Human Trafficking Advocacy Efforts in New York

Gift Box “Get an education and a better future. We can live happily ever after. See the world and earn good money. Holiday work: meet new people and good pay.”

Do any of these offers sound enticing? Thousands of people around the world are offered opportunities like these every day —only to be tricked and exploited by traffickers. Instead of glamorous jobs, they will endure a life of abuse and exploitation.

Raising Awareness

Awareness of trafficking is the central message the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons wanted to share with both native New Yorkers and tourists  — and why we brought the UN GIFT Box to the United States for the very first time.  First launched during the 2012 Olympics in London, GIFT Box is a walk-in piece of public art that people encounter at street level. Once inside,  they are exposed to stories of human trafficking. Br. Kevin Cawley of Edmund Rice International is a member of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons and participated in the awareness effort in New York. (see photo)

The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), and the Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons (CSTIP) worked for several months with STOP THE TRAFFIK (STT) in the U.K. on the project. The CSTIP committee partnered with several like minded groups to bring GIFTBOX to the United States for the first time. The Box was on display near Union Square, at Broadway and 17th Street for the final two weeks of preparation leading to the US football championship game known as the Super Bowl. As crowds thronged to New York and New Jersey for Super Bowl, visitors had a chance to experience a “bait and switch” technique used by sex traffickers. Pedestrians were lured to enter a big, colorfully wrapped box, only to be confronted inside with the harsh realities of sex trafficking through photographs and survivor stories.

London Olympics Project Inspired New York Effort

“When STOP THE TRAFFIK launched the GIFT Box during the London 2012 Olympic Games, we knew that it would bring the issue of human trafficking to the attention of communities at street level,” said Ruth Dearnley, CEO of STOP THE TRAFFIK. “Sports events draw attention to human trafficking, the world’s fastest growing crime.  This year as crowds gathered to enjoy the Super Bowl, the GIFT Box served  as a great opportunity to educate people on this issue and what they can do to stop it. It is a privilege to work alongside others, who believe that together we can STOP THE TRAFFIK.”

Sporting Events a Magnet

The U.S. State Department estimates that 27 million men, women and children are trafficking victims worldwide at any given time. As major sporting events like the Super Bowl bring an influx of people, it is recognized that human trafficking  is likely to increase in the New York and New Jersey around these events.  Human trafficking is an issue which can occur before, during and after an event. GIFT Box USA will work to lower this risk by raising awareness among both individuals and communities, in order to help prevent and deter the increase of human trafficking during the Super Bowl and beyond.

Gift box 2

Frigid Weather A Challenge

The committee efforts ran up against the bitter cold of sub-freezing temperatures and near zero wind chill for much of the display time.  Volunteers had the task of approaching heavily bundled up, fast moving New Yorkers in the frigid temperatures and invite them to the exhibit to take a few minutes to see what the display was attempting to accomplish. At times the encounters were brusque and brief. Many pedestrians were intent on their errands but many were grateful to be brought to awareness about the problem. We are happy to report that despite the difficult winter conditions,  85 trained volunteers, working in 24 shifts of 3.5 hours each, gathered 2,035 signatures on a petition urging governments to do more about this problem. There is an effort to keep the petition online so that others may engage.

Next Steps

Even while the New York effort went forward, STT had been working in Brasil in preparation for the World Cup soccer championships coming in June. There will be efforts to mobilize for the  Glasgow Commonwealth Games. A group of  activists in Northern Ireland have also made inquiries about bringing the GIFTBOX  to that part of the UK.  There are Boxes planned for the various forms of trafficking. Currently the fastest  growing is forced labor. The traffic-free Chocolate campaign is well known. STT has begun a traffic-free Cotton campaign in India. The five Boxes at London Olympics stressed various forms of trafficking including forced labor, street crime and domestic servitude. As awareness increases, more can be done to prevent further exploitation of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

– Thanks to Br. Kevin Cawley, ERI Representative in New York for this article

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