Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world, but too few people are talking about it, says Sophia Fisher, executive director at Stop the Demand Project and a fierce foe of human trafficking.
Fisher joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss her fight against human trafficking, how America is dealing with this horrible crime within its own borders and abroad, and what conservatives can do to lead the charge against it.
Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a church that took the time to personally thank some of the unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Sophia Fisher, who is a political activist, anti-human trafficking advocate, and founder of the Stop the Demand Project, a campaign dedicated to combating human trafficking [through] educational change. Welcome to the show, Sophia.
Sophia Fisher: Thanks for having me, Doug. Glad to be here.
Blair: I was watching one of your videos and you mentioned that you had gotten into this in high school. I’m curious if you could tell our audience a little bit about your background and how you specifically found your passion for this type of topic?
Fisher: Yeah, of course. In high school, I found out about human trafficking for the first time. This wasn’t a topic that I heard much about. Considering it’s the fastest-growing crime in the world, you think I would have heard more about it.
So, I never was talked to about it. No one in my family ever talked to me about the crime. I never heard about it in school.
When I got to high school, I became aware of a nonprofit nearby in my area that focused on the aftercare for survivors. This was the first time I came into contact with it. Once I found out about the reality of human trafficking, I couldn’t stay silent.
If it was true that it affected every single ZIP code in our country in every single country within the globe, I needed to do something about it.
From high school and in high school, I started going to local schools around my area. The average age a teen is trafficked in America is 12 to 14 years old. I went to these schools and I started to speak to them about the reality of human trafficking.
I hated being the bearer of the bad news in talking about it, but someone needed to speak to them. Oftentimes, people are trafficked by someone familiar. Human trafficking is often referred to as a hidden crime and so I wanted to go to these schools and talk to these kids. That’s where it started for me.
I started speaking out about human trafficking in schools in my area, and then from there, I got into college and I started speaking out on my campus.
Then, as you mentioned in the beginning of the interview, I founded a campaign dedicated to spreading awareness about what’s really happening called Stop the Demand Project.
Blair: It’s so great that you’ve taken these steps to actively educate people about what is happening in human trafficking. Because you’re right, I don’t think a lot of people do think about human trafficking.
When I imagine human trafficking, I think of “Taken,” the movie. It’s just a girl on vacation in Eastern Europe and some guy grabs her in an alley and then that’s it, right?
It seems like from what you’re saying, this isn’t something that just happens abroad, it’s something that happens here in the U.S. And I guess my question for you then is, is it better here or worse than in developed nations? How are we doing in terms of human trafficking?
Fisher: That’s a fantastic question. The State Department measures different governments and their responses to human trafficking. Since 2001, they’ve been putting out an annual [Trafficking in Persons] Report. This measures, again, what governments are doing to respond to human trafficking in terms of protection, prosecution, prevention.
A lot of the countries that rank super high for human trafficking are Somalia, North Korea, Venezuela, but the United States as a whole is still a huge hub for human trafficking.
Human trafficking encompasses both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and even sometimes organ trafficking. In terms of demand for sex trafficking, we are the No. 1 country driving the demand for it.
Blair: Oh, my—
Fisher: Right? It’s huge. It’s up there. If you look at what really drives a lot of sex trafficking, the porn industry is extremely linked to this. That’s why we as a country, the United States, are driving the demand for this.
Blair: What you’re saying then is that the pornography and sexual content industry is really what’s driving American human trafficking.
Are you saying that these girls are being put into that industry or are you saying that the causal link between people watching this content and people that are trying to consume this content causes people to be trafficked? Can you clarify that a little bit?
Fisher: Yes. It’s twofold actually. The actual watching of pornography changes your brain through neuroplasticity. That changes one’s mind in how they view other people. Whether it’s watching porn or violent porn, it changes one’s way on how they view love, right? …
And through a ton of studies—I know Fight the New Drug does a lot of work with this. They talk about the link between watching pornography and then how that causes one to view different acts related to sex.
That’s the first part. Then, a lot of victims of human trafficking are often put into foreign films and videos on the internet.
I know people that have been rescued from human trafficking and they continue to be revictimized because their videos surface on the internet. Not only were they trafficked once, but they continue to be trafficked because their videos of them online continue to play into the cycle of exploitation.
Blair: That is, I think, one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard in my life. I can’t even imagine having to go through that experience multiple times.
I think what you’ve brought up is a really interesting point. I was just thinking about this the other day where one of the ways we could probably get human trafficking off the map is if we empower girls, right? Girls getting educated. Girls having the ability to view themselves as more than a sex object.
But the right and the left seem to view empowerment really differently. I was thinking about the Grammys where Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion were onstage and this was viewed as this very empowering moment.
These are very strong and these are role models for girls. But many conservatives don’t view it that way. They see this “empowerment” from the left [as] exploitation.
How do you think we should be empowering young girls in contrast to how the left views that we should be empowering them?
Fisher: I definitely think we should be empowering women. I think that’s fantastic that you mentioned that and brought that up. I do acknowledge that, and I think you made a great point.
The left and the right do have different ideas of what empowerment looks like. But at the end of the day, especially when we’re talking about human trafficking, it’s not a political issue. It’s a human rights issue.
But you’re right, in order to tackle it, we need to be empowering people. We need to be talking about what’s really happening. We need to be equipping them with truth and resources in order for them to get out of it, if they’re a victim, in order for them to recognize it, all of that.
In terms of empowerment, I think we first need to break the idea that it’s political. Empowerment doesn’t need to be political. It’s not a left or right issue. And I think that tribalism and partisanship gets in the way of that. But this, at the end of the day, is a human rights issue.
The left and the right need to come together on this and recognize that this human rights abuse [that] is going on is exploitation. It’s modern-day slavery. And we need to come together and we need to be empowering women, like you said.
Blair: I really appreciate the passion and the fact that you did bring up that it’s not a partisan issue. It’s very much a, “This is bad, regardless of where you stand.”
I don’t think anybody’s going to argue that a girl or a boy that’s been forced to do unspeakable things is a political issue. It’s just something we all agree we need to do something [about].
As I mentioned at the top of the show, you’re the founder of this Stop the Demand Project, which is an educational organization that seeks to combat human trafficking, to [teach] people. Can you highlight some of the things that you’ve done and are there any specific wins you want to highlight for the audience?
Fisher: I founded Stop the Demand Project early on in this year, so, we’re a fairly new organization. But for those of you who don’t know what Stop the Demand Project is, we are a digital campaign dedicated to combating human trafficking through educational content.
We aim to build a hub for resources and give other organizations in the fight against human trafficking a platform. We partner with other organizations in the fight. As of right now, we have three partners that are doing fantastic work.
Some big wins for us so far have been getting in contact with these partners, finding people and volunteers to go work with them directly, and engagement as a whole.
Because if ultimately what we’re trying to do is spread educational content, the way we measure that is our engagement. In the past couple of months, just on social media alone, we’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people.
Keep in mind, we just launched in January. That really just excites me, the amount of people that we’re reaching about this.
As we talked about in the beginning, this is something that’s not talked about a lot. No one told me about this. It’s swept under the rug. The fact that we’re meeting our Gen Z, our target market—and so, we know that the average age of [a] person [who] is trafficked in America is about 12 to 14 years old. That’s Gen Z.
If we’re meeting them on social media and we know that over 90% of them are right there, we’re meeting them where they’re at. A big win for us has been seeing that engagement. We’re addressing a lot of these myths. We’re partnering with different organizations and we’re encouraging our audience to go take advantage of the resources out there.
Blair: I think that’s great that you’ve basically highlighted that you’re targeting the audience that is a target for human trafficking, like you said, at the top.
The average age you said was 12 to 14, which is—it’s not adults. It’s not older girls. It’s like children. It’s people that aren’t going to be able to protect themselves and that need to have that educational background and need to have that discussion told to them that there are bad people out there that are going to try and take advantage of you when you need to be able to fight back against it.
I’m really interested in these partners. Are you working more with like [nongovernmental organizations]? Is this government? Are these partners children’s organizations? Who are these people?
Fisher: That’s a fantastic question. Right now, we have three partners. Twelve 11 Partners is one of them. They focus on the survivor aftercare. So they help with housing, mentoring, and different career referrals. They are currently looking for a lot of mentors and people to help with the aftercare programs.
What we do is work on telling our audience and different ambassadors that work with us, “Hey, promote this. Push this out there. Or [are] any of you guys, yourselves, … interested in working with these nonprofits?” That’s mostly where we live, in the world of working with nonprofit organizations.
The two other partners that we have: Adaptive Operations, they work on rescuing victims of human trafficking firsthand. They do great work and they also are looking for volunteers. That’s another way that people can get involved. I think that’s a question that people ask a lot, and I find that’s something that people frequently message our page about. How can I get involved?
A way that they can get involved is getting connected with these nonprofit organizations firsthand. The two that I already listed, Twelve 11 and Adaptive Operations. Then our last one, Atlantic Counter Trafficking. They focus on providing resources to law enforcement.
You and I know that across America, human trafficking happens in every single ZIP code. If that’s true, we need to be giving law enforcement more resources. These are the three organizations that we’re currently partnered with. Adaptive Operations, Atlantic Counter Trafficking, and Twelve 11 Partners.
Under this umbrella of fighting human trafficking, there are so many areas in where people can fight it, whether that’s on the prevention side and education or they can focus on the aftercare. There’s so much to do when it comes [to] human trafficking. That’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to partner with organizations that are all across the board.
Blair: I think that’s fantastic that there are these organizations out there. It’s such an obvious thing to say but they need help. You can go out and work with these people today. You can go out and say, “Hey, I’m really committed to fighting against human trafficking. What can I do?”
I’m sure they know where the resources need to go. They know where the work needs to go. They know what needs the most fixing. But I think that’s a fantastic recommendation.
As we wrap up here, I wanted to let you take the floor. If there’s one thing about human trafficking or helping victims of human trafficking and getting this issue settled, what was the one thing you would want people to take away from this?
Fisher: It’s a great question. Big takeaway is this: Human trafficking’s never fully going to end because of the evil world that we live in. I don’t want that to be a deterrent for you not to do anything, though.
I don’t want you to tell yourself, “Because it’s not going to fully end, therefore, I can’t make a difference.” That’s not true. Every life matters. I believe in inherent value and worth and one life can make all the difference.
Whether that’s you telling somebody what human trafficking is and them becoming aware or you actually partnering with nonprofits or helping those that are stuck in this vicious cycle. Breaking the lie and believing the lie that you can’t make a difference, you can make a difference and there are plenty ways to do so.
I encourage people to go take training. There’s a ton of free training. If you head over to our social media at Stop the Demand Project, we give you resources and link you to other organizations that provide training, resources, and even are looking for volunteers.
Blair: That is fantastic. I really appreciate that. Sophia, I am so happy that you came on today and told us about human trafficking. We’re going to include a link to all of that content, but Sophia, thanks again.
Fisher: Thank you.