The SAFE Coalition for Human Rights Conference 2018 held at the historic Palmer House hotel in the heart of Chicago brought together a variety of respected abolitionists from all over the world. This conference made me realize more than ever that the fight against human trafficking is very interdisciplinary: law enforcement, politicians, educators, non-profit leaders, healthcare professionals, first responders, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and more are all on the front lines of this fight. There are many different types of professionals working on the issue from different angles and meeting different needs. I made friends with a lot of amazing people from around the world, some of whom have received national and international awards for their efforts.

One of the most impactful points of the conference came from someone I wouldn’t have expected: a finance professional working on anti-human trafficking for the US government. He said in the anti-trafficking world, we talk a lot of about stopping trafficking, but how do we actually do that? We need traffickers to WANT to stop trafficking for it to ever truly stop. Why do traffickers do what they do? Money. Selling human beings is profitable. He said we must disrupt the human trafficking market so much that the market risk is too high for it to be profitable anymore. When Backpage.com, the one-stop-shop for sex buyers, was shut down earlier this year, approximately 70% of traffickers’ revenue stream was disrupted he said. Traffickers are hurting. He and his team participate in undercover group chats with real traffickers, and they were all discussing taking legal action because the closure was affecting their business so much. This really opened my eyes to the fact that the power to end human trafficking really lies in attacking their profits. Every other anti-trafficking effort either seeks to prevent people from falling into this evil or restore people once they have been traumatized by this evil. In other words, it’s taking some people out of the human trafficking cycle but the cycle will still exist as long as there are profits to be made.

I’m not a humanist. I believe humans are all inherently flawed and will always find ways to abuse each other as we have seen throughout history. I believe hope is found in realizing you have the power to change someone else’s reality by your choices to love them. No matter what great advances are made in anti-trafficking around the world, we cannot definitively say no one will ever traffick another human again. We CAN each say I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening to those in my sphere of influence and restore those in my sphere of influence to a healthy life. I came away from the conference energized and with a greater understanding of where my work in my corner of the world fits into the global fight.