By Mikhail Bell
Over the last 12 months, human trafficking has entered the national conversation for reasons good and bad. On September 29, anti-human trafficking supporters put on an event that should gave all opponents of human trafficking cause for celebration. The first evidence is numerical: This year’s DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk raised over $86,000, compared to $67,000 in 2011.
An army of volunteers helped to organize the event, which was held at the Washington Monument. In previous years DCSMS started its walk further West on the National Mall near the Vietnam Memorial.
This year 1,839 walkers stood in solidarity with those whose lives can be best described as modern-day slavery. The Stop Modern Slavery Walk is a microcosm of shifts in national awareness about human trafficking. “More and more I see this issue gaining moment, that’s what the walk tries to do. I think the walk bears witness to that increased momentum.”
Despite its continued success, Stop Modern Slavery Walk director Joe Flippin was measured in his enthusiasm. For Flippin the goal is simply to “include more organizations, more survivors, and mobilize the community” every year.
According to the US State Department, an estimated 27 million people around the world are in conditions consistent with international definitions of forced labor, indentured servitude, and sex trafficking. “Our job is to turn out the community, make them understand this is an issue they can get involved in and connect them to the movement,” Flippin said.
But awareness is only part of the solution. Education is an integral second step. “As people become aware we need to make sure that they are talking about the issue, that they are fully aware [of the associated] issues,” he urged.
The DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk featured speakers, dance troops, and survivor testimonials. It also featured exhibitors from faith-based organizations, such as International Justice Mission, showing that anti-trafficking efforts are a collective undertaking.
Stacy Lewis, a sex trafficking survivor who is now a playwright, delivered a gripping monologue from her one-woman show called “Stolen – From Playgrounds to Streetlights”. After being prostituted for 10 years, Lewis escaped from her pimp. But life away from daily sexual exploitation did not mean that she was free in her mind. Today she is using her traumatic experience to empower others.
27 million is pretty big number. In fact, if all of the trafficked people in the world were a city, it would be more than three times the population of New York City. However increased international awareness and political will suggests that the anti-trafficking community has good reason to be hopeful.
Here is the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, released in mid-June each year. What do you think can be done about human trafficking? What can the Church do combat this gross human rights violation?
Here are photos from the 2012 DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk.