In honor of National Freedom Day today, I want to cast a spotlight on a global issue that speaks to my heart – human trafficking. I often get asked why I started my volunteer work. For me, it was a couple of reasons. I was hungry to do something that truly feeds my soul and fuels my purpose outside of my former 9-5 advertising job. I wanted to work for organizations that support and advocate for women and children. I wanted to be involved with organizations that take initiatives to combat human trafficking, especially sex-trafficking, which continues to threaten the safety and basic human rights of women and children. The usual reaction I get when giving that response to people is typically one of surprise. Understandably so since human/sex-trafficking is such a dark topic and not one that is often discussed (which in and of itself is a problem). The unequivocally atrocious nature of this modern-day slavery, where victims are being coerced or tricked into exploiting their bodies and abuse to help traffickers profit from this evil business is utterly sickening to me.
Migrants, refugees, women, children, and especially homeless and runaway youth with no one to advocate for them, are most vulnerable as preys for human traffickers. Not every sex trafficking case starts off violently. Case in point is the story of then-18 year old Jasmine Marino-Fiandaca, who was targeted by a man whom she thought was her doting boyfriend. Unknowingly being groomed for what’s to be a life of violence, oppression, and enslavement, he deceptively lured her with extravagant gifts and special attention, leading her to believe she scored the dream life. She eventually realized her life was anything but a dream. It turned into a horrific nightmare when the gifts and seduction turned into beatings and threats in captivity, and she was forced to do things she never dreamed of doing. This new life of hers would go on for seven excruciating years. From working at massage parlors, a Danish health club in Maine, to various hotels in Massachusetts, she felt she had no choice but to resign to her harrowing fate…until she shrewdly broke free from her trafficker. Though it understandably took time for her to recover, she eventually found love, hope, and the support system she needed through women in her church community. Jasmine’s story of courage and strength as a sex-trafficking survivor provides a strong platform of hope, advocacy, and awareness to many, yet there are still so many other voices that are lost in the silence.
7,572 human trafficking cases were reported last year (73% of which were specifically sex-trafficking). A much greater number of trafficking victims remain silent and invisible, not only to society, but also to governments and law enforcements globally. Traffickers go to great lengths to keep their victims isolated to prevent discovery. Coupled with the fact that there are many victims who are intimidated and fearful of running away, the true picture of just how many trafficking victims are among us is consequently, harder to quantify. Furthermore, the lack of coverage/discussion and the rise of modern technology is also perpetuating this silent underground crime. The anonymity these technologies are providing to traffickers facilitates this growing epidemic of human trafficking, as well as further accessibility and dissemination of exploitative content. All these factors are unfortunately contributing to this culture of impunity for traffickers. In other words, these perpetrators are able to live their lives unpunished and continue to profit from this heinous crime.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
While human trafficking sounds like a global problem that may seem too large to tackle, there are ways we can help. No help is deemed too big or small, it is still at the end of the day, a beacon of hope. Hope that we can still affect change and hopefully end this modern-day slavery, and be the strong, comforting, and encouraging voice for the many who have been stripped of theirs.
> Get Involved or Donate to Organizations (below are just a few of the many organizations around the country)
- Dream Center (Los Angeles) – http://www.dreamcenter.org/get-involved/
- Safe Horizon (NYC) – https://www.safehorizon.org/
- Not For Sale (San Francisco) – https://www.notforsalecampaign.org/
- Polaris Project (DC) – https://polarisproject.org/
- AmirahBoston (Boston) – http://www.amirahboston.org/
- Refuge for Women (multiple locations) – http://www.refugeforwomen.org/safe-house/
> Talk About It
- Just starting a dialogue with friends and spreading the word helps too. I recently had a conversation with my dental hygienist about this very issue. What I’m able to gather from previous talks with people is I think a lot of us don’t realize just how prevalent human trafficking is, and that many victims sold in the trafficking business are also Americans, not just foreigners. (Jasmine is from Boston).
> Report Suspicious Activity to Local Law Enforcement
– Call 911 if it’s an emergency or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center toll-free hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
> Take A Pledge with UNICEF
- If you would like to take a stance against human trafficking, but not sure if you have the time to commit to an organization, you can lend your support by pledging here.
I know this has been a lengthy (and not the most light-hearted) post, but my hope is that you were able to learn just a little bit more about human trafficking than you did prior to reading this.