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“Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are.” - Gary Haugen

Building awareness is the keystone of anti-trafficking work. As Gary Haugen, President and CEO of the International Justice Mission (IJM) said above, nothing will ever change until we are aware that there is a problem and equally aware that there is an achievable solution.

Awareness is the state of having knowledge, of being informed of current developments. It’s the ability to be conscious of events and conditions. Without realizing the existence of modern-day slavery, no individual would ever join the fight against it.

Imagine if Gary Haugen hadn’t realized the extensive injustices and violence happening against the poor throughout the world. International Justice Mission, one the world’s largest antislavery organizations, wouldn’t exist. But also imagine if Gary hadn’t shared this discovery with others, if his knowledge of the enslavement and violation of millions of people remained private and limited. IJM would never have attracted staff and volunteers to carry out the work of justice or developed an operating budget that could sustain those activities. Awareness – educating and informing yourself and others – is critical to achieving later forms of abolition.

Knowledge Building

Unfortunately, many people throughout the world believe the myth that slavery has ended. Knowledge building is a crucial piece to debunking this myth and, consequently, building a large movement of people that can begin to affect real change.

Large numbers of people are needed to staff organizations throughout the world. However, without understanding the need for such activity, where would organizations find the human capital needed to combat trafficking around the world? And these organizations need vast amounts of financial resources in order to fund operations. How could these organizations receive funds if the general public is not aware of the need for such resources? Major changes in our consumer actions and in our public policies are needed. Why would people begin to shop differently or support particular legislation if they don’t understand why a change is needed?

Varying Levels of Awareness

Of course there’s varying levels of awareness. We can be aware of the problem, which requires a major shift in understanding. We can no longer believe the simple narrative of our history textbooks, as we start seeing the realities of slavery all around us. We start to learn about the nearly 21 million people enslaved today, and perhaps we begin learning about the stories of one or two specific individuals. We see their faces in the countries we travel to and in our own communities. Most importantly, we begin sharing our own knowledge with those around us – taking our awareness to the next level by bringing in others and educating them on the very existence of the problem.

Then, we can go beyond knowing about the problem and begin to explore and understand the roots and consequences of the issue. This process can complicate our understanding because we start to realize how complex the issue really is. We begin to think critically about the structures and elements, like poverty, inequalities and consumerism, that sustain the institution of slavery; then, we start analyzing and evaluating various causes and ways to solve the issue.

And finally, we can be self-aware of our role in both causing and ending modern enslavement. We can start to examine and comprehend how our own shopping habits, sexual behaviors and cultural norms reinforce slavery. We become conscious of our personal relationship to the practice of slavery, and we begin to transform understanding into action.

Awareness Activities

Many individuals and organizations focus on knowledge building and sharing. Some of the activities associated with this form of abolition include

  • Research and Publication– Educating other practitioners is essential in order to implement best practices. All of this type of work is considered awareness building because the research is designed to educate and inform others.
  • Prevention Efforts– Preventing vulnerable populations from being trafficked is a key initiative. By making targeted individuals aware of their vulnerabilities and creating solutions to minimize their risk, practitioners and activists can decrease the likelihood of high-risk populations from being trafficked.
  • Educational Materials– Books, documentaries, curriculum, trainings, shared social media content and other educational activities inform specific audiences of the existence of the problem. In doing so, this type of work increases the number of people who volunteer time, donate resources and change shopping habits to help fight modern-day slavery.