Friday, October 14, 2016


"Defiant Souls Prevail"
by Frank Hebbert
Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I suppose it's human nature that, when a group of people we can categorize as similar makes the same mistake over and over again, our go-to is that they are lazy, sloppy, stupid, or a combination of all three. There are some problems with this assumption, and they go by the names of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and privilege, just to name a few.

Let me give you, my small audience, an example. The group being targeted in this case was "first-year college students."

There was a period of time in the not-so-distant past when students in our first-year courses suddenly started using "defiantly" in place of "definitely." This seeming epidemic became so widespread as to become the subject of many hallway grousing sessions among my colleagues. For me, with my slight case of synesthesia, the frustration I could hear people talking about looked like black smoke darting from office to office.

And "frustration" is the emotion I most want to avoid, and I DEFINITELY don't like talking about it because I just become more frustrated in my frustration. In fact, I've had conversations with teachers in which they've frustrated themselves talking about their frustrations to such a degree, I had a panic attack for them.

And that ain't cool.

"Defiantly." I turned the problem around in my mind.

"Defiantly" is not a word many people carry around in their personal writing dictionaries and is even more scarce in a person's speaking dictionary. Sure, people can read it and understand it, but it's not common usage, especially among 18-year-old adults.

So why were my first-year students typing "defiantly" instead of the word they meant?

I came up with the answer.

Knowing I was going to college, I took a semester-long typing class (fun fact: the year-long class was for students on the path to becoming "secretaries," as it was explained to us back in the day) in eighth grade. Two things mattered to my teacher: speed and "error-free" text.

Students today take a keyboarding class. The focus is the same: speed and "error-free" text.

Now, if you, dear audience, were a keyboarding teacher during a not-so-distant era, you probably taught your students to use auto-suggest and hit the "Return/Enter" key because that would increase your students' speed (important, no matter their track). There's only one problem with that strategy: "defiantly" comes before "definitely" in the global English dictionary. Stopping to check the suggestion slows one down, so the natural inclination would be to accept whatever the word processor suggested, thus, "defiantly" over "definitely." My guess is that keyboarding teachers probably looked for the obvious typos, not at actual content, not at ensuring the sentences made sense, only that they were exact copies of the text to be typed. "Defiantly," being an actual word, would register in the teacher's brain as "definitely," simply because that was what the brain was expecting and it looked "right." Given these criteria and being as busy as public school teachers are, I would have missed it, too, in their situation.

So my students were making this mistake, not because they were lazy, sloppy, stupid, or a combination of all three. They were making it because they had been taught to use a word processor as efficiently as possible but NOT as effectively as possible.

I'm going to be honest: If they gave a Nobel Prize for laziness, I would win it. Seriously, I would go down in history as being the winner above all other winners. But I don't think laziness is some sort of malignancy. I'm lazy because I detest doing the same thing twice. In my mind, I should've washed the dishes one time and said, "Okay, I did that! On to something new!" And I'm not the only one: "Laziness" is the mother of invention, not "necessity," as the saying goes. Laziness is the reason we have dishwashing machines. Someone said to herself, "My time would be better spent on something else. Let's come up with a solution that doesn't involve me running hot water for the dishes, soaking the dishes, scrubbing the dishes, rinsing the dishes, putting the dishes in a dish drainer, drying the dishes for the next batch, and putting the dishes away." (It turns out, the repetition of the dishwashing machine I bought was more onerous than washing the dishes by hand, so I got rid of it. Irony.)

Because I understood the cause of the problem my students were having, I was able to address it. First, I taught them the simple act of going to "Edit"—> "Find"—> "Replace." Thus, they had learned a skill to replace a single mistake made throughout a document quickly and easily.

But then I asked them a question: Why are you using -ly words in your writing?

Invariably, the response was "because I want to show the importance of what I'm saying."

Well, you can do that with "defiantly," but guess what? You can't do it with "definitely," "really," "very," "truly," "actually," and (sadly, from my perspective), "literally." Overused words, especially adverbs, weaken your prose. Concentrate on more nuanced words instead.

So, during the next class, we spent time exploring the thesaurus, discussing the word "nuance," and choosing more powerful words for a boring, meaningless, and vague paragraph I wrote for the purpose of the lesson.

The moral of this story is this: If you find yourself complaining about people you lump into one group (students, faculty, people of color, Europeans, older adults), the problem you're complaining about might be yours to solve. Also, put your magnifying glass away because you're missing the bigger picture.

People in the U.S.: Human Trafficking Is Right under Your Nose

I hate to be a downer. But that headline is a fact. And I was asked by a friend to explain this for the people who might not be aware, which is my assurance this is important and y'all need to know.

And I will now issue what I feel is a proper trigger warning. Don't read the rest of this if you have been the victim of sexual abuse, domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or any form of human trafficking. You already know how this story goes.

Also F-BOMB alert!

I have been researching the problem of human trafficking for a number of reasons. For one, I wanted to write a grant to provide technical assistance training to prosecuting attorneys, people in the hospitality industry, health inspectors, salon inspectors, social workers, among others, to learn to recognize the signs of possible trafficking. More arrestingly, it was because of the story of Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris and his wife Marsha, who introduced me to the term "re-homing."

The Arkansas Times (see the above link), a true bastion of investigative reporting, did a far better job of outlining the facts of the case than I can, so I'll keep this to a summary. The Harrises, who earn most of their income by operating a private Christian pre-school in northwest Arkansas, adopted two children out of the foster system they had repeatedly been warned they were not prepared to care for. The girls they adopted were in the system because, at ages 3 and 5, they had been repeatedly sexually abused and would need a level of care a normal family could not provide without significant training. When it became apparent to the Harrises they were out of their league, they "re-homed" the girls to another couple without reporting it to any regulatory agency, which was perfectly legal in Arkansas up to 2015. Eric Francis, their new "father" and a teacher at the pre-school the Harrises own, is now serving a 40-year sentence for raping the older of the two girls.

She was six at the time.

And now for the ultimate reason for the research I have done.

My mother was the victim of a child molester at about the same age as the two girls the Harrises "re-homed."

She doesn't know I know this.

And I'm now shaking with ire.

My mother told on THAT MAN, our uncle by marriage, when she was seven. But her sister was three, and according to my grandma, he "began" molesting them both at the same time. More likely, THAT MAN began molesting my mother at the age of three, and, when he began molesting my aunt at that same age, my mom told on him to protect her sister.

THAT MAN never touched me, but he might as well because he absolutely destroyed any semblance of a mother-daughter relationship I might have had with the woman who gave birth to me. I was born at a time when the gender of a child could not be determined during pregnancy. I have to wonder what a nightmare it was for my mom being told she had given birth to a daughter, when she probably hoped I would be a son. Because in my mother's world, I imagine, little girls were hurt beyond repair. Little boys lived care-free lives.

Little boys aren't immune, either. And I know this because I've read it all again and again, at first in horror, then with numbness, and finally as someone who has to be inured against it in order to fight it.

But more importantly and more related to the subject at hand THAT MAN took a photo of my mother, a little girl.


I know this because he gave it to my dad on my parents' wedding day.

Soak that in for a second.

I have, literally, tried to express my anger about this, and, frankly, I can't come up with any words. I'm speechless.

In THAT MAN's world, he owned my mother first, and it was he, not my grandpa, who was giving her away to someone else.

Sick fucking bastard. The product of a sick fucking system where children, girls, are goods to be sold or "generously" given away.

My grandmother threatened him and his wife with a gun. As she explained to me, just prior to a visit with him and his wife at a sort of family reunion when I was 11, it was her only recourse to save other girls. In those days, "We didn't talk about that stuff, and the police wouldn't have believed her [my mom]." I'd like to write a superhero comic about my grandma: her outfit would be made of the flour sacks her own clothing was made of back in the day. But, in this one instance, I don't think the gun or her threat had the power it should have. I think it made THAT MAN more determined.

If there was one picture, there were probably more. And they were most likely part of an illegal trade among other sick men who could easily get away with selling their "wares" in the 1950s using the U.S. Postal Service and vague newspaper ads.

In essence, my mother was a victim of human trafficking. Her unclothed childhood body was likely sold through images of it without her permission. Her body was taken from her. She never had a sense of ownership over the very thing that made her a being in the world, to reference Heidegger.

And let's be honest. Eric Francis, a man who raped a six-year-old child, could have easily trafficked that child in the same way, so long as he never went high tech, where the probability of getting caught is much higher. Is this why the demise of the Polaroid was so lamented? No worries. They're available once again...because, you know, profit.

So, I've shown the small group of devoted readers who follow this inattentively published blog one form of human trafficking. If you wish to continue (it'll be tough), I'll explain the myriad of other ways human trafficking is alive and well in our country.

Labor Trafficking
Do you want to understand "illegal" immigration fully? Read on. If you think A-rabs, "Metsicans," and all other people of color don't belong in the U.S., just go back to your regular programming and leave me alone because many of them don't want to be here. Thanks.

Children of working age and adults from every country on earth are lured to the U.S. with the promise of a job by a network or group of networks that has created a system for moving people across borders with real or very-well-faked passports and visas.

I'm being too polite.

These aren't networks or groups of networks: they're Triad; the Serbian and Russian mafias; and the North and South American drug cartels. They prey upon the poor, as they have always done because there is money to be made from the most desperate. Members of one of these groups walk into a town in the middle of nowhere Central or South America, Central Europe, rural Russia, China, or any southeast Asian country. (I haven't done ANY research on international human trafficking in Africa because I figure we've established the fact that Africa has been subject to widespread international human trafficking, but I should probably update my knowledge in this area and will.) These seemingly friendly "neighbors" who know the language and may even have grown up in the village, offer jobs in the U.S. and assistance getting there to people who are looking for a better way of life.

So villagers sign up.

Once they arrive, if they're lucky, they end up working in a restaurant, nail salon, cleaning company, etc., in exchange for a place to live (generally a tiny apartment crammed with other laborers), food, and clothing. And maybe a few dollars a week spending money.

They don't complain.

Let's remember what a child predator invariably says to his victim, "If you tell, you'll get in trouble," which is what THAT MAN said to my mom before she decided to tell on him. (BTW, good on her!)

The perpetrators know exactly where the victims' families live because that's where the victims were their homes with their families watching. The threat that parents and grandparents may be killed or younger siblings recruited into the same life in the very same way is very, very real. Also, their English is limited, and they may not even be able to read or write in their own language, so they don't know how to get help. And we have no way to track them, so we have no data on where then end up. What happens when they get sick, pregnant, or old? Beyond their years of providing service to their "employers"? Pfft. You know the answers to these questions. No one notices when invisible people disappear.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking makes a profit of $58 billion annually across the globe according to, which is, admittedly, a for-profit organization focused on justice for victims of sexual crimes. My guess is that the profit for perpetrators of sex trafficking goes well beyond this calculation and is far higher than any profit the lawyers at will ever see in their lifetimes of litigation.

Immigrants who come to this country in the not so lucky way end up in the sex trade. Their English may be better, but their situation is worse. They are sent out into our streets, wearing minimal clothing, not knowing what's permissible and what isn't, not knowing their rights, unprotected, except for a pimp intent on making money from their mouths, vaginas, and anuses...and whatever else they can profit from. They commit the crime of "prostitution" and are subject to jail time and fines their pimps will not pay. In other words, and I hate to put it this bluntly, but it's the truth, that $15 they just made for giving a blow job in the massage parlor (talk about low wages) goes directly to the pimp. All of it. They're given enough to live on until they are arrested. Period. And when they are arrested, they are left to deal with a system that does not recognize prostitution as part and parcel of human trafficking in most jurisdictions. Those who are not legal immigrants are subject to more fines and deportation when they may have had children in, or brought family members to, the U.S. who counted on their language support and networking to get jobs...let alone what little they might provide financially.

Having said that about immigrants, let's talk about "our own": foster children (natural citizens born and raised in the U.S.) are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers. They don't know what a "normal" family is or what a "normal" romantic relationship looks like. They are in the system because they have been emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused to such a degree the state has decided to remove them from their families of origin. Many don't make it out of the system without being groomed for prostitution by a "beloved boyfriend," a man with tangential relations to the foster family, a man who has no qualms about lavishing affection and gifts on the victim in exchange for having sex with his "friends" (and a former female victim is often involved in normalizing the situation). More importantly, when fostered young adults (again, it's not limited to females) turn 18, they are left completely on their own and are even more vulnerable because they leave their temporary families behind.

Read this if you can.

In the eyes of the law, these victims are perpetrators although many law enforcement agencies are starting to recognize prostitution for what it is: human trafficking.
Hustle and Flow, was a great movie, not because of the rap and the main character's determination for success, but mostly because it exposed an important truth. Prostitutes don't go into the sex trade willingly but out of necessity; they are recruited. In the film, it was a case of three people trying to make it out of the Memphis ghetto, but in the real world, the prostitution system doesn't provide a way out for anyone involved. Well, except for the jerks who pay the prostitutes. You know, the guys who pay for it because they can. The fellows who prefer fellatio from a stranger. Who would promote their 10-year-old daughters as sex objects. The "regular" guys who grab women by the pussy.

At the end of the day they are all slaves. That's what human trafficking is, y'all: slavery. I have quit nail salons (all Vietnamese) where I've seen a high turnover rate among workers (one way to hide labor trafficking is to keep victims constantly on the move). I have quit cleaning companies (all white women) because I wondered why the 16-year-old girl accompanying the middle-aged manager wasn't in school. I have seen prostitutes on the streets of Little Rock, and I KNOW that was not something they chose for themselves because I would not choose if for me.

And, yes, I have given these women $20 without their ever having asked because I know that's money they can hide from their "master."

I quote Michelle Obama: "Enough is enough."