The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Surviving Human Trafficking - Prt 3 Information for Writers

A white ribbon to commemorate the National Day...
A white ribbon to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Right-to-life Awareness. White Ribbon. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I welcome back to my blog, Brynn, LMSW. This is the third installment in her series of blogs written to help writers to understand the perspective of the victim. In this blog she is writing from her position as a professional who deals with other victims. Brynn is happy to answer any of your questions. Please leave questions and comments for her below.


***


In December 2012, I earned my Master’s Degree in Social Work. One of the requirements for my degree was an eight-hundred hours internship in a single setting. I chose to work in the local police department where I interned as a Victim’s Advocate. I worked predominately with survivors of domestic violence, but I also worked with victims of other crimes: robberies, child abuse, sexual assault, and so forth.

During my training, I received a manual (of sorts) that explained the different types of crimes I might encounter. To my surprise, they listed kidnapping! I am a survivor of a human trafficking ring. Strangers kidnapped me and subjected to atrocities. And in a weird way, I was excited to see that the police manual included at least a paragraph devoted to this horrific crime.

However, when I asked my social work supervisor how I could best respond to an abduction victim, (I never mentioned to her that I was a survivor) her response was that I should simply not worry about it - kidnappings “never” happened.
Once I heard that, I knew immediately what I wanted to do with my social work degree. I would focus on survivors of violent crimes, especially victims of human trafficking. 

Office on Violence Against Women logo
Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Surprisingly, now that I am a LMSW working in the field, I rarely, if EVER, come across another professional who has anything beyond basic knowledge of abduction and trafficking.
I wrote about what it was like be a survivor in past articles for Fiona Quinn’s blog, now I want to write this:

I despise it when people tell me, “I understand.”  I think, “Do you? Can you really tell me you understand? If we reversed our positions -- you having gone through the same thing that I did and me playing the role of inviolate listener -- could you truly understand my feelings?” I hope your answer is no.

I hope it was no because even standing side by side throughout the entire ordeal, you and I would still have experienced this through different eyes, ears, mental filters, and emotions. Even when meeting another victim of human trafficking, I cannot understand his or her experience simply because I am not that other person. Each individual (and in the same vein each fictional character) will experience a crime in a unique way.

I frequently hear people say, “Wow! How did you survive that?”  To me, this phrase invalidates my experience. It’s almost as if the questioner is daring me to prove that my crime actually occurred. If you are writing a fictional response to a victim’s disclosure (or you are expressing a personal response to a real-life victim), I suggest thinking about ways to validate the crime victim’s experience. As writers, after all, you are teaching your readers how to respond if they encounter this experience in their own lives.

So perhaps, instead of having your characters ask, “How did you survive?” try changing the wording around so that at the same time as getting your question answered you are validating the experience of the survivor (fictional or not). “It must have been difficult to go through that experience. Can you tell me what you think helped during that ordeal?” Or simply say, “How horrific. I’m so sorry. How can I help?”

Personally, the fact that someone can validate my thoughts and feelings about my experience has helped tremendously. Validation is key. I cannot stress enough how important this is! I have been able to begin opening up because I feel as though people believe me.

In writing, please take a moment to consider the character not just as a victim but as a survivor. Validating the feelings of that character/survivor (their anger, denial, and depression) can help to portray adequate therapeutic relationships that can help the victim move forward. Or alternatively, with an invalidating response, you can harm the victim's progress.

Let me offer an example for how you might accomplish a validation in your fictional piece:

During my ordeal, one of the ways my kidnappers punished me was by burying me alive. I distinctly remember the dirt, the smell, the worms…  all of it. I have never been able to talk about that aspect of my abduction. It is simply too painful.

One night, I ended up in the ICU. I was unable to breathe. My condition mystified the doctors. Finally, a lung specialist came in and asked a series of questions.  One of the questions was, “Have you ever been exposed to large quantities of dirt?” I hesitated for a moment before telling him about the time that the kidnappers had buried me alive. The lung specialist did not pause. He did not question me. The results of my medical tests validated my experience. The doctor was able to tell me that my story corroborated my medical test results, and his diagnosis made sense.

Even if your character survives something that reads as crazy or unbelievable, understand that people survive the crazy and unbelievable every day. After all, I survived -- anything is possible.


Fiona Quinn adds: If you want to read a series that includes the survivors of sexual abuse and the appropriate way to hear/validate their experiences, I suggest Sylvia Day’s books Bared to You and Reflected in You. (Heads up - both have an erotic component) Sylvia Day does an excellent job of dealing with her characters in a sound psychological way, and she presents an excellent template for other authors to follow. As an MS in Counseling, I highly suggest these books. As a counselor, I sincerely hope that authors can help to teach appropriate victim response through their carefully crafted writing. And as an author dealing with characters, just as in real life, I understand that sometimes this is a tight-rope walk.

Reflected in You on Amazon
Bared to You on Amazon


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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Being the Victim of Human Trafficking - Prt 2 Information for Writers

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Once again, I want to thank Brynn, the survivor of a human trafficking ring, for her bravery in sharing her experience with us. I hope it helps my fellow writers to capture the truth in their writing. Since the time when this crime took place, Brynn has earned her LMSW and focuses her work on victims of crime.


“If you’re a good girl, we’ll let your family find your body,” A phrase that to this day, reverberates in my ear on a daily basis never changing. I can still hear his voice, smell him, and remember the chill that went down my spine as he said the words. 


I never knew his name, still do not. But I can describe what he looked like, how he spoke, the utmost authority he seemed to command from all those around him. I can describe being dragged through an empty field and how I tried to run. I didn’t get far before he had me in his grasp again, chuckling as he puffed on his cigar. He casually pulled a pistol from his pocket and stuck it to my temple before whispering in my ear that horrid phrase.


I was a nineteen-year-old college student at the time, living in an upper-middle class neighborhood in the United States. That night, March 18 2004, I had just come home from work as a gymnastics coach and was more than ready to enjoy my dinner and a home to myself. My family had left for Spring Break the night before, but because of my schedule I elected to stay home.  


I was distracted, unaware of my surroundings—my home—my driveway. I was safe. I was home. I only realized something was wrong when I heard something behind me. In an instant my world seemed to go in slow motion, a bag was suddenly thrown over my head at the same time that I unlocked my front door. 


I was abducted by strangers, abducted by three people I had never seen or talked to before that night. They had no concern for my life, no concern for what they did to me. They delivered me to a house a few miles away from my home. They traded me for drugs. I was abducted and traded into a human trafficking ring in exchange for three “dime bags.” 


Human trafficking.. modern day slavery. It occurs everywhere, including in the USA. Before my abduction, I didn’t think “that” happened HERE, only in other countries. Human trafficking is in itself a cluster of other violent crimes occurring at the same time. At least it was in my experience. 


I remember literarily being “bought” and my traffickers being paid upwards of $1000.00 depending on what they were requesting. This is not a small crime, in one night, I “made” close to $10,000. None of which went to me. 


FBI Badge & gun.
FBI Badge & gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There were no rescuers coming to me. There was never a missing person alert. No Hollywood scenes like I prayed there would be -- the FBI busting into one of the abandoned barns I was locked in, or the police department running in and wrapping me in a blanket as they helped me get to freedom. No. There was none of that. 

In fact, on multiple occasions, I was in direct view of first responders. Once, while at a fast food restaurant awaiting another “customer,” I was seated directly across from two police officers. I silently prayed they would look at me, see the signs of trafficking, see the signs of despair. My heart sunk when they smiled at me and spoke to my traffickers about some meaningless topic. I almost cried when they walked out the door. 

I was in stores, restaurants, parks, out in public view and nobody could see what I was so desperately trying to plea. Help me. I look back and realize it wasn’t anyone’s fault, after all could anyone who is reading this tell me the signs to look for in human trafficking?


My ordeal lasted four days. During those days and nights I was tortured; I was buried alive as a form of punishment for disrespecting the leader and saying “no.” I later found out they didn’t want to kill me YET because I brought in the most money for them. On the fourth day I was taken to a motel out of state and sold again to a particular man who abused me.


Since then, this man has been identified. He killed himself in prison. While there is no concrete evidence that this man was tied to my case in anyway, I KNOW it was him. I cannot “prove it.” I cannot tell you much about him because he simply saw me and treated me as an object. But I can guarantee that this man was the man who screwed up. He screwed up because after he had handcuffed me to the bed, he proceeded to take a hit of heroin. He passed out cold and left the key within my reach.


I rescued myself when I unlocked those cuffs, stood up, dusted myself off and walked out that door without looking back. 


Human trafficking in the real world is nothing like it is displayed in movies or books. Victims and survivors are not always gorgeous, do not always have someone looking for them, do not always fight and struggle.


And then there is this...

I was assaulted by well over a hundred men, the vast majority of them are free. Some of them seemed to believe that I was going to die because they didn’t bother covering their faces, some told me about themselves. A few were doctors, some were lawyers, one was a cop, one was a teacher, another a priest. 



Human trafficking. Main origin (red) and desti...
Human trafficking. Main origin (red) and destination countries (blue). Data from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2006 report (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/traffickinginpersons_report_2006-04.pdf) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s been nine years since my abduction and every night I still have nightmares, I still feel like I am still there. It doesn’t just go away. It never will. I am still scared. 



If you looked at me, I am not what most people think of when they think of a human trafficking victim. That’s because I am not. I am a survivor of trafficking, I am a daughter, a friend, a sister, a cousin and so much more. Those four days in hell have drastically changed my life, and I know that for the rest of my life it will haunt me. However, I can advocate for change, advocate for awareness, advocate for accuracy in portraying this problem. And hope that anyone who reads this has gained some insight into this crime.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Surviving Human Trafficking - Prt 1 for Writers

English: Moon
English: Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My guest blogger this week is Brynn. She is a LMSW (Licensed Master of Social Work) who specializes in victimology. Check back later in the week for another post by Brynn.


I look back on this month, March to be exact, and cannot help but think about what happened to me nine years ago. Nine years ago I became a victim, a victim of sexual assault, a victim of kidnapping, a victim of torture, a victim of human trafficking- modern day slavery. Essentially, nine years ago I felt as though I had become a victim. I was labeled that actually and referred to often as the “victim.” My name was never used by the police, or really any advocates, I was just “the victim.”
What a derogatory adjective. The victim. Never once during my four day captivity was I called anything remotely human- instead often being hollered at using inexcusable language. I was called “fresh meat, live bait, the white one,” and so on. So by the time I was called “the victim,” I was almost accepting of the title. Almost.
And then I began realizing something, very, very slowly. It took almost nine years. I am not a victim. Yes, some awful things happened to me, something that many people will never experience, yet I still have a name.
To the three strangers who abducted me at gunpoint and promised me as they held a gun to my head that I would never see my family again. I did. I do and you taught me something and it wasn’t to fear people. Instead you taught me that every single second is something that can be cherished, that you won’t realize what you can lose until that is taken from you. Now, every day, I tell my family how much they mean to me. Thank you for that.
To the man I now know the full name of, the man who died in prison. I am free and I am alive. You died after being caught by the people who you thought you were smarter then. The people you vowed “would never find you.” You died in a small concrete cell, I am alive and living my life without any barriers. Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of freedom.
To the literally hundred or so men and women who paid to “see me.” You did what you did, I have no way of changing that, but you taught me on valuable lesson. That there are cruel, cruel people in this world but regardless, I am still me. You took away nothing from me, instead gave me strength to speak out against people like you and create awareness of the crime you commit. You gave me strength to vow to put you behind bars, and get the justice I deserve. And as every day, one more of you is arrested I know I am doing the right thing.
To the counselor I first told about my experience and did not touch me, thank you. You gave me the courage to begin to heal; you believed me though this horrific experience and offered to fly to the trials with me. Thank you.
To the federal investigators who began addressing me by name and provided personal cell phone numbers should I need it, thank you for seeing me as a human being not just a victim.
To the university police department who after a bomb threat at school where I was named as the target, thank you for protecting me, and reassuring me that you would protect me.
To my friends who see me as me, not a victim, but me. Thank you.
Thank you to everyone who has allowed me to realize that I am not a victim. I am a survivor, an advocate, a social worker, a daughter, a friend, I am Brynn- and I have a name.


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Footwear Evidence for Writers – by Patti Phillips

Conferences are a blast for the mystery/thriller writing crowd these days. And not just because of the workshops improving our craft and technique providd by the many writing organizations. I appreciate those I do. But for all-out, slam-dunk fun, I go to the Writers' Police Academy (founded by Lee Lofland). It’s a three day, hands-on, mind-blowing experience that demonstrates the nuts and bolts of police and fire and EMS procedure – taught by professionals and experts actively working in the field. All with the purpose of getting writers to improve their technical knowledge so that they can get it right on the page.
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Along with several other strands of study, the last two WPA conferences provided classes in bloodstain patterns, fingerprinting, and alternate light sources (ALS) conducted by Sirchie instructors. Because of the standing room only enthusiasm for these classes, Sirchie offered a five-day Evidence Collection training session for writers at their own complex in North Carolina. Sirchie makes hundreds of products for the law enforcement community and I felt this would be a great opportunity for Detective Kerrian (my protagonist) to learn more about the latest and best gadgets being used to catch the crooks.


Wolverine cast

Criminals rob, murder, rape or otherwise inflict bodily harm upon their victims. Physical evidence at a crime scene is an essential part of figuring out what happened. It is up to the police officers, investigators, and examiners to recognize what is and is not part of the evidence and then interpret the importance of each fiber, fingerprint, bloodstain, and other material in order to secure a conviction of the correct individual.

One of the most overlooked pieces of evidence at a crime scene is created by footwear.

If a window breaks as a thief enters the premises during the commission of a burglary, the glass will fall into the house, and onto the floor or rug below the window. When the thief steps through the window, unless the thief has wings, he/she will probably plant a foot right in the middle of the glass. And walk through the house, most likely tracking minute pieces of that glass. That glass may also become embedded in the grooves of the sole of the shoe, creating a distinctive footprint.

If the investigating officer can place a suspect at the scene with the footprint, then there is probable cause to fingerprint that suspect and hopefully establish a link to the crime.

A new method of eliminating suspects right at the scene involves stepping into a tray that contains a pad impregnated with a harmless clear ink that doesn’t stain, then stepping onto a chemically treated impression card. (So safe that it’s often used on newborn babies for the hospital records) No messy cleanup, immediate results, and it can even show details of wear and tear on the shoe. This can be a way to establish a known standard (we know where this impression came from) to compare with multiple tread prints at the scene.



Footwear Clear Ink Impression

Another tool for creating a known standard is the foam impression system. It takes a bit longer, (24 hours) but clear, crisp impressions can be made, including of the pebbles and bits stuck deep into the grooves and the writing on the arch. Very helpful when trying to place suspects at the scene. A rock stuck in the sole is a random characteristic that can’t be duplicated, so becomes another point of identification.

We definitely wanted to try this method for ourselves. Each of the writers stepped into the box of stiff-ish foam – a bit like stepping into wet sand.



Using foam impression system

An impression is made instantaneously. Look at the detail – down to the wear on the heel.



Foam impression of Wolverine boot

We used pre-mixed dental stone (made with distilled water and the powder) to fill the impression.



 Making the cast with pre-mixed dental stone

We waited 24 hours for them to become firm enough to pop out of the foam. We now had permanent records of the footwear treads, which could be used for comparison to other prints found at the scene. There were more than a dozen of us walking through that room every day on a regular basis and assorted other visitors tramping through the perimeter. If a crime occurred before we left for the week, we’d have a LOT of eliminating to do, but we were ready!


Photo: Footwear casts


Occasionally footprints are found on the ground outside a window or in the gardens surrounding a house after a burglary or homicide. Ever see a crime show on TV  where the fictional investigator makes a snap judgment about the height and weight of the owner of the footprint because of the depth of the impression? That’s merely a plot device and is not scientific evidence in real life. A crime scene photographer or investigator can photograph the footprint (next to a measurement scale), make a take away cast, and then compare the impression with those of the suspects or other bystanders at the scene. Beware: making a cast of the print destroys the print, so a photograph must be taken before pouring that first drop of dental stone.

Footprints can be found at bloody crime scenes as well. The suspect walks through the blood, tracks it through the house, cleans it up, but the prints are still there, even though not obvious to the naked eye. As we learned during the ‘Blood and Other Bodily Fluids’ session, blood just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a floor and even behind baseboards.

A savvy investigator will collect sections of carpet (or flooring) taken from where the suspect might have walked during the commission of the crime, then conduct a presumptive test for blood (LCV - Aqueous Leuco Crystal Violet), find a usable footprint, compare it to a known standard, and then be able to place the suspect at the scene.


Footwear Print

Kudos to Robert Skiff, the Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist who conducted the classes with his assistant, Chrissy Hunter, all week. He fielded our many (sometimes wild) questions with solid expertise as we attempted to find the perfect scenarios for our fictional crime-fighters and criminals.

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Patti Phillips is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina. Her best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course has been murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in “One Sweet Motion.”

Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the www.kerriansnotebook.com blog and the book review site www.nightstandbookreviews.com

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