In 2001 Katherine Chon, a Brown University student, sat at a dinner party discussing the intricacies of international affairs and ethics with friends. During this impassioned discussion, Katherine learned that slavery was far from dead in the United States and across the globe. In fact, human trafficking, or selling people into slavery, is the third-largest criminal industry on the planet.
Horrified, Katherine searched for relevant organizations to volunteer with, but found few opportunities. So the day after graduation in 2002, Katherine and her friend Derek Ellerman hit the road in a U-Haul truck and traveled to Washington, D.C., to launch a nonprofit.
They called the organization Polaris Project after the North Star, which guided American slaves toward freedom. It has since become one of the largest antitrafficking organizations in the United States and Japan. Polaris Project’s approach to combat human trafficking includes reaching out to victims, identifying them and providing social services and transitional housing until they can get back on their feet. It also operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, serving as the central 24-hour national hotline.
Katherine says that the on-the-ground work is important and needed, but so is finding ways to take real-life experiences and translate them into stronger policies to protect everyone. Katherine has testified before Congress four times and has helped states draft legislation.
With such a growing need in North America and around the world, Katherine admits one of the bravest things she can do each morning is get out of bed and face the day. Listening to the horrors of victimization and plunging herself into the darker side of human nature can definitely take its toll on her and the dedicated people she works with.
Yet with so much more to accomplish, Katherine hopes to take the mission to combat slavery to a new level and develop a more outward-facing role for herself. She wants Polaris to reach out into the international community to stop human trafficking of children, young women and migrant workers forced to toil for nothing.
Katherine wants to do what she can to stop it all.
Where Are They Now?
Since receiving the Harlequin More Than Words Award in 2009, Polaris Project has leveraged the financial support and increased awareness from the award program in multiple ways. Through the award and the More Than Words Anthology, Polaris Project has been able to reach a new audience of women to inform them about human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a form of gender-based violence that overwhelmingly impacts girls and women. As women we have a special duty to stand in solidarity with those victimized by this crime. The financial support from the award program gave Polaris Project the resources to field an increasing number of calls into our National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline and to provide critical services for women and girls victimized by human trafficking through our direct services programs in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey.