Monday, May 11, 2015

Sen. McAllister

I haven't written in a while.  Unfortunately the motivation for writing now is a local case of trafficking.  Since I moved to Swanton, Vermont, away from the city (by Vermont standards, anyway) of South Burlington a few months ago, I thought that I had moved away from the high-danger zone for trafficking.  Of course, I knew better: trafficking can happen anywhere at any time.  The contributing factors of human trafficking exist everywhere: poverty, desperation, humans--who have the potential to be monsters.

Last week, a Vermont news story broke here in Franklin County, Vermont.  A state senator named Norm McAllister, a resident of the town over from Swanton, was taken from the statehouse in Montpelier into custody on charges of sexual assault and prohibited acts, aka human trafficking.  McAllister is accused of taking advantage of his tenants and women who worked for him.  Some might classify what McAllister did as a "light" form of human trafficking.  He did not physically enslave anyone nor did he threaten anyone's life.  Yet that doesn't lighten the monstrosity of what McAllister did: coercing women to perform unwanted sexual acts so that they wouldn't be kicked out onto the streets.  I have spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on what pushes someone to do what McAllister did and so on some level I understand it, no matter how disgusting and appalling it is.  What I cannot understand, however, is that in public McAllister was an advocate for the poor, saying earlier in his legislative career that he is concerned for the poor because he sees how difficult it is for his tenants to pay the rent.  Essentially what he was saying, then, is that his reason for caring for the poor is that he takes sexual advantage of his tenants because they struggle to pay the rent.

No matter how often I have written and said that people who use and abuse slaves are humans just like the rest of us, meaning mostly that we should reflect inward on ourselves rather than only lash out at perpetrators, and no matter how often I have said that users and abusers will publicly look and act like the rest of us, I have come to a point where I give up.  I don't give up in trying to fight human trafficking but I give up in trying to understand.  I do not understand how a person can publicly say, "I see my tenants struggle to pay the rent and I care for them," and then privately take advantage of them, forcefully invade their bodies, and perhaps irreparably harm their mental and emotional space.  I have been going around saying the last few days, "I understand a lot of things, but I don't understand how he could do that."  I do not understand.  Many times I have written that we humans often create a Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario in which our public and private lives are vastly different and our public mind almost doesn't know what the private self is doing.  I can almost guarantee you that to some extent you do the same.  I certainly do.  In that sense, I understand; I understand McAllister's motivation; but I do not understand how he could publicly express concern for his tenants while actively abusing them and trying to prostitute them.

I suppose what this should teach us is that we can never know when we might encounter an abuser.  So many times I have said that trafficking can and probably does exist right around the corner from where we live (even if we need to define "corner" as forty minutes away), but today I want to focus on the persons involved.  Often we think of trafficking as an object: some thing that exists.  When we think that way, it's easier for us to believe that we and our loved ones will never become a victim.  Certainly, I don't want to scare us into thinking we'll become a victim, but the likelihood of our becoming a victim probably increases when we think, "If I only avoid that dangerous neighborhood, that spa, that place..."  Human trafficking is not a thing and it is not a place.  Human trafficking involves persons and is perpetrated by persons.  Many of the 27 million slaves--trafficked persons--in the world were lured in by a person (I would say all except that some are still born into slavery like on U.S. plantations in the old days and some are kidnapped without any warning signs).  And because the perpetrators will publicly look and act like the rest of us, we should be aware of how prevalent human trafficking is and should be aware of our resources.  Victims are no longer treated as criminals.  Victims shouldn't be embarrassed to seek help, even when the perpetrator seems powerful, like Sen. McAllister.  We should feel confident to call 9-1-1 and, better, we should know these phone numbers: 888-3737-888 (National Human Trafficking Hotline); 888-984-8626 (Vermont Human Trafficking Hotline); and 2-1-1 (United Way of Vermont).  We should also review this website: Polaris Trafficking Resources.  If we find ourselves coerced or duped into a violating situation by someone that we thought we could trust or someone who has power over us, then we should know where to go.  Thank God that the victims of Sen. McAllister eventually sought help in the right places.

While my main theme usually is that we need to look inward to make sure that we don't ever use or abuse, or somehow contribute to human trafficking, and thereby eliminate trafficking one person at a time, I'm now thinking that there may be some people who are so far gone that such a tactic won't work.  If that's true, then the rest of us need to be aware of our resources to help ourselves and help others from "a crime so monstrous."

(It is, of course, important to note that Sen. McAllister has not been proven guilty.  He has plead not guilty.  A charge or accusation does not equal guilt, no matter how strong the evidence.  A court of law must decide guilt.  However, in this case, a determination of guilt should not be necessary for us to realize how important it is to know our resources as we grow aware that trafficking can and does occur in all places and at the hands of all sorts of people.)

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