“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” For many of us, these words by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonate now more than ever. To celebrate Dr. King’s life at such a tumultuous and unsettling time in our nation’s history seems almost paradoxical. King’s measured leadership, drive for justice, and commitment to love feels glaringly vacant in recent weeks, most notably as we witnessed a violent white mob terrorize our legislators and wreak havoc on our capital. The same volatility of white supremacy and racist anger that King worked so tirelessly to address sadly still persists today, and these events highlight the urgency with which we must continue Dr. King’s extraordinary work.
Often much more radical than most of white America would care to admit, King, organized for more than equality and integration. His goal, for himself and his people, was always freedom. He recognized that true freedom is incompatible with poverty and exploitation. Today, FAIR Girls knows this remains true. According to Polaris, more than 4,000 victims and survivors contacted the national trafficking hotline in 2019 alone. In actuality, we know that rates of trafficking are much higher in our communities as human trafficking is a notoriously underreported crime impacting already marginalized populations. Freedom remains elusive for far too many girls and young women trafficking survivors.
For Black girls and women, the statistics are even more disturbing. Polaris reports Black girls in Louisiana comprise nearly half of all CSEC cases though they make up less than 20% of the state’s youth population. This confirms what FAIR Girls’ staff and many anti-trafficking advocates already know: Human trafficking is a racial justice issue. Many of the unjust systems King fought against sadly remain in place today and directly contribute to the disparate rates of trafficking for girls and women of color. Generational poverty, over-policing and criminalization, and the lack of economic opportunity all continue to impact communities of color disproportionately.
As we face the hatefulness, violence, and divisiveness plaguing our communities today, Dr. King provides us with a guide to navigate our world with both empathy and peaceful but powerful resistance. And as we can learn from Dr. King, we can also learn from the young women survivors of human trafficking we work with every day. At FAIR Girls, we see the brave resilience and inspiring perseverance that empowers survivors on their long and challenging healing journey. In the face of violence, adversity, and fear, they remind us by way of example, to stay the course, one dedicated to justice and freedom.
Though it’s easy to slip into feelings of hopelessness amid the chaos and hatred of our political landscape, we must recognize that inspiration for change comes in various forms. Sometimes it’s the outspoken charisma and moral direction of a figure like Dr. King. Other times it’s the quiet persistence of young women and girls rebuilding their lives. Though King noted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” it seems the opposite ought to be true as well. Justice and freedom for survivors of trafficking brings all of us closer to a world of true freedom and peace.