Today, I had the powerful opportunity to speak with and listen to a talk by Diana Scimone, the founder of the Born2Fly project to end child trafficking, as well as a human rights journalist, author, and president of Peabody Publishing, Inc.
Across pizza with a few representatives from the Students Against Modern Slavery, she tears up as she tells us about one girl whose face she cannot erase from her mind. It was the Florida Classic in Orlando, when two major football teams come head to head and you can bet the traffickers were capitalizing off of the influx in testosterone-driven tourists. Her team was doing outreach on International drive (not a bad part of town, she notes, actually more of a tourist attraction) and she reports seeing so much trafficking. She and her team talked to hotel managers in coordination with law enforcement and the DCF (Department of Children and Families), a list of missing children and runaways in one hand and Backpages.com listings of girls for sale in the other. She describes an especially jolting encounter at one particular hotel.
“One hotel we went into there was this car that rolled up… and you know most traffickers aren’t the archetype pimps with the fur coats and the gold teeth and the gold jewelry. They are the MIT graduates and airline pilots…but this guy looked like the archetype. And he pulled up in one of those fancy cars…and out gets this girl your age and she was probably drunk. He just led her right out of the car. She walked in like a little zombie, walked up to the desk. She was wearing bedroom slippers…. I went up. They organization I was with had put the fear of God in us not to turn this into a rescue. We were just supposed to get the information, because there were people all around watching. So I took some pictures of her and we got the license plate number, but she got back into the car and drove around to the back of the hotel. As I watched her, I thought, I wonder what is going to happen to this girl that has already happened probably 10 times today and it’s
only, what 12 noon… So we gave the license plate number to law enforcement and I don’t know what happened to her after that. But her face is just engrained in my mind. Every once in a while there’s some incident… that happens in people… you usual
ly have to be able to set aside the emotions to get stuff done, but every so often there is that one that just comes to you, that keeps you going…. [to remind you] it’s somebody’s life.”
Russia: “Thank you for B2F. Thank you for not being indifferent. This program has changed many lives.”
Diana Scimone was not always a fighter against human trafficking. As a human rights journalist, she traveled to over 40 countries, listening and writing. One particular experience in Mumbai, however, lead her life down a path she never expected it would take. She was being driven through Mumbai’s infamous red light district, observing as the night was just beginning for the women behind the windows while tourists walked through nonchalantly and children played in the street. All of a sudden, her driver pointed to the second floor window of a building and said “That would be a great photo, just don’t let the pimps see you taking it or they will take away your camera.” She snagged the shot, a shot which she describes as the photo that changed her life. Only after they drove away did the driver explain to her what it was of~~the second floor is where the cages of four year olds were kept. These children had been trafficked across borders, only to be beaten, starved, even peed on, to the point that their instinct to run away was utterly drowned out of them. Only then were they ready to be child sex slaves. That photo haunted her to the point that she eventually founded a non-profit to end the slavery that riddles the lives of millions of children worldwide. Capitalizing on her own talents, she has collaborated to write curriculum to teach about human trafficking for children, teenagers, and adults. Now, her program is available in several languages, is taught in over 60 countries, and has been accessed by over 400 different organizations around the world. Register for the curriculum here
Nepal: Born2Fly co-sponsored train-the-trainer workshops for more than 40 young women from villages where girls are regularly trafficked. This is one of the recent trainings. These young women are now back in their own villages holding awareness and prevention programs for their own communities–all using the B2F curriculums and wordless book.
She advocates using that which one already excels at to jumpstart advocacy, and “audacity,” as she affectionately calls further action. She described her use of fashion to broach the conversation on human trafficking. She wears the ravishing clothing that she has bought through her international work, describes it, discusses the cultures behind the cloth, and then jumps into the issues of human trafficking within that particular culture. She emphasized that one does not need to be doing search and rescue to combat human trafficking. All one must do is apply one’s natural skills to the issue, whether that be in social interaction or education or technology or debate or writing or medicine or anything else.
One line from her talk that really stuck with me, that I want to share with you is: “Have big ideas. And if your ideas don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” Human Trafficking–man is that a big idea. But if we have ideas that are bigger and better and bolder, together we can eventually trump it.