At the age of 21, Shamere McKenzie met a nice, intelligent man she thought she could trust.
Instead, he enslaved her and forced her work as a prostitute seven nights a week for 18 months. McKenzie was severely beaten, raped and sold as property in five different states. Every night, she had a quota to meet, and if she fell short, she was tortured. She tried to escape many times, and one night she finally succeeded.
Today, McKenzie is CEO of Sun Gate Foundation, an organization that creates educational opportunities for human trafficking survivors. She’s also part of Generation Freedom, a new anti-trafficking coalition calling on U.S. presidential candidates to commit to spending $3 billion each year toward eradicating modern slavery worldwide, should they be elected. The coalition, which includes United Way, brings together the grassroots power of more than 70 organizations from human rights, international advocacy, faith and clergy leaders and social service providers.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. Traffickers are estimated to make more than $150 billion in profits each year and yet the U.S. spends $150 million annually to fight them. There are an estimated 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, including in all 50 U.S. states and territories.
And yet, it isn’t a part of the national conversation.
Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, says human trafficking is one of the most under-addressed issues of our time. “We have to normalize this issue and move it from the realm of advocates and policymakers talking about it, to people discussing it around their kitchen tables.” Stories like McKenzie’s—and there are thousands of them both here at home and abroad—should make us stop, listen and act.