By Jen Pool
As someone who has been motivated and fueled by the need for justice in the world, it took me a while to stumble upon, and care about, the issue of human trafficking. In fact, it took a random excerpt in a book at a bookclub for me to find my way into the domestic anti-human trafficking world. I’d known about international human trafficking for a while thanks to Hollywood and Liam Neeson always trying to save his daughter, and the big news publications would run exposes about girls being trafficked from Russia to the Middle East; it was a problem, but it was a them problem. I certainly couldn’t make an impact from the East Coast suburbs, so I stayed focused on the local causes, or at least things that seemed more likely to touch my life.
Having lived outside of Washington D.C. for most of my life, the two sentences from the bookclub book, the main character sitting down outside the Capital building and seeing a girl get abducted to be trafficked, jarred me. Like everyone I would encounter as I started doing my own advocacy work, I thought, certainly that doesn’t happen here…does it?
My parents used to joke that I would be a lawyer when I grew up because I argued about everything, and I’d research the facts to ensure I was arguing things correctly. Staying on-brand for myself, I took to the internet to debunk the fact that there was absolutely no way that in the early 2000’s human trafficking could be taking place so casually in the United States. I was sure of it…and I was wrong. Appallingly wrong, and that simple action of researching facts set me on a path that would lead me from speaking engagements and shopping differently, to fundraising, to holding various leadership and Board Member positions for anti-trafficking organizations, and spending a year and a half as the Executive Director of an anti-trafficking non-profit.
If you’re just now embarking on your own journey on how to make a difference, here are a few suggestions that I’ve found to be most helpful over my journey through the anti-trafficking movement:
- Start Simple: Starting with something simple will set you up for success. We’d all love to change the world and eradicate human trafficking overnight, but that’s simply not the case. Lofty goals are motivating, but easy to get discouraged by. Pick one thing this year that you can do and stick to it; maybe it’s diving deep into understanding the facts through research, perhaps it’s changing your shopping habits to diminish your “slavery footprint” in the fast-fashion world, or maybe it’s choosing to only buy fair trade coffee and chocolate in 2023.
- Local & Small: Don’t get me wrong, the big organizations with their stories and their splashy websites and big dollar differences are doing great work, but they also get all the press, grants, and dollars while boots-on-the-ground and survivor-led organizations struggle day-to-day; often without funding or support, while doing incredibly important work for trafficking victims and survivors. And while international trafficking is, and will always be, an issue why not make a difference in your own community where it’ll make a deep and meaningful impact? It might take some combing through the interwebs and socials, but you can find the smaller organizations and their leaders making a difference in your own community who are fighting for others while they’re attempting to keep their organizations afloat. The bonus here is that not only do you get to invest back into your community, but you can pour into others and even create relationships with those doing the work so that you can make a larger difference, get more deeply involved if you wish, and look back to see more tangible differences you made with your money and your time.
- Observe & Examine: Being a good advocate means you set your own comfort aside and look at the ways you’ve contributed, or looked the other way, when it comes to exploitation. From shopping habits, to bias, to simple and unintentional ignorance, we’re all complicit somehow. The great part is, we can become aware of more, and as we do, we’re responsible for changing and consistently learning and doing better. We have to sit with our uncomfortable feelings; perhaps it’s our bias about race or social-status, maybe it’s how we were raised to think about the LGBTQ+ community, or what a “prostitute” is. Either way, advocacy requires compassion and grace; not just for ourselves as we learn, but for everyone impacted by exploitation.
The terrible part about this work is that it will never be done in this lifetime. The wonderful part is that you’re given the opportunity each day to wake up, learn even more, and continue to show up in the world using the gifts you’ve been given to make an impact. Start today, and maybe you’ll look back a decade from now like I did in 2022 and see the journey your simple action to get involved led you on.
Jen Pool is a Board Member for Grit Plus Gumption Farmstead. She also works as the Director for Equitable Opportunities for another 501(c)(3) outside of Washington D.C. and is a certified Life Design Coach and ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Trainer.
If you’d like to know more about getting involved with Grit+Gumption and the work that we do, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and connect with us on Socials!