By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
RICHMOND, VA , January 14 2013 – Human trafficking. It is an ugly crime and a scary topic. This is why many people turn away from the cause, overwhelmed by the crushing gravity of it. Luckily, advocates across the country are refusing to be silent as they expose the issue of human trafficking to friends, family, and neighbors.
Today, this advocate is Jada Pinkett Smith.
Jada will appear on the Katie Couric show on Monday, January 14 in order to raise awareness about human trafficking. Joining Jada are three empowered survivors: Ima Matul, Minh Dang, Withelma “T” Ortiz, and Asia Graves. Katie Couric and Jada Pinkett Smith should be commended not only for inviting survivors to share their stories but also for recognizing their expertise in the discussion.
Survivors are often requested to recount the details of their testimonies at different events, including conferences, symposiums, workshops, and more. Unfortunately, they are then excused from further participation. As a survivor of child sex trafficking myself, this is baffling. If there is to be a discussion or compilation of data regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, should not there be a survivor present?
Without survivor input, the information provided in any type of exchange is missing a very important perspective.
As a member of the National Survivor Network and Survivors Connect, I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors. Each survivor’s story is unique and every survivor’s perspective is important.
Survivor leaders like Ima, Minh, and Asia, among others, represent a larger organization of men and women. Because we are committed to consulting with members of many survivor organizations, we represent not only ourselves but also those who are still in the shadows.
Ima Matul, Survivor Coordinator of the National Survivor Network, encourages Katie Couric’s audience members to watch for signs of domestic servitude.
“[Forced labor] is such a hidden crime,” Ima states, “The public need[s] to be aware of their surrounding[s], [to] pay attention to [his or her] community or neighborhood.”
Ima urges everyone to take notice of the housekeepers and nannies working within their neighborhoods.
“Is the housekeeper or nanny ever [able to] leave the house,” Ima asked, “[to] go outside by themsel[ves], and [to] have a day off? Are they afraid to talk to you? Do they make eye contact when they speak to you? Pay attention to the waitress who serve[s] your food in the restaurant where you eat, or the people who do your nail[s] at the nail salon. Just pay attention to your surrounding[s].”
Minh Dang, the new Executive Director for Jada Pinkett Smith’s organization, Don’t Sell Bodies, encourages audience members to examine their own families and communities in order to prevent child sex trafficking:
“How are we [expressing our love to] our sons and daughters?” Minh asked, “Are we making them feel loved so that they don’t seek it elsewhere?”
Traffickers often target children who are looking for attention. As in my case, a trafficker lured me away from home after befriending me in a shopping mall.
Minh also challenges audience members to watch for signs of human trafficking within their cities and to support survivor-led programs like Carissa Phelps’ Runaway Girl; the organization, MISSSEY; and the National Survivor Network.
Last, Minh encourages audience members to join the movement.
“Work to create public outrage about slavery,” Minh stated, “Just as regular citizens of all walks of life fought slavery in the 1880s, and fought for civil rights of African-Americans in the 1960s, we need citizens to demand that slavery is unjust [today].”
To learn more about Minh Dang, please visit her blog with Don’t Sell Bodies.
Thank you, Jada, for joining this movement and for using your voice to end human trafficking. Thank you also to celebrity advocate, Lisa Ling, and to U.N. Ambassador, Mira Sorvino; both of whom strive to bring an end to human trafficking and forced labor.