Sophia goes through a multi-sensory exhibit.
On January 25 and 26, two of our EV/TFish Interns, Isabel and Sophia, attended Freedom Summit 2013, one of the largest anti-trafficking coalition conferences to ever be held. The following are each of their reflections on the experience.
On Friday, January 25, I attended Freedom Summit, a Bay Area anti-trafficking coalition conference. The event was filled with activist speakers who had gathered to share their own personal experiences related to the issue. Although I had previously been educated on the issue from friends and various media sources, Freedom Summit broadened my understanding of sex trafficking and served as a reality check for me on the importance of the issue. While sitting on the aisle of Harbor Light Church, I listened to various activists sharing several experiences and stories that were troubling to hear. One activist spoke of young girls being strapped to tables and sexually abused until getting murdered. Another activist showed us a video of a little skinny boy, enslaved by a man whose only defense of keeping the boy was so that he could feed himself. The stories were heartbreaking, and caused me to question the morality of this world. How can someone be so selfish as to put their own desires and needs before the lives of others? How can someone take away an innocent child's life without guilt in his soul?
One of the most significant moments of the evening was hearing from a sex trafficking victim. Her name is Leah Albright-Byrd, and she had spent four years of her life on the streets of Cupertino, living a life haunted by sexual exploitation and drug addiction. In addition in becoming a sex trafficking victim, Leah also became a recruiter for her pimp. Her life changed when she recruited a young girl, Bridget Gray. On Bridget's 22nd birthday, Bridget was murdered after being tied to a bed and sexually abused until death. Today, Leah has escaped trafficking and now serves as the executive director of a non-profit organization, Bridget's Dream, which provides practical and immediate clinical services to women who are exploited as she and Bridget had been.
Although the evening brought up difficult tensions for me, it also opened my eyes to the goodness in people. From Leah's inspirational journey to the stories of lifelong activists, I was inspired to take a stand alongside sex-trafficking victims. I want to focus more on educating people regarding this global injustice as well as helping those around me become people who respect and love one another. Sex-trafficking is not an issue that can be fixed overnight, but I want myself and others to remember: "[the] unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” - Martin Luther King Jr. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to attend Freedom Summit, and I will continue to share my experience with my peers in order to spread awareness about this issue and what we can do to take a stand.
The conference, from Isabel's perspective.
Attending Freedom Summit 2013 was an eye-opening and, quite appropriately, a liberating experience for me. Coming in with a very limited prior knowledge of human trafficking, I left the conference feeling informed and inspired to be a part of a widespread movement against this issue.
Many of the speakers at the conference were educated and well-known leaders of organizations dedicated to tackling the trafficking epidemic. They offered innovative ideas and stories that blew my mind. There is actually so much happening right now globally to take a stand against human trafficking. The efforts to stop this are so much bigger than just what was happening at the conference. Legislation is being discussed in the government, policies with foreign countries are being negotiated, and amazing initiatives are taking place all around the world. And, this was all started by a relatively small group of people who resolved that human trafficking needed to end. It was inspiring to see the passion and dedication of these individuals, and learning about how they started out gave me hope. Some of them just heard a story about a victim and were so moved that they felt they needed to do something to stop the injustice.
The testimonies from the conference made the biggest impact on me. After hearing Minh Dang’s testimony, I felt so blessed to have been raised the way I was. Born into a loving Christian family, I never felt the loneliness that Minh did. She was forced to live through a childhood of slavery and thus missed the essence of warmth that loving family and friends are capable of bringing. But the most touching part of her story is not the darkness she had to face; it was how she overcame it and refused to let it define the rest of her life. After college, she broke free from her bondage to her parents and was able to finally experience freedom. Ever since, she has been working with powerful people, spreading awareness of sex trafficking and giving insight on how to treat victims with dignity and respect. One thing she said that really stuck with me is that victims don't want to be treated like victims. They want to be integrated into their community and healed, not just pitied and looked at as someone with an unfortunate experience. All her successes are just testimonies to how strong she is and how trafficking victims can overcome their past. The way she rose up and took charge of her life is something I want to learn to do with mine. Although I haven't gone through any traumatic experiences and have lived a fairly sheltered life, I don't take advantage of the opportunities I have to voice my opinions and make an impact on the things that really matter. I should use my freedom and my privilege for good, because there are many people who can't speak out and don't have access to resources that will make them heard.
I really do have so much. I'm rich, not just materially but also in terms of opportunities and loving support - things I often take for granted. But, there is no use in just being aware of the potential influence I have without any actions to accompany this new awareness. After Freedom Summit, i felt so much more equipped to be a part of the anti-trafficking movement. There are many things I can do even as a student - no one is too young or inadequate to make a difference. Simple things such as social marketing and being aware of how the things I buy are made can be beneficial. If I've learned anything from being an intern at East Villages, it's that change takes time, but every step in the process is important and will make a difference. Likewise, no matter how small or minute our actions may be right now, it is a part of something much greater, something that will help spur a social movement.
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