Sunday, September 22, 2013

[Free-Them] Freedom Walk 2013: End Human Trafficking

Exactly one week ago, the Bloggers Against Social Injustice- Buffalo Team traveled nearly 100 miles from Buffalo, New York to Toronto, Canada to join our spotlight charity of 2012-2013, [Free-Them], in their 4th Annual Freedom Walk!  Over 500 people from across Canada congregated to hear and learn from from survivors, front-line rescuers, community activists, and police officials proceeded by a 4km walk for freedom.  This walk brought in a record breaking $45,000 which will benefit Walk With Me Canada Victim Services! Scroll below to read and see what it was like to go to #FreedomWalk2013 with the BASI-Buffalo Team!  I hope you feel like you were there with us!

Why Walk for Freedom? 

[Written By: Christine, founder and co-editor of BASI]

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2013- Our team woke up as the sun rose and left for Canada shortly after.  Upon arrival to the Fairmont Hotel, we were able to stop for some group pictures on the [Free-Them] purple carpet and backdrop before entering the banquet room for the pre-walk seminar.  As we entered the room, we looked over a sea of over 500 people dressed in purple and a fair-trade market place set up in the back.  The room was buzzing and packed, to say the least...

Before I move on, I want to remind you how prevalent human trafficking is in our world today.  It is estimated that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking in the world at any given moment.  This includes but is not limited to victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking of all ages, genders, nationalities, and sexual orientations.  All people can be susceptible to human trafficking, which is why it is important to raise awareness so that people can recognize a possible human trafficking situation to avoid and report it.  This lucrative trade, which pulls in an estimated $32 billion annually, is present in virtually every country around the globe. 

"If it can happen to young girls, boys, women and
men, it can happen to each of us.  We are walking
for freedom and for justice!"

This message was shared with us by Veronica Chail, who hosted this year's Freedom Walk.  Chail then thanked Member of Parliament (MP) Joy Smith, Canada's leading anti-human trafficking advocate, on behalf of [Free-Them] and all of Canada.  Since 2007, Smith has mobilized the Canadian government to take action to create networks across the country and "connect the dots" to prevent and abolish human trafficking in Canada.  As the room rose for a standing ovation she sat in her seat undeniably humbled as she smiled and shook her head.  When the applause died down, MP Chris Alexander came on stage and described the struggle to push for human trafficking eradication legislation and action.  Alexander shared,

"[Human trafficking is] such a vast problem that 
I didn't know how or where to begin or how to 
put our arms around the problem."

With the efforts of MP Alexander and MP Smith along with a combination of many agencies, MPs, and integrated law enforcement teams, Canada is one of the only countries in the world to place victims at the center of discussions to combat human trafficking.

MP Joy Smith
MP Chris Alexander

"If you do nothing, nothing will happen.  
Four years ago I decided to do something,
and all of us are here today."

This was shared with us by Shae Invidiata, the founder of [Free-Them].  Invidiata began the Freedom Walk 4 years ago with the intent to "do something" and make a difference in the fight against human trafficking.  As she stool on stage, she shared with us a story about a brick.  Even if a brick is just a brick, sitting alone and unused, it still aspires to be something.  Invidiata told us that like that just like a brick that aspires to become something magnificent, like a skyscraper, we too are coming together to do something grand and bring about change.  Following Invidiata, Katrina McLeod shared her story.  In a group for abused women, she was preyed upon by a pimp.  Katarina McLeod was 21 years old when she entered the sex industry and for the next 10 years, she was invisibly caught in the sex trade.  Now she is an overcomer and founder of Rising Angels.

"People think its a choice, but it isn't.  We need to
not allow legalized prostitution [in Canada].
It will allow pimps to bring more girls and drugs."

When Katarina McLeod said this and shared her story, I realize how important it is for first responders (doctors, people at the end of hotlines, and assault groups) to be aware of human trafficking and potential predators.  Did you know one victim in the sex trade can bring in $280,000 per year for a pimp?  It is devastatingly sad AND UNACCEPTABLE that any person should have to feel obligated to sell their bodies, feel a loss of dignity, and be subjugated to abuse (verbal/physical) under the force and/or coercion of a pimp!

Shae Invidiata, founder of [Free-Them].
Katarina McLeod, founder of Rising Angels and overcomer of sex trafficking.

Lepa Jankovic and Christopher Bessette were also present.  Lepa Jankovic is a Royal Canadian Mountain Police whose efforts brought down 36 pimps, in Canada's largest human trafficking case! Christopher Bessette is the writer and director of the film "Trade of Innocents". He described his process in bringing this movie to life; from his journey to Cambodia for research, to becoming teary-eyed while filming one scene of the movie, 

"I thought about what a little girl looking 
[out of the Pink Room for young virgins] 
would have thought, looking at the other kids and
asking herself, 'Why can't I play outside'"?

At one point while directing "Trade of Innocents,"  Bessette wished he could have done more, but was reminded that this movie is raising awareness, which is making a difference.  Like Bessette, I feel like it is our duty to use whatever talents we possess to help raise awareness to end human trafficking.  Following Bessette, we heard from founder of Walk With Me Canada Victim Services and overcomer of sex trafficking, Timea Nagy.  

"It took me 13 years to find my voice and start to regain my dignity."

Nagy offered us a challenge.  The challenge was to take 15 minutes of our day and in those 15 minutes ask permission for everything.  This included; asking to eat food, asking to cry, asking to fight back if you were hurt, asking what color shirt to wear, and everything in between.  Now imagine being told "no" to every single request.  This is what Nagy said it is like as a victim of sex trafficking, only worse and in every waking moment.  She also told us that sometimes it is hard to think that just a few years ago she was actually in the sex trade.  It was discomforting to think that people standing in the same room as myself were suppressed to such conditions, and to think that there are millions of others out there currently in that situation is blatantly unacceptable.  This is why it is up to people like you and me to take a stand and do something!

Before the 4km walk, [Free-Them] surprised Bloggers Against Social Injustice and JQ Fitness with the 2013 iStand Award, thanking us for our local and online efforts to help abolish modern-day slavery.  I began to cry as I went on stage because I was so surprised and humbled.

RCMP Lepa Jankovic
BASI-Buffalo Team with writer/director Chris Bessette
Me (Christine) accepting the iStand Award on behalf of BASI

And now for photos from the 4km Freedom Walk! We were able to help pass out flyers on human trafficking to pedestrians, and water and snacks to walkers.  A BIG thank you to everyone who went out and walked!
Christopher (left) handing out information on human trafficking to a pedestrian.

Oncoming freedom walkers chanted:
"People are not for sale! People are not for sale!"

Susan, alerting the walkers with a smile!

After the 4km were complete, the entire group of +500 gathered for a photo!

Click this box below to see news coverage from #FreedomWalk2013

Before we left back for the United States, we were able to snap a quick picture with Shae Invidiata and Randy, of [Free-Them].

I hope you felt like you were there with us, I wish you were! Whatever you do, remember, ever action makes a difference, including raising awareness through a community walk.  Do it for those who don't have a voice to be heard.

Thank you [Free-Them], Walk With Me, and every person, donor, and organization there in body and in spirit for helping bring Canada one step (times over 500) closer to abolishing human trafficking!

We appreciate your efforts and each of you!

Christine :)

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  1. I'm glad i joined. This is a great inspiration. keep on doing social good. i love the purple color

  2. What a terrific review of the Free Them Walk. I was there. Love reliving the day going through your photos.


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