Every year, thousands of advocates around the world take on the Dressember challenge of wearing a dress or tie during the 31 days of December. The dress or tie serves as the conversation starter to educate others about human trafficking and to ask them to join the fight to end it.
Q: You've taken on the Dressember challenge for a couple years now, and dove right in as a fundraiser. What drew you to the work of IJM?
I went to an event where Jocelyn White, a Director of Strategic Partnerships for IJM USA, invited me. I was interested because I've always been a huge advocate for children and child safety and I have a heart for kids. I feel like that's part of my calling…. I learned so much about IJM and I had no idea that cybersex trafficking even existed.
My heart just broke the more information and facts she gave me about cybersex trafficking. I had a visceral reaction to it. I started shaking and crying. As a mother, I just couldn't believe the stuff they would do to these kids.
It's just one of those things where, when you become aware, you can no longer claim ignorance. So, I knew I had to do something about it.
Q: What attracted you to the Dressember campaign in particular?
I think it's fun! And I thought it would be a really great and out-of-the-box way to get younger people interested. It's using your social media to make an impact for something positive.
That's one of the reasons why I was attracted to it, then Blythe's (Dressember founder) story. How, when she was in college and she was really into fashion, it started with just one girl with a conviction to help and the persistence to carry it through. She's really making a difference. That to me, that's really inspiring.
People don't think about fashion and raising awareness, you know? Especially when they think that the fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits in human trafficking. So, I think that's also a good way to turn it around and teach people about ethical shopping.
Q: How do you involve your kids in your Dressember campaign?
Last year, my daughter was really involved with me. She would take pictures alongside me and it was like a mommy-and-daughter thing. And then I would explain what it was about. That's how I would involve her.
But she's so little, she still doesn't understand everything. Something as simple as picking up matching outfits and then talking about how I have a chance to take this picture with my daughter. And she's safe and other kids should be too.
Q: In the past two years, you've become this all-star fundraiser, not just for IJM and our team, but overall for the Dressember campaign. How did you do that?
Honestly, phone calls really helped. Phone calls and video messages. Instead of just posting the facts that we’re provided with by the Dressember team—which is so helpful—I also made it a point to make a video so people could connect.
A big part of the Dressember campaign is storytelling. And I'm a storyteller. I know that people want to see that you care. And it's easier when they can hear you and they can see you. So phone calls and video messages really work.
Q: I’m sure this Dressember will look a little different than past years’ campaigns. How will you approach your fundraising in light of COVID?
What I do is I send emails and I make a lot of phone calls so that it's more personal, instead of just posting online. I make a lot of phone calls and I explain why I do it. So my main thing was going to be explaining just how COVID has affected human trafficking tremendously because people have had to stay home.
What drew me to Dressember was when Jocelyn explained to me that children are cybersex trafficked as young as two years old. At the time, my daughter was two. I have two kids. Now, she's five and my son is 10 going to be 11. And I just could not imagine my baby girl. I put myself in the shoes of any mom whose child is abducted or any child who was in the situation and is being abused by the person who they're supposed to trust.
I just keep thinking about how this COVID situation has made this worse for those babies who are cybersex trafficked. And that was going to be my approach to parents and anyone who will listen how it's really up to us to help, to bring awareness and fundraise for organizations that actually care and will do something with the money.
Sabrina Perez(left) supports IJM through her Dressember campaign.
Q: How did you motivate and inspire a group of high schoolers from your youth group to join in this and become these incredible fundraisers?
I just told them what I was doing and why I was doing it. They loved the outfit-of-the-day idea and they really want to be a part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's the thing that a lot of adults don't truly understand. These kids are not just wanting to be on social media. Some of them really have a desire to do something big and better and give back.
And if it involves the whole putting on an outfit and taking a picture and looking cute, then that's even better! Also, Jocelyn put together a fashion show with survivors of human trafficking, where I got to invite members of the youth group from our church. They came and they got to see the survivors, and they got to hear their stories and see them model some pieces from the Dressember collection.
So, that really moved and touched them. And they decided they wanted to continue doing it because they saw firsthand the people that survived and actually make it out and stay out because they're given jobs and they're given hope.
Q: How many dresses did you use? Did you actually use a different dress for every day?
No, because I wanted the girls from my youth group to know that they can wear what they have. So, I think I had like 10 dresses that I would dress differently: different leggings, or put a vest on it, or put a scarf around it. Stuff like that. And I tried my best to buy stuff from the Dressember foundation just so I can help with the ethical-shopping aspect.
And I bought a lot of stuff from Noonday Collection as well to accessorize and teach them that they can also do that. But I would tell them they can go to thrift stores and get dresses that were secondhand. And if you don't necessarily have a dress, but if you have a skirt and shirt that you like and you want to get creative and sew them together, don't let the dress stop you.
Q: What tips would you give people interested in signing up on how to become all-star fundraisers like you?
I'd say know your “why?” Plan ahead because you're posting every day and our lives get hectic. So if you plan ahead—and by planning ahead, I don't mean plan out the whole month, plan three days ahead—and then as you go, as your week continues to flow, then you're like, “okay, I've got a day left. Let me plan two more days ahead.” So that you're ahead of yourself and you're not overwhelmed.
This should be fun. And it should be inspiring. It should not be overwhelming. So... know your “why?” Plan ahead. And have fun!
Q: You have raised more than $11,000 over the past two years. That’s amazing! What has this meant to you knowing that this money has significantly altered the lives of people who were once trapped in slavery?
It's meant the world to me. It's really humbling. Just how… when you put yourself out there and allow yourself to be a vessel for God to use, miracles happen. Because in the beginning you feel uncomfortable… But, when you're set on wanting to help and you just continuously remind yourself that it's not about you, you have faith that God will make a way.
And then when you see it come through, it's like… God really just expects us to show up and he'll do the rest.