An Organization’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

Article by Brianna Skrivanek Owl Staff

Maryland has been described by both victims and traffickers as a “goldmine” for human trafficking.

Hopelessness, depression, immense guilt, no sense of self appreciation, and being fearful of every stranger- these are some of the more prominent emotions that occur in victims of human trafficking during and after the process of being victimized.

According to the International Labor Organization, roughly 40.3 million people globally are victims of human trafficking with hundreds of thousands of those being from the United States.

“Human trafficking is not just what you see in the movies,” says Shannon Doherty, co-founder of Dignata, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking by helping them get out of trafficking rings and provide them with aftercare as well as a “dignified means of financial stability.”

Having co-founded the Dignata in 2011, Shannon and her husband, James, have been many places across the globe, helping free victims worldwide. While helping these victims, Doherty has found herself in some dangerous scenarios at times while trying to help women out of brothels or away from pimps and traffickers who have tried to discourage her.

“I used to feel afraid that I would get hurt one day,” Doherty states. “And that’s not out of the question; but then I realized that I was the one in the light, and they were the ones needing to run and hide in darkness; and that I was the one in the right with the law on my side, and they were the ones who should be afraid because of the repercussions of breaking the law.”

Dignata consists of the founders, James and Shannon Doherty, a board of advisers, and oftentimes they have 4-10 volunteers at various points in time. Each year in autumn, they run a training school with roughly 6-8 teachers who partner with the organization and speak to the students about topics such as “justice, human trafficking, intervention, after care, and counseling.”

“I used to feel afraid that I would get hurt one day and that’s not out of the question; but then I realized that I was the one in the light, and they were the ones needing to run and hide in darkness …”

Since the start of the organization, they have helped approximately 30 women leave trafficking situations for a more dignified life. Doherty added that there have been numerous others who were impacted so much by the Dohertys’ visits to them in brothels or on the streets, that they eventually found a way out.

Once the victims are free, the organization offers them a position with their jewelry project to aid them financially, and connects them to longer-term counseling, and, in some cases, legal help for anyone who was illegally taken into a country. If they accept the position with the jewelry business, they are sent a packet with supplies to make custom pieces which the organization sells on their website.

Each piece comes with a note explaining the story of who you supported when you made the purchase. When the items have been sold, all of the proceeds from each sale are given to the women who made them. This prevents the victims from seeing it as necessary to continue being exploited in order to make ends meet.

Helping the victims out of their situations has made the Dohertys witness many of the horrors that come with human trafficking. “It’s been so eye-opening,” says Doherty. “To see how this is not just affecting girls who are transported and harbored and put to work in prostitution (the traditional definition of human trafficking), but also that there are so many seeking to take advantage of children online.”

Due to trafficking being very prominent worldwide, the couple and their three young children have traveled and lived in some very interesting places such as India, Amsterdam, Latvia, and even parts of the Amazon with roads made up of rivers and streams.

“I wish I could say that these were the only places that we saw signs of human-trafficking,” says cofounder of Dignata and husband James Doherty. “But this is a global problem and tragedy. We see signs of it everywhere we go.  Bad people sell others in order to make money for themselves, and you don’t have to travel far to see bad people walking around.”

The state of Maryland and our own Harford County are no strangers to this horrendous crime. According to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF), Maryland has been described by both victims and traffickers as a “goldmine” for human trafficking.

Maryland’s numerous popular highways, bus stations, and truck stops are all places traffickers have found very easy to abuse their victims. In fact, according to the MHTTF, truck stops are where about 70% of trafficking instances happen.

Traffickers work in many different ways to get to women and children, even men are potential victims. “The UN reports that poverty is the number one cause of human trafficking,” says Doherty, “And it’s usually been young adult women in search of jobs who have been most vulnerable. However today, young girls and boys are at risk if they have smart phones and access to social media such as Instagram and Snapchat where they are groomed by predators posing as young people.”

“Be careful of money-making opportunities that sound too good to be true.” Doherty advises when asked for tips to avoid being in this type of situation. “Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a relationship with someone you don’t know on social media/online. You’ve got to be vigilant about who you trust, and even then, don’t get yourself in a potentially dangerous situation by being reliant on someone financially.”

Readers can help support this organization by subscribing to updates on their website at and share it with their friends. Human trafficking is a very dangerous and cruel reality. If people could come together against this cause, it might someday be eradicated.

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