On this episode of the Red X Podcast, Nicole and Lance interview Sarah Bendsten from Shared Hope International. Also, Nicole reports on Minnesota’s new task force.
Lance and Nicole chat about Apex’s annual Christmas tree lighting in which Lance teased that the tree was solar powered and had the parents all take a picture of the tree and the children with the flash to turn on the town Christmas lights! Lance asks the listener to send in ideas for how Apex should light the tree next year at the Red X podcast website: https://redxpodcast.com/contact/.
In this week’s icebreaker, Lance asks why people do trust falls. In the movie, Unbridled, which tells the story of the recovery of a young trafficking victim, the girls do a trust fall exercise at the equine therapy stables. Nicole comments on the difficulty children who have been severely abused have with trust. Appropriate trust must quite literally be taught again to children who have all trust betrayed during pivotal periods of development.
In Red X Podcast news, Nicole reports on Minnesota’s new task force that was enacted by Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation so that the police force in the Minneapolis area will be able to help bring down the organizers of human trafficking rings. Task forces help streamline collaborative efforts and allow for a more agile response. The task force was empowered by a $700, 000 federal grant. For those who are from the Minneapolis area who would like to support this effort, the non-profit, The Link might be a good starting point. And for those who would like to be involved with their local municipality’s efforts, consider reaching out to your local police department and offering to help with putting together a grant writing team.
This episode’s guest is Sarah Bendsten, policy counsel, from Shared Hope International. Sarah is originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and now lives in Minneapolis, MN where she and her husband just moved. Her husband is originally from Germany but they met in Kenya when she was doing a women’s empowerment fellowship there through Equality Now. They were married in Denmark in a private civil ceremony and then moved to Sengal before also saying vows in an American wedding.
Sarah learned first-hand about the realities of human trafficking as a 21 year old undergraduate student on a study abroad program in Thailand.
It was there that she also realized that to change this injustice, one must change the culture in which it is normalized. She is drawn to policy work because if you can change the hearts and minds of laws, you can likewise change the culture.
Shared Hope’s mission is to eradicate the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. The Organization offers a number of trainings on how to bring awareness to identifying and responding appropriately to a trafficking situation. One of the programs offered is called Chosen and it is used in schools. Each year they also host international conferences that bring people who are fighting this issue from all over the world.
Shared Hope has a small legal team but rely heavily on boots on the ground and partnerships and makes it more appropriate for what they are advocating for. Shared Hope has volunteer ambassadors all over the country to help connect boots on the ground and citizens to the work they are doing. Email Policy@sharedhope.org to find out who is an ambassador in your area or to become an ambassador.
Sarah says there must be a cultural change for hearts and minds to shift how our society sees perpetrators and victims. Historically, buyers of sex from children are seen as being caught up in a bad situation. In many states, buyers do not have as harsh as penalties as the trafficker. But, the buyer is the one who is performing the rape and supplying the demand that drives trafficking. In the last episode, Nacole also mentioned that buyers were able to get off with a misdemeanor. There are still 27 states that will allow minors to be charged as a prostitute and yet what 16 year old would allow herself to be raped for someone else’s profit? We misplace criminality when we let buyers off the hook and then punish the children who survived.
We also must have a clearer understanding of what trauma looks like for the victims. Sarah says it doesn’t always look like a victim standing up and saying “I need help”. It looks like running away and cussing out the judge. In the next episode (004) Dr. Heather Pane Seifert will help unpack the psychological effects of trauma.
If the listener would like to know how their states stand on where they place criminality in a trafficking situation, Sarah says to look at your state’s definition. Is there language in the state’s trafficking law that applies to a buyer?
In 2011 Shared Hope began their Protected Innocence Program that evaluates states Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children law. Find your state’s report card and look at the legal full analysis of recommendations. Tennessee was this year’s top grade. They have incredibly comprehensive laws and have had so for some time. West Virginia moved from a D to a B by adopting the uniform act as did California, which just adopted the Safe Harbor Law. There are still 5 D states and although they score low, in practice they may be providing more advocacy than their score reflects. Likewise, Sarah points out that they do not evaluate how laws are being implemented, so an A state in practice may still need significant improvement in implementation.
Mayor Lance Olive offers that we can still serve at a municipal level by being connected and aware to support local law enforcement efforts. Sarah also adds that municipalities can create their own ordinances even if they see gaps in the state response.
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