by Blythe Hill
Blythe Hill is the CEO and Founder of the Dressember Foundation, an anti-trafficking nonprofit organization. Through their annual campaign, thousands of people across the world commit to wearing dresses or ties for the month of December as a way to raise awareness and funding for anti-trafficking work.
I first learned about human trafficking while I was an undergraduate, around 2005. I stumbled on an article about sex trafficking in India and was absolutely horrified. I couldn't believe this sort of exploitation was happening in the world, and wondered why more people weren't talking about it. More than that, I felt an immediate urgency to do something about it—a sense of personal urgency I had never felt before.
It took me a few years to realize that the reason I felt—and continue to feel—such passion for this issue is because of my own experience of sexual abuse as a child, and the subsequent years of healing from trauma, betrayal, and shame. I am fortunate to have the resources to heal from my experience, but many do not; for them, I am compelled to fight.
I started wearing a dress every day in December in 2009, without any fundraising or campaign element attached to it—it was purely for fun, and honestly, it wasn't something I planned to do every year.
In 2010, some of my friends wanted me to do it again so that they could join in. In 2011, some of my friends' friends wanted to join in, and at that point—when people I didn't know personally wanted to join in—I realized there might be potential for this silly style challenge to be something more.
In 2013, I aligned Dressember the style challenge with an issue I'd been passionate about for years, and wondered whether we could raise a few thousand dollars, or whether it'd totally flop. We ended up raising over six times my goal, $165,000 USD, and at that point I realized it was a much better idea than I'd imagined. So, it wasn't that I chose to start a dress-wearing campaign with anti-trafficking, but it is interesting to have conversations with people about what dresses symbolize to them, and how that can be leveraged (or in some cases, reclaimed) in this fight for the dignity of women around the world.
Human trafficking is a complex issue that requires a complex solution. We partner with organizations around the world (we call this the Dressember Network) to undermine the efforts of traffickers from every angle, in every location. We resource prevention efforts to keep those at-risk (such as those living in poverty, refugees, LGBTQ+ youth, homeless populations, and foster youth) from falling prey to trafficking schemes. We resource training programs for frontline workers (hotel/motel staff, rideshare drivers, medical workers, and others who regularly come in contact with trafficking victims) so that they can learn to recognize warning signs and learn how to partner with law enforcement for safe interventions—our effort to speed up intervention time for victims. We also provide vital resources to support comprehensive aftercare for survivors internationally, which includes safe housing, trauma therapy, and vocational training. Another aspect of our work is education and awareness—we are equipping the greater public with reliable data about this issue, and providing them with a language with which they can go out and advocate within their networks to make a significant impact.
When someone decides to support Dressember, their impact is three-fold: they are empowering an individual to continue advocating for this issue, they are supporting local anti-trafficking programs in the US, and they are helping communities by supporting similar programs across the world.
It can be so overwhelming when you first learn about this issue—it's a thriving criminal enterprise that preys on the world's most vulnerable people. Before you reroute your life and career, consider the possibility that you might be able to have a significant impact right where you are. We often downplay our own influence and network, but the truth is that you have a unique amount of relational influence with the people you're close to, work with, related to.
Dressember is the single best on-ramp to engagement in this cause. We give even the busiest person an easy, fun way to engage in the fight, start conversations, spread awareness and reliable data, and be part of a community of people across the world raising money to dismantle this industry from every angle. Through participation in Dressember, you'll meet others passionate about this issue, discover key players and organizations, learn innovative strategies based on new data, and find your voice and path as an advocate. Sign up here to join Dressember’s annual campaign!
Blythe Hill is the CEO and Founder of the Dressember Foundation, an anti-trafficking nonprofit organization. Since 2013, Dressember advocates have raised $10MM USD and resourced dozens of anti-trafficking programs across the US and the world. Dressember has received press attention from the likes of Forbes, Glamour, InStyle, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, the TODAY Show, among others. In 2019, Blythe was named one of InStyle's 50 Badass Women, alongside powerhouse ladies like Michelle Obama, Christine Blasey Ford, Angela Davis, and Gayle King. Blythe currently lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and their dog, Friday. She loves a good red wine, a good cheese and, clearly, a good pun.