Tuesday, November 30, 2010

IOFA's New Program Specialist - Sehla Ashai

Hello all,

My name is Sehla Ashai, and I am thrilled to begin my second week of work at IOFA as a Program Specialist, where I will be working primarily on human trafficking issues.

My interest in human trafficking began as an attorney representing victims of trafficking in immigration matters, which resonated strongly with my long-standing interests in gendered violence and labor exploitation. At IOFA, I will be building on my experience representing victims, and I will provide technical assistance to the new Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, and contribute to IOFA's Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking Project.

Before working as an immigration attorney, I was a labor organizer for Chicago area taxi drivers, clerked for a judge in Ann Arbor, was a research fellow in Kashmir, interned at a domestic violence shelter in Pakistan, and taught summer school in Baltimore City. Before I joined IOFA, I was also a legal consultant to a non-profit in Haiti working on child trafficking issues. These varied experiences reinforced my passion for social justice work and confirmed my love for working with youth, both domestically and abroad.

Although IOFA is more than a decade old, the organization is at an exciting stage with a new, visionary strategic plan, and I feel incredibly privileged to join at this juncture. Much of my work will involve reaching out to community organizations, law enforcement, and other players who are involved in the fight against human trafficking, so expect to hear from me soon!



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call to Action to Combat Child and Adolescent Sex Trafficking

Hi all,

Please see a call to action from ECPAT - End Child Prostitution and Trafficking - to support passage of a bill to combat child and adolescent trafficking, a core issue of IOFA's work. IOFA is helping to implement the new Illinois Safe Children's Act that decriminalizes minors involved with the sex prostitution. It's difficult to imagine but before this law, a 15 year girl forced into prostitution in Chicago would be charged in juvenile court and not seen as a victim. It's through this legislation and the proposed bill described below that the US can better confront the problem of child trafficking and provide adequate response and support to its young victims.

Please take the time to make this call or sign the petition today!


We are gearing up for our Nov 17th National (Call-In) Day of Action to help pass HR 5575, the "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010," to support young sex trafficking survivors and combat and address the sex trafficking of children across America. You can read a summary here:

In the United States, there are less than 100 beds in shelters prepared to provide assistance to child victims of sex trafficking. Yet an estimated 100,000 children are exploited in prostitution each year in this country.
If passed, HR 5575 would provide much needed funds for therapeutic services. It would also increase resources for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute the traffickers and predators that victimize our children.

Taking action and being a part of our National (Call-In) Day of Action on11.17 is as easy as 1,2,3

1. Find your member of Congress by going to and entering your complete zip code in the top left “Find Your Representative” section.

2. Call the House operator at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your representative's office. Once connected to your rep's office, urge them to support and pass H.R 5575. A sample call script is below:

"Hi, my name is________ , and I am a constituent living in [town/city]. I'm calling to urge Congress(woman/man)______ to co-sponsor and support H.R.5575, a bi-partisan bill that seeks to combat and address the sex trafficking of children in America. I am very concerned about this issue because despite the tens of thousands of victims who need help, only a handful of shelters and services exist to address their intensive needs. It's time for Congress to act. Will the Congress(woman/man) co-sponsor and support this important legislation?"

3. Be Counted! Sign our tracking petition here ( so we can track our impact!

Taking action on Nov 17 will take less than 5 minutes but our collective action can give thousands of young sex trafficking victims across the U.S. the care and support they need and deserve.

The National Day of Action is being sponsored by the National Coalition to End Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (partial list): A Future. Not A Past., ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project, Rebecca Project, Shared Hope International and Women's Funding Network.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The option to boomerang?

As IOFA continues its work to help transition youth from orphanage care, we are asking important, difficult questions about the factors influencing successful transitions to adulthood. IOFA is in the process of designing “The Transitions Project”, a multi-faceted and sustainable support project for young people from this highly vulnerable population. The following entry is the first in a series of discussions about methods of intervention and the best ways we can help our youth transition safely.
Today’s topic: Does a college degree mean independence?

Google “boomerang kids” and see what comes up: articles titled, “Hi mom…I’m back!” and “Why grown kids come home,” fill the page. The term describes the ever-growing population of young adults who return to their parents for housing; Twentysomething Inc, a research firm in Philadelphia, tells us 85% of college graduates move back to their parents’ after graduation. Many fingers point to the economy and sky-high rent prices, to insurmountable debt incurred by rising tuition costs.
It’s interesting, then, that the world seems to view a college education as the ultimate step toward independence. If any efforts are poured into helping youth to transition from child welfare systems, college admission is typically at the forefront of programmatic goals. This is particularly noticeable in developing countries with a large Western NGO presence. Is this because university admission is a concrete, measurable success? “Independent living skills” are far more vague and difficult to identify than an acceptance letter or a transcript.
While many champion the need for college, some child welfare groups in Cambodia express frustration that university admission is the primary target for Western-funded orphanages. Kids often enter care with nutritional deficits, many years behind in school, or with traumatic life experiences, and they often face substantial education delays. Entering an environment where college attendance is touted may be inspiring for some, but unrealistic and damaging for others – particularly if the resources for tuition are not dependable. In one orphanage I interviewed in a rural Cambodian province, youth aged 17 were in primary school, were poised to leave orphanage care in one year, and had no plans for future independent living except for medical or law school. The same orphanage reports its graduated youth to have experienced dire fates: labor trafficking, forced marriage, gang enrollment.
Should we strive to make university available to our most vulnerable youth? Of course. Should it be the crux of a plan for independence? Just as university does not equate to independent adulthood in the U.S., we need to consider other ways that will promote safe, happy, and healthy independence. Most youth leaving child welfare systems just don’t have the option to be “boomerang kids.”