There is something inside you that screams when you hear about the precious lives of men, women, and children who are coerced and exploited in the name of money, or power, or greed. Maybe you’ve heard a story of someone who was trafficked and you just can’t get them out of your mind. Or maybe you read some research, or found a statistic, that is reshaping the way you view the world. Your heart beats faster when you think of the injustice of tall, and your fingers, your feet, your entire being just wants to move, to run, to act.
Welcome: we desperately need you in this fight. We need you to be angry. We need your heart to be broken – over, and over again. We need you to feel that niggling in your bones that just won’t go away. We need you to use your skills, your opportunities, your influence. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, and it is ever-evolving. It affects millions (the last official estimate was 45 million) of people, robbing them of the very things that should be celebrated: their freedom, their dignity, their innate and infinite worth as human beings. We need you to be bothered about that.
But I need to tell you something: there just isn’t a quick fix to this. I’ve tried, and failed, to find one. Human trafficking is driven by greed for power and money: it takes advantage of so many forms of human vulnerability. And it is enabled by tireless consumption, by weak legislation, by corrupt structures, by blind eyes.
So our approach needs to be as wide as it is deep. And it is: you have joined a global army of people fighting for the freedom of others. Activists and teachers, DJs and marathon runners, parents and legislators, youth groups and fashion designers, and just about everyone in between. We are many. We are strong. And we need you.
What is your task to carry out in this freedom army? Can you write? Do that. Do you understand policy well? Help form the future. Are you a cheerleader? Embolden others. Can you counsel? Can you organise? Can you bake? Can you run? Can you teach? Do that. And do it well.
Your role is what is in your hands. You are unique. You are wonderful. You are important. And you are needed.
But, friend, I need to remind you that our fight will take time. Wilberforce, one of history’s most celebrated abolitionists, achieved his goal in Parliament in 1807 when his Slavery Act received Royal Assent – but that was only after 30 years of climbing uphill. Rosa Parks, the ‘first lady of civil rights’, famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person on the first of December, 1955, but she writes in her autobiography that she had spent years in the process of awakening to injustice prior to this. The Suffragettes campaigned for women’s voting rights from 1909 until, through a chain of tact and sacrifice and persistence, women won the right to vote in the UK in 1928.
It’s not going to be quick, nor is it going to be shiny. You will do things that no one knows anything about. You will have to work to tune out the noise. You will make difficult choices. You will be frustrated. You will stay when everyone else has gone home. You will burn the candle at both ends. You may be unpopular. You will knock on the same door several times. You will be tired.
But then you will pick yourself up again. You will remember what broke your heart at the very beginning. You will become more and more generous, more and more connected, more and more brave: all the things that trafficking is not. You will see that you are not alone. You will learn to breathe and keep space for yourself, and for others. You will grow defiant of the darkness. And you will continue to punch holes in it.
Take stock of what is happening: are their gaps in the law, in provision for victims, in community response? With wise counsel, consider how to fill them. Invent, build, create solutions.
If you see something that is good: support it. Don’t replicate it. This is important. Jump on board the moving train – don’t create another which will confuse or congest.
Ask why: find the root causes of trafficking, the things that allow it to flourish. Poverty, lack of education, sexism, isolation, relationship breakdown, racism… Do what you can to address those.
Open your eyes: chances are that human trafficking happens where you are. Know what it looks like, and know where to report it.
Shout: your voice is your greatest weapon. Use it. Tell the people you know about how to spot the signs of trafficking. Campaign for change. Call your local politician. Equip others. Speak up.
Use the power that is found in your wallet: vote with your cash. Ask questions, write letters, put your money where your mouth is and demand a supply chain free of exploitation.
If human trafficking is the degrading of the value we believe is found in every person, then your response is to re-inject that sense of value back in the world: treat people with dignity. Listen to their stories. Create safe spaces. Respect difference. Protect, uphold, celebrate the worth of the people around you.
Carve out your vision for the world and work, hard, to make it come to life. Join forces with those around you. Use what is in your hands. Create thoughtful, clever solutions. Become familiar with the darkness: and see it slowly crack, revealing streams and beams of beauty, and hope…and freedom.
And then, friend, watch them grow ever stronger.