Works and Days

Summer Internship Award: Anti-Human Trafficking Work at San Diego ComiCon

Being a “real superhero” (with a really cool cape) and working ComiCon 2016 to inform the public about the realities of Human Trafficking

Anti-Human Trafficking work is not one of those jobs you can just shake off when you get home. The facts and figures, the faces of victims and survivors, the ever-looming problems of running out resources even as more and more victims are identified - they’re like gnats constantly buzzing around your face. It’s hard not to get emotionally invested, to not want to lash out at people who seem like they’re indifferent. I came home emotionally drained and fuming from ComiCon this year, despite what my smiling face might show in the picture above. The blatant indifference, the callousness people treated me with when I tried to share my message infuriated me. When you find yourself a part of a powerful and global movement, you want to share that with the world. When they don’t listen, you want to scream.

Our movement isn’t perfect. I read about internal struggles in my Social Movements class with Professor Alex Hrycak, but living it has been more eye-opening than any book (sorry, Alex!). There’s a huge difference between the people who treat anti-HT as a “social movement” and the ones who treat it like a “cause” or a “crusade”. There are those who see the structural problems which cause trafficking to happen in the first place, and work to fix the economic, racial, and class barriers that lead to trafficking. Others’ primary goal is to “save” singular victims, or throw a trafficker or buyer in jail. I’ve seen personality clashes that impede progress, miscommunications and non-communications that cause great projects to linger, and people burnt out by the immense time and emotional (and physical!) energy that this work takes. Some days I leave the house at 7 AM and don’t get home until 9 or 10 PM. I’ve seen the preoccupation with sex-trafficking - a fixation on the titillating and terrifying stories of women being raped at gunpoint, with their children in the room - as labor trafficking, a much larger problem, gathers dust in the corner. Victim-blaming happens more often with labor trafficking victims than sex trafficking victims. We say, “That must be awful, how can I help?” to a woman who’s being sold for sex (unless we deem her to “want” it, then we transform her into a prostitute, unworthy of help) and “Well, at least you have a job! You were brought to America you should be thankful” to trafficked laborers on construction sites and in agricultural fields. And of course all these victims have archetypes - the Eastern European woman in lingerie and chains exists, but she’s rarer than the 16 year old whose boyfriend is in a gang and introduced her to alcohol, drugs, and prostitution as a way to be independent. The Oaxacan man forced to work picking vegetables to pay back his trafficker is definitely out there, but so is the Bengali woman who cooks and cleans for a few families in a gated community because they took her passport away. If anything, this work has taught me that slavery isn’t any less prevalent in America, it’s just a lot more well hidden.

Anti-human trafficking campaign photo with posters.

Signs from the Ugly Truth campaign - I got to go a fancy press conference, but had to pay $20 for parking :(

Of course, this makes it seem like I’ve only seen the problems, which can’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen the most diverse range of people get together for a common cause, let down barriers and open their hearts to work for something they believe in. I’ve seen, and been a part of, incredible research opportunities that I know will save lives. I got to speak to an entire room packed with researchers, data analysts, and PhDs about research I thought should be conducted - and someone actually stepped up to do it! Directly thanks to my presentation (and the preparation of countless others), in a few years time there will hopefully be national standards on what information is taught to K-12 students in human trafficking prevention curriculums, which will hopefully translate to more evidence-based practices and less re-traumatization of victims. I’ve also seen first hand the challenges and rewards of implementing policy, from the stuffy meetings where it’s debated and created to the ground where it’s put to the test.

I’ve realized how much my degree from Reed will be able to help me be a part of this social movement - I believe it’s important to have victim and survivors lead and advocate for themselves to lessen the need for privileged “saviors” to do that work, but I know they’ll need evidence-based research and helpful and uplifting policy. It’s so empowering to know I can use my degree for good, with my thesis on under-researched areas of Human Trafficking being the first step. None of this would have been possible without the incredible opportunities Reed has afforded me - from the monetary gift the Center for Life Beyond Reed awarded me, to the passion my professors instilled in me, to the support system my friends have become. Thanks to Reed, my future in Human Trafficking research and policy is a reality.

Tags: summer internship award