You’re listening to Episode 35 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll hear from two advocates who are collaborating on a comic strip project.
In our last episode, Ariel talked about the dangers of starring children on reality TV. Though controversial, child reality TV is a good example of potential labor exploitation being “hidden in plain sight” because child stars are very visible in our everyday lives. But if potential labor exploitation really is “hidden in plain sight,” then what are some common signs that we can look out for and what can we as young adults do to prevent ourselves and others from being harmed?
These are some of the questions that UNITAS addresses. UNITAS, an anti-trafficking organization in Serbia and the US, has two main missions: to educate to prevent trafficking and to support survivors. A few months ago, I was put in contact with Dan Goldman, an artist who is collaborating with UNITAS on their first mission. Dan collaborated with UNITAS members and survivor- advocates to launch Wolves on the Streets, a digital comic strip series to educate young adults about various forms of human trafficking. What makes this series unique is that each comic strip offers an alternate ending. In the first ending, the character falls victim to a trafficking situation, but in the alternate ending, the character is led down a different path which leads to a better outcome.
The first comic strip was about Lacey, a teenager who wanted to become a child star, much like the children we talked about in our last episode. If you want to read more about Lacey and the origins of this comic strip series, I’ll include a link to the article I wrote on it, in our shownotes. I would really encourage you to read through the article to have some context for this interview.
But for now, let’s turn to Dan and UNITAS Program Director Lamont Hiebert to get an update on the comic strip project and UNITAS as a whole.
So Dan, in the article that I wrote, we got a look into Lacey’s story and a brief preview of future comic strip plots. Can you give us an update on the Wolves on the Streets project and what forms of trafficking we might learn about in the future?
Dan: Okay, I mean I’ll divulge what I can and Lamont can scream and yell if I’m talking out of school. But I literally just delivered the second chapter. Every chapter will be its own, you know its own protagonist and its own story. And I think, we’ve talked a little bit about the possibility of their stories starting to intersect but for now, they’re not. And so for now, this story deals with labor trafficking. And it’s the story of a girl from Juarez, Mexico, a girl named Lucinda, and she comes to the States to escape gang violence and winds up getting trafficked into a cleaning service that cleans hotels. And while there isn’t sexual violence in this, it’s essentially slavery and a lot of manipulation and, you know it’s a different kind of human trafficking. So you know, um, that’s what the second story deals with. And then I think from there we’ve talked about, we have a list that Lamont and I talked about a few months back that we’re going to go through to talk about trafficking from different angles. Um, you know kids in urban environments, like there’s incredible research that UNITAS has done with stories about fast food restaurants and how the management at fast food restaurants work with recruiters -- there’s really, really wild stories. So I think that our next one is going to deal with sextortion, and that’s really all that I can talk about. Unless, Lamont, you want to talk volunteer other information?
Lamont: Well, I mean, just a little bit of context for where the stories are coming from. We’ve identified 12 stories based on the lived experiences of survivors. Twelve main ways that American youth are trafficked. And so we’ve written these long-form narratives for each of these, we’re creating these characters, Lacey is one. Lucinda, you’ll see a comic version of Lucinda coming up soon. Very excited about that. We actually have 12 stories and we’ll be putting them in different formats, the digital comics is one amazing way that we’re doing that and we can’t wait to continue to do that for months and months to come. And there’s many more of them. And then, yeah, we’ll also be doing other things with those stories, but I don’t want to steer the conversation into other things yet. Let’s maybe finish talking about the comics and then we can talk about the other things we’ll be doing with those stories.
Victoria: Yeah, thank you so much for providing us the information that you can at this point. Since you have already released Lacey’s story -- and either one of you can answer this question -- but I know Dan since you’ve already told me about your work in a previous interview for the article -- what kind of impact have you seen so far with the digital comic series?
Dan: I think that the spread of it has been really interesting. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. All of the impact that I am seeing are people reaching out to me that are like, “Oh, I saw this somewhere and I wanted to, I wanted to contact you and either say, “Thanks.” Or, you know, “That meant a lot to me, I wish I had seen this when I was younger. I’ve had experiences very much like what happened to me.” I’ve gotten a lot of feedback like that. Yeah, I think so far that would be it, and um, what we’re hoping for is for a really wide spread across a bunch of different social channels.
Victoria: Yeah, I’ve definitely seen it all over Instagram and I know you guys, UNITAS -- I mean, are there other channels beside your website where this is being promoted?
Lamont: As we continue to like, we roll out the second one here and then the third one, we’ll definitely keep pushing it and hopefully get some even like celebrity influencer involved and even pushing them as well. We’ve got some great press around it as you may now Dan did a great piece on CNN International. And so yeah, we have some great work to keep pushing these. But everyone that sees them, I’ve shown them for briefly, people at the New York Board of Education, the Mayor’s Office, and then also the youth in foster care, high school, here in the Bronx a couple of weeks ago, and they love it. I’ve seen people get out of their seats. They kind of get excited about it. So we can’t wait to really push these more so more people can see them. Obviously, our goal is for as many and even adults to see these as possible.
Victoria: Alright, it’s great to hear the outcomes of this and the future goals that you have! I think it’s really cool, just everything that you have planned. Dan, that was my last question for you, unless there’s anything you want to add. If not, I have some questions for Lamont.
Dan: I’m just uh, I mean, I’m -- the only thing I can add is that I just finished Lucinda’s story so I’m kind of on that runner’s high right now, you know? I just crashed through the ribbon and I’m like, yeah! I’m really excited for everybody to see it, I think it’s really strong. And, um, I’m really looking forward to our third piece, I think that story’s going to be really relevant and powerful too.
Victoria: Well, we look forward to it! And thank you so much for your work on this! For you, Lamont, I first heard about you in my first interview with Dan for the article I wrote. He told me he was already aware of it in the US specifically when you talked to him about. But I’m curious since you mentioned that you’re Canadian in the Audible Audience clip that we featured in our last season, how did you become involved in addressing human trafficking in the US and also globally?
Lamont: Yeah, I mean I’m Canadian. Going way back, when people ask me how I got into this, the short answer is I had a great mom. At a young age my mother would -- it wasn’t uncommon for a woman with a black eye and a kid with a bloody nose to come to our house. My mom was just a safe woman. People could, we had an extra room that battered woman could stay in sometimes. And so just from a young age I just learned to hate the abuse of women and children. Then as I got older I was living in the States already and at this point, I had been on some service trips. And I remember in particular a young boy in particular, probably around ten, eleven years old in Peru, in the Amazon city of Iquitos, he offered to shine my shoes or provide a sex act. And that was the first time that I was confronted with the horrible reality. And I could see how he had a big scar on his cheek. I could see him looking over his shoulder at someone a couple of blocks away who was obviously his pimp. And I was just like, “Man, I’ve got to respond to this.” And especially the more research I did, I had other plans in the NGO community. And so in 2002, I was living in Connecticut at this time. In 2002 I started an organization called Love146 and that was mostly focused on Southeast Asia for like the first 10 years of the organization. And helping to expand aftercare services, survivor care services in Southeast Asia. I was with Love146 until 2012, and um my last couple years there. And then what I do a lot of right now is really focus on prevention. As amazing as the stories are of helping survivors heal and thrive and transform their lives, that work is amazing, it’s even better to prevent trafficking in the first place when possible. Yeah. That’s a little bit about my background.
Victoria: Yeah, I’ve known about Love146 for a long time and I get their text updates, but I didn’t realize that you were behind that. So that was a nice surprise for me! That’s cool! So aside from introducing Dan to the realities of human trafficking in the US which eventually got him involved in the comic strip project, what was your role in the overall project?
Lamont: Yeah, so I’m currently working on these, we’ve identified these 12 prominent ways that youth are trafficked and exploited and we’re writing these narratives in longform. And that will be turned into various prevention projects. Digital comics is one of those. Another way is, which I’m super excited about, is a curriculum series to help empower youth to use their skills and knowledge to better protect themselves from traffickers. And so these 12 narratives are, yeah, they’re interwoven. And the team that I’m working with to create these narratives, this curriculum for middle and high school students, is a team of survivors. It includes even a former trafficker. A reformed trafficker. Of course academics and social workers and educators. And I am just crazy about our team. I hate that this job is necessary, but I get to work with the best people so I can’t wait for the world to learn through these stories that we’re creating, through the various formats including middle and high school students.
Victoria: I think it’s great that you all are reaching out to that population specifically and are also counting on the knowledge of people of various backgrounds, even as you said, a reformed trafficker. Because I think a lot of times people forget that they can actually contribute to the fight against trafficking once they change their ways, so that’s cool to hear. So because we are a podcast that is by and for youth, we want to know what advice you have for young anti-trafficking advocates around the world?
Lamont: Yeah, I’ve got a few thoughts. Some of it’s, kind of common sense, how to be successful. But I’ll tie it into the trafficking field. I mean one thing that I would encourage listeners to do is to surround yourself with great people. And work alongside with great organizations. And that will just help you thrive and you’ll be a benefit to those organizations. The second thing I’ll say is identify gaps in the field. You know, reinventing the wheel, there’s no need for that. So try to look for what’s not being done. And I don’t just mean directly counter trafficking gaps in the field. Think about some of the contributing factors to trafficking. So don’t just go to a conference on trafficking, go to a conference on intimate partner violence. If you’re doing research, include push factors on youth homelessness and foster care and try to address some of the challenges in those systems because that’s trafficking prevention as well. And obviously, I’d love it if listeners would share the comics and of course, we have speakers that can come speak if it’s in the US. We’re probably not going to come fly to New Zealand. But yeah, feel free to engage with UNITAS, and uh, yeah.
Victoria: So if someone did want one of you to come and speak, I’m assuming there’s a form on your website that they could fill out? Or how would they go about requesting that?
Lamont: There is, yes. They can go to our website, on the various social media channels where the comics are. And they can go to our website see how they can book a speech.
Victoria: Ok, thanks for clarifying that. So that was my last official question, but is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Lamont: Yeah, just briefly. I wouldn’t want to leave out our amazing team in Serbia. They have a different curriculum that they have created in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and they have reached over 60,000 middle and high school students so far. And that curriculum is different from the one in the US because, you know, trafficking looks different in different regions, but it’s an amazing curriculum as well. So if they’re listeners in Eastern Europe and you would like an amazing curriculum in your schools, please contact UNITAS and we’ll put you in contact with our team in Serbia which is expanding it into other countries and regions as well.
Dan and Lamont’s collaboration through UNITAS shows that there are many creative ways to raise awareness and fight human trafficking. If you’re interested in learning more about the issue and figuring out how you can use your own unique skills to fight the issue, I’d really encourage you to apply to the Students Opposing Slavery International Summit. I went to it last year, it was a really amazing week! I’ll include a link to the application in the shownotes. For this episode’s Audible Audience segment, Joan will give us more details about the summit. Take it away, Joan!
Joan: Hi, my name’s Joan. I work at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington DC, where Lincoln spent over a quarter of his presidency and developed the Emancipation Proclamation. Our Students Opposing Slavery Summit brings young people from all over the globe together, here at the cottage, to get informed about human trafficking to build a network of youth abolitions and to continue working on Lincoln’s fight for freedom. The 2019 Summit will take place on June 23rd to 28th and is completely free for participants to attend. We would love to have you join us. You can apply only at lincolncottage.org if you just type “Summit” into the search bar at the top or you can reach out to us at email@example.com, we would be happy to answer any question you might have.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on March 24 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Victoria's Article on UNITAS' Digital Comics: https://www.nyatoday.com/single-post/2018/10/27/Meet-the-Team-Using-Digital-Comics-to-Fight-Human-Trafficking
UNITAS' Digital Comics: www.unitas.ngo/resources
UNITAS Book a Speaker: www.unitas.ngo/usa-book-unitas
SOS 2019 Application: www.lincolncottage.org/education/sos/summit/2019-sos-international-summit-application/