On Thursday, Washington DC’s Stop Modern Slavery (SMS) hosted an event with Bethany and the Guitar to promote the annual Stop Modern Slavery Walk and feature a panel of survivors speaking about the role of the justice system and the role of the media in human trafficking.
Bethany and the Guitar is a local favorite that plays uplifting music and regularly advocates for the cessation of human trafficking by partnering with organizations like SMS and Nomi Network. Their sweet acoustic sound proved to be a light break to the otherwise heavy evening.
There were two survivors on the panel and they spoke about their experience and how it colored their perspective on media and the justice system, respectively, and how they were inspired to take action as a result of what they had endured. We learned about how far the (justice) system has to go in making provisions for children who are being trafficked. We learned that Safe Harbor laws do not always have enough ‘legal teeth’ and we also learned that anti-trafficking legislation (TVPA), which is up for reauthorization, is relatively new and was not available to those who were trafficked prior to the year 2000.
In addition, we learned that the role that media plays in creating bias can cause even the most compassionate heart to look at a victim with a hardened heart. With the glory that the media gives to pimps and the emphasis that is placed on the domination of women in some subcultures, it is no wonder that the stereotypes of ‘choice in prostitution’ are perpetuated.
As a woman who can identify with a lot of the shame and the anger that these women expressed, I sat listening to the panel with just a pinch of ‘been there, done that’ attitude. I have heard it all before. I know how the story ends. I am familiar with the TVPA. I know that the Safe Harbor Laws are not enough. I know that the media sucks. I was almost, almost keeping myself from being penetrated from the horror of their stories.
But then one of the women decided to share a spoken word.
She told us how she ran from her emotions for a long time, and refused to look at them. She told us how she was a long-time veteran of the arts and though she had written many, many pieces of spoken word and poetry, she had not written a piece about being trafficked. Not until last year.
You see, when you have shame and rage and pain it’s almost unbearable to look in the mirror.
However, she was brave and she wrote a piece about her experience, and shared it with us. She was emotive. She was vibrant. She was transparent. She moved me to tears.
You see, it is stories that connect hearts. I am not saying that informative panels and topical discussions are not important. They absolutely are. I need to hear about what is going on with the TVPA and Safe Harbor Laws and the media. It will serve me and my journey with advocacy. However, part of what will fuel me is my connection with stories.
I’m so grateful that she took out her heart and handed it to me and handed it to every other person in that room.
The next time an opportunity arises for you to give away your heart, I truly hope you will take it. There are few things in life more powerful than stories.
Brooke M. Birkey