We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Thousands of North Korean Women Are Sold Into Sex Slavery in China
An investigation conducted by the Korea Future Initiative (KFI) reports that thousands of women and girls—some as young as twelve—are being trafficked and sold into various avenues of sex slavery in China. Some are sold as wives to Chinese men, while others are forced to livestream sex acts against their will. Still others are being raped or forced to participate in cybersex for days without nourishment. The KFI estimates there are 200,000 North Korean refugees living in China, and that as many as 60 percent of women in that demographic are trafficked.
Those who chose to flee North Korea face enough danger as it is; a failed attempt means severe punishment, and those who make it to China but are discovered thereafter could face torture or execution once they are forcibly returned to North Korea. According to Human Rights Watch, “traffickers promise to help defectors make it to South Korea, but then sell the women as brides or into the commercial sex trade.” There is a gender imbalance in China, due to the recently relaxed one-child policy, which contributes to the number of men looking for wives.
Increasing awareness of this situation is a step in the right direction, but serious action needs to be taken as well. KFI reports, “Only tangible acts can dismantle China's sex trade, confront a North Korean regime that abhors women, and rescue sex slaves scattered across brothels, remote townships, and cybersex dens in mainland China." —Lindsay Schlegel
U.S. Unemployment Reaches Its Lowest Since the 70s
Good news: The U.S. economy is thriving as the unemployment rate drops to 3.6 percent, making it the lowest it is has been in almost fifty years.
“Our outlook . . . is a positive one,” said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, indicating that experts expect the upward trend to continue. What’s more, wages are expected to rise for the lowest-paid workers, a development that contrasts with prior wage increases, which more significantly impacted those already receiving higher pay. As a result, minorities are also faring better than ever, financially speaking. Hispanics have seen the fastest wage increases, though they still earn the least. African Americans, many of whom have migrated south from the northern states in pursuit of better jobs and higher quality of living, are experiencing the lowest unemployment in history. And residents of Ames, Iowa boast the lowest unemployment of all, at only 1.5 percent.
Still, despite the prospering economy, many workers are wary of becoming too optimistic as they struggle to overcome overwhelming student debt and healthcare costs. At the same time, some point out that although minorities have made significant gains in the workplace, they still earn less than their peers. And while the phenomenon of the “gig economy,” made possible by businesses like Uber, Lyft, Amazon, and Instacart, makes side-hustling much more accessible, it lacks the promise of job security that many desire so as to ensure the wellbeing of their families.
There is still work to be done, but the news of a thriving economy, especially after the debilitating recession of 2008, is cause for hope! —Mariel Lindsay
Columbine Survivor Loses Long Battle with Depression and Drug Addiction
Twenty years ago, the Columbine High School massacre, at the time the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, terrorized the nation. Twenty years later one of the survivors, Austin Eubanks, lost his battle to depression and drug addiction that began after he was shot twice during the shooting and forced to watch his best friend be killed.
Eubanks became addicted to pain-killers following the shooting, his addiction spiraling so out of control that he eventually lost his career, his wife, and his children. He turned to stealing cars and writing fraudulent checks to feed his drug habit, ending up in prison where he finally hit rock-bottom. He committed to rehab and later became an addiction counselor, traveling the country to speak out on the mental-health and addiction crises crossing the nation.
Speaking to an audience at the Kentucky Harm Reduction Summit in April, he said, “We live in a culture today that is ill-equipped to address emotional pain in a healthy fashion.” He cited drugs and social media as two toxic ways people numb their existential pain, and referred to his own past personal experiences with depression. Still, he seemed to be doing well, and those close to them said they had no idea he was struggling internally.
Then, this past weekend, Eubanks was found dead. Though no official autopsy reports have been released, his family announced in a statement that he had “lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face.” His tragic passing is a reminder that survivors of severe trauma often face a lifelong struggle. It is also a reminder that drugs pose a grave danger to public health. Those who worked with him in his fight to understand and combat depression and addiction say they will continue with their mission. —ML
Rest in Peace, Judith Kerr
Judith Kerr, author of the beloved children’s classic The Tiger Who Came for Tea, passed away this week at the age of 95. Over her 50-year career, Kerr wrote more than 30 children’s books, including a series about an accident-prone character named Mog.
Born in Germany to Jewish parents, Kerr’s formative years were marked by her family’s escape from the Third Reich to Switzerland. The family moved through France and ultimately sought refuge in London during the Blitz. Her semi-autobiographical book, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, reflects on this time from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl. The book is now a frequently assigned text for students in Germany.
After the war, Kerr studied stenography and cared for the injured with The Red Cross. Three ladies paid for her education at a boarding school, and she later won a scholarship to Central School of Arts and Crafts. She honed her talent for illustration during her twenties, teaching, painting nursery murals, and occasionally selling pictures.
She married screenwriter Nigel Kneale after a chance meeting in the BBC canteen. As a homemaker for children Tacy and Matthew, Kerr conjured the idea of a tiger coming around for tea as a way to liven up the long afternoons with small children. She began publishing her books in her forties. Her colleagues, friends, and family cherished her sharp wit and ready laughter, describing her as “someone who could always see the good in something.”
Kerr’s later years were marked by a real delight in her work. Her dedication to both art and family is apparent in a video where she speaks about art as an antidote to loneliness in the wake of her husband’s death. Her latest book, The Curse of the School Rabbit, will be published in June, and a television special about the Tiger Who Came for Tea is due out Christmas 2019, ensuring that children will continue to enjoy Kerr’s imaginative whimsy for years to come. —Rachel Wilkerson
The Reign of ‘Game of Thrones’ Ends After Eight Years
On Sunday, the finale of HBO’s series Game of Thrones aired, bringing the long-reigning eight season show to an end. The show, which first aired in 2011 and is based on author George R. R. Martin's best-selling book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, has been controversial from the start, and so it seems fitting that its ending was equally disputed and controversial among its gargantuan fanbase. Without giving away any spoilers, many fans (myself included) felt that the final season diverted from its original themes and storylines, and delivered what would have been an otherwise acceptable ending to the intricate story of Westeros in a rather disappointing and lackluster way. Now that GOT is finished, it will be interesting to see what show takes its place in our cultural zeitgeist. —Gabriella Patti
Good News of the Week
At historically black Morehouse College’s 2019 commencement, celebrated this past Sunday, speaker Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, pledged to pay off the student loans for the entire graduating class. The funds will be distributed via a grant Smith’s family plans to establish, in addition to a previous gift of $1.5 million to the school. Estimations suggest the sum for the 400 students in the class will come to about $40 million, a fraction of Smith’s estimated worth of $5 billion.
Studies show that African American students “are more likely than their peers to take out federal student loans regardless of whether they attend public or private institutions or community colleges.” One study showed over 80 percent of African American students take out undergraduate loans, compared with over 60 percent of white and Latino students. Almost 50 percent of black students defaulted on federal loans and many owed more than 100 percent of what they borrowed within 12 years of starting college.
This incredible act of generosity means that these graduates will have more opportunities to start businesses, support their families, and chase their dreams. We can’t wait to see where their journeys take them. —LS
Watch of the Week
Prepare your tea and biscuits: TWO official Downton Abbey movie trailers dropped this past week! Per usual, the Dowager (Dame Maggie Smith) stole the show!
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