Human dignity and human trafficking

We must work to prevent human trafficking by being a mentor to others and positively shaping societys thoughts about respect and dignity.
Courtesy of

We must work to prevent human trafficking by being a mentor to others and positively shaping society’s thoughts about respect and dignity. Courtesy of

Human trafficking, otherwise known as modern day slavery, seems distant from our own lives. After attending a student-run human trafficking conference held at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City November 15, however, I learned that this monstrous crime is a relevant multi-layered problem rooted in poverty, vulnerability, and a lack of human dignity. One of the only ways to prevent human trafficking in the long run, especially in the realm of sexual exploitation of women, is to change society’s way of looking at the dignity of each individual.
First, we need to make our community aware of the problem in its true form. As Ms. Rachel Lloyd, Founder of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) and keynote speaker at the conference pointed out, media often conveys a false representation of victims. Media depicts human trafficking by showing young girls with chains across their bodies, duct tape over their mouths, and dirt strewn across their faces. These images may catch our attention, but they are incredibly dramatized and not always accurate.
A real victim does not have to be physically locked away from the outside world. In fact, many victims, especially young women who have pimps or are trafficked into the commercial sex industry, are physiologically and psychologically bound. They cannot escape because their aggressors threaten their family and even their lives if they try to leave. Other girls even develop a relationship with their pimp and believe that he reciprocates their love.
After overcoming this misconception about victims, we can now try to stop this illegal practice. First things first: we need to stop trying to be superheroes. We cannot eliminate human trafficking by merely roaming around the streets and picking up girls at night who are in compromised situations. If we are to stop this crime in the long run, we need to combat the roots of the problem.
“Targeting human trafficking is about targeting poverty, racism, and the spectrum of gender based violence,” Ms. Lloyd said in her presentation at the conference.
This task seems like a hefty load and a large responsibility. But one of the most important actions we can take is to simply be one thing – a mentor. Whether we are a mentor to a young boy or girl through nationwide programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Big Sister and Peer Leadership at Convent of the Sacred Heart Greenwich, we have the power to promote positive values like equality and acceptance.
“It is important to let the girls know that they are seen, heard, and valued,” Ms. Lloyd said.

We must work to prevent human trafficking by being a mentor to others and positively shaping society's thoughts about respect and dignity. Courtesy of
We must work to prevent human trafficking by being a mentor to others and positively shaping society’s thoughts about respect and dignity.
Courtesy of

If a child has a role model to look up to, he or she is more likely to be taught the true value of love, freedom, and independence. It is especially important to teach future generations about human dignity and respect. Mentorship is a vital component in molding a society that values respect for others, respect for our thoughts and ideas, and respect for our bodies.
Children, particularly girls, who are taught these values, are less vulnerable and therefore less prone to becoming trafficked. Likewise, children, particularly boys, are less likely to grow up and want to take advantage of women. Mrs. Laura Riso, Victim Specialist in the Crimes Against Children Squad in the FBI New York Office and opening presenter at the conference, mentioned her role as a mentor for the victims she works with.
“I give them my cell number and just by being available, I am setting up a baseline for building that respect and trust,” Mrs. Riso said.
In order to be a positive role model for others, however, we must first take a look at how we perceive human dignity. Do we value ourselves? Do we respect our bodies? Do we value our ideas and reach for our goals?
At the conference, one of the most intense and raw moments was during a performance by The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company NYC in which four young women each performed a monologue recounting true stories. In one piece, the actress played the role of Nadia, a normal high-school girl who attended a “Pimp and Hoe” party. The girls dressed up as prostitutes while the boys were their pimps. This annual party theme tradition promoted belittling conduct towards women.
Although events like this may take place in a joking manner, to a vulnerable trafficked girl, it is reality, and a harsh one at that. By partaking in them, we are degrading our dignity and setting a bad example for young children.
As students of Sacred Heart, we are taught to have a genuine respect for ourselves and learn to use wise freedom to make good choices. Since our lives seem so far detached from the lives of those who are trafficked, it is easy to forget how our actions can degrade ourselves and women in general.
But we cannot make this excuse. Rather, we need to be aware of our actions and their implications. Upper School Theology Teacher Mrs. Kerry Bader who teaches Ethics, Morality, and Behavior, also believes that we need to act with dignity to set an example for those that follow us.
“In our culture, women are often over-sexualized or viewed primarily as an object for men, and their value is construed in this way.  If we can change our culture to recognize that human dignity is inherent in each person and not a product of how one looks or how much money a person has, we will go a long way to stopping human trafficking,” Mrs. Bader said.
If each person takes the simple, yet vital, role of being a dignified mentor, we can not only change one individual’s view, but also mold society’s outlook on others, from disrespect and exploitation, to one of respect and dignity.
– Alice Millerchip, Content Editor