As the new director of Human Rights for Vital Voices, I knew that I would be representing the organization at public speaking events regularly – but I was surprised that my first speaking engagement was a mere week and a half after starting with Vital Voices! And what a wonderful introduction to my new role it was!!! The event was a panel on sex trafficking, held at Voce Di at 43-45 Grand Street in SoHo, in New York City.
“Be the Voice” is a pop-up shop, whose purpose is to bring attention to the plight of people living in poverty and instability, and to highlight their increased vulnerability to human trafficking. The shop, curated by Debbie Farrah, the CEO/Founder of Bajalia International, offered a variety of wonderful products that were made under fair trade, slave-free, and non-exploitative work conditions.
|Fair-trade and slave-free products for sale at the pop-up shop
The sex trafficking panel discussion that I was to be a part of took place on October 16. Arriving at Voce Di for this panel, I was immediately impressed by the beautiful venue chosen for this event. The pop-up shop was located upstairs, among the beautiful art work and furniture that Voce Di showcases. The panel was set up downstairs.
Just before the event, I had the honor of meeting my co-panelists, Katie Ford and Shandra Woworuntu; as well as our moderator, Diana Mao. I was immediately impressed with these women. Katie Ford, who was the founder and CEO of Ford Models, dramatically changed course when she founded Freedom For All, taking her experience of working with young models who had been potentially vulnerable to human trafficking and parlaying that into creating a non-profit that partners with organizations to end slavery in their countries.
Shandra Woworuntu, a sex trafficking survivor herself, works with several organizations to give a voice to survivors who don’t yet have a voice of their own by sharing her own experience and identifying gaps in services and assistance available to survivors.
And Diana Mao was one of the co-founders of Nomi Network, which strengthens social enterprises by providing job opportunities for survivors and women who are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
|Vital Voices human rights manager Dinah Jean (left) with Shandra Woworuntu (right)
Our discussion centered largely around our respective experience in this field, and the need to raise awareness about this crime. We talked about the need for survivor services; about how to prevent this crime, not just how to detect and prosecute it.
As someone with experience in this area, much of what was said was not new to me, but as I looked around at our audience, I was impressed by a few things. It was clear that the audience was truly engaged in the conversation. There were nods of agreement when Shandra said that “everyone deserves humanity” and when Katie talked about the importance of learning how to replicate and scale what small groups are doing on this issue abroad.
There were suitably horrified looks when I spoke about a woman I met in Ethiopia whose trafficker had amputated her leg and sexually assaulted her. But most importantly, when given the opportunity to ask questions, a theme of many of the questions and remarks can be best characterized as “what can WE do?” – not just as a society, but as individuals. How can WE get involved?
I left this event feeling invigorated and grateful – to the women I had just met on the panel, to the participants who had embraced our message and wanted to make a difference, and to the organizers/hosts that had brought us all together. So thank you to everyone who made this event possible and who participated in it on any level. And to everyone who wants to know what they can do to fight human trafficking, I’ll say this: start by educating yourself about it, and then share what you know with others. The more we know, the better equipped we will be to combat this crime and to identify and help its victims.
Photo at top, left to right: Diana Mao, Katie Ford, Gigi Scoles and Shandra Woworuntu