I didn't want to let Human Trafficking Awareness Month go by without spending some time talking about the issue. Not simply as a "problem" - any reasonable person would agree that human trafficking, particularly commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, is a global scourge - but as a part of the larger solution.
What do I mean by that?
What's important to me about Human Trafficking Awareness Month is the word "awareness," without which traffickers will find it much easier to do what they do out in the open and in the shadows. As was pointed out by Nick Kristof in the three-part PBS documentary "A Path Appears: Sex Trafficking in the USA," it is critical to create a groundswell of attention around this issue. And the fact remains that most Americans simply do not appreciate how much sex trafficking is going on in our own backyards, or the brutality of the industry.
Human trafficking exists when multiple systems in our society fail the victims; therefore the solutions will necessarily be complex, demanding the involvement of government and police agencies, legislatures, NGOs and advocacy groups.
But a key element, I believe, also has to be the committed involvement of concerned individuals. And that's where volunteers, whether as members of groups or as individuals, come into the picture.
Let's take as a given that an important piece of the solution to this seemingly intractable problem has to be creating awareness at the community level, where the traffickers actually make their money.
Let's also posit that individuals and community-based groups know their communities better than anyone - however well intentioned - does who is far away in the state capital, or in Washington, or in Brussels.
And let's recognize the incredible power of the networked individual to bring about real, lasting change at the community level.
What do I mean?
Picking just one example, let's take a look at what the Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee, which advocates for policies that improve the lives of California women, children and families, has done to fight human trafficking. Because of my role at The Association of Junior Leagues International, I know this group very well - but let's put that aside.
What this networked group of women - every one of them a volunteer - has done in a few short years is remarkable.
Public data tells us that California is one of the top four states for trafficking of human beings and harbors three of the FBI's highest child sex trafficking areas in the U.S.: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
CalSPAC, which has been involved in the fight against human trafficking in California since 2010, has sponsored or supported 13 bills related to human trafficking in the state legislature, of which seven were enacted, resulting in the addition of human trafficking to K-12 educational curricula as well as victim protection and criminal penalty augmentation. An important focus has been sealing minor victims' arrest records and building a statewide framework to move in the direction of treating commercially sexually exploited children as victims not criminals.
Less obvious but still incredibly important, CalSPAC and its members network with other volunteers and organizations to create that change in California.
Not bad for a group of volunteers.
There are many other examples, both in The Junior League and out, of other wonderful work that volunteers and volunteer-driven organizations are doing in the fight against human trafficking.
And these examples, like CalSPAC's initiatives, are not headline grabbers. They don't rely on cameo appearances by a celebrity endorser. And they don't require massive fundraising.
It's just people - ordinary people like you and me - showing up and getting involved in the fight against a terrible problem that, in one way or another, impacts the communities where we live and, more importantly, is a blight on the lives of literally millions of people who are being exploited by traffickers.