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ven Jiminy Cricket could re­ceive a run for his money from Marisol Ni­chols when it comes to what the Riverdale ac­tor has learnt about hav­ing a con­science. Dur­ing her decade of hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy,“tons” of har­row­ing sto­ries about traf­fick­ing and slav­ery have pricked at hers. One has stuck with her the most.

“There were two cousins in Amer­ica who were both taken. They were traf­ficked from ho­tel room to ho­tel room all around the United States, be­ing ad­ver­tised on­line. And these two young girls… the traf­fick­ers would beat one or the other to use them against each other,” Ni­chols tells Stel­lar.

“A cus­tomer met up with one of the girls right af­ter she had wit­nessed her cousin al­most beaten to death. Be­lieve it or not, the cus­tomer was ac­tu­ally the one to call the po­lice. Some­where in him, even though he was queu­ing up to have sex with a kid, a 16-year-old, he had a con­science.”

Ni­chols is hop­ing the whole world will let their con­science be their guide when it comes to hu­man traf­fick­ing and mod­ern day slav­ery. The 44-year-old is the founder of the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Foun­da­tion For A Slav­ery Free World, which aims to erad­i­cate all forms of slav­ery world­wide, be it adult or child sex slav­ery, slave labour or debt bondage. Armed with the knowl­edge that an es­ti­mated 35.8 mil­lion peo­ple are trapped in slav­ery, Ni­chols is de­ter­mined to shine a light on these is­sues, and she’s not afraid to get in­ti­mately in­volved – she once even went un­der­cover with the po­lice as a mother sell­ing her chil­dren to trap pae­dophiles.

“There’s more slav­ery to­day than there ever was dur­ing the slave trade in the 1800s. It’s a huge is­sue and un­for­tu­nately not a lot of peo­ple are aware of it,” she says. “If peo­ple ac­tu­ally knew what was go­ing on, there’d be ri­ots, speeches, protests and de­mands for change. One of my pur­poses is to help peo­ple be­come ad­vo­cates as well, so they can join the fight.”

Part of the fight, Ni­chols says, means first of all pro­tect­ing our kids. “Women and chil­dren are the main peo­ple be­ing abused. So we must teach kids how to be safe. Pro­tect your fam­ily,” the ac­tor stresses. “Af­ter that, it’s rais­ing aware­ness, get­ting other peo­ple in­volved. There are so many non-profit anti-traf­fick­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions out there. They need money and help and sup­port. It’ll take a lot of shoul­ders to make a dent in this is­sue, but hope­fully we can fi­nally put an end to it.”

Ni­chols, who was born and raised in Chicago, ad­mits she had a “rough child­hood”. She was ex­per­i­ment­ing with drugs be­fore she was even in high school, but her love of act­ing forged a new, bet­ter path for her in col­lege. Parts in Cold Case, 24 and NCIS fol­lowed, be­fore Ni­chols landed her cur­rent role as Hermione Lodge in hit Net­flix se­ries Riverdale, which is loosely based on the Archie comics (Sea­son 3 starts next month).

For­tu­itously enough, one of Ni­chols’s first act­ing roles was in Bev­erly Hills, 90210 in 1996, where she “very briefly” met Luke Perry, who played bad boy Dy­lan Mckay. Twenty-two years later and the pair are star­ring to­gether in Riverdale. Ni­chols says act­ing op­po­site one-time teen idol Perry is “a plea­sure. I love work­ing with him. He’s very gen­uine and a re­ally good guy.”

Be­ing of Ro­ma­nian-hun­gar­ian and Mex­i­can de­scent, Ni­chols says it was ini­tially dif­fi­cult to find work. “When I started out, I had to be as white as pos­si­ble if I wanted to work at all,” she

re­calls. “Nowa­days I have friends who are white with blonde hair and they can’t au­di­tion for cer­tain roles be­cause they want peo­ple of colour. So [the in­dus­try] has com­pletely changed. It’s more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the au­di­ence. I re­ally, re­ally like that.”

She also re­ally likes play­ing the vil­lain. “It’s so much fun. I en­joyed play­ing the good guy the first sea­son, too. But I think [Hermione] wouldn’t get to where she is by be­ing com­pletely clean-cut all the time.”

For now, Ni­chols is happy to keep caus­ing trou­ble on Riverdale and to work hard on erad­i­cat­ing slav­ery through her foun­da­tion. She cred­its her daugh­ter Rain In­dia, who turns 10 next week, for giv­ing her the strength and em­pa­thy to do the work she does.

“As a mum, as a sis­ter, as a woman, it’s some­thing we have to do. We’re es­sen­tially al­low­ing this to hap­pen to our chil­dren, who are go­ing to raise the next gen­er­a­tion,” she says. “I know peo­ple don’t want to hear about these hor­ri­ble things. But once peo­ple do hear about it, we can do some­thing about it. I want us to one day say, ‘Re­mem­ber when [slav­ery] was go­ing on? Thank god it’s over.’

“We have to stop it,” Ni­chols says with force. “We have to.” Marisol Ni­chols is the founder of Foun­da­tion For A Slav­ery Free World; slav­eryfree­world.org.

By Sher­ine Youssef

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