Georgia Cady felt the weight of representing an entire nation during a human trafficking symposium held in May in Brooklyn, New York.
“There were people from nine different countries, but everywhere the issue is exactly the same,” she said last week from the Tumbleweed office in Billings, where Cady directs the human trafficking program and runs the drop-in center. “Collaboration, training and outreach, public health — everyone was concerned about the same things.”
Since she started her work at Tumbleweed in December 2015, Cady has been meeting monthly via Skype or telephone with eight other authorities on combating human trafficking. Her colleagues come from around the world — Australia, India, Peru, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago, among other places.
“These are people who have been at it for 25 years. I thought I would go (to the conference) and just soak it all in,” she said. “But it was one of the hardest-working conferences I’ve ever been to.”
“People had the mindset to make a change globally,” she said. “I felt privileged to be part of a huge pioneering undertaking.”
The group Safe Horizon, the largest nonprofit victim service agency in the United States, hosted the three-day event, called the Global Learning Collaborative. The goal of the collaborative, according to Safe Horizon, was to bring together 10 organizations (including Safe Horizon) from nine countries to explore best practices for working with the survivors of human trafficking.
While Tumbleweed has delivered services to 70 of those survivors during the nearly two years that a $600,000 grant has been in place, that number is closer to 21 million people worldwide, including more than 11 million women and girls. About 4.5 million are the victims of forced sexual exploitation.
Forced labor in the private economy generates an estimated $150 billion in illegal profits annually.
“Serving victims is obviously a priority for us,” said Erika Willis, Tumbleweed’s executive director. “It doesn’t surprise me that we are a part of the conversation. I think Georgia brings a unique voice to the table because we are youth-serving.
"It is about her commitment," Willis said. "We’ve pushed these programs in a way that puts us right there at the forefront, and it’s something we need to do to end some of the chronic things that happen as a result, like homelessness and addiction.”
Safe Horizon will issue a report by Dec. 31. The report, Cady said, will be “a rough draft of what we think are the principles and practices of dealing with human trafficking.”
During the conference’s past few hours, participants live-streamed a discussion of what they’d learned to more than 200 sites around the world. Some “influential folks in New York City government” attended in person, Cady said.
“It’s a spit in the bucket, but we’re committed to keep working at it,” Cady said. “I’m grateful I made friends with people from all over the world. It’s fun to work with people who rejuvenate you — people who 25 years later are just as dedicated as they were the day they began.”