Human trafficking remains one of the most prominent and often ignored international issues that affects the lives of more than 26 million victims worldwide everyday.
The chance of a girl or a boy being rescued and the trafficker ever being convicted is just 1 percent, but one local company aims to fight this international crisis from Southern California and abroad within India.
Orange County is one of the largest stops for the trafficking circuit in the United States, with 80 percent of victims being trafficked into sexual exploitation and more than half of that figure consisting of minors and U.S. citizens.
Since its founding in 2007, International Sanctuary, an Irvine-based organization, has focused all of its efforts on fighting human trafficking by rescuing victims and helping them rebuild their lives one step at a time.
In September 2014, iSanctuary launched Purpose jewelry, a fashionable jewelry brand that gives survivors employment opportunities, a healthy workplace, financial stability and most importantly, a community that empowers survivors.
“iSanctuary doesn’t just rescue women, give them money and send them on their way,” said Christina McDonald, fundraising and development intern and California Baptist University junior leadership studies and business administration double major. “They have a complex reintegration program that aids in medical care, education, micro-loans, employment and much more.”
The social enterprise goes beyond just the initial rescue mission by providing the tools necessary for the survivors to successfully readjust to life.
Jackie Kong, program coordinator for The Professional Opportunities for Survivors Program, said the goal of the nine-month program is to employ survivors of human trafficking and help fill the gap between rescue and reintegration for trafficking victims.
“Our participants learn how to fulfill online orders, run our online store, pack hundreds of pieces of inventory for events and trunk shows, pack for wholesale orders, have a detailed eye for quality control, learn how to fix jewelry and they are also equipped with English and computer skills needed for the workplace,” Kong said.
Both employees of the social enterprise credit their current line of work to impactful experiences from their past that opened their eyes to a field of work that is a larger issue at home in the U.S. than some people may realize.
“When I was 16 years old, a junior in high school, I was introduced to the topic of human trafficking,” Kong said. “I was appalled that slavery still existed and once I found out about the issue, I knew I was passionate about eradicating it and did everything and anything I could to learn more about the issue.”
McDonald said everyone in the world has a role in ending human trafficking, whether he or she realizes it or not.
“A lot of people see human trafficking as just ‘another problem,’ but it is a major issue that is negatively affecting our world and directly/indirectly impacting our lives,” McDonald said. “The shoes you’re wearing, the sugar you use, the car you drive: the majority of these things were made by slaves.”
For the survivors working through iSanctuary, the impact of human trafficking is forever a part of their story, but their reintegration into society has introduced new light in their lives.
The company gives these humans a sense of protection and in one participant’s words: “iSanctuary brings unity between us survivors.”