Combating Human Trafficking



Human trafficking, a modern-day version of slavery, is a crime prevalent throughout the nation — a widespread epidemic where victims are exploited for sex or labor. The federal government, through the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), has made it a priority to fight human trafficking and provide aid to those who have been victimized.

The OVC, part of the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice (DOJ), assists the subjugated by providing specialized services to address the victims’ needs and punish predators.

DOJ has long enforced criminal laws against involuntary servitude and slavery, but the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) enhanced those efforts. The TVPA increased protections and resources for victims; created new crime types; toughened penalties for trafficking offenses; and expanded the U.S. government’s international activities to prevent victims from being trafficked.

Since 2003, the OVC, with TVPA funding, has supported programs that provide victims with housing, food, medical and dental care; mental health treatment; interpretation and translation services; immigration assistance; literacy education; and job training skills. OVC also provides free, comprehensive legal assistance to victims.

The OVC strives to uphold the intent of the TVPA and its subsequent authorizations to ensure that all victims — regardless of immigration status, gender or form of trafficking — receive support in accessing the services they need to heal.

Human trafficking victims can be of any race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level or citizenship status. People under age 18 engaged in commercial sex acts are considered victims, regardless of the use of force, fraud or coercion.

Traffickers prey on the poor, the defenseless, those living in unsafe situations or in search of a better life. Victims are lured with false promises and are tempted, or forced, into situations where they are made to work, or held as sex slaves, under deplorable conditions with little or no pay.

Nationwide, the most vulnerable populations include American Indian/Alaska Native communities; lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning individuals; those with disabilities; undocumented immigrants; and runaway or homeless youth.

Just as there is no single type of trafficking victim, perpetrators vary. They range from those engaged in criminal activity, such as pimps and gang members, to those in respectable professions, including diplomats, business owners, labor brokers and farm, factory and company owners.

The OVC, faced with a rising number of new and complex issues for victims — in addition to longstanding challenges — must continue to evolve if it is to build and sustain its scope.

The OVC, faced with a rising number of new and complex issues for victims — in addition to longstanding challenges — must continue to evolve if it is to build and sustain its scope. The Human Trafficking Task Force e-Guide provides practical information on the creation and day-to-day operations of anti-human trafficking task forces, with recent case examples.

The ‘Scourge’ of Hepatitis C?



I have a friend who just hit his 55th birthday; we’ll call him Lon.

Lon, a single father of a 15-year-old daughter, met a woman online and they began dating quite steadily. The two had reached the state where sexual relations were being considered and Lon’s girlfriend asked him to take the usual menu of sexually transmitted disease (STD) tests, to assure he was infection free.

So, Lon went to an STD clinic, where the nurse asked him the usual questions and he completed the form that was needed before the tests were administered. But then, Lon – who had seen the continuous television commercials geared toward baby boomers, saying they should be tested for hepatitis C – asked whether he needed to be tested for the STD, since it was not on the list.

The nurse practitioner asked Lon whether he had ever used intravenous drugs. Lon was no angel when he was in his teens and answered that he had indeed used needles some 40 years before.

So, the test was added to the list and the results were not what he had hoped for: He had signs of hepatitis C. So, the nurse sent Lon to his doctor to get a referral to a specialist to begin treatment of the progressive – and communicable – disease.

Aside from not understanding how he could have a disease from poor decisions made nearly 40 years before, Lon was scared, very scared.

Lon had just been laid off from a job he held for 27 years and since he could not afford paid health insurance, he was on Medicaid.

The specialist put Lon through a series of tests and sent the results to the managed care association (MCO) that was connected to his Medicaid. After weeks of waiting, the results came back: The MCO would not pay for the requested drug, Harvoni, but recommended that the specialist request a second, less expensive drug called Zepatier.

Both drugs are extremely expensive, with Harvoni treatment reaching the six-figure mark.

Again, Lon went through a series of somewhat uncomfortable tests to determine if he had any liver damage, which would determine whether the specialist would be authorized to prescribe the requested drug.

Again, weeks went by and the results came in: Although the tests showed Lon had some liver scarring, he was not sick enough to be prescribed the drug.

The specialist was surprised, but no one was more surprised than Lon: He had to be sicker before he could be treated for the ailment.

The absurdity was not lost on him, nor on his specialist, who told Lon to come back in six to 12 months to see if his liver was sufficiently scarred to be treated.

The shock was overwhelming: Lon called Medicaid, the MCO and went as far as to call state authorities to get the answer to several troubling questions:

How is it you want me to get sicker with a progressive disease in order to be treated and wouldn’t it end up being more expensive if you have to treat me then? Do I have to be near death to be treated for this condition?

Let me say after doing significant research, Lon learned that both drugs are extremely expensive, even if the requests had been approved.

But then Lon got what he considered the most shocking part of the whole ordeal: The state nurse told him that even if he had private or company insurance he would still be denied, because – by state standards – he wasn’t sick enough.

At least she was honest, but that didn’t make Lon feel any better. The nurse said the ailment is fairly common and he shouldn’t be too concerned, because since hepatitis C is only transferred through blood, as long as he didn’t do anything else to damage his liver he should be alright.

But, wait a minute, if he can’t be treated until he gets worse, can he have this condition until his dying day?

The nurse had no answer.

So Lon, who has since gone back to work, has to wait. And, when Lon and his girlfriend have relations, he has to take precautions.

So, next time you see a commercial on TV to be tested for hepatitis C, be ready for a long-term ordeal.

And hours of wondering why you have to go through the strain.









Is it Rash to Call Newspapers Dead?


I recently got a phone call from a friend whose son wants to become a newspaper reporter. She wondered whether I was willing to help her dissuade him from getting into the profession. He is studying “communications” and takes courses in various aspects of “communicating.”

My friend knows there is more money in PR and marketing and that many believe the newspaper business is dying. Her son is learning the basic tools of modern technology-driven journalism, communications and PR — tools that didn’t exist when I studied my craft.

These are things that old-school reporters need to learn on their own to compete in today’s online news world. In print in the old days, we only needed to know the “Five W’s and H” (who, what, where, why, when and how) and have the driving need to be in the newspaper business.

And know how to report and write.

Despite knowing there was more money in other communications fields, and the problems with the newspaper industry, my friend’s son wants to be an old-school journalist.

He has the itch: Passionate about true journalism, the love of breaking news and beating the competition. However, he doesn’t want to strictly be an online journalist — nor a content editor, nor a communications or PR director — but a newspaper reporter.

I have been in the business for three decades and I love it. But, I was determined to play Devil’s Advocate. So when we spoke, my question was: Why?

In recent years, “Newspaper Reporter” has been at the bottom of the list of lowest paying jobs, I explained. (Schools still teach heavily attended journalism courses, because ever since Woodward and Bernstein decades ago the job has been considered sexy, so people apply.)

But this man apparently had the inexplicable gene: He was determined to become a journalist and work for a newspaper. I was not about to comply with my friend’s wishes and dissuade her son.

Will he have a place to go?

The question is are newspapers truly going or gone — or will they make a comeback because people enjoy holding printed pages and reading in-depth stories.

This is slightly simplistic, but newspapers are a risky business because the ad dollars have other “news” places to go.

Warren Buffett invested in the newspaper business, though part of his strategy has been to thin the staff. According to a shareholders’ letter Buffett wrote in 2013 after spending the previous 15 months spending approximately $334 million on newspapers:

“Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.”

Hyperlocal news seems to hold the key as to whether print survives, according to Buffett and other media industry experts.

However, this past February Buffett slightly changed his tune when he told CNBC he foresees only two major newspapers surviving in print: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

“If you look, there are 1,300 daily newspapers left in the United States. (Berkshire Hathaway has) 31 of them. There were 1,700 or 1,800 not too long ago,” Buffett said. “Now, you’ve got the internet. Aside from the ones I mentioned, 1,400 or 1,300 of them haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model.”

Luckily for my friend’s son, there are still small newspapers that are hiring, usually in places he never expected to visit, let alone live. I told him if he is that determined, he will find a newspaper that will appreciate his persistence. And though the paper most probably has an online element, he also will appear in print.

And, according to Poynter, those small hyperlocal newspapers will survive with community support:

“An industry that is dying is still alive. It is not dead — yet. While alive, it may continue to perform vital services to a community — services such as news and information, keeping an eye on city hall, on sewage in the bay, on the failures of local schools. It may continue to be the best we’ve got.”




When Quitting IS the Best Option

I quit

There seems to be a multitude of posts on the topic of quitting populating LinkedIn in recent days.

Maybe it’s the coming of spring and how the change of seasons enlightens and empowers people to start anew; maybe it’s because the job market is supposedly on the upswing.

Not being a social scientist, but a simple writer, I am absorbing these with growing interest and not a minimal amount of wonder.

I quit several times in my somewhat long career, but only once when I did not have another job in the bag:

I was working for a news service in Washington, D.C. — a place which was a starting point for many journalists in the post-Watergate era. The pay was abysmal, the boss was a tad paranoid — but the pluses far outweighed the negatives.

You got a chance to cover political Washington and at the same time get your bylines in some of the country’s most prestigious newspapers and wire services. And for many — some with now household names — the company’s opportunities led to much bigger and better things.

Each of one us fledgling reporters was assigned different newspapers, usually decided by state, and if we were not that publication’s primary reporter, we did get pretty significant stories to write. Particularly if your state had one of the more influential and busy newspapers.

I was assigned two states: One which had two small, but good papers; the second with some of the best papers in the country.

Despite being dirt poor, I was having the time of my young life: I was a Washington correspondent and my byline appeared on the same pages with journalists of note. Ramen and tuna were staples, but who cared!

Then one day, two events coincidentally occurred simultaneously, which changed everything — and led me to not only quit, but storm out the door with a few choice words:

  • I was accused of leaking some internal financial information to friends at a major Washington newspaper. The reason: They had gotten hold of some damaging data, they were my friends — so it had to be me; and
  • A new reporter was introduced to the newsroom who had some prior experience in my bigger state and I was told he would be taking over the papers in that jurisdiction.

I tried to point out the absurdity of the first accusation to no avail. I then pointed to my unbridled enthusiasm and loyalty in my months of coverage: This too changed nothing.

So, I turned to the boss, told him what I thought of him and stormed out the door, taking the minimal belongings that were mine.

It was a major rush to turn to him and say: “I Quit.”

The managing editor literally chased me down the street and asked if I knew what I was doing and that jobs in journalism weren’t easy to find (even back then).

I said I could care less; I was throwing caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may.

I was also in my mid-20s!

Now, I justify my quitting without another job on two levels:

  • I was unjustly accused of compromising my place of employ when all I had ever exhibited was hard work, for low pay at absurd hours; and
  • I had snatched from underneath me the opportunity to work for two of the best newspapers in the country at the time.

Total disrespect was the reason I quit — that, and I was young enough to do so with youth’s empowerment of invincibility on my side.

I to this day believe that there is only so much disrespect a person can take at a workplace before they decide enough is enough. And, I might have quit some other jobs before the time was appropriate had I not found other venues — or needed the money.

But my age was the key: It’s a lot easier to quit outright when you are 25 than when you are 45!

And, by way of a postscript: I found another quite awe-inspiring job the next day.

The Absurdity of a Cable TV Ad


Let me start by emphasizing that this post is not a reflection on Fox News, CNN or even Comcast. What this post is is an example of what I consider the utter absurdity of a cable TV ad — on several levels.

The ad has Bill Hemmer, a newsman who has been on CNN and now is one of the main anchors on Fox, promoting advertising on Comcast Spotlight. The following is the script of the ad.

Hi, I’m Bill Hemmer from America’s Newsroom on the Fox News Channel. Why advertise on Fox News with Comcast Spotlight? While the number of prime time broadcast TV viewers has gone down, the number tuning in to cable news has actually gone up – and Fox News has dominated as the Number 1 rated cable news channel since 2002. That gives you a powerful and geographically targeted platform to reach your customers. So advertise your business locally on Fox News with Comcast Spotlight.

Now let me list why I consider this ad to be absurd:

  • You have a respected newsperson advertising a product;
  • It is an ad on CNN, considered a Fox News Channel competitor; and
  • It is an ad for Comcast, which owns CNBC — an ideological Fox competitor.

I report — you decide.

Bunny in the Snow

bunny in the snow

I live in a semi-suburban apartment complex — I can actually on a good day throw a baseball into Washington, D.C.

It was a brutal day on Saturday — it snowed all day and cars were completely covered and blocked. The word was to stay off the road.

I was looking out the window when I saw a bunny scurry across the parking lot. Now, the nearest park is several blocks away and I couldn’t figure where the furry little animal started the journey.

I ran down to see if there was anything I could do, but by the time I got down there the bunny was gone. In retrospect, there was nothing I could have done anyway, but the thought of the animal in the freezing snow was breaking me up.

I am about to repeat an oft-used moral, one that I learned years ago when reading “The Canterbury Tales” — if you can’t be kind to animals, how can you be expected to respect human beings?

Famed modern German philosopher Immanuel Kant, summed it up as follows:

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Here’s a quick tale to emphasize the point:

I once had a boss that can only be described as being pure evil and extremely paranoid. So paranoid in fact — and I am not making this up — he would use a mirror on a stick to look under his Jeep when he left work to make sure no one had tampered with the vehicle.

This man also once told me that my writers had to rework a newsletter that he had already approved and they would have to come in on Thanksgiving to do the work.

I complained vehemently to no avail, but told him I could not do that to my colleagues and would come in and do the work myself.

This man hated dogs and made it very clear that he did. He once told me that he got a thrill out of calling over strays — and then kicking them. I was flabbergasted.

One weekend I brought my mixed-breed Ralph to the office, since no one was there. He for some reason entered the above-mentioned boss’ office — and proceeded to pee on his rug.

You see, Ralph sensed the obvious.

And, I hope the bunny made it to wherever he/she was going safely.

The Freedom of (Hate) Speech

back to normal

I saw a post on LinkedIn the other day that troubled me deeply. It was simply titled “The Zionist are cancer to humanity.”

It bothered me not so much because of the post itself — though that was bad enough — but more due to the reaction it elicited. (Forget the fact that it was totally ungrammatical.)

There was a back-and-forth between pro- and anti-Israeli positions, which I duly understand.

But those supporting the premise that Zionism is a cancer made comments that I found particularly gruesome and troubling, calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the killing of Jews worldwide.

Not because they are not entitled to their opinions — even if they are considered by anyone’s civil-society standards as completely vile — but it was because of the countries that some of these opinions came from.

Countries where if you would dare make comments against government or authority, you could get whipped, jailed — or even killed.

We are very lucky that we live in a country where you can say and publish almost anything without censorship and in most cases not being taken to punishable task. (I wouldn’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater or say “I have a bomb” on an airplane.)

However, that does not mean you need to be unnecessarily repulsive when posting.

I, personally, try to understand all viewpoints. And, whether I agree with them or not, I respect the right of free speech.

But, hate speech is pointless.

And calling for destruction of a country — any country — or people because of their religion, personal beliefs, sexual orientation or race is totally disrespectful.

I respect the rights of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and had hoped from a very young age that there would be a resolution — and still do.

But the absolutely disgusting comments I read that day make me wonder what could possibly precipitate such utter hate.

I understand the anger of people who have lost family members in conflict. I have cousins who were murdered by extremists in Israel — and not in war; I lost a great percentage of my family in the Holocaust.

But posting such loathsome commentary on any site — particularly on a site designed to build, not destroy connections, like LinkedIn — leaves me totally puzzled.