WSHINGTON, October 10, 2014 — Dr. Kalyani Gopal is the organizer of the SAFE2014 conference in Chicago, a survivor-led conference on human trafficking. Dr. Gopal has worked in the Chicago foster system counseling young children for decades, providing much needed services for an often over looked population, and one that is especially vulnerable to human trafficking-foster children.
Dr. Gopal met with CDN to talk about her work and the conference, which takes place from October 29-31.
CDN: Tell us about your work in Chicago.
I work as a clinical psychologist doing forensic work. I work for about 60-70 hours, 6 days a week at five of our clinics, Mid-America Psychological and Counseling Service, PC, based in Indiana and Illinois. I love what I do and I am very fortunate to find my work rewarding and fulfilling at the same time. Most days, I am at work till 10 pm, and like the fact that I do not have to be elsewhere rushing around town!
Most of my work is with survivors of sexual abuse, but I also do work with children who experience emotional and cognitive problems with life experiences and family dynamics and often do marriage/relationship counseling as well. The age range of my patients is from infancy through geriatrics and some of my work with geriatric patients is on end of life issues. I like the variability of my work as it prevents burn out from more intensive trauma work where I do EMDR, Visual imagery, Rapid resolution therapy or other forms of trauma treatment.
CDN: How did you begin your anti trafficking advocacy work?
I have worked in the field of foster care for the past 25 years with a focus on trauma assessment and treatment. During this process, I have worked with young children who were sexually abused by family members or sold to others for monetary or other compensation. I would get calls from young girls calling from pay phones and saying they needed help. I could not reach them back. Lack of stability in placement and lack of love the way they would feel it were primary causes of running away. So, once my own kids were older, I began writing and speaking about it and developed the “Displacement Trauma Model” for foster care. If we can stabilize our most vulnerable children, we can prevent teens from running away and our youth from homelessness later in life. Imagine, how different their lives would be!
I realized that much of what I was taught in grad school was quite useless in my clinical practice as these children have unique coping mechanisms. I learned to work differently with them in order to get the results I wanted. In the process, I began teaching foster parents skills that they needed in working with severely emotionally traumatized young children and teenagers. Finding that I was repeating myself over and over again, I turned to the manuals that these foster parents are given and realized that they were inadequate in explaining why, how, and when to intervene to prevent, or act on, a child’s behaviors. This led to writing my book “The Supportive Foster Parent” which was such a success (pardon the statement) that a publisher picked it up and I rewrote the book for an international audience “Foster Parenting Step-by-Step: How to Nurture the Traumatized Child and Overcome Conflicts.” I now train and teach all over the world and am the keynote for the Adoption Conference being held in the end of November this year in India. My hope is to prevent our foster kids from becoming fodder for the sex trafficking industry.
CDN: Tell us about the SAFE2014 conference and the goals of the conference.
My early vision of SAFE 2014 was of a one day seminar and possibly two, with global outreach and invitation.
We had an overwhelming response and as I reached out, the positive responses were fantastic and soon we had over 50 speakers willing to fly into Chicago and join in finding realistic solutions to this epidemic. We have grown from a one day seminar to a three day packed conference schedule.
The mission of SAFE 2014 is to bring together individuals and groups from different walks of life and professional status so that we can break down the silos that divide us and create collaborative bonds.
The nonprofit world by its very definition has limited monies that are divided amongst organizations. Everyone has a piece of the nonprofit pie and there are only so many ways in which we can divide it up. So, as a result, organizations become territorial and protective of their knowledge and expertise and trade secrets and are reluctant to share. Traffickers profit hugely from this disconnect. They thrive. Our goals for SAFE 2014 and beyond are to break these silos down, create an environment under the roof of the Hilton Chicago/Oaklawn for three intensive work days that enables our professionals to come together and work on resolution and creative ways to tackle real world trafficking issues. Unless we do so, we will not be able to make the kind of progress or reach the success we are capable of. Each of our speakers and panelists are gifted in their art and talented in achieving their goals. All share the common good at heart and are in consensus that it is TIME. It is time to stem this horrific tide of a burgeoning sex trafficking industry that has tripled in its profits since 2003, going from 9.5 billion dollar industry in 2003 to a 32 billion dollar industry in 2013. The United States is the second largest destination for human trafficking. Who doesn’t want to come here? The attraction is huge, but what these unfortunate girls do not know, is that they are not coming here for a high school excursion.
SAFE 2014 conference and post-conference goals are:
1. To bring the UNICEF GIFT Box here to Chicago, Illinois to raise awareness and make Chicago one of two cities home to the world famous GIFT box.
2. To end demand by identifying societal causative factors, victims’ rejection issues, maintaining factors, and prosecutorial needs.
3. To support organizations and develop global coalitions that work synergistically to end demand
4. To provide wrap around services to victims from rescue to rehabilitation.
5. To explore and develop curriculum for schools and universities to identify high risk students as the average age of a victim is 13 years old.
6. To identify best practices in intervention for law enforcement, clinicians, community advocates, and those involved with services for victims and, identifying pimps and johns.
7. To develop white papers as a result of the conference that we will publish and follow up with during post-conference. The rolling up the sleeves work starts post conference with monthly global video-conferencing meetings, and quarterly activities and events that emphasize inter-agency collaborative practices.
CDN: What do you see as the largest misunderstanding by the public about human trafficking?
The single largest misconception is that “It does not happen here, maybe in a poor third world country, definitely not in America.” People get that women are raped, beaten and severely abused in other countries. But that it is happening in our very own backyard? Never! A colleague shared with me a story about trafficking and he was asked, “You mean traffic? Yes, we have really bad traffic especially in rush hour.” He patiently explained the problem of human trafficking and was met with incredulous silence. I found myself nodding as I heard his story. This is typically the reaction I get when I talk about human trafficking especially sex trafficking. We need to change the dialogue; we need to wake up, America. OUR kids make up 50% of the internet porn industry. What message does that send?
There are many ways to combat human trafficking, Dr. Gopal what do you feel is the most important or lasting way to ensure a difference in the fight against human trafficking? Working to end demand? Restoring victims? Arresting traffickers? All of the above?
All too often, the trainings on awareness are done at a local level and sometimes at a national level. Most often, these trainings are done by professionals and “experts” such as I. This approach is misguided. We have no real knowledge of the depth or scope of the sex trafficking industry, of Washington DC’s “kiddie tracks” where children are sold a few miles from the Capitol building. No true knowledge of the terror that these young people feel or the dehumanization process and the criminalization of our very young. I do not know or pretend to understand the depths of degradation of their very souls and how they pick up the pieces and begin heal.
I am a healer and can only help the process.
In order to have lasting changes we need to change our perspective with how we tackle this epidemic.
So, we need to become:
1) Inclusive – LGBT, males, females; include all the stakeholders including airlines, prisons, ground transportation, teachers, and community organizations such as faith based organizations.
2) Survivor-driven: Survivors need to be teaching us and training as to look for signs, report what worked best for them, show us how to target the johns and the pimps, show us equally importantly what we are doing wrong, or what we need to change.
3) Global: become global in our approach. This is the age of the internet, the world is smaller and smaller and the reach of traffickers is larger and larger. We need to reach out and form a global coalition to our colleagues working not only at the federal levels but also in small communities and societies. During SAFE 2014, we hope to achieve this global outreach by videoconferencing to parts of the world we would be unable to reach otherwise.
Thank you so much Dr. Kalyani Gopal for the work you do, for organizing the SAFE2014 event as a ‘survivor’ led conference that includes the expert voice of survivor advocates and survivor leaders in the anti trafficking community and for bringing together advocates and organizations so that they can collaborate and work towards ending human trafficking and making a difference in the lives of victims and survivors.
For information, to see the line up of expert speakers and workshops and to register for the SAFE2014 Conference please visit www.safechr.com