Each day, there are at least 3 million women and children enslaved for sex. That’s more than three times the entire population of San Francisco, the home base Off the Mat, Into the World has to come to love and adore. Most of these victims are between 12 and 14 years old, and many are sold into slavery by their families out of desperation or misinformation. The sex trafficking industry is an estimated $32 billion gig, outdone in size only by the illegal trade of arms and drugs. And it flies mostly under the radar in many countries due to a complicated web of socioeconomic issues. It is a devastatingly prevalent but mostly hidden epidemic that can be challenging to face head on.
At OTM, we recognize the importance of working deeply with our own personal shadow before engaging with collective shadow issues. In our intensives, we prioritize working with this hidden side of ourselves so that we, our leaders, and the participants we train throughout the year can step into action and serve cleanly and effectively.
Because of this clear connection to shadow work and the enormity of this issue we as a society face—there are more human slaves today than at any other time in history—we’ve chosen to focus our 2012 yearly humanitarian and leadership project, the Global Seva Challenge, on sex trafficking in India. We couldn’t feel more called to action.
Since we began Global Seva four years ago, we’ve challenged yogis around the world to raise significant ($20,000!) and vital funds for a different country each year. It’s no small task, and the grassroots fundraising efforts that our participants roll out are inspiring, entrepreneurial, and impressive. The funds they raise are distributed to local and established nonprofits working on various issues in these countries. We have an extensive vetting process to determine which issues in the area demand our support and resources most at the time. And each challenger who meets his/her goal accompanies us to the country for hands-on experience with our partners in the field. It’s a life-changing experience for all of us. Last year, we raised $375,000 to support job creation and financial stability for women and children in Haiti. We take our trip to Haiti in just a few weeks. Stay tuned for blogs from the field.
And now we’re ready to dive into another year. Sex trafficking is a global issue that is inextricably and intimately tied to limited economic opportunities, as well as social and cultural factors. Lack of awareness, government corruption, and poor enforcement of international anti-trafficking laws also contribute heavily to the growth of this industry.
Imagine that you are a young girl given over or sold by your own family because they have been told that you will be given a home and a job and a better life in another country. Then imagine that instead you are enslaved, tortured, and made to perform sexual acts day after day without escape or rest. This is the fate of many millions of women and children today. As we look ahead to this year, we’ve had these questions running through our heads: What can be done to educate the world community about sex trafficking? Is it possible to create ways for victims to heal from this type of insidious trauma? How might we support not only their healing but their eventual empowerment into lives of dignity and connection?
The solution must ultimately include an understanding of and education on the root causes of sex trafficking, stronger enforcement of laws, and opportunities for survivors to recover and reintegrate back into society in a healthy way. Our approach will focus on awareness and education, with the help of Off the Mat NYC’s newest venture, the Yoga Freedom Project, as well as empowerment and rehabilitation of survivors. All of the organizations and projects that we’ll be supporting are digging in tirelessly to generate solutions on how to house, rehabilitate, and empower victims. We’re thrilled to learn from these groups, support them in their efforts, and help them take steps toward eradicating this shadow that we’re all facing.
The Global Seva Challenge is an opportunity to discover true leadership potential, build community, and actively participate in creating long term and sustainable solutions to eradicate sex trafficking. We hope that you will join us in this journey of growth, courage, and service. Let’s continue to be a collective voice for change and empowerment worldwide! For more info, visit our website.
— Suzanne Sterling and Seane Corn