Tuesday my facebook, instagram and twitter were flooded with images of hands with red X’s on them as an act of solidarity with the END IT movement. This campaign is fantastic. It’s refreshing to see a people from a wide variety of backgrounds working together to spread awareness and pull resources together to fight against modern day slavery. I was excited about all the images throughout the day and the creative ways people displayed them. Yet I had this nagging feeling all day and this post is written out of that feeling. Here we go.
To grossly oversimplify let’s say that these types of social projects can be roughly divided into three parts; Prevention, Treatment and Advocacy. Yep, told you it was an oversimplification (to all my social worker friends just give me that one for the sake of argument). "Treatment" is usually the part I get most excited about. It’s the restoration and rebuilding of lives part. It’s the story part. It’s the easiest part to give money to because we can see the impact with our own eyes. "Advocacy" tends to be one of the easier places to get involved. It’s a red x on your hand, a tee shirt, a conversation starter. It’s raising awareness and it’s incredibly important. Look at the website change.org to get an idea of the power of this piece. Sometimes all it takes is someone shining light in an area to make the darkness flee without a fight. Sometimes it takes a lot of voices over a long period of time but the voice gets louder and louder until it’s so loud it just can’t be ignored.
I think the most neglected part is Prevention. Prevention isn’t very interesting. It’s hard to get people to support it because well, nothing has happened yet. It’s hard to measure success and if you can measure the impact of prevention you’ll need to wait a while to notice large, big picture trends.
But in reality, Prevention is the most important part.
For example. We can rescue a little girl (treatment) from sexual slavery and provide her with the most amazing resources so that she can grow up and live a full, free and happy life. We can talk about this little girl (advocacy) so that people know it’s a problem and raise money to help all the other little girls like her. But what if we never had to rescue her? What if she was never sold, orphaned or neglected in the first place? What if her dad was paid a fair wage and never even entertained the idea of "sending her to the city to work" because he could meet all her needs ? What if her mom had access to that medication through her job and her little girl never became an orphan? What if that couple adopted that 11 year old before she had to move into the group home where she’d first be introduced to her pimp by her bunk mate? The truth is we wouldn’t know her story, but I think we could all agree that’s the story we’d really want for her.
There are a lot of incredible people doing super intense on the ground work in the prevention, treatment and advocacy areas. They are lawyers, lobbyist, nurses, case managers, business owners, therapists and community leaders. The work they do is crazy hard and should continually be supported.
However, for the rest of us, for those of us that make up the overwhelming majority of freedom fighters who will never physically venture into those dark and difficult places, I believe that the BIGGEST difference we can make is right at the beginning with the prevention piece. The trouble is, this piece is the most inconvenient to our lifestyle.
Does my lifestyle support freedom or slavery? Do I buy lots of cheap (sweatshop) clothing that I don’t actually need or do I buy quality pieces I need from companies that pair their employees fairly? Do I give my incredibly valuable time and energy to mentor, foster or adopt vulnerable children that pimps are looking to exploit? Do I think about my grocery list as a way to help lift families out of poverty by buying fair trade or direct trade? Do I buy a new phone just for the sake of having something new even though the materials needed to make it are often a product of violence and slave labor? I know this sounds harsh but the reality for slaves well…it’s kind of harsh. The great news is that if you aren't already thinking this way you are about to discover limitless opportunities to fight modern day slavery from your home simply by spending money thoughtfully. If we really want to END IT we have to care about how we spend it.