On Feb. 7, the International Justice Mission (IJM) held ‘SPEAKUP to End Slavery,’ calling attention to the plight of modern day slavery. The event aimed to educate the campus community, allowing students to learn about the extent of the issue of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, and forced labor.
The event was held by IJM St. Mary’s president Kyla Hasemeier (‘20), who briefly introduced the crowd to IJM’s mission, before showing the documentary ‘I Am Brave,’ a film documenting the horrors of cybersex trafficking and the rescue of one woman named Joy.
According to their website, IJM is “a global organization with a plan to eliminate the slave trade everywhere,” working to rescue slaves, assist local police forces to put slave owners in jail, and through this enforcement of law, make the business of slavery unprofitable, thereby solving the problem.
IJM estimates that more than 40 million people are living in slavery, and are subjected to trafficking and forced labor. The film focused on rescues in the Philippines, where cybersex abuse has overtaken in-person interactions. Children are among the most vulnerable to this type of abuse, and are a focus population for IJM. One employee in IJM’s Philippines office explained the issue by stating, “people in power are exploiting children for easy profits, and they do it because they think they can get away with it. That will change.”
The film included real footage from a brothel raid, where IJM worked with local authorities to rescue a group of people being held inside a house. Each step before the rescue is chronicled, showing the background research needed to locate they children being abused on camera, the tactical teams swarming the house, and the people being led to safety.
‘I Am Brave’ works to convey the importance of IJM’s operations, humanizing people who may otherwise become just another statistic. The story of Joy was particularly moving, after being trafficked for nearly half of her life thus far. Senior Katrina Morton attended the event and spoke with the Point News, explaining her reaction to the film, saying, “I think what struck me the most was hearing from Joy’s post-trafficking counselor. The counselor talked about how difficult it was to build trust and peace with Joy after she survived sexual abuse.”
According to their website, IJM partners with local authorities in 17 communities across the developing world, including Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala and South Asia. IJM does not take cases within the United States, as they explain that “Though injustice certainly exists in the United States, American benefit from a mature legal system that generally provides effective redress for abuse.”
Though the organization works to rescue those forced into sex trafficking, including minors who are unable to consent due to their age, human rights advocates and other organizations have criticized IJM’s tactics, labeling them part of the problematic “raid and rescue” approach. Some are critical of the disruption to HIV-outreach efforts, as well as the possibility for deportation and further abuse at the hands of the very law enforcement officials who conduct the rescues. In addition, concerns about the possible lack of differentiation between consensual sex workers and those who are trafficked have arisen, with advocates arguing that these raids refuse to distinguish between choice and lack of choice, leaving out a crucial element of nuance in the discussion.
When this point was brought up, Hasemeier responded by explaining that she had not thought about this distinction, stating that even if a person entered the sex industry consensually, they may soon not be able to get out. Hasemeier reached out after the event, to clarify her response and explain how she usually focused on cases involving minors, and had not thought of the potential for harm involved in these rescue missions. In addition she followed up with IJM headquarters to get an official statement explaining how they make the distinction between who they rescue and who they do not. It read as follows; “IJM focuses our rescues on ‘minors’ who are under the age of 18. Sex Trafficking is illegal in every country for women deemed as minors. If there are women who are present in the brothel over the age of 18, they are given the option to be rescued alongside the minors. They are never forced to leave if for whatever reason they choose not to.”
IJM is a Christian group that was founded in 1997, by Gary Haugen, an American lawyer. Keeping in line with their religious basis, IJM asks that all their staff submit a Statement of Faith, and each day begins with 30 minutes of “silence and solitude before God,” followed by an 11:00am corporate prayer. As such, IJM only hires practicing Christians. The organization does state that they are “a non-sectarian community of faith that works with all people to seek justice on behalf of all people regardless of race, religion, creed, or any other status.” They state that IJM staff are “motivated by the Bible’s call to “rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.””
IJM is a primarily funded through individual donations, a fact that is substantiated in the 2017 annual report, where they list that 79% of their funding came from these individual contributions, as well as 5% from government grants, dating back to George W. Bush’s presidency, and continuing into the Obama presidency. Both former presidents have commended the work IJM does.
Hasemeier stated that she was pleased with the outcome of the event, and was “really grateful for all that chose to attend.” She went on to re-state that “This issue is really important to me and is a cause that I believe our campus should be educated about.” Hasemeier explained that “Everyone seems to know that human-trafficking exists but few seem to understand the gravity of modern day slavery.” Hasemeier wishes to continue to work for justice, on the basis of IJM’s principles, ending by stating that its her goal to educate the campus, as well as “encourage students in the many ways we can make a difference from right here at SMCM.”