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Human Trafficking: International awareness events draw together survivors, government leaders

Written By | Sep 20, 2014

CALI, Colombia, September 20, 2014  – On July 30th, 2014, advocates across the globe united in observance of the first annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.  In honor of this day, Marcela Loaiza, Survivor and Founder of the Marcela Loaiza Foundation, planned an international meeting for survivors of human trafficking, titled “Breaking the Silence”.  With support from the Minister of Interior of Colombia, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Organization of Migration (IOM), this event was held in Cali, Colombia with over 280 people in attendance.

Participants included Juan Camilo Restrepo, Deputy Minister of Interior; Mauricio Castro, Delegate of the Government of Valle; Felipe Montoya, Peace Advisor to the Mayor; David Alamos, Officer in Charge of the UNODC; Carolina Lopez, Program Coordinator, Trafficking and Gender, IOM; and eight survivors of human trafficking, including Beth Jacobs, Founder of Willow Way; Evelyn Chumbow, Survivor Consultant at Humanity United; Holly Austin Smith, Author of Walking Prey; Ima Matul, Survivor Organizer for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST); Norma Bastidas, Author of Running Home: A Journey to End Violence; Rani Hong, UN Special Advisor for Victims Survivors; Shamere McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Sun Gate Foundation; and Trong Hong, Co-Founder of the Tronie Foundation.

We survivor speakers were honored to be invited to share our personal testimonies and journeys toward healing, empowerment, and leadership.  We also took the opportunity to offer words of encouragement to those victims and survivors of human trafficking living within Colombian borders, as well as words of advice to Colombian government leaders.  Such advice included the need for a comprehensive approach to victim services and the need to support victims and survivors in such a way that enables them to become local, national, and international leaders.

Following are a few excerpts from our speeches:

“I speak for those without a voice and I demand that we are heard and given a seat at the table to address this issue of slavery…When our voices are heard…amazing things happen.  We turn a social, geopolitical, and economic issue into a human issue.” – Rani Hong, UN Special Advisor for Victims Survivors

“Today’s event is titled ‘Breaking the Silence’.  My recommendation to victims and survivors in Colombia is to speak up.  You have a powerful voice, you are the voice of the voiceless. Your voice can make a difference in your community, in your city, in your country, and around the world.  Your voice can help other victims and can change laws to better protect and serve victims. It is important for survivors to speak up, to empower themselves and each other, and to be leaders in this movement.” – Ima Matul, Survivor Organizer for CAST and the National Survivor Network (NSN)

“I stand before you today, not as a victim…but as a liberator, one who has broken free from the chains of her past and is now using that experience to help others…The only way I can continue to be a liberator is through collaboration. Human trafficking is not just a problem for politicians, law enforcement, or advocates; it is a problem for all of us. We need to come together: politicians, law enforcement officers, advocates, community members, and survivors. We must all work together to eradicate this heinous crime that is plaguing our nations. Everyone has a role to play in the fight against trafficking; together we can make a difference.” – Shamere McKenzie, CEO of the Sun Gate Foundation

“Survivors need to be supported and assisted… There are many obstacles that prevent victims from reestablishing their lives…When working with a survivor, be aware of his/her issues. Criminal backgrounds can and will prevent them from finding housing or employment. As a society, we need to change our laws surrounding the criminal backgrounds of victims.  We must make it possible for a former victim to move forward with his/her life. We need to show victims and survivors that they are worthy, valuable, and important people who deserve a second chance.” – Beth Jacobs, Founder of Willow Way

“Children who are forced to be soldiers are trained to be killers…As a child recruited to be a soldier, I just dreamed of escaping and having a family someday.  And now I do – I have a beautiful family.  Co-founding the Tronie Foundation has allowed me to help others.  If I can help one child, then I am a better person.  But, in order to continue this fight, I need you and I need your voice…let’s work together…” – Trong Hong, Co-founder of the Tronie Foundation

“I am inspired by this human trafficking awareness and education event in Colombia.  I’m inspired to challenge my own government in Cameroon to be involved in anti-trafficking efforts and to host an event in Cameroon just like what I have experienced today in Colombia.”  – Evelyn Chumbow, Survivor Consultant at Humanity United

“From legislators to law enforcement officers, advocates are beginning to see the significance of survivor leadership, and victims and survivors are beginning to be invited to the table to discuss strategies to improve awareness and training efforts.  I encourage every country to take similar roles in not only protecting victims of human trafficking but lifting them up to achieve their greatest potential.” – Holly Austin Smith, Author of Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery

“In honor of overcoming the hardships I endured, it has been my personal goal to bring about awareness and to fight against human trafficking in Colombia, and all over the world. I created today’s event for three reasons: (1) I had the certainty that each of the survivor stories would be inspiring to the victims out there who haven’t had any support and who haven’t been heard by their government.  To those victims, I encourage you never to give up, and I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  (2) I wanted the government of Colombia to hear from the international community of human trafficking survivors.  I wanted them to see proof of the importance of assisting and supporting victims of human trafficking, which is something I have been advocating for since the decree 1069 of July 2014. And (3) I want to challenge the government to act accordingly to help victims in Colombia, as well as to hopefully rectify the decree 1069.  This decree is a violation of human rights; it is a setback that, without any doubt, will pull Colombia down to a level 3 in next year’s U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report.” – Marcela Loaiza, Founder of the Marcela Loaiza Foundation

Next week, on September 24th, Marcela Loaiza is again bringing together international advocates and survivors of human trafficking to an event in Mexico City, hosted by Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH).  Marcela Loaiza is providing another unique opportunity for survivors to lend their voices and expertise to law and policymakers in Latin America.  This event will hopefully continue to encourage government leaders to communicate and collaborate with each other and with survivors and advocates in order to protect victims and to prevent human trafficking from happening within their countries.


Holly Smith

Holly is a survivor of child sex trafficking and an advocate against all forms of human trafficking. Her story has been featured on Dr. Oz and in Cosmopolitan magazine. Holly is requested on a regular basis to provide testimony and input to law enforcement, service providers, human trafficking task forces, legislators, educators, and journalists. In her nonfiction book, Walking Prey, Holly shares her personal story and discusses dynamics related to the commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, of children in the United States. Walking Prey is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound. (Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2012.)