Let's TED Talk: Stop One, Save Hundreds


Wanna learn about space technology? Satiate your curiosity about curiosity (curious isn’t it)? Discover the science of flirting? Get a crash course on the power of vulnerability? Many of us have heard of or seen TED Talks on topics such as the above and on scores more (think gumballs to neuroscience to global issues). Perhaps you chanced on one while scrolling through social media or YouTube, or maybe a friend or family member told you about a TED Talk you absolutely-must-watch-if-it’s-the-last-thing-you-do (or, *cough* me *cough,* you’ve been that friend or family member). In any case, TED Talks often leave viewers with new insight and inspiration, and Richard Lee’s powerful TED Talk on ending slavery proves to be no exception. 

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As a Director of Church Mobilization for International Justice Mission (IJM), Richard Lee passionately shares about IJM’s heart to end slavery for good. IJM remains the largest anti-slavery organization in the world, relentlessly rescuing and protecting “the poor from violence in the developing world.” Not to mention, this amazing nonprofit is Dressember’s grant partner! Thus during this talk, Lee emphasizes a crucial aspect to ending slavery that was eye-opening for me. I discovered that of the over 40 million people enslaved in the world, the media sometimes leaves out one of the main ways to end this tragedy: arresting slave owners.

In 2011, IJM received a phone call about a brick factory in Chennai, India, in which the factory owner ended up being a slave owner of 512 people. IJM accompanied Indian officials and police to intervene on a rescue operation, and they freed all 512 people. It’s absolutely astounding, especially as it was IJM’s largest rescue mission at the time.

But here’s what I didn’t realize the media leaves out all too often. Lee states, “While 512 people went to sleep that night in their new-found freedom, the slave owner also went to bed a free man.” He continues that sadly, this situation occurs far too often, and it’s frequently because of a justice system unwilling or unable to arrest slave owners.

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Press fast forward five years later to 2016 where IJM received another phone call tip about a brick factory in Chennai, India in which violence and abuse ran rampant. Sound familiar? IJM thought so too. It was, unfortunately, indeed the same factory and the same slave owner. Though this time, 564 people had become enslaved. Because the slave owner didn’t spend a single day in jail, he managed to enslave another 512 people, plus 52 more. However, in the years between 2011 and 2016, the Indian government passed an amendment that gave more severe punishment towards slave owners. Unlike the immunity he was given in 2011, the slave owner was sent to jail. “We will always pursue freedom for the enslaved, but we will also not stop pursuing arrest for the slave owner. For slavery to end, you must arrest the slave owner.… In other words, when you arrest one, you save hundreds. You arrest one slave owner, and that represents hundreds of lives who will never be enslaved and never need rescuing,” Richard says. 

“We will always pursue freedom for the enslaved, but we will also not stop pursuing arrest for the slave owner."

Through this TED Talk, I learned that arresting slave owners also creates a chain effect among other slave owners. As IJM worked with Cambodia’s government to enforce the laws and arrest slave owners, other slave owners began to take notice. One of the main reasons these slave owners use young girls is because there’s no fear of prosecution, but when they see other slave owners end up in jail, they become fearful and stop using children. Because of IJM’s partnership with the Cambodian government, the percentage of young minors in Cambodia’s brothel industry has plummeted from 15-30% to less than .01%. Ultimately, law enforcement prevailed, and other slave owners decided it wasn’t worth the risk of jail to enslave minors. “You stop one slave owner, and it stops other slave owners from ever using slaves in the first place,” states Lee.

So, how can this be accomplished? Considering IJM doesn’t create jails and arrest people themselves (which Lee says would be kidnapping), they need the police and government to step up. As IJM partners with India’s government, India – previously known as one of the epicenters of slavery in the world – now desires to be an epicenter of anti-trafficking. India even recently hosted an anti-trafficking conference with key stakeholders from 18 other countries. Lee mentions, “Good organizations will do the work the government is unwilling to do. Great organizations will work with the government to help them do it themselves.”

Good organizations will do the work the government is unwilling to do. Great organizations will work with the government to help them do it themselves.”

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With IJM’s involvement in over 1,300 convictions (plus countless others deterred), can you imagine how many more thousands of lives have been saved from slavery or from ever being enslaved in the first place? Dressember gives strategic grants specifically towards IJM’s fieldwork in India, so your advocacy and choice to wear a dress every day in December actively contributes to IJM’s powerful work and to bringing this long-term change! I’d say that makes a month of triple layering leggings, digging through garage bags for extra dresses (personal experience perhaps…), and embracing that #sweaterlife worth it. 

 “If you rescue a slave you will change their life, but if you arrest a slave owner, you will change a whole community. And when governments step up to arrest slave owners, you will change the world,” Lee concludes.

You don't have to wait until December to be a part of the impact. Join the Dressember Collective and become part of a powerful community of advocates and donors furthering the work and impact of the Dressember Foundation through monthly giving. 



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About the Author

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Lauren Farris is currently a senior studying Creative Writing and Sociology at the University of Washington and is excited to partner with Dressember in the fight to end slavery. She also adores corgis, messy paint, mud, hiking in wildflowers, reading, traveling, and a good Lord of the Rings marathon.