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Oct 20, 2014

U.S. Embassy Sponsors Human Trafficking Workshop

We’re not sure exactly when it started locally, but prostitution has become a booming industry in Belize. So-called ‘happy bars’ are popping up all over the place in every district, with very friendly immigrant waitresses who take hospitality to a whole new level. There are some who’d say – where’s the harm in that…they’re not hurting anybody? But one group from North Carolina called On Eagles Wings Ministries say prostitution in any form is a bad thing. So is human trafficking and exploitation of women and children, and they’re all linked. Two representatives from the organization were in Belize last week, and spoke at a Trafficking in Persons Workshop sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. The venue was the University of Belize campus, and Mike Rudon joined a very attentive audience for the session. Here’s that story. 

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The organization called On Eagles Wings Ministries has a mission to prevent females from being victims of sex trafficking. It also offers assistance to those trapped in that life and works with survivors to rebuild their lives. O.E.W.M is setting up shop in San Pedro, because they say that human trafficking is rampant in our small nation.

 

Emily Fitchpatrick, On Eagles Wings Ministries

Emily Fitchpatrick

“We have seen just by interviewing social workers and community members is that children are sometimes offered for sexual services in exchange for money. It’s called sugar daddy syndrome…families that may need income. So we’ve seen that to be true. We’ve also seen girls…I’ve literally went into bars here, in San Pedro especially, where I’ve seen countless girls lined up all around the walls waiting for a buyer. So we believe that there is human trafficking going on right here in your community.”

 

The group does not do emergency rescue, and leaves that to law enforcement authorities. But it does intervention and outreach.

 

Emily Fitchpatrick

“We do a lot of outreach. We actually take gift bags in the bars and they are full of little goodies, just like you’d give a girlfriend or good friend, and we put the hotline number in there for the Child Development Foundation. If they need help they can call this hotline and get counselling. And we do street outreach. We talk to girls on the streets and say hey, what are you on tonight? Do you know anybody in prostitution? You ask the questions and people will just start taking you and showing you where these things are happening…it’s very easy to find. We saw a girl last night that came into a restaurant and she had a bar code tattooed on the back of her neck. A lot of traffickers will barcode, a literal barcode…they’ll put it on her neck as a branding. She could have been a victim because of that barcode so once you start learning the signs and the indicators you just see it. You just know what to look for.”

 

The U.S. has placed Belize on the Tier Two watchlist for human trafficking, and there has been criticism of the government’s efforts in that area. Government officials have stated that the designation is unfair because they can’t go out and manufacture victims just to please the U.S. But Amena McShea says victims are plentiful, and the government just needs to go out and find them.

 

Amena McShea

Amena McShea, On Eagles Wings Ministries

“Walking down the streets of San Pedro last night and going past the bars, I would say that there are plenty of victims to be found. Also too though, they don’t self identify that easily. I believe what the report says, and I believe what all the agencies, government and non-government, have tried to come up with as accurate reporting, and if they say that there are victims here and the watch list is due process, then I am going to go with that. There are so many victims that do not come forward and say hey, I’m here. That’s why each and every government must be proactive in setting up situations where they feel safe enough to become known.”

 

Prostitution in many cases is human trafficking and exploitation. And even when it isn’t, Emily Fitchpatrick maintains that it is violence against women.

 

Emily Fitchpatrick

“No little girl wakes up and says when I grow up I want to be a prostitute. No little girl wakes up and says when I grow up I want to dance on a stripper pole….I want to work as an escort…I want to have a pimp…I want to have a sugar daddy. Who says that? No one, right? So I want you to shift the way you look at prostitution. Whether you have a pimp or you don’t have a pimp. Prostitution in general is violence against women.”

 

The group is in Belize purchasing a piece of land in San Pedro. That will be the base of their operations – headquarters from where they can fulfil their million of saving and restoring lives.

 

Emily Fitchpatrick

“We’re going to build a counselling centre for the girls that have been exploited, and also a work empowerment program to give these ladies an income. Our girls back in the States they make handmade products and they get paid a good wage, and so through that business they’re able to remain out of the lifestyle of prostitution, so we hope to really offer them an alternative, so that some of them, especially adult women that feel they don’t have any other choice but the bars, maybe they’re not being trafficked but they’re still putting themselves out there because they need income. Through our program they can get that support.”

 

The seminar also touched on the trauma suffered by victims and those who love them. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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1 Response for “U.S. Embassy Sponsors Human Trafficking Workshop”

  1. beachman says:

    They may be foreign girls in San Pedro who work as prostitutes but inland it’s often our local girls who are exploited & trafficked. Plenty of local girls end up as a ‘frichera’, offering themselves for sexual services while working in bars. Plus we have plenty of school children who are sold by their own parents & family in exchange for rent money, food for the family, school fees & uniforms… How long Belize, will we under-value the price of a life and innocence??

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