But the unfortunate truth is that violence against women and sex trafficking are pervasive in Chicago and throughout the United States.

Attorney General, Lisa Madigan was among the speakers at the opening of “Women Hold Up Half the Sky.”  Madigan, who has been a dedicated advocate for women’s rights in Illinois, called upon the crowd to get involved and join in the fight for equality.

Fritzie Fritzshall, President of the museum, also spoke at the opening of the exhibit.  She shared her own harrowing story as a survivor of the Holocaust.  She spoke of “The darkest days of human history.” She implored the audience to “Remember.”  Her eloquently simple request is a reminder to us all to learn from the past and to continue the fight against egregious human rights abuses today, like those faced by women around the world.

JCAST Chicago Steering Committee member Beth Gordon, said, “The new Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum is a compelling reminder of the many forms of oppression of girls and women around the world, yet the also introduces visitors to several extraordinary people who have taken a stand and are making a difference, including here in Chicago. The exhibit is inspired by the stories of girls and women, as featured in Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn’s book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Wordwide.” Both book and exhibit remind us that “global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all battles of the 20th century.” It is also a call to action that we simply cannot ignore. As stated by Kristoff and Wu Dunn in their book ” …the challenge today is to prod the world to face up to women locked in brothels and teenage girls with fistulas curled up on the floor of isolated huts. We hope to see a broad movement emerge to battle gender inequality around the world and to push for education and opportunities for girls around the world. “ I urge you to visit the exhibit, and join the movement, for we can no longer look the other way.”

JCAST Chicago Steering Committee Co-Chair Susan Rifas said that the exhibit is a “powerful and important exhibition that everyone … men and women … should see. It brings home in a very visual way what women around the world are subjected to, including sex trafficking.”

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” runs from September 25, 2016 – January 22, 2017 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, IL.  Don’t miss this important exhibit!

~Haley Braun, Intern, JCAST Chicago, Clinical Psychology Doctoral student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.  Graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

You Shall Not Be Indifferent

04 Nov 16
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wrj-ad-no-imageThe statistics around sex trafficking in our local community are staggering.

  • It is estimated that 16,000-25,000 young women and men, boys and girls in Chicago are victims each year
  • 55% of Chicago runaways and homeless people report engaging in sex for survival
  • The lifespan of someone who is prostituted is only seven years

Force, fraud, and coercion – the definers of sex trafficking — cannot continue.  We have the ability to change lives.  These people are our daughters, sisters, brothers, neighbors, classmates, and friends.  They deserve a different life trajectory.  We shall not be indifferent.  Together, we have the power to alter the way that our culture looks at people as reusable commodities, as lives to be sold into a modern form of slavery.

JCAST Chicago harnesses the power of community and awareness to end the demand for paid sex.  And, when demand diminishes, supply diminishes.  Women and children will no longer be forced or coerced into sex slavery.  JCAST Chicago partners with interfaith and human rights groups, nonprofit organizations, government officials, and law enforcement agencies to end the demand for purchased sex and protect children.

Our work is underway; we need your help more than ever. And we will do the affirmative work with you and on your behalf.  Your gift of $36, $50, or $100 will help us eradicate sex trafficking through awareness and advocacy.  Please make a gift online or via mail to:  JCAST Chicago, 5 Revere Drive, Suite 200 Northbrook, IL 60062.

Thank you from the women, men and children who need us.

Actions, Words and Gender Equality in the New Year

27 Oct 16
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In recent weeks, we’ve been confronted with shocking, insulting and derogatory footage and language against women (by a presidential candidate!), and we’ve seen an outpouring of responses every which way we turn. People of all genders are deeply disturbed and offended. In a recent New York Times editorial, Frank Bruni writes “No human being — woman or man — should be regarded as a conquest or an amusement with a will subservient to someone else’s” www.nytimes.com/2016/10/12/opinion/daughters-and-trumps.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.

And Nicholas Kristoff’s recent weekly column opens with:

Is there a double standard for women in politics?

Imagine if it were Hillary Clinton who had had five children by three husbands, who had said it was fine to refer to her daughter as a “piece of ass,” who participated in a radio conversation about oral sex in a hot tub, who rated men based on their body parts, who showed up in Playboy soft porn videos.

Imagine if 15 men had accused Clinton of assaulting or violating them, with more stepping forward each day.

Imagine if Clinton had held a Mr. Teen USA pageant and then marched unannounced into the changing area to ogle the young bodies as some were naked and, after doing the same thing at a Mr. USA pageant, marveled on a radio show at what she was allowed to get away with.

Perhaps it’s is no coincidence that these events unfolded during the Jewish High Holy Days. “The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur.” (http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday3.htm), Our prayer books are filled with both ancient and modern prayers, words and passages that remind us of our responsibility to perform acts of social justice. And this year, at my synagogue, Congregation Hakafa, something unexpected took place. Actions transcended beyond the words on the pages in response to the unsettling misogyny unfolding in the media. On the eve of Kol Nidre, Rabbi Bruce Elder decided to place this holy service under the leadership of women, and asked Rabbi Ali Abrams to lead the service and give a personal reflection in his place (See Rabbi Abram’s reflection on moving from “disengagement to paying attention, from reacting to listening” on the JCAST blog spot.) The honor of holding the torahs was given to all past female presidents of the congregation. And at the end of the service was another act of solidarity by members of the congregation, who generously responded to the collection of tzedakah donations for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (http://caase.org/). On this eve of Kol Nidre, acts of intention against misogyny and in support of gender equality spoke louder than the words on our pages.

While acts can, at times, speak louder than words, we simply cannot deny or ignore the power of words, specifically the negative words or “ locker room talk” of any man who brags about groping or kissing women against their will, and later claims it was it just “talk” while allegations continues to surface. What does “locker room talk” have to do with sexual exploitation, the purchase of sex, and sex trafficking? Plenty! Such repugnant, disgusting, degrading talk reminds how often women are objectified in our society. Are the men who frequent Backpage.com and purchase sex from trafficked minors and adults the same ones who engage in “harmless” locker room talk? And what about their children? Are sons being reared to respect all genders as equals or to view women as objects to be critiqued, touched, groped and raped for a fee or for free? And are daughters being taught to view themselves as equals and respect one another as well as themselves? Can we find a silver-lining in this disturbing and unsettling language against women that promotes their sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking and the purchase of sex?

Personally, I’ve been subject to these kinds of derogatory for decades, since my early teens. It was as unsettling then as it is now. I’m ready to start talking about it in constructive ways. And I know I’m not alone. Are we ready to have these much-needed conversations in our homes, schools, places of faith and in our communities? How we think about gender equality and how we talk to each other does influence our actions. If we want to change cultural views on sexual exploitation, then we need to denounce words that objectify women and people of all genders whether we hear them inside or out of the confines of a locker room. When we don’t speak out and create positive models for our youth through our words and actions to promote respect and equality, then we are complicit. We are bystanders. On the other hand, when we stand up against words and actions that objectify any gender as dehumanizing and unacceptable, then we are one step closer to changing the way our culture views the sexual exploitation of all genders, and that includes the sex trafficking.

In closing, I highlight the unique preventative curriculum offered by Caleb Probst and the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE): Empowering Young Men to End Sexual Exploitation, A Curriculum for High School Boys “The best way to address sexual exploitation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Young men are exposed to a culture that stigmatizes women in prostitution, yet glamorizes pimping and patronizing the sex trade. CAASE has created and implemented the first curriculum in the country specifically designed to educate young men about the harms of prostitution and to enlist them as allies in the movement to end violence against women and girls. We have reached more than 2,300 students since the curriculum launched in 2010.” I encourage you to take a look: http://caase.org/prevention. May this New Year be filled with words and actions that promote respect and reject objectification of all genders, and move us one step closer to the change in culture we so desperately need in order to eradicate exploitation and promote gender equality.

Beth Gordon, JCAST Chicago, Steering Committee

Kol Nidre Reflections by Rabbi Alison Abrams

27 Oct 16
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I want to thank [Rabbi] Bruce [Elder] for inviting me to give a personal reflection tonight.  I say this for two reasons. The first is that it is colleagues like Bruce and congregational leadership like that of Hakafa that reminds me the ways in which our communities can be places of meaningful reflection and constructive learning.  That when there is something brewing in the world around us, we can come together- on the most solemn of evenings in our calendar- and sift through the complicated nature of our thoughts and emotions.  The second reason I opened with this thank you is to frame my words.  As a rabbi, I do not like to deliver sermons or teach Torah about issues of injustice or challenges without having some sort of positive response. A way to climb out of the difficult space we may be in and on which I may be shining a light. And, of course, there is no way to separate out my “rabbi self” and my “real person self”- rabbis are people, too, y’know.  But these words of reflection come from a more personal place. I hope they add to a larger conversation and offer insight in some way. And yet, I am not yet in a place of resolution or prescription for moving forward. I am reflecting, sifting, thinking, weighing.

For those of you who may not know, I work in politics for a living.  I work in the world of advocacy and campaigns and fundraising. So, in many ways, I have been sitting deep in the thick of this election cycle.  And, yet, in other ways, I have kept it at a distance. The presidential race, in particular, has me keeping quiet and disengaging in a way that is quite unusual for me.  And, because I am lucky, possessing much privilege, I can do this. I shut my screen, turn the radio down, stop looking at Facebook.

Professionally, I have been deeply aware of the hateful and even dangerous language used about various groups of people over the past year and a half. But on a personal level, I have stopped paying real attention.  I am really ashamed of this. But that does not make it any less true.  And, like most people, it took something outrageous to get me speaking. It took a blatant display of misogyny by someone who could, in just a matter of months, be sitting in the most important office in our country.

I will not recount the specifics of what has brought me to this point because I refuse to give any more air-time to the “story.” And, to be honest, I care very little about or for any one individual who speaks this way about women. What I do care about is that I have come to be living in a world where this type of speech has somehow become – if not acceptable- then accepted.

This moment is different than the moments that have come before.  Such misogyny has not always been seen as “something that happens” or something we should just resign ourselves to or try to ignore. In the past, I don’t think a sizeable part of the American population would have been willing to simply look the other way. I cannot think of a time in my life- at least not in the past 25 years- where women or their bodies could be spoken about in the national public square with such disdain and degradation and not be condemned by everyone.

I do not want to speak about political party or leanings.  Yes, what I’m saying is political. But its not partisan. It’s not even liberal or conservative or moderate or independent. What I am talking about is a level of basic respect- acknowledgement that no matter what, when I am talking about or with another person, I at least understand them to be a person- possessing a body, a mind and a spirit. I am talking about our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our partners. Frankly, I’m talking about me.

The question that plays over and over in my mind lately is – “how did we get here?” How did we come to a moment in which societal norms and understandings seem to be- in some significant ways-in stark contrast to what they have been previously.  And I don’t know exactly. I’m sure I could explore people’s fears, anxieties and uncertainty about the world and their own lives. I could start connecting the dots and put together a narrative that would make some rational sense. But, honestly, I don’t care to. I’m not interested in making sense of what seems to be a frightening reality- that denigrating women- our bodies and our agency- is no longer taboo. It happens. Its just “locker room banter.”

Instead, I’m bringing to you, my community, that such public demonstrations of hate and degradation are an indication that we still are desperately in need of this day, this Yom Kippur.  We need to come together and talk about society’s ills and how they impact us. We also need to ask ourselves “how did we get here?” and build for ourselves a way out.

Again, I’m not fully clear how to do this. But I am considering how I can respond to internally. What do I need to be engaging with in the public space and what internal work do I need to do in order to chart a more constructive path forward.  How can the ideas and images of Yom Kippur- and indeed this whole time of year- help me do that?

And in reflecting on all this, I keep coming back to the shofar.  Not really the shofar itself but the way in which the sound of the shofar becomes meaningful.  In ancient times, the shofar was blown for many reasons- a joyous occasion, a sacred moment, a battle cry, the beginning of something, the end of something. As we know, the sounds would vary depending on what was being communicated.  No matter what the reason, though, the shofar was a call to attention.  And, even more significantly, the people needed to hear it. Today, before blowing the shofar, we say a blessing, thanking God for commanding us to hear the Shofar.  Hearing the shofar- its call to attention- is where the obligation lies.

This is where I am finding some guidance on how to be, think and act- or not act- in the current climate. I need to listen more and I need to listen more carefully. That is my obligation. Even when what I am listening to is not the powerful and beautiful sound of the shofar. Because while I want to shut off the noise- and sometimes we need to shut off the noise- I do need to be listening. I need to listen for people’s fears and unvented anger. I need to listen for the smaller ways in which whole groups of people are being treated like objects, instead of human beings.  I need to pay attention to the conversations happening around me, in the media among people I disagree with vehemently. Even those who are saying things that violate acceptable social norms- I need to listen. I will not always have the most articulate response. Oftentimes, the moment will not call for a response although there will likely be a time to say something, loudly and forcefully. But if Yom Kippur can teach me anything, it is that the work of paying attention, listening carefully and reflecting on what is happening around me is a prerequisite to responding effectively.

I realized as I put these thoughts together that much of what I will continue to say is not specifically connected to the painful language being used about women during this election season. These thoughts are insights for how I can better approach external challenges that I find deeply disturbing- that hit at the core of who I am and what I believe. And November 8th is not going to bring an end to these types of challenges. The end of an election season will certainly not be the end of misogyny, hateful speech or any of the other ugliness that is thrown into such clear relief during this time of year. So I will use this particular experience as an opportunity to transform my transgressions. To move from disengagement to paying attention. From reacting to listening.

My prayer and hope for this year is that I can listen carefully enough, that I don’t come to next year asking “how did we get here?” I know the next year will bring its own challenges, but I am setting myself up to reflect thoughtfully. To respond with strength and conviction knowing that I took my obligation to listen seriously.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.

Rabbi Alison Abrams is the Midwest Regional Director of J Street.

September Blog: Lunch and Learn with Levi Lauer

27 Sep 16
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Arranging a Lunch and Learn for a group of JCAST supporters can be an interesting experience. When the topic is SEX TRAFFICKING IN ISRAEL, one is not quite sure what to expect. When the speaker is a rabbi, the intrigue increases…

On September 6th, thirty-eight JCAST supporters were introduced to an extraordinary presentation by Rabbi Levi Lauer highlighting the horrendous issue of the trafficking of women from the Former Soviet Union to Israel, a country most of us hold in high esteem in a world of increasingly hostile sentiment. What the Rabbi told us about the enslavement, the method of transfer by way of Egypt, the sale to pimps, and the daily existence of these sex slaves was beyond belief. But the most disheartening and horrific part of Rabbi Lauer’s speech was the revelation that Israel – it’s government, it’s politicians, it’s law enforcement individuals – allowed this to happen!

Rabbi Levi Lauer, expressing his indignation at Israel, then proceeded to explain how in 2003, he formed ATZUM (Justice Works) and mounted a campaign to eradicate sex trafficking in Israel. Through the formation of ATZUM’s TASK FORCE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING, he promoted a lobbying campaign with Israeli policymakers that addressed the issue of trafficked women in Israel. His message to us that day was that we must learn the facts AND DO something with that knowledge to affect change in attitudes towards human trafficking.
Rabbi Levi Lauer has set the standard for “doing.” Check out his website, ATZUM.org, to see for yourself what this courageous man (yes, a man!) is DOING to eradicate sex trafficking.

~ Sherry Petlin, JCAST Chicago Steering Committee, Lunch & Learn Co-Chair

Sex Trafficking and Random Acts of Brilliance

22 Aug 16
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We’ve collected items for trafficked kids on the streets. We’ve listened, we’ve learned, we’ve begun to educate and build awareness.  There’s no question that these are all important steps. Yet, it never seems to be enough to make a dent in the prison that is human sex trafficking. That feels depressing.

What I find inspiring is to have discovered that there are pockets of brilliance popping up all around—even in some, perhaps, surprising arenas. Just as we speak today about entrepreneurial incubators for start-up businesses, innovative people and organizations are actively incubating new concepts and practices to help banish this dehumanizing trade.

I’ve recently learned about two such random acts of brilliance.  Turning the Tables was the not-so-random act of Lilach Tzur Ben-Moshe, a Tel Aviv fashion writer and editor.  Through her volunteer work at a rape crisis center, Lilach saw the realities of the sex trade and she became determined to help women leave it. And what was her solution? She helped these women learn skills in fashion styling, dress design and sewing by providing a free course and training. It’s a way up and out for many women in the Tel Aviv area. Turning the Tables helps build real job skills, as well as confidence and new found resilience for many former victims of trafficking. In 2015, NCJW, and in 2016 the Hadassah Foundation, provided grant funding for Turning the Tables. It’s direct, impactful, life-changing and can be replicated anywhere. Brilliant.

Another act is Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT).  Yes—truckers.  The founders of TAT recognized that often their own transportation systems were being exploited by traffickers, as victims were often seen around truck stops and the restaurants and motels frequented by truckers as they work. So, they set out to prepare training videos, develop wallet cards and other materials that became part of trucker orientations. They’ve mobilized their members and others to learn how to recognize signs of trafficking, then report and combat it. Brilliant.

So, we see random acts of brilliance making a real, hands-on difference in this fight. These ideas, and certainly there are others, can be applied to many different areas and industries. Can we brainstorm and come up with a short list of viable ideas that we can implement through JCAST Chicago?  I’m in. Are you?

Ronna Ash
Executive Director
Hadassah Chicago-North Shore

Thoughts on Trafficking

23 Jul 16
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As a new member of the coalition, I was shocked to learn the facts and figures of sex trafficking in the country and in particular Chicago. According to the Center for Impact Research, there are 16,000 to 25,000 Chicagoland women and girls that are “sex trafficked” each year. Amy Alvaro, a human trafficking specialist of the Cook County State Attorney’s office attributes the prevalence in Chicago to the fact that it is a large convention city with a huge international airport.

In May, I attended a seminar lead by Lori Cohen, chair of NCJW Exodus Campaign and the director of Anti Trafficking Initiative at the Center for Battered Woman’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City.
Sanctuary for Families provides many services to its victims, most of whom are immigrants or a part of the LGBTQ community. Among them is an Anti-Trafficking initiative that provides services to victims of sex trafficking so they can build a life without relying on funds from exploitation.

In many instances it is difficult for them to seek help. One way sanctuary reaches their target audience is by going to events in parks and public places where they hand out cards in the primary language of the neighborhood. The cards have the pertinent information for victims to contact the appropriate person at the Sanctuary to receive the professional help they need. There are a variety of services provided in many areas including counseling and crisis intervention, legal services, and economic empowerment.

Lori mentioned a New York Times Magazine article, “Should Prostitution be a Crime?” by Emily Bazelon (published May 5, 2016). Posted below are 3 perspectives of crucial statistics, survivors viewpoints and stories, which were missing from the article. There are more posts on The Sanctuary blog page (www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/blog)

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?
If the small group of privileged “sex workers” highlighted in Bazelon’s article have their way, and prostitution is decriminalized around the world, every boy will grow up knowing it¹s acceptable to buy a body whenever he feels the urge. The result? The market for flesh will grow, delivering a windfall to traffickers and pimps and putting millions more women and girls in harm’s way. The standard PR line of the commercial sex industry is that we in the anti-trafficking community “conflate” consensual prostitution with trafficking. No, we don’t. Prostitution is the marketplace and trafficking is a primary way that product is delivered to buyers. It’s economics 101. Grow the market and trafficking increases.

Bazelon blithely disregards the harm inherent in prostitution. I’ve seen it up close, having been Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Mount Sinai. The stories from survivors of the sex trade are horrific. The violence in prostitution is staggering. The resulting physical and mental health problems are crushing. We need to adopt the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the prostituted person but criminalizes the traffickers, pimps and buyers. Creating an open market place for the use and abuse of women and girls (and men and boys) would be one of the most shocking human rights violations of our time.

Holly G. Atkinson, MD, FACP, FAMWA
Co-Director, Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans, American Medical Women’s Association, Past President, Physicians for Human Rights
________________________________________
Re: the New York Times Magazine cover story Should Prostitution Be a Crime.
As a former judge and prosecutor, and now as the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, I have seen thousands of victims who have been exploited in the sex trade. Many of them were lured in by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them with few options.

Ms. Bazelon inexplicably omits the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants. Instead, her primary focus is on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker” as reflected in the cover photo, which creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender inequality and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking. People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services. If we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry will continue to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director
Sanctuary for Families
________________________________________
To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?
Emily Bazelon‘s piece ““Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” makes a case for listening to the voices of those who have actually experienced the commercial sex industry. Unfortunately the voices left out of this piece are the women and girls who have not viewed this as ‘sex work’ but violent exploitation, the experiences of those under pimp control, (over 90 percent of the 400 plus girls and young women GEMS serves annually are or have been under the control of a pimp) and the hundreds of women who have now begun to step out of the shadows to publicly identify as ‘survivors’ of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

These voices are overwhelmingly the voices of girls and young women of color, (the slide show is clearly overwhelmingly white women), of runaway and homeless youth, of women trapped in addiction and poverty. While the anti-trafficking movement can often over simplify or sensationalize these stories, the truth is both more nuanced and more horrific than any well-intentioned awareness campaign that isn’t survivor led or survivor informed.

As a survivor myself and having founded and run GEMS for 18 years, I’m aware that there are no easy solutions to this issue but at least the NYT could have provided a more balanced view by actually including the voices of those young people who are already marginalized and who view the sex industry as inherently violent and harmful, preying upon the most vulnerable in our society.

Rachel Lloyd
Founder and CEO
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services
________________________________________

Written by Bonnie Ribet,  Member, NCJW South Cook Executive Board, Member, JCAST Chicago Steering Committee

Selah Freedom to Open Doors in Chicago

23 Jun 16
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Many people are surprised to learn that over 3000,000 American children are sold in the sex trade each year. When the founders of Selah Freedom learned this they went looking for an organization to support but found none. What began as a grassroots initiative of women from across the country to be a voice for the voiceless has quickly transformed into a thriving organization. Selah Freedom actively confronts the issue of sex trafficking and is being upheld as the statewide model in Florida for how to effectively bring solutions to survivors of sex trafficking & exploitation. Selah is a Hebrew word which means to pause, rest, and reflect. We give survivors a chance to do just that. Women in our programs have an opportunity to dream again; to discover who it is they were created to be. In order to do this, Selah Freedom closely partners with law enforcement, legislators, and influential leaders to not only shed light on the staggering statistics, but also to work together to change those statistics by changing lives! Selah Freedom attacks the problem of sex trafficking from all sides by focusing on four foundational programs: Awareness, Prevention, Outreach, and Residential.

Selah Freedom started our mission in Sarasota, Florida but we are now expanding our operation to serve victims in the Chicago area. Sadly, Chicago is one of the top five cities in America for sex trafficking and even more heartbreaking is that there is currently only a small home for minors and zero beds for those sex trafficking survivors who are over the age of eighteen. Along with passionate advocacy groups such as the JCAST, Chicago has some of the best resources and lawmakers in this area, and experts like the teams at CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation), The Dreamcatcher Foundation , Stop IT Now and many more, are doing amazing things to provide resources and services. Unfortunately, there are no long term solutions in the city. This means that girls often end up right back in the sex trade, as there is no place for them to go to be safe, heal, and begin a new life. Chicago is such a great city- we are thrilled to be able to open housing here and start making it the solution center it should be.

Our first goal is to raise $280,000 to open the first phase of our residential program, ideally on the north side of the city or Evanston. We have had homes donated in the past- and hope this happens in Chicagoland- a 3-4-bedroom home is all we need to begin, even rent free for just one year is a huge gift- and a great tax write off for the donor. Instantly, six women will be given a new start in life- and the momentum begins to engage the community and grow to accommodate even more.

If you are looking to get involved and help Selah Freedom’s mission, we like to say, “Raise your Voice, Raise your Hand or Raise your Resources!” Right now the greatest help is getting the word out- if you have a venue or group that we can speak to such as a rotary, women’s or men’s groups, junior leagues, or synagogues or churches, and of course- help us financially. Once we are up and running we will have tons of opportunities for hands on volunteers. We need volunteers from tutors to mentors, teaching everything from how to clean a fridge, how to dress, we offer puppy therapy, art therapy, craft classes- horse therapy, music- everything we gave our own children is returned to these precious lives. We need the gifts of every individual to offer them all that was stolen, all of this in addition to the trauma therapy and clinical work we offer.

We could not be more excited to be opening our doors in the Chicago area! The success of our mission depends largely on partnering with local organizations and faith groups in order to raise awareness and community support. We are truly grateful to be joining a community with so many selflessness and compassionate individuals and organizations and cannot wait to start changing lives and bringing Chicago’s sex trafficking victims the fulfilled lives they all deserve.

To learn more about Selah Freedom, visit our website at http://www.selahfreedom.com

~Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, M.A., President/CEO, Selah Freedom

 

Slaves in Stilettos

22 May 16
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I recently saw Mary Bonnett’s new play MONEY MAKE’M SMILE a play about domestic sex trafficking of youth, written for high school and college age students as well as adults. It’s a journey through youth, choice, impact of family and community. The young girl appears to be doomed from the beginning. A mother who does not want her and she enters the system…the journey takes her to numerous foster homes, eventually a home where the young man is angry the parents brought into the home and encouraged by his friends to “show her whose the man” he rapes her. She has choices along the way to say what really happened but she does not and she enters into an online relationship with “daddy” who says he will love her, protect her, keep her safe and buy her pretty things. She becomes his “sex slave in stilettos” kidnapped, physically abused and tortured unless she makes money for him. She reaches out to a boy with a crush on her for help but he feels paralyzed and does nothing.

At different points throughout the play everyone can make different decisions and choices. She could have told the therapist from child services what really happened. The boy could have called the police when he saw her abducted. Mary has taken many questions about our times, blue versus pink, cultural expectations of manliness, girls and science, what will lead people to action when they see injustice, the big business of sex trafficking, on line grooming and has created a powerful vehicle for conversation. There is guide for teachers to have meaningful conversations about issues that matter.

One of the lines that stood out for me was slaves in stilettos. I googled that and it was all porn sites, and foot fetishes. Personally I was disgusted and felt dirty seeing 13,000,000 results. I wanted to go take a shower. But that is a starting place. We as a community need to own the truth. “These girls are slaves. They are bought and sold every day. They are branded and tattooed with a barcode so that traffickers can identify their “stock”. They are dressed provocatively because they are forced to. Men buy the look. They want to feed the fantasies they see on porn sites. These girls, these little girls, they are someone’s child. In Chicago on any given day 16,000 to 25 000 children are sex trafficked. There are boys and girls. Yet the majority are girls. They need our help.

Learn the signs a child may be being trafficked. https://polarisproject.org/recognize-signs
Call the police or hotlines when you see something. 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733)
Encourage your schools to have programs that talk to young men about the exploitation of women. http://caase.org/
Host programs in your community that talk about this issue. info@jcastchicago.org
Support movies, art shows, books that talk about this subject.
These are difficult conversations and often through the varied “Arts” of story telling you can open up meaningful dialogue like Mary Bonnett’s plays. To see more about her work go to www.HerStoryTheater.org

 

~~Rae Luskin is a member of the JCAST Chicago Steering Committee and a Creative Activist, Speaker, Author and Artist. This blog article is reprinted with her permission.  See the original article at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/slaves-stilettos-rae-luskin.

Kosher for Passover Food For Thought

15 Apr 16
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passover ad final

 

As our homes fill with the comforting smells of brisket and matzo ball soup, we anticipate celebrating Passover with our families and friends. We remind ourselves that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but now we are free. Avadim hayinu. We were slaves.But even as we celebrate our journey from slavery to freedom, there are those still enslaved in our community, our state and our world.

Perhaps you already know that human trafficking is often called “modern day slavery” and that victims of trafficking are all too often forced into prostitution and forced labor. This year when we fulfill our responsibility to act and take a stand against human trafficking, we have a unique opportunity to remember that we “were once slaves in Egypt” and fulfill the promises of our own Jewish heritage and traditions.

 

This year, we at NCJW will be dedicating ourselves to raising awareness about human trafficking. The materials below can enhance your Seder or just provide you with materials to share.

 

The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) has created an anti-trafficking Hagaddah that you can incorporate in your Seder. Click here to download a copy of The Freedom Haggadah, An Anti-trafficking Seder

Did a slave produce the wheat for my matzah? What about the wine or the egg? Guess how many slaves worked to produced your Seder, and learn what steps you can take to root out slavery in our supply chain. Download T’ruah‘s Passover Taste of Slavery Footprint.  T’ruah also offers a print ready Haggadah on fighting modern slavery which features an engaging examination of modern slavery, with classical and contemporary texts. Click here to download The Other Side of the Sea: A Haggadah on Fighting Modern Slavery.

American Jewish World Service offers a number of Passover resources including Haggadah supplements and readings for your Passover Seder. Click here to view and download.

Free the Slaves in collaboration with Rabbi Debra Orenstein, Rabbi Erin Hirsh and other outstanding Jewish educators has created a variety of engaging materials that will highlight modern-day slavery at your Seder including Next Year, Free! A Modern Slavery Curriculum, Seder Starters and Passover Prep. Click here to view and download. 

Seder2015 offers several customizable Passover Haggadot inlcuding a Human Trafficking Haggadah Companion. Click here to download.

Moving Traditions offers a Seder supplement titled Hiding and Finding the Matzah—and Ourselves.  Click here to view and download.

NCJW Sacramento Section has a human trafficking Seder supplement available. Click here to download.

This year, give an afikomen prize that will make a difference. Donate to JCAST Chicago North Shore’s Action and Advocacy Campaign today! Click here to donate. 

May you and your loved ones have a happy and healthy Passover. May the stories of our past inspire each of us to take action for justice and safety in our communities and around the world.

~~ Melissa Prober, Communications Director, NCJW Chicago North Shore and JCAST Chicago

March Blog – NCJW Washington Institute 2016:  What’s at Stake for Women

22 Mar 16
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Earlier this month, 350 NCJW members and supporters from around the country including 9 members of the JCAST Chicago Steering Committee spent an amazing three days in Washington learning, advocating and raising our voices on behalf of others at Washington Institute, NCJW’s premier public policy event.  Although I have been a member of NCJW for over a decade (and a staff member for nearly as long), this was my first time attending, but it won’t be my last.

Washington Institute attendees spend three intensive days learning about important issues from experts, network with life-minded advocates, gain skills to promote change, and speak to  decision makers during lobby visits on Capitol Hill.  This year, we were trained on the following four issues:

  • Ensuring qualified federal judicial nominees receive timely votes
  • Supporting the Voting Rights Advancement Act (HR 2867/S 1659)
  • Supporting the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (HR 1779/S 262)
  • Supporting the Each Woman Act of 2015 (HR 2972)

Although all four of these issues are vital to the well-being of us all, I want to focus on the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.

For over four decades, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) has provided three types of federal grants to help communities deliver life-saving and supportive services to homeless, runaway, and disconnected youth.  The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), S 262/ HR 1779, introduced in the Senate in January 2015 and the House of Representatives in April 2015, would reauthorize and strengthen these critical programs by collecting human trafficking data, adding a nondiscrimination clause that mirrors federal regulations, and increasing the temporary length of stay for homeless youth.

Introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the Senate and Reps. John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Dave Reichert (R-WA) in the House, these bi-partisan bills would reauthorize and expand RHYA’s three community grant programs in several ways. (1) The length of stay in the Basic Center Program, which provides temporary housing with crisis intervention services to minors, would increase from 21 to 30 days. (2) The Transitional Living Program, which offers longer-term residential services for older homeless youth, would be required to provide suicide prevention services, referrals to mental health care services (if trafficking victims), and statistics of human trafficked youth. (3) The Street Outreach Program would provide crisis intervention and service referrals to runaway and homeless youth at street drop-in centers.

Runaway and homeless youth programs provide vital services to runaway, homeless, and disconnected youth. This modest investment has laid the foundation for a national system of services for our most vulnerable young people.  Youth who runaway or are homeless are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 1 in 5 of the 11,800 runaways reported in 2015 was a likely sex trafficking victims. Programs aimed at homeless and runaway youth are critical to helping youth find stable, sustainable housing. In 2014, over 85% of youth exited these programs safely and effectively; in 2013, 72% of youth in RHYA temporary housing reunited with their families.

In our visits, we found that at least one Congressperson’s Chief of Staff was unaware that this bill was different from the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act signed into law in 2015.  Please contact your elected officials and urge them to learn more about the RHYTPA, become a co-sponsor of the bill, and urge their colleagues to do the same.  You can reach your US Senators and Member of Congress via the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the office you request.

Your power as a constituent cannot be underestimated.  Representative Bobby Rush is now a cosponsor of the RHYTPA after Lynne Oberman (NCJW South Cook president) and her fellow NCJW South Cook section members met with his staff.  He signed on the day they visited.  Remember one voice can make a difference.

NCJW Chicago North Shore Board member Tina Cantrell summed up Washington Institute with some powerful thoughts: “We live in a world of hurt and need.  We can accept that and sit back, doing nothing, or we can take a stand, often courageously and surrounded by risk-taking, to try to make the world just a little better.  Fighting injustice bit-by-bit speaks to my conscience and my Jewish values.  I have respect for Tikun Olam, repairing the world, and although my actions seem small compared to other women’s efforts in NCJW and elsewhere, I believe we can make a difference when working together.”

Thanks for standing with us to prevent youth from becoming trafficked.

~~Melissa Prober, Communications Director, NCJW Chicago North Shore and JCAST Chicago

Sarah’s Story

23 Feb 16
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JCAST Chicago was formed by NCJW Chicago North Shore Section in 2014 when we began to learn that sex trafficking is pervasive and a form of modern day slavery.  We know that sex trafficking knows no boundaries; women (and some men) of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels are victimized and men (and some women) of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels are perpetrators (johns, pimps and traffickers).    I share with you this “testimony” by a sex trafficking survivor that she shared at a conference in New York.  She’s a Jewish woman and was victimized in her home and in her synagogue; like virtually all victims of sex trafficking, she had been sexually abused as a child.  Our hearts reach out to all victims of trafficking.  Please help JCAST Chicago raise awareness of sex trafficking in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities so we can save young people from falling pretty to trafficking.

(The following testimony is excerpted from the ‘We Were Slaves: The Jewish Community Unites Against Sex Trafficking’ Conference which was held in April 2013.)

Sarah’s Story

Many of you may be wondering why there is an anti sex-trafficking conference directed at the Jewish community. You may believe that my experience is completely atypical, a fluke. It is easy to turn your head and pretend that slavery, especially in the streets of New York, does not happen today. I am asking you to open your ears to those who would speak out against the injustice in their life, if only they could. Open your eyes to the men who supported my pimp and continue to support other pimps, as they pay for our bodies to be used against our will.

Many of you here today, as doctors, social workers, business people, educators, religious leaders and even just as ordinary citizens, may come into contact with someone exploited in prostitution, if only you recognized the signs. You are also in a position where you can educate the men who pay for sex and who continue to make trafficking a lucrative endeavor.

My experience is not unique. It happened to me, but it could have happened to any other girl. What sets me apart, and the only reason I am able to be here today, is because of the people who refused to pass the responsibility to someone else. But even the help I received did not come until after many years of abuse.

No one is born a prostitute. I was lucky to be born into a close-knit family, with parents who did their best to provide my siblings and me with good support and an education. Sex was not talked about in my house, and so when I was little and a neighbor molested me, I was embarrassed to talk about it. I hated Hebrew school because I did not understand why I dressed modestly only to have my tights pulled down, as I tried not to cry.

When the man who later became my pimp, raped me, I did not tell anyone because I blamed myself for giving into his beatings and placing myself in the situation. Eventually the line blurred between being beaten, being threatened, and choosing to have sex out of my own will.

After so many times of being set up with strangers and not being able to say no, even when a man was repulsive or violent, I began to convince myself I enjoyed what we prostituted girls called “the life”, so that I could live. I tried to convince myself that it was a game. The times I broke the rules by not cooperating or trying to believe that I could get away, a beating by my pimp brought me back to reality.

I always blamed myself for not being able to get away. I believed I was weak and should have been able to walk away from the nightmare I was living. The self- blame and shame stopped me from telling my family and others around me.

I also thought it was obvious, but the people around me did not notice or chose not to care. I was kicked out of Hebrew school for hanging out with older men. My pediatrician commented on my injuries, but never identified me as a trafficking victim. I went to a free clinic almost weekly to make sure I did not have any STD’s, but no one there realized I was forced into prostitution, even though the staff noticed my injuries and I was honest about the number of men who had sex with me. I was beaten in several stores, but instead of reaching out to help me, both my pimp and I were told to leave. I was in and out of the hospital for injuries my pimps inflicted on me, several times. I was well known in the local precinct, as I was often robbed or assaulted. I also tried to go to the police for help, but I was turned away, because instead of seeing a crime victim, they only saw a prostitute. One store owner noticed the interchange of money between me and older men, and contacted my family. It was that small action that led to my family’s involvement.

When I was being trafficked, I could not seek help from the police or those around me. My pimps told me that if I did, my family would be attacked and my sister would be raped. I could not see outside my world, and to me, my pimp was the most powerful person in my life.

I also felt extremely conflicted about “snitching” on the man who forced me to have sex with other people. He isolated me from my family and friends. His friends became my friends. I felt really close to him. The more I stood by him, despite his violence, the more he seemed to respect me. When he hit me, I blamed myself for stepping out of line and believed that it was because he cared about me.

I was stopped by the police several times, but they ignored the signs that I was being abused. A few years ago, I was in a car that was stopped at around 3 am. I was with men over ten years older than me, and the police asked me if everything was okay. Surrounded by the same men who beat me, I said yes. No more questions were asked.

There is no singular physical description that can describe the men who pay for sex. Nor is there a religious, educational or occupational divide.  Some Jewish men, like men of many other religions, also pay for sex. Some of the men who paid to have sex with me wore a kippah, a few men were Muslim. Some men had multiple degrees; others never even graduated high-school. Some talked about their wives and one even showed me a picture of his kids.

One day I met someone, who refused to turn the other way. No matter how much I tried to justify my life on the street, he told me it was not okay. He helped me refocus on my goals and work on the practical obstacles that lay in the way of getting off the street, such as moving and dealing with law enforcement. He allowed me to see a bigger world, one in which I could live out of my pimp’s reach.

I was scared about leaving prostitution completely because I did not want my family to be harmed. It seemed impossible for my family to move, as my siblings were in local schools and my family could not afford to move. The staff at the social service agency that assisted me assured me that I could focus on getting out, instead of keeping my family safe. They helped my family move, and provided me with therapy and support that enabled me to move on from the life.

Now, I am out of prostitution and have the luxury of being able to set the boundaries for my body. I learned that the quick racing heart I have had for so long, was not normal, but rather anxiety. I no longer had an ever-increasing pile of ripped jeans with the buttons missing, or shirts, ripped from being beaten. I find myself sitting in class, appreciating the fact that I am sitting there without having to make up for lost time, later that night. I no longer have bruises, burns or cuts to hide. The condom I carry, in case I get raped, is still the same condom I have carried for months.

I had always thought I would be able to walk away, unscathed. But somehow, my life on the street has found ways to seep into the normal life I had wanted for so long. The same principles that kept me alive on the street, are the ones that are contrary to living a so called, normal life.  Nightmares jolt me up at night as I relive the same events that I had one time considered normal. I fend off every possibility of getting to know another guy, even as a simple study partner, for the fear of being raped again.

However, I now have the freedom that will enable to get past it. With the help and support of my professor, therapist, social workers, a prosecutor, a social service agency and my family, I was given the chance to get away from the person who forced me into prostitution.

I did not know I was a victim of sex trafficking, and it took me a long time to get help. You are here today, because any one of you could be in the position to help a sex trafficking victim get off the street, either directly or by putting her in touch with services that would help her. You are also in a position to educate others to recognize sex trafficking victims and to take a stand against paying for sex. What happened to me could have happened to you, your wife, your daughters, your nieces or your friends. It is time to take a stand against sex trafficking and show support to those who believe they are alone and cannot say no.

Thoughts on Trafficking: JCAST Chicago January Blog

15 Jan 16
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As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied in all seriousness, “I don’t know, but whatever it is, I want to be famous enough to get a day off of school named for me!”

With ideas of fame and fortune well behind me and the awe inspiring work of serving my community on the forefront, I’ve never looked back on my decision.  As the Senior Program Officer of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, daily I learn about innovative programing and from communities wanting to positively impact their progeny’s future.  Constantly impressed by the relentless commitment to improve outcomes, change practices and policies, our grantees see the impact of their work not in terms of one completed program, but the shift that they are making on society’s behaviors, definitions, engagement on an issue, and legislation.

My personal path throughout the nonprofit and philanthropic sector took me from Chicago to New York to Washington, D.C. and back again to Chicago. While each step along the way provided a culturally rich education and rewarding experience, it seemed that one societal ill plagued each community; sex trafficking.

In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as:  “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age” (22 USC § 7102). The term “commercial sex act” is defined as any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person (22 U.S.C. 7102).

The underground sex economy’s value is estimated between $39.9 and $290 million annually (Urban Institute, 2014).  Statistics suggest that wherever you are reading this article, right now 1 in 6 runaways are likely to become victims of sex trafficking (Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2014).

Individuals who buy sex provide the demand and profit incentives traffickers seek. Many buyerss of sex are unaware, poorly informed, or in denial about the realities of the sex industry.  Victims of trafficking are usually subjected to violence, coercion, threats, lies, and manipulation by their traffickers. As contrary as this may sound; this is the good news, this is where we can make a difference.

National Human Trafficking Day is observed annually on January 11. Rather than trying to get a vacation day on the school calendar as I once dreamed of, why not spend one day doing something that can change the way an individual or a community views those most vulnerable in our community? JCAST Chicago works to eradicate sex trafficking in the Chicagoland area through public awareness, community engagement, and advocacy at state, local and national levels. With your help, we can educate elected officials, policy makers, leaders, and residence about the realities of trafficking and end the demand.

Don’t let another day that goes by without learning more about this pervasive issue.

~~Sara Kalish, Senior Program Officer, Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago

JCAST Chicago: A brief history and 2015 Recap

22 Dec 15
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Great End of Year News

 JCAST Chicago is proud and thrilled to announce that we have received a 2016 continuation grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.  This grant will allow JCAST Chicago to continue its work educating and raising awareness of the need to end demand and assist survivors.  We want to thank the Foundation and the hard work of our Steering Committee, coalition members, active volunteers and donors, and we especially want to call out the exemplary work of our two staff members:  Julie Newman, Program Director and Melissa Prober, Communications Guru.

Our History

In keeping with NCJW Chicago North Shore section leadership on violence against women, NCJW formed JCAST Chicago in early 2014 in response to growing concern in the Jewish and secular communities about the incidence and consequences of sex trafficking.  Inspired by Jewish values, we partner with interfaith and human rights groups, organizations, government officials, and law enforcement agencies; we are THE VOICE of the local Jewish community against sex trafficking. With continual outreach to Jewish and secular organizations, JCAST Chicago is a broad-based coalition (with a listserve of 350) that shares advocacy alerts, a monthly E-newsletter, and blog.

Our mission: JCAST Chicago works to eradicate sex trafficking in the Chicagoland area through public awareness and education, community engagement, and advocacy at local, state and national levels.  JCAST Chicago receives funds from NCJW-CNS, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Chicago (JWF), the Driehaus Foundation, membership dues, program fees, and donations.

JCAST Chicago has reached over 1,350 people through presentations, promotional materials, and E-News. JCAST Chicago has orchestrated, facilitated, and/or co-sponsored 30 initiatives: educational programs, actions alerts, book and text studies and conference exhibits.

What have we accomplished?

Advocacy:

JCAST Chicago has conducted letter writing to local officials and law enforcement at events; hosted legislative updates; partnered with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) to promote the implementation of anti-trafficking laws; issued advocacy alerts on IL bills; published two letters to the editor; received letters from elected officials including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a national leader on anti-sex trafficking efforts.

Community Service:

JCAST Chicago established ongoing toiletry and gift card collection for victims and at-risk youth with 3 permanent collection sites in partnership with Hadassah; packed dignity bags in keeping with the Purim Shalach Manot tradition; serves as a resource for Heartland Alliance’s collections of household or baby items for survivors and their families; connected survivors to dentists for free dental care; continually exploring new community service opportunities.

Education:

JCAST Chicago has a wide reach: we created and delivered PowerPoint presentations; created and presented programs to more than fifteen groups including synagogues, Hillel, Hadassah, professional conferences, Amnesty International, Limmud Chicago, JUF agencies, and a local college; and exhibited at two professional trafficking conferences.

We have drawn program participants and volunteers from all walks of life:  physicians, abortion providers, social workers, rabbis, LGBTQ persons, ministry workers, airline employees, attorneys, IRS employees.  Students, young and older adults, and both men and women have been leaders and volunteers/attendees.

Every presentation includes summary of national and Illinois laws related to sex trafficking as well as advocacy action (letter writing requesting support for state or federal legislation, and implementation of laws already successfully passed in Illinois.)  Book and text studies successfully draw attention to Jewish history of sex trafficking and stimulate interest in our work.

Volunteers Make a Difference

Almost everyone who hears about sex trafficking wants to do something to help make a difference.  We had several interested parties from the beginning that signed on to work on this issue.  Additionally, at all our programs, we solicit attendees regarding their specific interests with regard to volunteering with JCAST Chicago.  We have found that when survivors speak to groups, their testimonials strongly engage prospective volunteers.  The Trafficked Teens exhibit generates a lot of interest and empathy for the issue, and encourages volunteers to get involved. Program participants complete pledge cards which facilitate effective follow-up. THANKS TO ALL OF OUR 2015 volunteers!

 

~ Donna Fishman and Beth Gordon, JCAST Chicago Steering Committee Co-Chairs

 Truck Drivers Help End Demand for Sex Trafficking

23 Nov 15
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Fact #1: Truck drivers are a huge part of the demand for sex trafficking.

Fact #2: Truck drivers are fighting to help end the demand for sex trafficking.

Trucker Kent Kimmel was parked at a pilot truck stop in New Kent County, VA when he saw a young woman hiding behind a black-curtained RV window. “The black drapes didn’t make it look like a families’ RV. When I saw the young girl’s face, I said, that’s not going to happen.” After Kimmel called the sheriff’s department, deputies came and interviewed the woman, age 20, who told gruesome stories of torture, imprisonment, and forced prostitution by a man who kidnapped her in Iowa and transported her to Virginia.

The trucking industry makes up a large portion of the demand for sex trafficking victims across our country.  Heavy trafficking activity occurs at travel plazas and truck stops where truckers are forced to park and rest.  Young girls will come up to the trucks, knocking on the doors to offer sex, and truckers think they are hiring willing, young woman for sexual services, when in reality they are slaves whose controlling pimps keep the money. Tens of thousands of truckers crossing the highways of our country are in the unique position to recognize and report incidents of possible sex trafficking during their many hours on the road. Since 2009, truckers made more than 1,000 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, giving tips that “have led to countless arrests and recoveries of victims across the country”, says hotline director Nicole Moler.

 

Here are two organizations that are leading the fight:

Truckers Against Trafficking

The non-profit organization Truckers Against Trafficking teaches drivers to recognize and report sex trafficking. Their mission is to make learning about trafficking a regular part of training and orientation in the trucking industry. TAT has made their own training videos that teach truckers about the results of human trafficking, and what the red flags are. An example would be seeing an SUV pull into a parking lot and a scantily clad group of girls who look underage get out and start going from truck to truck. When truckers see incidents like this, they are encouraged to call the police. They have also created The Freedom Drivers Project, a mobile exhibit that educates members of the trucking industry and the general public about the realities of domestic sex trafficking.

Vigilante Truth

“I want to end slavery, so I have to focus 100% on the demand”, says Bo Quickel, founder of Vigilante Truth, a faith-based nonprofit that educates truck drivers on sex trafficking.  Quickel aims to play a role in the end of sex trafficking by changing the culture of men to understand the value of women. He has put billboards on trucks with educational messages on sex trafficking and the national trafficking resource center hotline number, both of which aim to literally drive sex trafficking out of truck stops and rest areas. The trucks end up making truck stops “sex trafficking-free zones”, as pimps know the police will be called when the truckers see the girls. Quirkel has also created an app, Vigilante Trucker, which builds awareness of trafficking among drivers and lets them take photos of trafficking situations they may see and report it to a national database to rescue victims and help catch the pimps involved.  Quirkel says, “We have to change men’s hearts and make them realize they’re not paying for sex, but they’re paying for rape.”

Thank you to Truckers Against Trafficking and Bo Quickel of Vigilante Truth for their innovative work, and meaningful impact in fighting to end trafficking in our country.

~ Deborah Zionts

Deborah Zionts is a member of the JCAST Chicago Steering Committee and the NCJW Chicago North Shore Board of Directors.

 

Thoughts on Trafficking: JCAST Chicago October Blog

15 Oct 15
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“More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.”

This is a quote from Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn detailing the rampant, as they call it, “gendercide” occurring today in the world, in their non-fiction, book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity.” It is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in learning more about the sex trafficking industry, and opened my eyes to the realities of this horrifying and growing industry.

I initially became involved in the issue of sex trafficking through Congregation Hakafa’s Justice for Women’s Group, which I formed about 2 and ½ years ago along with fellow congregant and friend, Beth Gordon, who had just finished reading “Half the Sky”. Kristoff and Wu Dunn authors guide its readers through Africa and Asia to meet several extraordinary women struggling there, including a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered terrible injuries in childbirth. Although difficult to read at times, it is an inspiring book, and the authors make a great case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide.

Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in the world of women’s rights advocacy, (I am an attorney and a long time advocate for survivors of domestic violence, employment discrimination and reproductive rights) I have discovered that my knowledge about sex trafficking was somewhat lacking and I would like to share with you a little bit about what I have learned:

  • The sex trafficking industry produces an estimated $7 billion dollars in revenue annually.
  • It is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, only surpassed by drugs and weapons, and is the fastest growing.
  • Once girls enter the sex industry their average life expectancy is 7 years (with homicide and Aids being the top killers).
  • The majority of sex trafficked victims identified in this country are US citizens.

So although it is often seen as a problem that occurs in other countries, and not here in the US, more than 100,000 children are estimated to be trafficked every year here in the US – with 16,000 to 25,000 being from the Chicago area alone.

Most victims of sex trafficking are women and children, most of whom are under the age of 18.

I also think it is very important to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of prostituted women do not choose this profession. A 2008 Chicago study of 100 women under the age of 26 found their average age of entry into prostitution was 16. Many of these girls had run away from dysfunctional homes and were in foster care. They were forced into prostitution, and exchanged sex for clothes, shelter, or food—in order to survive. They were frequently forced to turn over their money to a pimp, and would face violence if they did not. Pimps and traffickers look for people to recruit who have few, if any, meaningful choices in life.

Although these statistics are incredibly alarming, and when we hear them we are rightfully repulsed, I unfortunately think the reality is that the plight of women being trafficked and assaulted has been conveniently ignored by our communities, and perhaps on some level supported and reinforced by them.

For starters, let’s look at media headlines. When Patrick Kane was accused of sexual assault (and I am not making any judgment as to his guilt or innocence), but when he was accused, the Los Angeles Daily News headline stated, and I quote:

“Patrick Kane just another athlete who’s partying may have led to worse.”

And, this headline was not an isolated incident – much of the reporting by radio shows, blogs, and social media have attributed his alleged behavior to drinking too much – suggesting that the alleged assault wasn’t really his fault – but was do to his excessive partying.

Equally troubling was the social media response blaming the victim of sexual assault – suggesting that she was asking for the assault by engaging in this excessive partying. But, isn’t this a double standard? Why is it that when a woman drinks too much, that’s the reason for the assault? But, when a man drinks too much, it’s an excuse for misconduct.

I believe this double standard has trickled down into our communities. Last year when a teenage girl from the North Shore sent an inappropriate selfie in private to her 16 year old boyfriend, which he then forwarded on to several of his good friends, the chatter about this issue focused solely on the girls inappropriate behavior. The reaction was “what is wrong with that girl? She must have a lot of issues sending a picture like that.” This response came from both the high schoolers (the girls) and their parents. What I did not hear, not even once, was “what is wrong with that boy.” Why would he violate his girlfriend’s trust. Why would he have passed that picture along?” And, when I engaged my friends in discussion about this, the initial response I received was “well, he’s a 16 year old boy” Almost like that’s expected. Yet again, another double standard.

This ‘double standard’ has also been prevalent in the public sector. Although both buying and selling sex is illegal, statistics show that prostituted women are arrested at a much higher rate than those who are purchasers.

Unfortunately, when we “buy in” to this double standard, we are reinforcing the ability of the ‘real’ wrongdoers, the pimps, the johns, the purchasers to continue in their behavior, and, even more devastating, we are deterring victims of sexual assault from coming forward to seek justice and retribution.  Fortunately, in recent years there has been more and more attention to the sex trafficking industry, and, I am hopeful a change in attitude is on the horizon and making its way to our communities and mainstream culture.  The best way to address sexual exploitation is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Young men are exposed to a culture that stigmatizes women in prostitution, yet glamorizes pimping and patronizing the sex trade.

In June of 2006, Rachel Durchslag founded the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). CAASE spearheaded the End Demand Illinois campaign, working to end the demand of purchased sex using a demand-supply theory. As part of this program, CAASE has created and implemented the first curriculum in the country specifically designed to educate high school men about the harms of prostitution and to enlist them as allies in the movement to end violence against women and girls.

What I find incredibly inspiring is that pre- and post- tests conducted by CAASE consistently demonstrate meaningful changes in student attitudes. As an example, the executive director of CAASE, Kaethe Hoffer recently stated that “while a majority of boys initially report that they would “absolutely” go to a strip club if given the chance, a majority report at the end that they would “never” go to a strip club, and furthermore, they intend to discourage their peers from doing so as well. This is critical, because strip clubs are a major venue for sex trafficking throughout the Chicagoland area and they are often the entry-point for men who later become buyers.

By helping more boys become men who refuse to “buy in” to the sex industry, CAASE is helping reduce the demand for purchased sex, which leads to fewer girls and women being forced into prostitution.  To date, CAASE has reached more than 2,300 students.

CAASE has also been instrumental in passing several laws aimed solely at the protection of survivors of sexual exploitation, including the Illinois Safe Children Act , which is the first law in the nation to make minors under the age 18 immune
from prosecution for prostitution.

There are many other organizations that have been formed to combat the issue of sex trafficking. And, I do believe the push for reform is growing in momentum. The Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago is an organization of which I am particularly proud to be a founding member along with a dedicated group of passionate women hailing from NCJW, JWF, JCFS, JUF and AJWS.

In January 2014, the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore Section spearheaded this coalition to establish a Jewish voice against sex trafficking in Chicago and this human rights issue has been rapidly embraced by the local Jewish community and several congregations, not to mention the fact that JCAST Chicago is supported by a generous grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation. Several JCAST Chicago founders also happen to be members of Congregation Hakafa and our Rabbi Bruce Elder from has played an important supporting role as we have consulted with him for educational content. He also gave a powerful call to action on our behalf last Purim at a community-wide interfaith forum on human trafficking in Chicago.

At this point we are looking to increase membership. If you have any interest to learn more and help eradicate this growing industry, we would love for you, both men and women, to join as members and support the important work that JCAST Chicago seeks to accomplish. You can find us at www.jcastchicago.org.

On a more immediate note, we are currently collecting items for survivors of sexual trafficking for the Dreamcatcher Foundation. They are in desperate need for travel-sized toiletries, power bars and gift cards to distribute during outreach to youth who are trafficked and prostituted in the Chicago area. Items can be dropped off at several locations. Click here to learn how you can help.

On a final note, I urge you again to read, “Half the Sky”, and encourage you to get involved – to educate yourself and talk to your teenagers about these issues, to write letters to the editor or comment on social media blogs, twitter, facebook about the double standard so often articulated with respect to victims of sexual assault.

Thank you so much and LaShana Tova.

Heather Ross, JCAST Chicago; Congregation Hakafa