Bill Krieger: Hello everyone. Welcome to the “Me You Us,” a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy. I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today my guest is Mollie Thorsen. She is the US Director of Efficacy and Corporate Engagement at A21. Mollie, if you’ll introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Mollie Thorsen: Yes. Thank you so much for having me, Bill. This is a great honor to be on the podcast. As you said, my name is Mollie Thorsen. I am the US Director of Advocacy and Corporate Engagement for A21. I’m based in the Washington, DC office.
We’re really excited today because as I said, I’m the director of corporate engagement. Being able to talk with you guys at Consumer Energy is going to be a great and informative session.
Bill: All right. Well, thanks, Mollie. Let’s talk a little bit about what you do and what A21 does, because many of our guests may not be familiar with this at all.
Mollie: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ll start with what A21 does. A21 is a global nonprofit that operates in about 19 different countries. What we do is we focus on Reach, Rescue, and Restoration. We have our public awareness campaigns, our education campaigns that highlight how to identify human trafficking and the actions to take if you do see those signs.
Then in addition to that, we support survivors all across the United States in addition to across the globe. We have our survivor freedom centers, which are community?based models that survivors can get resources and continue on their path and their journey.
We are there to help survivors and help battle human trafficking in every capacity. As far as my role, I’m here in DC, and I work on a lot of the outreach, education, and public awareness.
A lot of that has to do with speaking with companies that want to get engaged in the fight against human trafficking and helping them find innovative ways and best practices on how they can combat human trafficking.
Bill: Let’s dig right into it. What exactly is human trafficking?
Mollie: Absolutely. It’s so interesting because so many people have this idea in their heads. Human trafficking is quite simple. It’s being held against your will, for sex, labor, or any type of activity that you don’t want to be in and that you’re being forced or coerced, or manipulated to partake in.
As I mentioned, human trafficking looks different in so many different scenarios. There’s labor trafficking. There’s domestic servitude. There’s sex trafficking. There’s child online enticement. There are so many different ways. It’s important to educate ourselves on what each one looks like, so we can identify it if we’re out in the public.
Bill: Something interesting about what you said too, many times when we hear human trafficking, we immediately think of people who are in the sex trade. I did a little research and I noticed that today, according to your website, there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history. We don’t think about our society in those terms.
Mollie: No. We don’t, actually. It’s quite unreal. If you look at the statistics, there’s an estimated 50 million people enslaved in human trafficking around the globe. That’s less than one in every two hundred people in the world.
It’s shocking about how many people are in human trafficking right now and how easy it could be for all of us to do something about it, and help change those statistics. We’re committed over A21 to do our part. We’re so grateful for companies who engage with us and help join us in that battle.
Bill: One of the reasons that we have talked about having this discussion was that many of our co?workers work in the field. They’re outside every day. They’re talking to people or interacting with customers and others.
As we think about human trafficking, maybe we could talk a little bit about what are some of the signs because they always say, “If you see something, say something.” We may see something and not even know what we’re seeing.
Mollie: That’s a great point. We always hear, “If you see something, say something.” What do we look for? What do we see? In the cases of service providers who are going to be out in the field, you’ll probably most commonly interact with a type of trafficking of domestic servitude if you’re in the house, or sex and labor trafficking.
One of the most common ways you can identify this is, the person looks malnourished. The person has someone speaking for them. They’re not allowed to speak. They’re not allowed to make eye contact. They have visible bruises. They have brandings.
Some of those indicators are pretty common signs of trafficking for both domestic servitude, sex, and labor. What I do want to point out is that oftentimes someone will see one of those signs. It is a series of those, and a combination of all of those combined, that can lead you to help identify a situation where you do need to call and say something.
Bill: It sounds like maybe some of these signs taken separately might not have anything to do with human trafficking, but they may be leading to something else if someone is malnourished, or if someone is in poor living conditions.
Mollie: Yes. Absolutely. Like you said, it could be so many different things. It’s important to keep an eye out for all of those. Like we said, report it if you do see something.
Bill: If I see something, who should I report it to?
Mollie: Right now, if you’re in the United States, what we would suggest is calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline, their number is 1?888?373?7888. Again, that’s the National Human Trafficking Hotline. That’s best if you see a situation where there’s an adult that you believe is going to be a potential victim of human trafficking.
If you see a minor, we always suggest calling 1?800?THE?LOST, which is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They have great resources at both of those hotlines that can help get the proper help and get the proper identification tools in place to dive deep into that case.
Bill: Would you say that it’s always best to call the experts than maybe try to intervene yourself?
Mollie: Yes. Absolutely. You never know what you’re going to get yourself involved. Is this part of our larger human trafficking ring, or is this an individual?
To be on the safe side for both you and that potential victim of trafficking, it is 100 percent, the correct action is to call a professional. Always, also just 911. Call the emergency hotline, if you can’t remember the other hotlines, and report it to them as well.
Bill: When you say larger organization, I look at the numbers here, and I see that human trafficking is about $150 billion?a?year business. Those are large organizations.
Mollie: Yes. Exactly. 150 billion annual revenue is predicted that the human trafficking industry is making every year. To put that in perspective, that’s bigger than Google and Nike and Microsoft combined every year. You’re talking about a huge network of criminals who are capitalizing on people.
It’s something we all need to be aware of. Again, never get ourselves involved in, but always called the professionals.
Bill: Then, let’s talk about that a little bit. I see something, I say something, and that person is rescued from that situation. You talked a little bit about a Survivor’s Network. Can you walk us through what happens after someone’s removed from that?
Mollie: It will vary by state. Most of the time, law enforcement will call a nonprofit that they know that is working in this space, and give them emergency housing and give them emergency resources. That’s where a lot of the support to these nonprofits, you’re seeing a lot of that coming through survivor, being there for that immediate assistance.
Bill: What’s it like for the survivor? What have you seen?
Mollie: It’s interesting because we get questions like this all the time. At A21, our biggest priority is putting our survivors’ privacy and respect first. We usually don’t tell these stories, because oftentimes, it can be traumatizing to revisit these stories.
As far as a firsthand account, I probably don’t have information that I can share. All I know is that these men and women and children are so audibly brave and so incredibly strong. It’s constantly amazing to watch the courage of the survivors every day.
Bill: Thank you for that. I can certainly respect the privacy of folks who have been in this situation. Thanks for at least giving us that overview. Other than the, “See something, say something,” what are some of the other things that we can do to help out?
Mollie: There’s so much you can do. It depends on the time you have and the resources you have, and how committed you’d like to be to this issue. The easiest and most basic thing you can do is learn about human trafficking and learn about what it is. You can be those eyes in the public if you do see something.
The number one thing is educate yourself on what human trafficking looks like. At a21.org, we have so many resources on every different scenario of human trafficking. I would suggest looking through those. Then volunteer or giving financially is always appreciated for any nonprofit.
Like I said, when you’re assisting survivors, it’s wonderful to have volunteers or that financial contribution to help in that journey. Those would probably be the top three. Also, spreading the word about human trafficking if you have social media or email your friends, let people know that this is happening, and it’s out there and there’s stuff that they can do to get involved as well.
Bill: I’m curious, what would volunteering look like? I know a lot of the folks here at Consumers Energy put in many volunteer hours. We do all kinds of things. I’m wondering what volunteering would look like in that space.
Mollie: It looks completely different in every office. We do have a portal online that you can go to A21 to volunteer for. Each office has totally different opportunities for volunteering. Even if it’s as simple as something as answering phone calls or fielding emails. It can look very different to every office.
I would encourage you to go check out our A21 volunteer page and see all the opportunities that are hosted there right now.
Bill: I know that coming up on October 14th of this year, you’ll be doing a walk for freedom. Will that be some sort of a nationwide thing going on?
Mollie: Yes. That is a Global Walk. It’s incredible, pretty much. We had over 500 across the globe last year. Basically, you gather with your friends and family, and you gather with people who care about this issue. You walk in your hometown. It is called the Walk For Freedom.
I would definitely encourage you to check that out. I believe our registration opens in July for that. If you follow along A21 Social Media, you can get updates on when the registration opens up. I would 100 percent encourage participating in the Walk For Freedom.
Bill: All right. We’ll look for information coming out soon on that. Mollie, I did want to ask you a little bit about how you got involved in this with A21. What’s your background that brought you to where you’re at today?
Mollie: That is a great question. I always love answering this because there’s a lot of different aspects. I’m an art history major. I have no background in this aside from passionately caring about this issue.
My journey began with the Walk For Freedom. I was signed up to walk my sister, Becca, in 2016, in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the day of the walk my sister, she went to the hospital with a headache and passed away about two weeks later. I had to do something to honor her. I had to do something that I felt she would be happy about.
She cared so much about battling human trafficking. I practically begged A21 to let me host the Walk For Freedom in DC the next year in her honor. I did, and they let me in. I’ve been hosting the Walk For Freedom in DC for the past seven years in her honor.
Once you find out about what’s going on, and how easy it is to help battle human trafficking, you pretty much can’t stop being a part of it. I have been with them, with A21, for about seven years.
Bill: Wow. What a great, inspiring story. I had no idea that was the answer I was going to get.
Bill: On a humorous note, I want to say, art history majors, there is hope out there.
Mollie: [laughs] Yes. There is hope for art history majors. I loved my degree. I wouldn’t go back and change it. You can definitely find different ways outside of your background to be a part of this world. I love being a part of A21. I love honoring my sister’s legacy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bill: That’s great. Now, I do want to talk about a couple of things. When I looked at the website, there was a couple of things that struck me on your page. I liked the idea of, “One life at a time, this is how we end slavery.”
It reminds me of the story of the guy that was walking down the beach, throwing starfish in the water. Someone came up and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m throwing these starfish back in the water to save them.” The guy said, “But there’s so many. You’re not making any difference at all.”
He picked up a starfish and threw it in and said, “I’m making a difference to that one.” That’s how I see what you’re talking about here.
Mollie: Absolutely. I’ve never heard that story. I think that’s a beautiful way to describe what we’re talking about. Every life matters, and no one…The idea of human trafficking in general is that we believe that bodies are not commodities, that humans don’t have a monetary value on them, and that everyone is equal.
The idea for us is always just to go for and help, and do all we can for even just one person because, at the end of the day, everyone deserves that. Everyone deserves that same amount of attention and that same effort. Absolutely, that’s always been our motto and that, frankly, it always will too.
Bill: Well, great. Then I also wanted to ask about this concept. I know we talked about this when we first discussed coming on the podcast, but this concept of Reach, Rescue, and Restore. We don’t have hours to talk about it, but could you maybe talk through that and sum that up for us?
Mollie: Absolutely. We have some incredible documents on our staff. They’ve been able to really identify the circle of victimization and re?victimization that happens in human trafficking. Really, if you just look at one part, you could stop human trafficking, educate, and answer or read if you make public awareness campaigns with our Reach.
With the Restore, just making sure that survivors don’t get caught up in that re?victimization cycle, so really looking at the cycle of trafficking and finding those points that we can be a part of to help break the cycle. That’s really what Reach, Rescue, and Restore is about.
As I mentioned, we have our education, our public awareness, which is Reach. Then our Rescue, we have our freedom centers, but also in some of the countries we operate, such as South Africa and Greece, we do operate the hotline as well. We do operate in those countries a human?trafficking hotline.
Then, for Restore for our survivors, like I mentioned earlier, we’re there on their journey, whether it’s educational pieces, whether it’s basic needs, emergency needs, legal needs, medical needs, we are there for that full?restoration piece. That’s the model that we’ve looked out ?? that Reach, Rescue, and Restore.
Bill: That makes perfect sense. Breaking the cycle is also very important, but also making sure that people don’t become victims again of this. We also talked about how numbers in Michigan as well as a lot of other places are on the rise.
I do want to talk a little bit about some work that our Business Employee Resource Groups or BERGs are doing here. We’re looking at some lunch?and?learn activity around human trafficking this year. They’ll be kicking that off in April. Will they be working with you and your team on those things?
Mollie: I believe we’ll be a part of the lunch and learns, I hope so.
Mollie: We are there as a resource. You guys have been so incredible, with, I just want to say the commitment level already has been really incredible from Consumer Energy. We’re happy to be a part of those and look forward to helping with the education pieces. Honestly, we’re here as a resource, if anyone has any questions as well.
Bill: Very good. Again, www.a21.org is the website that has so much information on it and great videos, great education, a great place to learn about this and learn about nonprofits in your area that are helping out with this cause. Mollie, we are getting close to the end of the podcast today. Before we go, is there anything that you would like our audience to take away from this conversation?
Mollie: The biggest thing is understanding what human trafficking is, and taking some time to go and educate yourself on it. I love A21. I am obviously committed to A21. Look at your local organizations as well and see if there are any opportunities to be involved. That’s probably what I would say.
Bill: All right. Thank you for that. Thank you for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate it. It’s been great getting to know you and to learn a little bit more about what you do and gained a better understanding of human trafficking. I hope to see you soon.
Mollie: Thank you so much for having me. Yes. I hope to see you soon.