AAFSW joins the fight against modern-day slavery at the George C. Marshall Conference Center on October 10, 2019.
In June 2019, Mike R. Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State commented on the Trafficking In Persons Report of The Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking: “Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes on Earth. Right now, traffickers are robbing a staggering 24.9 million people of their freedom and basic human dignity—that’s roughly three times the population of New York City. We must band together and build momentum to defeat human trafficking.”
On October 10, 2019, at the George C. Marshall Conference Center, AAFSW joined the fight by inviting two remarkable women who have both taken extraordinary steps to help and advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable victims of inhumane and slave-like conditions: Alma Tucker, founder and President of International Network of Hearts (INH) based in San Diego, CA, and Tijuana, Mexico, and Deborah Sigmund, Founder and Director of Innocents at Risk.
Before introducing the speakers, AAFSW’s Program Chair, Sheila Switzer and President, Joanna Athanasopoulos, thanked the audience, which included AAFSW members and American and international activists in this field, for attending the program and supporting the work of Alma and Deborah.
Celine C. Erickson, AAFSW Transition Chair, AAFSW and INH Board Member, gave a brief look into the human trafficking trade according the International Labor Organization 2018 statistics before introducing Alma Tucker and the mission of INH to the audience. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the act of gathering, moving, receiving, or keeping human beings by threat, force, coercion, or deception, for exploitative purposes. This includes “the exploitation of prostitution of other or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
The International Labor Organization in 2018 assessed that between 20 and 21 million human beings are victims of modern-day slavery — 55% are women and 26% are children. Illegal profit from this trade is estimated to have reached $150 billion and growing, rapidly reducing the gap with the illicit drug trade. Forced labor exploitation represents $43.2 billion or 28.7%, domestic servitude $8 billion or 5.3%. Forced sexual exploitation, being the most profitable is estimated to have reached $99 billion or 66% of the total trade in 2018, with organized crime exploiting 98% of women and 2% of men in the private economy. However alarming, it is noteworthy that according to the State Department, the number of human trafficking convictions has steadily risen globally from 4,166 in 2009 to 9,071 in 2016.
A former investigative officer for the Child Protection Unit with the Mexican Consulate General in San Diego, CA, Alma started her presentation sharing a video produced by INH, with the testimonies of the underaged victims she rescued from the sex trade, some as young as six-years old. Delivering to the audience her personal journey, Alma explained how she supports victims of human trafficking suffering severe forms of violence from sexual and physical assaults, imprisonment, gang rapes, torture, threats to themselves and their families, especially but not inclusively, victims of forced-sex labor. With over 20 years of experience, she assists victims of human trafficking and advocates for their rights, within the border region of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, CA. Alma also talked about La Casa Del Jardin, the only group home in Baja California designed for children and young adults ages 18 to 24 years old who survived human trafficking.
Through INH, Alma provides training and education at an interdisciplinary and binational level to authorities, civic groups, church organizations and the public/private sector. Since 2017, Alma has served as an academic honorary member of the National Commission of the Ministry of Interior to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Human Trafficking, in Mexico. In 2019, Alma was invited to the White House in Washington, DC to discuss human trafficking issues at the U.S.-Mexican border. Alma was also invited to speak in The Rayburn Building at the Capitol on Women’s Day in Washington, and at the Global Sustainability Network (GSN) at the Vatican in Rome, Italy.
Deborah Sigmund shared her journey with the audience of her efforts on behalf of the millions of women and children who are trafficked annually worldwide by founding Innocents at Risk, endorsed by The U.S. Department of State in 2005. Through a video and her testimony, Deborah shared with the audience how in 2008, Innocents at Risk established The Flight Attendant Initiative after meeting Senior Flight Attendant Sandra Fiorini Hodges, who informed Deborah, “Flight attendants see what you are talking about in planes and in the airports, but we don’t know what to do about it.” Innocents at Risk produced a brochure with Polaris and The National Hotline Number: “Protecting Women and Children from Human Trafficking.” Sandra began distributing these brochures in every international flight to all the flight attendants.
Innocents at Risk became a distribution center for all flight attendants. The training grew and flight attendants were training each other! In 2009, Deborah took the Flight Attendant Initiative to DHS. An official protocol was established after several meetings with Deborah and Sandra for attendants to use during their flights. That protocol is used today! Deborah introduced the Flight Attendant Initiative to Nancy Rivard and Airline Ambassadors. Airline Ambassadors continues to train flight attendants and airline personnel in the US and abroad.
In 2010, Deborah met with the Secretary of Transportation, Raymond Lahood. Secretary Lahood had everyone in Transportation trained to recognize and report situations of Human Trafficking! In 2013, Deborah received the D.C. Metropolitan Area Mother of the Year Award from American Mothers, the organization established in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to recognize Mothers of the highest achievements in their state.
John Cotton Richmond, Ambassador at large at US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking stated: “This multifaceted crime can challenge policy makers. The foundational elements of human trafficking are difficult to grasp, and the real world instances of this exploitation are even harder to identify.” With a lot of emotion and many questions, AAFSW members and the audience thanked Alma and Deborah for their work and dedication to protect the victims of modern-day slavery, as well as their stalwart commitment to challenge the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
AAFSW Transition Chair