Candlelight vigil, survivor stories shine a light on the issue of modern slavery s
If Rotary members had any doubt that human trafficking and modern slavery occur in the United States, Brad Myles, executive director and chief executive officer of Polaris, put that doubt to rest.
"We’ve recorded more than 35,000 cases of human trafficking since our hotline began (in 2007)," Myles told attendees during a breakout session at the Presidential Peace Conference, an event held prior to this year's Rotary International Convention. Myles said that one way Rotary members can help is by promoting the organization’s hotline number: +1-888-373-7888. Polaris is a nonprofit organization that trains volunteers to answer phones and direct victims to organizations across the country that can help them.
"We would love for thousands of Rotary clubs to become foot soldiers and help us put the hotline number out there," Myles said. "We need people who can put it on the radio, on billboards, on websites, and in their social media messages."
The issue of human trafficking was prominent throughout the Rotary Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where members learned about the Power of One, the difference one person can make in combating modern slavery. Trafficking in humans takes many forms but includes forced labor and sex slavery.
In a display of solidarity with survivors, Rotary members and Atlanta residents held a candlelight vigil Saturday night in Centennial Olympic Park. A mother and daughter musical duo, Southerndipity, performed. The mother, Tenesha Cargil, is a trafficking survivor.
Atlanta native Dorsey Jones, a former probation officer, recalled how she was sexually exploited.
"When I was 11 years old, my neighbor crumpled up a $20 bill and placed it in my hand, and he began to fondle me, and pounce on me," said Jones. "He passed me on to his brother and they passed me on to their father. Before long, half the community was sleeping with this scared, desperate, kid."
A counselor at her school noticed Jones, a frequent runaway, sleeping on the playground and stepped in to help. The counselor found Jones a place to live, helped her finish high school, and gave her the support she needed to earn a college degree in criminology, Jones said. Now married for 22 years, Jones works for a nonprofit that helps exploited, abused, and neglected young people.
"I turned my story around because I found hope. But not every child has that hope," Jones said. "So I am going to be a voice for the voiceless. I am going to be a hope for the hopeless. And I ask you today to stand with me, and fight for that little girl and that little boy and all the children across the globe who do not have a voice."
Before the convention, attendees of Rotary's Presidential Peace Conference had the chance to discuss the problem and ideas for solving it. Camille Kesler, executive director of Rebuilding Together Atlanta, told how her organization helps low-income families repair and maintain their homes, preserving families' independence and preventing homelessness. This, in turn, prevents crumbling neighborhoods and rising area crime that could make family members more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Our vision is a safe and healthy home for every person," Kesler said.
During the peace conference, Tjada McKenna, chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity, spoke about the organization’s 40-year-history of mobilizing volunteers to help get families off the streets. The organization has built homes for millions of families. Rotary members have volunteered on Habitat for Humanity home building projects, and convention attendees had a chance to work on such a project as part of a Host Organization Committee event.
During Monday’s general session of the convention, actor and philanthropist Ashton Kutcher, co-founder of Thorn, an organization that combats human trafficking, explained how online technology is helping to fight child sexual exploitation. He was joined onstage by Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and U.S. Senator Bob Corker. Corker has sponsored legislation that would unite current efforts in a partnership that would provide for a new global fund to "do whatever is necessary to end this scourge," he said.
And in the convention's House of Friendship, Rotary members learned what the Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery is doing. Dave McCleary, vice chair of the action group, said he recalls being approached by a small Rotary club in southern Georgia that was overwhelmed by the scope of the issue and unsure what to do.
"I asked them what is really busy around here," McCleary says. "Well, they had the busiest truck stop on the Eastern Seaboard, and it happened that the owner of that truck stop was in their Rotary club." That was the beginning of Truckers Against Trafficking, which has placed posters showing the Polaris national hotline number at truck stops in 22 states, McCleary said. As a result, more than 400 victims of trafficking have received helped.
20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally
68% are trapped in forced labor
26% are children
55% are women and girls