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Posts Categorized: Araminta Freedom Initiative

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Md. must act to end trafficking of our children

Read full Op-Ed on The Baltimore Sun’s site…

In 2014, members of the Victim Services Subcommittee of the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force identified and provided services to 396 victims of human trafficking here in Maryland. Of those, 381 were victims of sex trafficking, with 373 being U.S. citizens. Of those whose ages were reported, more than half were children.

Through increased awareness and training, we are able to identify and serve more human trafficking survivors each year, but more needs to be done….

Now that the Maryland General Assembly has begun its 2016 session, we call on members to act on the recommendations of the work group and pass Safe Harbor laws to better protect our children and provide for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require….Op Ed

Just last month, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment, which officially outlawed slavery in the United States. What should have been a celebration was tempered by the fact that modern-day slavery still exists, despite its official prohibition, in the form of human trafficking….

As President Barack Obama put it in a presidential proclamation recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: “The bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking.”

Beginning this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us truly work toward that prevention the month calls us to, and not simply “awareness.” Let us commit to continuing this legacy of ordinary people changing the course of history and finally bringing an end to slavery in all of its forms.

Baltimore County Prevention Month Proclamation

Baltimore County Executive Proclamation
designating January 2016
Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Church engagement team volunteers display Baltimore County proclamation

As the Church Engagement Team met in Baltimore County, some members took the opportunity to display the County Executive’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month proclamation.

WHEREAS, more than a century and half ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing thousands of slaves in the United States; and

WHEREAS, slavery throughout different parts of the world remains a large problem today, with millions still in bondage, working for little to no pay; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County seeks to promote fairness, equality, and human rights for everyone; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County is home to an innumerable amount of people who work tirelessly, committed to ending the evils of modern-day slavery; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County is in the fight against slavery by combatting the underlying forces that lead to forced labor such as prostitution, child abuse, and other degrading practices; and
WHEREAS, slavery and human trafficking can be fought by anyone by speaking out against this terrible practice and speaking on behalf of victims from around the globe; and

WHEREAS, “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month” is celebrated throughout the world by nations, cities, and individuals dedicated to the promotion of human rights and to the eradication of modern-day slavery:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kevin Kamenetz, as County Executive of Baltimore County, do hereby proclaim January 2016 as “SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING PREVENTION MONTH” in Baltimore County, and do commend this observance to all citizens with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of Baltimore County to be affixed this first day of January in the year two thousand sixteen.

Baltimore City Prevention Month Proclamation

Proclamation
By
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Designating January 2016
As
“Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month”
In Baltimore

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

WHEREAS, this month is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual slavery and human trafficking worldwide; human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will; and

WHEREAS, there are 21-30 million people in slavery today; this is more than at any time in human history; and

WHEREAS, every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people in the United States and around the world; and

WHEREAS, despite growing awareness about this crime, human trafficking continues to go unreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and lack of awareness about its indicators; and

WHEREAS, the City of Baltimore joins the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the Araminta Freedom Initiative in their dedication to awaken, equip, and mobilize our community to dismantle slavery and sex trafficking in the Baltimore region.

THEREFORE, I, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of the City of Baltimore, do hereby proclaim January 2016, as “Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month” in Baltimore, and do urge all citizens to join in this observance.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set the Great Seal of the City of Baltimore to be affixed this eleventh day of January, two thousand sixteen.

#ICYMI: Top 10 Facebook posts of 2015

2015 top 10#10: Baltimore takes stand against human trafficking (5/20/2015)

#9: 3 Baltimore strip clubs raided in human trafficking investigation (6/27/2015)

#8: Child trafficking happening here and pediatricians need to be alert, experts say (12/1/1/2015)

#7: Warren Brown talks about his son’s arrest on human trafficking charges , featuring Araminta Certified Volunteer Stephanie McKew (3/23/2015)

#6: Selling American girls (12/17/2015)

#5: 50 Shades of Gray (2/12/2015)

#4: Police, schools warn of dangerous apps (12/7/2015)

#3: When sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens (12/14/2015)

#2: Operation Cross Country (10/14/2015)

#1: I was 17 when my boyfriend sold me for sex (12/19/2014)

 

Christmas Past, Present, and Future

advent candles, all lit including Christ candle Merry Christmas John 1 5Joy to the world, indeed, for the Lord has come…and He has come as a child.When Jesus later directed His followers to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Mt. 19:14), He did so knowing what it was to be a child in this world. The Eternal One came into time, and had His own mixed past, present, and future experiences.

[F]or it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself… 

—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As we celebrate Christmas with those we serve at Araminta, Charles Dickens’beloved Christmas novella is close to my heart. I am reminded that Dickens himself was a victim of trafficking, forced to labor as a child to pay off his parents’ debt. He stated that he never lost memory of the “sense of being utterly neglected and hopeless.”

Surviving this hardship, he used the power of his pen to stand on behalf of marginalized children with his compelling writing. Regardless of his Christmases Past, the beauty of Dickens’ message lies in the hope of Christmas Present and Future.

Christmas Present

On Sunday, we sat surrounded by the joyful sounds of laughter and exclamations of glee at Christmas wishes fulfilled. We observed sweet moments of tenderness and words of affirmation exchanged between mentors and mentees and among survivors.

One survivor encouraged a younger girl, “You can do this. When it’s hard, remember you can make it. I’m here for you. We all are.”

Our first Araminta Christmas party for the survivors in our mentor program, creating community, family, and a place of belonging, is a hope fulfilled in this Christmas present.

However, this Christmas Present still echoes of Christmases Past.

Christmas Past

“I don’t know how to celebrate Christmas.”

Words of a survivor haunted by Christmases past. Christmases stolen.

Through tears of vulnerability, she shared how hard the holidays are, bringing painful memories of years shuffled through the foster care system without family, wishes never coming true, and enduring abuse at the hands of a trafficker who promised her the family she so desired.

But this Christmas, she learns to celebrate, surrounded by her mentor and Araminta volunteers, who are helping her establish new traditions. She celebrates this Christmas Present, as she understands His presence.

Christmas Future

As I grieve for their Christmases Past, knowing too well it is the present Christmas of too many children, I dream of a Christmas future. A Christmas morning in the not-so-distant future, when children will awaken to a Christmas morning in their Araminta group home. A home where family, hope, joy, and peace are their Christmas Present.

Thank you for being a part of the Araminta family,
and during this Christmas and all future ones to come,
may He “fill you with all joy and peace.” (Ro. 15:13)

Merry Christmas Joy to the World in script lettering on red background

Hoping in Confident Expectation

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” –Heb 11:1

ADVENT4As we come to the close of this Advent season, we turn to the expectant hope Araminta upon which was founded – the hope for a region in which every child is free from human trafficking.

The hope that we have for this is not the same hope as the hope it won’t rain tomorrow, but comes from the meaning of standing in confident expectation. We have a confident expectation that this region will no longer be a place in which the trafficking of children is allowed to take place.

At times as we wade into the darkness of this issue, it is hard to imagine how we can stand in expectation of a region without human trafficking. An issue riddled with so much sin and complexity, it almost seems unimaginable that the trafficking of children could be eradicated.

Yet we at Araminta stand in expectation that it may not be tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, but that we will see the Baltimore region free of child sex trafficking, and we will see it in this generation.

The only way we can stand in that expectation is because of our faith. We serve an amazing God who can do things “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20)

When we look at Hebrews 11, we see heroes of faith who saw God do amazing, unimaginable things. From Moses and the parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance of the Israelites, to Abraham becoming the father of many despite a barren older wife, to the New Testament stories of Paul and Silas being freed from prison, we have assurance that our God is capable to fulfill even more than what we stand for in expectation.

One of our favorite songs at Araminta is Sara Groves’ “All the Saints.” She sings, “Oh, let me be one of them,” listing in the lyrics not only the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11, but others through the ages, including our namesake, Harriet Tubman.

We know that each of you – our faithful community giving of your time, energy, resources, prayers, and more – are saints standing with us in expectation for how God can move and see a region in which Araminta, defender, is no longer needed, for all will be made whole.

As this Advent season comes to a close, we know that so much of this world is not how God has intended for us to live but, as those called according to His purpose, we can work toward making the Baltimore region His Kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)

We hope in confident expectation that one day the great injustice of child sex trafficking will be eradicated.

Prepare the way of the Lord…then what?

advent candles with three lit and isaiah 12 7Last week in our Advent reading we were told to prepare the way of the Lord. This week, John goes further, telling us in Luke 3:8 to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

John refers to the entire crowd as a ‘brood of vipers’; neither gently nor patiently, he points out the crowd’s hypocritical and self-righteous ways. His message is clear: your association with a great and powerful religion is not enough. Faith in the right object, the case for most of the crowd standing before John, is not enough. This faith must produce action.

John goes on, this time with grace and patience, and talks about what kinds of fruit are produced when our faith is in keeping with repentance. He makes a connection for the crowd between economic issues, social injustices, and spiritual issues: Do you own two shirts? You have more than you need. Do you have food? Give some away. If you make money at the expense of others (e.g. tax collectors), don’t take more than the minimum. Be content with your wages.

Where are we seeing fruit in our work with Araminta?

Recently, a woman who has a ministry to victims of child sex trafficking told Araminta staff, “There is something different about every survivor I work with who receives services from Araminta; they have HOPE in their eyes.”

Hope.

This hope results in part from the prayers, the tangible acts of kindness, the daily sacrifices of each volunteer effort on behalf of the survivors we serve. Hope matters!

One of our mentees recently expressed the following gratitude for Araminta:

What I am thankful for with Araminta is that I have people who care. People are there no matter what. You at Araminta stay, and you are still here.

You care and you stay – actions that speak volumes to those whose relationships have too often been marked by exploitation and neglect.

While we serve in an area where one can easily get overwhelmed with the darkness, the words and picture of John the Baptist offer us a perspective on the source of our staying power and the reality of our mission.

Christmas morning comes with a blessing – New Life – and with a privileged burden to produce fruit. We see in our daily interactions that evidence of the New Life of Christmas morning making a difference in the reality of the lives of the survivors we serve. We see it in each of our mentor / mentee pairs and in the women we have helped move into their first homes.

Ultimately, the message John preached was one of freedom: we who have been given the gift of New Life are motivated to share what we have. No longer motivated by greed and the law, we are to freely give what we have freely received. (Mt. 10:8) This is what we witness in the working out of the mission and vision of Araminta: manifestations of Grace and Hope and New Life.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:4)

When Expectation Doesn’t Seem to Come to Fruition

advent candles with two lit for second sunday of adventIn the gospel texts for this second Sunday of Advent, we see John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for the Lord. (Lk.1:68-79, 3:1-6) He was prepared and expectant, ahead of his time, but his end was jail and death.

Even those who took John’s message to heart often expected of Jesus an earthly kingdom and freedom from oppression in their lifetime – a hope that ended in bitter disappointment when this Messiah they would make king suffered the humiliating death of a common criminal.

So what are we to do when the expectation that Advent calls us to doesn’t seem to come to fruition?

On this day 150 years ago, the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, officially banning slavery, and yet modern-day slavery still exists. Earlier that year, upon passage of the amendment in the U.S. Congress, Frederick Douglass rightly declared:

Slavery has been fruitful in giving herself names … and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume.

In any of its forms, we know this is not God’s intention for His creation, and so we prepare and expect the Year of the Lord’s Favor, as outlined in Isaiah 61, proclaiming good news, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom and release from darkness, comforting all who mourn. In this time, He promises “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.”

We at Araminta stand in expectation of a region free of trafficking. We recognize that this can only become a reality as we walk humbly with our God in His timing and provision.

As we continue in this spirit of preparation and expectation, recognizing that God’s hand in history usually does not look like we anticipate, may we realize with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  that “[t]he answer lies in…our acceptance of finite disappointment even as we adhere to infinite hope.” (Shattered Dreams, sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1959)

When God first freed His people, they knew their destination was the Promised Land, but the journey was not what they expected. Perhaps this is the first model of trauma-informed care! Too often we are focused on the destination when God is focused on the journey and relationship that prepares us for His ultimate destination.

Indeed, the author of Hebrews reminds us that this earthly destination was a promise seemingly unfulfilled for generations on end:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. …All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13)

Returning to the ultimate preparer, we see John the Baptist, when in prison, sending his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt. 11:3 / Lk. 7:19) Jesus’ response points not to the earthly kingdom some expected, but to God’s kingdom made manifest on this earth through restoration.

May we continue in this path of preparing the way of the Lord, that we all will be ready for His second coming, which we eagerly anticipate!

Advent: A Season of Preparation and Expectation

ADVENT1On this first Sunday of Advent, we reflect on this season as one of preparation and expectation. We celebrate Christ’s first advent as a babe born in a manger and continue to prepare with great expectation His second coming.

But lest we become “so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good,” Christ Himself teaches us how we are to wait when, in His model prayer, He entreats, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)

This kingdom, then, is not simply an other-worldly future existence, but a current state of bringing earth in line with heaven.

What if all the preparation we pack into the month of December was how we lived year-round?

What if the expectation was that of the psalmist, who said, “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. “ (Ps. 25:5)

What if in preparation for His second coming, we lived out His will on earth now, allowing Him to make us “increase and abound in love for one another and for all”? (1 Th. 3:12)

We stand on the shoulders of some of the most heavenly-minded people, who recognized that God had a current work for them to do in making this earth a more just place for His creation here and now.

A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all. –William Wilberforce

I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. –Harriet Tubman

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ –Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received. –Mother Teresa

We are so thankful for our volunteers and supporters who continue to model for us how to be a part of seeing His “will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

In this season, we at Araminta stand in expectation of what God will do in the eradication of human trafficking, and are thankful for what He has already done. Throughout this season of advent, we will be sharing ways that we are standing in expectation to see how God will move.

This advent, let us celebrate Christ’s first coming, and continue to prepare in eager expectation for His second coming. Happy Advent!

5 Years

Has it really been 5 years? 

screen shot of founders video with youtube play button overlay

Watch founders recount our first time
of discernment together

Other videos available on our YouTube channel:

5 years from the day I sat in a room with the seven other founders of Araminta and resolved to stand against the injustice of child sex trafficking? 

In some ways, that day seems like just yesterday, and in other ways, it seems much further in the past. 

When I look back on that first day of discernment October 30, 2010, I remember there was an unspoken knowing in the room. We knew we were not committing to something we felt on a whim. This was not just another cause that would have our attention for a short while and fade away. This was something God would ask us to give our whole heart and commitment to.

Your sufferings have been the theme that has arrested and engaged my heart…Your sufferings no tongue can express, no language impart… God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of society.

—William Wilberforce 

Looking to the great abolitionists of the past, their words and actions at once captured our hearts, and compelled us to act. These abolitionists had spent their lives in dedicated service to see the end of the slave trade, and yet as we came together five years ago, the reality remained that there were more slaves in the world than at any previous time in history. 

5 years ago, there was a deafening silence around the issue.
5 years later, tens of thousands of Marylanders have heard the truth and are using their voices to break the silence. 

5 years ago, we knew God’s people were being called to step out in service.
5 years later, 350+ people have become certified volunteers with Araminta, and represent more than 60 churches. 

5 years ago, the trafficking of a child was not legally considered child abuse in Maryland.
5 years later, the trafficking of a child is included in our state’s child abuse laws. 

5 years ago, traffickers in Maryland were allowed to keep the money they made from the sale of others.
5 years later, their assets are seized. 

5 years ago, teachers were not trained on how to recognize the signs of child trafficking.
5 years later, Araminta partners with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to bring comprehensive training and reporting reform to Maryland schools. 

5 years ago, many survivors walked alone in their restoration.
5 years later, a survivor stands surrounded by Araminta volunteers in her new home, as they pray over her new beginning.
5 years later, a survivor works with her mentor to apply for college.
5 years later, a survivor uses her voice to testify against her trafficker, wearing the clothes provided to her by Araminta donors while her Araminta advocate sits in, witnessing her bravery.
5 years later, Araminta founders and board gather to pray at the property they believe will next year house child victims of trafficking. 

5 years later, we look back on the road behind us with deep gratitude and we look forward to the road ahead with great expectation. 

In another 5 years, I believe we will be celebrating
5 years of lives changed in our home for survivors!

I am encouraged by Wilberforce’s commitment to seeing his mission through. It took 40+ years, but 3 days before his death, he saw the abolition of slavery in England. May we continue in our work with the same resolve…

Until Every Child Is Free