Tag Archives: allies and advocates

Corporate Social Responsibility is More than Writing a Check



In tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, we will post this banner on all our articles until the end of November. 


Giving to charities is on a decline. Corporate contributions, especially, have declined from a high of 2.1 percent at its peak in 1986 to just around 0.8 percent in 2012.

It’s understandable. With every transaction scrutinized, traditional corporate philanthropy is considered an inappropriate use of funds. And yet, the demand for socially responsible companies grows. In fact:

  • 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality, reports the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study
  • 55% of online consumers are willing pay more for product or service offerings when a company is associated with social impact, according to a Nielsen study
  • 67% of employees would rather work for an organization that was socially responsible, according to the same Nielsen study

It’s not an issue of people being uninterested in companies that are socially charitable. It’s an issue of donating time and money more effectively. Businesses quantify everything, and for good reason. You want to make sure what you are doing is paying off. Because of this, corporate social responsibility has evolved into something that is beneficial for the business, their employees, consumers, and non profit organizations.

So the question is: how can you make your company more socially responsible and more effective?


Build social responsibility into your company mission statement

Effective giving starts at your company’s core. It should be part of your drive, written into your mission statement, and reflected in every action your business makes. Outdoor retailer, Patagonia, is a great example of this. Instead of calling it “corporate responsibility,” they view their corporate giving as “caring for the planet that has sustained us.” For every purchase made, 1% goes toward causes the leaders at Patagonia are passionate about, like preserving land, protecting salmon, creating healthier soil, and producing more sustainable food. Corporate philanthropy is not just something they do–it’s something they live and breathe.

Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of Patagonia, said:

“If you could get businesses, any business, to understand that they have more responsibility than to maximize the profits for their shareholders, or for themselves, that they have a responsibility to the planet. We all do. The best way to do it is to dig into your pockets and give the money away to the people who are willing to do the good work.”

Making giving part of your mission statement sets you apart from your competitors. It says, “we’re passionate about what we do, and we’re passionate about doing it responsibly.” The leaders at Patagonia stand by their mission statement to care for the earth while making good products, and from that, they actually make more money and have loyal fans.

Look at your products and services. How can you expand your societal engagement? How can you build social responsibility into the core of your business?


Partner with the right cause

All businesses start as being an answer to a problem. We see a market need, and work hard to fill it. Charities are the same way–they just provide their services in a different way. Partnering your business’s passion with the right charity can be a powerful and dynamic way to increase loyalty and goodwill for your company and awareness and funds for the cause.


The best partnerships make sense

In 2010 when KFC partnered with cancer awareness charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, people were confused. Barbara Brenner, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, argued:

“They are raising money for women’s health by selling a product that’s bad for your health… it’s hypocrisy.”


Involving your company with a social cause is more than just feeling good about making the world a better place. It’s an alliance saying that the charity’s work aligns with your own ideals.

Warby Parker creates eyewear. But they also give back eyewear to people who need it. Their business model is “buy a pair, give a pair.” After they tally up how much they have made, they donate a portion to their nonprofit partners who train men and women in developing countries how to perform basic eye exams. It is good for Warby Parker, because it is good marketing, morale building, and fan building, and it is good for the world. It’s a partnership that makes sense and fits easily into their business strategy.

Some connections are easier to draw than others, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If you are a grocery chain, consider partnering with a food bank. If you are a technology firm, consider investing in underserved children’s educational programs, like science museums or kids’ camps that provide training in skills you’d like to see. There are thousands of different charities doing amazing work. Find the one that connects with the reason for why you started your own business and see how you can harness your collective power in transformational ways.


Social responsibility is good business

The companies that get the most from social giving are the ones who genuinely feel passionate towards a certain cause. It’s the ones that recognize a problem in the world and feel like they can’t just sit and watch. It’s the ones that are able to rally hundreds, or thousands, or millions of employees, customers and fans, behind something they are passionate about.

Being socially responsible is taking a risk, but it, so far, is proven to be a successful way to run a business. Craig Matthews, the owner and founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, second member of Patagonia, said:

“From a marketing standpoint, once people find out what you are doing and giving to what they are so passionate about, and what business members are so passionate about, it’s a no-brainer. People sign up and people become your customer because of it.”


How can partnering with a nonprofit help your business, inspire your employees, rally your clients, and change the world for better?




Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

The Intersection Between Parenting, Resilience, and Trafficking Prevention


Let’s Get Intersectional


Photo credit: Szefei/Shutterstock

When I became pregnant almost 4 years ago, my response to impending parenthood was to do research–lots of it. I read articles and books on all aspects of parenting that I could get my hands on, and being a political scientist, I even hoarded research on political development related to parenting. Motherhood, for me, turned out to shape and expand my understanding of the socialization processes that feed into trafficking, and how far back and how deep the roots of trafficking go.

Here are examples of three different families, varying in terms of resources, advantages, and communication styles.

The first family: The parents help kids educate themselves to best of abilities, teach their kids to surround themselves with people who are productive, not destructive, and they assume that education would include college and their child would become a professional. They try to expose their kids to as much as possible (playgroups, museum trips, sports, extracurricular activities) and were even careful about what foods the kids ate. They might move houses specifically to put kids in better schools. Parents are active in school to get to know teachers, observe what is happening with kids’ learning and help where necessary. And the family is very close emotionally. Help never stops; parents assume parenting continues even in adulthood.

The second family: A single mom who had rough life growing up but managed to provide for her kids all on her own. Getting pregnant and having a kid was a turning point where she realized she had to be more responsible. She is not into hugging and kissing, she loves her kids but is not “touchy feely” because in real life you have to be tough, you can’t be soft. All her kids got physical discipline, and there aren’t many parent-child conversations over dinner; but she has been able to provide the necessities, good clothes, etc. and a chance at college; she pushes them to go to college, but believes it’s her job to coach and it’s her kids’ job to perform. It’s up to her kids whether they succeed or not; at some point she can’t help them and they’re on their own. Some of her kids are doing well, some aren’t.

The third family: Just a child alone, abandoned by his parents, raised mostly by his grandparents in extreme poverty. He can hear his grandfather having sex at night with girlfriend and see him beat his grandmother; his cousin taught him how to rob people and is in jail. People are dying around him: sicknesses, drug addiction; motorbike accidents. He has gone through many transitions and there is a lot of instability with his living situation. He begins to get in trouble himself; acknowledges his mom had it hard and he didn’t always help her. Graduation seems out of reach. He has dreams about his future, but prospects look bleak, like never more than just dreams.

These examples illustrate the different kinds of environments kids can grow up in, depending on levels of poverty and other risk factors. You can probably guess which families and which kids are most vulnerable to trafficking–but the reasons why go even deeper than we might first expect.

How Parenting Affects Child Development in Key Factors

Recent research shows:

Young children’s early experiences and socioeconomic environment shape their neurobiological development and the effects are powerful and long-lasting. Almost every aspect of early human development–from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy–is affected by the environments and experiences from the prenatal period and extending through early childhood years. Early experiences alter the architecture of the brain.

The roots of many cognitive and behavioral differences that appear in middle childhood and adolescence are often already present by 18 months old.

Healthy infant and child brain development requires connecting with caring, consistent adults. The key mechanism is “give-and-take learning,” where the child sends a signal and an adult responds. A caring, nurturing, consistent parent can help reduce the impact of external stresses and help their children build resilience against things that would otherwise be damaging.

How this works:

Nurturing, affection, warmth, active involvement, and reasoned discipline leads to greater socio-emotional competence among children. The stronger the parents’ bond with their child, the better their chances for success in life. The more trust is built in the early days, months, and years as the baby matures, the more able the child is to grow in resilience and independence.

Children who grow up with parents who listen and talk with them frequently develop more advanced language skills than kids whose parents rarely engage them in conversation. Furthermore, other important skills acquired in early childhood like grit, social sensitivity, optimism, self-control, conscientiousness, and emotional stability are critical predictors for life success. They lead to greater physical health, school success, college enrollment, employment, and lifetime earnings, and can help keep people out of trouble. These skills are at least as important as cognitive skills in predicting measures of success.

Meanwhile, chronic neglect and toxic stress is often associated with a wider range of developmental consequences (for example: deficits in IQ, mental health, social adjustment, and brain architecture) than outright physical abuse. Neuroscientists and psychologists have identified an important set of brain functions–“executive functions”–that help in concentration, impulse control, mental flexibility, and memory. Deficiencies in executive functions show up in learning disabilities and ADHD. Under normal circumstances, with supportive caregivers, executive functions develop especially quickly during ages 3 to 5. Children who experience chronic stress (neglect, abuse, violent environment, parental substance abuse, etc.) during that period are more likely to have impaired executive functioning. They have more problems concentrating, controlling impulsive behavior, and following directions.

This leaves them less able to solve problems, cope with adversity, and organize their lives.

It can lead to learning difficulties and physical and mental health problems like depression, alcoholism, obesity, and heart disease.

Children who grow in poverty are at higher risk for elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They often have trouble concentrating because their brains have been trained to maintain constant surveillance of the environment for new threats.

How This Relates to Trafficking

You can probably guess where I’m headed with this. Resilience is a term you’ll start to hear more about from us in the coming months, because it turns out to be an incredibly important concept to trafficking prevention.

Poverty (and statelessness, as a related element to exclusion from society and jobs) has been identified as a key reason people become vulnerable to trafficking. The obvious cause is the economic risk: people need money to survive, become desperate, and the sex industry is so lucrative.

The less obvious cause is developmental risk: how poverty and adversity shape childhood development in ways that can either help kids confront adversity or can put them at risk of further harm. Loving relationships of support and trust can help kids develop the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tools to overcome challenges. However, deficiencies in development often contribute to even more fractured relationships, behavioral problems that in turn lead to punishments, isolation, and an ever downward spiral–especially in a culture where mental health issues are often highly misunderstood and a diagnosis of something like ADHD can lead to absolutely ludicrous medication producing a near catatonic state and removal of a child from their home (true story).

This is not to set up any false dichotomy between “good” parents and “bad” parents, or to say that one set of behaviors will necessarily produce a certain outcome. Life is more complicated than that, as any parent knows. But loving and consistent parenting, and community/societal resources to support effective parenting are factors that converge to help foster resilience, so that despite poverty and despite adversity, we can help shield and empower children to protect them from risk and encourage them to rise above challenges.

Want to be a part of the community resources to strengthen family and child resilience to trafficking? Check out our prevention model & programs and learn about ways to contribute!



Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

10 Ways To Be a Better Ally


dscf6377Anyone can be an ally in the fight to end child trafficking and exploitation. Our staff, whether paid or volunteer, range from counselors, mentors, and educators, to managers, farmers, marketers, writers, researchers, photographers, and filmmakers. People who support us include donors giving to our students and programs, fellow activists in the field, people in related industries, and of course, like-minded, concerned individuals who follow us and give shout-outs on social media. All are needed and welcome. Whether you’re with us on the ground daily or you follow us through cyberspace, we’d love to share with you some of what we’ve learned about being a better ally to those most at risk of exploitation.

  1. Tell stories ethically

So much of what we do at The SOLD Project comes from a heart of story telling. From the documentary that started everything to our blog and the way we connect people across the globe, stories lie at the core of how we operate. Our goal in sharing these stories, however, is not to perpetuate pity. We try to avoid engaging in sob stories to drive donations, and choose to instead focus on stories that are dignifying, respectful, or empowering to the person involved. Their lives are their stories to write in way that inspires pride, and our goal is to share stories that inspire connection, and a deep respect for our common humanity. This means a focus on positivity despite challenges. It means writing with the person’s consent, and often even their input, and being willing to let them change how the story is written—letting go of control and your own agenda, and being open to what a story has the potential to become.

  1. Offer your real skills

Well-meaning volunteers come through wanting to offer their time to help organizations like us working in the area. To be a well-functioning and ethical organization, we need to be thoughtful about who we invite in and how. The best way to have a positive impact is to share a skill or knowledge you’re already passionate about. If you want to come in and help build desks for our classrooms, but you’ve never built furniture a day in your life, the result is unlikely to be beneficial for you or the nonprofit. The desks would probably be inexpertly made, possibly even dangerous to our students, and would cost materials and time that could have been given to someone local who does have that expertise. It probably wouldn’t be fun or inspiring for you either. If you want to do volunteer work, try to find a project that harnesses your true interests, passions, and skills, and it will lead to a much more meaningful experience for both you and the organization with whom you’re working.

  1. Practice non-judgment

We often hear questions like “How could a family sell their child?” or “Why would a girl ever voluntarily go into the sex trade?” In order to truly understand others, we have to remember that we don’t all come from the same place. If your family is well and whole, even in hard times, these things might be unthinkable. But if we consider what it would be like to grow up in place where hunger is a frequent house guest, working any way you can is literally the difference between life and death, and sacrificing yourself to save your family is one of the most honorable things you can do, the decision looks very different. Also very rarely is it one decision; it’s often a series of decisions: drop of out school to save money, try to find a job in a restaurant, or maybe a bar, leave to go to the big cities for more opportunities, and end up in a job you never expected to take for money you never thought it was possible to make.


  1. Remember that root causes are systemic

The cause of child exploitation almost never begins with the trafficker or the victim. It begins in poverty, in statelessness, in gender inequalities, in racism, in exclusion and alienation, and in a world where children are viewed as less than fully realized human beings. If we really want to end trafficking and child exploitation, we need to start with the society that allows and perpetuates all these things, and we need to start interrogating ourselves as individuals, and examine any of the ways we are complicit.

  1. Look to the helpers

In recent years, there’s been a general outcry against too much donation money going to “overhead,” and some basic agreement that the more money given directly to the recipients of aid, the better. Obviously, multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs of organizations whose base is still struggling to feed themselves is not an ideal scenario. However, in lieu of a society with a universal basic income and support infrastructure in place to help people in need, organizations run anemic without donations for their staff and general programs. In our experience, the scholarships are necessary but not sufficient. Children need mentorship and guidance, a safe place to stay and play, and awareness raising programs to help ameliorate vulnerability locally and abroad. We also need long term staff that can build deep, lasting relationships with the students, their families, the community, the legal and medical system, and fellow activists in the field. To be done effectively, all those things cost money and require people with talent, skills, deep commitment and expertise. Those people also need a living wage and various kinds of support to help keep them focused and balanced in a very emotionally demanding job. If donations are a way you’d like to be involved, consider sponsoring a student, and also consider sponsoring the support structures that help ensure the scholarship and prevention programs are as successful as they can possibly be.

  1. Assess your own agenda

Any help you can offer is always welcome. However, sometimes, if our best intentions aren’t coming from the best place, we can end up doing more damage than good. A question we can ask ourselves is: Am I joining the cause in a way that respects the dignity of the people I’m helping, or are the people merely tools for something else I (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to achieve? Getting something for yourself is not inherently a bad thing. What we most want to be careful of is: when push comes to shove, will we act in a way that serves our own agenda regardless of the needs of the other person, or will we let go of our own needs if we discover it does not help the ones we serve?

  1. Always be open and willing to learn more; to listen as well as speak

No matter what we think we know about trafficking, prevention, our students, or any of the issues we grapple with on a daily basis, we practice it best from a perspective of humility. Truths may change, or our understanding may deepen, or there are people from whom we might learn something so long as we assume we don’t have all the answers.


  1. Be inclusive

There’s a phenomenon among activists where people can sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop of each trying to prove how committed to the cause they are, thus getting ever more extreme, and shutting out people who are deemed insufficiently committed. This is not a healthy way to grow a movement. Accept people on their own terms. Let each learn and grow and commit on a level that is sustainable to them, whatever that means.

  1. Find a tribe who both encourages you and holds you accountable

Being an ally in a social movement of any kind can be incredibly mentally, emotionally or even physically challenging and draining. It can feel isolating at times. Surround yourself with people who fill you up, who help you feel encouraged and rejuvenated and inspired. Surround yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better—and you will, and so will they.

  1. Keep your own love tank full

You know how when you get on a plane, they tell you in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? It is incredibly hard to give when you are empty. Generosity is much easier when you are full and whole and complete. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, and then you can give more whole-heartedly and in much healthier ways to others.

Want to be an ally of The SOLD Project in the fight to end child trafficking? Check out these ways to get involved and ways to give!



Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Meet a Volunteer: An Interview With Nate Quick


Experts & Activists

Nate Quick is a counselor at an international Christian school in Hong Kong, who teaches a class on spiritual disciplines, works on student leadership development, and leads spiritual retreats and service projects. He has made multiple trips to visit The SOLD Project, and recently, he brought a group of 24 students from his secondary school to come see our students and learn more about what we do. He ran a full day program consisting of English classes, Manderin classes, games and activities, and art classes. His students also helped with work projects, helping to move to the new city center and paint the upstairs room. Lauren Ellis interviewed him about the experience, and we’d love to share it with you here!


Thank you again for bringing your high schoolers to help with The SOLD Project! We’d like to start off by asking: Why did you/the school decide to work with SOLD?
I didn’t really think about it… It just felt right. But the things that I love about SOLD is that it is going to the roots of a problem. While it is right that we are targeting people to rescue and rehabilitate out of slavery, they are easily and quickly replaced–it’s a faucet. If we can go to the source of the matter, things like poverty, prevention, lack of education,etc.., now these are equally, if not more of a imperative. That’s what I see SOLD doing, going in and impacting the community, mentoring and educating, providing opportunities for students to succeed–this is too incredible of an opportunity not to want to get involved. I want my students at my school see an organization like this and learn about what passion and work looks like to solve a problem and get over obstacles–SOLD tells that kind of story.

What do you hope to see change in the world? What is one of the world’s biggest issues?
Wow. I guess selfishness–if we were not geared towards selfishness because of the nature we were born into, we wouldn’t have many of the world’s biggest issues.


What are you doing (as a group) to work towards solving that problem?
In my current position, I teach a new and better way of selflessness. If I deny my selfish nature and take on the mind of Christ who taught us to serve selflessly, then we will be looking to do what He did and restore and redeem that which has been defiled and not reflective of truth. But on specific issues, we as a school want to bring awareness and look for opportunities to serve and help.

What was one of their (or your) biggest takeaways from the trip?
For many of my students, they were impacted by the love of the SOLD staff. One of my students called them “real life superheroes.” My students loved serving in the school, and having a good time at SOLD resource center but to be able to hear about what SOLD does was inspiring.

For me my biggest takeaway is usually a dose of jealousy! I am jealous of the work that SOLD does and who they are as people. Each visit reminds me how great of project that SOLD is and I want people to know that.

What was a challenge for them? What was a success?
Actually the biggest challenge was the new environment. Hong Kong kids predominately spend most of their time in air conditioned buildings for a lot of reasons, mostly because it’s incredibly humid with poor air quality, and well, it’s more comfortable inside. Being out in the heat was a different lifestyle, and were prone to not feel well at times, especially if they weren’t taking care of themselves by drinking water! But some of them were challenged to be more of a leader or team player while putting on the program, which is always a challenge that brings various levels of success.

Why is it important for high school students to volunteer like this?
This is a tricky one–there are some potential pitfalls to having high school students, or anyone really, to volunteer on trips like this. Expectations versus reality is a problem to manage. Motivations to “why you want to help” can also be problematic philosophically as well. I’m not a big supporter of serving to make yourself feel good about life or yourself. However, when students are put in a position to volunteer, they have great potential to see people, themselves, and issues differently and as a result, grow as an individual. Within my context, I brought the next generation of potentially the world’s wealthiest individuals. What can I do to impact their perspective and how they see the world and the impact of poverty  and the system of poverty in various forms so they can be wise to lead, serve and give.


What would you do differently for the next trip?
Each trip is different, they cannot all be cookie-cutter programs. As long as it is useful to SOLD I would be up for [it.]

What would you say to other schools/groups that are thinking about having their students volunteer?
If you have a large group like we did, communication is always a key element in the preparation process. Have a plan with built in flexibility and contingency ideas. Be careful of personal agenda and do your best to have everyone be on the same page as much as possible.

Thank you Nate, for sharing your experience with us!



Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

If You Care About LGBTQ Rights, You Should Care About Human Trafficking Too


Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others.


Min is vivacious, talkative and gregarious. She’s the live wire spark at any social gathering. Whether dressed in the slacks and pressed shirt of the boys’ school uniform, or, as she prefers, in bright silk dresses adorned with flowers, lacy scarves and a sassy wig, Min is unafraid to display her full smile and quick wit. One wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Min* is a child at-risk because she identifies as transgender, and despite Thailand’s outward acceptance towards LGBTQ tourists, the reality for LGBTQ Thais remains fraught with challenge: alienation, ridicule, and sometimes abuse.

Although Thailand markets itself as a “pink” tourist destination that embraces everyone, there is still widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people. Jobs are only available in sectors like waitressing, beauty parlors, the sex industry, and entertainment–where they are often the subject of comic relief and demeaning humor. More “serious” industries like banking, the medical profession, and law are usually off-limits. Families with LGBTQ teens might send them for psychiatric treatment, kick them out of the home, or even send them to serve as monks at Buddhist temples to “be cured.” In 2002 the Thai Ministry of Health finally declared that homosexuality should not be considered a mental illness—but it’s taking society a bit longer to catch up. Violence against LGBTQ people includes rape and murder that often goes unmarked because Thai law does not have a special classification for hate crimes. In a recent survey of 2,000 LGBT students, a third reported being physically harassed, and a quarter reported sexual abuse. Kids who are isolated from support structures, whether kicked out of their home or forced on their own and cannot get jobs, are precisely those most vulnerable to trafficking—the most susceptible to the demand for children to exploit. We hear most about the young girls, but young boys are in demand too.

Thailand isn’t the only place where LGBTQ children are at-risk. In the U.S., for example, LGBTQ individuals make up 40% of the runaway and homeless youth population, and it is estimated that over a quarter of LGBTQ youths are forced out of homes by families who do not accept them. And LGBTQ homeless youths experience an average of over 7 more acts of sexual violence towards them than their heterosexual and cisgendered peers.

The stigma against homosexuality invites other kinds of trauma as well. Boys who have been abused stay silent for fear of what it means for their sexual identity, and LGBTQ teens are dehumanized to the extent that predators target them for abuse because they “want” it or “deserve” it. Gender norms also tend to perpetuate the myth that “real men cannot be abused.” As such, the psychological effects of abuse often prevent kids from getting the help they need for fear of further violence—or because they don’t even understand that they have been abused.

I feel lucky because I have some natural ability to feel confident and I’m extroverted. This makes things so much easier for me, and for people to accept me. I think people who are more introverted have it much harder. They have to be strong to survive. – Min, age 15

It is our experience that poverty, social alienation, isolation, and exclusion from job opportunities are all key ingredients in the recipe for trafficking. However, acceptance, support, and encouragement can be life changing for vulnerable youths. Those committed to the fight against child trafficking must also be concerned with the struggle to uphold LGBTQ rights because violations against the latter so often put people at risk of trafficking. Likewise, if you’re concerned about the rights and welfare of LGBTQ youths, the problem of child trafficking should also be on your radar, because as long as both the discrimination against and the demand for children’s bodies exists, more vulnerable LGBTQ youths will always be at-risk of exploitation.

Min once shared her fear that she would not be able to pursue her dream job of becoming a flight attendant due to discrimination. Her mother once was depressed about who her son was. But now, Min has the support of the entire SOLD community. She shows up at all our events, dressing and behaving exactly as she wants to be seen, and her family feels encouraged to love her, just as she is. She is very aware of the value of this support as well—she knows how hard it has been for friends who face similar circumstances but who do not have that support. She feels lucky to have the encouragement to be herself, and she feels grateful for the chance to have a place in society, to go out and experience life fully. The challenges she still faces are real, but she knows she is not alone—and that has made all the difference.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

portraitforprofilesDr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Last Month, Today: The News in July




Ad Campaign Reveals ‘Ugly Truth’ About Trafficking in U.S.

In July, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office launched a new ad campaign directed at debunking myths about sex trafficking. These billboards can be found around the city, and even at popular sports events where the information is projected onto buildings. These posters say, “The Prostitution Myth: Sex trafficking? Not in America’s Finest City. The Ugly Truth: According to the FBI, traffickers are exploiting people here every day.” and “The Prostitution Myth: If a woman chooses to sell her body that’s her business. The Ugly Truth: Prostitution is rarely a choice.” According to the article, these messages illuminate the prevalence of trafficking..

Source: Sarah Grossman at Huffington Post

Thailand Cracking Down on Sprawling Sex Industry

Thailand has recently made the decision to eradicate its sex industry. Thailand is notorious for a vast number of sex workers and a huge sex tourism industry. Although prostitution is already illegal in Thailand, the law is not enforced. The goal is to close the sex trade to make Thailand a female-friendly travel destination. Moreover, the tourist minister is pushing to change Thailand’s reputation from being a hub for sex tourism to a place with beautiful landscapes and a fascinating culture.

Source: Newsweek/Reuters



Truckers Uniting to Halt Sex Trafficking

Kylla Lanier founded Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) with her mother and three sisters a few years ago. Since then TAT stickers, wallet cards, and posters that provide information and a phone number for a sex trafficking hotline have become ubiquitous in the trucking industry, teaching truck drivers the clues that indicate a possible trafficking situation. Trucking companies and law enforcement are excited about this new non-profit. Nearly 250,000 drivers are aware of and on board with TAT’s mission, and drivers’ calls to the hotline have freed hundreds of trafficking victims.

Source: Frank Morris at NPR

This goes hand in hand with the latest initiative from The Department of Homeland Security:

Transportation Industry to Combat Human Trafficking

Since traffickers use transportation systems to carry out their heinous criminal activities, there has recently been an initiative to bring together various mediums of transportation uniting under the purpose of combating human trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and the Department of Transportation hosted an event that brought together leadership from both departments, and representatives from airline, rail, bus, and trucking companies. As a part of the Blue Lightning Initiative, these departments train transportation workers to identify traffickers and their victims. They are to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security


Controversy Regarding Thailand’s New Ranking in Annual Human Trafficking Report

In June, the U.S. Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report upgraded Thailand from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List. The Tier 2 Watch List is designated to countries that do not meet the minimum U.S. standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making significant efforts to do so. This new ranking is controversial because many who are working against trafficking in Thailand believe that this move is unwarranted and could slow progress. An international coalition of human rights, labor, and environmental organizations said that this would “undermine international efforts to significantly and permanently improve working conditions among migrant workers in Thailand.”

Source: International Labor Rights Forum


Education is the Key to Ending Sex Trafficking

Sofia Aumann, a student at Cornell University, recently returned from a 10-day trip to Thailand, where she witnessed the prevalence of prostitution there, even though it’s illegal. Her research showed that it is vital to boost self-confidence when girls are young so that they will stay in school. Staying in school will keep them out of sex trafficking, drugs, and crime.

Source: Kathy Hovis at Cornell Chronicle


Why Syria Children are Holding Pictures of Pokemon

Recently a media campaign to highlight the plight of Syrian children emerged, making use of Pokemon Go. The new and extremely popular app operates on going to real-world locations to catch certain Pokemon. Therefore, young children in Syria are holding the Pokemon to help people become aware of the crisis. The United Nations estimated that 4.5 million people in Syria are living in “besieged or in hard-to-reach areas, with civilians prevented from leaving and with little to no access to food, medicine or other essentials.” These Pokemon characters are at least able to get a large population to pay attention to or become aware of an immense tragedy.

Source: Tucker Reals at CBS News


Should Sex Work Be Legal? The debate over the legalization of prostitution and how it affects trafficking

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shutterstock_1000 Words_EdOnlysmall

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/EdOnly

The debate over the legalization of prostitution is inextricably linked with the prevalence of sex trafficking. Many believe that decriminalizing sex work will improve the current state of sex trafficking and the conditions for sex workers, arguing that moving the sex trade above board will make it easier to regulate and thus provide protection to sex workers. However, it is a complex issue. As the research and writing intern for the summer, I have read and learned about the debate regarding the legalization of prostitution, and though people on all sides are fighting towards a common goal–rights for women and a higher quality of life–they do not all agree on how to get there.

While proponents of legalization believe that sex work is a form of empowerment, those fighting to abolish prostitution believe that there are life situations that force women into sex work—poverty, lack of education, and more—and given better options, no one would choose the sex trade. The group that sees the “empowering” side of sex work believe that women should be able to choose whatever profession they wish. They argue that women should be able to use their bodies in any way they like; their bodies are theirs and they have control over them. Ultimately, sex work, in their eyes, is a choice that many women make in order to pay their rent, their education, their children’s necessities, and their bills. They want to see more protections, health services, and rights for sex workers who are often subject to abuses from johns, pimps, and brothel owners as well as law enforcement and the state. Those who are against legalization believe that sex work is a form of bondage and slavery that was never a choice, rightly understood. The only reason women enter the industry is for the money they need to survive, which they can’t get through other means. These abolitionists don’t want to see sex work becoming a viable profession, normalizing this form of modern day slavery.

There is a full spectrum of opinions on how best to deal with sex work, ranging from criminalization (the current law in the United States, besides Nevada), to complete legalization. In a TED Talk, The laws that sex workers really want, Toni Mac, a former sex worker, claims that full criminalization of sex workers is less than ideal, and furthermore, ineffective. Full criminalization forces all people involved in the process—buyers, sellers, and third parties—to choose between obeying the law, and feeding oneself or one’s family. In desperate situations, most women will choose to break the law in order to survive or provide for their children. The women who are most vulnerable are those who are uneducated, live in poverty, or migrants. She points out that if sex workers are criminalized, it becomes increasingly difficult to earn a living any other way than sex work; the law necessitates checking the infamous box regarding criminal records on job applications. Even worse, full criminalization of sex workers drives the industry further underground. As one example, Mac explains that these women are fearful of carrying condoms, as it is evidence of selling sex. Therefore, more often than not, they leave the condoms at home, increasing rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also partial criminalization, which places restrictions on brothel keeping and soliciting sex. This model prohibits businesses from soliciting sex. An unintended consequence is that women who are trying to support themselves and their children often work alone or in more obscure places, increasing their vulnerability. Unfortunately, like full criminalization, it is a vicious cycle—if sex workers are fined, the easiest way, and sometimes the only way they know how to pay off the fine is to sell more sex.

The Swedish or Nordic model offers another option by criminalizing sex buyers versus sellers in an attempt to target demand. This provides protection for the vulnerable populations of women who feel they must sell in order to provide for themselves and their families. It reduces the potentially negative impact of sex work on their prospects of one day working a real job or pursuing a career. While this model has many advocates, it still has issues. As Toni Mac claims, the result is, again, often more dangerous working conditions for sex workers. As buyers demand secrecy and anonymity, the industry again moves underground, making sex work less safe for the sellers.

According to Toni Mac, decriminalization will result in collective working, accountable bases, and worker’s rights. Decriminalization will provide protections for sex workers if they are in trouble, without the fear of getting arrested. There have been various stories of sex workers being assaulted or abused by their clients; in those situations, because their work is illegal, they have nowhere to turn. If they tried to seek help, they themselves could be arrested and lose their form of survival. Therefore, the argument for the decriminalization and the legalization of sex work is the fact that these women need more legal protections so that they can stand up for themselves against abusers and managers. Mac believes that this would improve the lives of migrant women and women stuck in the cycle of poverty. She admits that sex work is a survival strategy for marginalized groups; nevertheless, they deserve to be protected.

There is often slippage in terminology. To be clear, decriminalization and legalization are not necessarily synonymous. According to Amnesty International, decriminalization “means that sex workers are no longer breaking the law by carrying out sex work.” In contrast, legalization means “the state makes very specific laws and policies that formally regulate sex work” which Amnesty argues “can lead to a two-tier system where many sex workers operate outside these regulations and are still criminalized–often the most marginalized street-based sex workers.”

On the other side, the abolitionists believe that prostitution is not a job, nor is it a choice. It’s a modern form of slavery. Abolitionists generally argue that decriminalization and legalization will increase the demand. Moreover, more people would likely go into the industry if it becomes a viable, legal, and even respectable prospect. The demand for pimps and brothel owners will increase. For example, according to this article, neither Germany nor the Netherlands saw a decrease in sex trafficking when both countries decriminalized sex work. In fact, the numbers of trafficked youth increased, as did violence directed at prostitutes.

Abolitionists doubt that there is much choice in prostitution. Like Toni Mac herself said, it’s a survival strategy. It is the last resort for those without quality education or opportunity. “Sex work” strips people of their dignity and often leaves them emotionally, mentally, and physically broken.

Obviously, this is a complicated debate. One of the most helpful and formative resources for my thinking about this issue was a workshop production of Sarah Jones’ Sell/Buy/Date that was performed at the Berkeley Rep in July. In this one-woman show, Sarah Jones personifies multiple different people of different ages, races, backgrounds, and identities. All of her characters weigh in on the prostitution and anti-trafficking debate. A common theme I gathered from the various perspectives was that we live in a highly globalized, capitalistic and individualistic society, where oftentimes life comes down to self-fulfillment, frequently at the expense of others’ pain. Our largely patriarchal and misogynistic culture creates vulnerability for the under-privileged. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, those without opportunity for education, and the poor are oppressed by those who hold power and privilege in society. Consumerism encourages us to view the world as possible commodities for our consumption, and this often comes to include our fellow human beings. It’s as easy as spending money. Sarah Jones’ performance was captivating and thought provoking.

Having only dabbled in learning about this issue for the last couple of months, I have had a difficult time comprehensively grasping the complexity of the legalization of prostitution, feminism, and trafficking. Personally, I think the most striking observation is the dehumanization of people. Both the buyers and the sellers use their bodies as commodities. This results in an alienation that attempts to turn human beings solely into physical objects. However, human beings are more complex than what they are physically. Humans are emotional, humans are spiritual, and humans have feelings. I think that above all, it is important to recognize the tragic condition of our human nature, together. The debate surrounding this issue only emphasizes the immense brokenness that pervades through all human societies in our world. Without poverty, without inequality, without oppression, without hate, the debate would not exist.

I believe that from this point, we must strive as communities to build up hope. We all must begin to recognize humanity once again. I am incredibly thankful to have worked with SOLD this summer because SOLD intentionally humanizes the children and youth we work with through storytelling. Storytelling is powerful because it allows human beings to connect on a more intimate and deeper level. The mission is to recognize that all of these students who receive scholarships have names, families, hobbies, talents, and passions. And once we realize the deep humanity of every single person, we can learn to respect, value, and love people, universally.



Sherry Luo is a Research & Writing intern with The SOLD Project. She is currently a student of Sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA.

Anne Hathaway Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women

Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women
Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women

Image Credit: PRNewsFoto/UN Women

Anne Hathaway has recently been appointed as the UN’s newest Goodwill Ambassador for women, following in the footsteps of other female celebrities such as Angelina Jolie Pitt, who served as an advocate for refugees on displacement issues, Nicole Kidman, who helped bring a spotlight on violence against women, and Emma Watson, who helped start the HeforShe campaign in her role to encourage men to speak up about gender equality.

Anne Hathaway has been brought on board to spotlight what is called the “motherhood penalty”– the effect of penalizing women in terms of pay and opportunities in the workplace when they become mothers–and her aim is to help change the mindsets around mothers in the workplace and promote office policies and arrangements that support equality for women, such as affordable childcare services and shared parental leave.

Hathaway, who recently became a mother herself this past April, has long been an advocate for women’s rights. She worked with the Nike Foundation (which incidentally has given The SOLD Project grants to help further our work), to support programs empowering adolescent girls in the developing world and she traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia to speak out against sexual violence. She also lent her voice to the CNN documentary Girl Rising on the importance of female education.

She wrote about her experience, and on what girls in Africa feared more than the drought crisis, which you can read here on The Daily Beast.

In regards to her appointment, Hathaway said, “Significant progress has already been made, but it is time that we collectively intensify our efforts and ensure that true equality is finally realized.”

If you want to follow her journey, you can find her active on Instagram.

Why We Need to Involve Other Industries as Allies

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Let’s Get Intersectional

Do you ever feel alone in your commitment to social justice and ending child exploitation? Here at The SOLD Project we want to talk about how ending child slavery is not just for freedom activists, but how it’s also an issue that should interest and invite involvement from a wide range of other sectors in society. We’re introducing a new recurring feature called Let’s Get Intersectional, in which we will share how anti-trafficking efforts intersect with other concerns, and how we can expand the conversation to include others. In this article, we want to begin with reframing it not just as an issue of morality, but one also of public health.

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Photo credit: 1000Words_edonly/Shutterstock

We’ve all seen the numbers: an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, according to the International Labor Organization. Yet, despite the size of the phenomenon and increasing government attention to the problem, conviction rates of traffickers remain abysmally low, with only 4 in 10 countries reporting more than 10 convictions per year, and nearly 15% having no convictions at all. Clearly, law enforcement is an essential element to eradicating trafficking, but it is also not nearly sufficient. As was well stated in an article by Jonathan Todres, the low conviction rate is not so much an indictment of law enforcement efforts, as it is evidence that a “law-enforcement-centered approach alone will not eliminate, or even significantly reduce, the incidence of human trafficking.”

It’s long past time we begin think about trafficking as more than just a crime. Todres’ article lays out several reasons we should adopt models and methods from public health campaigns to broaden our efforts to eliminate trafficking by changing the views and behaviors that facilitate exploitation. Much like a vaccine prevents the spread of infection both on the individual and on the societal levels, so too should anti-trafficking efforts aim to prevent the spread of exploitation before it happens.

One reason we should be concerned about trafficking from a public health perspective is the negative health repercussions. I probably don’t need to tell you about the physical and psychological impact exploitation, sexual slavery, and abuse has on its victims. I’m sure you can well imagine it, and it is well documented. However, because trafficking is a phenomenon that happens out of sight and across borders, it facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS, and various other STDs and STIs (like hepatitis B) that come from unsafe sex. The squalid conditions, lack of nutrition, and lack of adequate rest that victims suffer from also create environments that facilitate the spread of diseases like tuberculosis in the communities in which victims live and work.

Public health professionals come from a perspective of prevention and their insistence on scientific, evidence-based methods can be another benefit to anti-trafficking efforts. For example, public health surveillance programs that track instances of infection can help identify areas of high rates so that law enforcement officials can target their resources in those areas.

The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a 4-level model for prevention: individual, relationship, community, and society. Todres suggests the individual level approach could focus on educating children on how to identify risky situations and how to avoid them. The relationship level would focus on mentoring kids to keep them in school. The community level should involve efforts to raise awareness about trafficking, and to counter views, behaviors, and practices that promote trafficking. Finally, the society level should address root systemic causes like poverty, the lack of rights, discrimination, and lack of documentation. Is this model sounding familiar?

This approach also advocates reaching out to other sectors of society, turning industries that typically facilitate trafficking and exploitation into allies and advocates of its prevention. For example, truckers driving along major trucking routes may sometimes be involved in trafficking, or they may witness trafficking as it happens. Those educated in identifying potential trafficking situations may be well placed to help. In the U.S., there is an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking that aims to educate truckers about these situations, and recently a trucker saved a young girl from the sex trade and torture in just this way.

Public health campaigns to raise awareness can be effective in creating changes in behavior and encouraging more thoughtful choices, as in warning labels on cigarettes or nutrition labels on our food. What could the effect be if we had labels on brothels that said, “Warning: may contribute to the exploitation of children” or “Warning: this establishment is a known contributor to the abuse of children” on hotels that have been identified as safe harbors for traffickers? Or a “Certified Slave Free” label on establishments that demonstrate a commitment to ending servitude and disallowing abuse. There are thorny legal issues that would make something like this a bit problematic to legislate carefully and well…but it’s an interesting thought that could help broaden our perspective of what’s possible.

Finally, health care professionals themselves are very well-placed to help identify victims in ways that other outsiders may not be able to. Estimates range from about a quarter to half of trafficking victims in the U.S. and abroad encounter a doctor or a nurse at some point during their captivity. Doctors and nurses who are trained to identify potential abuse situations may be the only person a victim sees outside their captivity, and doctors can insist on privacy in the examination room where they can ask questions about the victim’s situation and then alert authorities. The Medical College in Wisconsin is starting a project to help educate health care professionals on signs to watch for and how to proceed in those circumstances. They can be key allies in helping rescue a victim, and getting them out of the situation sooner.

Trafficking and exploitation pervades society. It touches more lives than we realize. It’s time we call out to people who may be affected and reach out to advocates and allies who might never have known before that they can help. It’s time we tap into their potential.