Jeffrey Barrows Interview

Jeffrey Barrows Interview

Harvard Human Rights Journal interviews Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, an anti-trafficking expert who has worked with the Christian Medical Association and the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office. Today, Barrows is head of Gracehaven House, a shelter for adolescent girls in central Ohio. Barrows has worked to raise awareness on the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking, both internationally and within the United States. In this one-part interview, Barrows discusses the genesis of Gracehaven House as well as his thoughts on how to fight anti-trafficking internationally and domestically.

Interviewer: Jonathan Nomamiukor, J.D. ‘13

Tell me a bit about how Gracehaven started, and how it has evolved since its beginnings

Before Gracehaven, I was involved as a consultant with Christian Medical Association working with the State Department’s T.I.P. [Trafficking in Persons] office to research the health consequences of human trafficking and prepare some reports for them, which I did for three years. I moved on to found and start a nonprofit by the name of Gracehaven Home Incorporated.

The purpose of Gracehaven initially was to create a home for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, and we are still in the process of doing that. We realized, after we began, that there were many other issues that needed to be dealt with on the whole issue of minor sex trafficking, including raising awareness of the issue – that it occurs here in the U.S., in our case, here in Ohio, and also to educate the various sectors – education professionals, healthcare, social workers, juvenile justice system, all on the issue of child sex trafficking. So when we began to realize how huge a need that was, we expanded our work to include that as well. We’ve been doing that for almost four years now and we’re close to opening a house.

You mentioned that you previously worked to research and report on the health consequences of human trafficking. What did you find in these reports?

I was initially approached while working on staff for the Christian Medical Association by a senior person in the T.I.P. office who was looking for someone who could began looking at the interface between healthcare and human trafficking. With my background as an ob/gyn I began to research that interface. Initially I knew very little about human trafficking so I took most of the first year, 2005, to research what I could find on the issue.

I found first of all that there is not very much data, particularly in 2006-2008, there was very little data – good data – on the health consequence of human trafficking. With the exception of Dr. Jay Silverman, who was working at Harvard at the time and performed several good studies back in 06, the only real research on health and human trafficking was done by social workers at the London School of Hygiene and Public Health. Because they were not physicians, they came from the perspective of analyzing the symptoms that the survivors of trafficking had rather than the diagnosis of health issues trafficking victims suffered from. I think that this is a huge difference. – it’s obvious that we want to have the diagnosis made by a healthcare professional rather than by a simple analysis of what symptoms are being exhibited by the victim. So I found that there is very little good data out there and there’s a huge need for it. There’s a connection, I feel, between the global spread of HIV/AIDS and the phenomenon of sex trafficking – particularly around sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, and that’s been confirmed by Silverman in several of his reports, especially regarding the spread of H.I.V. among young girls coming out of Nepal.

In general, when you look at the research going back 15–20 years, before HIV was endemic in many of the sub-Saharan African countries, there were typically three – what we term – super-transmitters that tended to increase the likelihood of HIV getting into a country. They were 1) IV drug users, 2) those that were active in the homosexual population – especially male homosexuals, and 3) the women working in prostitution. And that’s been confirmed over and over again – those three groups of people have been very involved with the initial spread of HIV into various countries fifteen to twenty years ago and in sub-Saharan Africa the one that’s most predominant is women working in prostitution. For example, the prostitutes working along the Trans-African highway, which is a trucking route that crosses many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, women working in prostitution along that route became infected with HIV/AIDS and then spread it to the truck drivers who then took it home to their wives; that’s one of the major ways the HIV virus was spread across Africa.

Could you talk a little bit about the different approaches you’ve taken as far as researching on the international scale vs. domestically?

Well, when I first began, I looked through the literature – not just the medical, but any literature that had anything to do the health consequences of trafficking.  I did initially focus on international trafficking…and in the process of this research, I learned more about the domestic side of trafficking, and that’s another area where the research is extremely limited. Once I learned about the domestic side, I became more and more interested and that’s why I started Gracehaven.

There are a lot of differences between international trafficking and domestic trafficking in terms of predisposing factors, the way the traffickers handle the victims, and the way the victims are controlled. All of those mechanisms do vary in some degree between the two types.

What about your role in both of these fields? How is it different?

While I was working with the State Department’s T.I.P. office, they also began to recognize the need to train healthcare professionals on human trafficking, so I developed the first online training program back in ‘07 for healthcare professionals to learn about trafficking. A lot of my work then was focused training healthcare professionals to recognize victims and know specifically how to help them. I believe there’s a great deal that needs to be done in that area, but that was relatively easy work in terms of my own schedule and having a broader impact. When I shifted to domestic trafficking and starting a nonprofit, the work became much more involved in terms of regulations by the government. There is a serious deficit of shelters currently in the U.S. for domestic victims, especially minor victims. My estimate is that there are only about 120 beds in the entire U.S. that are specifically designed for minor victims of domestic sex trafficking.

And I now know why – the difficulty of starting a non-profit, especially in this economy, and add to that the burdensome government regulations when starting a home for minors that is going to be licensed by the state.  We’ve actually been working on our home for the last 2-3 years and it is far safer than any home I’ve ever raised my kids in.  It’s got a sprinkler system and all kinds of safety features far beyond what the average American home has but that’s what’s required by the State. Having all those features in place are expensive, difficult, and tedious. The number of victims I’ve encountered, both domestic and international victims is less than I would like because the vast majority of my work has been to create the home here in Ohio.  Right now, if law enforcement were to find a girl in Ohio who is entrapped in child sex trafficking, they don’t have a place to put her. The only options are: a general group home that doesn’t have a great deal of knowledge regarding the issue of exploitation – or a juvenile detention facility because these girls tend to go back to their trafficker.

Tell me more about why you see a need for residential treatment.

The mission of Gracehaven is to find and free underage girls involved in child  sex trafficking. In order to deal properly with this issue, you need to have a specialized place of rehabilitation because the girls that are involved in sex trafficking on a domestic level are trauma–bonded to their trafficker. It’s a form of coercion, but it’s not usually physical coercion as much as psychological and emotional coercion. When you really look closely at it, most of the girls that get involved in domestic child sex trafficking come out of abusive or neglected homes, while most of the international victims come from a very poor background. They may not be abused at all but they are vulnerable because they live in deep poverty and needed money and thus fall prey to the traffickers. In the U.S., it’s more a vulnerability not so much due to poverty and money, but due to abuse and neglect. So these girls grow up in abusive homes, grow up with low self esteem, grow up having been traumatized, runaway from home, get picked up by traffickers who are extremely proficient at manipulating them. They know exactly the words these girls want to hear and initially trick the girl into falling in love with them. This is what we call trauma bonding, or as it is also known, Stockholm Syndrome.

What about the role the juvenile justice system plays in all this?

Federal legislation passed in 2000 –the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first U.S. legislation dealing with human trafficking. When Congress passed that legislation, they wrestled with the concept of whether a minor, defined as someone under the age of 18, could give consent for commercial sex. For an adult over age 18, in order to prove they are a victim of sex trafficking, the prosecutor has to prove one of three items: force, fraud or coercion was used with that adult woman to cause her to be engaged in prostitution. When it came to minors, again defined as children under the age of 18, Congress wrestled with the concept of whether a minor can give consent to commercial sex. They concluded correctly, I believe, that no, they did not believe a minor could give consent to commercial sex. Therefore there is no need in federal statute to prove force, fraud, or coercion when dealing with a minor in commercial sex. In other words any minor that is involved in commercial sex is automatically a victim of severe sex trafficking under federal statute.

And that’s different than molestation – with a single incident you could charge a man with molestation, but whenever money changes hands and you have several different men having sex with the girl, it becomes a commercial sex act. In reality, in many states, when money changes hands and there are multiple men involved, instead of charging the men with statutory rape or molestation, the minor is charged with solicitation.

In 2010, Ohio finally passed its first law to make human trafficking a stand-alone offense. It makes human trafficking a second-degree felony in the state of Ohio, with the penalties dependent on the age of the victim. One thing I would eventually like to see changed in our Ohio law is to bring the level of penalties to the same level as the federal government. Second, I would like to see a law created that would clarify how law enforcement and the courts should deal with a minor found in commercial sex. Right now, a minor found in commercial sex can often be treated as a criminal with the result that she is arrested and put into a juvenile detention center. The type of legislation that would change this state of affairs is termed Safe Harbor legislation and other states such as Washington, Texas, Illinois, and New York have passed this type of legislation. The particular state laws differ from each other, but in essence, these Safe Harbor laws create a special jurisdiction so that when a minor is found in commercial sex, they can be properly treated as a victim, and not as a criminal.

Are there other changes that have been occurring in the domestic legal system, changes you’d like to encourage?

Until relatively recently, most local police departments for the last fifteen – twenty years have put a greater emphasis on dealing with drug trafficking than prostitution. Vice units tend to lump prostitution and drugs together and focus on drugs rather than prostitution and there are several reasons for that. This has been the emphasis in the past from the Chief on down, but that is slowly changing as people learn more about trafficking. The other issue is just purely budgetary and even as police begin to recognize that trafficking is going on, they don’t have the manpower to go and shut traffickers down because of all the investigation that’s necessary to do so. And third, there is frustration on the part of law enforcement due to the lack of specialized facilities to care for these victims. Without a good rehabilitative facility to properly deal with the needs of these victims, the girls often run away after a few days or weeks and they are back out on the streets right where they started. So there ends up being a revolving-door effect that causes law enforcement to feel they are wasting their time with these girls.

All those things together cause police departments to not focus on the issue that much… they focus on other criminal activities. The abolition movement has been encouraging local police departments to place a greater emphasis on prostitution. And of course, we are working on promoting rehabilitative facilities. Another thing the abolition movement has focused on is cutting down demand and going after men who buy sex. That’s what I call the Swedish model.

What kind of changes would you like to see made on an international scale?

With international trafficking, you’re dealing with locations that are outside of the jurisdiction of our government. Every country in the world has a problem with trafficking; there is no country immune to it. When dealing with other countries, it becomes difficult to motivate them to change their laws and then not only that, to enforce the new laws once they are changed. We can only help that happen in other countries by putting some type of pressure on them.

The original TVPA created a tier system to categorize all the countries of the world regarding their response to human trafficking. It is now a 4-tier system with Tiers 1, 2, & 3 and a 4th tier entitled 2-watch. Unfortunately, since the TVPA was passed, even though there are ways to punish countries for lack of action, not enough has been done to use those inducements. Because of that, we’re not able to give a message to these countries in tiers 2-watch and tier 3 that we’re serious about their trafficking problem. We must give them clear-cut motivation to make changes in their laws and enforce those laws or corruption will continue to allow trafficking to flourish in these countries.

Any final thoughts on how the United States can better deal with the problem of trafficking within the country?

I would love to see the U.S. and the states adopt the Swedish model. Sweden had a huge amount of success about ten years ago where they decided to approach the issue of prostitution differently; they made the selling of sex legal but the buying of sex illegal so that it changed who law enforcement was going after. Rather than arresting women in prostitution, the change in the law caused them to go after the men buying the sex… and when they did that they dropped prostitution in Sweden by over 80 percent. Critical to this process is a commitment on the part of law enforcement to go after those purchasing sex. I think that’s something that we need to look at closely in this country if we’re going to get serious about this issue.

For more information about Gracehaven House, visit their website at

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