January is Nation Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the U.S., and you only have to take a peek at my social media to know that this is something that is extremely important to me. I am passionate about helping people, but I’m also a part of what feels like a small population of people who think that empowerment is key. Often when trafficking is discussed or fought against, we as a society focus on the “victim” in a way that imposes helplessness on a person who has been exploited and abused. And while I 150% agree that there are many people out there that need rescuing, and help to heal from the abuse and trauma that they have lived through, we CANNOT end the conversation there.
Here’s the thing: there are people in this world that have endured and are enduring horrific trauma. These people often are isolated from the rest of society, and forced into actions that they do not want to perform. These people’s voices are taken away so that they cannot protest their lot in life. And in these scenarios and more, it is extremely important for emergency rescue, relief and care be provided to these people. We are social beings, designed to be in community with each other, and when pain and hurt occurs, we need to gather around each other in support. But I find in many organizations and ministries, we stop at this point. Very rarely do I see an emphasis to reteach these people that while they have been victimized, but they are not victims. They have been exploited, but they are not helpless. Once immediate care has been provided, it must be a part of the healing process to remind them and reteach them to stand on their own two feet and fight back.
While horrific in nature, the crimes done to these people are now a part of their story. The critical point that I’m seeking to make here is that this trauma is NOT THEIR WHOLE STORY. We need to be in the business of teaching people that the pain and injustice done against them does not define them. They cannot let that dictate and become their identity. This should not be the only thing that these people are know for. If, for example, Sara, who is an extremely talented ice-dancer, is trafficked and later rescued, which part of her story is going to be most associated with her from that point on, her ice-dancing, or the crimes done against her? Sara will never forget this part of her story, but she should be given the opportunity to have an identity that isn’t clouded completely by this time in her life.
In our hearts to help and fight for those who are hurting, we have to be careful not to take away someone’s right to fight for themselves. Lets be in the business of giving someone’s voice back, empower them to fight for justice in this, and provide the necessary support to them in this. Let’s fight for them when they don’t have a voice to speak, but the instant they are rescued, let’s fight WITH them, surrounding them on all sides with support. It’s not that they should be able to fight independently, but rather that they know how to fight and are supported and empowered to do so.
*Last month, I was a part of a campaign to raise money to support the fight against human trafficking. The campaign is called Dressember, and involved me wearing a dress every day for the month of December. And I love knowing that the two organizations that we partner with (International Justice Mission & A21) are both passionate about rehabilitation so that survivors are empowered to be independent, and capable. Survivors are given the opportunity to fight against their traffickers by testifying against them in court, and assisting in their arrests. The Dressember campaign is still live, until the end of this month. If you are passionate about this issue, or would like more information, please consider donating and getting more information at: https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraiser/809887
If you’d like more information about IJM or A21, here are some links to their websites: