I recently got the privilege to interview Blythe Hill, the CEO of Dressember, about what her foundation does and how she is helping to end sex trafficking and modern day slavery. Check out the conversation below, and also head on over to their website for even more information and inspiration!
(K): Tell us a little bit about what your organization does…
(B): The Dressember Foundation is an anti-trafficking, nonprofit organization. We have an annual campaign in December where we invite men and women to wear dresses and ties to raise awareness and funds for anti-trafficking work. Since 2013, we’ve raised over $3M USD, and given large grants to international and domestic organizations.
How long has your organization been around?
Our first campaign was in December 2013, and we became a 501c3 in early 2014.
What is your main goal/mission?
Our vision is a world without slavery where all people are free to live vibrant, autonomous lives. Our mission is to equip a community of people to advocate for the dignity of all people, leading to the protection and freedom of millions.
Who or what first inspired/convicted you to begin this journey towards ending human trafficking?
I started learning about the issue in 2005, and was horrified. I thought slavery was a thing of the past, and was shocked to learn it is a thriving criminal industry, and that there are more slaves alive today than during the entire course of the transatlantic slave trade. For me, there was a personal reason I felt an urgency to do something: I was molested when I was about 4 years old. It took years for me to unpack the guilt and shame of the experiences I had as a little girl, and I wrestled with questions about my worth and lovability. It gave me a glimpse into the horror that millions of women and girls wake up to on a daily basis, and started a fire inside me that hasn’t gone out.
Who do you mainly work with?
We give large, strategic grants to organizations working with men, women, and children. We also position ourselves as an advocacy and awareness organization, empowering and equipping a community of advocates to feel knowledgeable and confident speaking on this topic and spreading the word.
As a grantmaking organization, we do not have survivor facing programs, but support those of other orgs both internationally (across 15+ countries) and domestically. We reach our advocates primarily online and through social media.
What types of services or programs do you offer for people exiting human trafficking?
Again, we do not offer these programs directly, but support orgs who offer legal representation, safe housing, trauma therapy, and job training. Since the rate of re-entry to trafficking is statistically very high, we partner with orgs that focus on quality and comprehensive rehabilitation.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently when you first started out?
I don’t think so! I’ve made a lot of “accidentally strategic” decisions—things that have turned out to really benefit and grow both Dressember as a movement and as an organization. I have valued collaboration and innovation, and our partnerships and creativity are what shape and lead us!
What’s the biggest misconception that you have encountered in relation to human trafficking?
The biggest myth out there is that trafficking happens primarily through kidnapping. In fact, less than 2% happens through abduction; the majority is through fake opportunities and coercion. In the US in particular, I think a lot of survivors would feel less shame about being a victim if the larger culture understood that many victims are coerced, not necessarily kidnapped or beaten.
What do you think the state of human trafficking will be like in 5 years, will we be any farther along in stopping it?
My hope is we start seeing a reduction in slavery, instead of seeing the numbers grow each year. I’m also hopeful we will begin seeing victims as victims in the US, and stop prosecuting survivors as criminals. That our judicial systems will finally implement the TVPA which negates the idea of a “child prostitute”. That cases like Cyntoia Brown’s—who was a 16 year old trafficking victim tried as an adult and sentenced to 69 years in prison for killing her captor—will become nonexistent as we begin to treat and care for survivors as survivors, not criminals.
Is there one person or experience that has really stuck with you and motivated you to keep working towards abolition when things get rough? If so, would you mind sharing?
I think of Mariam, a 17 year old survivor of trafficking I met in the Dominican Republic. She was 15 and pregnant when she was rescued, and had been sold to a trafficker by her mother. I think of the layers of trauma she faced—the betrayal, the abuse, the exploitation—and yet the hope and joy I saw in her eyes. She is a reminder to me that rescue and restoration are not only possible, but worth fighting for.
Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to get involved with the abolition movement?
Do it! Join Dressember as the easiest, funnest way to get involved. Read our blog to delve deeper into the issue. Consider changing your shopping habits and buying your clothes from brands that ensure ethical production and dignified pay to their workers.
I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU to Blythe for taking part in this interview with me. I would also like to extend my gratitude and appreciation towards everyone who is taking part in the Dressember campaign, I wish you all the best as we work towards a world free of slavery!