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JCAST Chicago February Blog

16 Feb 18
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New Events You Won’t Want to Miss

The Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago is planning a number of new events including premiering a new film and parenting programs in the age of the Internet and #MeToo. Mark your calendars and save your seats!

In January, JCAST collaborated with Oakton Community College to premier the film Stopping Traffic. The film not only explores sex trafficking across the world and right here in the US but advocates for ending our culture of fostering the objectification of women and girls. If you missed these showings, JCAST is excited to partner with Hadassah to show the film at the Vernon Area Public Library on March 4th. Reservations are appreciated (using this link).

JCAST is also excited to pilot new parenting programs in collaboration with Jewish Child and Family Services, National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore, and North Shore Congregation Israel. Parenting Boys, in the Age of the Internet and #MeToo will be on Sunday, February 25th and Parenting Girls: Sexuality and Consent in the Age of the Internet and #MeToo will be on Sunday, April 22nd. Tracey Kite, LCSW who leads many stimulating parenting programs, will be our facilitator for both of the programs. Reservations are appreciated (using this link for boys and this one for girls).

And we can’t forget the Matzo tasting and educational event on April 4th (reservations appreciated here)!

It will be a great year and we hope you can join us.

January 2018 Blog: #Social Justice and Social Media

18 Jan 18
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These are just a few hashtags relating to trafficking, harassment and exploitation.  We see the hashtag symbol on social media but what is it, why do we use it and why are there so many of them!

In short, a hashtag is used on social media to categorize and track content. It helps a user search for posts on specific topics. But there is a lot more to using social media as an advocacy tool.  Here is a quick primer on social justice and social media.

Social media is as important to today’s activist as a letter to the editor or even a protest rally.  It’s an open forum for social engagement.  Social media allows you to communicate directly with decision makers, spread and share news quickly and mobilize members and supporters.

There are seemingly endless social media apps, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are just a few. The most commonly used social media applications are Facebook and Twitter.  What is the difference between Facebook and Twitter?  Well, some people say that Facebook is for connecting with the people you went to school with and Twitter is for people you wished you had gone to school with.

In a nutshell, Facebook is used by individuals who wish to stay connected with, or reconnect with, people that they know offline. Facebook is used by organizations and businesses to enhance their brand and disseminate information.  Users maintain a profile or page and post messages on their “wall.” The messages can be of any length and can include links, images, video, etc.

Twitter allows users to post 280 character messages, or tweets, and follow the messages of other users on their Twitter feed. It is mainly used to communicate with other individuals with similar interests, regardless of whether users know one another off Twitter, and to follow updates from organizations, businesses and celebrities.  Twitter is a frequently used form of communication in the current political climate.

Hashtags are what we used to think of as the pound symbol or number sign. Users can group posts together by topic or type by use of hashtags – words or phrases prefixed with a “#” sign. A word, phrase or topic that is mentioned at a greater rate than others is said to be a “trending topic”. Trending topics become popular either through a concerted effort by users, or because of an event that prompts people to talk about a specific topic. These topics help Twitter and their users to understand what is happening in the world and what people’s opinions are about it.

Tagging is more than just a children’s game!  Tagging is a way to mention or reply to other users.  By using the “@“ symbol, you can engage in a form of conversation over social media. For example, including the tag @ncjwncs in a Facebook post or Tweet will alert NCJW Chicago North Shore that you’ve posted at or about them. Tagging is a great way to let you elected officials know about issues.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  Participate by taking action on social media.  Here are a couple sample Tweets and Facebook posts:


●  We were slaves, too – and we will not stand idly by while people are being trafficked. Join us in speaking out on #HumanTrafficking Awareness Day. #EndHumanTrafficking

●  The Jewish community is working to #EndHumanTrafficking. Our shared values call us to build a world where all are free:

●  #HumanTrafficking is using force, fraud, or coercion to control someone for commercial sex or labor & services #EndHumanTrafficking

●  Everyone deserves respect & dignity. No one should be exploited for labor or sex. #EndHumanTrafficking

●  As Jews, we cannot stand by while others are enslaved. We must work for a world in which all are free #EndHumanTrafficking


●  An estimated 20.9 million individuals are enslaved worldwide, including hundreds of thousands of victims in the US. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to exploit men, women, and children through forced labor and or sexual exploitation. Jewish tradition reminds us that we, too, were once slaves in Egypt. We must commit to adequately funding services for survivors of trafficking, hold traffickers accountable, and address the systemic causes of trafficking. We will not stand idly by while others are enslaved! Today, we join our voices together to build a world where all are free. #EndHumanTrafficking

●  #HumanTrafficking is the forced exploitation of a human being for labor or sex, which violates the inherent dignity and worth of a person. Jewish tradition reminds us that we, too, were once slaves in Egypt. We will not stand idly by while others are enslaved! As Jews, our shared values call us to speak out against the injustice of slavery, to hear the voices of victims and survivors, and to vigorously uphold the right of every individual to be free. #EndHumanTrafficking

Below are some great social media resources.  Happy Posting!

Social Media Resources:

NCJW CNS Facebook & Twitter Handle: @ncjwcns
How to Create Your First Tweet:
The Perfect Facebook Post:
Writing Great Tweets:
Popular Twitter Hashtags:

~ Melissa Prober, Executive Director, National Council for Jewish Women Chicago North Shore

JCAST Chicago December Guest Blog

19 Dec 17
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Al Franken and the Monster Myth
I take no pleasure in Al Franken’s departure from the Senate, but my greatest sorrow is for what he did-that photo of him “pretending” to grope a sleeping woman revolts me, and I believe Ms. Tweeden’s report that he stuck his tongue, unwanted, into her mouth. Although I will miss his smart and progressive voice in Congress, I am confident that there are other Minnesotans (including women) who can serve his state well. I am also hopeful that recent events are revealing what I have long called “the Monster Myth”-the false notion that only evil, awful, men engage in sexual misconduct.
We are in the initial stages of a new national experiment in treating women as credible rather than crazy, and ought to budget ample time and space so that women’s justified rage and grief-whether long suppressed or newly triggered-can be expressed. We should also recognize that lacking experience in holding men accountable for the ways in which they subordinate women makes doing so scary and difficult. But we have to do it- it is long past time that we stop protecting men from the harmful consequences of their sexually abusive conduct. I hope that we can all remember that just as women have never been “ruined” by being sexually violated, neither will men be “ruined” by being made to answer for their behavior.
In the current tidal wave of #metoo stories unleashed by reporting on Harvey Weinstein, we are finally hearing the primal screams triggered by the shock of being groped, masturbated at, or worse. Many are now learning that wherever sexual violation lands on the spectrum from forced kiss to rape, sorrow and rage are its wake. And we are being buffeted by more than just the emotions of survivors: as men from every community are revealed as harassers, gropers, or rapists, we are collectively experiencing the heartbreak that comes from learning that perpetrators are men we care about.
Before, it was easy for people without a lived experience of sexual violation to think that only monsters engage in such behavior. It is still difficult for people to accept that sexual violation doesn’t require monstrous intent. But it has always been…
Column from Huff Post published on 12/8/2017

November 2017 Blog

15 Nov 17
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A Locker Room Talk

Ok guys, bring it in.

What is going on out there? We’ve been terrible so far. I don’t know if you can hear what they’re saying, but it is not good. And I for one am sick of it.

Harvey. Donald. Bill. And Bill. Also Roger. And another Bill. Woody. Roman. Roy. Chris and Travis and Justin. Those are just the all-star creeps!

Then we’ve got all the back-ups. Chad. Eric. Randy. The guy at the bar last night. Your buddy from college. The weird dude who seems to be at every party. I mean the list just keeps going.

And what are we doing about it? Nothing. Most of us are doing nothing. And that’s the problem. We are sitting on the sidelines, warming the bench like passive bystanders, meanwhile giving our silent endorsement of sexism, misogyny, harassment and assault. We are sustaining the rape culture. Now I get that a lot of us do this as a means of self-preservation. We don’t condemn our buddy’s harassment of a woman on the street, because we’re scared he’ll call us a “pussy” if we do. And we join in when the guys brag about their sexual conquests, or discuss women as nothing more than a collection of parts, because we’re afraid they’ll call us a “fag” if we don’t.

But enough already. I thought men were supposed to be brave. Supposed to be tough. It’s time to step up. Who’s with me?
YEAH! Ok, here’s the game plan.

Let’s start by acknowledging the role we all have played in creating this culture of hostility and harm. I’m know I’m not the only one, but I have laughed at jokes that used women as the punchline. I have probably even told a few. In college, I generally turned a blind eye when senior guys gave sophomore girls loads of alcohol in the hopes of “hooking up” with them later. And, I once tried to make a woman feel guilty for rejecting my advances. I am ashamed of my behavior and regret those decisions, because I now recognize the harm that they cause. But, I don’t do that anymore.

Click here for the entire blog post.

~ Caleb Probst, Education Manager for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

This post was original published on HuffPost.

October 2017 Blog

15 Oct 17
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Ending Violence in Lake County- A Call to Action

Over the summer, The Partnership for a Safer Lake County in conjunction with Leading Healthy Futures released a report attempting to document the occurrence and prevalence of violence in the county as well as the challenges in measuring and combating it.

A section of the report highlighted the prevalence of sex trafficking in the county. Researchers reached out to government officials including State Representative Barbara Wheeler, who reported the growing prevalence and lucrative nature of human trafficking in northern Illinois. Traffickers use the internet and legal businesses including massage parlors as facades. They locate in areas with zoning laws that do not heavily regulate these businesses (e.g. licensure, lighting, dress codes and hours of operation). It is estimated that 50 percent of sex trafficked victims are also involved in legal “sex-orientated” businesses (e.g. strip clubs, escort services, etc).

The report found sex trafficking occurred throughout the county but is concentrated in the cities of North Chicago, Waukegan, and Gurnee. These areas also have the highest rates of gang activity. The report identified research indicating that as much as half of the gangs in the Chicago area are involved in sex trafficking including the trafficking of minors.

In wealthier communities, such as Deerfield, Highland Park, and Lake Forest sex trafficking is more often conducted in massage parlors and other sexually related businesses including strip clubs, adult stores, escort services, and erotic spas. Many of these businesses use the internet including and to advertise their services. Often the ads are made to look like the women are “working independently, when in fact they are victims of sex trafficking more often than is recognized or understood.” The report emphasized the lack of understanding and enforcement and outlined the need for more training for community leaders and first responders.

~ Gayle Nelson, JCAST Chicago Engagement and Development Director

September 2017 Blog

15 Sep 17
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Over the last forty years, our understanding of the nature and prevalence of domestic violence has matured. Gone are the days when we were surprised it was happening on the North Shore or asked what did she do or why didn’t she leave.

Over the last few months, I have attended a couple of conferences on sex trafficking and it surprised me just how similar it is to domestic violence and how much we as a society are continuing to learn. The similarity begins by examining the relationship between domestic violence and sex trafficking. Those who are victims of child sexual assault have a higher vulnerability to sex trafficking.

Once victims are entangled in sex trafficking, the connections grow. After all, many sex trafficking victims see their pimps as their boyfriend. Pimps use isolation and violence to maintain control over their victims. And, sex trafficking victims are at their greatest danger when they are making plans or escaping from their bondage.

Yet, many continue to ask questions and pass judgement of sex trafficking survivors making it difficult for survivors to seek the services they desperately need. There is the mistake of linking the freedom of movement with the ability to leave; not connecting the desperation of poverty and lack of options with the desire to want to sell one’s body; or wanting and often finding fault in the young women’s family or in her own actions.

I am grateful JCAST Chicago lay leaders are participating in these learning opportunities with me. Many are not practitioners and do not have special training. Instead, they have a desire to learn and support sex trafficking survivors. JCAST Chicago’s mission includes increasing awareness and educating each other on sex trafficking. Educating our friends and the Jewish community as a whole is all of our responsibility. Over the coming months, there will be more opportunities to learn. Please contact me to receive more information or if you have questions. I look forward to learning with you.



~ Gayle Nelson, Engagement and Development Director

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 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 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

– 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 ( 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 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 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”

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.” (, 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 ( 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 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: 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,, 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 (

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

~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.
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.
Host programs in your community that talk about this issue.
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


~~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

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