The young local hotel owner beamed with pride as he described renovations to one of his properties.
His delight turned into dismay when he commented that a neighboring hotel was making his business “look bad” by turning a blind eye to prostitution and likely human trafficking.
I listened patiently and then asked, “If you know this is happening, why don’t you do something about it?”
“It’s not just happening in this community,” he replied. “It’s also happening at the five-star hotels downtown. So, what can I really do?”
He offered a shoulder shrug. I responded with a bewildered stare. But, in the back of my mind, I had questions.
Why was this hotel owner so quick to dismiss the issue when he had the power to create a wave of opposition?
Why aren’t more people outraged by the thought of people being bought and sold like commodities in our neighborhood and under our watch?
Human trafficking, as a form of forced labor, is a multifaceted problem that can be difficult to understand and even more challenging to solve.
The International Labour Organization reports that millions of people, most of whom are women and girls, are victims of forced labor. And this criminal enterprise generates billions of dollars in profits each year.
If we are going to take down this multi-billion-dollar giant, we all must do something.
Global Women’s mission is centered on empowering women. Our approach is to strategically invest in anti-trafficking programs that tackle the issue from many different angles.
Some of the programs we back are focused on raising awareness as a prevention strategy for vulnerable groups.
Other programs provide skills training, counseling and other forms of rehabilitation to help victims regain their sense of dignity and to restart their lives.
Almost all of the initiatives we fund have some economic development component to reduce the vulnerabilities associated with poverty and minimize the risk of revictimization.
But, this work is not just for Global Women, social service agencies or local governments. Individuals, small groups, even churches can play a vital role in stopping human trafficking in its tracks.
Based on my experience as a leader in this area of business and ministry, here is my practical advice:
1. Organize a learning tour for your family or small group.
Meet with local organizations to discover resources and experiences that will help you see the issue up close. Then, share what you know with others. A directory of anti-trafficking organizations can be found here.
2. Don’t look away.
Traffickers can spot vulnerability. You can too.
Pay attention to the women and children in your own family, church and community, especially those who are at high risk of being exploited. Form a circle of care around them and intervene when something adverse is happening to them.
Some conditions that make people vulnerable to human trafficking are poverty, an economic crisis, gender discrimination, social and cultural exclusion, war and conflict, natural disaster, domestic violence, lack of family support and weak legal and social protection systems.
3. Be a nosy neighbor.
Watch what is happening just steps away from your front door. Ask questions to get to know your neighbors. If you see something suspicious, say something to the appropriate authorities. Use the National Human Trafficking Hotline to report a potential abuse or to request help.
4. Just do one thing.
Human trafficking is a far-reaching global issue. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the big statistics and the hundreds of awareness campaigns, choose one initial area of engagement.
For some, influencing legislation is the way to go. For others, ensuring victims receive health and other social services is the priority.
Some organizations will solicit your help to put hotbeds of exploitation out of business, while others will ask you to support rehabilitation programs.
Identify your areas of interest and passion. Find your lane and run in it.
Although there are many ways to talk about and address human trafficking, there is but one truth: It is unconscionable.
And it will take people like you and me and your friends and my neighbors to thwart this evil in our lifetime.
It doesn’t matter if you are a hotel owner or a politician, a stay-at-home mom or a director of a nonprofit organization, you can make a difference.
Learn enough to care. Care enough to act. Act long enough to drive change.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on how local churches and nonprofit organizations are working (and can work) to address human trafficking.
Previous articles in the series are: