Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting to Know You: Jennifer Hollinger

My interest in human trafficking began with a graduate research assistantship at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. I have always been interested in the topic of international migration but I had very little idea that this assistantship would provoke me to action in an area where I will remain active for the rest of my life.

I knew very little about human trafficking before embarking on this project which examined the outcomes for minors who have been trafficked into the United States, mostly for the purposes of sex work but also for underage labor. I was shocked and horrified at the extent of this practice, not just in the United States but around the world. Perhaps I was naive but the young age of these trafficking survivors incited both outrage at their treatment and a deep sadness for their suffering.

Research was one thing, but traveling to Albania on an Advocacy Project Peace Fellowship to work with CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe) was quite another. Over the summer of 2007, I carried out research in Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo on human trafficking for sexual exploitation. I met trafficking survivors, advocates for survivors, amazing women who ran shelters with their own money, and a diverse array of people engaged in the fight to end human trafficking. I saw things that I would like to forget and learned things that I will never unlearn. It's one of those situations where, once your eyes are opened, they cannot be shut to the reality of human trafficking.

When I started my fellowship, I learned that I would have to write a blog (which you can view here) and I thought, me, write a blog?? It really was not my thing and I did not see the point. I learned that blogging was a wonderful way to communicate to my friends and family, a release valve for all of things that I was seeing and feeling.

More than anything, I learned that blogging was a way to spread knowledge, to raise awareness for human trafficking. The amount of people that reached out to me after I returned from my fellowship absolutely staggered me. It made me feel a part of something - a global movement, small but dedicated. A movement that would not give up, one that would not tire and would expose to the world the horror that is human trafficking. I am lucky and honored to be able to raise my voice against this modern day slavery and, for that reason, I am so happy to be a part of The Human Trafficking Project (HTP).

I currently work at the Academy for Educational Development (AED), which is at the forefront of utilizing media in new and innovative ways to strengthen civil society. I look forward to applying this knowledge to HTP and I really look forward to comments from readers. I hope you all will join me in learning and becoming a more educated advocate for human trafficking survivors.

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