Find Your Seat at the Table & Leave Your Ego at the Door – Feat. Dr. Celia Williamson

 In honor of our 15th episode we invited Dr. Celia Williamson, named one of the top 30 most influential social workers alive today, with over 25 years of anti-trafficking experience.

Celia discusses her exciting new project, The Emancipation Nation Network – a free network to equip and connect various professionals working for freedom and justice. This network includes topics, discussions, anti-trafficking events, and shared resources all in one place. Within a month of its inception, it has nearly 300 members and growing rapidly.

Celia feels the network is in a unique position to be a complete game changer for those in the movement to not only elevate our daily work to ensure best possible practices, but to also more effectively use our “collective power” towards greater change. Looking to the future, she dreams for the ENN to become a platform to inspire coalitions nationwide, comprised of the individuals truly working in the field to collaborate on innovative solutions to current issues, then delegates from these groups would come together to influence lawmakers regarding policy changes and anti-trafficking legislation we need to see in our nation. Celia believes that currently, it is a “right person in the right place at the right place” who influence the law, not necessarily those whose voices should be heard. You can become a member today by visiting https://members.emancipationnationnetwork.com

Other important lessons she has learned in her 25 years of experience include, “money and power are good,” because they allow advocates the ability to continue in the fight while finding a “seat at the table” of important conversations. She says you can absolutely make a living, while making a difference, she also encourages everyone to ask themselves the question “What can I bring to the table, and what can I take from it?” As everyone has their own set of skills and experiences that will benefit the whole, but in order to collaborate well one must leave their ego at the door while learning to speak the language of those around you. She also says that while “ego is death to collaboration” respecting oneself and taking opportunities to elevate your work is key to the mission’s success.

Visit https://celiawilliamson.com/ to learn more about Celia’s projects including: The Emancipation Nation Podcast, The Emancipation Nation Network, her book, A Seat at the Table: The Courage to Care About Trafficking Victims, as well as the upcoming Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference.

Rules of Social Distancing Don’t Apply to Domestic Violence

During this pandemic, a virus isn’t the only thing that has spread rapidly. Domestic violence hotlines are breaking new records, lighting up both globally and nationally. According to a recent piece by CNN, the Illinois domestic abuse hotline hit its highest daily call volume in its 20-year history. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Texas’ was quoted in the same article saying, “It’s not that all of a sudden the virus comes along and people become abusive – it’s already there…Many people will not be killed by Covid-19, but instead they’ll die at the hands of an intimate partner.”

What is causing this spike in physical and sexual violence? Our recent podcast guest Angie McIlquham, Director of Sexual Assault Victim Services at The Bridge to Hope explained the direct correlation between COVID-19 life and these alarming new statistics. She fears that the numbers may actually be under-reported as many who are trapped at home with their abuser may be prevented from calling a crisis line for help. She attributes this escalation to several factors including job losses nationwide causing increased amounts of economic stress and violence in the home. Isolation is another big component that makes this a “prime time” for an abuser when their victims are cut off from community ties.

This pandemic is a catalyst for vulnerability – while a majority of victims are female Angie says any marginalized group including members of the LGBTQ community, the elderly, or anyone in poverty are at a very high risk of being pushed into more desperate situations at this time. There is also a lack of key community resources for those looking to escape from an abusive situation as many shelters aren’t able to take victims in. She says it isn’t a simple matter of “leaving” for victims. Similarly, to those trapped in trafficking, any kind of abuse holds its victims by complex psychological chains, many stay because they simply have nowhere to go.

Angie encourages those who have privilege to “check it” – instead of making a judgment on someone’s situation and how they are trying to survive, ask yourself why they are making this decision. Rather than asking someone why they’re staying with an abusive partner or telling them what to do, Angie says a great way to engage with someone being abused is to ask them what they need, otherwise you are trying to control them the same way their abuser does.

She also encourages those in these situations that there is hope for them. Adding that while they may not see progress overnight it is so important to develop your own safety plan which may include reaching out to a trusted friend or a crisis line even if you just need someone to talk to because you shouldn’t remain in isolation. The road may not be easy, she says, but it isn’t one anyone should have to walk alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

Available 24/7. Can connect callers with local resources and immediate support. Also available through an online chat tool.

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673

Provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Available 24/7. Also available through an online chat tool.

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

Available 24/7 for victims of abuse and any other type of crisis.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453

Available 24/7 in 170 different languages.

Office on Women’s Health Helpline 1-800-994-9662

Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Abuse: https://www.wcasa.org/

End Abuse WI for Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse: https://www.endabusewi.org/

10 Things We Can Learn About Trafficking from Tiger King: Featuring Prof. Carney Anne Nasser

Nearly 100 million viewers worldwide have tuned into Netflix’s Tiger King – which showcased cartoonish characters involved on both sides of animal welfare, including big cat rights activist Carole Baskin and tiger trafficker Joe Exotic. But did this cult series only scratch the surface of animal trafficking?

To find out more we brought in venerated animal welfare expert Professor Carney Anne Nasser, whose work has been featured on CNN, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, The New York Times and ABC’s Today Show. Carney Anne is also the attorney who pitched the wildlife trafficking case against “tiger King” Joe Exotic – leading to his arrest and sentence of 22 years in prison for multiple animal crimes. Listen to our full podcast interview below and read on to learn the top 10 things we can learn about trafficking from Tiger King.

  1.   Trafficking Starts and Ends with Demand

Think of it this way, if everyone stopped buying Twinkies, they would take them off the shelf. In the same way, when there is huge demand for a person, or in this case, an exotic animal, there will be someone willing to fill that demand to turn a profit. This demand is created in roadside zoo attractions, private animal ownership and other animal encounters such as a baby tiger being worth upwards of 1 million dollars in the first 12 weeks of their lifetime. Animal trafficking is the third most lucrative criminal enterprise in the world, generating between $7 and $23 billion every year where millions of animals are trafficked.

  1.   Those Creating Demand Often Have No Idea They are Contributing to Trafficking

Studies show that 97% of people don’t believe animals should be abused. However, there is an illusion perpetuated by those in the exotic animal trade who stand to profit from their exploitation by painting a picture of a “family-friendly” animal encounter. We are kept from knowing the truth behind the horrific things done to apex predators and other exotic creatures to ensure their compliance for public use. That is why when we know the truth, we can stop supporting these businesses and their “pay to play” animal encounters.

  1.   Traffickers Always Target Vulnerabilities

Traffickers are extremely skilled manipulators – their best work is done by identifying and targeting weakness, then exploiting it. Animals are unable to speak out and advocate for themselves, leading to the uninhibited ability of a trafficker to abuse them. But similarly from Tiger King we saw how the employees at Joe Exotic’s roadside zoo had various criminal backgrounds or socioeconomic backgrounds– specifically targeted by Joe to ensure their compliance (providing them food, shelter and employment) and to undermine their credibility should they be called to testify against him. He also used their concern and love for the animals to not only attract them to the job but to also justify staying amidst progressively dilapidating conditions.

  1.   There Is No “Template” For A Trafficker.

There is no exact template for a trafficker – they aren’t all outlandish, eccentric, gun-toting zoo owners like Joe Exotic – who boldly advertised his exploits on social media. Sometimes they are subtle and private individuals who have clean looking facilities but are still engaging in animal trafficking.

  1.   Ego Plays a Huge Role in Exploitation

One common thread of traffickers is that ego is at the core of many of their exploits. Obviously animal trafficking is hugely lucrative, but there is also status to be gained by having access to these beautiful, exotic animals. Each character shown in Tiger King was given wealth and status by their association with big cats. Joe Exotic’s ego and the fact that he had gotten away with so much for so long led to some sloppy paperwork and ultimately, his prison sentence of 22 years for his many crimes.

  1.   When Tigers Get Too Old They’re Dumped.

When an animal has reached the apex of their earning potential traffickers can’t dump them fast enough. When they no longer can earn money with baby tiger encounters (around 12 weeks) they become a financial drain, costing about $10,000 every year to feed. Traffickers whose number one concern is profit will attempt to sell these animals to private owners who sometimes pay less than you would for a dog, dump them somewhere or even kill them off. Many of these animals end up at wildlife sanctuaries and have lasting physical injuries from botched declawing, head trauma, bone density issues from lack of proper nutrition, as well as psychological issues from their lives in captivity. Some of them are even bred unnaturally (ex. Ligers) to fill the demand at roadside zoos and suffer premature death and other complications.

  1.   Identifying a True Animal Sanctuary Versus A Roadside Zoo

Similarly, to a trafficker, there is no exact template for a true sanctuary or a roadside zoo. However, there are definitive signs of each. One of the main indicators is the philosophical divide – a true sanctuary’s goal is to be “out of business” – they would never suggest that their facility surpasses what these animals would experience in the wild. A roadside zoo or facility that trafficks animals will often have “pay to play” animal encounter experiences – they want to continue making a profit and dumping animals when they’re maximized their usefulness. Visit www.sanctuaryfederation.org which is the gold standard for a “true sanctuary” to find out which ones you can support.

  1.   No Red Flag is Too Small

Despite all his crimes, ironically Joe Exotic was investigated and ultimately brought down by a paperwork issue. The rule “if you see something say something” is important to remember, when in doubt make a report. 

  1.   There Is Often So Much More Than We Know About

Traffickers often get charged with a fraction of what they’re doing. We can’t assume that there are isolated incidents or that a trafficker is just involved in the exotic animal trade, where there is unchecked ego and possibility of profit, there are often intersections from trafficking exotic animals, to people, to contraband, to illegal substances.

  1. Animal Protection Legislation Isn’t Where It Needs to Be…Yet

The US has an opportunity to pave the way for animal rights internationally by adopting federal legislation that helps protect animals. For example, a recent piece of bipartisan legislation is The Big Cat Public Safety Act – which would create uniformity to outlaw big cat ownership and put an end to public contact and photo ops. This would fight the trafficking issue since this is what is fundamentally driving the rapid “dump” of tigers into exotic pet trade. It also establishes uniformity on a federal level so that law enforcement can have a legal mechanism to go after those in the illegal animal trade. A way you can help is to head over to your federal legislators’ website and encourage them to support this bill. You can also visit www.bigcatalliance.org to support its mission of ending exploitation and private ownership of wild cats in the US