Dressing for justice and freedom

Students wear dresses every day of December to support anti-human trafficking movements

by Elle Croce|Staff Writer

Activism often goes hand in hand with fashion. From wearing pink for breast cancer awareness to donning purple for anti-bullying, advocating for a cause through an article of clothing is a common way for organizations to get their message out.

Blythe Hill, founder of Dressember, decided that linking a college fashion challenge to a cause such as ending human trafficking was one way to start a conversation.

The concept is simple: for every day in December, women wear a dress to bring awareness to human and sex trafficking, hence the name “Dressember,” according to the organization’s official website.

“It was originally started to support the idea of femininity,” Julia Wygant of Dressember’s community engagement team said. “It was to advocate for women being able to choose what they wanted to wear.”

Since its beginning as a fundraising campaign in 2013, Dressember has grownlarger than the original handful of participants in California, with a total of 4,603 members slipping on their gowns last year according to statistics published by Dressember on its website.

Wearing a dress can start a conversation around why one is wearing a dress in the cold month of December, and to then link that conversation to promoting awareness and monetary support to the issue of human trafficking.

Money is raised by encouraging those who hear the campaign’s stories to donate online through Dressember’s website.

“We promote our message through people’s stories and encourage every participant to show their stories and why they are passionate about modern day slavery,” Wygant said.

Last year, Dressember raised over $918,000 to be donated to its partner organizations, the International Justice Mission and A21, Wygant said.

Both organizations use the raised funds to work towards actively ending human exploitation through rescue efforts, after-care support for victims, educating the public and providing legal aid in cases involving sex trafficking or forced labor work.

IJM has rescued over 2,318 women and children from trafficking and put away 1,749 pimps and traffickers since 2006, while A21 has opened 11 field offices that include shelters, transitional homes, and administrative bases since 2007, according to their respective websites.

The partnership with both organizations is the key to Dressember’s function as a human rights fundraising campaign, Wygant said.

Social media has played an effective role in spreading Dressember’s message, Wygant said.

“Social media is a way for people to share their stories and their passion for this issue and this campaign, in order to promote awareness and helping other people know what they can do in this fight for justice,” Wygant said.

However, Dressember’s influence remains small in many communities.

At Whitworth, there is a mix of students who have heard of the Dressember movement and have participated in it and those who have not.

Some students said they had never heard of the organization before but that it seems like an interesting challenge to engage with, such as sophomore Nicole Clabaugh.

“I’m glad that they have the initiative to be active in addressing that problem,” Clabaugh said. “I don’t see human trafficking often addressed but I’d like it to be because people should know more about it, especially here at Whitworth where you can fundraise with the IJM club and get people passionate about this issue.”

Others, such as freshman Morgan McKeague, have been actively involved with both Dressember and IJM in the past and encourage others to take on the challenge.

“This idea of wearing a dress is not saying it out loud but if people ask why I am wearing a dress in December, I would explain that it’s representing the inherent dignity of all females and the idea that true femininity is exploited when females are sexually exploited,” McKeague said.

As the campaign has grown, so too have the ways in which people of all genders are able to participate.

Men are encouraged to don bow-ties during the month of December to promote awareness, along with advocating the message “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” with the hashtag #Dressember and either donating to a female colleague’s campaign or drawing attention to it.