A Word from Blythe Hill on National Foster Care Day
I was 19 when I first learned about human trafficking. I came across an article about the sex and labor trafficking of India and was shaken to the core.
How could it be possible that slavery could still be happening—isn’t that a thing of the past?
I was 22 when the first 'Taken' film came out, making the conversation around trafficking main stream—although still positioning the issue as a far away problem, one that happened outside of the US.
I was 23 when I created Dressember as a style challenge, without ever intending it to be anything beyond a fun, fashion challenge. But then, in spite of my intentions, it grew. With it, so did my vision for it. I began to dream about using it as a way to engage in anti-human trafficking efforts.
I was 27 when I finally got organized (and got the guts) to turn Dressember into a campaign aligned with anti-trafficking work. At this point, I still had little idea of how this issue—that many people still labeled as “far away”—was present and manifesting itself in my own country.
"I created Dressember as a style challenge, without ever intending it to be anything beyond a fun, fashion challenge. But then, in spite of my intentions, it grew. With it, so did my vision for it."
In the five years since Dressember became a campaign aimed at dismantling modern-day slavery, I’ve learned so much—we’ve learned so much as a society. Human trafficking impacts every corner of the globe. It happens in every city, around major sporting events, at truck stops, massage parlors, on busy streets and busy websites. In spite of what the 'Taken' franchise would have us believe, we know now that a very small percentage of trafficking recruitment happens through kidnapping. Here in the US, there is one startling recruitment method that has taken us far too long to realize: foster care.
It is estimated that in the US, one in three runaway foster children will be recruited into trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. In Los Angeles, a study done by the Los Angeles Police Department found that nine out of ten female victims of sex trafficking are or were in the foster care system.
Traffickers know to prey on the most vulnerable members of society; they systematically go after children in foster care by hanging around group homes, juvenile justice facilities, and shelters for homeless youth. Foster children crave the love, support, and consistency of a stable family, and are vulnerable to accepting even a warped version of it. A trafficker will lure a young girl with expensive gifts, attention, rides, and meals until she is convinced that the trafficker has offered their best shot at a normal life.
Another thing that traffickers know: when a foster child goes missing, likely no one will go looking for them. A child with a strong support system who goes missing is likely to have parents pressing the police and informing the media until he or she is found. So, an unfortunate pipeline between foster care and trafficking is created. Meanwhile, the larger society is preoccupied with trafficking via abduction, making us more concerned with children in families being kidnapped than we are with the children who innocently and heartbreakingly walk into human trafficking of their own free will, convinced it is their best option.
Today is National Foster Care Day in the US, which makes it the perfect time to discuss the connection between foster care and trafficking. As the Dressember Foundation grows, we hope to continue to grow in our understanding of trafficking in all its forms and keep you informed as well. My vision for Dressember is to both empower and equip a growing community of advocates, and also to support a network of organizations working from every angle to dismantle the trafficking industry.
As we edge closer to the Dressember 2018 campaign, we plan to announce a new Grant Partner within the Foster Care advocacy space, to whom we will provide vital funding to break down what has been for many years a strong connection between foster care and trafficking. Until then, we encourage you to investigate this connection and share the information you find with others.
"My vision for Dressember is to both empower and equip a growing community of advocates, and also to support a network of organizations working from every angle to dismantle the trafficking industry."
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