Having Human Trafficking Awareness Month be in January was a great way to start off 2015, but it’s just that: a start. Human trafficking is just as big a problem this month as it was then, and we need to keep the conversation going.
Germ’s very own Executive Editor, Jordan Gripenwaldt, is a volunteer at A21 — an organization that is actively fighting human trafficking as well as providing safety and care for survivors. She agreed to let me interview her about all the different aspects of A21, including what they’re actually doing to make a difference and what we can do to help.
Q: What is The A21 Campaign?
A: The A21 Campaign is a global anti-human trafficking organization. The name means “Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century.”
Q: How do they help people?
A: A21 helps people in a variety of ways and methods. As an organization, it focuses on what we call the 4P model: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, Partnership.
Prevention means spreading awareness about human trafficking to both educate people about what it is and how they can help stop it, but also teaching the people who are at risk the signs to look for. Prevention and education often go hand in hand. One of the major ways we do prevention is through our Bodies Are Not Commodities curriculum that we are trying to get in English speaking schools across the globe.
Protection is where we rescue and house the survivors of human trafficking. It’s both keeping them safe from their traffickers and from being re-trafficked and helping them reintegrate into regular life again.
Prosecution is obviously the legal side of things, where we go after traffickers and trafficking cases through the court systems.
Partnership is acknowledging that this problem is too big to tackle alone, and so teaming up with other organizations to maximize our effectiveness.
Q: Who do they help?
A: As A21 focuses especially on sex trafficking, it helps primarily women of all ages, although that doesn’t mean that men and boys aren’t trafficked for sex either. The facts of the matter are that anyone at any age can be trafficked for a variety of reasons: men, women, children alike. No one group is totally safe from it.
Q: What are different ways that people can get involved?
A: There are several ways people get involved. I volunteer at our California office, working side by side with our different departments in the central communications hub of the operation. You can volunteer at different offices (we are global, remember), and if you visit our website, you can see the countries and offices you can apply to volunteer for.
We also encourage people to start A-Teams. A-Teams are basically anti-trafficking groups that people establish in their communities. The people who start them notice a need, find like-minded people, and begin anti-trafficking work (whether it be awareness, education, or fundraising) in the name of A21. They’re really the un-sung heroes of the organization because they are taking their work into their own communities and transforming them from the inside out.
Q: I noticed there are some cute T-shirts and bracelets for sale on the site. Does the money from these purchases go toward A21 projects?
A: Great question! Our (super cute) merch definitely goes toward A21 projects. It’s through donations, merchandise sales, and partnerships that we keep our shelters running and provide as much help as we can for our girls! We’ve got stuff in our shop for both men and women too!
Q: Why is what A21 and similar organizations do so important?
A: What A21 and similar organizations do that is so important is that they’re recognizing an enormous and hideous attack on human rights. Trafficking of all kinds (sex, labor, domestic, etc.) is abhorrent and an affront to humanity. Slavery didn’t end in the 1800s like society would have you believe, and it’s organizations like A21 that are standing up and saying, “Slavery IS real, and it’s NOT okay.” We and others like us are working tirelessly to get the rest of the world to listen, agree, and ultimately take action.
The work we do is so important because we’re talking about people’s very lives and freedom being protected and restored.
Q: Is there human trafficking here in the United States?
A: The short answer is: absolutely. Human trafficking exists in every country and is the largest growing criminal enterprise in the entire world. The United States is actually a major destination country for traffickers to bring in their victims for the purposes of being sold. According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, there are an estimated 60,100 people currently enslaved in the US. Globally, we’re ranked at 67 of 167 countries, which means we’re doing rather poorly. To give you a perspective, in India it’s estimated that 14 million people are enslaved while in Iceland it’s estimated that there are less than 100.
Q: What are ways that people can support A21?
A: A great way that people can support A21 and anti-trafficking work in general is to SPREAD THE WORD. Follow us on social media and reblog/retweet/regram. Tell everyone you know about human trafficking and try to raise as much awareness as you can. You can also purchase T-shirts, bracelets, necklaces, and bags from our site because those proceeds really help us keep the organization going. We also take just general donations at any time through our website.
Q: What is your specific role at A21 and what do you do?
A: As a volunteer at A21, I specifically work in the social media department. That means I’m working behind the scenes to generate the social media that you all see on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I also help with our big donation and awareness campaigns and photo shoots. It’s a lot of creativity, and I work with really great people. I absolutely love it!
Q: How does this help the organization as a whole?
A: Our social media team is really important to the organization as a whole because it’s through social media that our wonderful followers know what’s going on with our organization, what we’re doing to help, and how they can help. It’s about the transparency and integrity of our organization as well as helping people understand who we are and what we do and why they should help us do it! Through our social media, we’ve generated a lot of donations and have helped organize incredible global campaigns, like this past fall’s #WalkForFreedom, which happened in over 30 countries across the globe with over 2,000 people participating!
Q: What sets A21 apart from other similar organizations? Are there other organizations that are helping fight human trafficking as well?
A: Honestly, I think what sets A21 apart from other similar organizations is its heart. It’s a relatively small organization, surviving off of volunteers and donations so that the majority of the money raised can go to the cause and survivors in its care. There’s a basic but important element of authenticity and genuine desire to change the world.
Our founder Christine Caine is the reason I and a lot of volunteers first heard about A21, and her unadulterated passion and zeal for justice is suffused throughout the entire organization. Every single staff member and volunteer deeply desires to see freedom established for all people, and an end to this horrific crime. It’s really refreshing to see such a grassroots effort become global and successful while remaining so grounded, and I honestly think it sets us apart.
That’s obviously not to say that other organizations are not doing the same kind of needed work. In particular: IJM (International Justice Mission), Polaris Project, CAS (Christians Against Slavery), CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), California Against Slavery, Love 146, Rescue Freedom, and the OCHTF (The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force) are doing some really great work.
Q: Any advice you’d give those who want to make changing the world or fighting human trafficking their career? Where should they start? Is there a particular major that better helps prepare people for this?
A: This unfortunately is a question I need answered myself as I’m currently trying to do the same thing (laughs). Honestly, though, the biggest way to change the world by fighting human trafficking isn’t as direct of a course as you might think. The jobs and careers that probably do the most to help end human trafficking don’t have human trafficking anywhere in the title. These are the jobs like social workers, school counselors, healthcare workers, aid workers, case managers, lawyers.
I’ve been studying human trafficking for over a decade, and what I’ve found is that everyone wants to work with a survivor of human trafficking, but no one wants to work with the sullen teenage runaway from a poor area that’s severely at risk of being trafficked. People want to deal with the aftermath because it seems more glamorous to say “I work with victims of human trafficking” than “I work in an afterschool program with impoverished youth.” In the end, though, both positions allow you an equal opportunity to help end human trafficking. Prevention — by changing the culture and the younger generations — is really the only way we’re ever going to end human trafficking permanently.
Regardless, the most important thing you can do to start out is study, study, study. Become an expert in the subject. Start volunteering and interning. Do your research and find organizations that you like, whose mission you can get behind, who do best practice and practice sustainability models. Figure out your strengths and passions and play on those, especially when it comes to career paths that would put you in the path of dealing with people who are at risk of becoming trafficked. Interested in medicine? Consider working in a health clinic in poorer areas, where people are vulnerable. Interested in the law? We always need lawyers and lobbyists to change the legal climate and make it easier to prosecute traffickers. Do you like working with children? Social workers, counselors, and teachers have great ability to reach children who are at risk of being trafficked.
The short answer would be “no”: There isn’t one specific major that best equips you to tackle this problem. I myself graduated with a BA in Cultural Anthropology, but this obviously isn’t the only option. Overall, if you’re in a major that is dedicated to helping people (with the sobering understanding that you will most likely never make a lot of money), then you’re headed in the right direction.
Q: Any last piece of advice?
A: There’s this quote by William Wilburforce, an incredible abolitionist who helped end the slave trade in Britain in the 19th century:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
The reason it’s really resonated with me over the years is that it reminds me that apathy, not ignorance, is justice’s greatest enemy. If you know about human trafficking, then you have to deal with it in some way — you can’t just pretend that it doesn’t exist. I believe that if we tell enough people and spread enough awareness, people have no choice but to respond, and we really can abolish injustice in the 21st century.