This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Deirdre and her anti-human trafficking work.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m Deirdre and I am a former New York actress turned anti-human trafficking advocate living in the great state of Oklahoma (yes, you read that right). I work as an advocate bringing awareness about human trafficking by educating individuals and communities on the signs of human trafficking and resources available. I also work as the (wordy title alert) Public Information Officer at Community Action Agency in the southside of OKC.
For fun: I enjoy finding cool or unique local places (restaurants, bars, thrift stores, etc), killing glasses of red wine with good girlfriends, booking and taking trips, volunteering, and marveling at the fact I live in Oklahoma where people are nice, rent is cheap and realizing people really do wear cowboy hats.
For those of us who don’t know, what does ‘human trafficking’ entail?
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery where people profit from the exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include: children involved in the sex trade, adults 18 or over who through force, fraud, or coercion are engaging commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services” (i.e. domestic or farm workers). There are 3 areas to the anti-human trafficking movement: prevention, rescue and recovery. Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the world.
In straight words, human trafficking means you cease to be a human being and are, instead, merchandise expected to produce a profit which traffickers will get through any means necessary. I met a woman who thought her boyfriend (read ‘pimp’) loved her more when she, at his request, performed sex acts with his friends and gave him the money. I learned the story of a teenager who was kidnapped, drugged and raped for a profit (she was kept in a dog kennel so her legs would go numb in the cramped space making it hard to fight back)—this is what human trafficking entails. These are American women who were trafficked in America.
Tell us about your time in Thailand working with Sold. What did a normal work day look like?
I don’t know if I could ever say there was a “normal” day and that is what made it awesome. There were days I tutored them with their English homework from school which was so poorly written even I had a hard time figuring out the correct grammar and meaning, days spent teaching the kids how to play “Freeze Tag” without knowing the translation for either word in Thai, of pretending to be a chicken so I could find eggs at the local market (apparently my American accented Thai of the word was that bad), of having no idea what kind of “WHAT IS THAT?!” insect was perched in the bathroom sink and waiting for it to leave before venturing in again. There were also days of face to face confrontation with the exploitation facing our kids, days where 70+ children showed up to learn English on a Saturday despite attending school all week and days where my HIV positive student, the child of a former sex worker, would show up with yellow and bloodshot eyes and sit quietly while other kids engaged in class.
Sold’s mission is to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children. Outside of creating beneficial and educational English lessons and establishing a framework for Sold’s volunteer program (my jobs while I was with SOLD), my main goal was to build relationships with those kids. Relationships that ended up changing my life.
Now you work as an anti-human trafficking advocate here in America. What are the best parts of your job? The most challenging?
Best Parts: Being a part of something I am legitimately, intellectually and emotionally passionate about. Meeting people from everywhere and from all walks of life and being a part of a collective who are committed to this cause. Seeing a real response and progress being made: 1/11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month!
Most Challenging: The reality and enormous scope of trafficking. The lack of resources available (Congress has let Safe Harbor Laws, designed for protection and rehabilitation of trafficking survivors lapse). Keeping the faith.
How do your friends and family feel about your job?
Originally my family (particularly my grandfather) were concerned about what risk I may be putting myself at but they never said don’t do it and were always encouraging. My friends and family have supported me (monetarily and otherwise) through this entire process. I couldn’t have taken- and continue to take- such a huge leap of faith in following my heart by working in this field if it wasn’t for them.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in working in your field?
I think the best advice I can give is if you are feeling called to be part of something larger than yourself, do it. We need your help. Get educated on the facts and resources, share information about human trafficking within your community, get plugged into local like-minded non-profits and reach out to other anti human trafficking organizations and see how you can help.
I think my favorite quote sums it up best: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.”Thanks so much for sharing, Deirdre! Do you guys have any questions for her?