Dress up, change the world

Local teens participate in Dressember to raise awareness and protest the human trafficking epidemic

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“If so many people know about human trafficking, why haven’t we stopped it?”

That question was asked by a classmate after I finished my persuasive speech at the Lake Land College Kluthe Center. I wracked my brain for answers.

After all, human trafficking is such a huge, complex issue, the answer to it should also be huge, in order to sufficiently address the issue. But in a classroom, with time constraints, people wanting short answers and on the spot, an appropriately well thought out answer wasn’t possible.

The issue could be summarized, though, and the answer that came out of my mouth, while accurate, made me sad. “Because we don’t care,” I told my classmate.

The idea that lots of people know about human trafficking is somewhat incorrect. Most people don’t know about it. We don’t talk about it, and most don’t want to. Ranking among the most despicable forms of crime, human trafficking isn’t exactly a nice dinner topic or something we chat about over Facebook.

There is a mistaken belief that slavery ended with the Civil War. That was one kind of slavery and a localized type at that. Currently, there are 40 million people trapped in human trafficking and enslaved on our watch. That’s more slaves than there have ever been at any other point in history, and out of that 40 million, only 1 percent are ever saved. It’s second only to drug trafficking as the largest form of transnational crime.

It’s all well and good to recite the numbers, but they are difficult to comprehend when those enslaved are invisible. A vast majority of the problem is sex trafficking. However, there is also a large number of children forced into intense labor, often sold into it by parents who couldn’t afford to feed them.

Human trafficking is impossible to summarize in 500-1,000 words so the challenge is how to convince others to care.

Because human trafficking is difficult to stop, not fun to talk about and doubted as a legitimate problem, it’s common for people not to ask questions. They aren’t prepared for the answers. I wasn’t prepared for the answers. Until you are ready to have your heart absolutely shattered for other people, you aren’t ready to address human trafficking

There are valid reasons not to join the fight to end slavery, but not caring is not one of those reasons.

We are experiencing an epidemic of apathy. We may talk about problems often and loudly, but propose action and the room goes silent. This is true about most things, not just human trafficking, but it is especially true about human trafficking.

We rage about enslaved children as we try on clothing made in sweatshops and apply sparkly makeup made by child miners. People sincerely say sex trafficking is running rampant but go home to watch adult-content videos online featuring people often held against their wills.

It is easy to assign all the blame to the traffickers, but they are fulfilling public demands. They only manufacture what we ask for, in the ways we ask for it – fast, cheap and at human expense. We join hands with them in keeping people trapped more often than we realize.

We can’t claim responsibility for something we know nothing about, and many people truly do not know anything about human trafficking. I didn’t. But the moment we recognize evil, and do nothing to stop it, we become accountable. We share the guilt with the criminals if we refuse to help those who need it most.

The next step is figuring out how to address the problem. We’re just small-town people, with little to no global influence or power, but we can shop trade-free and let everyone else continue to buy slave-made products. We can donate to causes and encourage others to do the same despite the argument the money does no good.

My mom has often told me a story of a man who was fairly wealthy. He made a habit of giving large sums of money to anyone homeless or begging on the street. When asked why he did it, since surely most of those people were lying or going to waste the money, the man said, “I am only responsible for what I do with the things I have been given.”

We have to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and start claiming personal responsibility for how we live.

For that reason, I participated in Dressember, a movement where for the whole month of December, girls wear dresses and guys don ties to raise awareness and funding to end human trafficking.

I am blessed to be fighting alongside a strong team that is changing hearts everywhere. The messages we have received from people who have been changed by our war cries against the slave traders are beyond encouraging. Change is happening.

Can I really expect to make a difference from my little place in Paris, just by wearing dresses every day for my little circle of friends to witness? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m doing what I am responsible for. If everyone did that, it would be more than enough.

I am willing to stand, even if I have to stand alone, because it’s my responsibility. The whole world can let evil pass it by, but I refuse. If my life is not lived in service of others, then I don’t believe I’ve truly lived a life at all.

I don’t have to stand alone. Others can join me, and together, we could end it.