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Ena Lucia Mariaca Pacheco’s testimony — A lifelong journey to those that have been harmed by trafficking and human rights violations

Ena Lucia Mariaca Pacheco’s testimony — A lifelong journey to those that have been harmed  by trafficking and human rights violations

NOVEMBER 30, 2023 — GENEVA (SWITZERLAND)

The video of this full event is avail­able HERE.

My name is Ena Lucia Mari­a­ca Pacheco.  And I’m hon­oured to rep­re­sent the US Coun­cil  on Vio­lence Against Men and Boys as their Co-founder and Glob­al Ambas­sador.  Over the past 13 years,  I have worked with var­i­ous agen­cies world­wide  towards the com­mon goal of rais­ing aware­ness  and stop­ping human traf­fick­ing.  From reshap­ing Canada’s crim­i­nal code on human traf­fick­ing  and engag­ing with traf­fic vic­tims around the world,  to now work­ing on human secu­ri­ty research,  glob­al anti-traf­fick­ing projects,  and pub­lic advo­ca­cy on these crit­i­cal issues.  I can sum­ma­rize my sto­ry that brought me here in three moments.

Let me tell you about the first one.  The start of my jour­ney in 2010,  when I first saw a lit­tle girl named Ani­ta.  She was bare­ly two years old at the time  when she was dropped off in a card­board box  at the doorsteps of an NGO in San José, Cos­ta Rica.  On her body, her bones were shat­tered  and she was cov­ered with scars of cig­a­rette burns from her fam­i­ly.  I remem­ber her lit­tle laugh  when we would do phys­i­cal ther­a­py togeth­er.  She would laugh to try to hide the tears, but she was so strong.  Wit­ness­ing her resilience inspired me to ded­i­cate my life  to the fight against human traf­fick­ing and human rights,  espe­cial­ly for children.

The moment began a life­long jour­ney to those that have been harmed  by traf­fick­ing and human rights vio­la­tions.  For those that always think about mon­ey  and nev­er about the suf­fer­ing they inflict on their victims.

Let’s move on to the sec­ond moment in 2011.  When I found myself work­ing in remote rur­al vil­lages,  small areas and major cities in Cam­bo­dia on a human­i­tar­i­an aid mis­sion.  It was then when I first wit­nessed human traf­fick­ing with my own eyes.  Our team iden­ti­fied sev­er­al karaoke bars in Phnom Penh,  which open­ly sold sex­u­al ser­vices with chil­dren.  Small menus writ­ten in black mark­er list­ed many forms of abuse and exploita­tion  on sale for only a few dol­lars.  These kids sat close­ly togeth­er on these dirty couch­es,  and each on their shirt marked a num­ber  to help the cus­tomer choose their pre­ferred vic­tims.  These were just chil­dren,  scared and total­ly unpro­tect­ed from the per­pe­tra­tors just a few seats down.  This was no longer dis­tanced news sto­ries on web­sites,  but rather tan­gi­ble.  Help­less chil­dren were just an arm’s length away,  and I’ll nev­er for­get the pain that I wit­nessed that day.

Now I will share the third moment.  While work­ing at Inter­pol in 2018, I came across a report  that unveiled the severe online abuse  suf­fered by infants, tod­dlers and boys of all ages.  Male chil­dren scored high­est in the terms of sever­i­ty of their abuse  based on the cop­ing scale.  These boys were suf­fer­ing the most severe abuse  and they were vic­tim to unimag­in­able hor­rors  such as bes­tial­i­ty, live tor­ture and murder.

Before this moment, I had only worked with women and girls,  and my own inter­nal bias assumed that females were the main vic­tims,  and that this must not be a prob­lem for men and boys around the world.  But when my gen­der bias was chal­lenged,  it com­pelled me to learn more about male vic­tim­i­sa­tion.  But I noticed that there were few­er stud­ies and very lit­tle advo­ca­cy  and social ser­vices focus­ing on men and boys.

When I encoun­tered where a dom­i­nant soci­etal nar­ra­tive  that casts vic­tims as female and per­pe­tra­tors as male,  the lit­er­a­ture sug­gests that many front­line pro­fes­sion­als  strug­gle to even per­ceive boys  as poten­tial vic­tims of sex­u­al exploita­tion and abuse.

Today, I come here to chal­lenge these pre­con­cep­tions,  aim­ing to rede­fine the nar­ra­tive on vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors  in the con­text of human rights.

Inter­na­tion­al and nation­al leg­is­la­tions aligned with legal frame­works  have promi­nent­ly focused on the vio­lence against women and girls.  Despite the inclu­sion of male vic­tim­i­sa­tion in some legal instru­ments,  the imple­men­ta­tion often asso­ciates male vic­tims  with the image of a vul­ner­a­ble girl.

For exam­ple, let’s do a quick lan­guage analy­sis  of the Pro­to­col to Pre­vent and Sup­press and Pun­ish Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons,  espe­cial­ly women and chil­dren  or also known as the Paler­mo Pro­to­col.  A key­word search reveals a stark imbal­ance in address­ing male and female vic­tims.  The word male, man, men or boy results in zero hits.  In com­par­i­son, eight hits when search­ing for just the word woman.  Even though the term child refers to a per­son under the age of 18  and of any gen­der, the infer­ence from the imbal­ance of word choice  is that the child is most like­ly a girl.  In arti­cle two,  the state­ment of pur­pose also high­lights that the focus is on pre­ven­tion  and com­bat­ing traf­fick­ing in per­sons by pay­ing a par­tic­u­lar atten­tion  and inter­est to women and chil­dren, while ful­ly respect­ing their human rights.  We can be more clear and more bal­anced,  and be more inclu­sive in our lan­guage when we use to describe these issues,  espe­cial­ly in these legal and nation­al frameworks.

Accord­ing to the Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Traf­fick­ing Per­sons, in 2019,  there are over 24 to almost 25 mil­lion peo­ple traf­ficked glob­al­ly,  and after COVID-19, it was esti­mat­ed that 49.6,  as you said, 50 mil­lion are in forced labour,  and of those, 27.6 mil­lion that are in forced labour,  6.3 are traf­ficked and forced into com­mer­cial sex­u­al exploita­tion.  This is a very clear indi­ca­tion that human traf­fick­ing and slav­ery  are increas­ing and at a very dras­tic speed.  We also know that sta­tis­ti­cians like these nev­er cap­ture the full extent  of the prob­lem, because with­in these sta­tis­tics,  we can only include those that we con­sid­er to be vic­tims.  We only count those that come forth, that seek help,  and are believed to be vic­tims by front-line pro­fes­sion­als  such as law enforce­ment, NGO work­ers and researchers.  Unless things change, these sta­tis­tics will most like­ly  always be under­re­port­ed for men and boys, as they are for women and girls.

In many coun­tries,  the absence of any con­vic­tion in human traf­fick­ing cas­es  with male vic­tims of sex­u­al exploita­tion reflects the impact  and a very real con­cern about under­re­port­ing.  To this day in Cana­da,  we do not have one con­vict­ed case of human traf­fick­ing  with a male vic­tim of sex­u­al exploita­tion.  To our sta­tis­ti­cians,  per­haps this is not sig­nif­i­cant­ly rel­e­vant or to front­line pro­fes­sion­als,  they may think this is clear­ly not happening.

But then how and why do I per­son­al­ly know so many male vic­tims and sur­vivors  of human traf­fick­ing all over North Amer­i­ca  who just wished to be lis­tened to and to be heard and to be believed?  Over the last six years,  I’ve worked close­ly with male vic­tims and sur­vivors,  and I’ve con­duct­ed dozens and dozens of inter­views,  learn­ing from first-hand accounts and what front­line pro­fes­sion­als have done  to sup­port vic­tims effi­cient­ly, but also learned as a col­lec­tive soci­ety,  what have we done that great­ly harmed vic­tims?  All the par­tic­i­pants in my research study report­ed  expe­ri­enc­ing sig­nif­i­cant gen­der bias and scep­ti­cism  about their vic­tim­i­sa­tion when deal­ing with front­line pro­fes­sion­als  such as police, med­ical staff, and men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als.  The sur­vivors told me that ser­vices rarely believe their claims,  and they were often dis­missed by the very same peo­ple  whose their jobs were to help them.

As report­ed by one of the par­tic­i­pants, whose alias is called Wai­son,  after unlock­ing repressed mem­o­ries of his traf­fick­ing dur­ing his adult­hood,  he checked him­self into a hos­pi­tal and dis­closed the inci­dences  that he had recalled to the men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als there.  Way­ton said that none of the men­tal health staff believed his sto­ry,  and instead placed them in an invol­un­tary hold  for a four-week psy­chi­atric hold and vis­it,  where he was forcibly med­icat­ed.  Wayson just want­ed to be free.  He had to take back his dis­clo­sure of his child sex­u­al abuse,  exploita­tion and traf­fick­ing  to the hos­pi­tal staff, even if this meant that he was forced  to deny his very real trau­mat­ic-lived expe­ri­ences.  This was just a few years ago in Canada.

I believe that the soci­ety con­struct­ed gen­der and social bias­es  are deter­min­ing fac­tors in these insti­tu­tion­al fail­ures,  because such bias­es serve as a cog­ni­tive short­cut.  These short­cuts lead front­line pro­fes­sion­als to mis­tak­en­ly assumed  that per­pe­tra­tors of sex­u­al abuse and exploita­tion and traf­fick­ing  must be men, and the vic­tims must be women and girls.  Again, front­line pro­fes­sion­als them­selves has report­ed  in oth­er stud­ies that these bias­es are actu­al­ly impact­ing them  when they’re in con­tact with poten­tial boy victims.

In my research, we see this belief is a big fac­tor that harms male sur­vivors.  When dis­clos­ing their sex­u­al exploita­tion to front­line pro­fes­sion­als,  many sur­vivors report­ed that they were met with scep­ti­cism, dis­be­lief,  a lack of under­stand­ing of the groom­ing, process and tac­tics,  and were met with an overt­ly gen­der bias where a per­son dis­clos­ing  had their expe­ri­ences dis­missed for male vic­tim­hood,  and in some cas­es, the dis­missal of female cul­pa­bil­i­ty  when there was a female per­pe­tra­tor to the sur­vivors,  ulti­mate­ly result­ing in no action being tak­en on their behalf.

As a soci­ety, we must first learn how to iden­ti­fy male vic­tims  and then find the most effec­tive way to pro­vide restora­tive ser­vices  and afford jus­tice to male vic­tims in line with their basic human rights  from the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights.

When think­ing about rein­te­gra­tion back into soci­ety after traf­fick­ing,  most vic­tims remain stuck in a cycle.  Occur­rence, when the traf­fick­ing hap­pens.  Silence, this inner strug­gle to not dis­close.  An era of act­ing out, this can be drug abuse, alco­holism,  faile­drela­tion­ships, vio­lence towards oth­ers.  If there is no inter­ven­tion at this stage, then a vic­tim can fall into the next stage  which is life­long ram­i­fi­ca­tions and con­se­quences.  This could be divorces,  lack of con­tact with their chil­dren, alco­holism, drug addic­tions, depres­sion,  long term health con­se­quences, and even suicide.

My research sug­gests that the inter­ven­tion  first needs to come from the vic­tims them­selves.  They must inquire for sup­port ser­vices  and dis­clo­sure to get out of this dan­ger­ous cycle.  But this means the inter­ac­tions with front­line pro­fes­sion­als like us here  can either bring them to end their era of silence  or keep them there longer, which can last up to decades.  It is imper­a­tive that we bear in mind  that indi­vid­u­als who have expe­ri­enced human rights abus­es,  par­tic­u­lar­ly those relat­ed to traf­fick­ing,  are not only heal­ing from the pain and the trau­ma that they have endured,  but also the ways that we have treat­ed them when they were ask­ing for help.

As both indi­vid­u­als and col­lec­tive,  we must exer­cise dis­cern­ment in our words and actions when offer­ing sup­port.  Abid­ing by the do no harm prin­ci­ple.  Recog­nis­ing that our actions have poten­tial to either wors­en their trau­ma  or con­tribute to the heal­ing process.  This under­lines the respon­si­bil­i­ty we bear  in fos­ter­ing a sup­port­ive and safe environment.

One of the par­tic­i­pants, a traf­fick­ing sur­vivor, told me this,  “Being believed today has helped inspire me  and pro­vide me with a small sense of clo­sure and peace.  How­ev­er, today was mere­ly the tip of the ice­berg  for the new chap­ter of my life.  It feels like the more you share, the more you realise you’re not alone  and it’s not your fault.  It’s not only pos­si­ble for adult sur­vivors of sex­u­al abuse, sex­u­al exploita­tion,  or human traf­fick­ing to make a tremen­dous impact to enhance the work of advo­ca­cy,  research, and front­line work and ser­vices to oth­ers who have been vic­timised.  But this is a must.”  All the sur­vivors want, regard­less of gen­der,  is to be active­ly lis­tened to and believed.  We see true heal­ing when they feel respect­ed,  gain a sense of auton­o­my from their trauma.

There­fore, as experts,  pri­ori­tis­ing solu­tions first and train­ing first is not always the solu­tion.  We need to remem­ber that these vic­tims and sur­vivors are peo­ple  with very human needs that need to be lis­tened to,  feel respect­ed, and regain a sense of dig­ni­ty.  These core human rights needs should be placed first  before address­ing the big­ger problem.

So this is what led to the cre­ation  and devel­op­ment of a US Coun­cil on Vio­lence against Men and Boys.  I just want­ed to share my insights and find like-mind­ed peo­ple  who want­ed to fight for human rights for all vic­tims, regard­less of gen­der.  The US Coun­cil is a ded­i­cat­ed col­lec­tive rep­re­sent­ing 25 cross sec­tors  of pro­fes­sion­als, lived experts, advo­cates, researchers, edu­ca­tors,  pub­lic health stake­hold­ers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers that are com­mit­ted to dis­man­tling  the bar­ri­ers that per­pet­u­ate vio­lence and trau­ma against males in our soci­ety.  Estab­lish­ing with the con­vic­tion that every indi­vid­ual, regard­less of gen­der,  deserves to live free from vio­lence and its debil­i­tat­ing after­math.  We tire­less­ly work towards a more just and equi­table future for all,  and the Coun­cil’s pur­pose is clear to chal­lenge and change the nar­ra­tives  sur­round­ing vio­lence against males as a pub­lic health cri­sis.  Fos­ter­ing a soci­ety where all indi­vid­u­als  can thrive with­out fear, prej­u­dice or harm.  By illu­mi­nat­ing the root caus­es and effects of vio­lence and trau­ma,  we strive to empow­er com­mu­ni­ties, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and insti­tu­tions  to make pos­i­tive change,  and the mis­sion of the US Coun­cil on Vio­lence Against Men and Boys  is to advo­cate, to research, and to edu­cate on mat­ters  on vio­lence and trau­ma expe­ri­enced by men and boys.  Root­ed in this pub­lic health frame­work,  we delve deep into the com­plex­i­ties of the issues,  aim­ing to erad­i­cate the impacts on the indi­vid­ual,  but also on the communities.

Our vision is one where a soci­ety  that val­ues the well-being and safe­ty of every per­son, regard­less of gen­der.  We envi­sion a world where boys can grow, learn, and thrive  with­out the shad­ow of vio­lence loom­ing over them.  Through data-dri­ven insights, lived expe­ri­ences,  research, and sci­en­tif­ic integri­ty,  we strive to cre­ate a future where vio­lence is the excep­tion  and no longer the norm.

We are work­ing togeth­er with our part­ners.  So just next week, we’ll be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the webi­nar,  Chal­lenges and Best Prac­tices in Human Traf­fick­ing Pol­i­cy,  Leg­is­la­tion, Inves­ti­ga­tion,  and Vic­tim Sup­port Ser­vices for Male Vic­tims.  This is the fourth in the series of webi­na­rs  that teach front­line pro­fes­sion­als about male vic­tim­i­sa­tion,  host­ed by Michel Veuthey and the Sov­er­eign Order of Mal­ta.  Thank you very much.  We are com­mit­ted to shar­ing knowl­edge  and resources with the pub­lic, pro­fes­sion­als and stake­hold­ers.  Our edu­ca­tion­al pro­gramme aims to empow­er indi­vid­u­als in our com­mu­ni­ty  with the tools and infor­ma­tion need­ed  to pre­vent and respond to vio­lence and trau­ma.  When the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty final­ly sees and under­stands  and engages with our con­tent,  then that’s when we final­ly see real change.

At the US Coun­cil,  we stand unit­ed in our pur­suit for a safer, more equi­table world for all.  Togeth­er, we can cre­ate a last­ing change to ensure that every indi­vid­ual,  regard­less of gen­der, can live in a free life from vio­lence and trauma.

As you can see here, in June 2024,  the US Coun­cil will host its very first glob­al con­fer­ence in Mia­mi, Flori­da. 

This con­fer­ence is sur­vivor-led and trau­ma-informed,  and we aim for it to be a trans­for­ma­tive pub­lic health inter­ven­tion,  and we aim for it to be edu­cat­ing and capac­i­ty-build­ing  to help address the often-over­looked issue of vio­lence against men and boys.  With a focus on redefin­ing this again as a health issue,  we’re hop­ing to bring to this con­fer­ence the pri­vate sec­tor,  gov­ern­ment, health care, social ser­vices, crim­i­nal jus­tice sec­tor  with­in this so we can gain prac­ti­cal knowl­edge and skills  that are nec­es­sary to pre­vent and respond effec­tive­ly to all forms of violence.

Through a height­ened aware­ness of the scope of trau­ma,  trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences by males,  atten­dees will explore the struc­tur­al deter­mi­nants of numer­ous types of vio­lence  relat­ed to impacts on men­tal and phys­i­cal health,  edu­ca­tion attain­abil­i­ty, crim­i­nal jus­tice involve­ment,  re-vic­tim­i­sa­tion, finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty, and pub­lic safe­ty.  I take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to invite you all to Mia­mi next year  and sup­port of our work that includ­ing men and boys in our dis­cus­sion final­ly.  While it is so impor­tant to address human traf­fick­ing and human rights,  which demand are unwa­ver­ing atten­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts,  it is also impor­tant that we stand togeth­er and we are inclu­sive  when iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial vic­tims  of some of the most severe vio­la­tions of our human rights.

Let’s not for­get that vic­tims can be of any gen­der and of any age,  and would like to fin­ish a quote from John-Michael Lan­der,  founder of An Ath­lete’s Silence, a lived expert,  and a man whose resilience and inner strength  inspires my ongo­ing com­mit­ment to advo­cate for uni­ver­sal human rights.  With his gra­cious per­mis­sion, I present his statement:

“We need to look at the long term effects  of sex­u­al abuse and traf­fick­ing as two sep­a­rate enti­ties,  the traf­fick­ing event itself  and num­ber two, the mean­ing the sur­vivors placed on the event.  Feel­ings and emo­tions.  The event is trau­mat­ic and extor­tion from the exte­ri­or pres­ence,  but the inner mean­ing we attach to under­stand and com­pre­hend why it hap­pened  can be much more detri­men­tal.  Since the expe­ri­ence,  sur­vivors strug­gle every day bat­tling against the inter­nal neg­a­tive self-talk  to appear and func­tion nor­mal­ly as pos­si­ble,  based on the stig­mas of our soci­ety bestowed upon us. 

In hind­sight, I realised I pun­ished myself through shame,  guilt and embar­rass­ment and neg­a­tive self-talk.  As sur­vivors pur­sue their heal­ing jour­ney, they are not very far from being trig­gered  by out­side influ­ences that will rapid­ly return their psy­che to the exact moment  of the event,  even if they have had per­fect in the numb­ing and dis­tance strate­gies  to pro­tect them­selves.  Since each sur­vivor is unique,  their heal­ing jour­ney needs to be indi­vid­u­al­ly devised for opti­mum suc­cess.  Shar­ing our sto­ries help oth­ers  while pro­vid­ing our­selves with the crit­i­cal insight to heal.  I want peo­ple to under­stand that heal­ing is a life­long jour­ney.  So human rights are non-nego­tiable and fun­da­men­tal,  guid­ing our col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty, as we have said,  towards a more humane and just soci­ety.” 

So I urge you here to take this knowl­edge gained from today’s meet­ing  and to turn it into action.  Whether you work in pol­i­cy, leg­is­la­tion, inves­ti­ga­tions or any oth­er field,  your con­tri­bu­tion mat­ters.  Togeth­er, we can make mean­ing­ful impact  and con­tribute to a world where human traf­fick­ing is erad­i­cat­ed  and sur­vivors are pro­vid­ed with the sup­port and care they deserve,  regard­less of their sta­tus,  their eth­nic­i­ty, their reli­gion or gen­ders because all sur­vivors matter.

Thank you very much.

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