TW/CW: human trafficking, sexual assault
First, a note about Advocacy:
Centre survivors in their own narratives, because it is their voices that are most important. Be an ally through a willingness to set aside your own biases, and really listen to survivors themselves. Honour survivors when they say “No” to your ideas about how they should heal, and support their ideas about what is best for themselves, individually and as a group.
I wonder if you know that caring for survivors involves letting go of control?
I wonder if you know that helping survivors heal involves an emphasis on the importance of consent?
I wonder if you know that consent involves first of all checking in with the people you are advocating for?
If you are involved in any advocacy work at all, for human trafficking or otherwise, please value consent over compliance. Please check in with the people you are advocating for, and make sure that you are truly centring their needs and not your own, through your advocacy.
Your pretty logos, shirts, pins, websites, and other flashy items mean nothing, if you have not centred the voices of those you say you advocate for. It only means that you are a self-serving machine that pats itself and its other self-serving friends on the back, to say how wonderful you are. Spending money and advertising yourselves without checking in first with survivors themselves and centring their voices as a group is not helping – that’s hurting. It’s another layer of trauma and in some ways it is perhaps even worse.
How terrible is it to try to heal when the people who promote themselves as caring are the ones now silencing you?
If a group needs advocacy, they are already inherently vulnerable in some way.
If they are vulnerable, then they have been historically expected to comply rather than consent, and that reinforces their inherent vulnerability. It is a cruel loop.
Reduce vulnerability by being part of the solution.
Value consent over compliance.
Check in with, and centre the voices of, the group of people you are advocating for.
I believe Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
I believe that she is a survivor of Jeffery Epstein’s entitled lifestyle where he exploited young women, and others around him were also part of the oppressive and exploitive structure.
I believe that rich, connected men like Prince Andrew think that they can do whatever they want, and get away with it. Because in a practical sense, they usually can. I have observed this pattern for decades.
Everything about Ms. Roberts Giuffre’s story rings true to me.
Because I was trafficked too.
I’m sorry Virginia was trafficked and I hope that the people around her will have enough sense to put their own discomfort aside and allow her to continue to be her own voice, and make her own decisions about what is best for her health moving forward in her life.
I especially hope that she will be invited to structure prevention and support programs for human trafficking, and be given the personal support she needs throughout in order to care for herself as she helps create a framework to protect others, if she so chooses.
I hope that the story of Virginia Roberts Giuffre gives us all pause for a moment in that her voice is being lifted up, and yet there is so much more work to do. I say this because Virginia is white. And black, Indigenous, and people of colour are exponentially more at-risk of being exploited in our society.
A few days ago the story of Justin Trudeau and the brown face/black face scandal broke. This is about so much more than one person. This is systemic and it needs to be addressed. I am glad to see Jagmeet Singh on the national stage, giving a larger platform to the issue of systemic racism in Canada. It is good to see so many black, Indigenous and people of colour being interviewed on television. Now their voices must be at the centre of that issue, not public relations agencies run by white personnel in charge of damage control. The time for that is over.
We truly address issues of systemic oppression and exploitation by centring the voices of the people and the communities impacted.
I have found that the majority of people are far more concerned with their own comfort in the world, and maintaining their own paradigm of how they want things to be, than actually truly listening to (much less responding in an appropriate way) to survivors of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Further, I find that many people speak over top of survivors, or speak for them, controlling survivors’ narratives. That is not okay.
If you are an advocate, the first thing you need to do is….
CHECK IN WITH THE PEOPLE YOU ARE ADVOCATING FOR.
Over twenty years ago I was the victim of labour trafficking overseas, and barely escaped being sold into sex trafficking by both my boss and the madam at the local brothel. In fact, I eventually fled the country, but that story is for another time.
Trafficking, sexism, racism, and all forms of oppression occur in every part of the world. For most of my life I have lived in Canada where I enjoy white privilege. I have learned firsthand what it feels like to be vulnerable when that privilege is no longer inherently available. That is perhaps the greatest gift that my time overseas gave me.
Japan had gone through a period of incredible economic prosperity, but my arrival in the spring of 1998 was preceded by the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. I think that there were larger factors at play impacting the decisions of people around me, in my new home.
My boss, who went by the moniker “Charlie”, was well-known for shady business dealings in the area, as well as some violence. I developed a deep friendship with a local Japanese woman not connected to my boss, who was very kind to me and offered me protection through genuine friendship, and sharing of important insider knowledge that was instrumental in saving me, in the end. I will be forever grateful to her.
Of course I did not know these things about my new boss when I flew across the Pacific to work for him, but I quickly became aware of the information as I floated in and out of various situations as the months went by.
I have a tendency to enter situations with the figurative rose coloured glasses on, and then quickly pick up on patterns within situations that I can piece together to form a more accurate picture. That is my pattern in my life.
I arrived in the country. No contract or money as promised upon arrival. The accommodations were practically slum.
At the end of my first week, my predecessor revealed that she was only now going to be paid for her work for the past year, as she was about to leave the country, because she had secured me as a replacement and settled me into the position. And it would be the same for me. I would be required to do the same to another young woman, she said.
Let that sink in.
The woman who lured me overseas knew that I would be put into a precarious financial situation with her current boss. Why would she do that? Because he had a structure in place. He had trafficked her in labour as well. She had worked countless hours for him over the past year, and he had not fully paid her for her work. He used her as a friendly intermediary to bring me, another teacher, into the same exploitative situation. They both exploited my trust.
“Charlie” had not paid her. And who knows what else had occurred. She needed the money and she needed to get out. She didn’t know me, but luring me was the only way she could access the money she had already honestly earned through her teaching hours.
She was being held hostage, financially, and I was already in a similar situation, having spent approximately $2000 for a plane ticket plus other costs, to relocate to Japan.
I saw photos of her from a year prior, when she first arrived in Japan. She was so beautiful. Healthy.
Now? Still pretty but haggard. Very bad skin. The week we spent together we partied with different people but particularly with two much older men, who seemed to control her schedule. One of them was a photographer, the other a race car driver. They photographed her throughout the year they were with her, and her image was splashed across the side of a building in a nearby city, in bridal wear.
My predecessor told me things to try to help me, I think. She did not understand that I do not cope well with doublespeak. Autistic people tend to struggle with that.
She said that I could make money under the table with the doctors at the hospital, for example; they all hated “Charlie” and could help me out. I felt overwhelmed. I did not want to break the rules. Of course I would not tell my boss about what my predecessor had done to make extra money but I did not want to engage in illegal activities. She explained other ways to make money, too. It was all information overload, to me. I filed it in my mind but chose not to access it.
When my predecessor returned to Canada, she apparently became ill and called off her wedding. Beyond that I do not know what happened to her. Despite the fact that she lured me into a terrible situation, she too was a victim of a powerful man making money off of vulnerable foreign women.
When my predecessor left, “Charlie” started overworking me by several hours a week, withholding pay. Through contact with different sources including other foreigners in a nearby city, one of whom had previously worked for my boss many years previous, I was able to discern that he was receiving a big tax break by having me as an employee under a certain type of visa, which he was not honouring.
Then he tried to sell me to Naozuki sexually, for profit. Sex trafficking.
“You need to be nice to Naozuki,” said my boss, who controlled and withheld my paycheques, had keys to and controlled my apartment, listened in on my phone calls home, and did not give me the promised contract and money upon arrival in this new country.
I told my boss that this adult male student, that I was alone with weekly in a dimly lit tatami room in my boss’s home, who gave me gifts of books, and food, and alcohol, and wrote me stories, of whom to this point I simply thought of as one of my favourite students, who now said I could have a “secret life” where I could be with him and still have a boyfriend back home, who said that I was dressing for him in a certain way, he just knows it (Oh my God, what?!?)….
My boss says “Be nice to the man.”
I repeat everything to my boss again. I am relentless. I don’t understand why my boss isn’t listening to me. Obviously there is a problem. I need protection!
I think at the time that maybe my boss just doesn’t understand and I need to try harder. I am naive this way.
Many autistics are naive in their interactions with others. I misread the situation. I thought that I needed to try harder to get my boss to understand. I thought that I was falling short on explaining myself.
My boss repeats to me, over and over, “Be nice to the man.”
In hindsight, my boss knew all about this. I refused, argued and tried to make my boss protect me, when he was the one actually setting me up.
I think I might have rolled my eyes or made other facial grimaces. It has come to my attention throughout my life that without conscious awareness, I do indeed have a number of facial expressions that are disconcerting or aggravating to others. Greta Thunberg has been unjustly criticized for facial expressions that I find to be quite regular in their presentation; it is a common autistic trait to make facial expressions that are unusual to neurotypicals.
I don’t know for sure what I looked like to my boss. My boss was angry. I remember at the time being confused, because as I explained over and over to my boss my problem, his eyes became angrier and angrier.
I could read the emotion in his eyes, yet I could not at the time place the reason why he was angry, nor who he was angry with. At all.
He wanted Naozuki’s money. Naozuki was paying for one-to-one lessons once a week in a quiet, dimly lit tatami room and he had been grooming me with gifts and stories and gifts of alcohol.
And I was refusing to deliver what Naozuki had arranged to pay for, to “Charlie”.
To this day I am still somewhat baffled by how all of this rolled out, and frankly I have not yet processed it all. I was, after all, a teacher. My perception of myself of what I was at the time is firmly intact. Others’ perceptions of me based on my skin colour, the large size of my breasts perhaps (I was sexually assaulted several times by different people touching my breasts, and stared at on a daily basis in Japan), was strictly on them.
I do not own any of the abuse that occurred to me. None of it.
I deserve to be in the world, safe and secure.
I deserve to be in the world, and belong.
If others do not act in a safe manner towards me, that is on them.
If others do not include me in a way that allows me to truly belong, that is on them. I do not own the labour trafficking, the attempted sex trafficking, or the sexual assaults.
There is no shame in me telling you my story, either. You do not inherently deserve to know my story, so I do not write it because you deserve to know.
I write this story to say that I am not ashamed of what happened to me because I do not own the actions of others.
I am proud that I survived this and other things too.
I am still here and I will not be silenced, nor will I be compelled to speak.
My voice is my own, and this is my story.
Listen to survivors.
Be responsive to survivors’ experiences.
Let survivors lay the groundwork for policy going forward, in preventing or at least reducing further exploitation, and supporting other survivors.
Survivors can speak for themselves, and no one should be making a career and cashing in on speaking over top of their lived experiences.
Listen directly to the people involved.
I believe survivors. I believe Virginia Roberts Giuffre. And I want you to believe, listen to, and centre the voices of survivors too.
Thank you for reading.
[Image: Tatami room, empty except for a low table and a cushion to sit on. The window is open. The doors to the tatami room are open.]