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Welcome to the Decal Project, a community effort created by Freedom Network USA and HaperSage that turns advocates into activists.
The Decal Project helps spread awareness of human trafficking through the use of a specially designed, durable decal that gives viewers the opportunity to learn more information about the cause. Its design, created in collaboration with HarperSage, leverages the everyday moments of passersby into educational opportunities that drive action. If you find one out in the wild, our hope is that you will request one of your own to keep building awareness and reaching more people. A decal is included for free with every HarperSage order, or you can request one for $3 below.
Human trafficking probably looks much different than you think! Read the stories below to learn more about survivor experiences that our members see every day.
These stories are composite stories. Which means these are fictional stories based on a compilation of survivor experiences.
When Alex was 16, his deeply religious family found out he was gay. After weeks of fear and escalation, he left home, feeling rejected by his family and convinced he was safer on his own. For a while, he stayed with Hugo — a guy he’d met who offered to protect him and make sure he had food — but to “pay his part” of the expenses, he had to have sex with people, and Hugo collected the money. He came to care very deeply about the two other teens who stayed with Hugo under similar arrangements and was afraid of what might happen to them if he left.
Alex was also worried about what might happen to him, or to his family if he left. Alex had been born in the U.S., but his family included several undocumented immigrants. His family’s rejection hurt, but not enough to want them to get into trouble, and Hugo spoke often of having connections who could get people deported “with just one call.”
When he was 18, Alex was referred to an anti-trafficking nonprofit for services. They didn’t offer housing for men in their residential program, but Alex went to a few sessions with their therapeutic team. He tried fitting in, but the case manager’s constant reassurances that “a lot of men who have been through trafficking situations like yours worry that they might be gay too” felt invalidating and hurtful.
For the last two years, Alex has been receiving case management and help to get his records expunged through a legal nonprofit his old case manager told him about. They helped him find a therapist he felt comfortable with as well as financial support to cover therapy. He still struggles a lot with being able to pay his bills and finds it hard to trust people, but overall, he is starting to feel hopeful. He’s taking High School Equivalency prep classes at the local Hispanic center and hopes to enroll in an associate degree program in Human Services next fall. One day, he hopes to start a shelter for LGBTQ youth.
Maryam grew up in a family of refugees, and remembers very little of their lives before her parents came to Europe. She saw how much her family struggled with basic needs, and she always worried that she was a burden. When her parents told her a cousin in the U.S. had found out about a job opportunity for her, she was excited. She could work as a housekeeper for an American family, and they would help her apply to college through a local immigration program. She was nervous to leave her family and go to another country, but kept reminding herself of the courage it took her parents to leave everything they knew.
When Maryam got to the U.S., the couple she lived with informed her that her parents had been unable to pay for her travel expenses, and that she would have to pay those off by working extra hours before they could refer her to the college program. She worked all day most days, but by the time they subtracted her room and board expenses and added in interest on her loans, she didn’t really seem to be making any progress on paying off the debt. Some days, when she was too tired to work all day, they would refuse her dinner, saying if she was too lazy to work she didn’t deserve their food. And a few times, the man had told her if she couldn’t do the work they’d hired her for she had to pay it off through sexual activity if she didn’t want to “go to jail for breaking her contract.”
Sometimes, Maryam got to have phone calls with her parents. She was too embarrassed to tell them what was happening, but after a while, her mother began to worry. After months of calling in favors, a stateside family friend was able to get help for Maryam, and a local anti-trafficking program provided her with shelter and case management.
Maryam applied for a T visa and was able to get housing assistance through a grant to the victim service provider. Since she cooperated with law enforcement she was able to get continued presence so she can work and get medical care. She hopes the couple who held her in captivity will be convicted.
After a series of family tragedies left Darnell homeless and struggling with a substance use disorder, he struggled to find the right kinds of support. He was hesitant to stay in shelters after a few bad experiences, and bounced around from place to place, staying with friends or renting cheap rooms.
After an altercation landed Darnell facing court charges, he agreed to court-ordered substance use treatment in lieu of incarceration. He was sent to a program that gave residents the opportunity to work while attending groups and living together in a sober house. When he arrived at the program, however, it wasn’t what he expected.
The bedrooms in the home were filled with smelly mattresses, and the 6 people in each room shared a small space heater for warmth. The residents were “rented” out to local businesses for day labor, and worked long hours without breaks or water. The meals were inadequate — a bologna sandwich or cup of ramen for lunch — and on days you weren’t able to work you didn’t get dinner. An in-house support group was offered twice each week, led by the wife of the program’s director, but most of the residents didn’t attend after their first week.
Darnell thought about leaving, but he wasn’t sure where he would go. He didn’t want to leave without his cell phone, which was locked in the office “for safekeeping.” When he complained about the living and work conditions, he was told: “You can always go to jail if you don’t like it. Do you want to call your probation officer or do you want me to?”
During an emergency room visit for a grease burn, Darnell told the nurse about his living and work conditions. She recognized the elements of coercion in his situation. After treating his wounds, she talked to Darnell about his options. He was struggling to trust many of the referrals she offered, but agreed to have her connect him to a lawyer to help him renegotiate the terms of his sentence. It didn’t solve all his problems, but it was a start.
Supporting anti-trafficking work that is grounded in human rights is one of the best ways to ensure survivors are receiving the best services and that prevention efforts are effective.
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Partnering with Purpose
HarperSage’s approach is different than many of their peers because they believe that promoting consistent and thoughtful education around human trafficking has more of a positive impact than leveraging their cause into hyperbolic marketing moments that drive a lot of interest but may contribute to overall misinformation. They are dedicated to partnering with organizations to do deeper work with long-term impact.
About Freedom Network USA
Freedom Network USA is the nation’s largest coalition working to ensure that trafficked persons have access to justice, safety, and opportunity. Our network includes survivors, legal and social service providers, researchers, and expert consultants. FNUSA engages in advocacy, provides training and technical assistance, and works to increase the capacity of its members and allies.
HarperSage is a women-owned apparel brand that offers versatile fashion staples inspired by their two signature personas: feminine “Harper” and tomboy “Sage.” Each piece is ethically made in a women-owned factory and designed with your duality in mind. They’re on a mission to raise awareness of human trafficking through special initiatives and products that give back.