What You Can Do to Stop Human Trafficking

January 11, 20133 Comments

Whenever I give a talk about A Walk Across the Sun and modern slavery, I get this response: I’m appalled by the horror of it and would like to help, but what can I possibly do to make a difference? This is the most important question we can ask–indeed, the only morally imperative question. The good news is that all of us can make a contribution to the abolitionist cause.

Here are seven ways you can help:

1) Educate Your Daughters: The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13-15. Recruiters (usually men between the ages of 18 and 30) target young girls of all races and socio-economic backgrounds wherever kids hang out–shopping malls, parties, movie theaters, supermarkets, Internet chat rooms, and social media websites. They use friendship and the promise of gifts and connections to gain the trust of their marks and then lure them away from their families and kidnap them into the trade.

When my friend Holly Austin Smith was 14, she was at a New Jersey mall when an older man caught her eye. She chatted with him and exchanged phone numbers. For the next two weeks, she talked to him on the phone while her parents were in the house. He quickly figured out that she was terrified of going to high school and offered her a way out–a modeling job. She believed him, met him in a public place, got into a cab with him, and vanished. That night, he put her on the street in Atlantic City and sold her to an old man who told her before he raped her: “You remind me of my granddaughter.”

Sadly, Holly is not alone. Her story is quite common and has many variations. Our daughters need to know that they are targets, not so they can live in fear but so they can protect themselves and their friends. As parents, it is our obligation to educate them.

2) Educate Your Sons: At its root, the sex trade is an economic phenomenon, driven by the law of supply and demand. By educating our daughters, we can reduce supply. By educating our sons, we can reduce demand. Every year, pimps and traffickers make between $30 and $40 billion through forced prostitution. That money comes from the pocketbooks of the ordinary men who buy sex.

As parents, we must teach our sons that purchasing sex is not only degrading to women but that it fuels a trade that enslaves girls no different from their sisters and friends. Our sons need to know that 80-90% of women in prostitution want to get out. Since the average new recruit is a teenager, the average woman in prostitution is a trafficking victim (even if she is now an adult). Sex-buying is encouraged by a macho male culture–in the armed forces, in law enforcement, in locker rooms, on sports teams, etc. It is also fueled by the fantasies young men develop from pornography.

We need to teach our sons to reject this culture and to take a public stand against it.

3) Support Trafficking Education in Schools: When I was in school, I was taught early and often about the dangers of illicit drug use. We need to see the same kind of educational campaign with regard to trafficking. The Richmond Justice Initiative has launched the Prevention Project in Virginia. The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation has launched the 100 Days to Freedom curriculum in New York. This needs to happen in every school in every country across the world.

If you or someone you know is a teacher, an administrator, or has a student in a middle or high school, you could be the spark that ignites the interest of a policymaker in your district. It might take nothing more than a phone call.

4) Contribute to Charity: Every day across the world, heroic non-profits are combatting human trafficking in the field–rescuing and rehabilitating children caught in the trade, prosecuting pimps and traffickers, educating vulnerable populations, providing job training and psychological services to women in prostitution, and agitating for policy change at all levels of government. This work is critical to the abolitionist cause, but it is expensive and governments saddled by budget crises are retrenching on their commitment to fund anti-trafficking work.

My wife and I are dedicated to supporting the abolitionist cause with our resources as well as our voices. Join us by giving to one of the wonderful organizations listed on my website. Your generosity could save a life.

5) Lobby Your Elected Leaders: Tough laws against human trafficking are not a panacea, but they are essential to the fight. If you are in the U.S., you should call your Congressmen and demand the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which has languished in Congress for two years due to partisan bickering . You should also learn what your state has done (or not done) to counter human trafficking and contact your state representatives to support better laws–particularly those targeting sex-buyers and providing support to survivors.

If you are in Canada, you should learn more about initiatives by your government to legalize brothels and pimping, and oppose them. Notwithstanding the good intentions of the legalizers, legal prostitution increases human trafficking because the majority of prostitution is run by organized crime. As the Dutch have found, organized crime can’t be regulated. The only model that has proven to decrease sex trafficking on a national scale is Sweden’s, under which (a) the sale of sex is decriminalized (so the prostitute is treated as a victim, not a criminal), (b) pimps, traffickers, and johns are targeted with jail time and fines, and (c) survivors of prostitution are offered robust social services.

6) Buy Survivor-Made Goods: Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the anti-trafficking movement is the rehabilitation of survivors. A survivor of sex trafficking is like a battered spouse, a serial rape victim, and a torture survivor in one person. Even the most competent psychologists and social workers struggle to piece together hearts and minds so comprehensively shattered.

Rehabilitation is only successful within a context of unconditional love and support, and where a survivor finds the courage to set aside her fear and pain and embrace a future apart from exploitation. Many sex trafficking survivors have a criminal record (related to prostitution) and lack meaningful job skills. Some overcome these barriers by making and selling household products.

You can support their future by supporting their enterprises.

7) Learn the Signs of Trafficking and Report Suspicious Incidents: The Polaris Project runs a national hotline to collect tips about suspected trafficking incidents. The hotline has led to the rescue of thousands of survivors.

If you live in the U.S., you should store the hotline number (888-3737-888) in your mobile phone and learn the signs of trafficking. Don’t think you’ll never have use for it. My wife and I once observed what friends in law enforcement later confirmed was likely a sex trafficking incident at a fashionable hotel outside Washington, D.C. We called the hotline and made a report.

As the list above shows, all of us can lend a hand to stop human trafficking. I invite you to join the cause today!

3 Responses to “What You Can Do to Stop Human Trafficking”

  1. Lauren

    I would add to this great list only one thing. Buy fair trade products. Make sure the coffee, tea, and chocolate you are consuming does not involve slave labor in its supply chain (stay away from Starbucks). Make sure the clothes and household goods you are buying do not involve slave labor.

  2. russ pulliam


    Thank you for such clear directions.

    Russ Pulliam

  3. chibuike

    good i love this but i still need more informationg on how to stop the trafficking

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