Awareness Leads to Action and Action Leads to Change

Jonny Elliott, WIP Class 2012, talks passionately about fighting against human trafficking

Those who know me well know that I am passionate about standing against human trafficking in our world today.  This spark was ignited at a festival a few years ago where one of the bands playing described the story behind one of their songs.  It woke me up to the fact that 27 million men, women and children are living in slavery around the world today. Many of these people are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation, or “rape for profit” as Northern Irish Police Detective Superintendent Phillip Marshall refers to it as.  However, other forms include domestic servitude, forced labor and the harvesting of organs.  The injustice of human trafficking knows no bounds; it affects people of every age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity and nationality.

There are an estimated 325,000 children in the US living in sexual slavery right now, being forced to endure affliction that no one should ever be subjected to.

I am a firm believer in Northern Ireland MLA Conall McDevitt’s mantra that “awareness leads to action and action leads to change.”  For that reason, part of my service for WIP included leading the organisation of a Trafficking Forum in Belfast.  This brought together representatives from politics, academia, police and grassroots projects to share and engage in debate about a way forward to stop this injustice in Northern Ireland.  Over 200 delegates attended the event, with resource packs being distributed to each and sent out via mail and over the Internet to many others.

The essence of the event was to make action accessible for all.  The solution to this injustice cannot be found through one intervention alone.  It must combine a mass movement of grassroots initiatives applying pressure to policy makers and legislators, setting barriers for would-be-traffickers and increasing penalties.  This cannot be achieved without key individuals championing and driving forward initiatives at every level.  Individuals such as WIP ’02 alum Chris Lyttle who is setting the standard high on the hill at Stormont and championing both community lead initiatives and applying pressure to relevant government departments in debates.

This model of abolition is the same locally as it is globally.  Community champions and innovation at every level, catalysing positive change at a local, national and international level.  Last Tuesday I was privileged to be able to attend the launch of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s Report 2012.  This report is renowned globally as the most influential report into national level abolition and is seen as the gold standard in terms of quality and efficacy of data collected and disseminated.  The report is of course a policy document, designed to be a global audit of where we have come from, where are now and where we are going to in terms of victim rescue, rehabilitation and support.

The report is championed by key individual and groups the very top, with an insightful speechby US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero.  The room of about 200 invited guests was buzzing and there was a great sense of optimism, energized by media assemblage at the back of the room where CNN streamed the event live.

However, amongst the politicos and leaders in the anti-trafficking movement, there was a strong emphasis on what we as individuals can do in our every day lives.  Everyday choices can have lifelong consequences.  We need to be conscious consumers, aware that we are buying into a world that can either foster and support sustainable development or compete with ethically produced goods and drive the business out of production; all due to the basic supply and demand culture which we take for granted.

Amongst the guests were ‘TIP Heroes’ whose efforts and stories were recognised formally by the US department of State.  Two notable guests were Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith, who interestingly became aware of the cause through their daughter Willow after she watched the ‘Kony 2012’ video.  Now, both very public advocates and supporters of the anti-slavery movement, with Jada releasing a music video to raise awareness.

Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.  He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

Rev Martin Luther King Jr

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