In February of 2015, I was scrolling through Instagram on our tour bus (because what else do you do on long bus rides?) and started noticing a trend in posts. Numerous celebrities were posting pictures of themselves with a red "❌" on their hands. It caught my attention and I began to read their captions and hashtags. I read captions such as:
"I'm in it to end it"
"Slavery still exists"
"End human trafficking"
"Real men don't buy girls"
"What in the world are these people talking about?? " I thought. "Slavery does not exist and what is human trafficking?" I asked myself. The ridiculous claims were enough for me to take my skepticism to the place we all turn to for our most pressing needs...Google.
I didn't know it at the time, but taking this action was a pinnacle moment in my life that would ultimately change my whole world as I knew it.
As I started reading what that phrase meant, my heart began pounding inside my chest. My breathing became heavy and my head started spinning. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.
I read the words: "the trade of humans for the purposes of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation."
Men, women, and children sold as slaves.
"HOW?! How is this going on in our world today?!" I questioned.
I began reading how this happens, where it happens and the statistics...the numbers...the NUMBERS. Not only was this an unimaginable reality, but the vastness of it astounded me. And what's more...that this is a recognized crime by the United States government and has been since the year 2000.
Shocked. Stunned. Disturbed.
Let's take a step back so you fully understand where I'm coming from here. This tour that I mentioned earlier was one on which our team's role was to talk to middle and high school students all across America about making wise and healthy choices in their relationships. It was to open their eyes to the reality of the seemingly harmless hook-up culture in America. It was to illuminate the lies that we are infiltrated with by the media and challenge them to rise above, accepting nothing less than their true value and worth as young men and women. An example of a lie that we worked to dismantle is that pornography is not only harmless, but is actually a great way to learn about sex.
You see...I thought that we were the experts. I thought that we had all of the information that would help these students understand the reality of their choices in romantic relationships. I had no idea that it was so much bigger than that. Until now.
I now understood that pornography didn't just change the way men view women, but that it actually fuels sex slavery. That those actors might actually not be choosing to be there.
I now understood that our culture's obsession with sex actually makes us numb to labeling a scantily dressed woman as a prostitute instead of a possible victim and as someone who may desperately want help.
I now understood that there are millions of victims from whom choice has been eradicated from their will.
I began to see the world with totally different eyes. The question, "how could this be happening" now turned to, "how can I not do something about this?"
If you're reading this, you're probably aware that I've made it my career to educate as many as possible about the reality of human trafficking and child exploitation, starting right here in my own home city of Pittsburgh. I've had the opportunity to educated hundreds of people through the use of my personal social media, compelling conversations, and live presentations through Asservo.
It is one of my heart's greatest desires and deepest passions to tell the world what is happening and what they can do about it. Education and awareness means two vital things: PREVENTION and FREEDOM.
The more people who are aware of the problem, the red flags, and how to take action, the less people will fall victim to abuse and exploitation, and the more that the public can recognize it and report it, the more victims can be helped.
AWARENESS + ACTION = FREEDOM
The movement that made me aware of human trafficking is known as the End It Movement (https://enditmovement.com). It is a coalition of organizations, like us, who are actively working to eradicate modern-day slavery. They created a campaign to raise awareness all over the world encouraging people to draw a red "❌" on their hand take a selfie with it, and post it with the hashtag #enditmovement. This campaign, known as "Shine A Light On Slavery Day" happens every year in February.
As we approach February 22, I want to invite you to be a part of this movement. I invite you to be a part something bigger than yourself. If it wasn't for this movement, for people posting the red "❌" selfies accompanied by curious hashtags, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I wouldn't be educating as many as I have been helping to prevent abuse and rescue those currently trapped if it wasn't for others joining the fight. I invite you to fight.
Take a stand against slavery.
Use your platform as a voice for those whose voices have been silenced.
Come February 22, draw a red "❌" on your hand, take and post a selfie with it and be sure to use the hashtags, #enditmovement and #theasservoproject. Tag us in your photos so that we can see our community of fighters!
Your voice matters. It has the power to change the world and together, we can.
I'm in it to end it. Are you?