“Sometimes life presents an ‘ask’, rather a ‘question.’ Sometimes it’s an ask to help, or an ask to take a stand for what is right. And sometimes life brings you an opportunity to be a part of the change that is needed in the world. I was confronted with this ‘ask’ and presented with this ‘opportunity’ and I decided to say yes; I didn’t know how or what, but I knew I was willing. This is the first step to seeing change.” – Shae Invidiata, Founder
In 2003, at the age of 18 Shae Invidiata moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, to pursue her university education in Advertising. Little did Invidiata know back then that in 2010 she would found an anti-human trafficking organization called [free-them].
Invidiata attended Hawaii Pacific University in the heart of Honolulu, and 15 minutes out in Waikiki the Ohana Surf Rider hotel was home to hundreds of students. Half of the hotel operated as the dormitory, and the other half operated as a hotel. Waikiki, famous amongst the 4.5 million tourists that annually come to the island of Oahu, meaning “the gathering place” in Hawaiian. With 69 beaches to explore, 23 State parks to visit, incredible history to honour, and a climate that rarely drops below twenty-three degrees Celsius (seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit), the island of Oahu is truly paradise. But it didn’t take long for Invidiata to discover the dark side of Hawaii, and it all started on her own street which Invidiata learned was also known as “candy lane.” At night Kuhio Avenue would turn into a different place, everywhere you looked there were ‘prostitutes’ and ‘hookers’, and yet you would see families with their children walking about, and police officers everywhere standing on the sidewalk watching. “Daily I would see these ‘girls’ on the streets, coming home from night classes, going out to dinner, or coming home late at night or waking up early for a morning surf and still see these girls there….girls, younger than me, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and some older than me, but the majority seemed to be between 16-19 years old, ” says Invidiata.
At the time Invidiata wanted to understand why a young woman would ‘want’ to be in this industry, why a girl would ‘choose’ this lifestyle. Leaving any predisposition aside on her viewpoints of prostitution, Invidiata began to reach out and be present with these girls. What she discovered over a two year period would change her world forever. Invidiata explains, “What I started to realize is that the word ‘prostitute’ that we equate so much with “choice” is widely misrepresented and the more accurate word to be using is ‘prostituted’, and shortly thereafter I learnt the word ‘human trafficking’ and my world was shattered.”
Through these girls Invidiata began to learn their stories of false promises, fake boyfriends, being coerced, lured, and the fear and realities that prohibited them from being able to leave or escape. This was slavery, in the modern century. Invidiata recalls, “I couldn’t believe that slavery was happening in today’s age, and to learn that human trafficking was the fast growing crime on our planet. And more so, I couldn’t believe that no one was talking about this – where was our world on this injustice? I then began to see every girl differently, and if it was me, I would be praying that someone would come to my rescue, I would be praying that someone would see me as a victim that needs help to get out.” It was this reality that prompted Invidiata to decide to ‘do something’, at the time not knowing what, but she knew that she needed to make people aware of the dark secret of human trafficking.
In 2006 Invidiata moved off the island of Oahu to live in Vancouver, Canada and Sydney, Australia to finish her university education. During these 3 years, the issue of human trafficking kept following Invidiata, “I began to see situations completely different and I started to question what I was seeing, once you know the signs of human trafficking, you begin to see red flags where you once just thought that was a weird or negative situation.” After meeting with different organizations and doing much research on what was taking please with government and organizations in these cities and countries around Invidiata concluded that there was a gap. The awareness and education still lacked that made citizens aware that human trafficking was happening in their own country. “You cannot fight something that you are not aware exisits, and further, a donor will not give money to something that you don’t understand or even know what the problem is.”
In January 2010, Invidiata founded [free-them]; an initiative dedicated to raising awareness and funds to abolish human trafficking in Canada and abroad by partnering with people, organizations, & businesses to fight human trafficking – slavery today.