‘When our grandchildren ask us where we were when the voiceless and the vulnerable in our era needed leaders of compassion and purpose, I hope we can say that we showed up, and that we showed up on time.’ Gary Haugen, founder of IJM.
For all of December I wore only two dresses for the entire month (yes, I washed them between wears). If you’ve been following me on Instagram you are probably well aware of this because I foolishly attempted to take a photo each day (I’m definitely not trying that again). I did this as part of the Dressember campaign which aims to raise awareness of modern day human trafficking and raise funds to support organisations working to bring freedom, justice and restoration to women who have been enslaved. For many of you slavery may seem like an abstract or historical concept, but I want to urge you to think differently.
Today, it is estimated more than 40 million people are enslaved world-wide. (1) This is more than at any other point in human history. Slavery exists in every city around the world. Its victims are predominantly women and children, who are often the target of sex trafficking. This form of slavery is particularly insidious. Many impoverished or desperate women are lured into the trade with false promises of a job before being broken and enslaved, forced to sell their bodies over and over. (2) This doesn’t only happen in poorer nations, human trafficking occurs in the US, the UK, and here in Australia.
I remember hearing about this issue just after I finished highschool. I was blown away by the scope and the horror of this trade. I thought slavery of this scale had ended with the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the nineteenth century. While I knew it still existed in pockets, it shocked me to hear stories of the sophisticated systems traffickers had developed of entrapping victims, taking them across borders, raping and abusing them, breaking them into submission, then placing the women in public spaces knowing they wouldn’t run away. Yet at the same time as I discovered this horrible trade, I also learnt about the incredible work being done around the world to fight it through organisations such as International Justice Mission (IJM) and A21.
IJM ‘is a global organization that protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems’. (3) Founder Gary Haugen’s central philosophy is that in order to bring an end to poverty and violence in the developing world we must focus on justice. Without systems that protect people and prevent injustice, all the aid in the world is only being poured into a bottomless bucket. IJM operate in offices all around the world. Their key strategy is to partner with those working in the local justice system to rescue victims, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice. (4) And they are seeing amazing changes around the world as a result of their work. When they first established their office in Cambodia, approximately 15-30% of those exploited in the sex industry were children. After working in the region for 12 years, a 2015 study revealed less than 0.1% of the people in the sex trade were children under 15. (5)
A21’s aim is to abolish slavery in the 21st century. A huge part of their campaign to raise awareness is to show the human side behind the overwhelming statistics. A21 states: ‘the heart of our organization is the one. The one woman, the one man, the one child trapped and exploited, unable to see another end to their story. But we see the one, and we fight for the one, and we sacrifice to restore the one… to give them freedom and independence and the chance at a better story.' (6) A21 operate in 11 different nations across the world. Working not only to free women from slavery, but also to prosecute human traffickers, bring about restoration in the lives of women, and educate the public about how to recognise the signs of trafficking. A unique part of the work A21 do is their education programs which aim at preventing human trafficking and also making everyday slavery visible to the public to help increase tip-offs to law enforcement, the rescue of victims and the prosecution of traffickers.
What Dressember aims to do it to support these organisations in the work they do by mobilising women and men around the world to shine a light on this issue by wearing a dress, or a bowtie, for the month of December. They harness the power of advocates around the world to raise awareness and funds. In the words of A21 founder, Christine Caine, ‘when a lot of people do a little, it adds up and makes a difference.’ This year over 3,000 people participated in the campaign and raised almost 2 million dollars to support the work of IJM and A21 as well as the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Centre.
Throughout December I personally got the chance to talk to family and friends about this issue, and thanks to your generous donations I raised over US$6,000. The campaign fundraising is open until the end of this month. Dressember haven’t quite reached their goal of raising 2 million dollars so if you would like to donate you can visit my campaign here or you can donate directly to IJM and A21 through their websites. Whether or not you are able to donate I encourage you to find out more about this issue and what you can do to help end human trafficking. Whether its lobbying the government, making sure to buy clothes that aren’t made by slaves or telling those around you about this issue. The first step is learning about the issue, the next step is doing something about it.
(1) IJM Forced Labor and Slavery information, https://www.ijm.org/casework/forced-labor-slavery.
(2) For more information on this see: https://www.ijm.org/sites/default/files/fact-sheets/IJM-Casework_fact-Sheets_Sex-Trafficking.pdf; http://www.a21.org/content/human-trafficking/gnib89.
(3) IJM mission statement, https://www.ijm.org.
(4) More information about their model and its impact can be found here: https://www.ijm.org/how-we-work.
(5) Sex trafficking fact sheet, https://www.ijm.org/sites/default/files/fact-sheets/IJM-Casework_fact-Sheets_Sex-Trafficking.pdf.
(6) A21 mission statement, http://www.A21.org/content/who-we-are/gnihwo.