Last month was a big month in the fight against trafficking. On the same day the U.S. State Department issued the annual Trafficking Persons (TIP) Report, Gary Haugen, founder and president of International Justice Mission received the abolition movement’s highest honor.
The U.S. State Department awarded Gary and nine others its annual anti-trafficking “TIP Hero” award. Gary is only the second American to receive the award; the first was Laura Germino of Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 2010. It was an exciting moment to witness, and Gary received the award on behalf of the hundreds of children, women and men who have been freed from modern-day slavery through IJM’s work around the world.
Gary joined an extraordinary group of TIP Heroes. Consider Raimi Vincent Paraiso from the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. Dr. Paraiso, a medical doctor, is the coordinator of the anti-trafficking group Alto. He identifies and rescues children who have been trafficked to Congo from neighboring countries to be exploited for labor and sex. He faced significant challenges and even threats from international traffickers fearful of his good work. Or Vannak Anan Prum, a former trafficking victim who was enslaved on a Thai fishing boat, jailed and finally freed. He now raises awareness in Cambodia about trafficking. The others recognized for their leadership in the abolition movement have gone to equally extraordinary lengths to end slavery once and for all.
I wish you could have been with us at the State Department’s enormous, Rococo diplomatic reception room. Television cameras lined the back wall, and IJMers were scrambling for the last few seats. Gary’s wife Jan and his son Tad were seated in the front row. All of a sudden a gust of excitement swept through the ballroom. No, it wasn’t because Gary Haugen just walked in. It was because actor Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith came in! The two were recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their anti-trafficking awareness here in the U.S.
On the same day – just one hour before the ceremony at the U.S. State Department – we made an important stop at the White House! Gary, Louie Giglio and Bryson Vogeltanz of Passion, a Christian youth movement, met with White House staff Jon Carson, Director of Public Engagement, and Josh Dubois, the President’s advisor for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives. In that meeting, your message was delivered: Gary and the Passion leaders presented a letter to President Obama with 73,000 signatures asking him to take a stand against slavery. As Gary said, the American people want the President to be a leader in the fight to end modern day slavery, once and for all.
The dust has settled, and I am left with a profound sense of gratitude for those of you who have stood with us in pressing for strong leadership in the fight against slavery. Know that you were with us in spirit as we entered the halls of power, bearing your 73,000 names on a letter that measured about a foot and a half high!
Holly Burkhalter is the Vice President of Government Relations at International Justice Mission. IJM's Justice Campaigns mobilizes people around the country in support of U.S. policies that will lead to the abolition of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.