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Mar 12

Will Bras End Sex Trafficking?

I recently read an article on the CNN Project Freedom website about a woman from Denver, Colorado who is trying to end modern day slavery, otherwise known as sex trafficking. Kimba Langas was a stay at home mom who, like most of us, began accumulating unwanted clothing, boxed in her garage, which she packed away and soon forgot about. Over time, she realized that she had collected a fairly large amount of bras that she wasn’t really sure what to do with. She thought about donating them, but worried that GoodWill or the Salvation Army might not want or accept used bras. Instead, she decided to start sending them to women living in rural African villages.

Free the Girls” was created by Kimba and her pastor, whom was planning on moving to Africa to become a missionary. Soon after deciding to donate all of her own bras, Kimba started running the project from her home and accepting bras from all over the country. She would then ship them or ask friends going to Africa to pack them into an extra suitcase. Free the Girls quickly picked up and gained some awareness.

The point of the project was to put an end to sex trafficking. It was thought out and decided that the donations of bras would go to African girls whom had escaped this disgusting form of modern day slavery. The idea was that the girls would receive the bras and then be able to sell them at local markets in order to make a living; the bras would be providing these girls with jobs and financial support. In theory, the project seems good-hearted and well-meaning. However, I couldn’t help but notice some draw backs.

Free the Girls ended up receiving so many donated bras that they ran out of money to be able to ship them to Africa. The donations became so many, in fact, that it was going to cost well over six thousand dollars to transport the bras. To overcome this hurdle, Kimba and the rest of the team decided that they would start putting all of their efforts into raising the $6,500. Without the money, the African girls would not be able to have jobs.

I think that Free the Girls had a good idea that has not been fully developed. Providing jobs for sex trafficking victims will help the girls get back on their feet. Many of them, after all, have been slaves since they were kids. However, I do not think that providing them with bras to sell is the best way to go about this. I suggest the following: there is no need for any clothing to go to waste. Kimba had a good idea in gathering bras to provide to women; they are crucial and often unreasonably expensive. Simply giving them to girls, though, is not providing them with a solution to their problems. After all, these girls now have to rely on bra donations to stay afloat. If for some reason those donations do not come through (because of shipping costs, perhaps), the girls are back to square one. Instead of raising $6,500 to ship the bras, why not give them out to women in the United States, where the project is based, who cannot afford them? Like I said, I do not think that clothing should go to waste, and I have no doubt that there are countless women much closer to Kimba who would appreciate a bra. Secondly, rather than raising thousands of dollars to ship bras across the ocean, why not raise that money to provide the girls with job training? Instead of having to rely on someone on the other side of the world, they could be empowered to control their own future.

While I do support Free the Girls for their vision, a slavery free world, I do not see how enabling African girls to sell bras will help to reach that. Ending sex trafficking will take education and empowerment. Providing women with job skills and training will set the stage for increased awareness and knowledge of what their pasts were like, and potentially move us one step closer to a free world.

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5 comments

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  1. s berry

    i think the point was to create ways for girls that made it out of sex trade to learn a way to support them selves …..never ment to cure the sex slave trade……bravo to the ppl who are trying to make a difference….the job experience had got to be helpful to these girls

  2. Kristen

    Hi Dave,
    I really appreciate your response and am interested in the further information you gave me. My main question is if your organization has an exit plan? You have talked about how selling bras to these women at a cheaper price creates a more sustainable approach. At what point do you stop providing aid to each woman and let her sustain herself? Do you have any examples where you have helped a woman get back on her feet and then seen her support herself without any help from Free the Girls?

    Again, thanks so much for your input. I look forward to your response.

  3. Dave Terpstra

    I’d be happy to continue the conversation. You can find out more about what we do at http://www.freethegirls.com and you can check out the CNN story at http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/22/bras-liberate-women-from-sex-slavery/

    You asked:
    “Have you seen a direct connection to decreases in trafficking in the region?”

    The purpose of our project is to offer opportunities for women after they have been trafficked. We are partnered with organizations that are rescuing women and fighting traffickers, but we play the unique role of helping with aftercare.

    You asked:
    “Also what are the number of young women that are reaching sustainable economic situations from the sale of the bras and/or the the job training they are receiving?”

    We tested the model in a small pilot program with 3 women/former victims. All 3 of the women were able to return to school full-time and provide an income for themselves that is about 5 times the minimum wage through the program.

    With the shipment of bras that will be coming this summer, we will expand the program to every women who has been rescued through the safehouse with which we partner. In addition, we are looking to expand our program to other safehouses throughout sub-Saharan Africa where second-hand clothing is prevalent.

  4. Blog Team

    Hello Dave,
    Thank you for responding to our blog post. Thank you also for providing us additional details about your program design. This helps to clarify several of Kristen’s questions raised in her research. Can you provide more information on the outcomes of your work? You are providing job training, business skills and school enrollment services, have you seen a direct connection to decreases in trafficking in the region? Also what are the number of young women that are reaching sustainable economic situations from the sale of the bras and/or the the job training they are receiving?

    Again, thank you for joining us in this conversation and for providing context to our post about your organization.

    All the best in your work!

  5. Dave Terpstra

    Thanks for taking the time to think through some potential holes in the Free The Girls program. A friend sent me a link to your blog and I would like to respond to your two primary critiques as I believe more information about our program might alleviate your concerns.

    You said:
    “Simply giving [the bras] to girls, though, is not providing them with a solution to their problems.”

    We agree. After an initial batch of 40 bras, we sell bras to the women at wholesale prices. Normally only wealthier vendors are able to purchase large lots of bras on the wholesale market. We provide bras at wholesale prices giving the women a competitive advantage. The small amount of money we receive from the sale of the bras is enough for us to continue to buy bras for the girls on the wholesale market, or to ship bras directly from the United States.

    You said:
    “Rather than raising thousands of dollars to ship bras across the ocean, why not raise that money to provide the girls with job training?”

    That money has already been raised. I work in Mozambique full-time and provide job training and business skills to the women in the program. In addition, we help each of the girls enroll in school and we are also developing relationships with local business so that girls who complete our program can find a more permanent job than just selling bras.

    One of the drawback of short news stories is that they need to stay focused on a single topic, and they don’t have time to explain the details of the program.

    We really appreciate your thoughts on the program and I would love to interact with you more if you have any additional ideas or feedback.

    Dave Terpstra
    International Director, Free The Girls

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