My name is Jessica Chen, and I am a student of English and American Literature and Linguistics at New York University. In June 2009, I came on-board as an intern with the Nomi Network. I was asked to fuse my backgrounds in both grassroots campaigning and NGO advocacy to help Nomi achieve its first-year goals. My projects for four months included: critiquing our press packet, proposing a long-term communications strategy, tabling at various events, and helping organize our "Buy Her Bag, Not Her Body" launch party. These are the items that will make their way onto my resume. There is, however, another story.
Today, sex trafficking rakes in billions of dollars, and is the third most profitable business for organized crime. Over 80% of trafficked women and children are sexually exploited. Girls as young as seven years-old are trafficked for child prostitution. Nomi, the girl, is just two years older. These are daunting numbers that abolitionists face every day. Sometimes they stun us into a fresh sense of responsibility and caring. At other times, they make us angry and furious with the world's injustice. Then there are days, especially for myself, when those numbers slow traffic, muffle noise, and drag everything to a grinding halt. Who am I really helping? Am I the only person who cares? Are we fighting a battle that can't be won?
I had been juggling these ominous questions for some time before I first met Alissa and Diana, our fearless leaders, and my fellow interns from Columbia University, Hei-Yue and Lucy. Six-months into a part-time job where I learned to trace the links between pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking, I had begun to wonder whether my cause was hopeless in a society that habitually normalizes the commodification of women. As the demand for sex increases, so does the count of enslaved lives. Yet, as if to undermine these looming figures, Alissa and Diana laid out Nomi's contribution in real, measurable, and lasting terms: education and job training for women who have come out of trafficking in Cambodia, partnering in-house designers with Hagar on Time to produce fashionable and sustainable accessories, and identifying strategic markets for these goods in the United States so that the profits could go back to the women. Over lunch meetings, endless cups of coffee, and spotty internet connections, we planned and took our first steps boldly: raffles, pre-launch bag sales, research, networking, and grant writing. Then there were the conference calls, taken while boarding a plane, on a crowded bus, and in bed at 6am from California. We began crunching numbers, too: 800 bags sold, 2400bags sourced, 23 lives changed. Nomi's story began.
I am proud to be a part of our network because it supports and empowers its members in their fight against human trafficking, whatever form that may take. As a soon-to-be graduate and full-time activist, I look forward to assisting Nomi's growth and evolution as we take our vision to new heights and horizons.
Written by Jessica Chen