The name Araminta, which means “defender,” was Harriet Tubman’s given name as a child slave in Maryland. In honor of Tubman’s legacy of returning time and again to Maryland to free slaves, the founders of Araminta Freedom Initiative adopted the name for their organization, which has set forth on a mission to defend the freedom of the children who are the modern day slaves of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.
We must warn you up front that this story portrays a shocking and disturbing reality of which most of us are unaware. Its subject matter is tough to read, hard to absorb, and difficult to believe. And yet, Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) is a reality, not just in our city, but in cities around the United States.
The Araminta Freedom Initiative was started in late 2010 by a team of eight who came together from five different churches to tackle DMST within Baltimore. The group of concerned citizens formed the organization to bring this challenging issue to the minds and hearts of citizens of our city and the world, to foster dialogue, inspire action, and bring about positive change towards eliminating this issue.
DMST is a much larger problem than you can imagine, and yet most of us find ourselves completely unaware. I was shocked to discover that in America, between 100,000 and 300,000 children are at risk each year. In fact, DMST is the second largest criminal industry in the United States. And most shockingly, there are less than 200 beds nationwide to serve its victims.
DMST is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders. It is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act,” where the person is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 years. Trafficked minors often end up in forced prostitution, working in strip clubs, or as the subjects of pornography. The average age of entry is only 13.
Human trafficking at large is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Between 90-95% of all human trafficking is classified as DMST. Now if you find yourself wondering just why you haven’t heard of this massive problem, it is simply because people are not aware of the problem, its scope, or degree. Government intervention has only recently been initiated, and there remains a lack of funding for law enforcement and social services to address the issue. There is also not enough community and professional awareness about the issue, and even once awareness is raised, there are very few ways that community members can actively engage to bring about enough numbers to see the issue stopped.
Harriet Tubman’s legacy shows that ordinary people can change the course of history. This understanding lies at the heart of Araminta Freedom Initiative, whose mission is “to awaken, equip, and mobilize the church and our community to end human trafficking in the Baltimore Area.”
This is where the founder, supporters, and community members surrounding Araminta Freedom Initiative come in. Responding to answer the call of justice in their lives, and recognizing that ordinary people can cause extraordinary change, the small team which assembled in 2010 begin working on a plan. For the first 16 months, the team, which quickly grew to over 30 interested parties, engaged in development, research, interviews and meetings. They instituted a training program for volunteers, and organized an Action Night to inform, educate, and recruit additional help from community members.
I had the privilege of meeting with Alicia McDowell, Executive Director of Araminta Freedom Initiative, to discuss the problem, learn about proposed solutions, and better understand the steps we can all take to end the unspoken abuse of children within our borders.
Upon sitting down with McDowell, her passion, drive and commitment to stopping DMST is palpable. Her overwhelmingly positive energy balances the tragedy of the area of focus she has chosen to commit her life to. Although her efforts, goals, and desires are clearly extra-ordinary, McDowell considers herself an ordinary citizen. By that, she means that she and her colleagues are not government, not social workers, and not law enforcement. And yet, she is committed to solve the severe social epidemic.
The steps towards fostering change starts with “awaken.” The Araminta Freedom Initiative team recognizes that their first large task is to open people’s eyes that DMST is very real, and very present within our city. McDowell recognizes that this first step is a big one. She comments, “We first need to make people aware of the scope of DMST. And once they are aware, we need them to stand up and recognize that this is not a their problem, it’s an us problem.” Later steps in the Araminta action plan involves prevention, intervention, economic deterrents, informing hotels and businesses, and training volunteers.
Once the issue has entered into public consciousness, McDowell and her team need to shift people to action. So far 123 people are in training to be an Araminta volunteer, and more are on the waiting list for training this year. McDowell is encouraged by the level of support the community is bringing forth, but she needs even more people to get involved. Araminta is equipped with tools that can lead towards positive action.
It is easy to get wrapped up in our day to day lives, and leave the big problems of society to someone else to tackle. And though McDowell recognizes that the task is large, she does not seem discouraged. In her efforts to get people talking, she believes that real change will only occur when all citizens will stand up and proclaim: “This will stop!”
It is people like Alicia McDowell who will usher in real social change. Ordinary citizens called to respond to justice, and thereby transform themselves into extraordinary transformation agents. But they need your help. If you are ready to respond to the call of justice in your own life, Araminta Freedom Initiative is always seeking volunteers. To find out more about how you can join them, come to their Action Night on Friday, January 25th. They will answer questions you may have, such as: Does trafficking really happen here in the US or Maryland? Who are the trafficking victims? And is there anything I can do to help?
For more information on Araminta Freedom Initiative’s upcoming Action Night, please click here.
You can also help by making a donation to support the organization. Araminta is a 501(c)3 organization and all donations are eligible for tax-deductible status. Click here to donate to Araminta Freedom Initiative.
In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, who committed her life to freeing slaves, Alicia McDowell and her team at Araminta Freedom Initiative have committed to creating radical change for a problem they simply cannot ignore. They hope that now that Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking has entered your mind, that you won’t be able to ignore it either. With a dedicated passion, drive, and commitment to making the world a better place, Araminta Freedom looks towards a future where our children will be safe from modern day slavery.
For more information on Araminta Freedom Initiative, including how you can get involved, please visit www.aramintafreedom.org