In years past, Human Trafficking Awareness Day might have come and gone with little attention and even less understanding of the underlying factors forcing children and adults into servitude. Increased awareness and the work of established public sector organizations have fueled recent efforts by community activists and everyday citizens to support those suffering from the evils of this modern-day slavery. The various efforts showcase how modern human rights initiatives can be undertaken to gain traction in the anti-trafficking movement.
Institutions: Several types of institutions have focused their efforts on mission- and data-driven actions to help combat human trafficking. Faith-based organizations including churches, synagogues and mosques have recently made the issue of trafficking a key part of their social missions. One of the most exciting has been the work of the 60,000+ student Passion Conferences held annually where young Christians gather to talk about their role in raising awareness and funds for efforts to end trafficking. Thousands of faith institutions work weekly to engage the community on the issue locally and internationally. Another type of institution leading anti-trafficking efforts has been the museum community. The Freedom Center in Cincinnati has led the way in connecting America’s history of freedom to contemporary issues resulting in the lack of freedom for those enslaved. Many museums have undertaken exhibitions, programs and educational initiatives, thus providing kids as young as elementary age with a deeper understanding of the plight of children their age forced into the criminal industry. More than just educating, museums have led the way in steering visitors to resources for taking action.
Media: For many years, the media shied away from the issue of human trafficking out of fear of creating audience discomfort. More recently, several significant efforts have been undertaken to highlight the issue. The multi-year CNN Freedom Project ( has used documentary footage, broadcast journalism and online resources to tell stories of individuals involved in the human trafficking industry to raise attention and outrage. PBS Frontline, HBO Documentary Films and scores of independent media outlets have pushed the stories of victims, the perpetrators and their exploitations in ways that have garnered public and governmental support. These approaches have showcased the continuing power of individual stories across the various media outlets we use every day. There are even multiple apps now available for individual use in fighting trafficking.
Individuals: The stigma of being a victim of trafficking often leads to silence, fear and unwillingness to speak out. The incredible courage of several victims to come forward and tell their stories has transformed the movement to end trafficking. Cambodian activist Somaly Mam and American activist Minh Dang are two prominent examples of empowered victims who have changed the “face” of the issue. Their voices and courage have inspired, philanthropists, politicians and individuals to take up the cause of justice.
As we recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Day this year, we must each acknowledge that remaining uninformed is an excuse, and that it is imperative for each of us to take up the cause of justice. Whether through an organization or on our phones, the ability to impact the lives of those still enslaved has never been easier or more necessary than now.
Doug Shipman is the CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights based in Atlanta, Ga. The Center focuses on educational programs and exhibitions related to the connections between the American Civil Rights Movement and contemporary Human Rights issues. More information can be found at www.civilandhumanrights.org or follow Doug at @dougship on Twitter.