In any business, you have the product, the customer, and the salesman. But there’s one other entity at play, often much broader than those. That last person is the window-shopper - the person who knows of the business but does not take part in it. In the business of trafficking, the “window-shopper” is us. It may sound like a bit of a stretch, but that’s essentially what we are. If you’re reading this, then you know the reality of sex trafficking in the U.S. and you are now an on-looker. But this forces each of us to ask the question, “What will I do?”
Let’s paint another picture for ourselves. Imagine you’re walking down a busy city street and you pass a huge store. There are lots of people going in and out of the store, so you decide to see what it’s all about. As you approach the store and begin to look more closely, you are absolutely horrified at what you have discovered. This storefront, which is obviously a thriving business with tons of patrons, sells puppy-torturing experiences. For a nominal fee, the customer can pay to torture a puppy. What goes through your head next? You’re probably wondering why such a business exists. You’re wondering where the puppies come from, what kind of sick freak would pay money to torture a puppy, and what kind of person has so little regard for life that they would create a business to meet the demand. What do you do next? Do you keep walking, feeling sorry for the puppies and thinking something to the effect of, “Man, somebody should do something about this…”? Or do you find a way to take action? You obviously can’t go in and rescue all of the puppies, but you can certainly speak up on their behalf. You can support the humane society. You can even volunteer at an animal shelter. One way or the other, you would probably find some course of action in response to this revelation.
While this is a far-fetched example, it illustrates this principle: knowledge often equals responsibility. The fact of the matter is that there are millions of young women in this world who are being sold for sex over and over again. Their futures are being highjacked by the abuse of others, and there are countless “window-shoppers” who walk on by. This business is hiding in plain sight, but now the curtain has been lifted for us and we can see it. Therefore, we have the opportunity to do something about it.
The call to action for each person is different and the degrees of involvement in the fight against trafficking vary for everyone. But the truth is that we can each do something to make a difference. We each have something in our hands that we can use to advocate for the freedom of the exploited. One of our favorite stories of such action is the story of Kendall Altmyer. She became aware of the issue of trafficking and took an internship with A21 in Greece. There she worked directly with girls for months. But the time that she dedicated to A21 was not enough for her. She started making penny bracelets, telling the story of those caught in trafficking, and selling the bracelets to fund the efforts of A21. The concept blew up and now her business is thriving, and her work is helping girls find freedom. (Click here for more of her story.)
That’s our story as well. We heard about the issue and decided that we needed to move from tears to action. We held an awareness event and made some handbags with the intention of selling them to raise funds for a local aftercare program. Again, the idea took off and here we are almost six years later, raising awareness, educating young people though prevention efforts, and working directly with girls who are searching for a way out of the life of exploitation. Now we are in the process of developing our first aftercare program to help girls in the U.S. find freedom and healing.
And this is the story of every movement that effects major change. Someone sees the issue, realizes that it’s not normal, and takes action. Someone once said, “Awareness alone can’t change anything, but nothing can change without awareness.” People must first be aware of the issue in order to do something about. You may not have much money, but you have a voice and a sphere of influence, whether big or small.
Every “window-shopper” in this business is presented with a blank to fill in, because once you see the issue, you’re forced to ask yourself the question, “what will I do for freedom?” To help people answer this question, we’ve created a campaign called “Fill In The Blank” that enables people to start their own awareness and fundraising efforts (click here to join). Every one of us has something in our hands that we can use to make an impact - and no impact is too big or too small. Join us in using what’s in your hands to fill in the blank, and send this message to the world: it’s not normal.