Molly Gochman Is Fighting Human Trafficking With Sand

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, and New York City-based artist Molly Gochman hopes that her project will make the world pay closer attention. Here, she talks to Chantal Strasburger about the effort.

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When did the issue of human trafficking first hit your radar?

I read an article about human trafficking a few years ago and had no idea that there was modern-day slavery—or I knew about it but wasn't willing to be conscious of it. As I learned more, I saw how big the problem was and felt there was nothing I could do to make a difference. But after talking to some organizations, I realized I could help build awareness and bring human trafficking into everyday conversations (which, as you can imagine, is a lot of fun at parties), and I started Red Sand Project in 2014.

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What's the story behind putting red sand in sidewalk cracks?

When I learned that 50 percent of kids sold for sex in the U.S. come out of foster homes, I realized the key to stopping human trafficking is investing in the vulnerabilities that lead to it. I saw sidewalk cracks as a good metaphor for vulnerable populations, and the idea that human trafficking is hidden in plain sight. Trafficking is most prevalent in Northern India, but it's not the only place it happens. We don't think of human trafficking as being in our own backyard, but it is. It exists all around us, like sidewalk cracks—we're just not mindful of it. The sand represents small grains working together to transform a space, and the red represents urgency.

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Is Red Sand Project your first foray into activist art?

In school, I created art that was representative of United Nations statistics about women—they were sculptures but they were also graphs. And then my work became more abstract, and I realized the more personal I made it, the more people could relate to it without it having to have an overtly political message.

What kind of response has Red Sand Project received?

It is the ideal participatory public artwork because anyone can get involved with it—we've sent our free packets of red sand to all 50 states and a number of different countries. I was timid about its success at first, but I've talked to survivors who are enthusiastic about the project and thanked me for creating an image that doesn't exploit survivors. We also recently heard from a survivor who's doing the project right outside the house where she was trafficked.

What can we do to get involved?

The best thing we can do to combat human trafficking is learn about it and look for the signs. If you see someone working in a house they never leave and it seems suspicious, you can report it to the trafficking hotline at (888) 373-7888. If you are a victim, you can also use the text code (BeFree) and it will automatically erase the text from your phone, so that someone controlling your phone won't see it.

We also need cultural change: The most effective thing you can do today is start making more informed purchasing decisions and being more mindful about the labor force in general. So many people want to raise awareness about human trafficking but don't know how to bring it into the public dialogue, so Red Sand Project helps people start that conversation.

Visit redsandproject.com to request a free Red Sand Project Toolkit and to learn more about the initiative.

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