End Demand Campaign: Sitting Down with Cindy Gustafson

Cindy Gustafson is no stranger to standing up for what she believes. In the 1990s, after learning about the issues that lead to prostitution, she worked with her police department and community members to close down the largest strip club in her county. It was then that Cindy got her first glimpse into the world of human trafficking.

Years later, when Cindy retired in DC, she realized that first glimpse had stayed with her. “I remember seeing the ages of prostitutes getting lower and lower”, she says, recalling when she first volunteered with DC Stop Modern Slavery. “I started coming to meetings and learning about how huge an issue this is.”

Cindy has since been with DC Stop Modern Slavery for four years, and is currently leading  the Advocacy Team in its End Demand Campaign.  The campagn is forming a coalition of local community members, anti-trafficking NGOS and other supporters to lobby the D.C. City Council to strengthen D.C. anti-trafficking law.  In particular, the campaign seeks to strengthen the Demand Laws that affect the buyers of sex, known as “johns.”  Once these laws are strengthened, the campaign will focus on helping ensure they are fully enforced.

“The lesson I learned was it always comes back to the buyer.

If there is no demand, you don’t need a supply.

Cindy Gustafson, Advocacy Team Leader
Cindy Gustafson, Advocacy Team Leader

Currently the laws have minimal penalties for purchasing sex from an adult, or even a minor. Cindy has spoken to police officers who have told her that, if they pick up a john on Monday morning, there is a good chance that they will pick up that same john again on Tuesday, and perhaps again on Wednesday—all for the same reason. The current laws are not reducing demand.

The goal of the End Demand Campaign is to end demand for human trafficking in our nation’s capital through a three part plan: 1) Inform the community, 2) Reach city council members, and 3) Change municipal legislation.

If the changes proposed by the End Demand Campaign were to pass, along with being required to register as a sex offender on the first conviction and potential asset forfeiture, a buyer’s name and photo would be posted in newspapers and the internet, and the individual would receive both longer jail time and much larger fines.  The increased fines would then be used for victim services. These proposed changes are supported by research that shows that 72% to 83% of johns would be deterred from buying sex if penalties were increased.

Louisiana, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington have all introduced demand laws to their legislatures – Washington, D.C. would not be the first to do so. All of these demand laws have been modeled after a law that dramatically curbed the demand for human trafficking, the Swedish Kvinnofrid law. We will discuss more about this law in further detail in our next blog post.

We need YOU to help the END DEMAND Campaign!
Learn more about the human trafficking issue!
Are you a D.C. resident? Contact DC-SMS, tell us your Ward number or your address
so we may add you to our roster of End Demand Campaign Supporters.
We will then be able to contact you when it is time to lobby your City Council Representatives to end Demand!
Volunteer with our team on communications, blogs, training sessions, etc.!

Learn more about DC Stop Modern Slavery!


Nefarious: Merchant of Souls – Film Viewing

As National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month (January, initiated by President Obama in December 2011) came to a close, DC-SMS and CapCity College at George Washington University teamed up for a film viewing of the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.

I was drawn in by the humility of the filmmakers; their purpose was to learn about a topic in which they were not experts, rather to present or lecture. Through interviews, the documentary provided an impressive interweaving of perspectives – survivors, families, ex-traffickers, journalists and researchers, psychologists, and activists, to name a few. Bit by bit, we followed the team as they began to unravel the mystery of modern slavery.

They began in Moldova, a smaller Eastern European country located between Ukraine and Romania, often considered to be the epicenter of human trafficking. The team then moved on to the red light district of Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal; but as they discover, legality is sometimes hard to recognize through a store window. The film switched gears for a bit to southeast Asia, specifically in Thailand and Cambodia, where they learned more about family-fueled human trafficking situations. Nefarious brought it home to Las Vegas, U.S.A., for the next section, emphasizing important similarities and distinctions between human trafficking in the United States versus other countries they had explored. To wrap it up, the film briefly highlighted Sweden, where the purchase of prostitution was criminalized in 1999.

Here are a few points, statistics, or anecdotes that struck me while watching Nefarious:

  • Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry. It is profitable second only to drugs.
  • Wherever the filmmakers went, they encountered girls trafficked from Eastern Europe.
  • In Amsterdam, 60% of prostituted women report being physically assaulted.
  • Industries need two things to survive: money and government (or some form of authoritative) support. Where human trafficking thrives, it has both.
  • In regards to human trafficking, is poverty certainly a correlation but not necessarily causation.
  • In the United States, it was more common for women to admit they were lured by the glamour and prosperity of prostitution, and then later trapped in a trafficking spiral.
  • The average age of entry into sex trafficking in the United States is 12-14 years old.
  • The woman who sat next to me spoke with me briefly following the film and she shared that what surprised her the most was the statistics on parental complicity, particularly in Cambodia, where 80-90% of families sell their daughters as a source of income.

The film ended with a few William Wilberforce quotes that clearly meant a great deal to the filmmakers and the documentary’s message:

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”


Overall, this was a successful event for both DC Stop Modern Slavery and CapCity. We had to find more chairs so people could sit down!


“3 AM Girls” Film Viewing with DC-SMS at Asbury Church

Commodity. Supply. Demand. Slavery.

These are the words I was left to ponder after the conclusion of the Courtney’s House and DC-SMS coordinated viewing of “3 AM Girls,” a documentary of a sex trafficking strip in Washington DC. The use of economic terms in regards to people seems too distanced and dehumanizing. But perhaps this distance is exactly the eerie and uncomfortable point that needs to be made. There was one study, mentioned by a Courtney House representative, that showed that most male “Johns” who participated in the study truly believe that every guy buys sex. The fact that buying forced sex, particularly from minors, could be perpetuated as a part of our culture is scary. This fear was voiced by several of the audience members who also wanted to know, “What can we do?”

What can you do? These were my main take-aways from the film and the Q&A:

First, be careful with the language you use. Prostitution is not the same as trafficked people and the distinction is important whether you’re talking to law enforcement or your next door neighbor. Second, educate yourself, your family, and your community. Raising awareness and staying informed about how to recognize human trafficking and who to call is by far the most effective, community tool to combat human trafficking. Finally, though the film focused on child sex trafficking, the representatives from Courtney House stressed the important point that sex trafficking is only one type of human trafficking, as well as the fact trafficking is not gender-blind; boys and girls, women and men could all possibly fall victim to human trafficking.

RIJI Green’s holiday campaign sale- Freeing Families from Slavery

RIJI Green, a company that sells products made by survivors of human trafficking is having a holiday campaign for International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a non-profit organization combating modern-day slavery by prosecuting the perpetrators, providing aftercare for victims, and promoting functional justice systems. RIJI Green’s holiday campaign goal is to raise ,000 to fund IJM’s 10 rescue operations freeing families from slavery. Its 21st century and slavery still exist victimizing men, women, children and families.
How are families enslaved? When a family member such as a father, the head of the household gets sick and has no money to pay for a doctor, they would go to a loan shark. The family would ask for a small loan, which equates to .00US so the father could see the doctor. The family would sign a document promising they will repay the debt by working for the loan shark, but what they don’t know from being illiterate is the interests and fees are so high, they could never repay their debt. Therefore generations of family members from grandmothers to granddaughters are enslaved. This is common in places like India, Pakistan, and others. In America, when we have debt, our credit scores goes down, but our livelihoods and freedom are not at risk.
In the spirit of justice and holiday giving, RIJI Green is starting their holiday campaign by donating 50% of their profits to IJM from now till November 22, 2009. RIJI Green will give 15% of their profits to IJM till the end of the year.
Will you please join RIJI Green’s campaign to free families from slavery in 2010. Your purchase will have an echoing effect in creating a slave free tomorrow. At one point in America, one out of every eight Americans was a slave. History has shown we can overcome slavery. Will you join the movement to end 21st century slavery and make history? Shop and Empower survivors of human trafficking at www.RIJIgreen.com

Jan 22nd Documentaries

At the Thursday Jan 22nd meeting (http://www.meetup.com/wdcsms/calendar/9290132), we will take a vote to watch one of two documentaries.  Here’s some more info about these two documentaries:

1) MSNBC Special Report: Sex Slaves in the Suburbs
This is the story of “Shauna Newell”, a teenage victim of human trafficking who was kidnapped, drugged, gang-rapped, and savagely beaten.

For more info, go to: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27098993

2) Showtime Documentary: “Very Young Girls”
Very Young Girls is an exposé of human trafficking that follows thirteen and fourteen year old American girls as they are seduced, abused, and sold on New York’s streets by pimps, and treated as adult criminals by police. The film follows the barely-adolescent girls in real time, using vérité and intimate interviews with them as they are first lured on to the streets and the dire events which follow. The film also uses startling footage shot by the brazen pimps themselves giving a rare glimpse into how the cycle of street life begins for many women.
For more info, go to: http://www.gems-girls.org/VYG%20Press%20Kit%20FINAL.pdf
To see trailer, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fX6EaHuRCg