Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Focus :: Abolitionist Michelle Brock of Hope For The Sold

Way back in March, I wrote this post about my very wonderful friends, Jay and Michelle Brock. We met them in the fall, and they proceeded to challenge and inspire me until they (very sadly) left to go back to Ontario to continue their life's adventures.

Michelle writes a blog called Hope For The Sold and fights to raise awareness about and abolish human trafficking and sexual exploitation and slavery.

I want to be true to who I am, and the life I lead on my blog. I want it to be both an expression and journal of the real, the genuine, the not-so-lovely moments and not feel the need to write about what I think people might want to read. But I also want to write about things that really matter. Things that break my heart. Things that encite righteous anger deep down inside. Things that make me feel helpless, because they are God-sized problems. I want to use this forum to do my part and raise awareness, even if only a handful of people read it. Sex and human trafficking is one of those things.

This post is a little lengthy, and pictureless (horrific, I know), but I would plead with you to read it to the end. Michelle is very articulate and I hope a little of what she shares, informs you, challenges you, brings you a revelation and nudges your heart a little.

What is an abolitionist?
My definition of an abolitionist is someone who fights to end slavery, oppression, and injustice. Despite the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade in the 1800s, modern day slavery and exploitation thrive in every corner of the globe still today.
How was Hope For The Sold birthed?
Five years ago my husband and I took a group of teens to Catalyst Leadership Conference in Atlanta, where Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission spoke on modern day slavery. Afterwards, out of the 10,000 people who were at the conference, we received 4 out of 100 tickets to pre-screen a movie called TRADE. The movie was about sex trafficking and I was speechless for 4 days.
We started raising awareness in schools and churches, and in 2009 made a
documentary about sex trafficking in Canada. This has been used by Canada Border Services to train their officers, author Benjamin Perrin in his Invisible Chains book tour across Canada, and Ms. Canada Tara Teng (who also happens to be a crazy passionate fellow-abolitionist!). I also write a blog about sex trafficking, with thousands of monthly readers. Clearly there is a growing movement to put an end to the abuse and exploitation of human beings!
What is your heart for human trafficking and sexual exploitation?
I was raised in Africa and witnessed poverty, AIDS, and injustice from a young age. But there is something specifically about sexual slavery that makes this issue more horrendous than anything else I could imagine as a woman. I believe that sex is the most intimate experience humans have, and to be raped for pay several times a day, with no hope of escape, is absolutely devastating.
My hope is to prevent trafficking from happening through raising awareness and changing legislation, and to offer hope and dignity to those who are vulnerable and exploited.
How do you keep going, day after day, battling such a huge monster?
(a) Jesus Christ - who helps me remember that both the trafficked and their traffickers are enslaved. Though there absolutely needs to be punishment for the trafficking of people, traffickers themselves need to be set free from the pain and sin that entangles them. God also helps me to remember that justice is HIS cause, and I do not need to carry it alone. I cling to his promise that He will equip me for every good work.
(b) My husband Jay - I need his encouragement DAILY. When I get discouraged or overwhelmed (happens often), he either gets in my face and tells me what's what, or listens to my rants and advises wisely. He keeps me dreaming, writing, and researching, and drives the vision of Hope for the Sold. In addition to this, Jay takes care of all back-end technical stuff with the blog, which I am severely challenged with!
(c) Close friends and family - My mom reads all my blog posts and insists that I attend important anti-trafficking events. One time my favourite human rights researcher came to speak at a nearby city and I could not go because I had to work for 9 hours that day. My mom told me to cancel my shift, paid for the lost wages, and covered my gas to get to the event! She can really put her foot down. Close friends are also extremely supportive, with their prayers and financial support.
(d) An amazing abolitionist community - Canada has some AMAZING abolitionists, and we are getting increasingly united and organized!
What is "fair trade" and how is it linked to the human trafficking industry?
Most of the products we use in North America are made by exploited labour. To keep their costs low, companies have their items made overseas, which lack adequate labour regulations and have poor human rights records.
Sex trafficking is only one form of human trafficking. Labour trafficking is a massive problem as well. Many of the people that grow and harvest the cocoa used in our chocolate are either not paid enough or are enslaved and forced to work for no pay. Some are children, who have never even tasted chocolate. Clothing manufacturing works the same way. Most factories have terrible work environments. Many cannot leave even if they wanted to, because they have been sold and are someone's 'property.'
Fair Trade products guarantee that the workers that made the product you are buying were not exploited in the process and are being paid a fair wage. I have stopped buying chocolate that is not fair trade, which is frustrating at times, but so worth it! I have also discovered the joy of consignment and used clothing stores, like Plato's Closet, which I am seeing more of lately. You can learn more about my thoughts on fair trade

It's all interconnected. The global economy undermines the ability of many in impoverished countries to rise up and make a real life for themselves. Increased vulnerability disproportionately affects women, many of who are trafficked for sex. We are all part of this chain based on what we purchase. The key is not to get overwhelmed, but to start with one changed action and see where it goes from there. I promise, it gets addictive!

What are some ways that you fight trafficking and exploitation and support fair treatment for overseas workers in daily life?
I only buy fair trade chocolate- my favourite is Coco Camino 70% dark...delicious! Jay only buys used clothes, except socks and underwear :)
In general, we try to avoid large for-profit corporations, and if it's a coffeeshop, those who aren't full fair trade... where we currently live, we'd rather go to Planet Bean or The Red Brick Cafe instead of Starbucks.
We also have a running boycott on Walmart. Their string of human rights abuses is huge, and their size allows them to continually slash prices (and quality) in the "race to the bottom".
As a rule of thumb, if a company is fair-trade, they'll let you know.
Local is better because local dollars stay in the the local community.
It all comes back to relationships - to suppliers, to store owners, to customers, and to the earth. Everything's connected, and we need to foster communities that are PEOPLE-first, not profit-motivated. When we do this, quality goes up, inflation goes down, and future generations benefit.

Any parting thoughts you'd like to make?
The key is to not get overwhelmed, but to start doing just ONE thing that makes a difference. For example, you can start by signing ONE petition at It actually takes just one minute. Or you can buy ONE item at to help support exploited women as they make fair trade products. Or you can try ONE fair trade Cocoa Camino chocolate product here (free shipping in Canada!) You could also boycott ONE kind of non fair-trade chocolate (ie. Kit Kat bar).
So the key thing to remember is ONE. Start with one thing, one change, one action, and soon it will not seem as overwhelming as it is empowering!

I hope you were educated. I hope you were inspired. I hope you were encouraged. I hope you can find ONE small way to do your part!

1 comment:

Cammy said...

YAH!! Thanks for this Christy!! I love how she describes fair trade!!