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How the Nomi Network Fights Human Trafficking


Diana Mao, president and co-founder of Nomi Network, stops by the studio to discuss the issue of human trafficking.

Father Dave asks Diana to explain how she got involved in the fight against human trafficking. “I was in Cambodia on a research fellowship with NYU where I was charged with interviewing microfinance clients … I was there with a male colleague, and we had surveyed a single father with seven children. He had lost his wife to a disease that was curable, but there was no clinic in their village. After we surveyed him, he offered my male colleague his youngest daughter. He said, ‘You like her, you take her.’ And we both looked at each other shocked and horrified. It was such an awkward moment, we didn’t know what to say. We said no and then left his hut. I knew from my research that those are the same areas where girls and women are trafficked.”

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Father Dave asks, “In his instance, this father was wanting her to be saved? He was like take her back to America, right?” Diana replies, “In his instance, I could tell from looking into his eyes that it wasn’t malicious intent like some of the other parents. It was he had one bowl of rice to eat per day, he had no livestock, and no electricity or water. From that moment on, I realized that poverty, especially in these areas of high cases of human trafficking, can be addressed easily.”

Father Dave asks Diana if her involvement with microfinance is what made her aware of the gravity and prevalence of human trafficking. She explains, “It was definitely a wake-up call, but I grew up with a very strong grandmother who is very involved in her church. She would send me on mission trips. When I was 16, I was in Mexico volunteering at orphanages, when I was in college I was volunteering in garbage villages in Egypt. I was always around, but never really drew the correlation or knew what human trafficking was until graduate school. Reading about slavery is different than actually seeing it unfold in front of your eyes. So that moment in Cambodia was my aha moment.”

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Father Dave asks what it means when we use the word slavery in regards to human trafficking. Diana explains, “It’s modern-day slavery. It is the same thought and idea in terms of those who are forced to work without pay. … I’ve met girls that have literally been caged by their stepfathers and sold repeatedly in brothels. There is intergenerational prostitution in families and slavery where they’ve never seen daylight … Thirty percent of slavery today is the sex trade. Seventy percent is attributed to forced and child labor. It’s in the cotton we wear, the chocolate we eat, the coffee we drink. No person can say with 100% confidence that they don’t own a product that isn’t tainted with slave labor because the supply chain is so complicated. The cases you hear in the news about Gap and the violations in factories, and cases about children picking cotton in Uzbekistan, that ends up in our apparel and the food we consume. I’ve met girls as young as 5 years old who are trafficked. The women that we work with are on average in their 20s. In sex slavery, it is primarily female, but in labor, it is primarily male.”

Diana explains how Nomi Network helps people who are affected by the slave trade. “The most important piece of our curriculum is self-confidence and transformation. We want them to have the confidence to come to class and not be scared to leave their brothels or homes. Once they overcome those hurdles there is a drastic change in what they are able to do. Like starting their own businesses and earning five times more than they were earning … We do both prevention and community-based rescue by working with law enforcement. We also work with organizations that rescue. Years ago they would bust into brothels, but they’ve taken a different approach nowadays because traffickers have gotten smarter in terms of taking it more underground. So, instead of a brothel that you would see in Thailand, it’s in a karaoke bar or massage parlor. It’s a $150 billion industry.”

Father Dave asks if witnessing all of this is disheartening. “It’s disheartening but at the same time there’s great potential,” Diana says. “There are so many ethical brands … so many businesses are really looking at ways to empower people. Everyone, in essence, can benefit from the work that is produced. I do think there is great hope.” (Original Air 5-14-18)