Last month, students from around the world participated in my #MyFreedomDay to celebrate freedom and raise awareness about modern-day slavery.
At the Bangalore International School in India, students in the third and fourth grades talked about what freedom means to them.
At the Saint Mary of the Hills school in Argentina, students composed a song about freedom.
At the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, students signed a petition urging governments to take action to help stop modern-day slavery and human rights abuses.
If there’s something we can learn from these concerned students, it’s their care and their desire to raise awareness and take action into bringing about a world of safety and freedom. Though young, they remind us of the innate goodness of humanity, thereby planting the seeds of hope for a better future and inspiring us adults to take action.
When it comes to human trafficking, people sometimes tend to feel detached from the issue. Since – according to their misconceptions – it’s not happening in their backyards, they feel that there isn’t anything they can do about it. That, of course, is not quite true. In fact, since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported 40,200 cases of human trafficking – the majority of which are sex trafficking cases – in the United States. Here in Richmond, Virginia, we are ranked the ninth highest in the country for the most reported cases per capita of human trafficking, according to a report published in 2017 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And it’s not just about where it occurs or how close it is to us or how much at risk we personally are; it’s about how we can unknowingly be complicit in a system that upholds human trafficking.
For example, when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of children, it’s important to recognize how we end up contributing to the problem in our daily lives and what steps we can take to dismantle our own harmful contributions. The solution starts with self-awareness—recognizing our own biases, our own flaws, and where we need to improve on ourselves.
Another way to reduce our indirect, but harmful, impact on this issue is by being conscious consumers who are mindful of what brands or companies we are supporting. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are over 370 line items believed to have been produced by child labor or forced labor. In fact, popular clothing companies such as Adidas, Gap, and H&M were believed to have ties to slave labor, according to an article published in Salon. Sadly, this applies to a long list of companies, ranging from Walmart to Victoria’s Secret to Starbucks – who, through prison slavery, exploit people’s labor for profit just like human trafficking does – to Nestle. The same goes for sex trafficking, as well, which has an estimated 4.5 million victims worldwide. For example, are we conscious of whether we visit and support strip clubs where workers are forced to provide commercial sex to customers? Are we researching to make sure we’re not supporting illicit massage businesses that force human trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex?
As citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to be mindful of which practices and which industries our time and money are supporting and ask ourselves if we are – albeit unintentionally – complicit in contributing to modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Whether it’s through using methods such as boycotting and buycotting to become more deliberate consumers or by doing our part to raise awareness about human trafficking (like the active students who participated in #MyFreedomDay), there are always ways we can help – if even in the tiniest bit – to end human trafficking. One of the most powerful methods to go about enacting change is by addressing the root of the problem.
Like all forms of oppression, human trafficking is intersectional. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are various recurring vulnerabilities among victims of trafficking, especially sex trafficking. For example, immigration status is a recurring vulnerability; strip club networks often target victims of particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Those in vulnerable financial situations, such as individuals who have debt or family debts, are often targets for sex trafficking as well.
This pattern is not unique to the United States, of course; the same goes for those targeted for sex trafficking all around the world. In Italy, migrants from Nigeria who come in pursuit of educational and economic equality are highly at risk for sex trafficking. Even in Canada, the indigenous population makes up just 4% of the nation, yet 50% of those trafficked for sex due to a legacy of poverty and racism. However, by empowering individuals from marginalized communities, supporting immigrant and indigenous people’s rights, and continuing to stand up for racial justice, as well as economic justice, we can help prevent more people from falling into human trafficking.
Lastly, it is important to ensure that there are always safe havens for survivors of trafficking and for those who come from marginalized populations at a risk to be trafficked. It’s not just about providing physical places of refuge, but about creating a society that is, at large, a place of security and freedom. It’s about all of us becoming safe havens ourselves, about becoming individuals who use our own privileges and power to bring about a safer and more just world.
Which practices have your time and money supported this week? What have you done today to empower other individuals? And what will you do tomorrow to embody a safe haven within yourself?
Featured image: CNN: https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/myfreedomday
Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.