Today I had the pleasure of being able to post this at Encouraged in Heart, as part of the 21st of the month series on Human Trafficking. Thanks, Steph, for giving me this platform!
The Issue is Where We Live
In the D.C. area, there are domestic workers and likely farm workers who are caught in labor trafficking. But the most common type of trafficking in the United States (not in the world at large, though) is Sex Trafficking 101. In Northern Virginia there are different types of brothels, some disguised as massage parlors, some we believe are in homes, and others are services where girls are dropped off at requested locations. Gang related sex trafficking is likely at the top of the list for types of trafficking in Northern Virginia, such as has been happening in Sterling and at our metro stop in Fairfax. There is a problem in Loudoun County. In Northern Virginia. In the D.C. area and all over the United States.
Although we’ve begun to prosecute for some of these cases, human trafficking is still very underground in the Northern Virginia, just as it is elsewhere in the United States. In Virginia, there was only a law passed a couple years ago, requiring that training should be offered to police to learn how to recognize human trafficking. Our social services, judges, and other professionals needed are still mostly rather unaware. The result is that there are individuals, mostly women, living within miles of us who can’t get free.
But, we are doing something to stop this.
There are groups of people in Northern Virginia who are working to end human trafficking both locally and abroad. For example, I work for the Loudoun Human Trafficking Task Force (later renamed NoVA Human Trafficking Initiative). We are an organization put together by a group of Loudoun pastors at the end of 2010 at the request of our representative, Frank Wolf, for the faith community to step up and fight this injustice in Northern Virginia.
Recently, with the backing of the Loudoun HTTF, we supported the Little Black Dress Project 2013, a project I did last year and talked about in my blog, but this year focused on raising money to support anti-trafficking efforts. The group of people who did this with me was small, starting as 12 individuals but we understandably lost a few along the way.
For a month we each wore the same black item of clothing over and over and over again, reminding us that we usually have a choice with everything, even our clothing, but those in slavery do not have choices.After months of research, we realized that a lot of people working to end human trafficking were not working together, or did not have the resources, volunteers, and awareness to work as effectively as possible. We believe it is our role to be the hands and feet of these organizations, serving them. We network, create awareness, and are beginning to discover how to guide people who want to help into ways they can help.
And, in doing so, we invited people who know to learn about human trafficking with us and donate $5 to put an end to it.
One of the things that was a new addition this year was the Little Black Dress Fundraiser Party, thanks to the genius of one of my team members, Aubrey, and her friends. Although we collectively invited hundreds of people, only between 20-30 showed up. But it still was awesome! Those who came were so generous and we had so.much.fun! Most of us dressed up, eating fancy cupcakes and sipping sparkly drinks while browsing from each other’s goods and learning about sex trafficking (knowing just by being there we were doing something to stop it).
That night transformed these women, and that was just one evening, one party! What if we had parties like this all over NoVA? How many more people would be awakened to act?
Another woman who participated in this project, is a public speaker for Christian conferences. She was able to add the topic of human trafficking to her repertoire, awakening more people and even teaching teens preventatively about this evil.
Is it Hard?
But I know you are all wondering if wearing the black dress daily is horrible (because it is what EVERYBODY asks). But, honestly, it isn’t too hard to wear the same piece of clothing every day. Sometimes it is annoying, but sometimes it is easier to get dressed and it can be a creative challenge (see some of our outfits below).
But what is hard is feeling like you are getting no where. That getting that $60 donated wasn’t worth the trouble of wearing the stupid dress (or shirt) to work daily, or to wear it when your at school, or to wipe the kids’ runny noses on while you yourself just want to lay in bed all day sick. It is discouraging to be aware of something really bad happening around you (human trafficking) and have your best friend not even want to talk about it, let alone give the project $5.
With the Loudoun HTTF, it is hard to know how to connect people, and get all the pieces working together. And there is the challenging of finding time to get everyone to work together and the challenge of getting people who aren’t interested in learning about human trafficking to open their eyes to the fact that it is actually a real issue, right here!
These things are what is hard.
Doing Amazing Things Together
But, the work, the little bits of sacrifice on our parts, are totally worth it. Because right here in NoVA, just a handful of people together did AMAZING THINGS!
At least, I think raising the amount for a rescue operation for modern slaves is an amazing thing. Raiding a brothel, giving teenagers (and sometimes even the little 1st graders found in brothels) a new life? Or pulling groups of families with children which are required to crush rocks all day in bonded labor out of this terrible existence Yes, freeing them is worth it. Because our combined efforts have been enough to actually pay for a raid operation which rescues women from brothels or closes down a a brick kiln.
I don’t know for sure if International Justice Mission (based in the D.C. area) will use the funds for this. Maybe they will use it to provide counseling for victims, or pay court fees to knock down the ringleader of seven brothels. But, whatever these funds are for, we can be sure they are both people’s lives and changing our world.
It is also pretty amazing that we were able to sell about $800 in pretty purses, scarfs, and other lovely accessories for Sak Sauma, a social business which gives women jobs and helps them rehabilitate after being victims of sex trafficking.
And lastly, we were able to participate Love146‘s Celebrate Love campaign. This money goes towards preventive education for teenagers in America, giving them understanding about sex trafficking so that they don’t become part of the statistic of 100,000 kids exploited yearly within our borders.
So, yes. Just a few people working together can do something amazing. And we only did a fundraiser and created a broader awareness about human trafficking! But by dedicating ourselves to this for a month, wearing the same black dress (or shirt) we literally set some enslaved people free, provided for those formerly enslaved through training and jobs, and prevented other kids from falling into the same trap of modern slavery.
I am blown away by how much we have raised and how much people have changed through this project (for example, read one of the participates thoughts, here). I really believe this is something that God has been guiding and is honored by, as I know He is in the business of setting people free!
Ideas for Action
*First of all, if you are a local, please “Like” and add to your news feed the Loudoun Human Trafficking Task Force Page to stay up with what is going on here and how you can help. We might not have jobs for all of you yet, but we can betcha, we will! We need people who can manage projects, people who can teach, people who can work with law enforcement and people who can counsel. We need others to open up their church, do graphic and web design, or work with policy.
*Also, PLEASE consider helping us make our goals which we are just shy of reaching for the Little Black Dress Project. We are almost there and would love to go beyond our goals!
- You can donate here- we need $134 to meet our $4500 goal (the cost of a rescue operation) for IJM Little Black Dress Project 2013.
- Or you can donate the $90 left we want to meet our goal of $500 for Love146 Little Black Dress Project 2013.
*If you are a local and want to visit IJM, we are hopefully planning a trip on a Friday, likely April 12 at 10:30 a.m. Let me know if you want to come!
*Pray for what we are trying to accomplish locally! Being part of a global prayer network of Christians involved in stopping injustices such as human trafficking, trust me, we are all asking for prayer. Pray that God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in Heaven (so purely loving and just)!
Thanks for being part of loving the vulnerable in Northern Virginia!
Note: By the time all donations came together, we raised over $6000 for these charities.