I first learned about the issue of modern day slavery well over ten years ago. It was an unbearably hot and muggy day in the capital city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As I walked the dusty street from my apartment to a local community center, I noticed something I thought was extremely odd. In the middle of the hot day, there were young girls in a local salon. Many of these girls looked like they should have been in school but instead were being made up like beauty queens. I asked a local friend, “Why are these girls dressing up like beauty queens in the middle of this hot day?” She explained to me that these girls worked at the local hotel and restaurant next door. It was at that moment, I learned the horrors and reality of so many women and girls who are forced to give away their bodies often to the highest bidder. This knowledge was confirmed as I returned home later that evening and walked past girls lined up outside the restaurant. At that time, no one was talking about modern day slavery.
Did you know human trafficking is one of the fastest growing industries in our world today?
The human trafficking industry, the buying and selling of people, is the second largest global criminal industry in our world today, generating over 150 billion dollars in annual profits. That is more than the combined annual revenue of Amazon, Google and Ebay. Women and girls make up 98% of victims of sexual exploitation and 55% of those exploited through the labor industry. Since that day in Cambodia, I have met with hundreds of girls and young women who have experienced the most pervasive atrocities one can imagine. My work to combat this issue has taken me to six different countries. I have traveled to brothels, sex bars, night clubs and in some of the most dangerous red light districts. Why? To learn about this issue, listen to stories and help women and girls have an opportunity for freedom. While the statistics are overwhelming, awareness turns to action which turns to hope and change. Some of these hopeful stories have even come from brothel owners themselves who decided to take a stand and turn what was slavery into freedom for so many. I have met amazing women, young girls, men and communities who are working diligently to make sure human trafficking doesn’t go undetected in their countries. There is courage and passion is what makes this international movement.
Did you know slavery also exists here in the United States?
In my city of Atlanta, there are over 300 young women and girls who are trafficked in and out of the city each month. These are young girls, born and raised in the United States, many of them 12-14 years old. Every 3 minutes, a minor is sexually exploited in the United States every year. This is simply not acceptable. There are several organizations in my city and around the nation working to help young girls and women who have escaped the trafficking industry. Beloved Atlanta, is the only two year residential home and program for adult women surviving trafficking, prostitution and addiction in the city. The Samaritan Woman is a fantastic organization working in Baltimore, Maryland to restore women who have been trafficked. A huge gap still remains to help women and girls in the United States.
Want to learn more about slavery in the United States? Watch Jeanita’s Story:
Fortunately, more people know about the issue of trafficking today than ever before. The End It Movement is a global campaign and a coalition of organizations committing to to raise awareness about the issue and work to prevent, rescue and restore women, girls, men and boys from being sold into slavery. Today, individuals, organizations, governments, churches and people around the world come together to shine a light on slavery. Since 2013, the #EndItMovement has raised over 4 million dollars to fight human trafficking and supported over 50 global projects. What began as a simple call to action for college students has had a ripple effect around the world. Will you make the declaration today?