Skip to content

The problem with numbers

The problem with numbers is that I’m not very good at them. Seriously, math has never been my favorite subject. My calculus teacher in high school had to practically bribe me to study and do well in class. Thankfully, that phase of my life has ended, but I’ve been reading an awful lot of numbers recently. Trafficking organizations are all about the numbers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12, or 13, or 14. I’ve read more than once that 100,000 individuals are trafficked in the United States each year. Some say as many as 300,000. Worldwide, I’ve heard that 27 million individuals are trafficked annually, while others say only 20 million, or 12 million are trafficked. What’s with all the disparity in numbers? Researchers about human trafficking have suggested that there are “no reliable estimates of the extent of the problem.”(1) Others have stated, “Much of the research produced fails to live up to academic standards common in other fields of research.”(2) There are several explanations for the varying information and misinformation that has been published.

First (and most obviously), human trafficking occurs illegally and in secret. Information is difficult to gather when traffickers to their best to avoid getting caught.(2) Yet we still continue to throw around vastly varying numbers as if they were true.

Secondly (and most importantly), the movement to create legislation to help combat human trafficking has largely been driven by activists and NGOs.(1) These organizations have done an excellent job of drawing the attention of the public. Law makers have taken notice and have written new legislation in response. These legislators need statistics in order to allocate funding for new programs and procedures, and pressure has fallen on researchers who can hardly keep up with the demand.(1) Responsibly gathering accurate information can take years of research. Under pressure to produce information, many researchers have reverted to broad estimations.(1)

It seems like an easy thing to blow off. Even I have thought, Oh well, at least victims will still receive attention they need, even if we’ve exaggerated a bit. However, as one researcher has said, “[we] fail to recognize that an inaccurate estimate of the problem is likely to result in a remedy that is equally inappropriate.”(1) Lawmakers can only respond to the information they receive; we can’t properly connect with victims unless we appropriately pinpoint victims and assess their needs.

Furthermore, exaggeration leads to donor fatigue. The individuals and organizations that provide funding for anti-trafficking groups are less inclined to continue funding projects if they see the project as unsuccessful or insurmountable. When we report millions and millions of enslaved victims, we risk a frustrated public. I’ve been researching trafficking for only a year and I have frequently felt frustrated. If the problem is so big, what are we supposed to do about it? That’s not a very good attitude. You’re doing donors a favor when you’re realistic and practical. Organizations dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts should be responsible about the information they disseminate to the public. It’s about time we all did our homework. Even a seemingly reliable government report can contain questionable information. It’s time to stop relying on numbers we can’t really trust and start speaking honestly about the issues. We know trafficking is out there. We’ve met, and seen, and heard the voices of men, women, and children worldwide. It’s okay to be honest; it’s okay to admit we don’t actually know how bad the problem may be. Organizations should focus on creating viable solutions for the victims to which they have access. When outsiders can see a program working successfully, we don’t have to use scare tactics or huge statistics to motivate patrons. I never liked numbers anyway.

Tyldum, Guri. “Limitations In Research On Human Trafficking.” International Migration 48.5 (2010): 1-13. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
Kotrla, Kimberly. “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking In The United States.” Social Work 55.2 (2010): 181-187. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.



I have the coolest friends. (For real.) Perhaps you remember my post about Brian, who bought a domain name for my blog. Well another friend has stepped in to give my blog a mega-makeover. It finally looks just the way I dreamed!! Whitly Charles is a fantabulous graphic-designer-in-training at the University of Indianapolis. She is a total dreamboat to work with. I can think of few students who take their work so seriously and put in so many hours. She’s a real perfectionist, in the best sense of the term. THANK YOU SO MUCH, WHITLY! I love my new look.

I disappeared from the blogging world again for a bit. I had to put in some long hours to finish up the manuscript for this project, which I am submitting to the honors college review board THIS WEEK. February was a hard month. And then I started March with a sinus infection, since my immune system got mad at me for not taking care of myself. I learned my lesson. I’m back for good! And one month from today, I will present my work to the public!! A year and a half of work is finally coming together now.

Spanglish, and other parts of summer.

FINAL Spanglish

I told you (I promised!) I’ve been working on some happier paintings this week. This one is a few days old, but it makes me really happy so I wanted to post it. It’s about my dear friend E. For those of you who may have just started reading, E is a 20-something girl I met during my internship with the Hope House, a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. We spent the whole summer together. I mean seriously, 24/7.

When I first showed up at the Hope House, I was scared. I was a stranger, an intruder with a paintbrush saying “hey, tell me about your lives!” with a smile on my face, as if I understood anything about what it means to be trafficked. That’s what I felt like, anyway. I thought the girls would hate me for taking advantage of their stories and using them for a school project, as if they were a zoo exhibit. It sounds dramatic, but seriously guys, I was scared! I didn’t know what to say or how to act. (Common sense would have said “Act normal! Be nice!”)

So I tried being nice. I played their favorite songs really loud in the car with the windows down. I laughed and teased and joked. I sympathized with their frustrations and I made distractions to keep them occupied and enjoying life. And then, one day we were driving home from Walmart when E looked over at me and said, “Kyle, we’re friends now. We speak Spanglish here.”

I’ve never felt so happy to be accepted. I was like a middle school kid getting invited to a party. As a Spanish major, I’ve learned that language is deeply personal. When you speak someone’s language, you are saying, “I identify with your culture.” A white girl walking around speaking Spanish like she owns it can seem really insensitive. When E invited me to speak Spanish (or Spanglish, at least), she was inviting me to participate in her inner world. She essentially said, “Hey, you are one of my people. I identify with you.” It. was. awesome.

And then we went on to have tons of adventures all summer long. And we lived happily ever after, except for now I have the privilege of missing her a lot. But hey, sometimes that’s enough.


Trafficking in America

FINAL America

This painting was inspired by an atlas I found in a dumpster. (What was I doing in a dumpster? Sorry, you’ll have to just use your imagination on that one. It wasn’t as gross or crazy as you think.) It was a world atlas, with detailed maps of exotic places. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that we’re always drawn to the exotic. Strange lands with diverse cultures and foreign languages are always just a plane ride away. Tons of friends (myself included) have ventured out to such exciting places for missions trips and service projects. Every summer, one friend or another comes back from a service trip to Tennessee or West Virginia or some other vanilla-flavored location. “Oh, that’s cool,” I usually mumble half-heartedly. What is it about caring for people in America that seems so… boring?

The issue comes up a lot in reference to sex trafficking. Friends have gone off to visit Cambodia, India, Mexico, or the Philippines and serve trafficked girls there. Now don’t hear me wrong; those projects are important and the people there are valuable. Those girls need the assistance; statistics suggest that trafficking is highly concentrated in those areas. It’s just that sometimes we fail to realize there are girls in Denver and Phoenix and even Indianapolis who need the same help. It’s not only an “over there” problem; it’s also a problem where we live.

As for the painting, I wanted it to be almost pretty. I chose the cute cursive fonts and patriotic colors to show the contradiction between “the land of the free” and the lives of the not so free girls I met over the summer. This week I am focusing on more positive subjects, however; I promise more lighthearted things are coming!


Why Brian is the bomb.

Once upon a time, a few weeks ago, my friend Brian texted me a link to I thought he was trying to tell me that I hadn’t updated my blog in a while. (Gee, thanks Brian. I know I’m irresponsible.) But he was trying to show me that he bought me a domain name for my blog! No longer will you have to type in the enormously long “” He said he really liked my blog and wanted to support what I’m doing. So now I have a little corner of the internet named just for my site. And that, my friends, is why Brian is the bomb.

An old picture of my fiancé Josh with Brian back in the day. They’re best pals, obviously.

I’m not dead.

The reason I’m not a real blogger is because real bloggers don’t abandon their blogs for months at a time. Life is fast, and full. I went home for Thanksgiving break shortly after my last post, and got engaged. (Can I just say WOOHOO!!!!! for a second?) I finished out a furious finals week full of term papers, and went home to a month of sweet bliss with my family and fiancé. The entire time, I had a nagging voice in the back of my head… “Shouldn’t you be blogging?! Shouldn’t  you be painting? Shouldn’t you be writing about your paintings?” but sometimes my heart is quiet. It’s hard to paint or speak because I don’t have a lot to say. I’m not sure how people rely on creative energy to make a living. Sometimes life is too full for words.

I came back to school several weeks ago, and I’ve been painting my brains out the whole time. This is my last semester of college. I am simultaneously excited and terrified. The feeling is a little like that quiet moment at the top of a roller coaster: full of anticipation so thick it makes your stomach hurt, and full of terror at the inevitable drop that’s about to occur. Except now I’m more or less on the way down, speeding to I’m not even sure what. A graduation and a wedding, for starters.

I have the privilege of presenting this nearly two-year project to my friends and professors on April 11. There’s plenty still to be done, but I often think about the girls who inspired me at the Hope House and I know it’s going to be worth it. Come with me! The end to this adventure is near. I promise to write, and write often.


Prussian blue

You think you know me
My sister’s name is Mallory. Biologically speaking, she’s four years younger than me, but we might as well have been twins. She’s the other half of my heart; we understand each other without having to speak. Maybe that happens to everyone who shares a room for all of childhood. I don’t actually know how it happened, but we share a brain.

She has seen my art journals from the very beginning (it was an ugly beginning.) Once, I finished a painting and showed it to her. She blinked and said, “They all look the same. You like Prussian Blue too much.” Prussian Blue is my jam. It’s shockingly deep and rich. It’s the little watercolor tube that ends up empty first. I squeeze it to death like an empty tube of toothpaste, trying to eek out one more glob of gunk. I looked at the painting she had criticized, and vowed to break up with Prussian Blue.

It didn’t happen. Prussian Blue is the boyfriend I keep running back to, no matter how many times we break up. Thanks to Mal, I vowed to go easy on the Prussian Blue when I started this project. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I am proud to say there is not one drop of Prussian Blue (or any blue!) on this page.

This painting is about trafficking survivors who attempt to leave prostitution. One challenge of creating a new life is being faced with your old identity. Many girls hear things like, “You’re just a slut.” “You’ll never succeed.” “Don’t hang out with that girl; she’s trashy.” “What a ho.” It is all too tragic; I wish they knew they are offered a fresh start:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My little sister is the bomb, even when she makes fun of my Prussian Blue.


This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?


This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?

This is a little bit stylistically unusual for me (especially the two faces), but I think it needed to be. How does one paint a mother’s abuse?

I’ve been painting quite a lot recently. Someone opened the flood gates and suddenly I have a lot to say. I find myself awake at unusual hours because I badly need to finish before an idea is gone. Some days I am frazzled because I forgot to sleep enough, but it’s mostly just exciting with a little exhaustion on the side.

This page is called “Mother.” I’m not going to elaborate much because the circumstances deserve to remain mysterious and broken. It is the story of a girl whose mother turned the other way while the girl was raped by family members and then sold to another man. The pain of the physical abuse was sometimes overwhelming, yet her mother’s abuse was worse in some ways because it stemmed from intentional neglect. Many trafficked girls come from broken families without parental support. I pray they will find all the love, encouragement, and healing they need in their heavenly Father whose heart breaks with their own.


%d bloggers like this: