There’s a new conversation happening in town: human trafficking. This multi-billion dollar criminal industry is something that wasn’t on everyone’s radar until this year, and many of us have recently been flooded with news reports and social media outcries surrounding human trafficking, especially of children. This unimaginable crime seems to have suddenly taken the world by storm, but modern day slavery has always been here, hidden in plain sight. When I first started my journey as co-founder of The Tote Project in 2013, most people I met were shocked to learn that slavery still existed and that it was happening in their hometowns and cities. As awareness has increased, so have the piles of misinformation. The internet is being flooded with sensationalism that is depleting resources for true survivors and perpetuating extreme fear in a world that desperately needs more hope. While this newfound awareness of human trafficking is welcomed, it is incredibly important that we take a moment to sit down and learn the facts.
Let’s start with the basics: Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime. There are two major types, the most well-known being sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is the crime of using force, fraud, or coercion to induce another individual to sell sex. The other is labor trafficking, the crime of using force, fraud, or coercion to induce another individual to work or provide service. Polaris Project does a great job of explaining how the majority of trafficking cases unfold using the Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model. Human trafficking occurs when a perpetrator, often referred to as a trafficker, takes an Action, and then employs the Means of force, fraud, or coercion for the Purpose of compelling the victim to provide commercial sex acts or labor or services.
While much of the information that’s going viral today has been primarily about sex trafficking of children through abduction, this is a remarkably small percentage of the statistics. Such cases do exist, but the majority of cases of human trafficking are by someone they know. One in four victims who are trafficked are children, many of which are in the foster care system or runaways from abusive and/or broken homes. And while anyone can become a victim, research shows that those faced with hardships, like poverty, are more likely to be vulnerable to traffickers. African Americans and people of color are also more likely to get trafficked, due in part to policies that limit economic opportunities and attitudes or stereotypes that make them less likely to be seen as victims. Now that you have a better understanding of human trafficking, I’d like to highlight a few ways that you can make a difference!
1. Get educated. There are a lot of extremely informative books on human trafficking. Click here for a deep dive into human trafficking education. You’ll learn about each form of modern day slavery, read accounts from survivors, and discover how to make an impact.
2. Shop fair. Did you know that human trafficking stretches to your grocery aisle and favorite clothing stores? To keep costs low for consumers and meet high demands, companies worldwide use unsafe working conditions, child labor and unethical business practices to pocket more profits. This is where the important phrase, “Put people before profits,” comes to mind. And you can do this by voting with your dollar. Support fair trade businesses (think Ten Thousand Villages, Downtown Asheville who pay fair wages to the many artisans they support in developing countries) and brands working to end human trafficking in their supply chains and beyond.
3. Host a documentary night. Knowledge is key, and there are a lot of great documentaries out there that share powerful stories about human trafficking. After viewing a documentary from our list of recommendations with friends or family, discuss the thoughts and feelings amongst your guests. Trigger warning: The content of these films can be very upsetting for some viewers and are only intended for mature audiences.
4. Donate and/or volunteer. Research organizations working to end human trafficking in your area (like Our VOICE here in Asheville) and reach out to see how you can make an impact. You’ll find that the need for volunteers and funding is significant, and everyone has something special to contribute. For example, we host art therapy sessions for survivors through our nonprofit partnerships. Who would have thought that art could help end human trafficking?
5. Report a tip. Learn the signs of human trafficking by clicking here. If you suspect a person you know is being trafficked, please call the Human Trafficking Hotline Number at 888-3737-888 or text BEFREE.
I hope this helps you feel less overwhelmed with the statistics and more inspired to join the movement. My best friend and I started The Tote Project as a way to spread hope and simply learning the facts about human trafficking can be your first step for a cause that needs all the loving action it can get. We’ve seen firsthand through our volunteer opportunities, donations, and speaking engagements that everyone has the power to change the world. A simple act of kindness can create a ripple of hope that touches countless lives and inspires others to do the same.
For hope and freedom,
Fay Grant, co-founder of The Tote Project