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FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2018, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris D-Calif., speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention in San Diego. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you'll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2018, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris D-Calif., speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention in San Diego. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you'll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

FILE - In this April 4, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you'll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

2018 midterms show start of Democratic scramble for 2020


Associated Press

May 21

ATLANTA (AP) — Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you’ll see the stirrings of a Democratic scramble to reclaim the White House from President Donald Trump.

The leading players — from established national figures such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to up-and-comers including Sen. Kamala Harris — don’t necessarily put it that way. But the potential 2020 candidates are making the rounds, raising and distributing campaign cash among fellow Democrats, endorsing candidates and meeting political activists.

Their movements reflect competing strategies for establishing their reputations and shaping a party that lacks a clear leader and consistent message in the Trump era.

For senators trying to get better known, a primary goal is proving fundraising strength and party loyalty, without necessarily taking sides in the larger fight between the left and moderates who split on the minimum wage, health insurance and other issues.

“I just want to do whatever I can” to help Democrats win, Harris said at a recent stop in Georgia, where she was campaigning and raising money for Stacey Abrams’ race for governor.

It is part of an aggressive effort for the freshman senator from California. She’s raised $3.5 million for her Senate colleagues and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, plus what she helps candidates such as Abrams raise directly when she appears with them, and at the end of April Harris had nearly a $1 million balance in the political action committee that she uses to back other Democrats.

Warren boasts that she’s raised $15 million for other Democrats since her 2013 election. The Massachusetts senator faces a re-election campaign this fall, but not as tough a race as confronts 10 colleagues running in states where Trump won. Like Harris, Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have aided those senators.

Warren is also helping other branches of the party: a transfer of money to House Democrats’ campaign committee, $5,000 for every state party and $175,000 spread across state legislative campaigns in contested states.

Democratic and Republican campaign veterans say such contributions and fundraising trips aren’t explicitly about future campaigns. “We’re not playing 3D chess,” says Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams, who describes the senator’s priority as “building our numbers in the Senate” for the final two years of Trump’s term, while looking for strong women and minority candidates. (Abrams would be the first female African-American governor in U.S. history.)

Operatives also insist there are no quid pro quos, though Republican presidential campaign veteran Rick Tyler says, “These guys are out there accumulating chits.”

Tyler worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 White House campaign. Cruz was among the conservatives who traveled the country before his campaign, endorsing like-minded conservatives and raising money. Trump’s improbable rise obliterated that groundwork, but Tyler said it’s nonetheless a necessary part of a national campaign, because prospective presidents build their networks and test messages as they meet activists and voters beyond their personal bases.

Harris, for example, is noticeably avoiding most early presidential nominating states — no trips to Iowa or New Hampshire so far. Because 10 Senate Democrats must seek re-election in states Trump won, her travels do put her in some of the pivotal states in the battle to control the Senate. She’s been to Ohio five times for Sen. Sherrod Brown, twice to Michigan for Sen. Debbie Stabenow and once to Florida for Sen. Bill Nelson. She has a June trip planned for Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Warren has been to Ohio at least four times this campaign season and traveled to Michigan and Wisconsin, among others states.

Those states helped give Trump the presidency. They also could prove important as primary states in an extended nominating fight that could materialize with a large field and Democrats’ proportional distribution of nominating convention delegates.

Sanders, the Vermont independent whose insurgent presidential campaign in 2016 emboldened the Democrats’ left flank, is perhaps the most unabashed of the potential 2020 group about using this year’s midterms to put his preferred policy stamp on the Democratic Party. A prolific small-dollar fundraiser, he no longer has to prove he can raise money or draw a crowd.

“I have been very critical about the business model of the Democratic Party,” Sanders told The Associated Press. He said his travel to 28 states since Trump took office and his endorsements in federal and state races are part of his promised “political revolution” intended to advance ideas like a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college and universal health insurance.

Sanders bet on liberal challenger Marie Newman in her unsuccessful House Democratic primary battle against conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois. But Sanders scored a notable win Tuesday in Pennsylvania when his pick for lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, finished with a surprise primary victory.

Biden is at the opposite end of Democrats’ identity battle. His endorsement list and fundraising itinerary are replete with state party dinners, events for sitting Democratic senators and rallies for candidates running as moderates, at least in tone, if not in policy preference. “I love Bernie, but … I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we are in trouble,” Biden said at a recent Brookings Institution speech about his priorities for the middle class.

Biden’s aides say he’s willing to help any Democrat get elected, but the native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who loves to wax eloquent about his working-class upbringing is in demand to campaign for Democrats running in GOP-leaning places. He headlined fundraisers and campaign rallies for first-year Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and new Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, who won among voters who had sided overwhelmingly with Trump in 2016. Biden’s next planned campaign venture is to North Carolina on behalf of Democrat Dan McCready, a veteran trying to win a suburban Charlotte House district that wasn’t competitive two years ago.

Certainly, many Democratic hopefuls around the country are accepting help from multiple would-be presidents, and the alignments don’t always follow cleanly along the party’s philosophical battle lines.

Abrams has campaigned as a liberal, but her primary opponent has hammered her for cutting deals with Republicans in Georgia’s General Assembly. Besides Harris, she’s campaigned alongside Booker and gotten an endorsement from Sanders, who’s offered to campaign for her.

When reporters tried to ask Harris and Abrams about 2020, they both smiled and walked away.

Follow Barrow on Twitter at

Father of Ohio teen who died in van poses multiple questions


Associated Press

Monday, May 14

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The father of a 16-year-old Ohio boy who died despite calling 911 while trapped in a minivan asked authorities Monday why responding officers didn’t get out of their cruiser to search, and whether exact GPS coordinates existed for his son’s location.

Appearing at a Cincinnati City Council meeting on the response to his son’s death, Ron Plush promised to help improve the city 911 system but also said he would be asking difficult questions along the way.

Plush found the body of his son, Kyle Plush, on April 10 inside the 2004 Honda Odyssey in a parking lot near his school nearly six hours after Kyle’s first 911 call. A coroner says he died of asphyxiation from his chest being compressed. It is suspected that the foldaway rear seat flipped over as he reached for tennis gear in the back.

“Kyle will give us the strength and guidance to get the job done,” Ron Plush said.

Mayor John Cranley told Plush he would receive written responses to every question and called the police report on the case incomplete.

Cranley opened Monday’s meeting by saying the city failed in its response to the 911 call.

“In all cases we can do better, we should do better, we must do better,” Cranley said.

Cincinnati police chief Eliot Isaac presented the results of an internal investigation before the City Council’s law and safety committee, providing details of the 911 call and the police response.

Among the information released Monday:

—The city’s computer assisted-dispatching system experienced difficulties throughout the call.

—Kyle’s phone was in his pocket as he called, and he was using “Siri” caller technology to call 911. Kyle was not able to give back and forth answers to a dispatcher, and the phone disconnected his call.

—The automated 911 response overrode Kyle’s initial comments, which weren’t heard by the dispatcher.

—Officers initially believed they were searching for an elderly woman locked in her vehicle needing help.

—Officers weren’t given information from the initial call 911 that someone was banging and screaming for help.

Isaac said officers determined they could search a bigger area and see more by staying in their cruiser.

The boy’s aunt, also attending Monday’s meeting, noted that Kyle Plush’s voicemail included his name, and was not a generic message.

If authorities knew the name “Kyle” and that the call was from someone near a school, they had enough to do a proper search minutes after the call was received, said Jodi Schwind.

Council members also questioned why officers didn’t just search all the vans in the parking lot that day.

“Kyle did everything he should have done, everything a mom, a dad, would tell their child to do, he did,” said councilwoman Amy Murray. “And he was failed horribly.”

The Hamilton County sheriff’s office, which also dispatched a deputy that day, is also investigating, as is the county Prosecutor’s Office.

Council members scheduled a meeting May 29 for police to provide answer to questions raised Monday.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at

From Facebook

Which politician will say okay I made a mistake. I will donate all the monies that I have ever received from, Big pharma, the NRA, this insurance company or that big corporation to Meals on Wheels or some homeless organization.

And apologise at the same time. That’s the only way you get my vote. Wake up America if they take ANY of this money, THEY DON’T WORK FOR YOU.

“How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?” — Howard Zinn

The undocumented immigrants Donald Trump doesn’t rant about

The Editorial Board, USA Today May 22, 2018

During one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan War, Army Sgt. Israel Garcia fought his way up a terraced hillside to a wrecked observation post above the village of Wanat to help rescue a wounded paratrooper-comrade on July 13, 2007.

A native of Mexico who enlisted after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Garcia, who was 24, was struck by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade after reaching the outpost. He died there amid the fighting and posthumously earned a Silver Star for valor.

Garcia’s heroism stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s denigration of undocumented immigrants throughout his presidential campaign and tenure in the White House. The reality suggests a silver lining among the dispossessed who risk everything to cross our borders.

For every immigrant gang member, there are countless stories of undocumented immigrants who willingly sacrifice for America. This certainly includes about 900 so-called DREAMers who were brought into the country as children and joined the military when they grew up.

Among them is Zion Dirgantara, a native of Indonesia whose first day of school in the United States as an eighth-grader in Philadelphia was on Sept. 11, 2001. “When I heard President Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ I knew where I stood,” Dirgantara wrote in an opinion piece, explaining his determination to some day serve his new country in the Army Reserve.

Although immigrants commonly require permanent legal status to join the military, a Pentagon at war and ever in need of talent — especially in the form of language skills, medical training and other vital expertise — created a pilot program in 2009 allowing temporary or undocumented immigrants to enlist.

Some 10,000 responded, including the several hundred DREAMers or undocumented immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created in 2012 for those brought to the USA illegally as children. Trump canceled the program last year, although courts have kept it open for now, and Defense Secretary James Mattis has vowed that DACA enlistees won’t be deported. House Republican leaders are trying to prevent a vote on measures to protect the DREAMers.

These DACA immigrants and countless other people who entered the USA illegally and managed to gain legal status have served our nation under the most honorable of circumstances. And they’ve done so at a time when patriotic sacrifice and a sense of purpose among American young people have been in decline.

The Trump White House publicizes crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. A news release Monday carried the headline, “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13,” and the president is scheduled to travel to Long Island on Wednesday for a roundtable on combating the gang. Trump has warned about a “dangerous” caravan of Central American refugees seeking asylum in the USA.

But you don’t hear the administration talking about stories like those of Jose Gutierrez, who fled Guatemalan poverty as a teenage orphan, hopping freight trains for the 2,000-mile journey to America. A tall and quiet boy described as extremely intelligent, Gutierrez lived in a series of group homes in America or with foster families as he learned English, finished high school and, at 18, became a legal resident. He joined the Marine Corps after 9/11, was part of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and left everything he brought to his new country on a battlefield there — killed in action on March 21, 2003.

America should be so lucky as to have taken in such an immigrant.

Russia ‘turned’ election for Trump, Clapper believes

May 23, 2018

By Judy Woodruff

Russians not only affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election — they decided it, says James Clapper, who served as the director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, and during the 2016 vote.

“To me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election, and it’s my belief they actually turned it,” he told the PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff on Wednesday.

Clapper, who chronicles his life and career in his new book, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence,” said Russians are “are bent on undermining our fundamental system here. And when a foreign nation, particularly an adversary nation, gets involved as much as they did in our political process, that’s a real danger to this country.”

His comments come amid reports that the FBI used an informant while the bureau investigated possible ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone’s ever seen,” Trump told reporters Tuesday, calling the reports ‘spygate’ on Twitter. The president demanded an investigation earlier this week into whether the FBI or Department of Justice infiltrated or surveilled his campaign.

Clapper called those accusations “distorted.” He said there is a “a big gulf between a spy in the traditional sense — employing spycraft or tradecraft — and an informant who is open about … who he was and what the questions he was asking.”

“The important thing was not to spy on the campaign but rather to determine what the Russians were up to. Were they trying to penetrate to campaign, gain access, gain leverage, gain influence, and that was the concern that the FBI had? … I think they were just doing their job and trying to protect our political system.”

Other highlights from the interview:

On Trump’s criticism of the Department of Justice and the FBI: “I absolutely am concerned about the morale impacts on those two organizations.”

On why he’s speaking out now: “I think educating the public is probably the toughest thing to do. And I felt I needed to do that, because I think our institutions are under assail here, those which I have spent about 50 years of my life trying to defend.”

Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff is the Anchor and Managing Editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for more than four decades at CNN, NBC and PBS.

Who buys a trafficked child for sex? Otherwise ordinary men.

IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens spent more than a year investigating a lucrative business where abused children are bought and sold.


Jan. 30, 2018

More than 1 million children, according to the International Labour Organization, are exploited each year in the commercial sex trade. IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens, through the support of a Society of Professional Journalists fellowship, spent more than a year investigating a lucrative business where children are abused with low risk to buyers or traffickers, despite tougher laws and heightened international awareness of the scourge. Google, Eli Lilly and Co., and Indiana Wesleyan University provided additional support for this project.

This is the first of 10 columns in the EXPLOITED series, which explores the cultural and economic forces that contribute to commercial sexual exploitation.

On the day she met Marcus Thompson, the girl later told the FBI, she had been ready to leap from a bridge to end her life.

She was only 15, pregnant and alone on the streets.

And in this wounded child, Thompson saw a means to make money. He promised that if she left her small Illinois town with him, he would make her a model. Grasping for hope, she climbed into his truck.

But the promise was a lie.

Instead, in the summer of 2015, Thompson and his wife, Robin, forced the girl on a nightmarish six-week trek across the southern United States. Photographed in suggestive poses and marketed online, she was sold out of hotel rooms and truck stops to any man with the money and the desire to buy sex.

The justice system eventually would work well in this case in several respects. The victim was rescued and provided with treatment. The traffickers who exploited her were caught, pleaded guilty and were sent to prison.

But what of the men who paid to rape this child? What consequences did they suffer?

Not a single one was ever charged.

That same breach of justice is the norm in thousands of trafficking cases. About 10,000 children a year suffer the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. Each victim on average is forced to have sex more than five times a day.

Yet the buyers who fuel the child sex trade are seldom held accountable. Most just blend back into their families, jobs and neighborhoods. Until the next time.

In the Thompson case, the victim, too young for a driver’s license, told the FBI she was beaten once for attempting to escape and was threatened with being “thrown to the alligators” if she tried to run again. Marcus Thompson, according to federal authorities, raped the girl five times.

Still, the child retained enough independence to say no when a buyer demanded anal sex. But her refusal came at a brutal price. The man who bought her complained to the man who sold her. And she was beaten again.

At a hospital in St. Louis, the abuse finally ended when the girl was identified as a sex-trafficking victim. The Thompsons, based on her descriptions, were arrested.

Marcus Thompson is now serving a life sentence. Robin Thompson, who helped place the online ads and book the hotel rooms, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

At Robin Thompson’s sentencing, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan described the couple’s crimes as among the worst he had seen in 16 years on the federal bench.

In her victim impact letter, read by Reagan at the sentencing, the girl wrote, “It’s hard to wake up every day and remember the people I had sex with.”

In the past 16 months, I’ve witnessed the worst of human behavior while reporting for this project, one that’s taken me across eight countries on five continents. I’ve talked to 6-year-old trafficking victims, visited a shelter where the oldest survivors were only 11, met a 5-year-old boy living with his parents in a squalid brothel in India and interviewed survivors who were raped by hundreds of men.

Yet the ordeal of that one child from Illinois — beaten for saying no — has haunted me in particular.

It’s stuck in my mind because it exposes a harsh truth: In the sex trade, buyers and sellers view the children they torment as property.

And property cannot say no.

“Despite 20 years of efforts, the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism has expanded across the globe and outpaced every attempt to respond at the international and national level… As a result, the risks of child sexual exploitation are increasing.”

— The Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, 2016.

This project began with a question: Who buys a 15-year-old child for sex?

The answer: Many otherwise ordinary men. They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse.

“They’re in all walks of life,” a 17-year-old survivor from the Midwest, trafficked when she was 15, said about the more than 150 men who purchased her in a month. “Some could be upstanding people in the community. It was mostly people in their 40s, living in the suburbs, who were coming to get the stuff they were missing.”

The scale of the trade indicates that it’s not a small number of men who pay to have sex with kids. A 2016 study by the Center for Court Innovation found that between 8,900 and 10,500 children, ages 13 to 17, are commercially exploited each year in this country. Several hundred children 12 and younger, a group not included in the study, also suffer commercial sexual abuse.

The researchers found that the average age of victims is 15 and that each child is purchased on average 5.4 times a day. I’ve interviewed victims who were forced to have sex with more than 30 men in a week; more than 100 in a month.

To determine a conservative estimate of the demand, I multiplied the lower number of victims (8,900) identified in the Center for Court Innovation study by the rate of daily exploitation per child (5.4), and then by an average of only one “work” day per week (52). The result: Adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.

The number of identified victims in the U.S. is on the rise. The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded a 35 percent increase in reports in 2016. Most of the cases involved sex trafficking and many of the victims were children.

Brad Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project, which operates the hotline, said the increase largely can be attributed to better identification of trafficking victims and heightened public awareness that the hotline exists. Yet, Myles said, “The vast majority of victims are still not being found.”

International numbers are even more staggering. Sex trafficking, according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, is a $99 billion-a-year global industry. The exploitation of more than 1 million children accounts for more than 20 percent of those profits.

And there’s evidence that the child sex trade is growing. ECPAT International, a research and advocacy organization, concluded in 2016 in a first of its kind global study that more children than ever are at risk of abuse.

Mark Capaldi, ECPAT’s lead researcher, said in an interview at the organization’s Bangkok headquarters that rising global incomes, cheaper air travel and better internet access have fueled the increase in demand. In short, it’s cheaper and easier than ever for adults to exploit children.

Another reason for the growing exploitation: Buyers face little risk. “You’re unlucky if you get caught,” Bjorn Sellstrom, the head of INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children unit, said in Lyon, France. “It’s fairly free of risk to travel to another country and abuse children.”

It’s a low-risk crime for domestic abusers as well. In 2015, Congress strengthened federal anti-trafficking laws to provide prosecutors with more tools to go after sex buyers. Prosecutions have only modestly increased as a result.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman, in a written response to questions, said the primary objective is to focus “our limited resources on apprehending the traffickers, who pose the most imminent threat to the victims.”

She provided examples of about 30 buyers, including former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle, convicted on federal charges in 2015 and 2016. But she said state and local prosecutors are in a better position than the federal government to hold accountable those who pay to exploit children.

Like the federal government, state and local jurisdictions tend to use sting operations in which undercover officers pose as exploited children to stop buyers. Although such operations net thousands of would-be sex buyers each year, most of the men arrested plead down to lesser crimes.

And it’s rare for police and prosecutors to pursue buyers after they’ve paid to abuse children. That’s true even in the most nauseating of crimes.

In 2016, police rescued a 12-year-old Texas girl who was held captive in a hotel room in a wealthy suburb of Nashville, Tenn. Authorities said the child, found with bruises and scratches on her face, had been advertised on and sold to sex buyers for a month in the Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville areas.

A 36-year-old Nashville man, Tavarie Williams, was charged with multiple counts of trafficking, kidnapping and rape. He is awaiting trial. But, as in the case of the 15-year-old from Illinois, none of the men who paid to sexually abuse a middle school-age child were ever charged. (A spokeswoman for the Davidson County (Tenn.) District Attorney’s Office said authorities were unable to identify any of the buyers, who could have faced felony charges).

“That child will have to fight the stigma of what happened to her for the rest of her life,” said Alex Trouteaud, director of policy and research with Demand Abolition, a Massachusetts-based organization that works to reduce demand for commercial sex. “Meanwhile, the buyers will never be held accountable. It’s what we call the culture of impunity.”

Prosecutors note that they face several obstacles in pursuing charges, including the need to show that a buyer knew or should have known that the person he paid to exploit was underage. Victims — traumatized, frightened, frequently dependent on drugs and alcohol — often don’t make strong witnesses. Prosecutors also must weigh whether putting a child on the stand, where defense cross examinations can be rough, will further wound the victim.

It’s tempting to put buyers who exploit children in a box — to say that all of them are pedophiles, a small percentage of the population driven by a deep sickness. But researchers and survivors say that’s not the case.

ECPAT International researchers found that the great majority of men who pay to exploit children are opportunists. They don’t set out specifically to buy sex with a child, but neither do they walk away when faced with the temptation.

Survivors I interviewed reported similar experiences. One of them, exploited when she was 15, said only two men turned and left the motel room when they saw how young she was. Even those two didn’t notify police about the ongoing abuse of a child.

More than 100 other men who paid to have sex with her stayed. “They just didn’t care” about her age, she said.

In a room full of sex buyers, enrolled in a court-ordered program in Seattle, I asked: “Do you ever think about the life stories of the girls and women you purchased?”

The men appeared uncertain about how to answer. Then a former once-a-week buyer, arrested for attempting to purchase sex from a police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl, said, “I don’t want to know how the sausage is made.”

A piece of meat. A commodity to be consumed.

Not a child. Not a life.

Later in this series, we’ll further explore the factors that drive men to buy sex with children. But let’s take time now for a dose of inspiration.

We’ll find it in a sewing room in Mumbai, India, where a group of remarkable women are waiting to greet us.

Priya, her body ravaged by HIV, was barely alive the day Seena Simon, director of Care and Development for the Cincinnati-based Aruna Project, found her on the street in Mumbai’s Grant Road red light district.

Trafficked at age 13, Priya had worked in the brothels for 15 years before she was kicked out because of her illness.

“She shared with me that in one night 15 to 20 men used her. That was her life,” Simon, who’s worked with trafficking victims in Mumbai for the past 15 years, said. “She didn’t have the strength or energy to do that work. So she was not earning any money for the brothel keeper and they didn’t want her.”

Told by doctors that Priya wouldn’t survive, Simon found the still-young woman a bed in a hospice, where she went to die.

Except Priya didn’t die.

Her white blood count began to improve. She began to eat, to regain weight and energy. After three months, Priya left the hospice for an after-care home.

At around that time, Simon had been talking to Ryan Berg, an American from Cincinnati who worked for an NGO with operations in India, about the need to provide jobs in a sheltered work environment for trafficking survivors.

“Employment was the gap,” Simon said. “Once they were trained in some kind of skill, we sent them for work, but they couldn’t cope with the pressure. Finish the deadline, finish the targets — they couldn’t do it. There was an internal conflict and many of them failed. And some I know went back to the red light district.”

From that need, and from Berg and Simon’s shared passion to help trafficking victims, a business plan was born. In the U.S., Berg founded The Aruna Project, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that stages 5K runs in multiple states. Registration fees and other proceeds from the races are used to pay salaries for trafficking survivors in Mumbai.

In Mumbai, Simon manages production and counsels survivors, who are employed to make athletic bags and headbands distributed to participants in Aruna Project races in the U.S. More upscale bags also are sold online.

In 2015, Aruna hired its first survivor, Priya. Simon said the company pays better than market rate salaries and benefits. It also provides group homes for those survivors who are not yet ready to live on their own.

The fight against human trafficking inspires incredible passion among many people, but that passion is sometimes misdirected. More than a few nonprofits working to combat trafficking are less than effective. And when I first heard about The Aruna Project’s approach, I was skeptical. Can 5K runs in America really make a difference for women living in India?

But then I stepped onto the production floor in Mumbai, and I saw the women’s smiles. It’s always humbling for me as a man to meet a survivor. In the sewing room, IndyStar visuals editor Mykal McEldowney and I were surrounded by 22 survivors, women like Priya who had suffered unspeakable horror.

The women answered our questions through a translator and asked their own questions of us. They laughed and giggled and showed off, with clear pride, the bags and other products they had made. They also told us about their dreams for the future — one wants to become a fashion designer, another a tailor.

And a young woman named Ruby, no more than five feet tall, hopes to become a singer. When we asked if she would sing for us, she smiled and chose a worship song, a hymn of thanksgiving.

As her clear, strong voice filled the room, she sang not about the pain of the past but of hope for the future.

FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2018, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris D-Calif., speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention in San Diego. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you’ll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File) – In this Feb. 24, 2018, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris D-Calif., speaks at the 2018 California Democrats State Convention in San Diego. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you’ll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

FILE – In this April 4, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you’ll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) – In this April 4, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn. Look closely enough at the 2018 midterm campaign and you’ll see the seedlings of a Democratic presidential campaign to reclaim the White House. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Staff and Wire Reports