WOV at the White House
WOV partner Bobbi Dauderman recently spoke at the White House event “Taking Action to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery” on September 16th. While there, she co-led a session on “Public Awareness and Education” with Brian Gallagher, CEO of the United Way Worldwide and Dr. Carroll Baltimore, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The White House hosted this event for CEOs and heads of community organizations to discuss how civil society leaders can take action to combat human trafficking. Participants shared best practices that have been developed by leading faith and secular nonprofit organizations to combat human trafficking as well as ways to challenge civil society partners to augment their efforts on these issues. Bobbi had an opportunity to highlight the local level work of the WOV Orange County chapter and the need for the entire community to be involved in combatting modern-day slavery. Today she shares her reflections from the impactful event.
On the recommendation of The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, last month the White House convened a group of CEOs and heads of community organizations to brainstorm ideas and share best practices for how to raise awareness and inspire action to combat modern-day slavery. I had the privilege to participate as a representative of Women of Vision, sharing my experiences of volunteer engagement on a community level.
A Human Rights Atrocity
By definition, modern day slavery is a human rights atrocity. Poverty, discrimination, and other structural inequalities allow modern-day slavery to develop and thrive. A transnational problem, the demand for commercial sex and for forever cheaper and plentiful consumer goods perpetuates modern day slavery. This issue must be addressed with the power of collective action, cutting across political, religious, and economic divides. This conference opened with reports from leaders in the field and I share a few of them here:
Bradley Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (888-3737-888). The hotline (which can be answered in many languages) serves as the place for victims to call for help. Persons like you and me to report observations related to domestic servitude, agricultural and restaurant labor, door to door sales, and for guidance regarding resource information. It is estimated that 22 million people are enslaved around the world. It is difficult to gather hard data to know how to respond and even have an idea if the numbers are being reduced. Human trafficking awareness is where domestic violence was 40 years ago. As a nation we are barely scratching the surface of this enormous challenge that has exploded with the internet and social media.
Laura Germino, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, spoke about her work with the tomato pickers in Florida. The work of CIW has brought an improved working environment for these workers and provides an example for building industry standards that address worker rights and wages, eliminating slave labor. As consumers we can be part of the solution against slave labor, being mindful of the products we purchase, asking who made them, under what conditions and are they possibly fair trade products?
Most touching were the stories shared by two survivors. One woman grew up in a family where her parents did not love her and the other had a father who abused her from age 8. Not understanding and thinking it was their fault, these traumas led them to be trafficked. While today both women have overcome this sordid experience and are leading fulfilling lives, they related how they are haunted by their past and always will be.
Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission (IJM), was the keynote speaker for the luncheon. Gary is inspiring as he speaks about the legal work of helping to rescue victims in far-flung places around the world. Part of what keeps Gary going is his ability to continually identify with these victims, one example is keeping bricks in his office that he occasionally lifts to remind himself of those women who suffer forced slave labor in the construction industry abroad.
For the remainder of the day attendees were assigned to participate in one of five separate break-out tracks, sharing experiences and best practices. I was invited to participate in the Public Awareness and Education session.
It Starts With Awareness
Backing up a few years, it was through participating with Women of Vision that I first became aware of modern day slavery. I heard stories of World Vision’s work in Cambodia and later attended the two national advocacy conferences in D.C. Participants learned from many World Vision staff working with projects across the world, inspiring action on our part to lobby our congressional representatives to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA).
Returning to our respective communities, we were encouraged to take a look “in our own backyard.” Modern day slavery is not just “out there” but happening locally. Our chapter affiliated with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (a collaboration of law enforcement, victim services and community non-profits and churches), attending the monthly general meetings where educational presentation and updates happen. As a chapter, we have drawn on the OCHTTF resources to engage speakers, offer volunteer opportunities, order free, printed resources, and attend conferences and participate in awareness raising events often sponsored by churches and local universities.
At this conference I was surprised to learn while there are coalitions working on human trafficking across cities and states, very few have brought together all the “players” as our OCHTTF has managed to do. In 2004 with the initiation of the TVPRA, forty-two task forces were to be formed across the US. Today only twelve exist. Some task forces never took hold and others never happened for lack of funding from the Department of Justice. While the national hotline is an important focus and tool, many smaller coalitions have created their own hotlines.
Many recommendations emerged from this session. There is a great need to take advantage of existing organizations and structures to form larger networks and centralize resources. It is apparent the average citizen has little awareness of the huge and growing challenge of modern day slavery and it was recommended that a coordinated national media campaign be launched to engage the public.
Prevention, Protection, Prosecution… and Prayer
Looking ahead, I find our work on modern day slavery to be two-fold. The first is to connect with a local coalition to learn community needs and gain the focus and direction needed to ignite action with our chapters, church communities and personal net works. The second answer is to engage in advocacy. We have the right and need to speak out for legislation that can put laws in place at both the state and federal levels supporting the prevention, protection and prosecution of modern-day slavery. And adding an important fourth “P”, we must pray ceaselessly!