If you're reading this, it's because everything that you've learned about human trafficking has compelled you to ask yourself, "What more can I do?" You've learned the facts, spread the word to friends, signed the petitions, watched and shared videos. Now you're ready to explore what it means to be a leader in this movement, by working with other student activists, planning your own events, and finding out this month's action step. Read on to find out how. We're glad you're here!

Join or Start a Student Group

Are there other students organizing on your campus? Often times, you can visit the Student Organizations page on your school's website and search for groups addressing 'human trafficking,' 'modern day slavery,' 'sex trafficking' or even general 'human rights.' Contact the leader of this group and let them know you'd like to get involved!

You can also check the websites of many human trafficking organizations to see if they have a chapter at your school. We've listed a few below. If you don't find an existing group on your campus, why not start your own? The below organizations can also help you launch a chapter at your school.

Share What You're Doing

Join the Against Our Will Facebook page to take part in an active forum for student organizers who want to swap ideas, share info and coordinate efforts.

Get Help

Toolkit Download Against Our Will's Student Organizer Toolkit

Talk to Us Need help planning your next event or project? Sign up to speak with Free the Slaves college chapter coordinators ready with advice and tips to help you plan your events and projects. Just fill out the form below to contact them!

See What's New

TRICKED’s Dan Steele Opens Up About Sex Trafficking

There are a number of ways you can take a stand to help end human trafficking. Dan Steele, a sergeant in the Denver Police Department’s vice squad, is taking the fight against trafficking to the streets of Denver, investigating sex trafficking cases and helping trafficking victims to become survivors. He’s currently featured in TRICKED, a documentary film on sex trafficking that’s in the Quad Cinema in New York through December 19. The mtvU Against Our Will Campaign spoke to Dan about his experiences, the issue, and what advice he’d give college students who are interested in the issue.

How did you get involved with TRICKED?

I became involved with TRICKED due to my position at the time as the Supervisor of the Denver Police Vice Team. Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson approached my boss about filming with the Vice Team while we conducted enforcement operations.  While it was intimidating to be filmed, I was happy to collaborate on the process.  People need to hear about trafficking, and my department and I wanted to help Jane and John-Keith get the message out.

What’s the number one thing you wish people knew about sex trafficking?

I really want people to know that human trafficking is going on right here.  In the United States, in your state, in your city. This is not just an international problem.  There are people being exploited through the commercial sex industry in your community right now.  The exploited person may be your neighbor, your sister, your nephew, your peer or your classmate.

How do you talk to your guy friends about sex trafficking?

I don't have any difficulty talking to my male counterparts about anti-sex trafficking work. Once you educate yourself about the problem and see how disgusting and degrading sex trafficking is, there is no excuse for continuing to support the glamorization of pimps through pimp parties, pimp/ho language, pimp costumes, music about pimping, how-to pimp books, etc.

As for going to brothels and paying for sex, let’s not forget that prostitution is illegal. That’s probably a good reason not to participate in it. You don’t want that going on your record. You don’t want to go to jail, to lose your car or pay thousands of dollars in fines.

But beyond that, and most importantly, I think guys need to think about what they are actually buying.  You are buying a person. What do you really know about that person?  Do you know if they are being controlled by a pimp? Do you know if this is something they are doing by their own free will? I won’t suggest that all people in the sex trade are being trafficked, but how can you know which ones are being forced and coerced to work as your personal sex slave? You don’t really know, and you have to think twice and make your friends think twice before participating in this industry. There is nothing cool about buying someone for sex.

What advice would you give college students to support survivors of sex trafficking?

I would encourage everyone to learn about human trafficking and find out what the current issues and concerns are in their areas. Every community is different, so every community will have a different need. Regardless, non-profits are always looking for volunteers, funding and donations, whether it be hygiene items, clothing or food. We also need people to spread the word and get the message out about this issue.

At UNBOUND, “We Will Not Bend Until Slavery Ends.”

Photo: Moira Pannepacker (center)

My name is Moira Pannepacker and I am a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore.  I am so thankful to be a part of a college campus that is aware of, and educated on social injustices such as human trafficking.  Although Loyola has broadened my involvement on this clandestine issue, I first became aware of it my senior year of high school.  Going to an all-girls academy, we were taught to value the power of a single voice - especially that of a woman, and to fight against those that silenced them through abuses like slavery. That is what I strive for, along with many others: to eliminate the abusers and give voice to the survivors.

My education on human trafficking continued as I involved myself with college life and joined the Free the Slaves club.  FTS is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. that focuses its efforts on ending modern day slavery, and Loyola is lucky to have a college chapter on campus started by alumnae Danielle Melfi. My collaboration with other club members and passion for the issues discussed led me to be one of the leaders of Free the Slaves this year.  With Danielle as my constant mentor, I looked forward with excitement and apprehension to a year of getting my peers educated on this issues that no one seems to talk about.  

The opportunity to get involved arose at the start of the semester when Jessie Emelander from Hovde Foundation reached out to our college chapter and asked if we would like participate in the UNBOUND Anti-Human Trafficking Walk by running the children’s tent.  We jumped at the opportunity to spend time doing arts and crafts with kids at the walk and being representatives of Loyola.  So on October 5th, with our face paint and markers packed, I, along with three other Loyola students, made the journey to Lincoln’s Cottage. 

Words cannot describe the feeling of being intimately gathered for a common cause like human trafficking.   The empowerment, mixed with frustration and passion, was felt by all especially through the words of survivors.  We applied paint to smiling faces for hours, kids and adults alike.  When asked bashfully by teenagers if we were allowed to paint their faces we responded that “this day is for everyone.”  Boys, girls, kids, adults, Americans.  Slavery is a world issue that needs world attention. 

 

UNBOUND made me feel like a part of something greater than myself, greater than even some Loyola students.  Those gathered walked together, talked together, danced together, and our hearts beat as one, literally.  To sum up my first UNBOUND experience, I call to mind a quote from my favorite poet Maya Angelou, “Love recognizes no barriers.  It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”  Therefore, let us join in the chant - “We will not bend until slavery ends.” 

NYU Students Create 'Youth Take Charge': A High School Coalition Against Modern-Day Slavery

Photo: Several co-founders of Youth Take Charge. From left: Tammy Cho, Becca Park, Sachi Pettit, Lauren Kalogridis, Dani Eagan, Adrian Dhanaraj 

As a recent graduate of New York University, I am reflecting on the past four years while looking ahead toward new paths and possibilities. I realize that among my various academic studies, internships, and volunteer work, one passion remains a constant part of my life: seeking an end to human trafficking. 

I first learned about human trafficking during my senior year of high school. I stumbled upon an article about sex slavery in Cambodia. I felt angry, helpless and incredulous that girls my age and younger are enslaved. How could slavery still exist today? Why is it not at the forefront of national, and even international, issues? I decided to learn as much as possible about modern day slavery. I was shocked.  Human trafficking happens everywhere, including in my own hometown, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. I felt compelled to take immediate action. But how could a college student make a difference?

Awareness is the first step. After my first year at NYU, I started a Fair Trade t-shirt campaign in Hawai‘i to spread awareness and raise funds for Free the Slaves. In September 2011, I was invited to promote the t-shirts at the Harvard Summit for Social Entrepreneurship.   

Expanding awareness through education comes next. At NYU, I helped lead a school organization called Against Child Trafficking (ACT). We held weekly meetings to discuss recent news articles, current events, and legislative initiatives to stop human trafficking. ACT also hosted large-scale events, including a speaking engagement with over 450 attendees that featured Somaly Mam—renowned activist, sex slavery survivor and author.   

Inspired by activists like Somaly Mam, I joined forces with several leaders of ACT to create Youth Take Charge (YTC). We realized there was a gap in education about human trafficking in high school curricula and started YTC to bridge that gap through educational workshops and a mentorship program. We created an original 12-week curriculum that takes a comprehensive approach and encourages students to form their own self-led action plans.   

In Spring 2012, we entered the NYU Catherine B. Reynolds Changemaker Challenge Competition. My team drafted a business plan and pitched it to two panels of judges. Our proposal won as “Best Overall Venture.”  We were thrilled to be given the opportunity to make our dream a reality by securing full funding for our first year. 

This past year, we reached over 300 students from all five New York City boroughs through YTC workshops. The students’ thoughtful insights, poignant questions, and overall energy and enthusiasm for YTC workshops did not go unnoticed. We received recognition and a letter of support from Hillary Clinton for YTC and our first annual Youth Take Charge High School Summit.  

In May 2013, we hosted forty exuberant high school students for the Summit on the campus of NYU Law. The Summit gave the students a chance to participate in youth leadership workshops, brainstorm action plans to end human trafficking, and meet other passionate students. For some, attending the Summit was their first time in Manhattan. For many, it was their first time on a college campus. Seeing so many students show up full of hope and passion, I realized that we had far surpassed what we had only hoped might be possible a year and a half earlier. 

I am now in Hawai‘i spending time with my family before returning to New York City. While at home, I am teaching a Youth Take Charge workshop to high school students from my own community. I am also discussing how to improve human trafficking efforts in Hawai‘i with local activists, officials, and lawmakers. 

Even as I explore different career paths, I plan to continue volunteering with Nomi Network--a NYC-based non-profit organization that creates training and job opportunities in Cambodia and India for women at risk and survivors of human trafficking through the production of fair-trade products. I am also excited to help Youth Take Charge expand and grow when I return to New York City later this summer. 

There is always more work to be done, yet even small gestures—like wearing an awareness t-shirt—can lead to large-scale change. A unified coalition of high school students against modern slavery is just one example. I look forward to the helping more young people realize their potential to effect social change—like ending human trafficking.

Now We Know: Film Students Fighting For The Cause Of Freedom

Photo: Cody Brotter and members of Hothouse Productions on the set of "Now You Know" (Audrey Fain, BU '14) 

When I heard my assignment was to make a short film about slavery, I assumed it was a period piece. Hopefully future generations can correctly assume exactly that.

At the beginning of last semester, a small selected group of Film and Television majors gathered in a classroom on the third floor of Boston University’s College of Communication. The course, Hothouse Productions, is a student-run and client-driven production company. Some past clients had been BU alum Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media and Boston Children’s Hospital. This year’s client was of the same philanthropic vein, thanks to award-winning filmmaker Garland Waller – our professor-turned-Executive Producer. With a screen projected on our classroom wall, we began Skyping with the Founder of The No Project, an anti-slavery public awareness initiative, who wasn’t even in our country.

Through that Skype session, research, and the youth-focused campaign for which we were creating the project, our class became painfully aware that slavery is illegal, but in no way abolished. Not just outside our borders -- in our own country and our own backyards. That’s why our assignment was to create a global video. Something the whole world could--and should--watch and appreciate. Something nobody would be able to turn off. And as the sole writer for the project, I had to tell a speechless story representing the three types of slavery (Labor Trafficking, Domestic Servitude, and Commercial Sexual Exploitation) in three minutes. The target demo? Human beings on earth.

With 3AM call times in “wicked cold” Boston, translators from across the globe, a composer studying at Berklee, real-world actors, professional makeup artists, and plenty of Dunkin Donuts, our task of teaching the world about modern-day human trafficking became a learning experience we will never forget. And still, after semesters of post-production and months of site-building, our mission is still at its beginning. I went on to become the Director of Global Communications for The No Project, a non-profit with many such videos to come.

So check out our short film and our short “Making Of” documentary, where you can also read our incredible testimonials from folks like CNN’s Siddharth Kara and NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. And follow the State Department’s lead and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and your iWhatever.

We’re step one in the fight against 21st-century slavery. Because in order to say no to human trafficking in an impactful way, you have to know about human trafficking--and learn about it in an impactful way. Our class sure did and now we’re paying it forward, so that one day, if our children are assigned such a project, they will be telling a story about the past.

A Day in My Life: What it’s Like to Volunteer with the National Runaway Switchboard

Photo: Sofia Katsaggelos

Ever wonder what it’d be like to work for a leading nonprofit that’s trying to empower at-risk youth? We’ve got your backstage pass right here. We’ve asked young people working for some of our favorite organizations to keep a diary of one day in their life – and you’ll be surprised to see what they get up to! This week, Sofia Katsaggelos, a National Runaway Switchboard Liner and Board Member, shares her story.

9:00 a.m. – Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year, which can be sad and dangerous for the people involved. That’s why I start every Sunday at this time volunteering as a liner at the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS), a hotline and online service for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. After a quick hello to the supervisors and the fellow volunteers, I log into my phone and computer account. Then I sit and wait, mentally preparing myself for the upcoming calls to 1-800-RUNAWAY.

9:10 a.m.- “National Runaway Switchboard”, I say into the phone. I receive a call from a youth who has run away and is looking for shelter. I ask basic questions such as: “Are you in a safe place?” “What city and state are you in?” “How old are you?” Based off of these answers, I am able to narrow my search for a nearby shelter. Since it is a Sunday, there are additional challenges getting teens into shelters on weekends. But at NRS, that is not a deterrent. We do our best to help the caller in any way possible.

Ten minutes later, I am able to find a shelter for the caller. I conference call the shelter representative and the youth so everyone is on the same page. Before I hang up the phone, I make sure the youth is comfortable with this situation and clarify that if at any time she needs our support, she should call back. I create a log with the caller’s information, as we track reasons for calls, even though we do not capture specific caller identifying information as calls are kept confidential and caller information is anonymous.

9:40 a.m. – A youth calls who had run away to a different state, and after three weeks of being away, wishes to return home. We begin to talk about why she decided to run away. She states that her mom and she were no longer getting along, they continuously fought, they disagreed on the house rules, and the mom asked her to leave the house. The caller and I begin to talk about how she would change if she were to go home; she would be more respectful of her mother, more willing to listen, etc. I ask the youth for her mom’s number so that I can speak to her about the situation and see what her side of the story is. Next, I call her mom and she explains a similar story; her child was disobeying her and if she were to come home she would have to behave differently in order to make their relationship work. After this conversation, I conference call in the daughter; the conference call is a time for the problems to come out and for solutions to be reached. After the successful conference call and a green light from my supervisor, I book the youth a free bus ticket through the NRS Home Free program done in collaboration with Greyhound Lines, Inc. The mother and daughter will be reunited within 24 hours.

10:30 a.m.- I speak to another caller, 15, who is contemplating running away. He explains that home has been really hard for him lately. His mom recently got a new boyfriend and the house feels crowded, which has caused serious fights with his mom who has insisted that he leave. He is frightened and wants to talk about his options. We begin to dig a little bit deeper into the problem and explore what the caller really wants. He wishes to stay at home, so he brainstorms ways to approach his mom while I sit there quietly because in the end, he is the expert on his situation, not me. He decides that he will bring these problems up to his mom. If this doesn’t work, he will call back and I encourage him to do so.

11:00 a.m.- I hang up with my last caller, say goodbye to everyone at NRS and thank my wonderful supervisors. On my car ride home, I smile as I think about the youths I helped. I also take a deep breath when I reflect on those callers who were armed with solutions and next steps, but I didn’t know their final outcome. I realize that they will call back if they need to because they know that the people at NRS are always open to talk. That is the beauty of the organization.

November is National Runaway Prevention Month. Find out how you can get involved with the National Runaway Switchboard by visiting www.1800RUNAWAY.org or calling 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Slavery Footprint Campus Challenge: Spotlight on George Washington University

As the holiday season starts up, we’re all thinking about all sorts of products that we’ll be consuming – from turkeys, cranberry sauce, and apple pie to the laptops, sweaters, and jewelry on our holiday wish lists. While we’re doing so, though, it’s important to remember that many products have been touched at some point by modern-day slavery. How can you balance the holiday festivities with taking a stand against modern-day slavery? Simple: join the Slavery Footprint Campus Challenge, and you too can take action to help end modern-day slavery!

The mtvU Against Our Will campaign has partnered with Slavery Footprint for the second year running to encourage college students nationwide to take the short Slavery Footprint survey and find out how many slaves work for them, and then take fun and easy action steps to make a difference. The top school and top students at the end of the year will be rewarded with a shout-out on-air on mtvU!

This week, Slavery Footprint interviewed students from George Washington University, who are currently sitting on top of the leaderboard. The students, who are a part of the FREE Project, have been working on videos to raise awareness of modern-day slavery and organizing a holiday clothing drive for local survivors of sex trafficking. To hear more from the students, check out Slavery Footprint’s blog – and to get involved and challenge their lead, visit footprint.againstourwill.org.

Michigan Students Travel Across the US to Fight Slavery

Photo: Kaleigh Carlson works with students in Ghana (Kaleigh Carlson)

The DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk is this Saturday! We're profiling two student activists who are involved with the Walk in a two-part series--check out yesterday's post here

Kaleigh Carlson’s first exposure to slavery was during a volunteer trip to Ghana with the anti-trafficking NGO Challenging Heights. A rescuer took the Grand Valley State University senior to Lake Volta, where the fishing industry enslaves children. “Nothing could have prepared me for how absurdly normal this practice was in their society,” she said. “I will never forget those lifeless, sullen eyes of the barely-clothed girls maneuvering fishing nets in the back of the huts or the deep purple scars lining the backs of the fishing boys; that experience cut through my heart like a knife.”

Back in school, she rallied other students to join the cause while continuing to research the subject. She spoke at some events on campus related to human trafficking. Along with other activists, she put on a party that raised over a thousand dollars for a shelter for domestic violence victims. She held a school supplies drive for the kids Challenging Heights works with.

The work was modest. But in the end it helped land her what activists dream about: attention. “I had mentioned roadtripping to Washington D.C [to attend the Stop Modern Slavery Walk] for Challenging Heights to just a few students, but within a week I had received over 40 emails from various students.” Soon, Grand Valley Honors College threw in their sponsorship and the students assembled a caravan to make the three-day trip down to Washington, D.C. On the way, they learned the Grand Valley State University alumni network in D.C. was so impressed with the effort that they promised to join the students at the Walk.

Kaleigh has two feet firmly on the ground when it comes to her strategies for advancing her anti-slavery cause. She’s not organizing the D.C. walk just to have a good time – for her, it’s a networking and learning opportunity. “Let's be honest, this kind of abolitionist work requires money to survive. We hope we can learn how exactly to reach other students, teachers, and individuals to spur further giving to this cause.” Which is why the fact that she’s bringing a flock, not a handful, of students to the walk is particularly important and particularly impressive. Dozens of students will net the names, phone numbers, and strategies they need to make a real impact for the cause.

Even if you’re not an aspiring fundraiser, there are still practical ways to make a difference, she says. Talk about the issue with your friends or mention it on a social network. As Kaleigh’s experience shows, just because it seems modest doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a huge impact. Widespread consciousness of modern-day slavery is a huge first step, and anybody can play their part. “The more people that know about this injustice, the more they will be inspired to fight it and save children around the world from of life of misery and abuse.”

 

The Walk Against Slavery Was Just a Start

Photo: Adrienne Toumayan (front left) and fellow attendees, including Free the Slaves co-founder Kevin Bales, at a debate on modern-day slavery (Adrienne Toumayan)

The DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk is this Saturday! We're profiling two student activists who are involved with the Walk in a two-part series--come back tomorrow for the second feature.

A passionate college professor first inspired Adrienne Toumayan to get involved in the fight against trafficking. The professor had been involved in a negotiation with traffickers and was upset by what she saw as an incomplete effort. “She felt like she hadn’t accomplished enough.  There was still so much to do to stop this worldwide crime,” Adrienne explained.

Adrienne’s first gig was an internship with Innocents at Risk, an anti-trafficking NGO in Washington, DC. From there, she was hooked. The American University student next worked as a College Outreach Liaison with last year’s DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk, produced research on trafficking in courses for her International Studies major, and organized films and events on campus. At the moment Adrienne is studying abroad in Pune, India and working to better the lives of sex trafficking victims and their children in the city’s red light district.

Along the way, she’s come to see things from her professor’s perspective – to take it personally.

“Why do I fight? Because I can.  Because I enjoy a life of freedom, and there is no reason that the estimated 27 million slaves today should not enjoy the same kind of life. I don’t want to live in a world where slavery is okay, where people turn a blind eye because it’s not happening to them.”

Any notion that trafficking and slavery continue to exist is unacceptable. So unacceptable that she’ll devote her free time to fighting against it. How did she come to feel so personally affected by the problem? One key, she thinks, is realizing that the problem isn’t as remote from us as it might seem. The world can be messed up, and we can’t fix everything. But once you know more about human trafficking it’s impossible to not be moved, to not take action.

“Once you hear about the issue, I mean really hear about some of the horrible things that are happening, you can’t do nothing. How can you ignore the problem once you realize that girls your age and much younger are viciously beaten, raped and tortured in cruel and unusual ways?” And it’s incorrect that trafficking only occurs in already suffering countries. “It’s easy to ignore the problem when you think it’s happening halfway across the world, but I think more and more people are realizing that it’s right in our backyard.”

Even though modern-day slavery can seem overwhelming, there are a number of ways you can take action on the issue and help end human trafficking. Adrienne’s provided some ideas below:

+ Research: “Use academic projects and assignments to research the issue and share your results with your classmates. Write an article for your student newspaper. Write a post about the issue in your blog.”

+ Take Action: “Find out if your school has an anti-trafficking group on campus, and if it doesn’t then start one!  Host a panel discussion or a film screening at your school to raise awareness.  Volunteer or intern with local NGOs—they need our support!  Keep an eye out for events or trainings in your area and get your friends involved.  Discover fair trade businesses and demand slave-free products from your favorite stores.”

+ Live around DC? “Check out DC Stop Modern Slavery! Any questions about our work or how to get involved with us feel free to email me and if you’re in DC this Saturday September 29 then come out to the National Mall to walk against modern-day slavery with us!”

Alicia Keys, P!nk and Jada Pinkett Smith Amplify Voices of Survivors

Not only does slavery still exist, it exists right here, in our backyards – with cases of human trafficking having been reported in every single state in just the past two years. Today, as part of the mtvU Against Our Will Campaign, we’re launching a new set of spots featuring poems written by survivors of sex trafficking; the moving spots are narrated by Alicia Keys, P!nk, and Jada Pinkett Smith, who wanted to lend their voices to help amplify the voices of the survivors.

Each of the six videos feature excerpts from poems written by girls associated with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization that helps girls and women who are the victims of commercial sexual exploitation in New York City. The poems illuminate some of the issues survivors face, ranging from abusive pimps and johns to grappling with self-worth and self-discovery. We’ve included a few videos below, but you can check them all out, as well as the full poems, on the Against Our Will website.

Get More: www.mtvu.com

Get More: www.mtvu.com

Get More: www.mtvu.com

Today, we’re also revealing the winners of the Against Our Will Challenge. Kristen Hotz, Jasmine Jones, Danielle McLean and Liz Ramirez, from James Madison University, came up with the idea for an interactive video project highlighting the backstories of sex and labor trafficking survivors; it’s a work in progress, so come back to Against Our Will in early 2013 to check it out (we promise it’s worth the wait!) In the meantime, get involved with the fight against modern-day slavery by joining our second Slavery Footprint Campus Challenge. Take the Slavery Footprint survey to find out how many slaves work for you, then join together with your classmates and earn points by taking action against modern-day slavery. The top activists at the winning school will get a shout-out on-air on mtvU!

We’re also releasing a new interview with Rhea, a survivor of sex trafficking who made it out of the life and is currently studying to become a nurse. Check it out at our website – and while you’re there, get watching, reading, sharing, and taking action.

ACTION ALERT: Call Your Senators and Help End Modern-Day Slavery

Today, anti-slavery organizations across the country are coming together with one common goal: get the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) passed. And by making one short phone call, you can help them and take a stand against modern-day slavery.

The TVPRA is among the most crucial pieces of legislation helping to end modern-day slavery. First passed in 2000 and up for renewal every three years, the bill ensures harsh penalties for traffickers, support for survivors, and extensive prevention measures. The most recent version of the bill has already expired, so it's imperative that it gets passed before the Senate adjourns for the year.  

How can you help? Simple -- today's the National Call-In Day. Simply call your senators and let them know why the TVPRA is so important in the fight against trafficking. On passtvpranow.org, you can find your senators' contact info, as well as call scripts and other resources you can use. If a ten-minute phone call is more time than you can dedicate right now, just 140 characters can also help make a difference; you can also find your senators' Twitter handles at passtvpranow.org. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and let your senators know that you care about ending modern-day slavery.

The “Ah Hah Moment”

For many who have committed themselves to a cause, we can trace our dedication to that revelatory “ah-hah moment” that transformed us from spectators to actors. The moment that made us see the world clearer; the moment that we realized we could no longer remain idle to injustice.

My moment came on May 10, 2010. The previous week marked our annual “Loyolapalooza” concert, which for the first time became a benefit event to support Free the Slaves. I had come down from the high of our fundraising success, and was now overwhelmed by final exams.  As I prepared for my next test, an email popped up from Sarah Gardner, Free the Slaves’ Major Gifts Officer who I met at Loyolapalooza. “Great news from Free the Slaves,” Sarah wrote, “44 adults and 26 children were freed from slavery in a brick kiln in India!” I quickly read the details of the rescue and downloaded the attached photos. This was the first time I saw the face of slavery and the first time I fully realized my potential to help bring freedom to others.   

Now at Free the Slaves, I have the chance to see photos and read inspiring stories of liberation every day. However, behind every story of freedom is the exploitation and violence that comes along with being enslaved. To learn more about the reality of slavery in our backyards, FTS interns went to Courtney’s House, an organization that provides direct services for sex trafficking survivors in the DC-metro area.  Courtney’s House staff greeted us along with founder Tina Frundt, herself a sex slavery survivor, and they dedicated their afternoon to teaching us about their work. Along with educating us on the services that CH provides, the staff provided us with psychological insight into the lives of vulnerable children. “Children are trafficked from every background,” Tina explained, teaching us that slavery comes in a variety of forms, many times in ways we don’t expect. 

It’s easy for us to distance ourselves from slavery, but Tina’s talk got me thinking: how different are we really from those enslaved around the world? We’re all humans who depend on the same needs for survival; we all seek love and companionship, personal fulfillment, and hope.  At the end of the day, the distinguishing factor is that my needs are met while many others are not; call it circumstance, fate, or chance. But now, the same fate that set my survivor brothers and sisters and myself apart have brought us together, as I have determined my path to better their own. 

From that “ah hah moment” to now, Free the Slaves has empowered me to empower others, whether it be families making bricks in India or children on the streets of DC. We’re all united by our shared human dignity, and are called to ensure that dignity is unanimously respected.    

Facing One of the Great Moral Challenges of Our Time

Photo: John Kerry (Getty Images)

As a 21-year-old college student who’s looking to change the world, there is no better place to be than Washington D.C. Apart from the despised metro (which is always running late when you need it most), our nation’s capital is overflowing with a sense of dogged passion: an underlying force that inspires you to exceed beyond what you previously imagined. What better backdrop to set the scene for exciting new developments in the modern abolitionist movement.

On July 17th, I joined the sea of interns that rushed into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on human trafficking. Senator John Kerry, whose presidential campaign I followed back in high school, opened the session by boldly identifying human trafficking as one of the “great moral challenges of our time.” We at Free the Slaves did a silent cheer from our seats in the back row, as Senator Kerry called human trafficking what it really is: modern-day slavery.  

The infamous “s word” is one that many try to shy away from. The slavery that most know, that of the African slave trade, belongs in the past; a dark blemish in American history books rather than in headline news. This “s word” challenges our preconceived notions of morality and freedom, calling us to open our eyes to the dark reality of our globalized world. Using the term slavery and acknowledging its presence is the first step towards bringing it to an end. Seeing slavery featured by top media agencies is a testament to how far the movement has come, and a reminder of how much work we have left to do.

The heroes of modern abolitionism come in a variety of forms. There are politicos like Senators Kerry, Rubio, Durbin, and Brown who advocate for new legislation to protect victims. Or, there’s Ambassador CdeBaca, who went from prosecuting traffickers at the Justice Department to coordinating the State Department’s global efforts to end slavery. Less talked about, but just as valuable, are the corporations like Motorola and HP, who are investigating their supply chains to remove conflict minerals from their product lines.

For me, however, the stars of the movement are the young people. Like the students of Creighton University who led the campaign to have their campus designated as fair trade. Or, a high school student from Louisiana who called Free the Slaves just last week, asking me what he can do with his church community. In our hour-long conversation, he expressed me to me his disbelief that slavery still exists and his dedication to raising awareness in his hometown about the issue. It is humbling moments like these that bring me back down to earth after a busy day and make the long morning train rides worthwhile. 

What's It Like to Be a Summer Intern at Free the Slaves? Danielle Explains

Free the Slaves staff

Photo: Free the Slaves interns and staff--Danielle's in the middle! (Danielle Melfi)

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I didn't think I'd be courting donors from New York, attending a press conference at the State Department, and meeting an actual slave liberator. Not in the first week. But that's how I'll be spending my summer as an intern at Free the Slaves. Turns out that the work of freeing slaves is just as exciting as it is rewarding.

Over the past ten years, Free the Slaves (FTS) has become a thought leader in the human rights field, alerting the world that slavery still exists and bringing hope through positive action to see slavery end in our lifetimes. FTS has immersed itself not only in its grassroots work in six countries, but it has also been on the forefront of policy in the US and in research abroad. An incredible feat for an organization comprised of approximately 20 fulltime staffers.

And where do I fit in all of this? Not too long ago, I was under the impression that slavery had ended with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. After learning about the issue of slavery during a college fundraiser last year, my eyes were opened to the harsh reality that the freedom I take for granted is not as universal as I once thought. Fast forward to the present: I’m now a modern-day abolitionist, helping to lead the efforts on my campus (Loyola University Maryland), spreading the word through mtvU’s Against Our Will Campaign, and proudly serving as an intern to Free the Slaves this summer. 

As a Post-It above my boss Sarah’s desk reads, “People won’t remember what you said or you did…but they will remember how you made them feel.” My job as a Development Intern is just that- to make people feel the work of Free the Slaves come to life. Our work lies at the heart of the organization, as we unite Free the Slaves’ multifaceted approach to spread awareness and gather support for our work around the world. I get to spend my afternoons reading real-life accounts of people coming out of slavery and into freedom, including girls like Kripa. Kripa, a sixteen-year-old girl from Nepal, was rescued from being trafficked out of her village. Now, Kripa has used her freedom to protect others, as she has become a security guard at a shelter for trafficking victims.

Kripa

Or, I get to receive drawings sent to our office by girls in our ashram, a group home for survivors in India. The walls of the ashram read, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Now, with the gift of freedom, the girls of the ashram have hope for a brighter future and are able to dream beyond what they previously imagined for their lives.

Ashram art

During my first week, I had the opportunity of sitting down with Free the Slaves' founder, Kevin Bales. As he talked with the interns during our orientation, Kevin challenged us “why not.” Why not end slavery today? Why not join the movement to bring about this much-needed change in the world? And for all of you college students out there, why not you? Follow me this summer in my journey at Free the Slaves, and learn what you can do to help bring freedom to all the Kripas of our world.

Using Healthy Masculinity to Take a Stand

Healthy Masculinity

If men didn’t buy her, her pimp couldn’t sell her. It sounds simple enough – if there weren’t the demand for the commercial sexual exploitation of girls and women, then sex trafficking just wouldn’t exist. It isn’t that easy, though, as anyone who’s ever been invited to a pimps and hos party, helped plan a raunchy bachelor party, or even listened to songs about pimps, knows. Actively taking a stand against pimp culture and commercial sexual exploitation – and, by extension, for healthy masculinity – can be stressful and uncomfortable. To help you out, we’ve got some ideas to help you handle some awkward scenarios. For the full list, check out our How to Talk About It page! 

So, your boys want to go out to a strip club or bring strippers over for a party. How can you get out of it? 

  • Keep it simple
    • "I've got other plans..."
  • Go further
    • "Do you really think they're stripping their way through med school?"
  • Confront the issue
    • "It's disrespectful to women, and not fun."

The real deal: You don't need to force your friends not to go — but they don't have to pressure you into going either. Chances are there is someone else in the group who also doesn't feel great about it; you being the first one to opt out would make it easier on them to get on board also. Choosing not to go will probably lead to some questions, and a larger conversation about how what you see on stage may not actually reflect what's happening behind the scenes. 

It's your study abroad, your friends are thinking about checking out the country's Red Light District. It's different (here), right?

  • Keep it Simple
    • "Why don't we go practice our [insert local language] on some local girls at the bar instead?"
  • Go Further
    • "Look at all those creepy guys going in — do you really want to be like them?"
  • Confronting the Issue
    • "It's actually not different here. A lot of girls are forced into it, and don't get to keep the money."

The Real Deal: Providing some facts can help make the situation a little less glamorous. Trying new things and exploring different cultures is definitely part of the abroad experience, but get to know the country you're in. The issues it faces (like sex trafficking) are just as important as hunting down cheap bars. 

Your friends want to throw a "Pimps and Hos" party.

Your friends want to throw a "Pimps and Hos" party.

  • Keep it Simple
    • "Ugh, everyone does that. Why don't we throw a ____ themed party instead?"
  • Go Further
    • "I think girls would probably appreciate not having to dress like prostitutes for a weekend."
  • Confront the Issue
    • "Dressing up like guys who beat and exploit women is not that cool."

The Real Deal: We love a good theme party as much as anyone else, but pimp and ho parties glamorize men who victimize women. There's nothing sexy about the day-to-day reality of a pimp. Did you know that pimps exploit women as young as 12? Probably not what you thought you were dressing up as. 

It’s important to talk with your friends about healthy masculinity; after all, healthy masculinity is a very important step in preventing exploitation and trafficking. 

The mtvU Against Our Will Campaign is supporting Men Can Stop Rape’s Healthy Masculinity Action Project. To learn more about healthy masculinity, check out their site

College Student’s Red Thread Movement Helps Nepali Survivors

Red Thread Movement

What would you expect your average teenage girl to be doing at the age of seventeen? When she was seventeen, Brittany Partridge went to volunteer at a safe house for survivors of forced prostitution in Romania. It was the first time she was faced with the reality of modern-day slavery. She wasn’t the only seventeen-year-old girl there, though. Brittany says, “I was astonished to learn that some of the girls there were the same age as I was at the time. All I could think was, ‘That could have been me!’”

Affected by what she saw in Romania, a few years later Brittany co-founded the Red Thread Movement (RTM) while in college at Abilene Christian University. Brittany describes RTM thusly: “Now a global initiative to combat human trafficking, RTM has created employment opportunities and supported trafficking prevention through the sale of $3 red bracelets handmade by women and girls affected by sex trafficking in Nepal. This international social venture has employed more than 100 Nepalese women and girls at-risk for human trafficking.”

More than 75 colleges have a RTM presence, including Princeton, Boise State University, Cornell, and Cardinal Stritch University, and have supported the org by holding fashion shows, 5K runs, evening formals, and more. “As a college student myself, it has been so rewarding to provide my peers with a concept and a catalyst and then watch them run with it and take the impact of Red Thread further than I could ever have dreamed! That is the power of a passion for social justice thriving on the ideas of thousands of individuals,” says Brittany.

More than 180 musicians have also gotten involved with RTM, including Seabird, Harp And Lyre, and Ivoryline, by selling RTM products and shouting out anti-trafficking awareness onstage. “(The bands) have an incredible ability to influence diverse and dynamic audiences at their shows and while on tour, presenting a powerful call to action,” Brittany says.

Brittany hopes that other college students will also take on the issue of human trafficking. “It can be easy to ignore an issue that seems far off and disentangled from our lives. Sure, you may feel badly that human trafficking occurs, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t you being trafficked, it wasn’t your best friend being sold into a brothel. One of the greatest challenges I have faced personally when trying to engage people in this issue is apathy: Why should I care?” Brittany responds by letting people know that human trafficking happens right here in the US; additionally, the everyday actions that people take can perpetuate the demand for goods and services that are provided through human trafficking.

“This is a problem that does hit close to home, both physically and psychologically,” says Brittany. “The tragic thing is simply that most people have not recognized it yet. The world is a big place, and I know that I myself cannot end human trafficking, but already I have seen the power that one simple idea can have on groups of people all around the world. I am dedicated to standing up for justice. My only question is: Who’s with me?”