It is human trafficking awareness day and many will show where they stand in online posts, something they wear, or an event they participate in. For some, this is all they will do for the rest of the year. Putting a stop to human trafficking is a 365 days a year task, and all of us have a part to play. Some don't take action because they are not sure how. Here are three ways you can start combatting human trafficking today.
1) Break stereotypes.
I am a survivor of sex trafficking as a child. I also know many men and women who were also trafficked at various stages in life. The one thing most of us have in common in our stories was the struggle to self-identify, and therefore really heal and get help for the trauma's we had survived. I have not met one person who was caged, handcuffed to a bed, held in a basement, kidnapped, or dragged from underneath a bed while explaining to our "specifically skilled dad" everything we saw... I am not saying those things do not happen, they do and it is horrendous, but so is everything that myself and other survivors have experienced. It looks different in the US and has a defining notes of coercion, brainwashing, and abuse. Many are trafficked through a false relationship with someone. Our loved ones are threatened and instead of chains we wear fake smiles to make everyone think we are ok, we want what is happening, and there is absolutely nothing wrong.
A huge part of raising awareness needs to include breaking the stereotypes of a helpless, chained, mouth taped, and dirty human because we are missing hundreds of victims by looking for the small percentage that fit that mental picture. When you post about human trafficking awareness day or month, consider the images you are perpetuating in people's heads. Instead of grabbing something off of your "human trafficking" google image search (most of which are absolutely horrible and misrepresenting photos), look for images that are being created by well respected anti-trafficking organizations like GEMS, Rebecca Bender Ministries, Truckers Against Trafficking, Shared Hope International, or create your own!
2) Buy Ethical.
What many do not realize is that most of the products you consume are made by a slave who is barely compensated, if at all for their long hours of work in likely dangerous conditions. There is actually a label certification to make the process of consuming ethically a lot easier. It is called Fair Trade. For some of you, “Fair Trade” might be a new term. It is a product certification that regulates trade conditions between factories, farmers, and buyers by incentivizing long-term relationships and higher wages. The product can be traced to ethical sources all the way down to the packaging. You might be surprised how many slaves are working for you. You can find a list of certified products on the Fair Trade USA site - but understand that their list is not exhaustive. There are many ethically conscious companies that are not necessarily on their list. Free 2 Work is also another great resource for researching companies on their graded rating scale.
Another way to purchase ethical products is to purchase American made, but be sure it is not simply assembled in the US. It is still slave made if every part of the item came from a sweatshop, but an American put it together. Purchasing locally produced, second hand, or organic can also cut down on your slavery footprint. The best way to start is to choose one thing you want to commit to buying that is fair trade. For me, I choose chocolate! You can easily find fair trade chocolate among other items at places like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Kroger, and in the health food section at many grocery stores. If you would like to read more on ethical consumption check out one of my previous blogs.
3) Do something.
You do not have to be in law enforcement or a survivor of trafficking to take action. There are people I know who took simple idea's like creating care bags and handing them out to girls in strip clubs or walking the street one day a week, writing letters to survivors, putting on a yearly 5k or fashion show and have made a massive impact! No idea is too small and you have to start somewhere! There is likely a local organization that you could get involved with, or a ministry who is already serving the vulnerable (homeless, mentally ill, after school program, crisis pregnancy center, etc.). Often times those ministries are assisting victims and they don't even know it. How amazing would it be for them to have a volunteer who has become educated in the red flags of human trafficking!
Self-education is a great thing to do as well. As you learn, the information will likely spark a fire that will bubble over into every aspect of your life. I used almost every paper I had to write in college as to learn more about human trafficking. I also read many books written by survivors and the research of those who have been working in the field for years. You can get a full list of documentaries, books, and research to check out on my resources page.