Human trafficking survivor: ‘We need jobs, not pity’

Special to CNN

There are times when I feel like screaming, on behalf of all human trafficking survivors, “We need jobs, not pity!”

I was a victim of labor trafficking from ages nine through 18, sent from Cameroon to the United States, where I was forced into domestic servitude and abused. I’ve now been an advocate for 11 years — long enough to know that my path to an educated, successful and productive life post-trauma is atypical at best.

We have just marked another National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and it is gratifying to see how many people are aware that slavery exists around the world. It’s time to up the ante, though. While shocking stories of abuse and terror haunt us into caring about this issue, there is a persistent lack of understanding about what happens beyond a “happy ending” moment when someone escapes their trafficker.

While I don’t want to diminish the need for addressing the issues that enable traffickers, we must also strive to empower victims who are desperately trying to make the overwhelming shift to survivor, as well as survivors who need and deserve to be recognized for more than his or her “story.”

I’m hopeful that I can help further people’s understanding in my new role. Last month, President Obama appointed me to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which is tasked with reviewing and recommending policy and programs on human trafficking, reporting to senior administration and agency officials, and submitting a report to the President’s Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The council is comprised of a diverse group of survivor advocates, each with very different, though intertwined, priorities.

Surviving and thriving

Mandated last year when the Survivors of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act passed, the council itself is a victory for the trafficking community, which has fought for many years to have a leadership role as the United States and its government work to understand and address policy gaps that allow human trafficking to exist, as well as those that prevent trafficking survivors from receiving the life-saving services and support they need to truly recover and thrive in the United States.

“Thrive” is such a key word for me.

I have faced many challenges as a survivor, including health and financial challenges, and overcoming the fact that I spent nine years with no access to any kind of education. Eventually, though, I also found amazing opportunities to travel and speak with policymakers and NGOs about human trafficking. While these experiences were personally rewarding, helped me develop as a leader, put me in contact with interesting people, and taught me useful skills, they usually did not help me pay the bills.

I recently attained my bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland University College, supported by a scholarship from the ICE Foundation’s Granting Courage Initiative. I also spoke at a conference, where I met members of the Baker & McKenzie law firm. Upon hearing my frustration at a lack of education and job opportunities for trafficking survivors, they offered me an internship. Personally and professionally, I have greatly benefited from this opportunity. I have gained so much, in fact, that the firm has been inspired to partner with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the ICE Foundation to develop a pilot program that will provide survivor participants with comprehensive training, support, mentoring and professional development that will prepare them to embark upon successful professional careers and fulfill their potential.

Going beyond compassion

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more private sector companies developed similar programs? I am thriving, yes, but so many others are not. It is not unusual for survivors to fall back into trafficking situations because they lack resources, language skills or education, and it is a struggle for many survivors to build successful careers.

Even trafficking survivors who become advocates, and are sought out to share their knowledge, expertise and experience, are often not compensated like other experts.

As hard as it is to be a survivor of human trafficking here in the United States, it can be even tougher in countries where the awareness and fight against human trafficking we are beginning to see here is not yet occurring. I often get calls from survivors in other countries hoping I can provide them with assistance, and it is my hope that we will soon be able to help them replicate successes like the advisory council and the careers pilot program.

Like anyone, trafficking survivors want to be recognized for their personal and professional contributions and accomplishment. Like any former victim will tell you, it’s not enough to survive a terrible trauma, because no individual should be defined or pigeonholed by the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Should you feel compassion? Yes. Compassion is a great place to start, but it will count for so much more when channeled into an action that enables trafficking survivors to achieve what they’re really after: purpose, competence and independence.

“Evelyn Chumbow is an anti-trafficking survivor activist and member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. She recently received a Bachelor of Science degree in Homeland Security from University of Maryland University College. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

MSU volunteers bring clean energy to Morgan Community Mile homes in need

In an effort to assist local Baltimore residents in need of energy efficiency upgrades, volunteers from Morgan State University, including students, staff and University President David Wilson, Ed.D., teamed up with representatives from GRID Alternatives, the U.S. Department of Energy, the City of Baltimore, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc, Civic Works, AmeriCorps members and other community organizations to bring clean energy to select homes. The program, which will commit an investment of $200,000 from the City of Baltimore to advance solar installations for up to 40 homes located within the Morgan Community Mile, was officially announced during the nationally recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

In the days after the announcement, volunteers participated in the installation of a rooftop solar array for Ms. Barbara Bivens, a Belair-Edison resident and member of the neighborhood Mature Adult Group, The Silver Angels. The solar array and efficiency upgrades will help Bivens reduce future electricity bills. Before engaging in the delicate process of solar panel installation, each volunteer attended a one-hour safety orientation.

The MCM partnered with Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. (BENI) on community outreach to identify residents interested in being a part of the program. BENI canvassed the neighborhood with literature, attended community meetings and sent out print and electronic media to help spread the word!

Local officials and those involved in the clean energy partnership anticipate that at the program’s conclusion, the installations will help Baltimore transition to clean energy, assist economically disadvantaged families with saving money, improve the environment and grow the city economically by providing jobs and job training for local workers.

The Morgan Community Mile is a university-community partnership in which residents, businesses, public officials and other stakeholders come together with Morgan’s faculty, students and staff to make the community a better place. Morgan acknowledges the strength and diversity of its surrounding communities and leverages the University’s skills and knowledge, academic research and community engagement activities to improve and sustain the quality of life in Northeast Baltimore.

Palin: I never blamed Obama for PTSD

— Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin insisted Monday that she “never blamed” President Barack Obama for her son’s recent arrest on domestic violence charges.

Stumping for Donald Trump last month, Palin alluded to her son’s arrest earlier that week and suggested that Obama did not respect and honor military servicemembers returning from duty.

“What my own son is going through, what he is going through coming back, I can relate to other families who feel ramifications of PTSD and some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with,” she said at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a day after endorsing Trump. “And it makes me realize, more than ever, it is now or never for the sake of America’s finest that we have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them.”

Palin insisted Monday in an interview on NBC’s “Today” that she did not say anything “offensive” and was not blaming Obama for her son’s arrest, nor the post-traumatic stress she has suggested led to his arrest.

“I never blamed President Obama. What I have blamed President Obama in doing though is this level of disrespect for the United States military that is made manifest in getting budgets, in not trying to beef it up and let our military do the job that they are trained to do and in specific issues that we’re talking about that are so hot today, specifically let’s get in there and let’s utterly destroy ISIS,” Palin said Monday.

“I don’t regret any comment because I didn’t lay PTSD at the foot of the President. I did say though and suggested very adamantly that there is much more than our Commander-in-Chief can do to prove that he respects our troops and will let them do their job.

Track Palin, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, was arrested in Wasilla, Alaska, after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend days before Palin publicly endorsed Trump.

He was charged with domestic violence assault on a female, interfering with a report of domestic violence and possession of a weapon while intoxicated, according to Dan Bennett, a spokesman for the Wasilla Police Department.

Trump said in an interview on CNN later that week that he “suggested” Palin discuss her son’s arrest and the ramifications of PTSD.

And Trump also laid blame for the treatment of veterans at the President’s doorstep.

“Everything starts at the top and he’s the president,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon. “All you have to do is look at the Veterans Administration and look at the bad, the horrible care our vets get.”


™ & © 2016 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

What are the risks of drinking during pregnancy?

— More than three million women in the U.S. are exposing their babies to alcohol during development — because they don’t know they’re pregnant.

In a new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.3 million women were estimated to be putting their fetus at risk by drinking alcohol whilst sexually active and not practicing birth control.

The team analyzed data from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth and found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant carry on drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control, with rates likely to be higher when pregnancies are unintended.

“About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking,” says Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director at the CDC.

But what harm does this cause to a developing baby?

Exposure to alcohol in the womb is one of the leading preventable causes of intellectual disability in children along with a range of developmental conditions known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). During the first three months, alcohol can lead to physical and intellectual disabilities, such as facial abnormalities. Risks to the central nervous system remain throughout the pregnancy.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” says Schuchat. The report advises health practitioners to inform women to stop drinking as soon as they stop taking birth control.

Is drinking a norm?

The sight of a woman sipping a glass of wine during her pregnancy is common in many parts of the world and deemed by many to be socially acceptable.

A CDC report in 2015 found that one in ten pregnant women in the US reported drinking alcohol in the previous 30 days, and 3% reported binging — classed as four or more alcoholic drinks in once session.

Some countries showed more alarming data: in a study published in the British Medical Journal, drinking rates were found to be as high as 80% during pregnancy in Ireland, and between 40% to 80% in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

The CDC warn there are no known safe limits of alcohol during pregnancy and highlight the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, small birth weight, premature labor — and FASDs.

Impairing development

“Alcohol compromises a number of systems that support the baby,” says Philip May, Research Professor at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “[For example] nutrients like iron won’t reach the fetus for proper development,” he says.

May has been working on FASDs for more than thirty years and recent work by his team revealed surprising new estimates for the number of children affected by these disorders in the U.S..

“We have estimated rates of 2-5% in the general population and it’s probably very similar for many countries in Europe,” he says. Numbers are estimates for school-age children.

The conditions span a spectrum because symptoms can vary dramatically and can develop at different stages of life. Symptoms consist of growth and facial development challenges but more often behavioral and intellectual disabilities including hyperactivity, poor language skills, concentration and poor math skills — most of which are not obvious at birth and difficult to diagnose before childhood.

“It’s much more common than we thought,” says May.

A broad spectrum of disease

Five levels of disorder fall within the spectrum, starting with the milder Fetal Alcohol Effects and stemming up to Alcohol Related Birth defects, Alcohol Related Neuro Developmental Disorder, Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and then the worst of them all — Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

“90% of all outcomes from drinking during pregnancy affect the baby’s central nervous system,” says Denis Viljoen, Chairman of the Foundation for Alcohol Related Research in South Africa. “It’s a disability that remains throughout life.”

A global problem being missed

“[FASDs are] about 1-2% of global birth defects,” says Viljoen.

Populations in Croatia, Australia and Italy have been studied and found to have more cases than expected, as the disorder is easily missed by health professionals.

“Many children with FAS go to school and they’re not doing well but nobody knows why,” says May. In one of his studies, May found that one sixth children with FAS had not been diagnosed by the time his team examined them at age seven. “Approximately 80% go undiagnosed,” says May.

In terms of percentages, one country tops the list by miles. “In South Africa, it is completely out of proportion,” says Vijjoen.

South Africa had the highest numbers globally, with 11.3% of the population estimated to be affected by FASDs in the study. Here, the rates are influenced by socio-economic factors with drinking during pregnancy more common among deprived communities, with poor educational backgrounds and living conditions. “There is a heavy drinking problem in our poorer populations,” says Viljoen.

The biology behind it

Alcohol is rapidly absorbed inside the body, transmitting throughout the organs within half an hour, according to Viljoen. “It’s rapidly absorbed and crosses the placenta,” says Viljoen. Once inside the fetus, alcohol can go on to damage growth and nerve cells during development.

The majority of damage is down to the nerves — namely the brain. “These kids all have mild to moderate mental retardation,” says Viljoen. The impact is greatest among heavy drinkers and the consequences of light drinking are more hotly debated, as experts are yet to decipher an acceptable level of alcohol.

Various factors relating to the mother also come into play, such as their body mass Index (BMI), and nutrition levels.

Is light drinking ok?

A 2013 study by University College London found that light drinking during pregnancy does not harm a child’s intellectual development. One in four mothers in the study reported they were light drinkers during pregnancy, one in 20 said they were moderate drinkers and 2.5% were heavy drinkers. Some children in the group did develop problems, including hyperactivity and social challenges with peers, but no evidence was found in the children of light drinkers.

Viljoen and May, however, believe women should abstain from alcohol — a view supported by the CDC. They see this spectrum of conditions as entirely preventable.

A common example used by some mothers is that earlier children were exposed and have turned out fine. But experts warn that examples cannot be given of prior children as each individual is different — and severity is known to increase in subsequent children.

“The disorder is always worse in later born kids,” says May.

There’s a lot to think about when taking that sip of alcohol. “We’ll never prevent it completely, but prevention is the secret of the whole thing,” says Viljoen.


™ & © 2016 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

The affront of Michael Jackson being played by a white guy

— You have to love the exquisite timing, at the very least.

Our ears are still ringing from the concussive noises and boycott threats after a second consecutive year of all-white Academy Awards nominees were announced only days ago. Now comes the disclosure that Joseph Fiennes, a white actor best known for playing the title role in the 1998 Oscar winner “Shakespeare in Love,” has been cast to play another artistic icon: Michael Jackson.

No, this website didn’t just morph into The Onion before your eyes. These are the facts: The British-based Sky Arts cable channel is scheduled to broadcast a road movie speculating on what might have happened if, as urban legend has it, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson, who were all in New York when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, drove together back to Los Angeles.

Stockard Channing has been cast as Taylor, Brian Cox will play Brando and Joseph Fiennes will play the late, much lamented King of Pop.

News of what’s now titled “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon” detonated even louder noises of outrage, mostly from African-Americans who take it deeply, profoundly personally that one of their cultural heroes, the greatest song-and-dance man of the 20th century’s latter half, will be portrayed by a nonblack actor.

Paraphrasing one tweet: “Let me get this straight. Idris Elba can’t play James Bond, but it’s OK for Joseph Fiennes to play Michael Jackson?” (Elba, whose performance in last year’s “Beasts of No Nation,” is considered by black and white movie fans as one of many egregious omissions from this year’s Oscar slate, was for a while prominent among many British actors named as potential replacements for Daniel Craig in the 007 role.) Other reactions were far less polite — and, by a considerable majority, outraged and affronted.

It IS an outrageous decision on more than a few levels. Then again, the whole project sounds outrageous, even with such a prestigious cast. It’s not implausible that three outsized personalities such as Taylor, Brando and Jackson would have been compelled to carpool during a time when planes were kept on the ground. A lot of people who weren’t icons, including yours truly, had to scramble for travel options in 9/11’s immediate aftermath.

Fiennes has described the project as a “fun, lighthearted romp” while being “rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships.” He also described his part in the project with what we’ll characterize as typical British understatement, as “a challenge.”

So far, it’s hard to find anybody willing to speculate as to how Michael Jackson himself would feel about a white British actor assuming his persona for dramatic purposes. Likely he would have regarded any such performance as an imposition on his zealously protected privacy and would have insisted on near-absolute control over who was cast in the part.

And would HE have cast as black actor in the part? One pauses (for many reasons), but in the end, one must consider that, because he WAS Michael Jackson, he would have tried harder than others apparently did to find a black actor who could do the part justice.

I know what some of you may be thinking: If we’re really aiming for something like a “colorblind society” then why inhibit in both directions? After all, if you wanted to consider casting Idris Elba as 007, why shouldn’t a white actor be given the option of playing a black icon?

Here’s why, just for starters: James Bond is both a fictitious character and a corporate franchise. Jackson, whatever else one may say or think about him, was a real person with genuine, if complex, roots in a culture that provided the foundation of what made him special. Being attentive to such roots is what has for so long challenged show business in general and Hollywood in particular.

In a better world, emotionally evolved enough to regard race itself as a dubious concept, people on all sides of what we now consider the “race problem” will be empowered to take chances. We’re only starting to take those chances now. And the burden, like it or not, now falls on whites in power to show some vision, broaden the paradigms, do something transformative to what remains a mostly reductive view of black and brown people among predominantly white audiences.

For instance: Is anybody up for a light-skinned black actor to play Dwight Eisenhower as a West Point cadet? Just thinking out loud.

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and the Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Cold weather tips for pet owners

Bitter cold temperatures have hit Baltimore and pets are in danger from being out in the cold just as much as humans are. Here are some tips from Baltimore Humane Society for Baltimore pet owners to keep their pets safe from the dangerous weather:

  1. Bring your pets in! If it is too cold for you, it is too cold for your pet to stay outside for long periods of time. If you have outdoor cats or care for feral cats, check out this site on how to make a kitty enclosure:
  2. Dogs with short coats should wear a jacket! Breeds that do not have an undercoat (dogs with undercoats are breeds like shepherds, huskies, malamutes, retrievers) can get cold quickly.
  3. Keep off of road salt. Not only is it toxic if your pet ingests it, it can be very irritating and even painful to their paw pads.
  4. Wipe your pet’s paws off with a lukewarm washrag to remove any melting salt so they do not ingest it when they groom themselves.
  5. Consider applying a barrier to your pet’s paws like petroleum jelly to protect their paws while out on a walk.
  6. Keep your pet’s coat appropriately groomed. A healthy coat will work most efficiently in keeping warmth on the body and cold away.
  7. Anti-freeze is extremely poisonous and also tempting to pets due to its sweet taste. If you have it in your garage make sure it is kept up high in a leak proof container. Clean up any that might drip from equipment that uses it. If you believe your pet ingested anti-freeze, get them to a veterinarian immediately!
  8. Pets exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time can experience hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include low body temperature; low heart rate; low respiration (breathing); violent shivering; and their gums may turn pale or blue. If you believe your pet is experiencing hypothermia, warm them slowly to avoid shock, and get them to a full service vet immediately.
  9. Less time outside may mean a bored pet. Increase your animal’s indoor enrichment! Frozen kongs, food puzzles, and training games all provide mental exercise to tire out a pet who can’t get outdoors.
  10. Cuddle up! Cold weather is the perfect time to spend snuggling and playing with your pet.

And here are two more tips for pets that are not your own:

  1. Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
  2. Speak out if you see a pet left in the cold. Here’s advice from the Humane Society of the United States on how to handle the situation when you see a pet left in the cold. First politely let the owner know you’re concerned. If they don’t respond well, document what you see: the date, time, exact location and type of animal, plus as many details as possible. Video and photographic documentation will help bolster your case. Then contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff’s office and present your evidence. Take detailed notes regarding when and with whom you have spoken. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied.

The Baltimore Humane Society, founded in 1927 by Elsie Seeger Barton, is an independent, non-profit, no-kill animal shelter, which offers low-cost veterinary care to the public and a pet cemetery with grief support services. For more information about BHS, and how you can contribute, volunteer, adopt, or foster, visit: or call 410-833-8848.

Tax returns from Baltimore businesses halted due to questionable filings

— Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that his office would suspend processing electronic tax returns from several Liberty Tax Service franchise locations in the Baltimore metropolitan area due to a high volume of questionable returns received.

The businesses, which have been sent written notice of the action, are located at: 2400 E Monument Street, Baltimore; 7730 Wise Avenue, Dundalk; 1742 W North Avenue, Baltimore; 2401 Liberty Heights Avenue, Baltimore; 1808 Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore; 3308 Greenmount Avenue, Baltimore; and 503 W Lexington Street, Baltimore.

Comptroller Franchot, pursuant to the recently signed IRS Security Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), has shared this information with other tax agencies. The Comptroller’s Office also has advised the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation of the decision, so that they can take any additional appropriate actions.

The suspicious characteristics detected on the tax returns prompting the determination included: Business income reported when taxpayers did not own a business; Refund amounts requested much higher than previous year tax returns; Inflated and/or undocumented business expenses; Dependents claimed when taxpayer did not provide required 50 percent support or care; and inflated wages and withholding information.

Taxpayers should carefully review their returns for these issues and should be suspicious if a preparer: deducts fees from the taxpayer’s refund to be deposited into the tax preparer’s account; does not sign the tax return; or fails to include the

Preparer Taxpayer Identification number “P-TIN” on the return.

If taxpayers suspect fraud, immediately report the issue to the Comptroller’s

Office by calling -800-MD-TAXES (1-800-638-2937) or 410-260-7980 in Central Maryland or by emailing