Mayor’s Vatican Meeting Brings Minnesota’s Vision for Combatting Human Trafficking to World Stage

Puppet RGBWhen Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges meets with the Vatican, she has the opportunity to highlight a position that Minnesota law reflects and to which our community has committed: the prostitution of another person is human trafficking.

When it comes to defining human trafficking, Minnesota law looks at the behavior of the trafficker: did that person “receive, recruit, entice, harbor, provide, or obtain by any means an individual to aid in the prostitution of an individual”? If yes, it’s trafficking. Minnesota does not define human trafficking by the conduct of the victim. This unique approach helps to hold traffickers accountable regardless of the “consent” of the victim.

Minnesota’s anti-trafficking policy reflects the understanding that targeting buyers and traffickers is good public policy. Because make no mistake, trafficking operates in a marketplace driven by demand, as research published last year by Dr. Lauren Martin and Dr. Alexandra Pierce, put into disturbing focus. The Minnesota approach avoids the trap inherent in attempts to rationalize a distinction between prostitution and trafficking, a position which rests on a tempting but ultimately untrue assumption of equal bargaining power between the woman and the person who buys her for the hour.

NPR reporter Sylvia Poggioli’s report is a somewhat disturbing example of how the issue plays out. In the report, Poggioli talks about a new Rome ordinance that creates permitted zones for prostitution in a previously unregulated city. The report identifies first the paradox that while “aiding and abetting prostitution” is illegal (possibly under anti-trafficking laws), exchange of sex for money is legal and that the city’s response to the growing nuisance of open prostitution is to create tolerance zones and fine sex buyers who purchase outside one of the zones.

Poggioli goes on: “The great majority of prostitutes in Italy are foreigners. Many are undocumented women from Nigeria, victims of human traffickers and women from European Union countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.” It’s no surprise that Poggioli can’t distinguish between prostitution and trafficking, because they are part and parcel of the same exploitation. This inadvertent insight hits the nail on the head: prostitution isn’t about the sex and it’s not about work; it’s about power, degradation, and violence.

The Vatican meeting comes at a moment when the debate over legalization of prostitution is in full swing. Amnesty International is poised to adopt a policy on sex work that recommends legalization of sex buying and selling.

To some extent the recommendation reflects the legitimate concern that criminalization of prostituted persons, especially in LGBTI communities worldwide, is too often used as an excuse to target people on account of sexual orientation, political opinion, ethnicity or other factors. While legalization may take away one avenue for this persecution, it avoids tackling the root causes of why people are on the street in the first place.

Arguments for legalization of sex buying avoid an even bigger elephant in the room: that of men’s responsibility for commercial sexual exploitation. Poggioli falls for the tired attempt to blame men’s sex buying on Italian women’s “liberation.” Amnesty International essentially blames criminalization of sex buying for the human rights violations experienced by people sold for sex. Both leave intact and unexamined demand for ready access to paid sex when, where, and how men want it.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is on a different path, one that is consistent with our understanding of the fundamentally violent and exploitative nature of prostitution that is reflected in our existing laws. Given our roots, perhaps it’s no surprise that Minnesota is considering an approach which has come to be known as the Nordic Model. Led by Minnesota representative John Lesch, a bill to repeal the penalties for selling sex while retaining penalties against sex buyers and traffickers strikes the right balance.

We know that a community commitment to what the U.S. State Department calls the 3Ps of protecting victims, prosecution those responsible for the trafficking, and preventing trafficking in the first place is fundamental to fighting human trafficking.

One of the keys to the success of Minnesota’s approach to sexually exploited youth has been the creation of the No Wrong Door model, which resulted from a multi-disciplinary stakeholder engagement process which reinforced a collective understanding of what trafficking is and evidence-based practices to help victims rebuild their lives. The process was included in the 2011 Safe Harbor legislation to ensure that Minnesota did not simply “decriminalize” trafficked youth but made a good faith effort to actually meet their needs so they did not need to return to selling sex for lack of other options while retaining criminal accountability for those who buy and sex other people for sex.

Minnesota’s anti-trafficking policy is on the right track and with this visit to the Vatican, it’s set to take the world stage.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, Director of Advocacy, The Advocates for Human Rights

The Injustice of Silence

Ayona Riley
Ayona Riley

I graduated from Marquette University in the spring of 2014. As a political science major, I did not have an exact “dream job” pinned down. The only aspect of my post-graduation plans that I had pinned down, was that I knew I wanted to help people. Naturally, throughout my senior year of college I applied to various post-graduate service opportunities. I chose to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), because it was the only program I applied to that emphasized the connectedness of faith and social justice. I wanted to put my faith in action. Through the JVC, I was placed with The Advocates for Human Rights to serve as a full-time program assistant for the Refugee & Immigrant Program and the Research, Education, and Advocacy Program. Aside from serving full-time with The Advocates, I live in intentional community with four other Jesuit Volunteers (JVs).

I applied to JVC knowing that there would not be many people of color, and I thought I would be okay with that. However, when I arrived at the baggage claim area in the Indianapolis airport, seeing that I was indeed a pinch of pepper in a sea full of salt, I thought: “Why did I do this? Why did I intentionally place myself in an environment where I would be the only African American, or one of few?” At that moment, I realized just how difficult my year of service would be. An additional reality was that my year of service in JVC corresponded with a time in U.S. history when a civil rights movement (although, I would like to think of it as a human rights movement) was being revived within the Black community. As a result, I spent most of my time this year analyzing and re-analyzing similar experiences I had as an African American in JVC and within society.

The #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName protests have forced me to reach a deeper level of consciousness about my blackness, because the racial injustices that have gained national attention over the course of this year have reminded me just how actively blackness is policed, persecuted, and ostracized within society. As a result, I felt a need to preserve and protect my blackness from ignorance, and that process began by being intentional about following cases of racial injustice, not only in the United States, but abroad as well. I sat and watched the videos of the several African Americans who were killed by law enforcement officers this past year. I made myself watch, in its entirety, a video of a 14-year-old-girl being manhandled in her swimsuit by an officer, and thinking “that could have been me…that could have been my sister.” I watched the video of Israeli police officers beating an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier. I sat and read countless articles by Whites and Blacks across the political spectrum on these issues. Through these experiences, I have reaffirmed that I am not a fan of Fox News. I like The Washington Post, Time Magazine is bold, and “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart is the gold standard. I have come to love the less mainstream news sources, like AfricaIsACountry, Jezebel, and MadameNoire. Throughout this year, I have fallen in love with my blackness and feel even more connected to what Paul Gilroy, Professor of American and English Literature at King’s College London, describes as the Black Atlantic; however, throughout this year, I also needed a place to express my feelings.

Unfortunately, I did not find solace within the JVC community to discuss issues of racial injustice, in part because I have never felt 100 percent comfortable. I come from a background where the threshold for trust and comfortability could never be met in a year of knowing someone. Additionally, many times – although not every time – when I expressed outrage over incidents that displayed racial injustice, I would be met with blank stares and silence – as if fellow JVs were afraid to delve deeper into these issues or lacked the language to thoroughly discuss these issues. Or, perhaps JVs were listening, but they did not hear me.

Listening but not hearing is common. As a child, my mother would talk and I would show little interest, because I was eager to go outside and play. My mother would say: “Ayona, do you hear me?” and I would reply with, “Yes, mama, I’m listening.” Her follow-up question would always be, “But do you HEAR me?” Fellow JVs often use the phrase “I have to unpack this” as a response to discussions about racism. Unfortunately, I have come to equate that phrase with “I cannot or do not want to offer up an opinion on this topic.” Either way, it is privilege: to be able to hear, but not listen, and to have the option to disengage on issues of racial injustice. Therefore, I mentioned these issues less frequently during my year of service. Instead, I would spend hours texting and talking on the phone with my friends or tweeting incessantly about what it means to be Black in America.

JVC attracts White 20-somethings who are social justice-oriented, or at least have a desire to be. In essence, JVs should be the pinnacle of young White allies, liberals, moderates, or any other word used to describe White Americans who support social justice. From experience, however, topics centering on race have not merited much thought-provoking conversations amongst this group. If you are outspoken on gender and economic inequality, yet remain mute on systemic and institutionalized racism, you are not an ally. You are the problem. It is not the duty of African Americans to spark or carry discussions about racial injustice. As an ally, these are issues you should already know about and have a desire to discuss.

Being an ally means standing with, not for, African Americans. It means knowing when to speak up and against racial injustice, because “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”[1] It means being conscious of micro-aggressions – notably, constantly correcting African Americans’ speech or statements, or outright dismissing our thoughts and opinions. It means being okay with African Americans having valid points on issues. It means understanding the methods we choose for redressing grievances; which means you have to be okay with African Americans being right on occasion. Being an ally means being intentional about hearing African Americans when we speak. Unlike you, when race comes into play, African Americans do not have the privilege of listening but not hearing. For an African American, listening but not hearing a White person could result in being labeled incompetent, reinforcing stereotypes, or being shot multiple times by a White police officer who has been raised in a society where blackness is deemed dangerous.

While the “quotable” portions of MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” are often used by society, I will end this entry with a portion of the letter that is often ignored:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all of the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.[2]

As activists, allies, and supporters for social justice in the 21st Century, this quote is saying: Racial injustice requires your attention. Post your outrage of racial injustice on Facebook and other social media sites. Speak up against racial injustice. Protest, boycott, die-in, and do these things proudly. Most importantly, be intentional about engaging in conversations about race, even if it is unsettling for you.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”[3]

[1] Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[2] Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. Letter From Birmingham Jail. Birmingham, Alabama. 16 April 1963. Retrieved from: on 23 June 2015.

[3] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Loving Your Enemies. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. 17 November 1957.

By: Ayona Riley, program assistant with The Advocates for Human Rights.

There Are No Sanctuary Cities in the United States

I’m from Saint Paul, so I ought to know. Saint Paul was, famously, a sanctuary city. In the 1930s the city allowed organized crime to operate freely without threat of arrest so long as they promised not to commit any crimes in the city.

Nonetheless, two U.S. senators have introduced amendments to a pending education funding bill that would block funding to “sanctuary cities.” Their move comes in the wake of the tragic killing of a San Francisco woman by a previously deported man who had been released from police custody.

Today, the term “sanctuary city” often is used by anti-immigrant political candidates to conjure up images of U.S. citizen criminals languishing behind bars while noncitizens walk free simply because they are aliens. This is ridiculous. There is no city in this country where a person who is arrested and charged with a crime or who is subject to a lawfully issued warrant for their arrest would be released onto the street simply because they are not a U.S. citizen.

What fear-mongering detractors call “sanctuary cities” are more accurately termed separation policies. In Minnesota, these policies were developed by police departments – not by city councils or mayors – to carefully balance two important policing priorities: cooperating with federal immigration authorities while ensuring that everyone living in our communities turns to the police if they are victims of crime. They seek to assure victims that if they report a crime to the police, they will not be interrogated about civil immigration status violations if they have not themselves committed a crime. These policies help ensure that criminals who prey upon immigrants are brought to justice.

Although these policies are accused of creating “sanctuary cities,” nothing is farther from the truth. Nothing stops police officers from arresting immigrants who are suspected of committing crimes.

  • Separation ordinances place no restriction on a law enforcement officer’s authority to arrest people who are suspected of committing crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask for identification and arrest people who fail to establish their identity.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to investigate immigration-related crimes.
  • They place no restriction on an officer’s authority to ask about and record country of birth.
  • They specifically authorize local cooperation with federal immigration officials on joint criminal investigations.

Fear of deportation too often prevents immigrants from seeking protection from law enforcement and impedes an effective government response to victims of crime. The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services notes that criminals are known to target immigrants because their reluctance to report crimes is well-known. Our research at The Advocates for Human Rights shows that human traffickers prey upon the vulnerabilities of their victims, including fear of deportation and that fear of deportation has a powerful silencing effect on immigrant victims of domestic violence. It is the obligation of the State to ensure that these crime victims can seek police protection, regardless of whether these victims are lawfully in the United States.

Separation ordinances help cities carefully balance the need to cooperate with federal immigration officials against the need to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to security of the person, due process, and equal protection before the law.

It is true that sometimes noncitizens who are accused of crimes don’t face a trial or sentence in the United States. But it’s ICE’s own practices – not community policing policies – which are to blame. Informal ICE detainer requests – at issue in the San Francisco case – have sometimes meant that people facing criminal charges are turned over to ICE before they go to trial, depriving local communities of the opportunity to try, convict and sentence individuals in the rush to keep deportation numbers high.

For years ICE has sent “detainer requests” to local law enforcement asking them to hold onto people who would otherwise be released for an additional 48 hours instead of seeking an arrest warrant. Why? Well, it’s certainly easier to send a fax to a jail than present a case in front of a judge.

But the detainer request is not just easier than a warrant. These requests amount to fishing expeditions where ICE gets time to interrogate without counsel foreign-born people in police custody to determine whether there is probable cause that the individual is deportable.

ICE is so used to circumventing the constitution that, when they actually already have a basis for a warrant – which they certainly did in San Francisco – they don’t bother.

Why have local communities begun to question ICE’s unconstitutional detention requests? First, this practice created an incentive to arrest people who look or sound “foreign” without probable cause on any crime, knowing that the individual would be turned over to ICE before any constitutional violation came to light. This is no accident: ICE’s early sales pitch to local law enforcement touted that ICE could “make people disappear” even when local cops lacked evidence of criminal activity.

This bad practice was exacerbated by the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which began pushing our detainer requests on a much larger scale. While awaiting pickup by ICE, local communities were expected to house detainees and to assume liability both for any injury that happened while the person was in custody and for unlawful imprisonment if that person was in fact a US citizen. In 2014, a federal court in Oregon held that these informal requests did not pass constitutional muster and violated the 4th Amendment.

As Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a recent op-ed, “we should not shred the Constitution in the face of tragedy.”

By: Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.