45 – War, Conflict, and Human Trafficking

Ending Human Trafficking Podcast Logo

The correlation between war, conflict, and human trafficking is all too apparent in many parts of the world. Sandra Morgan, the Director of the Global Center for Women & Justice and Dave Stachowiak, one of the Center’s board members, welcome Esther & Camille Ntoto from Africa New Day to discuss how human trafficking shows up in their work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Esther and Camille are both graduates of Vanguard University and have devoted their lives to develop a network of opportunities that empowers communities, and teaches current and future leaders how to approach the problems of the local population.

Key Points

  • Sex trafficking and rape is being used as a weapon of war and control in the DRC
  • Due to the ongoing conflict, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and child soldiers are common.
  • Address the problem by starting at the root of the problem, instead of reacting to the consequence.
  • Prevention needs to be tailored to the exact problem.


Love the show? Consider supporting us on Patreon!


Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 45. This week’s topic: War, Conflict, and Human Trafficking. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak, and this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Well, thank you so much for joining us for our first episode of the year. And if you are tuning in for the very first time, you are in for a very special show to kick off the new year. We have had the opportunity to sit down with two very special guests on this episode. Dear friends of the Global Center for Women of Justice and friends of Sandie and I had the opportunity to meet them just a few weeks ago when they were out here in Southern California. And our guests on this week’s show are Esther and Camille Ntoto, and they are going to be talking about their experience and their work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a very, very difficult place to be doing work in these areas right now. And I want to jump right into the interview that Sandie had with them just a couple of weeks ago. And so here is our interview with Esther and Camille Ntoto.

Sandie [00:01:41] I am very excited to have guests in the studio with us today that are Vanguard alums. Esther and Camille Ntoto attended Vanguard University, but they are originally Congolese and eventually through a series of God moments ended up back in one of the most desperate areas of global human trafficking on our planet, right in the heart of Africa, right in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even while they’ve been here visiting in Orange County, their own city was under siege by rebels. They have lived under the threat of violence every single day and have done amazing work there. So we’re going to talk to them today about the relationship of war and conflict to human trafficking. Now, they could tell us a lot of other things, but we’re going to try to stay on track with that. So Esther and Camille, welcome.

Camille [00:02:47]  Thank you.

Esther [00:02:47] Thank you.

Sandie [00:02:49] I think what I’d like to hear from you is what kind of human trafficking have you identified in your area there in Congo?

Camille [00:02:59] Well, we need to say first that Congo has been hit by war. It’s been 16 years. Six million people have died, and it’s also been called the rape capital of the world, where one out of three women has been raped. And in that kind of context, we can only imagine that some of the rebel forces, the militia groups and the people that are involved in the confrontations would use sex trafficking as a means of retaining power and control. And initially, when they used the sexual violence, it was called a weapon of war that they were using, and the goal was to humiliate, annihilate and have control over the group that they were actually fighting. And so that has continued, whereas children now are involved where groups actually take children from another tribe, ethnic group or another village, just to be able to show the people in that village that they have actually a power over them. And the women are used as sex slaves because not only do they use them as labor force, but as sex slaves, because you know, it’s again one way of saying, OK, in that particular group that we’ve taken over, well we control not only their ability to sustain themselves as a group, but we are showing them that we are more powerful and stronger than them. And so it is sad to say and it’s sad to experience, but there is no help for these people because the government is not coming to help them with laws and enforcing those laws. You don’t have groups that are strong enough to be able to go and deliver them and set them free. And in many cases it’s just acceptable and people just look the other way because they think that this is something that we cannot solve. These people have weapons, they have ammunition. They do this with some kind of power and control that somehow nobody’s able to do something about it.

Esther [00:05:03] There’s also, I can add, beside the phenomenon of a child soldier. We also have in child labor that young girls and boys are taken from villages by their own family members to bring to be brought in the city or bigger village. And some of them are promised to come to school. But when they get there, they don’t go to school. They become slave for the family, a domestic slave and also are abused sexually. There’s also child trafficking on the street because, for instance, let me give you an example. We started in our children program to take small children that were on the street. We noticed that one of them was seriously sick in the group that we took in our center, and talking to him, because he had all the, how you call it, the infection that you could imagine. So we took him into hospital this eight year boy–.

Camille [00:06:16] Eight year old.

Esther [00:06:16] Eight year old boy. His name is Tony. Had all the STDs that you could imagine because this boy is used as a sex slave on the street by bigger children, the street kids. And he was telling us how the smaller kids, that’s what they used them for. To rob, and when they don’t bring enough, when they don’t bring enough money at night to the group that they belong to, they are raped. But that’s a usual–.

Sandie [00:06:54] Like punishment.

Esther [00:06:54] Yeah, punishment. But they are not raped by punishment. When they are punished because they don’t bring enough money to the group, they don’t eat at all. Yes.

Sandie [00:07:05] And you mentioned child soldiers. What does that look like?

Esther [00:07:09] It’s horrible. We also have some child soldier in our children program. And one of them is 22 today. But when we got him, he was 18. He went through six different armed groups included the, uh,–

Camille [00:07:31] The government–

Esther [00:07:32] The army, the government forces.

Sandie [00:07:34] The Congo government?

Esther [00:07:35] Yes, the Congo military. He went to six of them. And the story of that boy is just amazing to see resilience in this boy. How you’ve seen, we’ve one day we ask him, how many kids can you, could you count? He couldn’t. Because in all those different groups, he was always with other children. And he saw so many of them. His friends, his close friend died, not only during the war in the fightings, but punishment because they didn’t– They didn’t charge the ammunition correctly or because they didn’t they were not strong enough and they were killed on the line going in fightings.

Camille [00:08:26] Because they were tired. Just carrying heavy loads.

Esther [00:08:30] Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Sandie [00:08:32] Well, what you what you say there, and both of you you’ve mentioned there’s no resource to help. And in the 2012 Trafficking in Persons report, it says that this area is Tier Three. Tier Three means there’s no law. There’s no one to enforce any laws that may be existing. So, sometimes we as Westerners, we look at the problem and we think, well, if we can help the victims, this is the best approach. But what can we do from all the way over here that is policy that will help us move from Tier Three to Tier Two to Tier One? What what kind of advocacy is going to help you get those kinds of laws?

Esther [00:09:18] Well, as far as we’re concerned, we looked at the situation and there was this sense of powerlessness at first. And Esther, for instance, was coming back to the house, as you know, with another story over a woman who had been raped or who was used as a sex slave or sex laborer for a number of years in a group or another. And I would hear and listen to those stories on a regular basis, and she was in tears every time she would tell me those stories. And then one day I said: No, stop. I went and started thinking and praying and saying, Well, what is it that we’re doing wrong? There is more resources poured into helping the women and children who are the victims. But why is it that the numbers are still increasing? And so and then as I was thinking about it, well, it dawned on me that we were all addressing the consequence of the situation, which is helping the women and children who are victims. But it was about time that we actually address the root cause and who were the root cause? More than 90 percent of the perpetrators are men. And so it’s easy to blame and accuse and say and condemn and all that. But we are not solving anything by doing that. And so we decided to have a different approach, which is actually dealing with the man, the hearts of man. Going after those who are actually committing those crimes and say, OK, what is it that we could do to actually change their mindset and behavior? Because if they’re doing this, that means something has gone wrong in the men of Congo. And so we started this initiative that we’ve called the Rising of the Sons of Congo, which is basically putting the men together and go through a curriculum, whereas they have the ability to interact with subjects such as, you know: the identity of men, men hold the key to change in Congo, a taboo subject as sex in the family, and things like leadership in the family and all that. And as the men have an opportunity to talk with each other about those different subject, and they have the opportunity also to listen to a radio program that we’ve put together, the experience change. And when we started the program, we launched it in April of 2011 and we said, Well, you know what? Why don’t we go and reach about 500 leaders? Because we had no idea how they would actually, you know, receive this program. And as we speak today, we are glad to report that there’s over 8,000 men who have gone through the plow and whose lives are being transformed, and we hear the testimonies of the women in the lives of these men that are saying, What is it that you’re doing to our husbands, to our uncles, to our nephews? Their attitudes and behaviors, all that is changing. And so what I would say in terms of policy, in terms of advocacy and all that is that we would invest a lot more into helping the man in the difficult situations that they go through, understand that they’re supposed to be the protectors of society as opposed to be predators, you know. Turning angry men into loving men and help them understand their role as leaders. And I think the more we actually raise leaders, the less we will have predators in our societies. And again, as we talk about advocacy, if we can put policies in an intentional way that actually address the situations of these men in the conditions they are, I think we can put an end to this. Esther told you about this young child, a teenager who has actually gone through all the different army groups. Had it not been for the fact that somehow he ended up in our hands, I mean, he would just perpetrate the same thing that he’s been victim of. And you have a cycle that never ends because we are dealing with, and sometimes we try to help the victims, but the perpetrators are left to themselves. And what do they do? They reproduce themselves.

Sandie [00:13:04] And that seems to be accepted in culture. And Esther, you were telling me how culture makes it normal.

Esther [00:13:12] Yes. Totally normal. Because in our own comfort in the city, we see one of our students at the leadership academy after a class of conflict transformation came to us and was sharing with us that because we talked about forgiveness, he realize that he’s been accepted in his family to bring some of his nieces who were eight to nine years old to the city, and he knew that she was  going to go to school and realize, no, we’re not paying her for school. She’s working, but she’s also abused and she’s taking as a slave in the house. And this is so normal to us to and even told me that they look at every family that we can go and visit today. You would see a young girl or two, depending on the wealth of the family. The bigger the house, the bigger the slave–.

Camille [00:14:27] the number.

Sandie [00:14:29] And some are treated really awful.

Esther [00:14:32] Oh they are, they are mistreated. They aren taken as nothing. If you have in the house the bigger boys, the abuser, the father do the same and the mother, the mother of the house, they just abuse her physically, psychologically. And they don’t give her much. And if she doesn’t do her work well, she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t get to eat, and she works day and night. You know, in our contexts, there are a lot of homes that don’t have running water, so you have to go and walk and walk for miles to fetch water. She’s the one who has to go, and it has been proven that many of those girls and women that are rape, it’s early in the morning. It’s early in the morning that men wait for them on the corner with their heavy loaded and rape them. It’s going to fetch water, you know? And so who do they run to? Who do they go to?

Sandie [00:15:39] So maybe sometimes when we’re looking from a Western perspective at prevention and I someone says, Oh, let’s do prevention and teach the little girls how to say no. Maybe instead, we should be building plumbing that goes to the house.

Esther [00:15:54] Exactly. Exactly.

Camille [00:15:54] It’s all of that.

Sandie [00:15:55] We have to look at prevention differently.

Camille [00:15:57] And you were saying, Sandie, earlier on that this is an old problem with a new name. And I think we have governments in place. We have agencies, we have social enterprise that don’t know how to address this because for a long time, they don’t, they didn’t even consider this to be a problem. But today, today, as we look at the consequences of that and an entire society being completely torn apart, now we need to be very intentional about how do we address these things and it comes down to infrastructures and the way we are intentional about ending this type of violence and considering every human being as a human being as opposed to, well, you know, she didn’t have a chance to go to school. So we bring her here and so–

Sandie [00:16:40] Well, and one of the things that you bring up is the significance of power and control. And in that particular part of the world, sometimes when you’re talking about power and control, we don’t see the dollar signs. So we’re like, Well, how is that trafficking? But I know that there are mines in that area. And so a lot of the sex trafficking may not be purchasing individual purchasers, but it will be involved with supporting the workers that are then at the mines or, and there are so many other, all the different rebel armies and the UN forces, all of these things that drive demand. Tell me about the mines and why it, why should I care about your mines?

Camille [00:17:31] Well, one of the reason you should care about our mines is that you communicate here in the US, in the western world, and the way you communicate is using some technological device like cell phones like computers like, you know, some of those nice little things that we all love. Well, one of the things that is actually used in building those nice technological device is called coltan. And in Congo, we have 80 percent of the world resource. Now, in order for us to communicate in the West, that means somebody has to go into those mines and get this cassiterite and be able to get the coltan out of it. And what is happening is that people are actually fighting over control of that, and that actually drives demand because those who actually go to get those minerals need to have the workforce to do that. And hence trafficking. You get young people, you get young children, you have young girls and they’re supposed to, you know, attend to the miners who are in those areas and the young children are carrying stuff and they’re taken away from their families. And so if we are able to say, OK, how do we control the exploitation of this very important mineral resource, then that will actually drive demand down. And so we are all concerned about this.

Esther [00:18:51] You were asking earlier, what can you do here in your comfort of Orange County? That’s one of the things that you can do. You can talk to your Congress, your congresspeople, and ask them to bring into law to demand on in those industries that use those mine. It’s true that there’s already a law. I don’t remember–

Sandie [00:19:18] California Transparency, Supply Chain Transparency.

Esther [00:19:21] You see that it doesn’t change. The problem. We still have as many rebel groups every day. We still have those trafficking of our children, women, and men because that didn’t bring that much because there’s no reinforcement over there on the, on our end. So if you can make your government here to put pressure in our government and really make sure that what you promise our government are cut, if they don’t, if they don’t–.

Camille [00:19:59] Apply then there are sanctions.

Esther [00:20:00] Yes. And sanction those that are perpetrators of all those action, nothing will happen. So there’s something that you can do because you are using, you are using every day a part of Congo in your everyday life.

Sandie [00:20:18] That means we have a vested interest and culpability in the whole process. And when we talk about our government, and I saw a picture of you with our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. So I think our government is concerned.

Esther [00:20:37] You know, yes. I was very impressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of how much she knew about our situation and that really impressed me. But it’s been, what, three years and I don’t see, I don’t see much change. And we want to see more action. You cannot say something and do other things, you know, and you cannot promise and keep on promising and not coming into action.

Sandie [00:21:12] So, bringing up the California Supply Chain Transparency Act is really brilliant because all of us have some kind of connection to the products that end up in our stores, and that connects us to countries all over the world where we do have some kind of impact on them. And usually our choices have driven power and control circumstances for profit that produce really horrible vulnerability issues for the people that are victimized in human trafficking. I think that I’m going to be much stronger in looking at what I can do from this perspective on supply chain transparency. I have that law right here in California, and I was asked recently, Well, really, it’s just the consumer has the right to ask. There’s no teeth in the law. So what I want podcast listeners in California to do is to pick up the phone and ask. Ask the consumers– As consumers, we need to ask the companies that sell products here: where did the mineral in my cell phone come from?

Esther [00:22:25] You know, Sandie, I will add that because one of the way that our enemies have been doing the enemies of Congo and wanting only the minerals it’s using are neighboring countries around us. They don’t have in the soil the mine, the–.

Camille [00:22:45] The coltan.

Esther [00:22:46] The coltan. But in the export sheet, they export coltan. So you wonder, Whoa, what happened? What just happened? Did God did a transfer of coltan in some neighboring countries? But you now, as American, when you go and buy your coltan, the industry would say, well, it came from not from Congo, but it came from that country. But that country doesn’t have coltan in their soil so thats another way.

Sandie [00:23:21] It get’s very complicated.

Esther [00:23:21] Yes.

Camille [00:23:22] It becomes very complicated. And you were talking about what can be done in terms of policies and everything. Well, that’s one way: to sanction the countries that are benefiting from the trouble and turmoil in eastern Congo because they are making profits out of, you know, the situation, the unstable situation in eastern Congo and somehow the companies that are dealing with them are saying, Well, you know, it doesn’t come from Congo. Well, you know, the countries you’re dealing with don’t have one mine of coltan in their soil.

Sandie [00:23:53] I feel like what you have demonstrated so well for me and my students will listen to this when I teach human trafficking this next semester, is that we cannot from an external perspective understand what is happening on the ground. It is so important that we have cultural and community insiders if we’re going to tap demand. I love the Rising Sons of Congo, really engaging the men that drive demand, but it goes so much further. And what you two have done going to the Congo. I remember Esther, you told me when you first went to the hospital and experience, that really illustrates why, even from that perspective, it’s so important for you to go back.

Esther [00:24:42] Yes. You know, for me, Sandie, I came to this hospital and–

Sandie [00:24:48] Right there in Goma?

Esther [00:24:49] Right there in Goma. It was my first time. I never I never went there. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know anybody. And I mean this hospital ward, and there’s about 100 women and children, some sharing, two sharing a bed. And one year somebody is introducing us. And from another year, another lady is telling us all these women and children have been raped. So I’m overwhelmed when I hear a woman on top of her lungs say when we are introduced, Finally, our own people think about us. Usually it’s the white people who come and visit us. And right their Sandie, it was like a knife in my heart. Because we were introduced as a Congolese couple who live in the states who came to visit. They didn’t know that we came to stay, and we right there, I realized that this is where I’m supposed to be. This is where I belong. And I am not carrying the name of Esther for nothing. And I didn’t go through my life the things that I go through for nothing. God doesn’t waste anything. It was such a time as this that what I had received, I could now give back to my people.

Sandie [00:26:16] I believe that you’re raising up leaders that are going to change it from the ground floor in the Congo. I wish we had time to tell the story of your student. Can you do it in two minutes?

Esther [00:26:32] We try.

Sandie [00:26:33] The nine year old who stopped you and said, Look, if I’m going to be an engineer I need glasses. Send me to school.

Esther [00:26:39] Yes, Prince is one of the many kids who was on the street and many of them, when they were following me, they would say, Mama Esther, give me food, give me money and give me this. But Prince will come to me and say, Mama Esther send me to school. So he had my attention. And one day, and for months he did that. One day he said, If you don’t send me to school, I won’t be an engineer. I love to invent things. And so he was eventually in our program and what we do in our program, we teach them leadership, among other things. And that month, we told them about Martin Luther King, Jr. And for the English class, they were supposed to memorize one verse of I Have a Dream speech. And Prince did it. But he would not get back to his seat. So I came and I encourage him to go back to his seat. And he looked at me and said, this was Martin Luther King dream. I have a dream for D.R. Congo and he did his own speech. Today, Prince is dreaming to be the president of Congo. Today, Prince is writing a book and his title is the Leader Without Fear: My Dream. This morning we talk to him with other kids. We had a session with them on Skype and he was sharing with us how his, these past two weeks with the rebel on the ground really impacted him and he thought of his book and he start thinking, the leader without fear, I haven’t reached it because I was fearful these past two weeks. And we had to tell him, it’s OK, it’s okay to be fearful. In fact, fear can bring something good out of you. And we had to encourage him this morning on the phone to tell him that it was OK.

Camille [00:28:37] We told him about courage. That fear courage is actually the ability to keep moving forward, even in the midst or in the face of fear. And we had to tell him that otherwise he would feel so guilty that somehow he was fearful.

Sandie [00:28:52] You see, this is how we will end human trafficking in Congo. Bringing up the next generation of leaders, raising the sons of Congo, who will have the power to make those changes and become the protectors. Our time is up, but tell us how they can find you on the internet.

Camille [00:29:12] Well, it’s very easy. Uh, www.AfricaNewDay.org is our website and you can just surf and see some of the things that we are involved in. You can also look at www.LOAfrica.net. We are still working on our website, but at least you’ll have some information.

Sandie [00:29:32] OK. And of course, you can go to gcwj.vanguard.edu. Esther, it is a privilege having you.

Esther [00:29:40] Thank you.

Sandie [00:29:41] Yes. And Camille, we will. We will do another interview by Skype when you’re back in Florida. I would like to interview Prince.

Esther [00:29:50] Oh yes. Yes.

Sandie [00:29:53] Yes. He’s the next generation of world changers.

Esther [00:29:54] God has opened the door for Prince is going to come in September, in September–.

Camille [00:30:00] of 2014.

Esther [00:30:00] 2014 in a school here at San Juan Capistrano that has, that is sponsoring him to come and spend his senior year of high school here. So you could have him here in the studio.

Sandie [00:30:14] And then we want him to be a student just like you were at Vanguard University..

Esther [00:30:17] Yes. That’s our dream.

Camille [00:30:19] Thank you so much for what you doing, Sandie.

Sandie [00:30:22] Thank you.

Dave [00:30:30] I don’t know about you, but I could listen to them talk all day long, and their stories are captivating, inspiring, and heartbreaking. And the work that they are doing, as you can imagine, is very complicated, very dangerous and also very important to the global effort of ending human trafficking. And all of us in this community care so deeply about this issue, about reaching out to people through not only serving victims, but through preventative measures so that we can, as a global community, work together to end this tragedy. And if you have been inspired like I have to go out and to do something, I would encourage you to utilize this as an opportunity to start off this year and to look for the opportunities that all of us have to reach out and to make changes. And there were several on the show, and there are many others that you have heard throughout this entire series and this podcast. And of course, there will be many more to come. So keep listening. We’re going to continue our production schedule this year to air every other Thursday. And so I want to thank you so much for your support of this show. If this show has been helpful to you and you’re an iTunes user, if you take a moment to go on iTunes, just search for Ending Human Trafficking and leave us a review, that helps tremendously in the show being able to get more visibility and for more people to be able to learn about this issue and then take responsible action to help us to end it. And thank you in advance, also, if you are a Stitcher listener and you’re on the Stitcher network and have joined in to listen to us, if you’re on Stitcher, go ahead and hit that little thumbs up sign. If you like this episode, that’ll help us to continue to get traction on the Stitcher network. And if you hit the little star icon, it will ensure you get future episodes as well. If you have a comment, question or feedback for us about anything you heard on this show, you can reach out to us at  714-966-6361 or our email address gcwj@vanguard.edu for the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University. Have a great start to the year, and we’ll talk to you in two weeks.


Scroll to Top