Combatting Trafficking and a “Pearl Experience”

By Mitzi Perdue

The earrings you see in this illustration are stylish, unusual, and beautiful. However, when you know the story behind them, I bet you’ll see them as being even more beautiful. 

They’re a donation to Win This Fight,  Stop Human Trafficking, and they’re part of a promise that Sally Jackson (not her real name) made to herself four years ago.  It’s a promise that involves #MeToo, heartbreak, a complicated moral decision, and a life  that’s ever since been devoted to helping and uplifting women.

Jackson and I are having breakfast at the Pelican Hill Resort in Southern California. We can look past graceful palm trees to see the calm Pacific Ocean.

“My Mom was an immigrant to the U.S. who came to this country with nothing,” begins Jackson, wiping away a tear.  “Despite being a single working mother of three, she became a very successful business owner.  She was very wary of my pursuit of the film industry but when she realized that I had forged my own path, and successfully, she gave me these earrings as a gift.”

As you can see when you look at the image of the earrings, the gift was an expensive one. The gems are real, and the earrings are worth considerably more than Jackson’s Prius.  Given their price, and even more, given that they were a gift from her beloved mother, Jackson says, “They’re the most precious thing I own.”

Why would Jackson part with something so meaningful and precious?

Jackson continues her story.  She did have the successful career her mother dreamed of for her.  She worked on countless movies, garnered 114 Academy Award nominations and scored several wins during her tenure.  She made millions for the company she worked for and she worked with some of the most famous stars in Hollywood.

However, at the height of her success, her boss propositioned her for sex and she refused.  “When I didn’t go along with what he wanted, he made sure I got all the worst jobs in the company,”  Jackson remembers, and as she speaker, her face growing pale, “This was prior to the #MeToo movement and I  felt like I had very few options.”

Her boss made it increasingly difficult for her to continue working in the company. She resigned and for months was unemployed.  It was a bleak and catastrophically depressing, anxiety-filled time. She was living off of her savings and at the end, she had only $13 left in the bank.

But then she got a dream job, one that turned out to be just right for her and she was happy again. But then the #MeToo movement erupted and Jackson was asked to face these demons once again.

Jackson continues: “Two of the women who worked for my old company knew why I had quit and asked me for help in fighting against the boss who had caused me to leave.  The man had been preying on the two women, and they felt that if we could  all join forces, we could stop this sexual predator.”  

At this point in the story, Jackson is crying freely.  After dabbing at her eyes with her napkin, she puts on dark glasses and continues.

She told her two women friends, “I cannot put my new husband through this We have been through too much pain over this and we’ve just bounced back from being nearly broke.”

Jackson made the decision to remain silent.  It was a wrenching decision, but the memories of the anxiety she had felt when she was eating up all her savings, coupled with the depression that went with it–those memories were still fresh.  That plus she had dozens of people working for her and she felt a deep responsibility to them. Supporting the two women who were being victimised would not only jeopardise everything she most cared about  it could also impact the people who were now working for her.

An outside person listening to her telling her story might feel that she had no choice but to remain silent. And yet, to this day she grieves that she didn’t help the two women who were suffering.

Even so, something good came from this wrenching experience.  She vowed to the two women and to herself: “I promise I will do more good for women in my silence, than I could have ever done by taking him down.” In the years since, because of that promise, she’s given her all to helping women.

Her work now is focused on impact investing, particularly investing in startups that promote structural change in major industries that promote the advancement of women and minorities.

Jackson’s story resembles the story of how a pearl oyster can produce a gorgeous pearl, but only when a grain of sand or other irritant starts the process. In the case of a pearl, the oyster protects itself from the irritation by covering it with layers and layers of nacre.  And thus a beautiful iridescent pearl is formed.

Sally Jackson regrets that she wasn’t there for her two former colleagues who were experiencing #MeToo. However, a beautiful (if metaphorical) pearl has been the result.  She’s spending the rest of her life helping all women.  

Donating the beautiful earrings to help stop human trafficking is just one aspect of how she is keeping her promise.  

Those earrings really, really are beautiful, right?

 

Mitzi Perdue is the organiser of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking. Contact her at:  mitzi@winthisfight.org.