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IJM Celebrates 25 Years of Progress and the Heroes Who Make It Possible



That figure isn’t a salary or mileage on a car; it tells a story earth-shatteringly more profound.

Since beginning in 1997, International Justice Mission (IJM) has worked with partners around the world to see over 76,000 people—unique individuals with stories of heartache and joy—rescued from slavery and everyday violence to embark on journeys of freedom and restoration.

Zoom out, though, to behold another breathtaking number: 7.3 million.

That’s the number of people who are vulnerable no more, because their local justice systems are now actively protecting them from the everyday violence they once faced. And with your help, this is just the beginning.

Twenty-five years ago, Gary Haugen founded IJM with a bold mission: to end slavery in our lifetime. That goal kickstarted a global movement to defend and protect people in poverty from violence—whether sex trafficking, online sexual exploitation of children, labour trafficking, land theft, domestic violence or other forms of injustice.

Daring to Believe in a Safer Future

In the 1990s, Gary was a leading human rights lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice. After investigating some of the world’s worst human rights abuses, including leading the U.N. investigation into the Rwandan genocide, Gary noticed a disturbing pattern: the world’s poorest people experienced relentless daily violence because their justice systems could not protect them. He was told it would never change, but Gary dared to believe it could. Working out of the guest bedroom of his small townhouse, he launched IJM with a starting goal of taking on five legal cases of abuse and oppression referred by international humanitarian organizations. However, by the end of that first year, he had taken on 20 cases—four times the amount he expected.

Within just a couple of years, CBS’ “60 Minutes” highlighted IJM’s anti-slavery and rescue work in India. As IJM formed strong partnerships with local authorities, more successful rescue operations took place, hundreds were brought into safety and freedom, and the world began to take notice of the global problem of violence and human trafficking.

Soon after, in 2000, IJM opened three field offices in the Philippines, Thailand and India to help rescue and protect women and children from sexual violence and trafficking. Soon after, offices in Chennai and Kenya opened. Before long, the work expanded even further into countries like Uganda and Cambodia. Justice was in demand on a global scale.

In 2003, IJM gained worldwide attention for their first rescue in Cambodia. Thirty-seven girls, ranging from just three to 10 years old, were rescued from a brothel on the edge of the capital, Phnom Penh. An office was opened in-country the following year, and over the next couple of years IJM trained hundreds of Cambodian officials, police officers, lawyers and judges to combat the rampant human trafficking crisis. Amazingly, within a few years, their justice system was overhauled so dramatically that there was a 73% reduction in sex trafficking of minors, according to a 2015 study conducted by IJM.

Systemic change was taking place, and significant rescues and arrests were also happening in other countries.

More Than Rescue, It’s About Protection

IJM’s mission goes beyond rescue and aims to prevent violence and injustice from happening in the first place. As a model was developed of how to build lasting protection for vulnerable communities, it has been proven effective and gained credibility internationally.

In 2010, IJM launched a 3-year project funded by the Gates Foundation to reduce the number of children sold for sex in one Filipino metro area. The goal was a 20% reduction, but actual results were astounding: external auditors found a 79% reduction where IJM was present. This was the first clear-cut, externally validated data which demonstrated that IJM’s model works.

Because of You, Justice Is Becoming Unstoppable

As justice systems are transformed, IJM sees a future within reach where half a billion people are protected from the everyday threat of violence. This became evident when, despite most of the world being shut down because of COVID-19, the work of protection and justice never stopped. It didn’t even slow down.

In 2020, after years of training and partnership in India, the local government is increasingly equipped to find and rescue victims of forced labour. In one instance, local authorities exposed a network of migrant workers being held in captivity at a brick kiln. Acting quickly, they were able to free 7,000 victims of forced labour within two days.

In 2021, after IJM advocacy efforts, the Dominican Republic—a nation with the highest rate of child marriage in Latin America—passed a bill that eliminated the legal grounds for child marriage. As a result, an entire generation of girls is now safer than they have ever been.

All around the world millions of people are safer today because, together, we dared to believe that it could be. And because you were willing to fight with us to make it happen. Thank you for being one of the many heroes who helped make justice unstoppable over the last 25 years. We look forward to the next 25 and beyond—until all are free.

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