One morning on my commute to school on the campus connector, I happened to be sitting across from a chatty young man. Normally I don’t like to talk to strangers on the connector, especially in the morning, but this student was asking me engaging questions and wasn’t being too annoying, so I didn’t shut him down.
We got to talking about my major (journalism) and my minor (social justice), and how what I really, really want to do is stop sex trafficking completely. He was really interested in that idea, and began talking about trafficking in foreign countries. At the time, I was working on a final news story on trafficking in Minnesota and the measures being taken to put a stop to it.
As we rumbled into Minneapolis, I brought up how trafficking happens every night, here, in our own Twin Cities. I mentioned local organizations helping victims of trafficking, and I listed off statistics about runaways. His reaction was nothing I haven’t seen before. In fact, his exclamations of, “Really? Here? I had no idea! That’s insane!” are pretty standard when I tell someone that they share airspace with pimps and traffickers.
I imagine most people know it exists here, in the Twin Cities, in the U.S., but that most like to pretend it’s not real. Because thinking about 13-year-olds servicing upwards of 15 men a day is not a pleasant way to spend time. So we shove it to the back burner and go on with our lives, never mind that ten blocks away, a young runaway is being lured into prostitution with drugs and promises of love.
But we can’t live in that bubble anymore. Not if we’re going to put an end to the daily torture and rape of Minnesotan girls. Not if we’re going to implement change in our nation. And not if we’re going to reach across oceans to help young women and children in dirty brothels across the world. We can’t live inside ourselves forever, or things will keep getting worse.
So sex trafficking exists in the U.S., in Minnesota, in Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. Let that sink in.
Now, the big question: what can you do about it?
I am going to do you a favor and let you in on some resources that have fed my fervor to see the end of human trafficking. Browse away, educate yourself, and be a part of making a difference in your community and your world!
- Start off with a wide-reaching primer on women’s rights issues globally: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. A powerful look at the many ways, including trafficking, that women are oppressed globally, and ways to improve their lives. (Bonus: Half the Sky was turned into a brilliant two-part documentary that is streaming on Netflix! Get to it!)
- Move onto the business side of things: Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara. A look into the economics of the third largest criminal enterprise in the world (behind drugs and weapons).
- Make it personal with Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of prostitution who has dedicated her life to rescuing young girls from the life. A heart-wrenching memoir.
- Then take a brutally honest look at trafficking and its affect on women and girls with The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade by Victor Malarek. *Not for the faint of heart.
- Now, zero in on trafficking in the U.S.: Somebody’s Daughter, The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher. This book looks at statistics, policies, cultural attitudes, and real-life stories of prostituted girls to give you a big-picture look into the problem of trafficking. If you read one book on this list, read this one.
- Get really local: “Saving Bobbi: A Teen’s Sex Trafficking Ordeal”— a four part series written by Pam Louwagie and published in the Star Tribune.
- Then, the call to action: Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade– and How We Can Fight it by David Batstone.
- Made in the U.S.A.: the Sex Trafficking of America’s Children by Alisa Jordheim
- The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
- Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale a memoir by Rachel Lloyd, a trafficking survivor and advocate for trafficked women in New York.
- The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice by Kathryn Bolkovac. A disturbing true story about U.S. involvement in brutal trafficking of women in the Balkans. Bonus: was made into a dramatic movie starring Rachael Weisz. Although it deviates predictably from the true story, it’s still very much worth a watch.
Volunteer/Get Informed/Get Organized:
- Breaking Free: One of the most crucial organizations in the state, Breaking Free was founded by prostitution survivor Vednita Carter, and serves as a shelter and resource center for trafficking victims and survivors. Breaking Free offers numerous programs for victims as well as an education program for convicted Johns (men who buy or solicit sex). Recently, they opened the state’s first juvenile-exclusive shelter for exploited victims. You can help by donating money or your time. You can also adopt a survivor and her family for Christmas! See the website for more information, and like them on Facebook.
- MN Girls Are Not For Sale is a campaign run by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to stop human trafficking in Minnesota. Their website is ripe with information and ways you can help.
- Among numerous other causes, The Advocates for Human Rights does incredible work for human trafficking policies in Minnesota. They are important advocates for victims not only of human trafficking but also of domestic violence.
- Nicholas Kristof: @NickKristof, New York Times op/ed columnist. In addition to his work for women’s rights, he writes about numerous other human rights issues.
- The Advocates for Human Rights: @The_Advocates, for more info on local and global human rights issues.
- Julian Sher: @juliansher, a Canadian investigative journalist and author.
- The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota: @WomensFndnMN, for more information on women’s rights issues in our state.
- The Aurora Center for Education and Advocacy: @AuroraCenter, for a victim-centered, local approach to violence and sexual assault issues.
- And, of course, The Women’s Center: @mnwomenscenter so you’ll never miss anything!
- Sevenly: Each week, this organization releases new apparel and accessories to support a new cause. Although many causes have been women’s rights issues, any cause Sevenly supports is a great one. Their designs are too cute, and you’re donating money to a good cause at the same time!
- 31 Bits: The beautiful jewelry and accessories from 31 Bits are handcrafted by Ugandan women. “Using fashion and design to empower women to rise above poverty.”
- Breaking Free: Find some beautiful jewelry and other gift ideas from Breaking Free to support a tremendously important local organization!
- Relevée: Formerly known as survivormade, Relevée jewelry is not only stunning, it has been handcrafted by survivors of trafficking.
There you have it. Now you have no more excuses to remain ignorant. No excuses to say you can’t make a difference so why bother? You can educate yourself, you can signal boost, and you can even do some Christmas shopping while spending toward great causes.