Many of us have heard about Human Trafficking and are engaged in a variety of ways in preventing human trafficking or working with survivors. But how many of you out there have heard about the GIFT BOX? It is a unique project launched by STOP TRAFFIK and the United Nations Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) at the London Olympics in 2012. It was also rolled out in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the major sporting events in 2013, 2014 and 2016. The 10-foot-high structure functions as a metaphor for the techniques used by sex traffickers.  It is primarily used to raise awareness in big way and introduce people to the issue of human trafficking – through photographs and survivor stories – specific to the host country, depicting the harsh realities of sex trafficking – and inspiring them to take action.

The GIFT Box was brought to New York for the third time in October 2018 by ECPAT USA, National Council of Jewish Women, STOPP THE TRAFFIK and Lifeway Network. (Lifeway Network provides safe homes for trafficking survivors and has a dedicated education program to raise awareness and engage people around the issue of human trafficking. It is an initiative of a group of women Religious in New York which includes three SC Federation congregations as members and on the Leadership Teams. In order expand my sphere of involvement beyond the NGO Committee work, I took time off to volunteer and be engaged in educating the public on human trafficking.The Gift Box was placed in a part of the city which had a lot of foot fall and throughout the day volunteers were on hand to invite and engage people to experience the Gift Box through compelling survivor stories and data.  It was certainly an occasion to work with women from a wide spectrum of society, who were so passionate about the issue.

Many visitors to the GIFT Box were surprised to learn that human trafficking happens in their city or town. The common perception is – it happens somewhere else, not on my streets or city. One visitor in particular advised the volunteers to go spread this message in other countries. He didn’t think it was a concern in United States. At the same time, there were people who were aware of the issue and wanted to do something about human trafficking or bring their friends to visit the GIFT BOX. Many took the hotline number and others downloaded the STOP APP.

Men, women and children are trafficked within their own countries or across international borders. Trafficking affects every country in the world, yet there is a false notion, that it does not happen ‘here.’ Most people in the business of their everyday life fail to recognize trafficking that happens in front of them or trafficked persons who they encounter in their work places. Trafficking is hidden, yet it is in plain sight. The main objective of ‘awareness raising’ through GIFT BOX installation is to help individuals, organizations, schools, emergency rooms to spot the signs.

Human Trafficking is the easiest means by which people are enslaved. It is the fastest growing international crime and the second largest source of illegal income worldwide. Human traffickers amass $150 billion annually through forced labor – agricultural, industrial, domestic and prostitution. A human being can be sold again and again. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) 40.3 million people are enslaved around the world.  Of this, 51% are women, 21% men and 20% girls and 8% boys. Women and girls bear the brunt of this social sin.

People are trafficked for many exploitative purposes, like sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, labor exploitation, child soldiers, forced begging, forced marriage, organ harvesting, drug trade, etc. Trafficking for forced labor in the fishing industry is common in several parts of the world.

Conflicts, disasters and displacements through industrialization, mining etc., force people to move and make them vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. Children are the most vulnerable to be victims. Without poverty eradication through quality education, decent jobs and gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, prevention of human trafficking is not possible.  Inequality and multidimensional poverty make people vulnerable. Vincentian Family focus on systemic change in all our ministry engagements is a step in reducing the vulnerability of people to trafficking and enslavement.

One of the new methods used to stop human trafficking uses data analysis to follow the money through augmented intelligence and machine learning. STOP THE TRAFFIK uses big data to fight modern slavery. They have developed THE STOP APP designed to empower people, local communities across the world to take action against human trafficking and modern slavery. It is available free download on App Store and Google Play to your smart phones.

If you have seen something suspicious, share the information through the App safely and securely. There is no need not reveal one’s identity.  One can upload data through the App – provision is given to take pictures, videos or a written report of an incident witnessed. Every story – whether current or from the past, helps to get the big picture. “All the information put into the STOP APP is fed directly into the Center for Intelligence-Led Prevention (CfILP), where it is analyzed alongside global data on human trafficking and modern slavery. This data is used to build intelligence on global trends and hotspots of human trafficking, which enables us to disrupt, prevent and predict this criminal activity.” (STOP THE TRAFFIC) Providing information on the App does not take the place of reporting the incident to the police, especially if someone is in immediate danger. For those in the United States, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is on the picture on the right. Everyone can play a role to prevent human trafficking. Report if you witness movement/recruitment, coercion/deception and exploitation.

Watch this video about the APP:

Teresa Kotturan, SCN is the NGO Representative for the Sisters of Charity Federation 


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