For years, I have heard and read the heartbreaking narratives of injustice that reverberate throughout the human trafficking landscape. Be it stories of children who endured unrelenting violence as child slaves in Cambodia, testimonials of women who were coerced into prostitution or reports of individuals who could not escape persistent psychological traumas of their countless ordeals in bonded labor, these narratives have shed light on the manacles of slavery, showing me that beyond the lucrative veneer of the commercial sex industry, human trafficking remains a scourge that cuts across racial lines and geographic borders, invariably devastating lives and communities. It is a self-evident truth that human trafficking is a flagrant violation of human rights, one that indiscriminately strips its victims of confidence and dignity, and re-injects within them pain, fear and shame.
To quote a passage from The Locust Effect, a book by International Justice Mission President and CEO Gary Haugen, "It is a sad but authentic reality that sexual violence is a very significant business in our world." Daunting statistics only serve to supplement the harrowing narratives of human trafficking. A 2012 report from the International Labor Organization posits that 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor. That's 21 million people exploited for commercial gain, unable to take control over their lives and enduring imaginable levels of violence and suffering.
January has been proclaimed as the "Human Trafficking Awareness Month," a title that underscores the need to destigmatize important discussions about human trafficking and call attention to key facts and realities about human slavery. While I feel the label "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" evokes connotations of our campaigning fervently against trafficking for a month, only to put our advocacy on the back burner until the same month next year, I believe it matters that we take the opportunity to remove ourselves from the frenzy of our lives and redirect our time, energies and resources to brainstorming and investing in concrete solutions to the problem of human trafficking. The silence and taboos that impede conversation about slavery don't only cause the atrocities of human trafficking to slip our minds, they also foment the petri dish in which intolerable oppression and incomprehensible injustices flourish. Designating a "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" thus not only ensures that issue of human trafficking is visible on the public radar screen, but more importantly mobilizes us to take steps to effect sustainable change in the lives of trafficked individuals across the world.
Just three weeks into 2015, many optimistic anti-trafficking narratives have received media attention. Take, for instance, the story of Sun Bin, a man who has reunited with his father in Sichuan 24 years after being allegedly abducted and trafficked as a child. Think about Pope Francis' impassioned call for unity in the battle against modern slavery, a call that inclusively encouraged the participation of people of all cultures and religions. Look at the efforts of Palantir Technologies, a data analysis company in California, in supporting the Polaris Project, a NGO that aims to prevent human trafficking, by developing software that will enable Polaris Project specialists to identify trafficking locations, as well as shelters and aid for survivors of human trafficking. And consider Thailand's newly implemented programs to combat human trafficking, which include protecting workers in the fishing industry under Labor Ministry regulations and revamping systems for victim identification and protection.
These are only a few of the positive changes that are taking place, and I have hope that countries across the world will continue to make extraordinary strides in tackling human trafficking. I hope that these news stories of change-makers and will inspire us to galvanize more action, to make new inroads, to keep us engaged continuously throughout 2015, and for as long as slavery endures.
There are plethoric ways to get involved in the fight against human slavery, and I encourage you to get involved in this meaningful and impactful movement. The first step is to believe that you can make a difference. It is crucial to read about and research issues related to trafficking, to familiarize yourself with the "red flags" that are symptomatic of human trafficking situations. Seemingly small actions, including purchasing items made by trafficking survivors, meeting with governmental representatives in your region to discuss their anti-trafficking measures, volunteering with victim outreach initiatives, starting campus conversation, signing an anti-trafficking petition and writing an op-ed on the problem of human slavery, are integral parts of the equation that catalyzes change.
I hope that our efforts to combat human trafficking will not dwindle after January, and will continue to gather momentum in the coming months and years. I know that one day, the "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" becomes obsolescent, because human trafficking is eradicated and there is no longer a need for such a month. Will you raise awareness of and work to end the scourge of human trafficking, in January 2015 and beyond?