At Bowling Green State University, if you sit next to a girl in lecture who you swear wears the same outfit every class, you might be exactly right.
The One Grey Dress Project is a concept dreamed up by women on BGSU’s campus many years ago, but resurfaced in 2014 with the help of the Panhellenic Council on campus. Specifically, the vice president of the time, Bre Randolph, was inspired to bring the project back in style.
Participants are challenged to wear one gray dress of their choosing every day for thirty days in order to raise awareness about the existence of sex trafficking, as well as the oppression that faces many women and children in the world today. While the participants are required to wear the dress as their main article of clothing, they can choose to dress it up with a scarf or jacket during colder months.
The idea of the gray dress and what it represents is to put yourself into the mindset of a person who may not have the same freedoms of choice that you do, much like a sex-trafficking victim. Not being able to dress up or dress down from the gray garb could conceivably be a trying challenge, which is precisely the point.
While the 2014 rebirth of the One Gray Dress Project was introduced through the campus’ Greek life, it has caught the attention of “GDIs”, or God-Damn Independents, a term used on college campuses for students unaffiliated with fraternities or sororities.
Through the sharing of a personalized Crowdrise page on social media, as well as other online communication, participants raise money for donations to three different charities, including The Circle of Sisterhood, The Daughter Project and the Aruna Project.
The Circle of Sisterhood was chosen by BGSU’s Panhellenic Council as their adopted philanthropy project, and works to provide and improve possibilities for education for young girls in impoverished countries. The Daughter Project, based out of Toledo, focuses on providing support and housing for victims of sex trafficking. Toledo, incidentally, has the fourth-highest number of sex-trafficking occurrences in the nation, while Ohio ranks fifth in the list of states. The Aruna Project creates job opportunities and support services to free women from sex trafficking, specifically in the district of Mumbai, India.
The Panhellenic Council of BGSU chooses the month for people to participate in order to make more of an impression on unaware onlookers, the hope being that by the time the next round arrives, more people will participate. The chosen month for 2017 will be announced within the school semester. The goal for the previous thirty-day cycle was to raise $8,000, and was surpassed by more than $2,000. While raising money for organizations that fight sex trafficking, the Panhellenic Council also hopes to inform people about the facts surrounding sex trafficking, a subject with surprising statistics.
Sex trafficking can be described as a form of slavery that exists on a global scale, perpetrated by people who threaten victims with violence and other types of coercion in order to force them into engaging in sex acts against their will. U.S. Federal Law states that anyone under the age of eighteen forced into commercial sex qualifies as a victim of sex trafficking, whether or not coercion or fraud of any kind took place in the process. Sex trafficking takes place in a wide range of locations, such as residential brothels, hotels or motels, online ads and escort services.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an estimated one in six reported runaways become a victim of sex trafficking. The International Labor Organization estimates that globally, four-and-a-half million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation. Largely an underground system, sex trafficking proves difficult to trace and cut off. Therefore, steps taken toward informing people about the seriousness of the situation can be progressive and an important beginning to putting a stop to the horror.
In February 2017, actor Ashton Kutcher spoke out at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about modern slavery and his part in putting an end to it. Kutcher is a co-founder of Thorn, a company using technological innovation to fight against the sexual exploitation of children. While speaking about the sex-trafficking evidence that he has witnessed, Kutcher got choked up as he thought of his own daughter and how his family would feel were she in a similar situation. The details described by Kutcher in the video of his speech at the hearing are enough to make you cringe, and as ugly as those facts may be, young women and children are being faced with it daily.
Thorn, along with the Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Salesforce Foundation and Twilio, have come up with a short-code for the national human trafficking hotline. The message BEFREE (233733) sent to the hotline (1-888-373-7888) can provide a more subtle way to ask for help if someone is being controlled and exploited. The line is monitored all day, every day of the week.
While programs like Thorn and Polaris work to help victims of sex trafficking, young women and children disappear daily into the underground rings, and raising awareness about the issue instills in people a necessity of constant vigilance. Especially in the case of traveling in a foreign country, several tips are suggested to keep in mind to avoid being caught up in a human trafficking situation.
Some tips include registering with the local U.S. Embassy and informing them of your travel plans, protecting your passport and keeping a copy of the information in a place separate from the passport itself, being wary of strangers getting too close and avoiding unsafe circumstances, such as deserted streets and night time ventures.
BGSU’s One Gray Dress Project works to inform people who may not have heard a lot about the issue, and don’t know about the horrible circumstances within which victims of sex trafficking are forced to live. By instilling in people an idea of what it means to be without choice and without freedom, the project takes a step toward reaching the humanity inside of people and encouraging them to donate to organizations capable of making a difference.
The movement begins with a single object or idea, and what follows is the rippling out of that idea to impact what lies beyond. In the case of sex-trafficking awareness, the concept is a month of wearing one gray dress, and the ripples have begun.