Dressember FAQ: "Isn't it the government's responsibility to do something about this?"
Here at Dressember we spend much of our time and resources advocating for trafficking victims at home and abroad. A question we often receive is, “Isn't it the responsibility of the government to address social issues like human trafficking?” It’s a sensible question—after all, if governments are not protecting their citizens, who will? Indeed, as of 2018, human trafficking is illegal in all 50 United States, (beginning with Washington in 2003), and is recognized as a global crime. There are a variety of state, federal and global laws and acts in place to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.
“Some days advocating means staying small and local, with faces you know, and other days, advocating means fighting for the well-being of people you might never look in the eye. It has to be both.”
However, the unfortunate reality is that laws are only effective if they’re enforced by their governments and utilized properly by their courts. Not every country has adequate laws in place to prosecute traffickers and assist victims, but even where laws are in place they are frequently underutilized or simply not accessed at all due to lack of awareness about them. For example, Florida has a statute, (Section 943.0583), that allows victims of human trafficking to petition for expungement of any charges or crimes committed as a result of being a victim. It’s a wonderful providence, as criminal histories are common for victims rescued from trafficking. But despite being an available resource since 2014, there has yet to be a successful utilization of the statute.
Countries where laws exist and are underutilized are one thing—in theory, the framework is there and we need only to learn how to harness it constructively. On a completely different level, there are countries that knowingly turn a blind eye to injustice because they stand to benefit economically. Government leaders can sometimes be willing to overlook things they should be actively standing against and human trafficking is one such injustice. One of the groups actively supported by Dressember, the A21 campaign, estimates that less than 1% of all victims are ever rescued—many of them obscured by the governments that should be protecting them. We are thankful that A21 extends its reach globally, with offices located all across the world from Costa Mesa to Copenhagen. International Justice Mission also reaches far and wide with a global focus on eradicating injustice. Countless nonprofits and private organizations have stepped in and provide relief and services for victims in partnership with the government or in lieu of what the government should be providing.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
-Former President Barack Obama
One of the most important things as an advocate is to be mindful about extending our concern and our efforts beyond our own borders. We need to have our eyes wide open. Yes, our governments and representatives are responsible to care for our citizens, but we can’t allow ourselves to believe that the “official” response to injustice is enough. As individuals, we are a part of our societies and responsible to raise our voices and create the space for victims to be heard. There are countless examples in history of small groups of dedicated individuals pushing towards goals and making a difference: the Seneca Falls Convention, The Monday Demonstrations and the Boycott Movement being just a few examples. The change from the government came following the efforts of the people.
In our everyday lives we have opportunities to live out our messages. We are influential and impactful in the little bits we share with family and friends, and are as loud and powerful as the communities we stand with. As advocates, we should be striving constantly to increase our knowledge, deepen our compassion and raise the platform of influence along with our community. Some days advocating means staying small and local, with faces you know, and other days, advocating means fighting for the well-being of people you might never look in the eye. It has to be both.
Former President Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Let this be our anthem as a community and as advocates, and we continue our fight at Dressember against human trafficking.
Raise your voice against slavery this December!
Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!
About the Author
Stephanie Ramos is a film school graduate who spent a year overseas in Tanzania as a missionary and has spent the last four years working in the nonprofit sector with at-risk kids and teens. She is passionate about minimalism, experiencing different cultures, cooking, writing and finding new ways to advocate in the fight against human trafficking. She lives with her husband Eddy in Naples, Florida and looks to the future with anticipation and excitement.