In Turtle’s Shoes

by Sabine Kaupp.

Soft chiming of an Asian carillon fills the air when entering The New Da Hsin Trading company in Chinatown in Washington, D.C. One can hear water fountains, one can smell herbs and one can see hundreds of little figures, porcelain or silk stacked in the back of the room. A older, tiny lady with Asian looks comes silently round the corner and smiles. Continue reading

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Innocence Lost

Prostitutes talk to potential customers on the street in Pattaya, Thailand. "Customers/exploiters come from all over the world. Legalized or tolerated prostitution is a magnet for sex trafficking. The U.S. Government considers prostitution to be "inherently demeaning and dehumanizing

Prostitutes talk to potential customers on the street in Pattaya, Thailand.
“Customers/exploiters come from all over the world. Legalized or tolerated prostitution is a magnet for sex trafficking. The U.S. Government considers prostitution to be “inherently demeaning and dehumanizing

– By Megan O’Malley. Michelle Marshall, former Girls Inc. Intern, shakes her head in dismay when recollecting her findings on sex trafficking in the United States. She remembers feeling shocked that victims of domestic sex trafficking were considered prostitutes and being arrested time and time again.  Many of these victims were children who had their innocence stripped from them and who were subjected to tactics of manipulation. One story that has stuck with Marshall is that of a 14-year-old girl who was sex trafficked in the DC area.  After being abducted and traded for sex, the girl grew to distrust anyone whom she did not know.  When police raided the house looking to rescue her, the girl hid in a dresser drawer and it took many officers to coerce her to come with them.

Author Megan O'Malley

Author Megan O’Malley

“People don’t realize that this issue is very real and taking place everyday in the United States,” says Marshall, now a post-grad with high hopes of a career battling this pressing issue, “I’m upset that the focus on this issue has been international for the most part.”

The Merriam-Webster definition of sex trafficking is, “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be forced into prostitution.”  The definition’s first known usage was in 1988. 

According to many organizations combating the issue, such as the Polaris Project, many people don’t view prostitutes or subjects of pornography as being under the age of 18.  The sad reality is that more and more children are being exploited in this manner.  On Shared Hope International’s website it is stated that 100,000 American children are exploited through the commercial sex industry each year. The average age a child is first exploited is 13 years old.

In Washington DC the rate of sex trafficking has increased over the years, according to the Rebecca Project (a nationally recognized organization for women’s rights).  It is believed that the Internet is to blame for this spike in the sex trade.  Sites such as backpage.com and craigslist.com have made it possible for pimps to sell young girls online in exchange for money.

In 2010, Craigslist was subject to large-scale scrutiny when it was discovered that its ‘Adult Services’ section assisted in the sex trafficking of minors.  As word spread of this issue nationally, a campaign to shut down this section of the website took place.  Initially Craigslist argued that they did not hold liability for third party content reflected on the site.

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on September 15, 2010 to discuss this issue.  There it was announced that Craigslist shut down the ‘Adult Services’ section in the United States.  In December 2010, the section was closed internationally as well.

“The activity taking place on myredbook.com, eros.com and backpage.com is equally as horrific,” said U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) at the hearing, “These sites are facilitating crimes.”

Backpage.com and other websites have made it difficult for authorities to shut them down.  They comply with regulations and whenever a case of underage trafficking is presented to them, they allow courts to subpoena their records.  Owners of the site have claimed time and time again that nothing they do is illegal and that they do not condone sex trafficking either.   This is difficult to believe because majority of revenue that the site gains comes from prostitution, often of minors.

There are many movements against these websites and sex trafficking of minors in general.  Change.org has an ongoing petition to shut down trafficking on backpage.com and 262,994 people have signed.

One group that is actively working to free and provide a safe environment to minors who are victims of sex trafficking is Courtney’s House.  The non-profit organization is located in the Washington D.C. Metro Area.

Most victims are referred to the organization by a family member.  Social workers, law enforcement and tips through the survivor hotline also help victims find refuge at Courtney’s House.

“The most striking thing about interning at Courtney’s House is the being a part of the ceaseless push to change lives for the better,” says Angela Gale, the Communications Intern at Courtney’s House and an eager participant in the fight against child sex trafficking, “Every minute of every day, the staff members have one goal in mind: how to rescue as many boys and girls from traffickers as they can.”

Upon arrival victims take an initial assessment, which indicates what will help them most through their healing process.  They are provided with many direct services, such as individual therapy, mentoring, tutoring, support groups and group activities.

In September, Courtney’s House reached its maximum caseload capacity of 21 clients.  Luckily, there are other organizations in the area much like this one that are dedicated to helping victims, such as Turn Around Inc. located in Baltimore.

“Sex trafficking is a huge crisis all over the United States. DC is a major hub because of its prime location and endless supply of eager buyers,” says Gale, when asked about the prevalence of trafficking in DC, “I wish I could say it was more than I expected it to be, but unfortunately the reality is that domestic minor sex-trafficking (DMST) is so rampant, it is not unexpected at all.”

Before 2000, the issue of sex trafficking in the United States was barely recorded.  The Urban Institute conducted a study in 2008 based on court cases from 1998 – 2004.  Researchers found that 58% of those cases brought to prosecutors were tossed out over a year.

Prosecutors threw out this cases due to lack of sufficient information.  When it comes to cases of sex trafficking, it is difficult to find people that are willing to testify.  Victims are often afraid of shedding light on their identity and law enforcement often found out about these cases through anonymous tips.  In 1998, majority of the defendants received a sentence of probation.

In 2000, the issue of human trafficking in the United States was more widely recognized.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed, becoming the first federal law to address human trafficking.  TVPA took a three-pronged approach – protection, prevention and prosecution.  It was a good start, but did not specify the types of trafficking taking place, such as sex trafficking; it referred to human trafficking as a unit.

In 2003, 2005 and 2008 provisions were made to the TVPA and it became newly referred to as the TVPRA.  These provisions enacted new human trafficking crimes and allowed for the greater protection of victims.

            On February 12, Senate passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).  If passed through the House of Representatives, the act will work on a federal and state level to assist children who are victims of sex trafficking.  TVPRA will allow for grant programs that help these victims get out and stay out of sex slavery.  The act will also strengthen the ability to prosecute the pimps and those who advertise sex online.

When asked what students can do to prevent sex trafficking, Ambassador in the office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, Luis CdeBaca says, “raise your voices and start the issue at the grassroots. Nonprofits and other organizations can only do so much. Students need to bring awareness and demand something to be done.”

Statistics have shown that from 1998 to 2013, the issue of sex trafficking in the United States has become more widely recognized.  Due to the increase of the trade there is still a long way to go.  Anybody can help in spreading the importance of this issue. Every voice counts.  Organizations like the Polaris Project and Courtney’s House are always looking for volunteers to help in the fight.

“You can hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes, but more than that it’s evident in the copious amount of energy they expend daily to reach one more child, to train one more pair of arms. It’s very grounded, but at the same time, it’s very triumphant,” says Gale of the feeling staff members get when seeing victims who have been saved.

The Impact of Political Satire

jonstewartphoto

– By Bradley Whitaker.

The day after returning from his winter break, Jon Stewart spun around in his chair, battling a cold, ready to start another episode of his hit late night program The Daily Show. But rather than talking about something sarcastic, as The Daily Show often does, Stewart chose to tackle something serious, the issue of gun control. In his tapering voice, Stewart weighed in on how absurd the arguments for reducing gun violence had become. Max McCauley, a student at Trinity College in Hartford, CT remembers Stewart’s monologue clearly.

“As someone who grew up just minutes from Newtown, CT, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly the gun conversation changed from keeping people safe, to people looking out for their own political interests. Jon Stewart was able to put that conversation in perspective and talk about what was really important,” said McCauley, 20, wearing his Guilford Fencing jacket from his former high school in Guilford, CT.

Author Bradley Withaker

Author Bradley Whitaker

“It didn’t take the media long to forget about the tragedy in Newtown and turn it into something political. But the people of Connecticut definitely didn’t forget,” McCauley added. “It was refreshing to see Stewart actually talk common sense about the issue.”

While Stewart’s main role on Comedy Central is to be funny, his comedy doesn’t only inform viewers, it makes a real point. As the world of politics becomes increasingly polarized, news networks become more biased, and certain talking points become fact among politicians, pundits, and lobby groups, a path has been paved for comedians to cut straight to the bone on political issues that others are too frightened to touch. As a result, an increasing number of people, especially of younger demographics, are taking their trust away from mainstream media outlets such as network and cable news, newspapers, and magazines, and are turning to sources such as fake news programs, talk shows, satirical websites and tabloids. However, this phenomenon isn’t just due to what news outlets are doing wrong, it’s what comedians are doing right.

McCauley added, “I’ve been watching The Daily Show since I was in high school, and most of my friends who follow current events use it as their number one news source.”

Farleigh Dickinson University recently conducted a survey asking what news programs people watch on television, and then asked those people to answer a few basic questions about both international news and domestic affairs. 1,185 random New Jersey residents were contacted by landline and cell phone in February of last year in the survey. Viewers of The Daily Show were some of the best-informed viewers, with Sunday show viewers and National Public Radio listeners just beating them out. However, frequent viewers of Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC were some of the worst informed.

Jasper Zweibel, who recently wrote an article about Stewart’s influence PolicyMic.com, and had plenty to say on the matter: “Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart really are legitimate news men. They are bringing you the information and not making things up. The stories are funny because that’s just what happens in politics,” said Zweibel, 26, a contributor who’s been at PolicyMic.com for a couple years now. “If you let the comedy come naturally to the news, it let’s jokes really tap into the heart of the issue,” said Zweibel.

Satire doesn’t always have to be funny in order to keep people entertained. When something comes off as cathartic and is able to pull at one’s heartstrings, adding a humorous element to that can be both humanizing and extremely powerful. In an age where people’s attention spans are becoming shorter, that emotional attachment is almost necessary.

“People aren’t going to watch the news if it’s dry,” adds Zewibel. “They simply don’t. The jokes may keep people coming, but the purpose is to inform and the entertainment is used as a hook. The substance is the story.” Zweibel typically uses political satire to stay informed and keep a level head on what’s really happening in the news.

Mock news programs such as The Daily Show and Colbert Report aren’t the only satirical media outlets people get their news from. Over the last decade there has been a growing number of hits on websites such as The Onion and The Washington Fancy, whose soul purpose is to write pretend news stories that are designed to poke fun at the real news. The Onion, which started as a small entertainment newspaper in 1988 by two University of Wisconsin students, has since grown to average 7.5 million visitors per month, and recently won a Peabody Award back in 2009.

Editor-in-Chief at The Washington Fancy Steven Tobiasz discussed the role his news organization plays: “In terms of what we post online, we are similar to The Onion, but are more heavy politically. However, unlike most political satire on television, we are the complete opposite of the truth. We have to have an outrageous headline that makes people want to click and read it, and at the same time we can’t write three to four page articles because the attention span on a website is like ten seconds for some people,” stated Tobiasz, 25, who has experience working in comedy writing including being a research assistant at Conan.

“What keeps people coming back to our site is the fact that politics is terrible right now. Most news stations have a political affiliation, and don’t really investigate the real issue if it doesn’t align with their own political interests. I don’t even think some news organizations even know they’re doing it,” said Tobiasz. “But if my number one goal is to be funny, I can’t afford to waste my time trying to appeal to the left or the right. It’s not in my best interest to do so.”

Tobiasz is touching on what separates comedians from most opinionated journalists. Rather than looking to inform the viewer or reader on what the author thinks is happening, a comedian is looking for an emotional reaction. Creating this type of reaction actually can inform people. When talking about controversial or sentimental issues, comedy can actually be much more appealing. This explains how Stewart was able to articulate his gun argument nicely on The Daily Show.

“Comedy is a way of directing around a tough subject,” said Tobiasz. “There is a filter, but there’s a fine line with that filter. You’ve got to be willing to push buttons, and you have to be willing to say something that nobody else is willing to say. You have to dare to offend people, but do it in the right way.”

With online proliferation and apps taking over the media landscape, the future of how consumers will get their news is uncertain. However, things are looking bright for the future of comedy. More and more people of younger demographics are getting their news from these comedy sources and are actually becoming smarter by doing so. The Onion says that 90 percent of its online viewers are between the ages of 18 and 44 years old. If it isn’t comedy’s ability to relay the information across to people, it’s their way of keeping people entertained and connected to the subject.

Hunched over in his chair, Max McCauley reflected the thoughts so many people in Connecticut were thinking, “After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I couldn’t even watch the news. When the news wasn’t discussing the difficult losses people had faced, it was a hysterical response from the NRA, or Alex Jones getting in an uncivilized argument with Piers Morgan. It wasn’t until I saw Jon Stewart frame the gun argument in a way that allowed people to speak openly and honestly about the issue that I actually felt like something could be done.”

Children Crossing the Border, Unaccompanied and Undocumented

Source: Wikicommons

Source: Wikicommons

by Jess Krueger

Ricardo Gambetta, a tall Latino with a mustache resting on his upper lip and wearing a crisp, collared dress shirt, takes a seat behind his meticulously arranged desk in the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants headquarters in Washington. Pens and pencils are respectively divided between mugs labeled with South and Central American countries.  The low rumbling of a nearby train alludes to the story featured in the “Which Way Home” video lying on his desk. It is a tale of the harrowing journey unaccompanied child migrants make on a freight train across Mexico to the United States. The documentary highlights a growing crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border; the very crisis Gambetta and others are working diligently to end.

Author Jess Krueger

Author Jess Krueger

“What is missing is many of these people working on immigration reform must focus more on children because it’s a very important segment of any immigrant population,” said Gambetta, the Director of Immigrant Services at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. “We try to promote children’s issues and we want to ensure any petition in legislation coming from the White House and Congress will include some language in regards to protection of children’s rights. That is our most important agenda right now when we talk about immigration reform.”

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is a non-profit organization that has been serving persons in forced or voluntary migration around the world since 1911. In 2005, the organization launched the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, broadening its mission to aid the growing number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The center works with over 2,500 pro bono attorneys who assist unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children navigate the U.S. Immigration Courts. In order to aid these children, the center receives referrals of immigrant children who are alone in the U.S. They then work to match these children with attorneys who have volunteered and received pro bono training from the center.

“We try to work with different governments in the regions in Central America and Mexico to educate public opinion and try to educate the parents of these kids,” said Gambetta. “So at least they are aware how dangerous the whole journey from their country to the United Sates is. So many of our efforts have been focused on that.”

To reach the U.S.-Mexico border, as many as 1,500 immigrants travel on board “La Bestia,” or “the beast,” a freight train that travels from southern Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border, every day. The train claims the lives of thousands and consumes the limbs of those who fall under its wheels, but for many migrants desperate to achieve the American dream it is a free means of travel to northern Mexico.

“This is how immigrants travel all over Central America,” said Gambetta. “Along with these adults there are hundreds and hundreds of children and youth, and not just male but also female.”

Unaccompanied children riding on the freight trains are especially vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and crime. In a recent case brought to the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, a young girl attempted to make it across the border dressed as a boy said Gambetta. When smugglers forced the group she was traveling with the to take off their clothes, her gender was exposed and she was raped by a number of men.

“They are exposed to all different kinds of bad situations,” said Gambetta. “They have to face crime, many of them are raped and killed along the way.”

“Which Way Home,” a documentary produced by HBO, features several children who leave their homes in Mexico and board the freight train to make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. Two of the children, Rosario Hernandez-Francisco, 16, and Eloy, 13, were cousins who did not survive the harsh conditions of the desert and died of exposure. It was only by DNA testing, that the Bureau of Migrant Affairs was able to confirm Rosario’s body given the state in which it was found in the desert.

“They try to flee from poverty,” said Gambetta. “They try to flee from violence and Latino gangs, especially in Central America. They are looking for better life opportunities and education in the United States.”

Marcel Reiz is one such immigrant who left behind her life in Mexico at a young age to create a better one in the U.S.. Unlike the parents who leave behind their children to make it across the border first, Reiz made the treacherous journey with her three-year-old daughter alone.

Desperate, she was forced to rely on two smugglers to get across the border. They guided Reiz to the Rio Grande and gave her nothing but an old truck tire to keep her and her daughter afloat as they swam across the rive into the U.S. She remains in the country without documents and is one of many who come to the U.S. for a better life.

“In Mexico we say everything happens for a reason,” says Reiz. “In Mexico I had nothing; here I don’t have a big house but I have a little place, and I have my car, and my daughter’s in school, and I have a good job. I wouldn’t change anything to go back to Mexico.”

Over 7,000 unaccompanied children arrive in the U.S. each year. A majority of these children come from Central America, while some travel from as far as China, Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria.  Many hope to be reunited with their parents in the U.S., while others arrive seeking protection from threatening circumstances in their home country.

“Going back to when the U.S. was founded it hasn’t been an issue, but then there was a cap put on per country basis,” said a junior researcher at a think tank. “Because the legal tap is shut off, it’s easier to come here illegally. For instance overstay a visa, or cross the border. Because there’s little incentive not to if you pretty much believe you’re never going to be able to get citizenship coming another way.”

In December 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008. The act requires the Department of Homeland Security to interview every unaccompanied minor in order to determine if the child is a potential victim of trafficking, has no possible claim to asylum, and voluntarily agrees to go back home. In a 2011 report issued by Appleseed, an immigration rights focused non-profit, promises outlined in the TVPRA remain unfulfilled. U.S. Customs and Border Protections apprehend approximately 15,000 unaccompanied minors from Mexico annually. The National System for Integral Family Development, a Mexican public institution where Mexican unaccompanied minors pass through after the U.S. repatriates them, however, released figures in 2010 that indicate a majority of unaccompanied minors who were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are immediately repatriated.

“We share with Mexico one of the largest borders in the world. There is almost 2,000 miles we share with Mexico,” said Gambetta. “We share also not just the border, but also the responsibility dealing with migration from both sides.”

Immigration is emerging today as a key issue in both the White House and Congress. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama mentioned the importance of immigration reform in his State of the Union address.

“And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said Obama. “As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts.”

In the immigration reform discussion today, children who are coming across the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied and without documents have been left out of the discussion. Last month the bi-partisan group made up of eight senators focused on developing workable immigration reform, also known as the “gang of eight,” released their framework for comprehensive immigration reform, which mentions these children briefly.

“Our legislation also recognizes that the circumstances and the conduct of people without lawful status are not the same, and cannot be addressed identically,” the Outline of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization said. “For instance, individuals who entered the United States as minor children did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws. Consequently, under our proposal these individuals will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship.”

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is able to help approximately 10 percent of the unaccompanied minors who are detained by U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s a percentage the organization hopes to see increase this coming year.

“I think this is missing from the picture, the fact that no one is talking about children’s rights,” says Gambetta. “But we believe we can make a difference in the children’s lives.”

Gambetta sits upright with his hands folded together in front of him. His structured posture is broken momentarily as he leans forward and unclasps his hands.

“What is important is how you make a difference and I think everyone can make a difference,” says Gambetta.

Mind Wars: Fighting the War at Home

Military_w_PTSD_Ribbon

By Charles Bowles.

Washington (Tenley Times) – Scott Powell’s realization of what war truly meant came one day in 2007 while serving in Al Asad Airbase in northwest Iraq. Cpl. Powell, 23, a marine, was assigned to a health service support company with Navy doctors, acting as a liaison between them and the hospital in Al Asad. He was doing his daily job of processing dead bodies when a badly injured Iraqi child came into the hospital from a school that was bombed near Al Asad. Powell remembers the doctors cracking open the boy’s chest attempting to bring him back to life with a heart massage, but the boy passed away. As he was processing the body, the boy’s father came in, wanting to see his son and pray to Allah. The boy’s father entered the room and was looking for a prayer rug, as custom with Islamic tradition, but could not find a rug. However, there was a stack of black body bags near his dead son lying in a hospital bed. As Powell entered, the room in the hospital, he found the father of the dead boy praying to Allah on one of the empty black body bags next to his dead son. That’s when it hit Powell, this is war; but he had to move on, because it is what he was trained to do at that moment.

“It was hard to process those things in Iraq, those are some deep human emotions for something like that can invoke,” said former Sgt. Powell, now 29, a student at American University scratching his bushy brown beard. “This phrase gets cliché it’s almost that stuff gets bottled up and those things can only stay in there before they start to ferment. Eventually, pressure builds up in the bottle, I wouldn’t say you have an explosion, but the top pops off and those things come oozing out and you have to confront those things.”

This was just one day of the seven months that Powell spend in Iraq from Valentine’s Day 2007 to September 11, 2007, processing dead bodies at Al Asad Airbase. He dealt with body after body, young, old, men, women, children, friend, foe and everything in between. Yet, his training told him not to process what was happening and told him to move on from the beginning to the end of his deployment. He was not told what he would be doing in Iraq. A year later, Powell’s scenes of war began to manifest in his mind. He had seen so much and did not process it, everything was coming back.

Powell was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health issue that possibly can occur after a horrific event like war or other traumatic events. PTSD has six common symptoms including: reliving the traumatic event, avoiding situations that remind someone about the event, feeling numb, hyperarousal, the previous symptoms occurring over a month and significant impairment. However, PTSD has gained more public awareness due to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but PTSD is growing problem especially with more veterans returning home. According to the 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs report, nearly 30 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD.

PTSD in Today’s America

The 2012 Veterans Affairs report has placed a new emphasis on providing treatment for veterans who are suffering from PTSD. Currently, there are three treatments recommended by VA which are: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. However, there is a strong stigma against getting treatment due to fears of getting dishonorably discharged or not receiving a promotion.

Derek Coy, a former marine and development associate at the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, the stigma caused him to ignore signs of PTSD that began to manifest themselves during his third deployment on the USS Essex.

“I fell victim to these stigmas, but I knew that things were not right,” said Coy. “I knew something was wrong, but I did not want to be able to deploy with my unit, I did not want something to happen to me because I was not deployable or that I can’t fight anymore. So, I chose to suppress my emotions, I didn’t know any better, so I just thought that I would get over it.”

However, after his deployment on the USS Essex, Coy began to feel worse once his left the Marines and a psychologist diagnosed him with PTSD and demand him to seek out help. Today, Veterans Affairs has a few basic treatments for those suffering from PTSD.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a psychological, therapeutic approach that addresses mental processes through goal oriented procedures. A common form of this kind of treatment for veterans is desensitization, where a person is exposed to the traumatic event and/or encouraged to remember it. The theory is that people give meanings to an event and make it an experience. Also, the person becomes less and less frightening with constant exposure.

Another common treatment for PTSD today is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This treatment involves focusing on distractions like movement of other extremities and sounds while you talk about the traumatic event.

“Clients need to change the meaning that they have given to witnessing a massacre, the death of a buddy, an accidental killing of a civilian, etc., and relieve themselves of the guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression that they have been saddled with for years,” said Dr. Stanley Krippner, 80, a professor of psychology at Saybrook University and author of Haunted by Combat: Understanding PTSD in War Veterans. “For example, a solider might say, ‘I am a no-good murderer because I killed an Iraqi girl who was carrying a doll that I thought was a bomb.’ This needs to be changed to, ‘Terrible things happen in war. A part of me died too. But I am going to spent time with handicapped children as a volunteer in her memory.’ In this way, post-traumatic stress can be changed to post-traumatic strengths.”

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are medications recommended by the VA for those suffering from PTSD. Two common SSRIs are Zoloft and Paxil. However, Dr. Krippner believes that medication is only a short term solution.

“I think that mainstream medication should be used short-term rather than long term because of its side effects,” said Krippner. “And there are studies showing that psychotherapy is just as effective as medication, especially for the depression that often accompanies PTSD and is a frequent predictor of suicide.”

After Powell was diagnosed with PTSD in late 2008, he received outpatient psychiatric treatment at the National Naval Hospital (now the Walter Reed National Medical Center) in Bethesda, MD. Powell’s treatment involved seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist. He received a treatment known as biofeedback. Biofeedback is a therapy where are patient gain greater awareness of their physical functions, similar to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Besides various medical treatments, there are organizations that support returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these organizations include: the Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America or IAVA is the first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of those wars. This group that is built upon four tenants: supporting new veterans in health, education and employment while building a lasting community for vets and their families.

For Coy, this organization was a literal lifesaver. Coy served two back-to-back tours of duty in Iraq from August 2005 to August 2006. Coy delivered aviation parts to airfields. However, Coy began to notice problems during this third deployment on the USS Essex, but did not want to say anything. After his third deployment, he left the Marines and that is when he began to suffer from PTSD. He moved to New York City in fall 2010 when he was at his “lowest point”, but everything changed one day.

“I decided to go to the Veterans Day Parade and march with IAVA in 2010 and once I got there my life changed,” said Coy, now a development associate at the IAVA. “They welcomed me with open arms and since that day I’m completely indebted to them. I have no qualms in saying this organization saved my life.”

The various medical treatments for those suffering and the support networks for veterans have given veterans some relief right now. In the past, few in the public knew the horrors of PTSD and while progress has been made in the present there are still many challenges in the future.

Historical Perspective of PTSD

While attempts of spotlight the problem previously, PTSD did not gain widespread public attention until 2005. In December 2005, Joshua Omvig, 22, a member of the 339th Military Police Company, committed suicide after returning that Thanksgiving from Iraq. Omvig’s suicide was a national wake-up call for the rising number of veteran suicides after veterans began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Omvig became the human face of the first legislative attempt to help control the number of veteran suicides, which was called the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act of 2007. The bill was designed to develop and implement a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. President Bush signed the Act into law on November 5, 2007.

In February 2007, The Washington Post ran a series called “Walter Reed and Beyond”, written by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, which exposed systematic mistreatment at Walter Reed and beyond. Walter Reed at that time had no specific PTSD center, even though they had the nation’s largest psychiatrist facility, and patients rarely received individual attention. The series led the resignation of three top military officials, an extensive review of Veterans Affairs and President George W. Bush to appoint the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors.

In 2007, Veterans Affairs released a report which found that the 17 veterans per day committed suicide. Stress-related illness was a major reason cited for why many veterans committed suicide. In 2012, a V.A. report showed that since 9/11, nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD. Even more disturbing, the V.A. three weeks ago released a report saying that in 2012, 22 veterans a day committed suicide, a 20 percent increase from 2007.

On February 5, 2013, Eddie Ray Routh, 25, killed Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and American Sniper coauthor. Kyle’s death received national attention. Routh, according to law enforcement records, had been taken to a mental hospital twice in the past five months and told authorities he was suffering from PTSD.

“PTSD is one of those things that is tearing apart our community because a lot of people don’t know really what it is about and don’t have information on this topic,” said Coy.

What Challenges Remain in the Future?

One treatment that has recently gained traction is virtual reality therapy. Virtual reality therapy is a new type of re-exposure therapy that generates an artificial world and combines other sensory effects to simulate combat experiences of veterans in a virtual world with a therapist to help them understand the experience. Early clinical trials have yielded positive results, but the cost of the technology is a downside to this type of therapy.

While this treatment is a future option, there are a number of challenges facing the veteran community with PTSD. One of the huge challenges that face the military and veteran communities is the stigma against psychological treatments. Dr. Krippner said that in the military the general stigma of going to a psychotherapist for any psychological problem is heightened.

“Many veterans, male and female, sometimes think it is a sign of weakness, or that it will appear on their record and ruin their chances of promotion or advancement,” said Krippner. “The armed forces are taking steps to counter and oppose these stereotypes but more needs to be done.”

Another challenge facing veterans is the lack of facilities for long term rehabilitation. Coy said that the V.A. is overwhelmed with the influx of veterans suffering from PTSD.

“Everything is bursting at the seams,” said Coy. “The V.A. did not beef up their staff, they did not anticipate all of the mental health problems that would occur over these last 12 years. They simply do not have the resources to take care of all the vets that need help.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has stepped up in a huge way by creating the Rapid Response Referral Program. This program connects with veterans struggling with suicidal ideation and a variety of other transition-related challenges with medical resources. Another program that the IAVA has created is Community of Veterans, the first and largest online social network exclusively for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to connect over their shared experiences.

“The best thing that we can do is get the word out there,” said Coy. “Unfortunately, I fell victim to this myself you just get those stigmas and the stereotypes in your head and unless you know otherwise, it is really hard to debunk them. A lot of people think of when they think of PTSD they think of Rambo, someone that goes on a shooting spree, or something crazy like that and statistical that is not the case.”

For Powell, six years after his experience in Iraq, he is now able to process his experience of dealing with bodies in Al Asad.  He stills suffers from PTSD, but is able to put that time into proper context. Powell is now in his second semester studying at American University. He walks around campus wearing a red Washington Nationals hat, an American University hoodie and jeans. Powell has a bushy brown beard and gained some weight from his military days. He feels that has been able to gain a sense of peace since his experience in Iraq.

“It has been over six years since I first deployed and you can interpret things a lot differently after you have had a little time to look at them,” said Powell. “Go seek some type of medical help, it is really not that bad of a thing and the things that it can lead to if it goes untreated nobody wants that to happen. We have seen past examples to what kind of stuff people who have it, but never get treated for it. It is going to serve you a lot better to receive treatment than not getting it.”

Casual Sex in the ME generation

– By Gwendolyn Shearman.

Picture by wikicommons.com

Picture by wikicommons.com

By the time Ciera Choate graduated from college and entered the workforce, she’d slept with 17 men, and she isn’t ashamed to say so. Also, she wasn’t the only one of her friends to have that many partners.

“If I meet someone and want to have sex with them, I will,” said Choate, 22, a petite brunette with a bubbly smile who writes for a weekly paper in Charlotte, NC. “I don’t think I should be judged for doing something that doesn’t really affect other people as long as I’m being responsible. I think to most people in my generation it’s not about the emotional connection anymore, it’s about the physical pleasure of the act.”

Casual sex, any intercourse outside of a monogamous relationship, is no longer a taboo subject strictly seen at college parties after a round of binge drinking or a topic reserved for behind closed doors. It has made its way into the forefront of the professional twenty-something dating scene.

Young adult women, like Choate, are choosing to engage in casual sex relationships more frequently and for a longer period of their life than did their parents and generations before them.

According to the National Survey for Family Growth published in 2011, about 20 percent of females ages 20-29 have had fifteen or more sexual partners in their lifetime, compared to about 37 percent of men within the same age range.  These statistics reveal that women now feel entitled to casual sex almost as much as men do.

Paula Kamen states in her book, Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution, published in 2000, “Many view the role of casual sex as similar to that of fast food. Like men, young women have grown up with it and take it for granted.”

Most of these sexual partners separate of a committed relationship come in the form of friends with benefits, spontaneous sexual encounters, and a host of other arrangements that don’t include monogamy. The Guttmacher Institutes most recent report from 2010 found that about 74 percent of women who weren’t in a monogamous relationship were being sexually active with a friend or other casual partner.

“When I’m not in a relationship and I’m not particularly looking for one, I still feel the need to be physically intimate with someone,” said Brittany Cannon, 23, a behavioral health counselor. “It’s usually preferable if I can get that without any strings attached.”

One night stands and casual sexual relationships have always occurred under more tightlipped circumstances, but they are now becoming commonplace for a generation accustom to instant gratification.

Reverend Dr. Angela Moses, therapist, Co-founder, and CEO of “The Family Life Development Center, Inc.” in Brooklyn, NY says that in her 20 years of experience counseling young women, she’s seen an exponential increase in the commonality of spontaneous sex behaviors.

“It’s so socially acceptable now,” said Moses. “It’s what people talk about the most. Before people whispered about sex, now from the youngest age you can imagine they talk openly about sex and they feel it’s normal, casual conversation.”

These aren’t just unschooled adolescents or coeds sowing their wild oats anymore. The most educated generation ever, including bright, intelligent women, are putting themselves out there and aren’t apologizing for it. According to the Educational Attainment Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 25 percent more women than men obtain academic degrees each year, and the number is growing.

This same generation has grown up with readily available information on sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. Education, alongside the sexually saturated media, has created a social climate where sex isn’t just seen as more acceptable, but it’s safer too.

Out of the 62.2 percent of sexually active women that are currently using any contraceptive, one in six of them use more than one method, according to the National Survey for Family Growth. Showing that regardless of the sexual practices women decide to participate in, they are being smarter about protecting themselves.

“We’re at a point in society where there’s enough education out there so you know what it is to have safe sex and you know the risks, unless you just choose to be ignorant and not pay attention,” said Morgan McLeod, a 22-year-old graduate student from Thousand Oaks, CA.

With all the tools, education, and technology available for women to obtain anything they want, women are frequently deciding they want more sex, whether it be emotionally connected or not. The goal for many twenty-something women isn’t to find a husband early in life, like generations before them. It is to enjoy their independence and grow in their careers.

“When we compare particular sexual behaviors between generations, we see quite clearly that the old-fashioned bond between sex and marriage has been severed by all,” said Kamen in her book about how women are creating their own sexual patterns.

The influence of the women’s movement and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s opened the door for women, and men alike, to explore and express themselves by accepting sex outside of marriage. The creation of Title XI, the passage of Roe v. Wade and arguably most important, the creation of the birth control pill created a shift in culture that gave women a new sense of control over their futures, not just sexually but financially and politically as well. This now shapes how women conduct all areas of their lives.

“Greater access to economic opportunity is something fairly new for women,” said Lauren Weis, Ph.D., Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at American University. “I think that kind of economic independence allows other kinds of independence and freedom in a persons life, so it makes it more possible that someone might choose a life that prioritizes sexual experience in different ways.”

These sexual experiences are still subject to opposition and scrutiny from traditional values and longstanding stereotypes. While some women and men of the twenty-something generation may be more accepting of this new social and sexual discourse, not everyone sees it that way.

“Society views males with multiple partners as an average male. Females with multiple partners are viewed as sluts. It isn’t right, but it’s the way it is,” said Katie Strickland, 24, a single mother and retail manager at a major department store.

Men and women alike understand that the stereotypes of previous generations are still prevalent, whether they agree with them or not. Escaping from generalizations, especially those based on females who engage in casual encounters, is difficult even for women who embrace the ideals in their private lives.

“I struggle with being judgmental with my students,” said Lauren Taylor, 23, a high school English teacher in Tampa, FL. “I dislike overhearing conversations about their weekends, but I can’t judge them because I have sexual encounters on the weekend as well.”

While some women feel hindered by gender stereotypes, some feel it gives them more control over their emotions.

“I do feel empowered by my independence and ability to make my own choices about hooking up,” said Taylor, who recently broke up with her boyfriend of four years. “I am free to have different types of guys at my disposal, depending on what I want at the moment. I have no desire to start a relationship, so my options are wide open.”

Calling the shots on whom to take to bed may empower some, but many agree there is a fine line between liberating themselves from being typecast and decaying their self-esteem,  “It depends on the guy you are engaging in casual sex with. There definitely are guys out there who just want to use you and be done with you,” said McLeod, who says she doesn’t frequently engage in casual sex, but she isn’t opposed to it.

All people are different, what makes one woman feel satisfied may make another feel used.  Many women say they don’t see casual relationships as a replace for serious commitment or intimacy, but they want to wait until they’re ready to commit to someone. In the age of individualization, it really all depends on the person and their particular set of beliefs.

“I think its possible for sexual encounters that are short term to be respectful, to be adult, and responsible,” said Weis. “I also think its possible for the opposite to occur, for people to engage in ways of relating with each other that are not responsible, that aren’t honest, that expose people unnecessarily to risk and harm.”

The shift in the dating culture, or lack of dating culture, comes to the surprise of older generations who view the practices as damaging to romantic relationships. Others are worried about the toll casual sex is having on the generation’s ability to find real intimacy.

“There’s nothing good about the hook up culture in my view,” said Iris Krasnow, 58, A best-selling author of relationship books and professor at American University. “Every time you sleep with someone you are tearing off a piece of your heart, man or woman,” said the married mother of four and self-proclaimed feminist.

“If you meet someone you think you love, how are you supposed to recognize that the love is true and have a real shot at intimacy when you already have been intimate with so many other people,” said Krasnow.

It remains to be seen whether the casual sex culture will leave a positive or negative mark on those who partake in it, one thing is clear: most are accepting of the individuals right to choose what they do in their personal life.

“There are people who do engage in a very casual sex culture, but there are still plenty of people who refrain from it. I don’t have a problem with it, but I feel like it’s a personal decision,” said McLeod.