by Jamilyn Hiskes
LANSING, Ill. (November 30, 2020) – For most people, deciding what clothes to wear every day is a personal choice. People dress for comfort, for work, or for a specific activity, and those styles of dress don’t always intersect.
But what if that choice was taken away?
Dressing for Dressember
According to the Dressember Foundation, an organization that advocates for awareness about human trafficking worldwide, choosing to give up that choice for one month of the year is one way to show solidarity with the victims of this crime. And anyone from anywhere can participate—including Lansing residents.
Living Word Church (2248 186th St.) has been participating in Dressember and raising money for the foundation for the past two years. They’re planning to do it again in 2020.
“This is one thing we decided to not cancel this year,” said Stephanie Jansma, the spokesperson for the annual Dressember fundraiser at Living Word.
Participation in Dressember involves choosing to wear a dress, a tie, or other formal clothing every day—or a set of specific days, such as weekends or certain days of each week—in December. Setting up a fundraiser for the Dressember Foundation while participating is also easy to do through the Dressember website, a church, or a place of employment.
A heavy issue
Human trafficking—defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a crime which “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act”—affects more than 40 million people worldwide, 1 in 4 of whom are children, according to the Dressember Foundation. It’s an issue Living Word Church was learning about and fighting against before they discovered the foundation.
“Normally our church does something called Freedom Sunday, which is a Sunday to bring awareness about human trafficking from International Justice Mission,” Jansma said. “Three years ago, the idea of Dressember was proposed as a tangible thing to actually do in the face of such a heavy and hard issue. …It was like, ‘Okay, we learned about this in September, and by December we can at least do something that can bring awareness to it if nothing else.”
A conversation starter
It might feel strange or even uncomfortable to dress up every day for a month, especially when millions of people are working from home and going out much less in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Jansma believes that could make Dressember participation a more obvious conversation starter.
“People might notice that you’re normally more in comfy clothes…and bring that conversation into being,” Jansma said. “I work in a hospital where business casual is the norm, so people might not notice if I’m wearing a dress or not. Sometimes that’s a bummer, but then I focus more on our church’s participation and remind myself that it’s more of a sacrifice of freedom. I have a million choices throughout the day, and this one choice I don’t have helps me remember I’m standing in solidarity.”
A way to have an impact
Jansma said Living Word Church raised between $1,000 and $1,500 for the Dressember Foundation in December 2018 and 2019, with about 10 church members starting fundraisers and another 20 participating through donations and dressing the part. Since the church still has in-person services as of the end of November, Jansma hopes the participation will be the same or greater this year.
“There’s a recognition that this year has been hard on everyone, so donating might be difficult,” Jansma said. “So this might be the year to do something with it that you haven’t before. And we know you might be swapping out a dress or a tie for what might be pajamas when you’re working from home or on Zoom, so dressing up might be making that difference for yourself every day.”
Jansma also knows Dressember isn’t the only way to have an impact on the issue of human trafficking.
“I know that it’s overwhelming for people to learn about issues like this, and the idea of being an advocate can sound overwhelming, …but I think it starts with us being aware of this issue and of our consumption as people,” Jansma said. “Trying to thrift shop, buy local, repurpose things. Putting little steps into action. If we decrease our need, it decreases the need for there to even be a system of forced labor and the things that contribute to that. The biggest thing is learning about it, and then taking little steps in what affects our day-to-day.”
Jansma hopes by spreading the word about Dressember to the community, a difference might be made. And she wants people to know it might not be as daunting a commitment as it seems.
“Sometimes people say, ‘I don’t have 31 dresses,’ but you can have one dress and wear it every single day,” Jansma said. “You can wear it differently or the exact same. And if you only have, say, four dresses, you can wear those four in rotation. It might get a little tricky with having to do laundry, but it’s possible.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number is 1-888-373-7888. You can also text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.