The Fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols concluded last week on 22 October 2010 at UNODC Headquarters, Vienna. The following interview with Rani Hong, co - founder Tronie Foundation, is the last in the series of stories published by our Office, on human trafficking.
Rani: a compassionate and unwavering advocate
for freedom from slavery and human trafficking
Interview with Ms. Rani Hong, co-founder of Tronie Foundation, USA
Rani along with her husband Trong Hong started the Tronie Foundation in the United States of America to support survivors of human trafficking, motivated by their own experience of having survived and escaped human trafficking in their early childhood. For the past 10 years, Rani has been sharing her story across the globe to inspire people and collect support for her work with survivors of human trafficking. In 2002, her testimony before the Washington State legislature helped pass a law that had been stalled for four years, making it the first state in the nation to pass anti-trafficking legislation. She has been honoured with many awards, including the 2010 Jefferson Award for Washington State and the 2008 United Nations Human Rights award. Recently she was a featured speaker at the Catalyst Leadership Convention, in the USA, sharing her message in front of a community of 13,000 young adult leaders.
UNODC South Asia interviewed Ms. Rani on the occasion of her recent visit to India, not only to learn about the Tronie foundation, but also to share her extraordinary story of why she is the face of hope for many women and children who have endured a past similar to hers.
UNODC: Could you tell us about the Tronie Foundation and its mission?
Rani Hong: Being a survivor of human trafficking myself, I helped establish this foundation out of compassion for exploited women and children and with the desire to encourage survivors to harbour hope and freedom. We are one of the few survivor-led organizations fighting modern day slavery. The foundation is created to advocate for human rights and rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking.
At the Tronie Foundation, we are committed to creating a world free of slavery through educational outreach, to break the cycle of slavery. To end this crime we need to prevent it first. To prevent it we need to educate people about this crime. So I travel around the world educating non governmental organisations, Government counterparts, students and other institutions about the horrors of human trafficking. I share my personal story with people wherever I go, so as to inspire and encourage them to take action.
Our group of senior advisors - many women with their own empowering stories - helped us focus on education and prevention programs and provided invaluable business and operation insight for the Tronie Foundation. Behind the scenes at the Foundation are two very inspiring, empowering women who have provided invaluable volunteer support and direction for the foundation - Lady Terry Robinson and her friend and colleague, Diane McArter, the owner of a commercial production company with offices in Hollywood, New York and London. They have inspired me to bring a clearer focus on prevention and education to our work in general. We're seeing positive momentum for the Tronie Foundation and the issue of combating human slavery on the whole. The Foundation is looking to partner with corporations that share similar social concerns to provide a voice and share resources amongst these organizations.
UNODC: How serious is the problem of human trafficking on a global scale and what according to you is the best way to raise awareness on this issue?
Rani Hong: Today there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world. Eighty per cent of the trafficked victims are women and children. Thousands of vulnerable women and children are trafficked daily and this is a growing multi-billion dollar industry. Almost every country is affected by this. Human trafficking is a dark and hidden crime and it needs to be exposed. Part of the Tronie Foundation's goal is to expose this crime and the best way to do this is talk about it anywhere and everywhere. There is no specific time or place to raise this issue. I talk about it at schools, universities, institutions, colleges, Government buildings and even at corporate houses.
UNODC: Can you share with us your personal story and tell us how this experience led you to help others in similar situations?
Rani Hong: I was living in Southern India and had loving parents. I got to live my childhood. I was happy. As our financial conditions deteriorated, my father's health worsened. A respectful woman from the village approached my father and offered to ease his burden by taking care of one his children. She said she would cloth me, feed me and educate me. I went to live with her family just down the road from our house. I remember my parents visiting me and how happy they were to see that I was well taken care of. And one day when they came to visit me, I was gone!
I was sold by the lady to a man and was told that he was my master. I had no idea what was happening. I was only seven years old. I was a slave to my master! They took an innocent life like mine and treated it like garbage. When I tried to speak - they shut me down. When I tried to protest - they beat me brutally. I was starved and put through much cruelty. I literally saw cages where children were held and seasoned for submission. They broke my will and damaged my spirit. No child should pay this price because of slavery. I became lifeless and worthless. Still the people wanted to make a profit. They put me up for international adoption and that is when my life changed. I was soon adopted by a lady in the Unites States of America. Ironically, my deterioration became my passport to freedom.
In 1999, after 21 years, I returned to the country I hated most- India, for a short vacation. Miraculously in a tourist hotel in Southern India, I met my birth mom and that was when I learnt that my parents had no idea where I went and why I had disappeared. It is after that encounter, the missing pieces came together and I got the picture - I was trafficked at the age of seven and sold into slavery. The feeling was horrific and left me numb. That is when I decided that I need to do something to help all those innocent children and people who are trafficked into slavery.
UNODC: Do you see any linkages between human trafficking, HIV/AIDS?
Rani Hong: While I was in India I visited one of the red light districts in Mumbai. I met this young girl, no more than 16 years old. She was lying on a bed in a protection home and was very sick. She was HIV positive and dying. She was also a victim of human trafficking and sold into prostitution in one of the red light districts. Eventually, she was infected with HIV/AIDS. This is a high price to pay for any victim of human trafficking. Often women and girls who are sold and forced into commercial sex work are not in positions to negotiate for safe sex. We need to educate people on the linkages between human trafficking, HIV/AIDS.
UNODC: Do you have any message for our readers?
Rani Hong: We've got to bring hope and inspiration to people who are sold and subjugated into slavery against their will. From my own traumatic past that still haunts me, no child should be deprived of his/her freedom and dignity. Every innocent child who is sold into slavery, every child who is trafficked pays a high price and we cannot allow that. I have today become the voice of these survivors and victims. Some say I am the face of slavery - but I am also the face of hope and rescue. Under the Tronie Foundation, I am developing the survivor-led mentorship programme for women and children. We all need to come together and become their strength. We need to raise a voice together and end slavery.
Together we can prevent crimes against children sold into slavery. I ask for partners such as the UN and their audience to join me as I carry my voice around the world with millions of victims and survivors of slavery, as we all work together to carry a global Anti-Trafficking message.
Visit the Tronie Foundation website at www.troniefoundation.org
Contact the Tronie Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org