Category Archives: stories from the field

Last Month, Today: Trafficking in Persons News for June 2016

John Kerry TIP Release photo

Like everything else on this rotating spaceship that we call planet earth, human trafficking continues to morph and change: traffickers adapt tactics, governments and NGOs revise approaches, researchers refine definitions. To combat this epidemic, it’s important that we keep up to date. Near the beginning of each month, The SOLD Project will highlight five to ten of the most recent and relevant developments in the world of human trafficking and the fight against it. Check out June’s update below, and check back in early August for July’s. 

John Kerry TIP Release photo

AFP Photo


California: Sex Trafficking Scandal in Oakland

The Oakland Police Department is currently under investigation due to accusations that multiple police officers have been having sexual relations with an underage survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, Celeste Guap. While 18 years old now, Celeste claims she was rescued as a 17-year-old by Oakland Police Officer, Brendan O’Brien, whom she subsequently began dating and having a sexual relationship with while underage. O’Brien took his life last September, leaving behind a note outlining details of this trafficking scandal within the Oakland Police Department. Twenty-eight police officers in the Bay Area now face allegations involving Guap: 14 Oakland police officers, 5 Richmond police officers, several Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies, a Livermore police officer, and a Contra Costa County Sheriff’s deputy. Many police officers who were not involved in this scandal are mortified and disgusted by these allegations.


Sara Sidner at WCVB (CNN)

Caleb Pershan at SF Ist

Thailand: Thailand Successfully Eradicates Mother to Child HIV Transmission

This month, an HIV-infected patient successfully gave birth without transferring the disease to her child. Euan McKirdy writes, “The World Health Organization has congratulated Thailand as the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.” This is a huge gain, given that in Thailand more than 450,000 people are infected with HIV.


Euan McKirdy at CNN



Bill to Help Victims of Human Trafficking in New York State

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas’ bill to help victims of human trafficking in New York State has passed. The bill, passed on June 8th, requires the State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to put up posters with a hotline to call for help. The hotline, operated by a non-profit, is toll-free, anonymous, confidential, and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in 170 languages. This poster will be placed where victims will most likely see it such as bus stations, highway rest stops, truck stops, airports, adult or sexually oriented businesses, hospitals, and urgent care centers. Simotas intends to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the bill. 


Queens Gazette



The Global Slavery Index 2016

According to the Global Slavery Index, “In 2016, we estimate that 45.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery in 167 countries.” The index estimates that 425,500 of the 67,959,000 people in Thailand are involved in modern slavery; this constitutes 0.626 percent of the Thai population.


The Global Slavery Index

Lawsuit Against U.S. and Thai Seafood Industry

Rural Cambodian villagers recently filed a lawsuit against four U.S. and Thai companies for human trafficking. They worked in forced-labor conditions in a Thai seafood factory. The men and women who filed suit claimed, according to Sebastien Malo of Reuters, that after they had left their homeland for Thailand, “factory managers confiscated their passports and made them work up to six days a week for wages that were less than promised.”


Sebastien Malo at Reuters

U.S. Upgrades Thailand in Annual Human Trafficking Report

The U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report has upgraded Thailand from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List. The report categorizes countries into tiers based on trafficking records: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2 for nations making significant efforts to meet those standards; Tier 2 “Watch List” for nations that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that are not making significant efforts. This upgrade is expected to smooth relations between the U.S. and Bangkok’s military-run government. Szep at Reuters writes, “This report is expected to cite improvements in Thailand’s efforts to combat human trafficking.” Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan recognized that “even though we will be moved to Tier 2, we need to keep solving this problem.” 


Jason Szep, Matt Spetanick, and Andrew R.C. Marshall at Reuters



New App Developed to Help Fight Human Trafficking?

A new phone app developed in St. Louis, called TraffickCam, helps fight human trafficking. The app encourages travelers to snap pictures of their hotel rooms and submit them. The app then matches the images with a national database used by the police. Using small details such as carpet type, wall art, and furniture, TraffickCam’s algorithm matches uploaded hotel rooms with advertisements that sex traffickers put up of women or children posing in hotel rooms. The hope is that the app will help find victims of sex trafficking. 


Nancy Cambria at St. Louis Post-Dispatch



The Saving the Girl Next Door Bill in Canada

Trafficking survivors’ advocates say more young women are being forced into the sex trade in Canada. The country recently developed a “Saving the Girl Next Door” bill, which advocates hope will help combat the issue. This bill has three components. First, there will be a day of awareness that educates the public on the severity of the human trafficking problem in Canada. Second, the bill will enforce current laws on human trafficking with the hope of having an immediate impact. This enforcement includes protection orders on behalf of victims of traffickers. Finally, the bill will increase public awareness of traffickers so that anyone can find out if a trafficker is in their community. The lawmakers are looking to make sure this new bill is enforced.


CBC News

Nelia Raposo at Independent Free Press

Songkran in the SOLD Community




If you have ever been to Thailand or Southeast Asia in April then you are probably familiar with Songkran: the festival of water fights! April is the hottest month in Thailand (this year even breaking records) and to celebrate the Thai New Year people toss buckets, spray water guns, pump hoses and engage in massive water fights to cool off. But looking beyond the fun water play, Songkran is also a holiday steeped in meaning and tradition. Songkran is celebrated in coordination with the Buddhist calendar to celebrate the New Year. For three days the Thai people make merit, give offerings to monks, build sand jedis, have parades, and have ceremonies where they use water to wash away negativity and give blessings and good wishes for the upcoming year.

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I have been in Thailand several years and have been a part of Sonkgran festivities, but this year was special for me. One of the things that I have always noticed and appreciated about the Thai culture is their sense of family and community. When I arrived to work with SOLD in November, I was immediately taken in and treated as family being invited to participate in community gatherings, events, being taken care of, fed, and they are ever so patient with my attempts at learning Thai! In this manner, I was invited to participate in the Songkran festivities of paying respect to elders in the village. In Thai communities the elders are looked to and respected because of the wisdom they can offer.



When I arrived in the morning, all of the elders of the village were seated in the front of the gazebo and the staff had made a special mix of flowers and water to put into small bowls. I was told this flower water was a northern Thai tradition. Kids were sitting in the sala and the staff was speaking in honor of the elders. Everyone lined up to get a bowl of flower water and following their lead, I took a bowl and kneeled in front of the first elder. She smiled at me as I awkwardly held the bowl in front of her. She placed her hands on it as well and began speak softly of all the things she wished for me for the upcoming year. She said that she could see I had a good heart and gave me blessings that I would grow old and wise (like her). She continued to speak and then dipped her fingers into the bowl and sprinkled the water gently on both her head and then mine. Even though I couldn’t understand all of the words that she said to me, I was touched by her genuine care for me; a foreigner to her village. I thanked her and moved on to the next elder, and on down the line until all of them had given me their blessing. What a beautiful way to start my day by having good wishes put upon me. Regardless of the language barrier, I felt blessed and ready to take on the upcoming year. I realized then that emotion and appreciation are things that don’t always need translation and my heart felt full.


As I watched the children of the village go down the line, and each elder smile, bless them and impart their wisdom, I thought about how these kids will grow up to be the next and future generation. And what better way to give them wisdom than to give them an education. It reminded me how important the resource center is to this community. It reminded me of the work that the families and the staff do to keep these kids in school. It reminded me of how education will give them options in life and I realized that they are blessed. They are blessed with community. They are blessed with mentors. And ultimately they are blessed with the promise of following their dreams!


Lisa headshot
–Lisa Winterfeldt

Human Trafficking: Questioning the Numbers


SOLD DataBig data, metadata, metrics, numbers, stats — these days measurement is king. When Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s wealthiest men, decided to join the fight against modern slavery, Bill Gates’ advice to him was to find a way to measure it, because if you can’t, “it doesn’t exist.” Thus, the Global Slavery Index was born.

We at the SOLD Project get this. Whether updating our donors or trying to measure our impact, we gather and report data all the time, and we’re often impressed by how data collection methods continue to be refined. Nevertheless, there are some areas where trustworthy data is still incredibly hard to get.

Two such areas happen to be human trafficking and sex work. Alas, Thailand offers a great example.

In 1992, Thai Police estimated that 800,000 prostitutes were currently working in Thailand. In 1995, a Coalition against Trafficking in Women (CATW) map stated that the estimated number of prostitutes in Thailand was between 300,000 and 2.8 million. (In order for the higher estimate to be true, every female between the ages of 15 and 29 years old and living in an urban area in Thailand would have to be a prostitute.) In 2003, a Thai government report stated that only 81,384 sex workers worked in Thailand at that time. A 2013 estimate put the number of children (under 18) involved in the sex trade at 60,000, which would make the overall number much higher. However, even in 2003, some activists and organizations believed the number of Thai sex workers to be well above 2 million. The contemporary slavery researcher and expert Kevin Bales estimated, in 2003 as well, that the number of sex workers in Thailand was between half a million and a million.

How many sex workers are there in Thailand right now? A lot. How many child sex workers? Way too many. Other than that, it’s hard to say with any certainty.

The issue isn’t better when it comes to trafficking victims. As a UNESCO Bangkok report states:

In 2001, the FBI estimated 700,000 women and children were trafficked worldwide, UNICEF estimated 1.75 million, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) merely 400,000. In 2001, the UN drastically changed its own estimate of trafficked people in 2000, from 4,000,0000 to 1,000,000.

When highlighting the problem of modern slavery on SOLD’s website, we note that Thailand has an estimated number of 475,300 modern slaves. This claim is based on data from The Global Slavery Index, a respected index produced by the Walk Free Foundation. While we feel fine using this number because it helps communicate the immensity of the issue very quickly to a culture with the attention span of a two-year-old (sorry, what were we talking about again?), we also recognize that the data is not as clean as we would like given that no one has figured out a perfect methodology.

With the help of Gallup Inc., the Walk Free Foundation was able to conduct random sample surveys in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria, Russia, and Pakistan. Well and good. Random sample surveys are a good way to gather data on many social issues.

When it came to the other 160 nations it reported on, however, including Thailand, the Index had to use secondary sources. While the methodology the researchers used (clustering countries by key vulnerabilities, geographies, etc.) is good, given the data they had available, it’s not ideal. For Thailand (in cluster V), the data sets used for extrapolation weren’t even secondary sources from Thailand itself but came from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Qatar. Until random sample surveys are administered across Thailand, we should be skeptical of this estimate. In fact, given the clandestine nature of modern slavery and human trafficking, even random sample surveys can’t present a full proof picture.

The point is not to suggest that it’s impossible to gather trustworthy data on this issue. The Global Slavery Index is working towards this and many other researchers are as well. In fact, we’re excited to be partnering with Liberty Asia to help with this in our own small way. Rather, the point is to highlight that while data can help us understand the scope of modern slavery, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation, we’re not at a place yet where we can present most of this data as if it’s conclusive.

That’s okay.

Unfortunately, we at SOLD witness the problem of modern slavery, human trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation all the time. Even though nobody has figured out a perfect way to measure it yet, we know it exists. And, more importantly, while estimates are important for highlighting the immensity of the problem, we’ve always been aware that these issues don’t come down to abstract numbers but to the exploitation of actual girls, boys, women, and men, and what we can do to prevent it.



Dan Olson is SOLD’s inhouse writer and researcher.

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SOLD Australia – The Next Chapter

Cam Cover photo

A guest post by SOLD staff member, Cameron Allen

Cam Cover photo

After being a part of The SOLD Project in many different ways over the past five years, I have finally held some discussions and a fundraising event with some of my friends and family to spread the word about this great organisation. The incredible news is…They have responded.

Personally I have always found it a little difficult to ask people for something. Maybe this is why it took me so long to reach out to my contacts in Australia. However, on a recent trip back to Perth, Western Australia, I had the opportunity to speak to a small group of people about what SOLD are doing in Thailand to get to the core of the human trafficking issue. I showed our first film and elaborated on how we have grown and what our ambitions are in the future. The people I spoke to are all involved in community development work and they are professionals in their field. To see and feel the response from them was inspiring, and not only that, it sparked a productive conversation about getting more people involved. They gave me fresh ideas about how to draw from my own story to connect with other people. (I had previously assumed it was SOLD’s story that would be most interesting.) They also referred me to other organizations in Australia that I have subsequently contacted, in order to pursue potential expansion opportunities.

Following that event I held a September Sacrifice where people gave up one of their daily habits and donated the money they saved to assist with SOLD’s city expansion. Once again, the response was incredible. This event raised close to $4000AUD and equally as important, people posed questions, asked what else they could do, and inquired about future Australia events.

What excites me about this recent interest in SOLD from my friends and family is that when people hear a story or hear about a program that works, they are more than willing to help. So, to the people who have supported myself and SOLD in these initial events, thank you! I am inspired by your response and it gives me hope that collectively we can get to the core of human trafficking in northern Thailand, and give the girls and boys who are vulnerable to this horrific trade the choices that they deserve in life.


I am incredibly proud of my friends and family who took the time out of their busy lives to consider others and support us. While here in northern Thailand the visionaries of SOLD are dreaming big for the future, I am so inspired by how people have responded in Australia and the potential support that this will have for SOLD’s future endeavours.

Thanks for sharing your journey and experience with us Cameron!

Farang With the Red Backpack



I look down at my now calloused feet, newly adorned with straight crisscross tan lines as a result of wearing the same sandals everyday for the past month, and I begin to think of how I can possibly try to convey what my time was in Chiang Rai with The SOLD Project.

To give a bit of context: I’m from San Francisco. I left my job at the end of June and boarded a plane to Thailand later that evening. I had been itching for a new adventure and wanting to go back to the country that had captivated me two years prior on a college trip. Further, I was hoping to uproot myself from the busyness of the city that I knew all too well and force myself into a month of solitude, of rice fields, of an unfamiliar culture, and with that, a very different pace of life than I was used to.

Slamming forcefully on the breaks as if to avoid a collision was what my first couple weeks felt like. I had been working 60-70 hour weeks and moving into a new apartment prior to my trip, and daily life in Chiang Rai was nowhere near that speed. I found myself with  so   much   time.  I was accustomed to always asking myself in each free moment, ‘What am I doing? What do I need to be doing? What needs to be completed?’ and I didn’t have the answers to these questions. I had to detach my identity from what I was ‘doing’ and just stop, just simply be.  

Go ahead, read for a couple hours at the coffee shop (that now knows your name and order) every morning. Go ahead and sit in the temple next door and let your eyes wander over the intricate paintings that tell stories of reincarnation from rabbit to snake to tiger to enlightenment. Go ahead and take off your watch, it was giving you a bad tan line anyways. Go ahead and ride your motorbike a little slower as you rumble past rice field after rice field and local faces turn to watch the farang with the red backpack pass by once again.  Go ahead and wander, follow the signs for a waterfall and when you end up on top of a mountain with no waterfall insight, laugh, take a photo, and enjoy the view. Traveling alone, in a country where I can’t decipher a noodle bowl from durian on a menu can come across as terrifying, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all. It was in these moments that I became alive, exhilarated, and grew in much confidence.

My volunteer role for the month was to help with the after school program on Tuesdays – Fridays and with English class on Saturdays, as well as assisting the staff with smaller projects.  I had prepared a detailed Google doc with art activity plans, a few outdoor games and how to incorporate English into everything for each day that I would be with the kids. And out of the whole month, I led only one of those art activities. It’s actually quite comical now that I look back on it all. I came in with a specific plan very much in the Western way of thinking, and quickly learned that Thai culture doesn’t really operate in this way. Communication does not always happen, and when it does, it doesn’t always happen clearly (or in English). I quickly came to find that my very detailed farang way, was not necessarily the ‘right way’ or the ‘only way’.

Each day as the kids rode in on their bicycles, jumping off, quickly forming their hands together, and offering me a sawatdeekah with beaming faces, I came to find that the details for the afternoon were no longer necessary. Regardless of what I had planned and regardless of the many miscommunications, the kids were so happy to simply be at the center, to be with the staff members that cared so deeply for them, and this was evident. There was never a shortage of laughter from both the staff and the kids. There was an endless amount of energy for one silly game after another, filling the outdoor amphitheater with the echoes of feet running from side to side, followed by the commotion of yelling, chatter that my ears found to love but not fully understand, and oh, so much joy.  I found that there was more though. There was something greater than outdoor games, computer time, art projects, and dancing.

jess with kids

There is a deep passion in each of the staff members at The SOLD Project, a fire that drives them to care for these kids in remarkable ways.  You can see this fire in the eyes of the kids that come after school each day as they look up at the staff with so much respect.  You can feel this fire in the hands of the younger ones as they cling tightly to your arm, knowing that they are safe here; they are protected. The laughter paused for a moment one day when one of the students lost his father.  I watched as the staff came together for this boy, went to his home that day, and attended the funeral the next.  A group was visiting the center one day while I was there, and someone asked Tawee about staff dynamics. He replied quite simply, “We’re a family here. We look after one another, we support each other.” While so much more could have been said, I believe he grasped the root of it all: this staff is a family, a family not only to each other but to every child that rides up that dirt road through the center’s gate.

jess with staff

The sois which were once unfamiliar now know my steps every evening as I walk back to my guest house. I didn’t really know what to expect from spending a month here, and I’m still slowly wrapping my mind around the experience that now seemed to have lasted only an instant. While the language barrier was one of the greater challenges on this trip, it proved to reveal the many universal languages present in this culture. I came to find that you don’t need to understand the fast paced tones ringing in your ears when someone passes you a mound of rice, ladles up a bowl of soup, and hands you a large plate of fish (all bones fully intact), as you sit around a table overflowing with heavenly aromas and laughter that seems to erupt every few minutes to a joke that someone shared across from you.  You don’t even have to understand the joke, or have it translated as it’s impossible not to feel the contagious joy and begin laughing yourself.  The languages of food, hospitality, laughter, and even sass didn’t need to be explained. Towards the end, one of the staff members began to tell me, ‘Just sit down, and food will appear in front of you.’  It was this blunt statement that summed up their endless hospitality, and the many moments (and meals) that I will treasure.

I’ll miss seeing the faces of each child that I had the privilege of meeting everyday at 4pm.  I’ll miss the meals spent sitting outside in a large circle where balls of sticky rice were passed my way and bowls were offered with anxious eyes as I took a large bite of something far too spicy, for which everyone would burst into laughter as I grabbed for my water.  I’ll miss the easy-going, slow-paced, carefree environment of this culture.  I’ll miss the smells of coconut desserts, fried bananas, noodle soups, and eggs frying in oil on the side of the street.  I’ll miss looking out the office windows to an endless green landscape of rice fields glimmering with water from the downpour the evening before, with farmers bent over, their hands working tirelessly.  I’ll miss riding a motorbike on the left side of the road and the freedom that comes with it.  I will miss this season, each person that I encountered, and all that it has held for me.  I know that I will continue to think of Thailand often, and I know that at some point I will return, hopefully knowing a few more words in Thai. Until then, I’ll hang the painting that one of the girls made on my wall, I’ll attempt to make a curry, I’ll go visit the one Theravada temple in SF across from Golden Gate park, and I’ll burn a few sticks of incense, maybe turn on my heater and humidifier, close my eyes and mentally travel back.




Dream is aptly named, for among our students, she is the one who has dared to dream the biggest. When I first started working with SOLD in 2011, I asked all the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. Almost all of them said either teacher or nurse, and the lack of variety in their response showed me just how small their world was and how little they dared to think beyond it. Dream was different. She said she wanted to be a police detective.

Dream is the kid who stays behind to help clean up when all the others run outside to play. She is the one who can always be found helping the younger children. Though quiet and reserved, she always has a smile and pleasant demeanor, and looks for ways to make herself useful. While others may struggle through their Thai studies or even English, she added the extra challenge of learning French.

Dream’s biggest dream, however, has been to study at Thammasat University, one of Thailand’s most prestigious institutions. I hardly need mention how hard she worked through school, maintaining high grades on top of all her daily responsibilities. She worked closely with SOLD staff, who gave her advice, guidance, and encouragement and helped her apply for Thammasat University’s entrance exam. The exam is incredibly rigorous and she studied long and hard to prepare.

You can imagine how everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for the results.

Though of course no one was surprised to hear that Dream was accepted! She starts her classes this year, and we are all so very proud of her. The other students have also been very impressed by the example she set, and we’re all cheering her on from the sidelines. Congratulations Dream!