Written by Kim Merrikin
on January 30, 2019
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month—but the need for advocates who are willing to lend their voices to bring awareness to the issue of sex trafficking is year-round. Every day in the Seattle area 2,000–3,000 women, men, and children are being exploited in the sex trade. A 2014 study by the University of Arizona concluded that there were 6,800 local sex buyers soliciting sex on one site in a 24 hour period—and it’s estimated that there are 100+ sites where a buyer can go to solicit sex in our region.
Human trafficking occurs 365 days a year, so, as January comes to a close, and the topic of sex trafficking isn’t as prevalent in your social media feeds, we want to invite you to continue to participate in raising awareness of this problem in our region and society. Here are five ways you can continue your advocacy for victims and survivors of sex trafficking:
In our last blog we wrote about what it means to honor survivors—including honoring their stories and their voices. Many survivors have written books, and maintain an active presence on social media, making it easy to learn from them and amplify their voices. Their voices are unique, beautiful, and powerful—you can check out some books by survivors here and here are a few survivors and survivor-led organizations to tune in to on social media: @GEMSGirls, Alisa Bernard, Shannon Dingle, Seattle OPS, Rebecca Bender, Jerome Elam, Shandra Woworuntu, Janet Mock .
Honoring survivors means honoring the struggle, their strength, their voices, their stories, and their journey. As you continue to raise awareness, does the content you’re sharing, and the words you’re posting meet that threshold? Or does it continue to portray victims and survivors of sex trafficking as disgraced, dishonorable, incapable, and something less than people who are wholly worthy of dignity, honor, and respect? Share articles and images that bring honor, not shame, to those who have been exploited.
This goes hand-in-hand with honoring survivors. We know first hand it is often difficult to depict victims and survivors of sex trafficking. At REST, we often use modeled photos and stock photography to represent exploited individuals—but we try to focus on images that depict survivors as strong, free, and full of hope. Barcode tattoos, tape over mouth, and chained girls and boys emphasize the dishonor that many survivors experience, not the honor and dignity they deserve. As you seek to raise awareness, ask yourself: Does the imagery in this post reduce survivors to the abuse and exploitation they endured? Is it sensationalist? Or does it show the freedom, safety, and hope that we’re seeking to fight for? Does this image perpetuate shame, or bring honor?
REST is one of several organizations on the ground working with victims and survivors in the greater Seattle region. While sexual exploitation is present in every community, each community’s response is different, with different organizations focusing on tackling different aspects of the problem. While there are some key national organizations like Polaris, who operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, take the time to learn which local organizations in your community are operating shelters, drop-in centers, offering advocacy services, education and counseling for sex buyers, and helping businesses reduce trafficking
Raising awareness online is important. Thanks to social networking sites, our voices can be amplified far beyond what we can do in face-to-face interactions. One-on-one conversations are still extremely important, however, as they often create a deeper impact than reading an article online, or seeing a graphic in a feed. This could be as simple as choosing to discuss the issue with friends after watching a movie with a scene from the sex trade in it, having a loving conversation with a friend about how porn consumption contributes to sex trafficking, or maybe there’s a popular news story, like Cyntoia Brown being granted clemency, that allows for a conversation. We know speaking about the sex trade can be uncomfortable and intimidating—but those face-to-face discussions have immense power to create a lasting impact on people.
Your voice matters here. Your advocacy, online and in-person matter. You have the power to reach people that may join you in advocacy, become donors to support organizations like REST, or help create policy change. Or maybe somewhere in your social circle there is a sex buyer who doesn’t understand the impact of his choices and doesn’t know that change is possible for him, too.
So, as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month comes to a close—will you join with us and continue to raise your voice and be an advocate that seeks to honor survivors?