The hands of women once controlled, abused and enslaved by human trafficking are now creating beautiful, trendy jewelry, giving the survivors income and a new life.
Purpose Jewelry, based in California, is a social enterprise that currently employs about 30 sex trafficking survivors in Mumbai, India to make necklaces, earrings and bracelets. One of Asia’s largest red light districts, 95 percent of girls born into Mumbai’s brothels are trafficked. The trafficking industry there brings in $1 billion a year.
Stephanie Pollaro, one of Purpose’s founders, launched the organization in 2007 in order to give women rescued from human trafficking a way to earn decent wages – or, more importantly, freedom from returning to slavery.
“Forced to service multiple men a day, they are trapped in modern day slavery. Even once rescued, girls are trafficked again an average of 11 times before they are finally free because they have no other options,” a video on Purpose’s website explains, “What if you could change this – and change lives – simply by buying a necklace?”
“You are making sure they never have to go back to slavery because now there is another way.”
Pallaro had only designed jewelry as a hobby before creating Purpose, but recognized the importance of employment in keeping women from being trafficked again. Since Purpose launched, she has followed American trends to ensure that the jewelry sells well in the U.S. to bring in fair wages for the women survivors who create the pieces. The company has since hired a full-time designer in California who sends her patterns to India, where women there shop the local markets for materials.
Besides earning wages, holistic care is provided to survivors through Purpose’s nonprofit International Sanctuary (called iSanctuary). Through iSanctuary, survivors gain access to education, health care and counseling. Since 2007, iSanctuary has served over 300 young women and girls aged 12 to 25 rescued from sex trafficking.
Michelle Johnson, head of distribution for Purpose, describes iSanctuary as a place of acceptance, where the women “know that [they’re] at a safe place.”
“It takes time. The healing process is slow. It’s definitely a long haul,” she said. “There are really awesome stories that come out of the work we’re doing.”
One survivor in India, Johnson said, was recently able to achieve her dream – realized after coming to iSanctuary and making jewelry – of attending law school.
“We walked through every step with her, we helped her apply and provided her a scholarship,” Johnson said. “Now she’s into her third year of law school. She still works for us part-time making jewelry to make money. She’s making it happen.
“It’s incredible to see that, and know that through our work and relationships built in our program, she was able to believe she could do this and understand she could have dreams like this.”
The sanctuary also offers a prevention program for women living in the slums of Mumbai, where “the women would likely be trafficked, but we’re able to provide them with income,” Johnson said.
The organization’s other iSanctuary is located in Orange County, California – a lucrative market for trafficking. “People are affluent here, so sadly there’s a lot of people who can put money toward that,” Johnson explained. “We have one girl who came through our program who had been trafficked in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in our area,” added Johnson. “She was forced to be a servant in someone’s home and finally escaped.”
According to Johnson, traffickers often stop in on their way to California’s Bay Area, another trafficking hub, or on their way to Mexico. “Disneyland is in our backyard and that’s a big hub for traffickers to prowl, to be on the watch," she said.
Women rescued from trafficking there earn wages by offering administrative support and filling online orders.
The organization is looking to open 10 additional sanctuaries around the world by 2020, and help hundreds more women and girls gain their freedom after being rescued from trafficking.
Shop jewelry made by survivors, and learn about trunk show opportunities, at www.purposejewelry.org. You can shop the line in Nashville at Serendipity (2301 12th Ave. S) and Shared Trade (5122 Charlotte Pike; www.sharedtrade.org.)
Images credit: Purpose Jewelry