Finding the right answer: modern slavery definition and typology.

The ILO Global Estimates report is without a doubt an enormous data collection effort, a quality product of international organizations working together toward a globally accepted definition on what is modern slavery, it does a fair job on the general division into two main categories -forced labor and forced marriage- because it allows a clear understanding of what the problem is, and how globalization plays a significant role in such practices; the report also accurately depicts the methodological problems for researchers and the intricacy of the phenomenon in today’s society. However, I disagree with the umbrella term “modern slavery” since it resembles more a description of situations rather than a description of the nature and scope of a problem, such ambiguity in terminology diminishes the effectiveness of justice, public policies, and victim’s protection.

When the ILO describes modern slavery as “a set of specific legal concepts including forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking,” (ILO & et al., 2017, p. 16) the notion of exploitation is not clear enough. The new “modern slavery” differs from the original concept of slavery where the control of a person over others was explicitly coined. On this particular point, activists converge on the notion that modern slavery is about “being exploited and completely controlled by someone else, without being able to leave” (International, 2019) a domination that may “take the form of physical constraint or a more abstract” (Allain, 2012, p. 376) such as psychological control and abuse. Failing to explicitly state on the report that exploitation and control are intrinsically linked to a slavery condition, the umbrella term runs short as a definition. On this matter, Patterson and Zhou examine the need for a globally accepted definition on what involves trafficking, (modern) slavery and other forms of exploitation (Patterson & Zhuo, 2018) concluding that the term servitude would serve much better as an umbrella term due to the continuum of the condition involved.

Whereas Patterson and Zhou refer to conditions that involve temporality, exploitation, coercion and degrading forms of domination toward another person, the ILO refers to situations of exploitation that impedes a person to refuse such circumstances.

Conversely to ILO’s umbrella term, Patterson and Zhou proposed a prior definition of forced labor and adapted it to modern times. In this context, servitude is the “condition in which the work, service or relationships of another person are not freely offered or if voluntarily initiated, cannot be left or refused, and are maintained under the threat of physical or psychological coercion, violence or some other penalty.” (Patterson & Zhuo, 2018, p. 410) Servitude centers on specific forms of domination or control aimed at continuing the exploitative condition of the victim for purposes of profit. This condition fluctuates in time, is dynamic.

The ILO has a simple typology of modern slavery – forced labor and forced marriage – that it seems more focused on meeting international standards for future recommendations than finding root causes of the conditions that lead to servitude and trafficking. Although the report does include some other concepts like trafficking in persons and slave-like practices they are encompassed by generalities and situations, which makes it harder for the future.

Patterson and Zhou’s typology is broader than the ILO including traditional and modern slavery, bonded labor, international migrant forced laborers, domestic servitude, sexual servitude, child servitude, marital servitude, and state servitude. (Patterson, 2019) In the context of the ILO report, forced labor is a situation determined by “the nature of the relationship between a person and the employer” (ILO & et.al, 2017, p. 16) where the person cannot be released voluntarily from the work or service despite the legality or illegality of it and failing to do so would imply serious or even fatal consequences. Also, the report subdivides forced labor into three categories: labor exploitation in the private economy, sexual exploitation, and state-imposed. On the other hand, Patterson and Zhou determined forced labor like all the forms of servitude on which “the exploitation of labor, sexual and non-sexual, for profit is the primary motivation of the exploiter” (Patterson & Zhuo, 2018, p. 410) including abusive migration.

The ILO subgroup of labor exploitation in the private economy includes bonded labor, domestic work, and slave-like practices. Patterson and Zhuo concur with ILO’s concept of bonded labor as “the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services” (ILO 2001, p.124) and they also incorporate bonded labor, domestic work and slave-like practices with two main differences 1) they take into account sexual trafficking, sexual servitude, and child servitude, and 2) they link the fluidity of servitude to seasonal recruitment and how this practice push population toward ill-designed contracts.

Regarding domestic work as forced labor, the ILO situates this kind of exploitation as the result of failed labor laws that leave unprotected the working population. Patterson and Zhou, on the other hand, associate domestic work exploitation with the condition of poverty, abusive migration, smuggling and the intimate relationship of domination between the employer-employee that resembles more traditional enslavement (Patterson & Zhuo, 2018, p. 416) and not only because of insufficient labor laws. The third subgroup of forced labor -slave-like practices- also known as state slavery consists of exploiting individuals in jail systems, re-education camps, state-run facilities for the purpose of profit and/or economic development. (Patterson, 2019) On this subgroup, there is a common understanding that the exploitation is conditioned to the economic development of the state and previous history of slavery rather than poverty or globalization alone.

Concerning the second typology of modern slavery -forced marriage- academic, activists and researchers concur that regardless of age, anyone who has been forced to marry without their consent falls under this category on this matter, Patterson and Zhuo concur with the general definition supporting that any person under 18 years old will be considered child marriage with or without the condition of coercion. (UNICEF, 2013)

The ILO did an excellent job in the data collection effort, although a better system is needed to increase the reliability of the data, the final product showed international organizations working together toward a universal definition. However, the term “modern slavery” conveys more to political agendas and legal systems due of its ambiguity than to the effectiveness of justice, public policies and victim’s protection, the inaccuracy of the term neutralizes the impact of authorities, activists and scholars alike.

Thinking ahead

Understanding the term servitude as a condition affecting people’s life in which work or the relationship is dominated by a physical or psychological constraint that coercively impedes such person to refuse or leave the circumstances they are in, fits much better as an umbrella term in view of the fact that servitude includes all types of exploitation, not only those related to specific legal terms as in the case of the definition suggested in the ILO report.

Overall, the ILO Global Estimates is the most comprehensive report available on matters of servitude, although its vagueness of definitions, it stresses the necessity for better data collection systems to build evidence against criminals, design public policies and social protection focusing on the victims. It is a stepping stone on finding the right answer on what involves modern slavery.

Importation of domestic workers in the U.S., a blind eye on human trafficking.

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Most of the women in the United States working as live-in domestic workers come from underdeveloped countries; the majority are escaping poverty and seeking to secure a better future for their families even if it means to work more than 8,000 miles away from home. Recruited at home under false promises, sketchy contracts, and a special visa[i] that forces them to yield to the will of their employer, domestic workers end up as victims of trafficking and living in conditions of de facto servitude.

The U.S. immigration system is outdated and does not respond to the needs and problems of modern times; with its static quotas, bans to specific nationalities, strict requirements for current residents, and the burden for immigrants to find a sponsor; the current immigration policies enable trafficking[ii], servitude and openly contradicts the 13th amendment[iii]. In simple terms domestic workers are lied to, imported, abused and bonded to an employer as slaves were brought in and sired to a master in the 1900s.

Because of the hidden nature of trafficking and servitude, and the complexity of diplomatic immunity there are very few documented cases, the numbers vary dramatically, and statistics are usually inconsistent. For example, Human Rights Watch 2001 report on domestic workers mentions over 90 reviews of exploitative relationship from 1995 to 2001 (HRW, 2001), the National Domestic Workers Alliance documented 110 cases of domestic workers identified as survivors of human trafficking in 2016 (IPS & NDWA, 2017), and the United States government reported only 611 trafficked victims from 2001 to 2006 (Friederich, 2007). None of the abovementioned cases ended in legal prosecution.

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Restrictive anti-immigration policies pave the road for traffickers and abuse, employer-based visa holders are more likely to become victims of trafficking due to recruitment fraud and debt bondage, and because of fear to lose their jobs, and their legal immigration status domestic workers end up living in conditions of de facto servitude. The evidence, or lack of evidence, stresses the need to unlink temporary visas from single employers/sponsors that leads to trafficking and servitude, and to update administrative procedures that effectively prevent fraudulent recruitment and abuse diplomatic immunity.

The Domestic Worker Sector.

The integration of world economies, the massive increase in global supply of labor and the emergence of new economies push international workers and job seekers toward new markets, often unskilled workers are exposed to human trafficking and exploitation regardless of their immigration status; the vulnerability turns higher for female migrants and specifically those in the domestic work sector[iv]in rich countries like the Arab States, Europe, and the United States who aggregate up to 80 percent of the total domestic work market  (ILO & et al., Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, 2017), these high-income countries often use recruitment agencies to provide them with workers at the lowest possible cost (Pope, 2010).

The domestic workers that come into the U. S. are often recruited at home under false promises with high recruitment fees and employer-bonded visas end up accepting inhumane working conditions from their sponsoring employers because of fear to lose their jobs, and their legal immigration status. On this matter, Patterson & Zhuo stresses that due to the workplace -private residences- there is an intimate relationship of domination that resembles traditional enslavement, although there is no clear ownership between diplomats/international executives and live-in domestic workers, the working conditions of servitude exist (Patterson & Zhuo, 2018, p. 416). Lapinig includes the element of debt bondage[v]to explain the continuum of servitude where fraudulent recruitment agencies who sponsor visa petitions often charge excessive fees for recruitment and transportation usually of unpayable nature (Lapinig, 2017).

With a different narrative, the ILO assertively states that migration “can increase vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation” (ILO & et al., 2017, p. 30) but solely focuses its attention on irregular migration, regarding temporary workers -visa holders- ILO recognizes the challenges that the excess of low-skilled workers represent to receiving countries, but fails to acknowledge the relationship between employed-based visas and trafficking, the ILO simply mentions that inadequate labor laws and ill-design immigration policies places domestic workers amongst “the most vulnerable groups of migrant workers” (ILO & et al., 2017, p. 31).

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The Importation System.

According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, there are over 2 million domestic workers in the country, including those working for international executives and diplomats (IPS & NDWA, 2017). The majority of live-in domestic workers in the United States enter via a valid importation system where diplomats and international executives usually offer valid labor contracts. Such contracts, typically written in English with complex labor terms impossible for the workers to comprehend; such demand is often fulfilled by recruitment agents who charge up to $40,000 to job seekers just to secure a job in diplomatic residences, the workers end up as victims of trafficking (IPS & NDWA, 2017, p. 22).

The importation of live-in domestic workers in the U.S. is a common practice for diplomats and international executives that benefits from the current immigration policies (Friederich, 2007); the Immigration and Nationality Act allows foreign officials and international executives to bring domestic workers from their own country (I.N.A.) in the spirit of good faith and to make them feel more comfortable because of culture and language, unfortunately diplomats and international executives often abuse this prerogative due to diplomatic immunity. Foreign officials who enjoy diplomatic immunity are not subject to criminal, civil, or administrative jurisdiction of U.S. courts, the Department of State can request a waiver of immunity to the sending country only if the crime perpetrated endangers foreign relations or national security, this fact alone makes almost impossible for a live-in domestic worker to leave or even report their employer.

In the unlikely case that a waiver could be requested, workers will not testify against their abusive employers because the later manipulate domestic workers to develop feelings of loyalty toward them highlighting cultural similarities while at the same time terrorizing them with tales of incarceration and deportation based on ethnicity, a psychological abuse that foster a dependency relationship similar to serfdom  (Pope, 2010).

Recommendation

U.S. immigration system should unlink temporary visas from single employers/sponsors, doing so will open the opportunity to change employers, and the threat of deportation cannot be used as leverage to exploit the worker (Avendaño & Fanning, 2013) and would help the worker to transition to better job opportunities in accordance to the thirteen amendments, thus allowing freedom of choice to move from one employer to another despite the immigration status.

Furthermore, the Department of State should redesign the vetting process of diplomats and international executives requesting special visas for live-in domestic workers making sure of their economic and moral standards, the Department should also include periodically in-person assessment program to ensure domestic worker’s human rights and working conditions, such assessment must have a direct impact on the bilateral relationship with the diplomat or international executive country of origin.

Human trafficking is a multi-faceted problem that requires a holistic approach involving civil society, bureaucracy and governments alike, it demands long-term solutions and immediate crisis response.


[i]Certain employers entering the U.S. on non-immigrant visas can bring their domestic employees in the United States. These visas include non-immigrant employers entering with a B, E, F, H, I, J, L, M, O, P, Q, R, TN, A, G, or NATO visas. A-3 visas if hired by diplomats, G-5 if the employee is an international organization official, J-1 for au pair visas.

[ii]the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of abuse.  Abuse shall include, at a minimum, the abuse of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual abuse, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

[iii]XVII Amendment, Abolition of Slavery “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. United States Constitution Passed by Congress January 31. Ratified December 6, 1865.

(National Archives, 2018)

 

[iv]ILO estimates over 65 million domestic workers worldwide from which approximately 10 million are migrant workers and almost 75 percent of the later are women.

[v]Debt bondage is when someone is forced to pay off a loan or fees by working for an agreed-upon or unclear period of time for little or no salary. Debt bondage is one of the most common ways of exploiting human trafficking victims, and migrants despite their legal status. (UNODC, 2015)

 

Central America

Central America is the hub for U.S. trade ships and foreign trade through the Panama Canal, and gas lines across Caribbean waters, but is also home to left-wing guerrillas, juvenile gangs, crime syndicates, drug traffickers and smugglers.

With weak and non-democratic governments the region has the highest rates of poverty, child malnutrition, and poor infrastructure, and since 2014 women and children are fleeing their homes by the hundreds of thousands because of poverty, political aggression, gang-related violence and seeking entry into the U.S. via the southern border stressing and dividing communities.

Central America is part of the U.S. sphere of influence, sadly democracy hasn’t been achieved, development is a sketch and peace is still a dream yet to come especially for countries in the northern triangle –Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador- were violence and political instability push women and children to flee seeking asylum in the U.S. thus creating a political problem for local authorities and an international crisis.

(continue reading)

What is Human Trafficking?

“Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs” Article 3 parr (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Human trafficking includes sex trafficking exploitative work, including domestic workers agricultural, child soldiers, child adoptions, organ trafficking.

Why does Human Trafficking happen?

There are different factors that push trafficking nowadays

  • Global Economic
  • Domestic
  • Political/legal
  • Sociological

Bullying

Bullying is a type of school violence, the constant and persistent harassment towards an individual, it is intended behavior and never an isolated event.

This type of violence could include verbal abuse, isolation, harassment, physical, psychological and cyber abuse.

Bullying is the repetitive intentional behavior to hurt, harm, isolate and humiliate  a person, this person in most of the cases is a school-age child who is different from the general population because of some sort of disabilities, ethnicity, culture, gender role expectations, personality, immigration status, gender stereotypes, economic situations, political values, and the list just goes on.

Bullying differs from conflict.

  • Conflict is a disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views.
  • Bullying is negative behavior directed by someone exerting power and control over another person.

In general terms, bullying is perpetrated by students against other students, however when we as adults fail to identify those involved in bullying (victim and victimizer) we become part of the problem.

Teachers and school staff are involved too, as stand-by-viewers, adults grant power to bullies and indirectly approve their behavior.

On this topic, in 2016 Unicef made a poll and found “that 30% of those who had been bullied did not tell anyone, 30% told an adult and more than 30% told a friend or sibling; less than 10% told a teacher. Reasons for not telling anyone included being afraid or ashamed, not knowing who to tell and thinking that bullying is normal.” 

What is worst, “children and adolescents who are victims of bullying are not always willing to report these incidents to parents, teachers or other adults either because of fear of retaliation.

Did you know?

32% of 12-18-year-old students in the United States were bullied in the 2007-2008 school year.

According to the National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment (NVEEE)

  1. Every 7 MINUTES a child is bullied.  Adult intervention – 4%. Peer intervention – 11%. No intervention – 85%.
  2. Biracial and multiracial youth are more likely to be victimized than youth who identify with a single race.
  3. Bullied students tend to grow up more socially anxious, with less self-esteem and require more mental health services throughout life.
  4. Only 7% of U.S. parents are worried about cyberbullying, yet 33% of teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying
  5. Kids who are obese, gay, or have disabilities are up to 63% more likely to be bullied than other children.
  6. 1 MILLION children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying during the past year.
  7. 86% of students said, “other kids picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them” causes teenagers to turn to lethal violence in schools.
  8. It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Source: National Education Association.
  9. American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims. Dan Olweus, National School Safety Center.

Those who are bullied are also more likely to be depressed, lonely or anxious, to have low self-esteem, are prone to self-injuring and addictions, and to have suicidal thoughts or to attempt suicide.

The worst part is, that victims perceive they are not worthy of trust, or that they will not be taken seriously. The balance of power between victim and victimizer leans away from them, leaving an empty space to be filled solely with pain, despair, anger, resentment and a sense of “being broken”

“After so many years of being bullied, I feel so broken inside,

that every day I have to hot-glue myself to go to school.”

8th grader

Bullying is worldwide

Unicef collected data from 106 countries showing that the proportion of adolescents aged 13-15 who say they have recently experienced bullying ranged from 7% in Tajikistan to 74% in Samoa. In 14 of the 67 low- to middle- income countries with available data, more than half of this age group said they had recently experienced bullying.

In 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries,  students aged 10-14, a 51% overall reported experiencing some type of bullying in “the last month.” Being robbed was the most commonly reported experience, followed by being insulted or threatened.

No More Bullying

  • Start being part of the solution, listen to your child before is too late.
  • Effective communication with your child is essential to know if there is a problem at school, or home (bullying also happen there).
  • Trust your child, and do not judge.
  • Embark on straight forward discussions focusing on inclusion over exclusion.
  • Showing respect and kindness toward others, tolerance is the key word.
  • Raise awareness in your community, as many adults are unaware of the extent of the problem and of its negative impact on the well-being of children and adolescents.

Urgent action is needed to address the global problem of school violence and bullying to ensure that all children and adolescents have access to safe and non-violent learning environments.

Road Trips

“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”

-Angela N. Blount, Once Upon an Ever After

 

Road trips… I just love them, endless hours heading toward new towns having a great conversation and making memories, that is how I grew up. Of course, back in my days (ahem ahem) the cassettes tapes only hold 45 minutes of music thus forcing you to turn the tape or changed it for a completely new artist after both sides were done, that is how I used to measure time on road trips: music length.

With today’s iPhone capabilities of over 21 hours of non-stop music I’m lost in a sea of mixes varying from alternative to pop but hooked more on the punk rock side of the spectrum, I don’t complain but is hard to measure when are we going to arrive at our destination, lucky for me the built-in navigation system displays the arrival time… if only I actually follow the directions…

Usually, I plan 80% of the road trip and tend to look at the billboards and local signs along the highway making last-minute decisions of what else to do, most of the time it pays off, others not so much.

Last weekend we hit the road to Chappell Hill, Texas to catch some bluebonnet fields, it was a 50 minutes drive from home, not so many bluebonnets to gaze at so I decided to follow some signs pointing to a lavender farm nearby, the image of Provence struck my mind and I swiftly made a U-turn prompting everyone to pay attention to the road, that was my queue for a conversation.

I finally managed to arrive at the lavender farm (?) in the middle of nothing, 30 neatly bushes without a single lavender flower and three miniature goats welcomed us, it was an interesting sight, to say the least, but it was a good spot to stretch the legs. Luckily I managed to spot some bluebonnets in a nearby pond.

After walking a bit through the fields and walking up and down Chappell Hill Main St., we decided to head back home. The conversation kept flowing between laughs and milkshake slurps, it turns out that my elder girl has decided for the military path, her brief time as a cadet in the JROTC surely made a mark on her and though she hasn’t been able to join while in private school, she plans to rejoin the armed forces via the Navy or the Air Force when in college.

I have no idea how she will manage to deal with military life, but I’m proud of her decision, I know she will gain confidence and structure, and the armed forces will gain a courageous princess.

My younger girl sighed after listening to the 50-minute conversation about the military path and just said: “I don’t have a clue of what comes next, I’ll just keep studying, and yeah… I want to launch a rocket and shoot my dad’s ashes into a black hole across the universe, yeah that’s pretty much of what I want to do with my life… ah yes and get a cat.”

I love road trips.

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Social Pressure

Valentine’s day is just three days away and the social pressure builds up in my daughters’ mind like a broken record asking why there’s no sweetheart, secret friend or letter waiting inside the red and pink decorated school box?

Year after year the dreadful day comes, no matter how much I tried to divert the attention at home, everywhere you go is about red/pink articles and overpriced chocolates.

The best time for fundraising is in February, the student clubs and the PTO manage to arrange fabulous sales: carnations, chocolates, songs, cards, and whatever sale to the “secret crush”, the “soon to be sweetheart”, the “special friend” because everyone loves valentine’s day.

Are you sure? Are you positively sure that everyone loves the social pressure to have a sweetheart by a certain date? To measure yourself by the number of flowers, letters, cards, chocolate, balloons, plush toys, and gifts you receive?

Are you absolutely sure? Of course, I’ve never received a direct answer other than “well, they have to improve their social skills, the more friends the merrier it is.”

My two kids stopped liking Valentine’s day many years ago, elementary was fun they still ache for the handmade cards to each of the classmates highlighting a positive quality about them, “I like that you ___, have a fun Valentine’s day” We recall the long hours actually thinking about why they had fun with such classmates: because they made snarky comments, their goofy hair, a glitter headband, the ultra super cool shoes, a backpack with googly eyes… it was about liking each other and complimenting without any infatuation, just a positive thought.

But years passed and elementary years are long gone, everything is now about the sweetheart, the crush, the asking out, the pressure to attend or not a valentine’s dance without a date.

“It’s just a dance,” I said “You can go with your friends and have fun, and free food” –I honestly thought that throwing in the free pizza they would actually say yes, because who doesn’t love free food right?

But no, no such luck.

Such social pressure to succeed according to specific standards messes up the confidence and self-esteem as much as the criticism on how you look, weight or talk. Valentine’s day is nothing more than a romanticized tradition of what love should look like but is far from it.

Anyway, I’ll have to keep studying and preparing for a long week of rolling eyes and complaints on school dances, mandatory red shirts, and sugar that comes with school bake sales.

 

 

Demons

It was a hard weekend at home, and not precisely because of the endless amount of boxes still to unpack from the moving, the house chores –which I hate doing- the slowest Super Bowl game ever, or the 345 pages I needed to read for my graduate course.

No, none of these things made my weekend harder than usual, I can deal with that and much more but the look in her eyes, the melancholy in her smile and the overall sadness that permeated to the family all weekend long brought me down to my knees, made me curl on a corner of the walking closet and silently cry questioning every single decision I’d made since the moment my girls were born.

Two years ago my daughter was admitted into a behavioral facility because of major depression and anxiety… We almost lost her. I thought she was fine… a bit sad or angry at times, nothing out of the ordinary for a teenager, but I was so wrong.

With an “I’m fine” and a fake smile my girl used to bottle up all her concerns, her pain until there was no more room for pain or sorrows…

I remember the backlash I received from the family and friends: You didn’t know? Where were you when all of this happened? It happened because you didn’t talk to her! That wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed in Mexico! Forget about going back to study or work now… and so on.

To be honest, I didn’t care about the backlash, what would they know of what we were going through? The only thing in my mind was to keep my daughter alive and to make sure my little one was safe too while I was trying to make sense of all this. How was I going to explain an 11-year old that her sister was being hospitalized and the true reasons behind it? How to tell her that she was sick with wounds that no Band-Aid or cast could heal, and that we wouldn’t be able to visit until after the evaluation process was over… 72 hours later.

I signed the papers and my older daughter looked at me terrified, and without saying a single word with her eyes fixed in mine she got inside the facility. My world crumbled, my legs were not responding I couldn’t move –I didn’t want to move- I wanted to stay put just in case they come out and said some sort of nonsense for us to stay with her, next to her, comforting her.

It was surreal; I still remember the lack of air and the dizziness I felt, the fire inside me reminding me to stay strong for her and for my other daughter who was soaking her tears with my ribcage. Yes, I just took a very deep breath, and slowly walked back to the car.

The first 24 hours were the hardest moments of my life trying to assure my little one that everything was going to be ok, but I didn’t know, at that point, I didn’t know anything and doubted everything. The only thing real was that we were all alone at home, sleeping together holding on to each other trying to fill in the absence that my oldest daughter left behind, that my husband would arrive as soon as he could find a flight.

I remember I had to fill so many questionnaires to figure out why it happened, what triggered it, what was the root cause? They dismiss each of the social causes at home, family history, but there it was, silently in the last page of the report the results about the school environment: she was a victim of bullying.

Bullying, the repetitive intentional behavior to hurt, harm, isolate and humiliate a person.

They kept asking about family issues, relatives with a history of mental health conditions, but in the end, they concluded that yes, she had to be a victim of school bullying to the point of a mental breakdown putting her life at risk.

Her mind has never been the same after she got discharged; she stopped smiling for so many months, there was not a single spark or sign of joy in her eyes, hardly a smile, the vast quantity of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and insomnia treatment has changed her completely, she is such a different person from the funny silly girl who used to play endlessly with her sister, enjoyed tumbling, and laughed at a butterfly because why not? She was a glooming figure always holding my hand -numbed most of the time because of how tight the grip is- no more play dates with her little sister and a look of resentment every now and then.

It has been two years and I still wake up to check if she is safe, it is my night routine, I don’t sleep more than three hours but now I have an assistant: her new puppy helps me to keep track of her, if there is something wrong before I wake up he goes and tells me and I go. That little fellow is an angel sent directly from dog heaven.

She wrote me a birthday card two weeks ago asking for forgiveness for all the hardship she has put me through –of course I cried my guts out- she talked about how much she changed and how her demons inside sometimes steal the best of her, she is aware of how much she has changed and it terrifies her to let me down again -she blames herself for not be as strong as I am and stand up to bullies- but I told her she could never let me down and we hugged as if there were no tomorrow.

It has been a long learning process for the entire family, to reconstruct concepts about mental health, dismiss biases, identify triggers, adjust to new environments, schedules and lots of routines and fix activities -often against my wild nature-

The only one who knows the demons inside her mind is she alone; believe me when I say that if I could fight them for her I would, but I can’t, I can only love her, listen and treat her with kindness so she can thrive within her new reality.