Chao, Ecuador!

It is safe to say I already miss Ecuador.  I wish I could have stayed longer, but I am so grateful for the eight weeks I had there and the knowledge and experience it gave me.  It was full of ups and downs and lefts and rights.  I was sick in bed for days, scared for my life too many times to count, and even had a predicament with my landlord and the police.  But that all came with moments of accomplishment, thrill, relaxation, love, friendship, and pure happiness.

Since my last post, work got confusing and somewhat futile.  After a couple weeks of feeling like a fish out of water, receiving random assignments here and there and not knowing exactly their purposes, I finally received a concrete assignment from the director of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative – analyzing the U.S. 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report for Ecuador.  This year, Ecuador was put on the Tier 2 Watchlist for the second year in a row, and if it falls in the same spot next year, it may possibly face various “sanctions” from the U.S.

In 2010, there were four human trafficking convictions out of the 84 cases.  In 2011, zero out of 115.  I set out to verify statistics, dig for new figures, and interview those playing a vital role in the combat against human trafficking.  Turned out, statistics were essentially non-existent.  It was frustrating to say the least.  As I interviewed prosecutors, police units, judges, and social workers, I felt like I was dancing in circles.  The information had to be out there, but I just could not seem to find it.

Eventually Taylor and I figured out what we were doing.  We posed better questions and asked for the right contacts.  We started working with the head prosecutor of the Organized Crime division and interviewed the chief of the police unit specializing in Human Trafficking and Migrant Trafficking.  As we ran around Quito from meeting to meeting we compiled a report about how the process of prosecuting human trafficking cases could be improved.  There are numerous areas of improvement that fall within different stages of the process, but the biggest areas of need (in addition to a better system of recording cases) were sensitization and training.  Given that prostitution is legal over age 18 in Ecuador, there is a cultural barrier that makes it difficult for officials in the justice system to see exploited prostitutes as victims.  Instead, many prosecutors and judges continue to see trafficked prostitutes as women just making a living.  It is important to sensitize these officials as well as the general population to human trafficking so that they recognize it as a very serious and threatening crime.  Once there is sensitization, there needs to be a sufficient understanding of the crime and its elements.  All the police, prosecutors, and judges we spoke with expressed interest in getting trained to better understand human trafficking and how they can help fight it.  Currently the ABA ROLI in Quito conducts training workshops for law students, but is looking into providing the type of training police, prosecutors, and judges need to combat human trafficking.  I’m excited to see how the ABA will be able to help with that demand and have confidence that Ecuador will make great strides in its justice system.

Working with the Global Justice Program and ABA Rule of Law Initiative taught me a lot about the law, but also about Ecuador’s culture, its people, the FOOD, and even more about myself.  I am smiling now just thinking about the valuable time I had abroad.  There’s something special about working and living in another country that no other experience has.  It affects you in such a positive, perspective-changing way and I cannot wait to hear more about everyone else’s experiences!

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