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  • Writer's picturePOWW Team

New podcast alert: Why we should all be concerned about Human Trafficking

Meet Victoria - the Ecuadorian American who dedicates her work and life to fight Human Trafficking.

In our latest podcast episode, she shares with us some surprising facts about Human Trafficking, insights into her work, and how Covid has affected her work in China.

New podcast out now on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts & any other podcast medium.

Prefer the transcript? Enjoy reading it below :)

POWW Podcast Host 0:00

Victoria, thank you so much for being here. Where are you right now? And how are you doing?

Victoria 0:41

I am in the US right now. And I'm doing about as well as I think anyone can, given the circumstances. A little background, I moved to China last September to work for anti human trafficking organisation. But then due to COVID-19 I was sent back to the US kind of indefinitely. So I'm still working for the organisation remotely, but also waiting for the day that China can open its borders back again, and lets us back in.

POWW Podcast Host 1:15

At least you're smiling. So before we get into the super exciting story, I have one opening question: what does power mean to you?

Victoria 1:33

Um, to me, power means having the freedom to do what you want with what you have. Or even potentially, what you don't have yet, but hope to gain in the future. I would say freedom for sure. And I would also hope that people use their power for good, but I guess it's possible that people don't, but overall, I like to use it for good.

POWW Podcast Host 2:01

Okay, talking about using it for good, tell us a little bit more about yourself about your journey, and then what good you're doing right now.

Victoria 2:10

So, I have been an anti-human trafficking advocate for several years. My initial interest came when I was eight. And I happened to read this book that was about human trafficking, didn't really know what I was getting myself into. And I also didn't know the term human trafficking at the time. But when I was 13, I met the woman who is now my boss. She is the founder and CEO of the organisation that I worked for in China. And she was the first person to really introduce me to the term human trafficking. And so with that phrase, I was able to actually have something to Google and something to research. And I just became really interested in it throughout middle school and high school. By the time I got to college, I began officially researching it for my university. And I got to intern twice at the organisation I now work for so all of those have kind of contributed to my interest in the issue. And also, when I was in college for two years, I ran this podcast called the trafficking dispatch, which was by and for young people to just introduce them to the various types of human trafficking and inspire them to take concrete and sustainable action against the issue. So that's kind of my background with human trafficking specifically.

POWW Podcast Host 3:28

What is your other background, in terms of education and personal interests?

Victoria 3:35

I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2019. I'm currently going to the Beijing Institute of economic management, which despite the name is where I take language classes. Personal background, let's see, I consider myself Ecuadorian American, because both of my parents are Ecuadorian citizens. And we're born and raised in that culture. But I was also born in the US and raised mostly in the US. I spent a few years in Portugal as a child. So you know, that at least exposed me to other cultures. And so I tried to be, you know, open minded and receptive of people from different cultures. And so I think that's another reason why I was very willing to move to China, you know, a place where at the time, I didn't really know the language. And I didn't have extensive experience there. I think that was one reason why I was so willing to do that, because I've always been like, "yeah, new cultures, let's go for it". The more exotic the better.

POWW Podcast Host 4:42

So let's talk about human trafficking, which is a huge topic. Not everyone actually knows about it, but you are pretty much an expert in it. Tell us more about what different forms there are, the status, and the public awareness about it?

Yeah, sure. So the you UN Office of drugs and crime officially defines it as being broken into the act the means in the purpose. So the act is the actual crime that is committed that you could get in trouble for if you're caught. So for example, like transporting someone against their will sort of like kidnapping, I suppose, or harbouring victims of human trafficking, paying or receiving services, for example. And then the means that's how you do it. So usually, that's through force, fraud, or coercion. A lot of victims of human trafficking are tricked into the situation, for example, they're promised a good job in another city or another country, and then they get there and find out that what they're actually being expected to do is not what they thought they would do. So that's very common. They don't really have other options. And so they see this as their only option. And then they kind of get stuck in that situation. So act means and then the purpose is like why people are being trafficked in the first place. So it could be for sex trafficking. It could be for labour trafficking, organ harvesting, there's just so many different types. And even within, you know, labour trafficking, there could be people who are forced to work in agriculture or in people's homes. Or in you know, massage parlours like, there are just so many different forms. And I would suggest if anyone's interested in learning more about the different forms, they check out, Polaris projects, typology of slavery, they have at least 25 different types. And so there's plenty there for you to research. And I know it can seem like such an overwhelming issue because different organisations have different estimates of how many modern day slaves there are today. The most common one is 27 million. I would trust the International Labour organisation's estimate of more than 40.3 million.

40.3 million? Wow, that is insane.

Victoria 7:06

It is. And I know that can seem like a very overwhelming number, and that the fact that there are at least 25 different types of slavery can also seem very overwhelming, and like, we can't do anything about it. But I'd just like to encourage people to, you know, you don't have to solve everything, but you can at least focus on one particular thing and really work at that. For example, the organisation I'm working for right now, we focus specifically on on sex trafficking. So we're not trying to solve the whole issue, because it's obviously not up to just a small team of 99% women. But like, I love that there's usually like, you know, the majority is woman. I love that. Actually, in our organisation, we just hired our first man a few months ago, and he's the first man in a long, long time. And it's not that we are like, you can only be a woman, but I don't know, for some reason, it just really happens, you know? But we get along great with him. So I would just encourage people to really just find the particular sub issue, I guess, that they're passionate about, and just learn more about that. And of course, you can always expand or, or really narrow in as you see fit. I also ran a podcast for two years when I was in college called the trafficking dispatch. And while I'm not able to run it anymore, because, you know, I graduated and I moved to China, and that created some complications, I still left all the episodes up. So if anyone wants to listen to it and get, you know, inspiration advice, it's all still there for people to listen to. So it's the trafficking dispatch.

POWW Podcast Host 8:48

First of all, congratulations, I totally admire your work. I think I also spy letters on your t-shirt saying something about trafficking? I love how you said that you usually like to stick to one topic. And I feel like you've found your topics so early on, like at the age of 8, or 13. And then the whole engagement, all the projects, even the work now is related to it. So I love how much effort, dedication, and love you put into it. We need more people like you. Take us on the journey of your podcast. Did you reach out to them?

Victoria 9:37

We have four seasons that I was able to produce. The first season didn't have that many interviews, except for the final episode, which was an interview with a survivor of sex trafficking. At first, when I was first planning out the podcast, I didn't know if it was the ethical thing to do to reach out to survivors like, "would you be willing to tell a bunch of strangers what happened to you?". Like, that's what I was talking about, like that was my head, because obviously, it is the way of how you approach them to actually open up. And also if they are actually willing by themselves to open up, because I guess not everyone has the courage or is there yet even to understand what happened to them or even putting into words of being like willing and able to bring it out? Exactly. So I was very concerned about accidentally exploiting people for their stories. I really didn't want to, you know, cause any harm to anyone that could potentially be interviewed for the podcast. But that kind of got resolved on its own. Because halfway through the first season, a survivor of sex trafficking actually reached out to me first. I don't even know to this day, how she found me, because we were just beginning. We didn't have that many listeners at the time. But she said, I am a survivor of sex trafficking and I have been trying to tell my story, but no one's listening to me. No, none of the news organisations really care. Can I tell my story on your podcast? So I interviewed her and it actually went really, really well. And we still keep in contact to this day. That was another thing that I was really concerned about. Because I know with the various forms of journalism, a lot of times you interview people for your subjects, and then you just kind of move on with your life, which I can understand from a professional standpoint. But because I was dealing with such a vulnerable topic, it was my responsibility to keep up with them. And whatever capacity they're comfortable with, like, if they just want to be interviewed and be done, that's fine. But if they want to keep me updated on what they're doing now, or whatever, I was also open to that. So anyway, so I interviewed her for the season finale. And then I kind of decided that every season finale would be an interview with a survivor. And that in the summer, when I was on break from school, I wouldn't do a full season, but I would at least just do interviews with survivors. And so a lot of them did end up reaching out to me, or from the survivors I already interviewed, they gave me referrals to other survivors. And by doing that snowball networking is how I ended up getting a lot of the survivors to speak on our show. Yeah, some of them had already been advocating for a long time. So they were comfortable with talking about the topic. For others, this was their first time, but they were really excited to, I guess, put themselves out there. But we also interviewed advocates who are not survivors. And generally, I would do some research, try to find specifically younger advocates, but I was honestly open to anyone. And then I just reach out to them. And most of them were like, Yeah, I would love to talk. And so that's how that usually happened. People for the most part, are very open to being interviewed and just sharing their knowledge and sharing their passions. And they're just very willing to inspire.

POWW Podcast Host 13:01

I could also imagine that if you're a survivor, it's a relief to tell your story. And you know, getting rid of a pain that's inside of you or anything that's still on your heart, on your soul.

Victoria 13:14

I think sometimes the interview can be almost I don't want to say it's like therapy, because it's not like I'm a therapist, or a professional.

POWW Podcast Host 13:23

But even just talking, opening up to people who actually show deep interest and not just on the surface. There's someone that you'd open up to who's kind of understanding.

Yeah, exactly. Because there was one time even I think it was for the third season finale. I interviewed a survivor. And she emailed me after, and she said, thank you so much for just listening to me, you're doing your job, right. And that was very encouraging for me, because she was talking about in her interview, how she had tried to go to police and talk to them, but they just didn't believe her. Wow. Or they like partially believed or they thought she was a prostitute, which is different than being you know, sex trafficking victim because like, you know, prostitution, that's usually someone who is of age who consents. And because she was of age, they just assumed that she consented to that. But you know, she didn't. So she had a really hard time getting law enforcement to believe her and to help her. So I think just having someone even though I didn't necessarily have the legal power to help her but just having someone to talk to who was going to believe her. It was like a very powerful moment for both of us.

But also, I think that's the power of you, giving them this feeling, the space where you can open up and being someone who is actually willing and able to listen to your story. How's it for yourself, though? How close do these stories of the survivors get to yourself, to your heart?

Yeah, I would say I definitely keep them very close with me at all times. And what I have learned from the survivors through that interviews definitely informs the kind of work I do today. When I first got to China, I was doing social media work. And I became very concerned about how my organisation was presenting the women's stories like making sure that the women really, truly gave their consent to having their story, their stories being shared. And that they understood because obviously, the the social media sphere in China is different than it is outside, you know, they blocked Facebook, they blocked Instagram, they blocked a lot of things that we would use. And so I just wanted the women to understand like your stories, if you're willing to share them will be shared with a lot of people outside of China, potentially, on social media platforms that you're not necessarily familiar with. Like I wanted to make sure that they understood what was happening. And that we got their full informed consent, and that they also felt if at any point, they didn't want to share their story anymore, then we wouldn't share it. So that definitely informed my work with social media. But then, after coming back or being sent back to America for an indefinite time, it became really difficult to do social media, because even though I'm in like a country where all of those platforms are, you know, free and forbidden for sure, yeah, exactly. Oh, it just became really hard to update our followers and what was happening because I wasn't actually there to see it myself. So I got switched over to grant writing, and just behind the scenes, administrative stuff. And even then, like, even though I'm not doing something right now that's as as like, human or person centred. I'm not interacting with a tonne of people in person, obviously, because of social distancing. Just keeping all their stories in the back of my mind really helps motivate me and reminds me like why, even when I'm working on spreadsheets and crunching numbers, like why that is important, ultimately, to this fight against human trafficking. And it's just really a great motivator.

I can totally imagine. How was it when you met them? Do you usually meet them online? Or have you also met some survivors in person?

So for the podcast, that was pretty much all online line, when I was still developing my interest in human trafficking, one thing that really helped me I guess it really catalysed my interest was in high school, I found out that a girl I already knew was actually a survivor of human trafficking. And that was like the first survivor I'd ever met or known in person. And I just found it so fascinating that like, I knew her. And we got along, and I had no idea. You know, she had this background until she kind of came forward to tell her story. Wow. So that was, you know, a very, very moving moment.

How did you find out?

Well, this is before I even started college. And so before I started the podcast, she just decided to tell her story for her university's magazine. And also my mom works at that same university, and she was a student worker for my mom. And so my mom came home and she's like, oh, did you know that she's actually like a survivor of child labour trafficking? And I was like, No, I had no idea. But that's when it became more of a direct and personal issue, I guess, for me. But for the podcast, yeah, pretty much everyone. I met them online. For my current work. I mean, not right now. But when I'm in China, we actually go and visit women that are stuck in shops that are just around brothels that are disguised as shops until we like actually meet them face to face. And for the organisation, I work for itself, we employ women who are coming out of sex trafficking or exploitative situations. And so again, like you see them every day, and you interact with them, and you just have fun. And I think one thing a lot of people expect of survivors is that they're always - I think people have this expectation that they're always super sad. They're always super depressed. Which, obviously, complex trauma can cause those, you know, challenges, but a lot of the women, I mean, they're human, they have the full range of emotions. And so you'll see them in the office, and they're, they're laughing as well. And they're having fun. And yeah, of course, they're going to be sad sometimes, but like, I don't know, I just feel like the portrayal of survivors as well, just that survivors and not thrivers is kind of detrimental to them, for sure.

Talking about child labour trafficking, or even sex trafficking, and the 25 types - What are the most common forms of trafficking?

So I think sex trafficking is the one that's the most talked about, but honestly, it would be the various forms of labour trafficking because If you think about it, there are tonnes of products we use in our everyday lives that we buy in the stores, though we might not necessarily put a lot of thought into buying them other than maybe like, which one's the cheapest? And which one can I get the most product for the least amount of money. But a lot of those products are not ethically made. And if it's not ethically made, then it's very high chance that it was created by someone who has is being labour trafficked. So for example, sweatshops, and on farms and things of that nature, like a lot of our products aren't necessarily ethically made. And there's actually a website called I think it's like, slavery footprint or something like that. And you can just take this quiz, and it will tell you how many, like slaves are working for you. Obviously, that's just an estimation, but it just helps you realise how many things in your everyday life are not ethically sourced. So I would say, it's definitely labour trafficking.

Throughout all your engagement, your projects and work, have you noticed a shift in your own consumption, ethical behaviour as well as in your own mindset?

I definitely try to buy more Fairtrade products, I mean, I'm gonna be honest, I'm not the richest person out there. And Fairtrade can sometimes be fairly expensive. So I do what I can. And I also like to really do my research, because a lot, this is actually something we covered in the podcast, some brands will love to use that fair trade label. For example, chocolate bars are notorious for using that fair trade label, but only one ingredient is actually ethically sourced. And then everything else is like, who knows what trade? Yeah, yeah. So I mean, like really going past labels were like really doing your research, going to the company's website saying if they even have a sourcing page, and if they don't, contacting them, or moving on to a different brand, you know, so I will say it does require more effort. It does require more research. But I mean, the payoff is, I think it makes it worth it. Because you know that exactly where it's coming from that it is, you know, ethically made, and you can kind of have at least for that specific product a good conscience and be supporting brands that are trying to actually do what is right.

And I feel like there's a general shift of mindset in our society, becoming more aware of it. I would say, it's a very slow process, obviously, but it's way better than it was in the past. And coming back to what you said earlier, it's good to stay focused and take smaller steps. And I think this is a good way of how to start doing it.

Victoria 22:41

Yeah, exactly.

POWW Podcast Host 22:42

Then also, what I'm wondering about, how is the perception by your family, friends, your peers, when they find out about your engagement, your passion, your dedication, and actually such an important topic and all the work that you do?

Yeah, they're all very supportive, which I am very blessed to have such a supportive circle. And it's been really great, because over the years, they'll even send me things on Facebook, for example, and they say, Oh, I saw this article on human trafficking and made me think of you, you know, you should read it. And so even just by them trying to help me by giving me more information, they, I guess, subconsciously learn more about the issue itself, because they've, they read that article too. And then they send it to me, you know what I mean? So I think being very open with other people about your interests. You know, it can really help not only you, but it can also help them. So yeah, they've I don't think I've really ever gotten any negative feedback from any of them. Because they're all like, you do your thing. And I'm like, Yeah, okay. Well,

I mean, because everything you do is so inspiring and important, I don't see any room for negative feedback. I do want to go back to what you said at the beginning, though, you talked about your very multicultural background. How did you grow up? What is your connection to the different countries? How do you feel connected? And how's your international mindset?

Victoria 24:20

Sure. Yeah. So let's go back to when I was born, so I was born in the US, but a few months after my family moved to Portugal for about four and a half years for my parents work. And when we came back to the US, I was about to start kindergarten. At the time, I thought I was Portuguese because that's where I lived. And then I started to piece together the fact that my mom is Ecuadorian. Born and raised there, my dad, his parents were American, but German Swiss heritage, but he was also born and raised in Ecuador. Wow. So that's when I began to realise there's a place called Ecuador. And I think it was after my first trip to, Well, technically my second trip, but the first one I remember, to Ecuador, when I was six that I really started to realise, like, Oh, I'm Ecuadorian American. And so it's kind of been like that process of Self Realisation ever since then. But you know, being connected to these different countries, either because I live there or because I have heritage there. It has, I think really helped me adapt to different cultures and just be interested in other cultures in general. I know for a lot of people that are raised and are exposed to different cultures, when they're growing up, they can often feel this kind of identity crisis of like, Who am I? Where do I belong? Things like 100%. Yeah, exactly. But I think one of the biggest blessings is that, yeah, you might have those questions, but at the same time, you can kind of belong anywhere, you know, because you're so adaptable. And so even though, you know, I moved to China, and I don't have Chinese heritage, like...

POWW Podcast Host 26:05

You can still fit in, make it yours, and you become part of it.

Victoria 26:07

Exactly, exactly. And just being in an environment where you're not totally familiar with everything, somehow you just become more comfortable with the discomfort than I think other people, you know, are. So it definitely has its advantages. And I think that's definitely also even helped on my end to trafficking advocacy. Because I've always been interested in like things at an international scale. So not necessarily just focused on like, where I'm currently living, and I am interested in even then, but also looking at how all these different countries, you know, play a part, and how it's all kind of connected, things of that nature. So it's definitely helpful.

Oh, for sure. And to become uncomfortable with the discomfort, which you mentioned earlier, to me is a bit of an addiction. I need to get uncomfortable with new cultures, adapt to new situations, new projects, new work whatsoever. Speaking about topics, which others might not feel comfortable speaking about or often hidden or behind the surface, in my eyes is really a strength of yours. You say, it's uncomfortable, I go for it. It's agreat strength of yours. Thank you so much. So why China though?

Seriously, such a good question. So the funny thing is, um, I had actually planned on moving to Korea, South Korea after graduating just to me. So I had planned on moving to South Korea to teach English I studied teaching English in university, and I just had this interest in South Korea for quite a long time. And the fact that I did two internships in China didn't necessarily pay me to. Not that I didn't like it or anything. I really did love my time there. But I just still felt like I wanted to go to South Korea first. But the my boss, and my organisation, she called me in, I think, on my like, last day of the internship, or one of my last days, and she offered me a job. And so I was like, Well, I mean, I didn't even have interviewed and have to go through the job hunting process. Like it just kind of fell in my lap. And but I still wasn't sure, because I really did want to go to South Korea. But I was thinking, you know, this is such a great way to connect to my anti trafficking, passion. And my love to like, explore and learn about new cultures. Like it's just such an obvious link that, you know, let me I'll do it. So I told her a few weeks later that I would, you know, come back to work for them for at least two years. And in terms of like, why even did my internship there in the first place? Honestly, it was just because that's where I happen to have a connection because I knew the founder, I met her when I was 13.

POWW Podcast Host 29:11

How did you keep in touch? From being 13 until your first internship, there's a couple of years in between?

Victoria 29:18

Yeah, well, I wasn't even sure when I first contacted her if she would remember me. But I was like, Hi, I'm 19 now. Do you remember me even if you don't, here's what I've done in the meantime, will you please take me? So she was like, Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, what can you do? And I said, Well, I like telling stories and she's like, Okay, then you can help us tell the women's stories, of course with their consent. But anyway, so that's kind of what I did for my two internships. And honestly, I ended up interning for that organisation, even though it wasn't trying to just because that's why I already had a connection. Because I think especially in a field like this, where it's a very sensitive topic, you can't really just waltz in somewhere and be like Hello, I'm here to Take me, you know what I mean? You have to already have some sort of personal connection or or at least show your own personal passion for it and that you're genuine. So yeah, so that's how I ended up being in China. And so I am originally contracted to be there, or at least work for them until like September 2021. But I'll probably stay a little longer just to make up for the fact that I, but you missed out a couple of months now. Yeah, just a few. So. And then after that, I plan on going to Peru for a few months, even though my family's from Ecuador. Some of them live in Peru now. And I just want to work on my Spanish and just spend more time with my family. So there's not like a huge professional goal behind that.

POWW Podcast Host 30:51

There's a personal goal behind it, even more important.

Victoria 30:54

Yeah, exactly.

POWW Podcast Host 30:55

you know, going for the professional goals whatsoever, because in the end is about you. And what defines you are your personal goals, your personal life, and not just any profession or any salary or any title whatsoever.

Victoria 31:06

Yeah, exactly. I am so excited for that, honestly. So I plan on doing that for a few months. And then while I'm there just studying for graduate school exams and applying for graduate school. So hopefully, by 2023, I can actually be in grad school, we'll see. Honestly, I'm in the early stages of planning, but I'm still thinking ahead a few years.

POWW Podcast Host 31:26

I mean, you're like three, two years ahead. That's amazing. People don't even know where they'll be in like two months or two weeks. So it seems like you got it figured out. What would you like to see?

Victoria 31:41

Yeah, product. So journalism, Oh, um, I do really love writing. And I've been looking into programmes that specifically focus on like, global international journalism. So not just like one city in your report on what happens in that city. But you talk about issues and stuff from around the world and how they all connect. And I'm specifically hoping to, I mean, I know obviously, when you start out with a journalist, you don't usually write about what you love immediately. But I'm hoping to eventually get to the point where I can write about, you know, human trafficking issues, human rights issues, things of that nature, and how they all kind of play out in the global sphere.

POWW Podcast Host 32:17

I love this. And it's actually a really good transition to our closing questions. We always have two questions that we want to close with, just answer without too much thinking about it. And the first one is, what do the people you look up to have in common?

Victoria 32:38

Let's see, the people I look up to, they're all super resilient. Because I think a lot of people do definitely have their passions and they have, you know, a good heart or a desire to help others. But sometimes, that isn't enough to get you through really challenging times. Like, for example, we're living right now. And I think all the people I look up to like my boss, currently, and, and professors and just other people I look up to, they recognise the challenges, and the difficulties they're living through, but they still decide to just be strong and get through it anyway. But I think more than just like pushing yourself through something, even if it's unhealthy for you, they recognise that they also need to take care of themselves. And through that they're able to be ultimately resilient through a lot of life's challenges. So yeah, I would say resilience.

POWW Podcast Host 33:47

The last question that I would like to ask you is if you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self that you needed to hear?

Victoria 33:58

I would say stop doubting yourself. Before I started the podcast, I really didn't know if I was the right person to do it. And thankfully, I didn't doubt myself so much that I didn't do it. Like I actually did carry through with it. But there definitely been other times in my life. For example, I mentioned I want to be a journalist, and I didn't study really, journalism in college because I don't know I just thought I wouldn't be good at it or that it wasn't the right fit for me. And now I realised like I do love what I'm doing currently, but my ultimate passion is with writing is with journalism. And again, I don't regret what I'm doing now because I think it does definitely give you a very interesting background for later on when I do hopefully become a global journalist anyway. If I hadn't doubted myself in college, I think I would have definitely studied journalism more. Yeah, so just don't doubt yourself and it's okay to fail. Just go for something because I The end of the day, it's better to. I feel like I'm stringing a bunch of cliches together. But honestly, they're so true. It's better to regret what you did. What you did do than what you didn't do. Yeah. And right now, I'm kind of like, why didn't I study journalism, you know. But it's okay. I'm young, I can still study in the future.


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