This is a guest blog from Jess Lin, partner at the Longitude and co-founder of Hello Rewind
The year is AD 2010.
Today, we can proudly say that we’ve eradicated smallpox, the disease responsible for the death of half a billion people in the last century. Computerized voices notify us when to make a left turn in cars and on roads that were non-existent when our forefathers signed the Constitution. Our phones are half the size of the ones we used a decade age. By many accounts, the world is saner, more civilized, more advanced than it has ever been.
Yet, more people are forced into slavery today than at any point in human history. Trafficking of humans is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and, after drug trafficking, the second largest.
It’s as if two separate worlds co-exist in the same space. One world exudes advancement and progress; one reeks of bondage and captivity.
It’s easy to dismiss this as a third-world issue and hard to imagine this dichotomy happening in our own backyards. Yet 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year – many for the exploitive purposes of the sex trade. This number from the Department of Justice doesn’t include the number of U.S. nationals trafficked, nor does it include foreigners who come to our country on their own volition and are later trafficked. When you add the totals, the numbers are staggering. At any given time, the FBI estimates that well over 100,000 women and children are being sex trafficked in this country.
To a victim of sex trafficking, freedom is not an easy word. When foreign nationals are rescued, the journey to rebuild their lives is daunting. Thrust into a world where they know little of the language and culture, where they hold negligible vocational skills, where trauma still exists from their horrific experiences, they are still held in bondage to the captors who have taken away their lives. Many of the survivors succumb to the temptation of returning to the perceived economic safety net of the sex trade.
The mission of Restore is to rebuild the lives of international survivors of sex trafficking in New York City by providing holistic long-term aftercare services. The vision is to create the first safe house in NYC to provide and care for the women who are survivors of trafficking.
Restore’s clients dream of freedom from the emotional and economic bonds that still tie them to their pasts. “I want to be a tattoo artist,” one of the girls recently told us. Another one dreams of receiving her GED and attending college. As each girl dreams, our hope is to offer her economic freedom to transform her dreams into reality.
This year, in collaboration with Restore, my team began a social enterprise called Hello Rewind to help Restore’s clients. The purpose of Hello Rewind is to specifically address the economic and skill needs of international survivors of the sex trade who are in the United States. For an entry-level job, they must be trained on how to be a good employee, learn to speak English and receive a living wage so that freedom can be economically viable. This fall, we are piloting a full on-site training program to give survivors vocational training, ESL classes, as well as on-the-job work experience at Hello Rewind. This is the first comprehensive vocational program we know of in the United States specifically targeted towards sex trafficking survivors.
So what does freedom mean? Through this program, we want to offer them hope of a better life. We want our survivors to move past who they are – victims in bondage to their captors – and have the opportunity they’ve never had previously to truly live their lives.
And as we help restore those who have been victimized, there are many wonderful organizations that are working to prevent those at-risk from being trafficked. Together, we work to move the world forward and give justice and freedom to those who need it most.
Support Restore NYC
Check out Hello Rewind
Jess Lin is a partner in the design and communications group the Longitude (www.thelongitude.com). She also leads Hello Rewind (www.hellorewind.com), a social enterprise that provides language training, job skills and financial opportunity to sex trafficking survivors, helping them achieve economic freedom.