By Shamim Sarif

shamim-sarifAround the world – and close to home – as many as four million people each year are trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Sadly, about 50% of those are children. Now, Headwaters Relief Organization, an international non-profit disaster relief organization, is teaming with me to raise funds to educate communities about these risks, and support those who have experienced trafficking.

Headwaters Relief Organization Founder Rebecca Thomley, PsyD told me, “We have encountered trafficking nationally and internationally in our disaster work.” Her organization supports the needs of families and communities after tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, fires and man-made disasters. She added, “Traffickers may take advantage of children and families made vulnerable by these conditions.”

Thomley stressed to me that education and awareness are key to protecting loved ones from becoming victims.
“Traditionally, services have been developed to support people who have been victimized by trafficking,” she said. “We intend to focus on prevention by providing education to children and their families about the risks as well as harmful social and cultural practices that can support trafficking.”

My novel, “The Athena Protocol”, will help fund efforts to stop the exploitation.
One of Headwaters’ award-winning initiatives is creating children’s books as tools for education, as well as for helping victims build coping skills and develop resiliency. That strategy drew my attention because my stories often encompass social justice. My new novel addresses trafficking as a global issue.

In the book, Athena is a top secret, socially conscious, all-female organization that combats injustice against women and children around the world. The protagonist, Jessie, is a young, hot-headed agent embroiled in a daring mission to take down a human trafficking operation in Belgrade.

As with Headwaters, I believe the impact of storytelling is huge. Stories can be empowering, giving us characters we identify with and a framework to understand our own lives and humanity. I hope to build awareness amongst young adults who read “The Athena Protocol” and perhaps motivate a desire to make a difference to this global problem.

I will donate 100 percent of the affiliate fees I receive for each book purchased through the links on my site to Headwaters Relief Organization.

Headwaters Relief Organization is keenly aware of the need to educate potential victims, families and community leaders about the possibility of trafficking and to further support those who have experienced trafficking. My partnership with this organization on “The Athena Protocol” promotes its vision for interacting with young people where we believe we can have a lot of impact.

Awareness tips and strategies to protect against trafficking

It is important for families to talk with their children about simple safety strategies. Some of these tactics include:

  • Monitor those in close contact with your family. People who approach those in need may not always have good intentions.
  • Never allow children to travel alone to or from school or activities.
  • Tell them where to go, and who to trust, should they feel uncomfortable or threatened. Teach children to use a sign or word when they feel uncomfortable, as a cue to let family know they need help.
  • Parents should routinely check children’s emails and phones. This is often how children are approached.

Traffickers often exploit young and desperate children by promising them of a better life. When basics like food and shelter are threatened, the girls have little hope, which makes the trafficker seem like a way out of their isolation and hunger. The girls may be taken away from their homes and brought to larger cities where they are forced into prostitution and subjected to horrible abuse and violence.

Writer and director Shamim Sarif is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and film director.

The Athena Protocol