The voice of PJ, who wrote this original poem to be featured in the Empower Youth Program.
At a critical moment in the civil rights movement, Dr Martin Luther King Jr raised his voice and said, “There is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
What is Apathy? Apathy is indifference towards someone’s suffering. It results in social gridlock making the problems we face as communities nearly impossible to solve.
Sympathy is feeling badly for the suffering of others. Sympathy seems like a good response, but feeling badly for someone doesn’t solve the problem either. We cannot solve exploitation by looking away. We can only solve exploitation by engaging it.
Dr. King suggested that “vigorous and positive action” would lead to answers. That is the essence of empathy. Empathy is an active response to the suffering of others. However, demonstrating empathy is not about becoming the voice for those enduring the realities of exploitation and trafficking. It is about entering into their story and adding your voice alongside another’s.
There are many voices of those personally affected by child exploitation that need to be heard; there are many voices of those who work to end it that need to be heard. Here are a few that are especially meaningful to me…
- The Voices of Youth: We partnered with two Denver youth who survived extreme vulnerability and victimization to build prevention media curriculum. They give advice to younger teens going through what they went though. Now their voices are being heard in school districts and youth outreach programs all over the U.S. PJ is one of these youth. If you click the video above, you’ll see him raise his voice through his original spoken-word poetry, which he writes and performs for youth.
- The Voices of Survivors: Avery* was trafficked in Denver, then Vegas, and eventually the oil boom community of Williston, ND. Her trafficker collected over $500,000 by exploiting her to Williston before she was finally able to get out from under his control. We partnered with her on prevention outreach to boom communities. Her voice is being heard by members of congress, attorneys general, law enforcement, the oil and trucking industries, and more. She is getting a degree in finance and has just launched her own non profit to help others exit the life.
- The Voices of Advocates: Consider the voice of a trucker who recently called law enforcement to report a potential human trafficking case along one of our nation’s highways. That result was that a young woman was removed from the situation and two alleged traffickers were arrested. She had been brutally abused and controlled by her victimizers, who were selling her from their RV. That truck driver had been trained to respond through our trucking industry outreach in partnership with Truckers Against Trafficking.
- The Voices of World Changers: It is the voice of Norma Bastidas, who is a world class athlete and also a survivor of sexual violence. We partnered with her as she broke the record for the World’s Longest Triathlon of almost 4000 miles to fight human trafficking. World leaders are hearing her voice. Two nations’ capitols are hearing her voice. Young survivors are hearing her voice.
Our triathlon route took us though Selma, AL and the road to Montgomery where Dr King’s “vigorous and positive action” eventually changed a nation. Decades later, we too will look back on the problem of child exploitation and we will have to ask, “Did we change our nation?”
The good news is that when exploitation meets a community of empathy, apathy loses, exploitation loses, and justice wins.
What can we learn from Norma and the countless survivors, advocates, and youth raising their voices? We can learn to be relentless. Even with all the great progress, as long as victims are being identified and these types of crimes are being perpetuated, we have work to do. We all have to enter in. Use your relentless spirit, like Norma. Use your activism, like Avery. Use your art, like PJ. Use your training, like that trucker. Use your voice.
-Written by iEmpathize Founder and President Brad Riley