Human Trafficking (noun): an unlawful act that uses of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose ofcompelling a person into labor or services, or to induce a commercial sex act, or in which the person induced to perform such a commercial sex act has not attained 18 years of age.
As part of their commitment to educating the public on the issue of human trafficking, Junior League of New Orleans’ ABOLISH Human Trafficking Committee presented an online panel on December 15, 2021 on “Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex-Trafficking,” a 2017 award-winning film showcasing heroes of the anti-sex-trafficking movement working diligently to raise awareness and provide solutions.
Speaking on the panel was director of “Stopping Traffic,” Sadhvi Siddhali Shree, the first North American Jain female-monk, a U.S. Army Iraq-war veteran, an international and TEDx speaker, author and activist.
Shree was not familiar with human trafficking before she started working on the film. She says the experience was eye opening and made her realize the severity of the issue. Throughout the filmmaking process, Shree met with survivors of trafficking, nonprofit professionals, government leaders, human rights activists and other movement heroes.
“When we first learned about human trafficking, we were shocked, and it caused us an inner pain,” says Shree. “We were inspired to make a film because we wanted to educate our spiritual community. We didn’t realize it would become something bigger.”
One of Shree’s biggest takeaways was learning that trafficking can happen in every community, and victims can be of any age, social status, race, gender or nationality. “One misconception that I had was that it was mainly in third-world countries, but I learned quickly it’s everywhere in the United States,” explains Shree.
Due to the coercive nature of human trafficking, it is difficult to pinpoint the reach of the industry. What we do know is that in 2020, 10,583 situations of human trafficking were reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline involving 16,658 individual victims. These statistics barely scratch the surface and are not fully representative, given that most cases are never reported and many victims do not realize they are being trafficked.
Human trafficking is a subject that’s hard to talk about, but if we keep having these difficult conversations, we can help prevent traffickers from preying on individuals’ vulnerabilities such as unstable housing, economic hardship and substance abuse.
“There is a growing movement,” says Shree. “When people become aware, they talk about it, they report. There is a collective energy that can bring about change, and we’re seeing it.”
During the online panel, attended by 70 people, Shree was joined by Sadhvi Anubhuti, assistant director of “Stopping Traffic”; Kara Van de Carr, founder and CEO of Eden House; and Susan Dold, Systems Administrator for Truckers Against Trafficking. A recording of the panel event along with information about ABOLISH and other resources are available at www.jlno.org/abolish.