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Junior shows support for victims of sex trafficking

By Olivia Braude
On May 2, 2014

The 13th amendment formally abolished slavery in the United States in 1865. However, an estimated 25 million men and women - boys and girls - are still part of the slave trade as human trafficking victims.

Miami University junior Lauren Delk said she became aware of the enormity of this atrocity on a mission trip to Nicaragua where, in an orphanage, she met a sex trafficking victim. Hearing the woman's story intimately brought Delk into an issue that, for many Americans, is easily kept at a distance.

"They're not random victims, they're people like me, and in this case, it was a girl just like me -my same age - who just had a very different story than I did," Delk said.

Delk said she was moved by God to become an activist.

After sleepless nights and countless prayers, the answer hit her: bras.

Those two years ago, Delk started Supported Girls. The company, still evolving, aims to provide women rescued from sex trafficking with jobs in the manufacturing of bras.

Delk said she was inspired by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, which donates one pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair of shoes that it sells. Delk established Supported Girls with the intention of it being a social enterprise, not a charity.

A social enterprise, Delk said, is a business that does good in the world. It is less about "making a dollar" and more about working to enact systemic change, Delk said.

Supported Girls is collaborating with Free the Girls, a non-profit organization, to establish a client base for its manufacturing business. Free the Girls collects gently-used bras and sends them to the victims of sex trafficking in developing nations so they can be resold secondhand.

Supported Girls wants to expand the job opportunities for these women. Instead of only selling bras, Supported Girls aims to ensure the women can earn a living making bras, as well.

Delk said bras strike a common chord with women all across the globe.

"Nothing better epitomizes womanhood than a bra. It's something that every woman understands and there's so much symbolism that goes along with that, just like what it means to be a woman," Delk said. "We all - no matter your race, your height, your political affiliation, your religion - we all have to deal with it."

Women and girls account for 79 percent of human trafficking victims. They are commonly victims of sexual exploitation.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, sexual exploitation is disproportionally reported, compared to the other forms of human trafficking, such as forced labor, forced marriage, organ removal and child warfare.

Delk said a lack of documentation makes it difficult to bring human trafficking to the world's attention. Without a true sense of the issue's magnitude, it is impossible to prioritize, she said.

But for Delk and those involved with Supported Girls, human trafficking is a priority.

Delk said she has spent innumerable hours working with Miami's entrepreneurial department and Brett Smith, director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and founding director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, to develop a business model and begin work for Supported Girls.

The people involved have been nothing short of blessings from God, Delk said.

"They invest in this personally and invest in me on like a personal level and really care about this company," she said.

Along with Miami professors, Delk is developing a curriculum outlining how to manufacture bras with a Cincinnati woman who sews bras by hand. Supported Girls will send these instructions to the women.

After the bras are made, Supported Girls will sell them in the United States and the money from each bra sold will provide the manufacturer's wages.

As of now, Delk said Supported Girls is continuing to develop its business plan. By next fall, Delk is hoping to know more about when and where Supported Girls will be started.

Students at Miami can be involved in raising awareness and educating themselves by viewing the Supported Girls Facebook page.

It has been a time-consuming and physically and emotionally exhausting process for Delk. While, she said she is not sure whether she will remain in charge of Supported Girls, she will continue be involved in the organization.

"The whole reason why I'm doing this, and why I spend sleepless nights working on business models instead of like homework or going out with friends, is because I'm a Christian and that's the number one reason behind all of it," Delk said. "God has blessed this and opens up doors and puts people in my life that can help me and so that's the drive behind everything."

Delk said her cause makes people aware of the shocking ease with which 25 million people in bondage are forgotten by the broader world.

Delk said she hopes Supported Girls can make a difference, whether in the lives of 10 or 1000 girls.

"I think it could be a global catalyst for change and making an impact on the 27 million people who are stuck in slavery," Delk said. "It's my goal to see that number go down."

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