Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

Dear Craig,

Although we have not met, we are certain you would not want what happened to us or to thousands of girls like us to ever happen again.

Craig, I am AK. In 2009, I met a man twice my age who pretended to be my boyfriend, and my life as an average girl— looking forward to college, doing my chores, and hanging out with my friends—ended. This “boyfriend” soon revealed he was a pimp. He put my picture on Craigslist, and I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels, 10 hours with 10 different men every night. This became my life. Men answered the Craigslist advertisements and paid to rape me. The $30,000 he pocketed each month was facilitated by Craigslist 300 times. I personally know over 20 girls who were trafficked through Craigslist. Like me, they were taken from city to city, each time sold on a different Craigslist site —Philadelphia, Dallas, Milwaukee, Washington D.C. My phone would ring, and soon men would line up in the parking lot. One Craigslist caller viciously brutalized me, threatening to dump my body in a river. Miraculously, I survived.

Craig, I am MC. I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28 year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold many girls my age, his house was called “Daddy Day Care.” All day, me and other girls sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist, he made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock —and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car.

I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren’t of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths. Craig, we write this letter so you will know from our personal experiences how Craigslist makes horrific acts like this so easy to carry out, and the men who carry out, and men who arrange them very rich. Craig, we know you oppose trafficking and exploitation. But right now, Craigslist is the choice of traffickers because it’s so well known and there are rarely consequences to using it for these illegal acts. We’ve heard that the Adult Services section of Craigslist brings in $36 million a year by charging for these ads. These profits are made at the expense of girls like us, who are lured, kidnapped, and forced to feed the increasing demand for child rape. New traffickers are putting up ads every day, because they know it’s less risky and more profitable to sell girls on Craigslist than to deal drugs.

Please, Craig, close down the Adult Services section. Saving even one child is worth it. It could have been us.



Survivors of Craigslist Sex Trafficking

Want to Take Action to Help Girls—Visit: and; or

Craigslist is hub for child prostitution, allege trafficked women

The online classified advertising site, Craigslist, is facing accusations that it has become a hub for underage prostitution after two young women placed an advertisement in the Washington Post saying they were repeatedly sold through the site to men who “paid to rape” them.

The allegations came as a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist – named after its owner, Craig Newmark – to stop a criminal investigation over its “adult services” section which is alleged to carry thousands of prostitution ads daily.

In an open letter to Newmark placed in the Washington Post, the two women appealed for him to shut Craigslist’s adult services section.

The ad was partly paid for by Fair Fund, a group working with young women who have been sold for sex. It described Craigslist as “the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking”. Fair Fund said it had checked the women’s accounts and could vouch for them. It said AK had met the US attorney general, Eric Holder.

Craigslist’s chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, said it worked tirelessly with law enforcement agencies to identify ads that exploited children, manually reviewed every adult service ad before posting and required phone verification by the person placing it.

Two years ago, under the threat of legal action by about 40 US states, Craigslist began charging $10 (£6.25) per posting for adult services ads, whereas most of the site is free. Some of the revenue goes to charity. That did not reassure groups working with children forced into the sex trade.

Thousands of ads continue to be placed each day that list charges for encounters. Many include words that the Fair Fund says are flags for underage prostitution such as “fresh” and “inexperienced”.

Last month, dozens of anti-prostitution groups led protests outside Craigslist’s San Francisco HQ to demand an end to sex trade ads.

Last week, Newmark was confronted in the street by a CNN reporter with ads from Craigslist that appeared to offer girls for sex, and the case of a 12-year-old girl forced into prostitution and sold on the site until she was freed in a police raid north of Washington in June. A 42-year-old man was charged with human trafficking. Newmark declined to respond.

The website is under criminal investigation in South Carolina, where the attorney general, Henry McMaster, described Craigslist’s alleged promotion of prostitution as a “very serious matter”. On Friday, a federal judge threw out an attempt by Craigslist to block the investigation. The same day, the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, called for Craigslist to scrap sex adverts.

Buckmaster has accused McMaster and other law enforcement officials of “grandstanding” and attempting to impose an outdated sexual moral code.

Part of a longer article at


A U.S.-based rights group has urged the Philippines to reform a tough anti-abortion law that it says has spawned widespread underground procedures that kill about 1,000 women each year in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

An estimated 560,000 women in the Philippines in 2008 sought abortion involving crude and painful methods such as intense abdominal massages by traditional midwives or inserting catheters into the uterus, said a report by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

About 90,000 women suffer from abortion complications and an estimated 1,000 die each year, the report said, adding that complications are among the top 10 reasons women seek hospital care.

The Roman Catholic church in the Philippines has stridently opposed the use of contraceptives and abortion. The existing law forbids abortion and is unclear about any exceptions in which it might be permitted, effectively making it a total ban, the report said. The law imposes up to six years imprisonment for women who commit intentional abortion and for doctors or midwives who help them.

And while post-abortion services are legal, women who seek them are often harassed or stigmatized even by health care workers, the report said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is an advocacy group that says it works to advance reproductive freedom as a human right. It said its report was based on interviews with women who had had abortions, hospital authorities, political leaders, law enforcers and secondary data. A 2008 report by the U.S.-based nonprofit Guttmacher Institute in cooperation with the University of the Philippines Population Institute, cited the same figures as Monday’s report.

Philippine health and justice officials did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

Melissa Upreti, one of the new report’s authors, said the Philippines is among a handful of countries including Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador to prohibit and criminally punish abortion without providing clear legal exceptions including when a pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s health, if the woman is a victim of rape or incest, or in cases of fetal impairment.

Even Spain, whose 1870 Penal Code provision on abortion became the basis of the Philippines’ 1930 law, has reformed its laws to recognize abortion on several grounds, said Upreti, the Center’s Asia program regional manager.

The World Health Organization says worldwide, the impact of unsafe abortion was “a major health concern” that claims the lives of 67,000 women yearly. It has urged countries to deal with the preventable problem that stems from reasons including unmet family planning needs and restricted access to safe abortion services.

“Access to safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right of women,” a WHO journal added.

“The Philippine government has created a dire human rights crisis in the country,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights

She said it was “time to break the silence around abortion in the Philippines and for the human rights community to put pressure on the government to decriminalize abortion and immediately improve the medical care that women receive.”

Florence Tadiar, a physician who heads the Institute for Social Studies and Action, said the ban has scared doctors and health workers from performing abortion even for medical reasons. Women who have had unsafe abortion, meanwhile, “will not go to the hospital unless they are dying.”

Alfredo Tadiar, a former judge and adviser to an international lawyers’ group said while women have been charged for abortion in the country, he has not heard of anyone actually sentenced or sent to jail.

Women’s health and rights advocacy groups responded immediately to the announcement that President Obama would exclude abortion coverage from the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (the temporary high-risk insurance pools created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to transition us into the new health care plan). Obama has decided that women in these pools simply don’t need insurance coverage of abortion care even though there is nothing in the new law that dictates this.

From the ACLU press release on this:

Even using their own private funds, individuals would not be able to buy policies that cover abortion in these pools. The only exemptions would reportedly be for women who have been raped, who are the victims of incest or who will likely die if they carry the pregnancy to term.

What is perhaps most perplexing about this is that this plan was created to offer temporary insurance coverage to those who cannot afford coverage due to particulary serious health conditions. Women with serious health conditions may be some of the most affected by a pregnancy – the pregnancy may not cause her death but is a woman’s life of so little consequence that it matters not to President Obama if a pregnancy bears an immense burden on her already ill body? As NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Nancy Keenan puts it, “This policy means that women who are part of these pools because they have significant health problems, such as diabetes or cancer, will not be able to access abortion care, even if their health is at further risk.”

Planned Parenthood’s press release calls the rule “harmful to women”:

“The very women who need to purchase private health insurance in the new high-risk pools are likely to be more vulnerable to medically complicated pregnancies. It is truly harmful to these women that the administration may impose limits on how they use their own private dollars, limiting their health care options at a time when they need them most. This decision has no basis in the law and flies in the face of the intent of the high-risk pools that were meant to meet the medical needs of some of the most vulnerable women in this country.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights notes:

“Contrary to assertions by the White House, there’s no current legal basis for the policy. The executive order issued by the President on abortion only addressed rules for segregating funds for abortion coverage in the healthcare exchanges and limits on community health centers. The Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan policy similarly furnishes no legal basis for exclusions in the new high risk pools.

“The proposal would not even permit policyholders to use their own private dollars to purchase coverage, as the Nelson compromise allows, and instead applies a Stupak-type ban like the one rejected by Congress. Healthcare reform was a tightly bargained piece of legislation – and with this, the White House is threatening to renege on a fundamental part of its bargain with American women and families who truly need coverage. Excluding abortion coverage from the high-risk insurance pools was not part of the negotiations during healthcare reform, and nothing in the bill compels this result.”

Kelli Conlin of the National Institute for Reproductive Health says:

Considering that the women in high-risk pools are already more vulnerable to medical complications it is outrageous that their coverage will not include – at the bare minimum – abortion care for health emergencies.

This latest ban goes even further than the objectionable Nelson provision (which became law during health care reform) in that it does not give states the option of deciding to cover abortion nor does it allow a woman to buy abortion coverage . This is not acceptable.

We all know that many things can happen in pregnancy that are beyond even the healthiest woman’s control; coverage of abortion is an important part of ensuring that all women can access and afford the health care procedures they may need.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has started a letter writing campaign to urge President Obama not to exclude abortion coverage from the high-risk pools.

The US Health and Human Services Department has announced that it is making $25 million available to states to support pregnant women and teen parents, in an initiative that the White House is framing as a way to find common ground on abortion.

The new federal Pregnancy Assistance Fund will award grants to states aimed at providing pregnant women and teen parents support for completing high school or college degrees and for getting health care, child care and housing, HHS said in a news release Friday.

The grants can also be used to combat violence against pregnant women, the release said.

In an e-mail announcing the initiative to nonprofit groups on Friday, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at HHS tied the new fund to the abortion issue.

“It was only a year ago that President Obama gave a seminal speech at Notre Dame urging our nation to find common ground on the issue of abortion and unintended pregnancies,” said the e-mail, which was obtained by CNN.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund is a competitive grant program established by the Affordable Care Act to assist women who have decided to carry their pregnancies to term and those who are parenting,” the e-mail continued. “…This funding is another critical step in the President’s vision for common ground.”

HHS did not mention abortion in its news release on the establishment of the fund, which was created by the health care bill that Obama signed in March.

“The opportunity created by the Affordable Care Act will provide States and Tribes needed assistance to support vulnerable teens and women who are pregnant and parenting,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the news release.

“The Pregnancy Assistance Fund provides States the opportunity to link these families to health, education, child care, and other supports that can help brighten the futures of parents and their children,” she said.

Moderate religious groups hailed the measure as an important way for the White House to deliver on its goal of reducing the need for abortion, which Obama articulated last year in establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Pro-life and pro-choice people have gotten behind it so it’s a good first step at reducing abortion and providing support for healthier babes and mothers,” said Kristen Day, executive director of the antiabortion group Democrats for Life of America. “Once we show how effective this is we can go back and expand this program.”

Day, who has consulted with the White House on reproductive health issues, said the new fund also had political benefits for Democrats. “We’ve been working on common ground around abortion for a long time because we want to take it away as a wedge issue,” she said.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America also indicated that it supported the measure.

But conservative anti-abortion groups greeted the announcement of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund more skeptically.

“This money is mandated for services for pregnant teens and women – violence prevention, vocational training,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for CitizenLink, the public policy arm of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. “It would be inaccurate to characterize it as ‘abortion common ground’ since it doesn’t specifically address abortion.”

The new health care law appropriates $25 million for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund each year through 2019, according to HHS. The grants will be awarded competitively.

When Obama established the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009, the White House said that “it will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.”

The Muskoka Initiative, formally announced Friday, has largely failed to inspire both at home and abroad. Despite the $2.85-billion, five-year commitment of Canadian taxpayer money, the initiative is high on rhetoric but short on detail.

Buzzwords — like voluntary family planning, country ownership, health workers, information systems, continuum of care, accountability and effectiveness — are abundant. But the details are missing. How will the initiative be co-ordinated with existing global health activities, particularly the Global Fund? Will the initiative promote universal access to health care for women and children, and if so, how will this be financed? While named in the communiqué, it is not clear how the initiative fits in with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the UN Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The G8 communiqué claims the initiative will prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children five years and under and 64,000 maternal deaths while enabling 12 million couples to access family planning. Yet no information is provided on how these goals will be achieved. Perhaps this lack of specificity is the reason that matching contributions from other G8 countries were disappointingly low. A request for billions of dollars is normally accompanied by a strategic plan.

The lack of enthusiasm abroad is met with skepticism at home. This government recently cut funds to organizations working for the rights of women in Canada and abroad. It also decimated Status of Women Canada, and shut down gender equality units at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canada to contribute to reducing maternal mortality, he must recognize that maternal health is not a one-off, stand-alone issue.

Improving maternal health depends on the protection, promotion and advancement of the rights and freedoms of women and girls. Canada needs to push countries to fully respect these rights and support programs at home and abroad that allow women and girls to realize them.

Such rights include the ability to access affordable, appropriate and effective health care, as well as the right to clean water and sanitation. Women have a right to be educated, deserve equal opportunities for employment and credit, as well as protection of their property and inheritance rights. The right of women to mobilize as members of civil society and to seek political office must be supported. Voluntary family planning is only voluntary if women’s rights are respected and if they have choice. To quote from the Beijing Platform, women must “have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

The Muskoka Initiative also needs to be closely linked to Canadian engagement in broader global health initiatives. In advance of the UN’s September MDG Summit, experts are debating how to generate more resources while ensuring that global health interventions are better co-ordinated and managed at the country level. Despite its G8 focus on maternal health, Canada has been largely silent on these debates, nor are they reflected in the G8 communiqué.

This silence is not new. Canada’s response to global health challenges has been largely reactive, driven by public policy issues such as the threat of H1N1, or by international processes at the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies. This policy vacuum is accompanied by institutional fragmentation. Global health responsibilities are dispersed among CIDA, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. CIDA does not even list health as one of its three priorities, while Health Canada has few resources for international programming.

Canada, with its expertise in public health and its experience delivering universal health care to a dispersed and diverse population, should be a natural leader in global health. To realize this leadership potential, the government should articulate a bold Global Health Strategy — like the U.S. and British strategies — that identifies how Canada’s global health engagement will protect and improve the health of Canadians and of people around the world. This vision would articulate how best to marshal Canadian government, civil society and academic resources, and clearly delineate institutional responsibilities to implement global health initiatives.

Harper can take this opportunity to frame the maternal health initiative as a key component of Canada’s larger engagement on global health, and accompany the initiative by championing the rights of women and girls. Doing so will not only allay the cynics, it will provide a more inspirational, successful and sustainable foundation for the Muskoka Maternal Health Initiative.

Anne Slater, National Organizer of Radical Women, issued the following statement on President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Radical Women opposes the potential seating of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan has shown herself to be a calculating seeker of power and no ally of the oppressed or the Constitution. We do not support using reproductive rights as a bargaining chip as Kagan did in advising President Clinton to outlaw late-term abortion. We are outraged that Kagan defends the constitutionality of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. She has had nothing to say about the atrocious legislative and judicial assaults on civil liberties during the Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, in her confirmation hearings as Obama’s solicitor general, she agreed with issues such as indefinite detention of those suspected of terrorist activities. In her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan filled 32 teaching positions- but hired only seven women and one person of color. She is lauded for increasing Harvard’s diversity by hiring conservatives.”

“Our priority is advancing the rights of women, workers, people of color, immigrants and queers. Giving a lifetime appointment to a female judge who is on the opposite side on all these issues is not progress.”

“One reason many people supported a Democrat for President was that they hoped it would prevent the nomination of far-right Supreme Court justices. Instead, President Obama has nominated a female candidate whose sole criteria is her relative inoffensiveness to the right. This is no advance for women. We need justices willing to uphold human rights.”


The US justice department has confirmed that federal laws giving protection against domestic violence also apply to gays and lesbians.

A memo posted yesterday by the department said prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving gay and lesbian relationships.

These provisions include those related to domestic violence, stalking and protection order violations.

The Defence of Marriage Act says that federal law can only consider the words “spouse” and “marriage” to relate to opposite-sex couples.

But David J Barron, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, said that domestic violence laws also contain phrases such as “dating partner” and “intimate partner.”

“The text, relevant case law and legislative history all support the conclusion” that the law’s criminal provisions “apply when the offender and the victim are the same sex,” Mr. Barron wrote.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said: “Today’s memorandum by the Department of Justice is one step forward in ensuring that LGBT people are protected by our federal domestic violence laws.

“Some of our families, like all Americans, experience domestic violence and those impacted by such violence should enjoy equal protections, and equal dignity, when they seek assistance from law enforcement. We thank the Department of Justice for releasing this important interpretation.”

A 2010 report by the National Centre for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programmes found that gay couples are just as likely to be affected by domestic violence as heterosexual couples.


But Prof. Catharine MacKinnon agrees that she has been less successful in fighting pornography.

In at least one area – pornography – Catharine MacKinnon has failed spectacularly. Ever since she began writing about women in the pornography industry and to advocate for them, at the start of the 1980s, nothing in their situation has changed. Her criticism of the damage caused by pornography has achieved nothing.

“On the contrary,” she says. “During the past 20 years the situation has only deteriorated. Today pornography is accessible and available everywhere. It is possible to obtain it with a few keystrokes, it comes in through Internet to every home where there is a computer and the women who work in the industry, in the thousands, are weak and exploited and have no options.”

MacKinnon represented, pro bono, victims of rape in the Serbian-Croatian war. In 2000 she won in the famous Kadic vs. Karadzic case and obtained for the women – victims of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic – compensation totaling $745 million. More importantly, she advanced the awareness of rape during wartime as an act whose aim is genocide.

However, MacKinnon’s influence is evident primarily in other areas, which have to do with the mainstream of society. All of the basic terms accepted today in the United States, and also in the cultural and legal system in Israel, regarding sexual harassment in the work place as a prohibited form of discrimination against women, as well as rape and violence within the family, and the criticism of the idea of “consensuality” in rape (the fact that forced sex is considered rape even if the woman who was raped said “yes”), that is, the very fact that women today have the possibility of obtaining legal aid in cases in which they have been injured in a gender-related context – all of these are the fruit of MacKinnon’s theoretical and activist work.

From what she says and from the way she analyzes the power relations between men and women, great pessimism emerges. MacKinnon’s basic idea is that gender – that is, the concepts of “man” and “woman” – is not about difference, but rather about dominance. By virtue of their definition, she argues, the man is dominant and the woman is dominated, subordinated to his needs. And in any case, the male, as Simone de Beauvoir saw before her, is the standard, is “man” – the pattern on which everything is based and from which everything is derived – whereas the woman is the “other,” who is defined relative to him. Just as in anatomy the human body is studied and the model is usually the male body, whereas the female body is shunted into the study of gynecology, as a special case – the same holds true in culture: Woman is not part of the human standard.

MacKinnon stresses: “De Beauvoir showed the problem: that the woman is the `other,’ and the man is the standard. I am showing something else: that the things that have been depicted as a solution to the problem – that is, the feminist struggle for equality, for the equalization of the rights of women to the rights of men – are in fact part of the problem.”

MacKinnon makes it clear that the very fact of wanting to be equal to men perpetuates the assumption that men and masculinity are the model that determines what is worthy and what is desirable. “If we want to achieve equality in such conditions of inequality, our way will become endless,” she comments.

It sometimes seems as though MacKinnon’s radical feminism does not respect women. If a woman is by definition subordinate to a man’s authority, and is defined by him and in relation to him – it is difficult to imagine a totally free and independent woman. This is especially difficult with respect to sex and pornography. MacKinnon assumes that heterosexual sexual relations are defined and shaped by the male point of view. Sex is penetration and subordination, she says, only from the male perspective. She argues that unequal sexual relations – relations of conquest and forced submission – became eroticized in order to perpetuate the inequality between the sexes.

Why have you failed? Why have your proposals for legislation in the area of pornography failed and in all other areas – sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and so forth – you have succeeded in bringing about real change?

“It’s very simple: Power and money win. There is not a sexual harassment industry. There aren’t people who are making millions out of sexual harassment the way people are making millions from pornography. The moment we succeed in advancing legislation against pornography in one of the states in the United States, or in the world, someone in the international lobby of pimps hears that this is getting under way and they organize and exercise tremendous power to prevent change. They hire huge public relations firms and they invest lots of money and make sure that this does not succeed.

“And not only that. The problem is that the printed and electronic media support pornography, on the mistaken assumption that a prohibition on pornography threatens them and their power. They confuse obscenity laws and the pornography laws that Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed, and they think that they are publishing pornography and their freedom of expression will be limited. But in fact we have made a clear distinction between pornography and all the rest. What there is in advertisements for Hollywood films is not pornography.”

But the non-pornographic eroticism in advertising and mainstream films is also likely to contribute to the demeaning and harming of women. And it is consumed by everyone.

“Ordinary advertisements and films do not lead to violence and rape. Pornography does do this. Studies show this clearly. And pornography is what influences the mainstream, and not the other way around. The struggle has to focus on pornography.”

From a longer article and interview published at

See also:

The Future of Pornography: Stop Porn Culture! Conference
June 12-13, 2010 – Wheelock College, Boston MA

In March 2007, over 500 people gathered at a conference in Boston to help re-ignite a progressive and feminist movement against pornography. Our second national conference will once again bring together activists, researchers, survivors, parents, and other concerned community members to continue developing our anti-pornography analysis and building our resistance movement. Come and join us for two days of keynotes, workshops, and discussion.

An increasingly sexualized consumer society and inadequate funding for social services are major reasons why more young girls are being pressed into sexual slavery, a human-trafficking expert told a Fort Worth audience last week.

Fishnet-clad dolls, “porn star” T-shirts, Juicy brand jeans and the mainstreaming of the word “pimp” all are signs of “demonic forces” at work in American culture, said Alesia Adams, the Salvation Army’s Atlanta-based human trafficking coordinator. Adams spoke at a forum on the subject at the Salvation Army’s Fort Worth offices.

“I don’t want my granddaughter playing with a doll with hooker heels,” she said.

Adams also criticized what she called a shortage of social services to help desperate young people who might be lured into a life of sex.

“There are more services for animals than for child victims of abuse,” she said.

Texas is a hub for human sex trafficking, said Kathleen Murray, the Fort Worth Police Department’s trafficking coordinator. She estimated that 20 percent of all human trafficking in the United States comes through Texas at some point.

“These cases are within our reach,” she said. “That’s a huge responsibility for Texas.”

The State Department estimates that 300,000 children, mostly runaways, are exploited in the United States each year, Murray said.

Experts at the forum said that no reliable estimates for the amount of local sex trafficking exist.

But they said that The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than from any other state, and 15 percent of those are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

FBI Special Agent Don Freese said forced labor trafficking is harder to detect because it typically involves immigrants bringing in others from their home country to work in private homes.

“Sex trafficking is easier to find,” he said, because it requires interaction with customers, which can open the door for detection by law enforcement.

Deena Graves, executive director of Traffic911, a local nonprofit group that rescues child slavery victims, said human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, second only to drugs in global crime exploits.

Sex trafficking may eventually eclipse drugs, she said.

“You can sell a drug only one time,” she said. “You can sell a person over and over and over. Demand drives the machine.”

A child is sold in the world every two minutes, Graves said, and a third of children who run away from home are forced into prostitution within 48 hours.

“These perpetrators know how to spot a distressed child at malls, bus stations,” she said. “Once they are forced into it, their average life expectancy is seven years” because of disease and violence.

Pornography is the No. 1 driver of child sex exploitation, she said. Often, children are forced to act out scenes in hard-core movies for paying customers, Graves said.

She agreed with Adams that pop culture desensitizes kids and adults to exploitation. She highlighted the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which won the best original song Oscar from the movie Hustle & Flow and the online game as examples of glamorizing prostitution and sex slavery.

“You will become a master at the art of pimping your hoes, commanding your thugs and battling your enemies to protect what you have and to help your empire grow,” PimpWar’s online intro boasts.

Graves showed the audience a cropped image of the face of young girl from a pornographic movie.

“This could be your daughter,” she said.

Paediatricians have erred by suggesting that ‘nicking’ female genitalia should be allowed as a cultural compromise

At the end of last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a revised policy statement on female genital mutilation (FGM) called “ritual genital cutting of female minors,” suggesting that the federal and state law in the US should permit paediatricians to offer a ritual “nick” of girls’ genitalia as a compromise to appease the cultural needs of their immigrant clients. International women’s rights organisations from the US, Africa, and Europe were quick to respond to this outrageous proposition calling on the AAP to retract its 2010 statement and revert back to its much stronger 1998 statement on the subject.

A comparison of the AAP’s 1998 and 2010 statements clearly demonstrates a dilution in the organisation’s understanding of FGM as a form of sex discrimination and gender-based violence performed to control women’s sexuality, ensure virginity until marriage, and guarantee their acceptance into a particular community. A 2008 statement on FGM adopted by 10 prominent UN agencies clearly states that, “the guiding principles for considering genital practices as FGM should be those of human rights, including the right to health, the rights of children and the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex.”

The AAP’s casual comparison of “nicking” of girls’ genitalia to ear piercing demonstrates just how far from the international framework the organisation currently stands. “Nicking” cannot be pulled out of context and must be understood within the larger gender politics of controlling women’s bodies and sexual rights.

Indigenous grassroots groups and activists, including traditional leaders and ex-circumcisers across Africa, have for decades engaged in transforming their local communities to abandon the practice of all types of FGM and adopted alternative rites of passage instead. The protocol to the African charter on human and people’s rights on the rights of women in Africa, a widely supported regional human rights treaty that has been ratified by 27 African countries, specifically prohibits “through legislative measures backed by sanctions, all forms of female genital mutilation, including medicalisation and para-medicalisation of female genital mutilation”.

The AAP’s statement would lead to greater harm to girls in the US by institutionalising what it sees as less severe forms of FGM. WHO and Unicef have cautioned governments against medicalisation of all forms of FGM including pricking and piercing because it “tends to obscure its human rights aspect and could hinder the development of long-term solutions for ending the practice”. The statement comes at a time when the US legislature is seeking to close a loophole in its federal anti-FGM legislation, making it illegal for parents to take girls out of the US for FGM and thus preventing more severe forms of FGM.

But most importantly, the statement completely fails to recognise that human rights standards are absolute and not to be compromised upon in the name of possible harm reduction. The principle behind safeguarding human rights is harm elimination. The statement flies in the face of all international and regional deliberations on the issue, which have concluded that any medically unnecessary procedure to alter female genitalia constitutes a human rights violation and therefore must not be tolerated.

“Nicking” constitutes Type IV FGM, and the UN interagency statement clarifies that, “it has been considered important to maintain a broad definition of FGM in order to avoid loopholes that might allow the practice to continue”.

The AAP must retract its statement.

Part of a longer comment piece at

See also press release from FORWARD at

The proportion of abortion patients who were poor increased by almost 60%—from 27% in 2000 to 42% in 2008, according to “Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008,” by Rachel K. Jones, Lawrence B. Finer and Susheela Singh of the Guttmacher Institute. This shift is the most striking change in the profile of women obtaining abortions.

The growing concentration of abortion among women with incomes below the federal poverty line likely reflects a combination of factors. Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of women in the overall population who were poor increased by 25%. And a Guttmacher study published in the Fall of 2009 showed that the deep economic recession may also have played a role, as financial concerns led more women to want to delay childbearing or limit the number of children they have. Meanwhile, abortion service providers and nonprofit abortion funds across the country have sought to meet the growing need among poor and low-income women by providing services on sliding fee scales and by subsidizing abortion services through charitable donations, which may have allowed some poor women to access services they might not have otherwise been able to afford.

“Gaps in unintended pregnancy and abortion between poor and more affluent women have been increasing since the mid-1990s, so—sadly—none of this comes as a surprise,” says Sharon L. Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “Reproductive health disparities, and health disparities more generally, are endemic in this country and stem from broader, persistent economic and social inequities. We need to bridge these reproductive health gaps by ensuring that all women, regardless of their economic circumstances, have meaningful access to the full spectrum of information and services—both contraceptive services to reduce levels of unintended pregnancy and abortion services.”

Aside from poverty, little changed in the profile of women obtaining abortions between 2000 and 2008. A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions: Fifty-eight percent of abortion patients in 2008 were in their 20s; 45% were never-married and not living with a partner; 61% were already mothers; 42% were living below the federal poverty line; 36% were white; 59% had at least some college education; and 73% were religiously affiliated. But certain groups of women—those who were in their 20s, cohabiting, black or poor—were overrepresented among abortion patients.

For the first time, the survey on which this report is based asked abortion patients about their health insurance status and how they paid for abortion services. Results showed that these women were fairly evenly divided among those with private insurance (30%), those with no insurance (33%) and those covered by Medicaid (31%). Although a majority had some type of public or private health insurance, it is not clear how many of those plans actually included abortion coverage or had a high deductible that discouraged its use for coverage of abortion.

Fifty-seven percent of all women obtaining abortions reported that they paid out of pocket for the procedure, while 12% used private insurance. (Among those with private insurance, nearly two-thirds paid out of pocket, and about one-third used their insurance.) Twenty percent of women relied on Medicaid; almost all of these women lived in the few states that use their own funds to pay for abortions. Among women on Medicaid who lived in states that use their own funds to pay for abortions, more than nine in 10 relied on this method to pay for their abortion. Some 13% of abortion patients relied on financial assistance programs to cover at least some of the cost of the procedure.

This report is based on a nationally representative survey of women obtaining abortions in the United States. While the data permitted the researchers to calculate the proportion of women obtaining abortions in each socioeconomic category, it did not provide the number or rate of abortions in the United States. The Guttmacher Institute’s Abortion Provider Census is currently in the field; results of that survey will provide information needed for calculating abortion numbers and rates in 2011.


Click here for “Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008,” by Rachel K. Jones, Lawrence B. Finer and Susheela Singh.

Click here for Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States.

Having assisted more than 12,000 sex slaves, MAITI Nepal rescues girls from being sold into brothels and helps heal the physiological and physical wounds of those who have served in them.

Nominated as one of CNN Hero, Anuradha Koirala founded MAITI Nepal, an NGO that rescues Nepalese girls from brothels in India. She survived an abusive relationship of her own and when she was able to leave the relationship, Koirala opened up a small store, hiring victims of sex trafficking.

The call to make an even bigger difference in these women’s lives drove her to start MAITI Nepal, which roughly translates to “mother’s home.” Though there is no direct translation, it alludes to a woman’s place when she no longer belongs to her family, but to an outsider, usually her husband.

Working members of MAITI Nepal raid brothels and trafficking cartels in Nepal and India. Once the girls and women are found, they’re housed and provided with resources to help nurture them back to a healthy state.

“The hardest part for me is to see a girl dying or coming back with different diseases at an [age] when she should be out frolicking,” Koirala told CNN. “That’s what fuels me to work harder.”

More than 400 displaced women are housed by MAITI Nepal, where they are given therapy, legal advice and health care. The organization staffs teachers, counselors, social workers and medical personnel, many of whom are rescued sex slaves to aid in the rescue and rehabilitation process. The girls are also provided with job training since Koirala’s goal is to enable them to become economically self-sufficient, helping them to assimilate back into society.

In addition to the rescued, MAITI Nepal also takes in victims of domestic abuse, rape and displaced children.

“I cannot say no to anybody. Everybody comes to Maiti Nepal,” Koirala said.

To see a video on Koirala’s work, view the other nominees, or submit a nominee of your own, visit CNN Heroes

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told a meeting of international women’s equality rights groups last week that it would be best for them to “shut the f–k up” about their concerns over the government’s maternal health initiative.

Ruth sponsored the meeting on Parliament Hill, in which groups such as the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Action Aid International and Action Canada for Population and Development participated in a panel discussion questioning Canada’s leadership in the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights.

With the recent controversy about the government’s plans to omit funding for abortion from its maternal health policy for developing countries, the panelists said it was an issue they couldn’t ignore.

However, during the question and answer period, Ruth advised the room that pushing the abortion issue was not the right strategy if they really wanted progress on the maternal health issue. Her comments were caught on tape by the Toronto Star.

“We’ve got five weeks or whatever left until the G8 starts. Shut the f–k up on this issue,” she said. “If you push it, there’ll be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women’s health in this country.”

She went on to say, “Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Don’t make this an election issue.”

Afterward, Ruth was asked about her comments. “I’m not going to repeat them in front of microphones. You gotta be crazy.”

She explained that people are more worried about jobs and mortgages. “To deal with more altruistic things, even though I think we should, is perhaps not relative and not a seller right now.”

“I think it is a mistake to make a public debate about abortion for the G8.”

Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett said Ruth’s comments shocked the room. Bennett said she thinks Ruth’s advice exposes something the government has denied — that for those who speak out against the government, there will be repercussions.

Funding cuts are one example of a repercussion the groups fear.

But the activists say they won’t be taking Ruth up on her suggestion to keep quiet. Katherine McDonald is executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development.

“The time to speak out is now. If we hadn’t spoken out over the last three months, contraception would not be part of this initiative.”

McDonald is referring to the government’s reversal on its initial announcement that family planning would not be part of the maternal health plan.

Bennett echoed another panelist at the meeting, saying that women in the world didn’t achieve what they have over the years by “shutting up.”

See also: The number of women’s groups cut off from federal funding has swelled to two dozen, fuelling opposition charges the Harper government is punishing those who dare to criticize its policies.

Under a new Utah law, women who miscarry under certain conditions are open to murder charges and life sentences. Feticide laws in other states focus on abusive boyfriends and husbands, but this one targets the woman herself.

Utah’s new law, in which women who miscarry could face charges of murder and life sentences in prison, has the American Medical Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and women’s advocacy groups worried.

Other states, such as North Carolina, Florida and Mississippi, have laws that are directed towards a third party and “were passed in response to a pregnant woman who has been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend,” Paltrow said. But Utah’s law “is directed to the woman herself, and that’s what makes it different and dangerous.”

The law became official March 8. State Rep. Carl Wimmer proposed it after a 17-year-old girl who was 7 months pregnant paid a man she didn’t know to beat her up to induce a miscarriage. He kicked her in the stomach repeatedly and even bit her neck. But the fetus survived and the baby was given up for adoption.

The young woman was charged with second-degree felony criminal solicitation to commit murder in Juvenile Court, but was not ultimately charged.

Under Utah law at that time, a woman could not be held criminally liable for attempting to obtain an abortion on her own. The man who beat her was found guilty of third-degree attempted killing of an unborn child under a state anti-abortion statute and was sentenced to up to five years in jail.

Wimmer, an ardent advocate for repealing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion under a woman’s right to privacy, proposed the first version of what became the Utah Criminal Homicide and Abortions Revisions bill.
Any ‘Reckless’ Act

Originally the bill criminalized any “reckless” act by a pregnant woman that causes a miscarriage. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert refused to sign it out of concern that the wording was murky enough to mean pregnant women who lost a fetus due to slipping on ice, over-exercising or driving past the speed limit could face the bill’s most extreme punishment of life in prison.

The bill was revised, yet the law still contains provisions that may have consequences far exceeding the scope of the legislature’s intent, critics say. Among other things, law enforcement officials now have discretion over arrests and investigations in connection with the law.

Some of the “knowing or intentional” acts that may be prosecuted under the law include smoking cigarettes during pregnancy, staying in an abusive relationship, refusing a Caesarean section or bed rest when instructed by a doctor or using prescription medications that are known to harm a fetus.

One major concern is that the bill will drive women in need of prenatal and health care underground.

Wimmer assured opponents that the law would only be applied “in the most glaring of cases.” Law enforcement officials, however, have discretion to arrest and investigate whichever cases they choose.

Advocates representing low income and minority women have expressed concern that the law will have a particular impact on women already disproportionately targeted for punishment, state control and arrests.

Part of a longer article at

Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions bill

Utah American Civil Liberties Union

“What the Utah bill will really mean for women’s rights and health,” National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

The state of Nebraska has opened a new front in America’s war over abortion, passing a law that shifts the emphasis away from the viability of the unborn baby to survive outside the womb and on to a previously legally untested concept of foetal pain.

Two laws signed by the governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, represent a bold attempt by local anti-abortionists to undermine the constitutional right to an abortion established in the supreme court ruling Roe v Wade in 1973. Pro-abortion groups denounced the legislation as the most extreme attack yet on women’s reproductive rights.

The foetal-pain law bans abortions in Nebraska beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. It cites claims by some doctors that by that stage foetuses show signs that they avoid certain stimuli, indicating that they feel pain, though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists insists there is no evidence to support that.

Only in cases of a pregnant woman’s imminent death or substantial physical harm would exceptions be allowed.

In a second law, all women seeking an abortion in Nebraska would have to be screened for any mental health or other “risk factors” that could arise as a result of the procedure.

The reliance on pain marks a dramatic switch away from previous definitions of legal abortion as set down by a succession of supreme court rulings since Roe v Wade. The cut-off point has been determined as the viability of the foetus, which is assessed on an individual basis but usually falls between 22 and 24 weeks.

Although legislators in Nebraska have presented the law as a reform based on science, there is a strong political incentive behind their action. In May last year George Tiller, one of the only doctors in America who performed abortions in late stages of pregnancy, was shot and killed by an anti-abortion campaigner, Scott Roeder.

Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, was closed and attention on the most emotive cases of late abortions transferred to Nebraska where another doctor, LeRoy Carhart, promised to take over some of Tiller’s casework. Local politicians in Nebraska feared that the centre of the abortion debate would pass from Kansas, where daily and sometimes violent demonstrations were held outside Tiller’s clinic for years, to their home state.

The foetal pain law is likely to be swiftly challenged by pro-abortion groups and may well end up before the supreme court. The Centre for Reproductive Rights said the ban on abortions after 20 weeks “clearly violates the constitution”.


Women’s civil society groups were noticeable by their absence from the landmark Haiti donor conference on 31 March, which secured pledges of US$5.3 billion over the next two years to support the country’s post-quake recovery.

Their lack of a presence at the meeting was indicative of a broader missing voice in Haiti’s long-term reconstruction prospects, gender activists argued.

“Why are we not there right now, where are the women at this conference?” questioned Marie St. Cyr, a Haitian human rights advocate. “We still don’t have full participation and we certainly don’t have full inclusion. Haitian women are still being raped…they are supporting more than half of the households, and yet they are not being heard.”

More than 100 women’s groups attended an alternative conference hosted by MADRE, a New York-based organization. St. Cyr said she had lobbied for the past month to join the donor meeting, but had not received a response from any of the various co-hosts, including the United Nations, the Haitian and the US governments.

Haitian-born Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur, who represented the diaspora community at the main conference, said she was not surprised to look across the room and see few other female faces. The text of the Haitian government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), a blueprint plan for recovery, offered a similar lack of gender diversity, she explained.

“There needs to be a bolder vision for reconstruction, and right now, there isn’t a very clear place for women within that,” St. Fleur told IRIN. “But I think we make a mistake when we say that we have to have a place for women, because they must not placed in a corner like that. Women and girls must be integrated throughout this plan. And that doesn’t exist, right now.”

The PDNA report divides reconstruction into eight main themes, including governance, infrastructure sectors, and environmental and disaster risk development. Women gain inclusion only in the “cross-cutting sector,” which also addresses youth and culture.

The Haiti Gender Equality Collaborative, a coalition of civil society organizations, placed its own spin on the document, issuing a modified “gender shadow report” at the MADRE conference, hosted across the street from the United Nation Secretariat. It highlights the gender concerns absent from Haiti’s PDNA, and offers recommendations for gender-sensitive plans of action.

Enabling the participation of gender equality experts in all sectors of reconstruction, and ensuring that funding streams include gender-specific allocations are among the alternative report’s proposals, according to Kathy Mangones, UNIFEM’s Haiti office representative.

Women in Haiti, however, do not have the luxury of waiting for action, St. Cyr noted. Before the earthquake, they were running half the households – and those numbers have now risen, with women taking in children from other families.

The issue of sexual violence also remains an enormously grave, though largely undocumented one.

Edmond Mulet, the acting head of the UN Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, said at a press conference last week that while the numbers are unknown, reports of sexual violence and rape are on the rise. The UN considers the matter “urgent,” he said, and plans on deploying an all-female Bangladesh Formed Police Unit (FPU) of military peacekeepers imminently. It will be the second-ever all-female FPU the UN has deployed, and Mulet anticipated their presence in the often cramped and poorly-lit displaced camps “would be extremely helpful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted in a closing press conference at the main donor meeting that he remained “painfully aware, in particular, of reports of sexual violence”. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, among others, also spoke of the need to prioritize the needs of women.

Yet without women at the table, the sentiment fell short, said St. Cyr.

“We need to be heard because the system has failed us so miserably. These systematic failures have shown that our voices have not been taken into consideration or prioritized,” she said. “This is beyond words. It’s beyond laws that are not being implemented. It’s beyond dollars. It’s a country in degradation that is progressively being buried. The earthquake didn’t bury Haiti, Haiti has been continuously buried for years, and it’s time we help dig it out.”

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) today launched a viral campaign to raise awareness of its new editorial series, The Female Factor. Aimed at influential women in business and government around the world, its release coincides with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The viral, entitled It’s a girl, was developed by London based creative agency Karmarama and tells the stories of thee women across the globe, highlighting their contrasting experiences. It is targeted at online channels, primarily women’s networks and bloggers who write about women’s issues, and has a dedicated Female Factor channel on U Tube.

John Scully, head of marketing for the IHT, said: “This is a high impact, thought-provoking viral that not only brings into relief the huge divergences in women’s lives but also gives a true flavor of the Female Factor series, driving people to our content.”

Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of Karmarama added: “We wanted to create a viral that could capture women’s imaginations and at the same time, make them aware of the fact that the IHT is covering the issues they really care about from its unique international perspective.”

The Female Factor is a year-long series in the IHT, examining the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, and assessing how women are influencing early 21st century development. The “Female Factor” series aims to take the reader on surprising journeys where women’s worlds intersect, whether they are in the western or the developing worlds, and answer the question: How does the ‘’Female Factor’’ influence early 21st century development?

The Female Factor: Conversations

Share your thoughts about the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, as part of The Female Factor series.

After two years of research that included enforcement operations targeting prostitutes, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) is seeing the benefits of their innovative new approach of going to the streets to provide comprehensive services and a complete exit strategy for those seeking a way out of prostitution. Data evaluated at the University of North Texas Health Science Center has not only shown the Prostitute Diversion Initiative (PDI) is getting prostitutes off the streets, it is lowering crime rates in areas frequented by prostitutes along Dallas’ I-20 corridor.

Surprising data reveals of the 371 adult prostitutes contacted as part of the Dallas PDI over the last two years, 54 percent tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, with the most prevalent being syphilis, said Martha Felini, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Health Science Center School of Public Health. Of the truck stop prostitutes tested, about 30 percent had the disease, similar to the statistics found in underdeveloped countries. Almost half of the prostitutes were high school graduates or had higher education, and 54 percent reported having a mental health condition, with over half of those reporting having more than one.

The PDI’s ultimate goal is to change the way law enforcement and other institutions approach those involved in prostitution.

“The purpose of the PDI is to give these victims a choice,” Felini said. “By bringing resources to the streets we’ve learned these women have suffered a lifetime of trauma and their drug addictions are helping them cope with co-occurring mental health conditions. Should those eligible opt for treatment in lieu of jail, they can get immediate and appropriate care that will give them a fighting chance at recovery and a new life.”

Results show that 60 percent of those eligible opted to go into treatment. With 23 people completing the initial phase of the treatment program, 65 percent of these remain abstinent and in supportive care services with no subsequent arrests in Dallas County.

“As the PDI enters its third year, we anticipate seeing the impact of the program over the longer term,” Felini said. “In other words, will those successes in the first year continue to remain off the streets in two years? The statistics thus far indicate that the initial phase of the treatment is critical, but challenges remain in defining success in this migratory population. Part of this equation for determining success will become more demonstrable as the PDI expands its collaboration to other cities.”

This year, with the collaboration of the UNT Center for Human Identification, a High-Risk Potential Victim’s DNA Database will be implemented into the PDI , the first of its kind in the nation. Given that prostitutes are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race, this database will provide law enforcement a forensic tool to aid in post-mortem identification of victims and advocate for the prostitute in finding his or her killer. In addition, it can help provide closure to the victim’s families searching for missing loved ones.

Atlanta, Las Vegas, Montreal and South Korea are looking at the program and have contacted the DPD for more information on the PDI.

“In order to help establish a program in areas outside of the United States, we will have to look carefully at cultural differences to obtain the greatest success,” Felini said. “The PDI demonstrates a respect for women’s rights and recognition of mental health conditions as treatable. But many countries have a different perception of women, and those with mental health conditions are ostracized.

“The challenge we face today is humanizing the data we have analyzed. Most people are unaware of the prostitute population and believe that those individuals ‘get what they deserve.’ Regardless of your position on prostitution, information about this population is important to our understanding of mental health, cancer and infectious disease, all which affect the general population. We cannot afford to continue ignoring this marginalized group,” Felini said.

The Health Science Center will continue to evaluate the program as it expands and is implemented by other cities. Each year, a report will be published revealing the compiled data. For information on future PDI developments, visit, or the Center for Community Health at the Health Science Center.

Part of a longer report at

President Obama, who quietly signed an executive order last week reaffirming that no federal funds can be used for abortion, is facing fury from a core part of his constituency: women’s advocates.

“Women elected him,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “He campaigned as a pro-choice president. We wished he would storm the ramparts for every one of our issues. It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women. It’s health reform that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women.”

The anger also stems from language in the legislation that allows abortion to be covered by health insurance plans offered on new “exchanges,” but requires buyers to make two premium payments — one for most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one, for abortion coverage.

Abortion opponents complain the language did not go far enough to keep federal money from subsidizing abortion.

“The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

But abortion rights groups and health-care analysts predict few plans will end up covering abortion because the requirement of two payments would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “Health-care reform was supposed to expand health-care coverage for women. Now women will be worse off under health-care reform.”

It is too soon to tell whether the president’s decision to sign the executive order has affected his standing among women, but recent polling shows that their views on abortion more generally, and on the president, are holding steady. In a January Washington Post-ABC poll, half of adults, including 53 percent of women and majorities of Republicans and independents, said they preferred a “more restrictive” option, where “insurance plans in which the government is involved [are] forbidden from covering abortions.”

Among some women, the disappointment fuels earlier misgivings about Obama, who ended the prospect of the nation electing its first female president when he defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

“I’ve heard women complain very loudly, ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president,’ ” O’Neill said.

Several advocates said they were especially bitter because at one point during the intense negotiations over the abortion provisions in the health-care legislation they had agreed to a compromise that they thought would resolve the issue without either side giving ground.

The frustration over the language on abortion was compounded by the executive order, which Obama signed out of sight of cameras on Wednesday, in stark contrast to an elaborate ceremony when he signed the legislation a day earlier. Some abortion-rights advocates fear the order will make it more difficult to achieve one of their biggest priorities: elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions.

“What we had hoped for when the president was elected was that this would be an opportunity to break down the many obstacles to abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “That instead, one year into the Obama presidency, we have moved the line further away is just stunning.”

Obama took a number of steps immediately after his election pushed by abortion-rights advocates, including removing restrictions on funding for international family planning groups that support abortion, allowing the morning-after pill Plan B to be made available at military hospitals and announcing plans to rescind a new federal regulation designed to protect health-care workers who do not want to deliver care they find objectionable, including abortion.

But disappointed abortion rights groups also pointed to a seemingly minor provision in the legislation designed to protect health-care workers who did not want to be forced to violate their personal beliefs related to abortion. Originally, the language extended that protection to those who were both “willing” and “unwilling” to perform abortions. In the end, the protections for those willing were dropped.

“We thought it was a modest, evenhanded proposal to have it go both ways, and we couldn’t get even that,” said Helene Krasnoff, a senior staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

But others said they considered it a significant victory that the final legislation did not incorporate a proposal by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to ban coverage of abortion in plans offered in the exchange.

Several advocates noted that the legislation contains many elements that will benefit women.

“All in all, this is a historic accomplishment and is a response to women who have been crying out for help in dealing with the failings of the health-care system. It will have immediate and long-term benefits for women and their families,” said Amy Allina of the National Women’s Health Network. “But it clearly came at a cost.”


When Canada Border Services agents entered a downtown women’s shelter Feb. 27 in search of “Jane”, a non-status rape victim and single mother from Ghana, all they accomplished was her re-victimization and re-traumatization, allege a collective of anti-violence against women advocates last week.

With a banner declaring “deportation is violence against women” above their heads, seven representatives of organizations supporting the Shelter Sanctuary Status campaign spoke out against the “unprecedented attack” at an emergency press conference at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.

“Why target these women? This smacks to me of lazy policing – it’s easy to go after the people who are very vulnerable; easy to go after the people who have few resources,” decried Anna Willats, a 10-year veteran professor with George Brown’s Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate Program.

“The Canada Border Service Agency’s policy (of entering shelters to look for non-status women) is one that contributes to violence against women and it must be changed…deportation is a system that tears families apart, that takes women, uproots them from communities where they’ve established roots, and sends them back to horrific violence – to violence that could lead to their death.”

In the case of Jane, whose real name was withheld for the sake of her safety, that life of horrific violence began was she was just eight years old. Her parents, faced with the prospect of losing their daughter to grave illness, turned to a rural voodoo doctor in Ghana for help. The cost of curing her, however, was lifelong ownership of the girl.

Thus abandoned by her parents, young Jane spent the next decade of her life “held hostage” as a virtual sex slave, she said. She was raped on an almost daily basis. She escaped once, but was tracked down and brought back for more abuse.

It wasn’t until ten years of such abuse had passed that Jane was finally able to break free, she said. She fled to Canada in 1999 on a visitor’s visa. Here, she had an apartment, a car, a job, a life. She gave birth to her daughter here in Toronto. She was relatively happy and totally independent.

All that changed in 2006, when Jane’s refugee application was denied. An appeal saw the same result. A deportation order was filed, and Jane became desperate.

If deported back to Ghana, Jane fears those who took away her innocence as a young child will reassert their ownership rights over both her and her three-year-old daughter. She wants a much happier childhood for her daughter and a better life for them both. That’s why she went to Beatrice House, a downtown shelter, in the first place – as a refuge against the prospect of deportation back to a life of misery and violence, she admitted.

But the sense of safety and security she once felt in the arms of Toronto’s shelter system were shattered Feb. 27 when Jane received word that CBSA officers entered Beatrice House looking for her.

“I wasn’t staying there anymore, but one of the residents from the shelter called me. She told me that immigration officers came into the shelter looking for me,” she recalled, sitting huddled in a back room of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, away from prying camera lenses and shrouded by a scarf and dark sunglasses.

“I never thought Immigration would actually do something so low. I am not a criminal. I am a human being and shouldn’t be treated like this. I have the right to be in a shelter without being afraid that they will come to get me.”

The CBSA, however, begs to differ. In an email to The Guardian, the agency’s communications manager Anna Pape said that, while uncommon, CBSA does hold the authority to access shelters “in order to enforce outstanding immigration warrants.”

“The CBSA would only enter shelters in cases where a proactive investigation leads them there. In these rare cases, when entry to a shelter becomes necessary, the situation is always approached with sensitivity and discretion,” she said, noting that, to date, none of their visits have involved direct contact with residents, searches of living quarters, or physical altercations.

The problem with that policy, advocates contended Monday, is that the resultant threat of detention and deportation might force women and children to remain in an abusive situation.

Eileen Morrow, coordinator of the Ontario Association for Interval and Transition Houses, said the practice must stop.

“When enforcement officers violate the safety of a women’s shelter to execute their orders on any one woman, they send a message to other women that the shelter is not a safe or confidential space,” she said.

“Enforcement activities of the CBSA should not trump the women’s right to safety. With or without immigration status in this country, women have a human right to safety from violence, and with or without warrants the CBSA must stop looking for migrant and refugee women at shelters and other women’s services.”

Jane, meanwhile, has decided to remain in hiding; to shelter-hop until CBSA authorities give up trying to find her.

“I’m like a mouse, I’m still hiding. I want my status – to get my permanent residency to stay in Canada, but I’ve been denied for everything. That’s the struggle,” she said. “It’s been very difficult and I go through a lot of pain. I don’t sleep in my life. Even my baby, too, she is going through a lot of stress. She is Canadian but does not enjoy a Canadian’s life.”

The Shelter Sanctuary Status Coalition, a growing movement of more than 120 anti-violence against women organizations across Toronto, is demanding the CBSA immediately stop visiting or waiting outside shelters or organizations that provide services to women; that women fleeing domestic abuse and violence be given status immediately; and that a full and inclusive regularization program be implemented.

For more information, go to–women-s-advocates-want-an-end-to-shelter-searches