Restoration within the human trafficking epidemic can take place once we understand our responsibility. 

Making friends seemed nearly impossible, but then a birthday party invitation came along. It hung on hope and good promises, a better tomorrow — until it morphed into a strip club and clothing transformed into bikinis and high heels. 

“I danced for men, horrified and humiliated,” said human trafficking survivor Markie Dell on a TedX Talk.

This then led to a crescendo of nightmares, and hell was just beginning. A story of being drugged, raped and enslaved continued to unfold. 

But then the light of day shone on Dell’s face when a police officer swept her out of her trafficker’s grasp and into a safe house — until a man at that very safe house offered Dell $1,000 to have sex with him.

“I accepted. I had already been doing these dirty things for these men, and during that time in the club, when the club was empty, and I couldn’t make the money, I resorted to prostitution,” said Dell.

She did what she thought was right. She numbed herself with alcohol and drugs and, ultimately, planned to take her life. 

But then a friend came to her side and expressed concern. He gave her the challenge of forgiving those who had wronged her and the challenge of forgiving herself. Through the advocacy of her friend and the power of her resilience, she managed to escape the captivity that held her down and flee the trafficking scene and her past forever.

This is Markie Dell’s story of a modern-day renaissance. Dell was no different than any other young girl seeking out friendships, a good time and memories. Yet this fast rising global criminal industry perpetrated her life; however, the narrative didn’t end in desolation but in restoration.

Human trafficking stories of forced labor and sexual exploitation are not reserved for Dell. These stories have transcended into a phenomenon that surrounds our daily lives and finds its way into stadium games, massage parlors, truck stops and our backyards. It haunts the lives of more than 40 million people with one in four of those individuals being children and 70 percent being women. This global criminal industry builds itself on oppression and seeps into the cracks of the whole world. 

Advocacy, the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal, is the catalyst for this renaissance of freedom, much like in Dell’s story. Interest and knowledge spearhead the movement which then transcends into action and support.

Dell was once being advocated for, but having been restored, she now advocates for others by making the reality of human trafficking known — and we can too.

The first step in advocacy is understanding the situation for what it is and not turning our backs to it. It’s a daunting reality when you find out pimps roam the roads scouting children, mothers are slaving away making $3 t-shirts that can’t pay the bills and our people are being used like products, but it’s the truth. 

Bethany Gilot, human-trafficking prevention director at Florida Department of Children and Families, compares human trafficking now to that of domestic violence 30 years ago in an article by Time Magazine

“People just don’t want to know that this is happening in our own great nation,” said Gilot.

We don’t want to acknowledge the nauseating actuality of our world, but this is where we need to develop a change within ourselves. If these trafficked individuals, like Dell, can have the resilience to push on and combat this reality, we should be able to evaluate and understand the severity of the situation. 

The National Human Trafficking Hotline explains that 10,949 cases were reported in 2018 alone. California owns 1,656 of those cases, Texas owns 1,000 and Florida owns 767. 

These disheartening statistics are symbolic of a blazing fire, radiating heat reaching for attention and vigorous colors making themselves known. We can’t ignore the situation even if we wanted to. The destruction is too immense and we must cultivate a renaissance within ourselves to light one within human trafficking victims.

But knowing where to begin within this personal metamorphosis can be overwhelming. Marissa Peden, director of strategic partnerships at Dressember, an anti-trafficking organization, shares the importance of small, everyday actions when it comes to tackling this issue.

Dressember’s annual campaign of wearing a dress or tie every day during the month of December has raised over $7.5 million in just six years and proves that small, consistent actions equate to tangible impact,” said Peden about the organization’s simple yet intentional acts.   

It’s the everyday effort and genuine concern put in that cultivates lasting impact. One doesn’t have to travel to the central hub of human trafficking to create movement within their own personal renaissance, but simply take deliberate strides to advocate for our sisters and brothers.

Without this personal shift of unwavering actions, we are allowing these individuals to think they are less than, that there is no escape and that the cycle ends in despondency. This tainted view was etched into Dell because of her circumstances. But when we light this renaissance within ourselves, even when it starts off as a soft spark, we can begin to craft a true depiction of who these victims are, their worth and their capability. 

This renaissance is also not one-sided. Each time we safeguard the rights of those trafficked, become a voice for the voiceless and make the situation known, a victim has further encouragement to run from the cage and fly into a process of rebirth. 

The narrative of human trafficking is a cold and brutal one, but it has the potential to end with resilience, rescue and restoration if we hold the responsibility of a personal renaissance within our grasp. When we stretch out our hand and partner with these victims, then the renaissance flows into another, and we can finally witness a complete revival.