This is the final installment in our three-part series on human trafficking, in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. For background on this complex issue, check out Human Trafficking: The Myths and the Realities and The Fight for Freedom: 7 Organizations Combatting Human Trafficking.
Once you’ve learned more about the myths and realities of human trafficking and the courageous organizations working to end it, you may be inspired to take action. And while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, you as an individual have more power than you might think. Read on for seven ways that you can make an impact in the fight against modern-day slavery.
1. Start a Club or Community Group
It’s hard to remain quiet knowing that human trafficking is going on, so speak up—each voice that spreads the word about the problem is important. Share the story with your friends, colleagues, and fellow concerned citizens, and work together as a group to promote awareness and take action. The students and professors of Mercer University did exactly that when they launched S.T.O.P., an organization that works to end sex trafficking through awareness, action, and dialogue. Recently, S.T.O.P. coordinated the Call to End 21st Century Slavery conference, which hosted over 900 students and citizens from across the country. To get started on your own group, host a meeting to spark interest, then decide on your group’s specific goals. Will you promote awareness, take action, or both? Once you’ve decided, you can plan events and outreach to further spread your message. Find ideas below for what your group can do.
2. Lobby Local Policymakers
In Macon, Georgia, massage parlors often operated without license—and often hosted the commercial sex trade. So S.T.O.P lobbied Macon’s mayor, city council, secretary of state, and state senator to pass SB 364, making it a law for all massage parlors to operate under legitimate licensing. You are a powerful voice in your community and your state. So if you want to see something done about human trafficking in your area, reach out to your local politicians. Schedule a meeting with them to emphasize why trafficking should be on their priority list and suggest ways they can help end this problem in your community—as well as across the nation and around the world.
3. Hold an Event to Raise Awareness
College students Justine D’Souza and Justine Yu realized the need for students to address trafficking in a social environment, so, as officers of the Rutgers University Campus Coalition Against Trafficking, they launched the annual Stop the Traffick Jamconcert, which brings bands and speakers together to promote awareness and raise money for an international anti-trafficking organization. The group also hosts an annual coffee house to talk to other students about trafficking. And you can do the same! Host an event—as simple as a potluck or as elaborate as a formal conference—to spread the word about trafficking and help others gain a better understanding of what’s really going on.
4. Launch a Research Project
Understanding trafficking isn’t about barging into brothels or passing judgment. It takes research, cultural understanding, and even personal experience to get a good grasp on the issues. Recent college grads Alexandra Wolf and Mona Sulieman wanted to do just that, so the two are journeying across the U.S. to learn more about the issue and dispel the myth that it’s only an issue of the developing world. (You can follow their experience looking into the domestic challenge and response to trafficking on their blog, Traffic in Our Streets.) But you don’t have to travel far to do something similar. If you have a paper, thesis, or presentation coming up, consider investigating human trafficking in relation to your sector or field of interest. No matter what you do, there’s likely a way that you can contribute your expertise to the dialogue on trafficking.
5. Snag a Job at an Anti-Trafficking Organization
In a professional setting, fighting human trafficking can be intense, frustrating, and emotional, but it’s also extremely rewarding, and if you’re really passionate about the movement, it’s a great way to make a big impact. After working as a crisis counselor and advocate for victims of sexual assault, Laura Phillip wanted to use her experience on an international stage, so she moved to Thailand to become the director of COSA. Now, she manages the daily activities of the young women at Ban Yuu Suuk shelter, a haven for at-risk and formerly trafficked girls, coordinates volunteers, and develops programs in trafficked communities. If you’re interested in working for an anti-trafficking organization, start by learning as much as you can about the subject. Expand your network on social media, and follow the different organizations that interest you online. Then, volunteer in a variety of rolesto gain experience and get a sense for the specific positions you’d like and goals you want to achieve.
6. Pursue a Fellowship
If working in the anti-trafficking field interests you, but you aren’t ready to commit to anything long-term, apply for a short fellowship instead. There are many programs—anywhere from a few months to a year or longer—that will give you firsthand exposure in the fight to end human trafficking. The Not For Sale Campaign and Polaris Project both offer fellowships that allow you to play an integral role in their work.
7. Avoid Products and Companies that Facilitate Human Trafficking
According to research by the Polaris Project, human trafficking often operates alongside legitimate businesses. From chocolate companies to electronics producers, a number of corporations use human trafficking and forced labor as a means to making the most profit on their product. You can find out which companies still use slave labor in the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Do your research to make sure your investments are socially responsibleand benefit companies that don’t take advantage of modern day slaves.
Whether you work within an anti-trafficking organization, discuss the issue with friends, or just rethink the purchases you make daily, the biggest aid in the fight against human trafficking is you—and your power as an individual agent of change.
The Daily Muse's Human Trafficking Series
Part 3: Take Action: 7 Ways to Join the Fight Against Human Trafficking
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Pinto.
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author