Students stand for 27 hours to raise human trafficking awareness
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Holding signs, garnering interest from onlookers and standing in a replica jail cell, student demonstrators could be seen Thursday and Friday accepting donations and signatures in an effort to bring attention the global issue of human trafficking.
The students stood in solidarity on The Green for a total of 27 hours between the two days in an effort to raise awareness for the estimated 27 million victims of human tracking throughout the world. The event, called Stand for Freedom, was held by the university’s International Justice Mission chapter, and lasted from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. The chapter brought in an estimated 500 signatures.
The International Justice Mission is a global organization based in Washington D.C. with offices in countries such as India, Kenya and Guatemala. Founded in 1997, IJM has a history of confronting human violence and injustices, with a narrow focus on bringing human trafficking into the scope of prominent world issues.
The event drew some outside organizations’ attention and participants from the Baptist Student Ministry in Mississippi stood with the students on Thursday.
“We flew here for our spring break mission trip to visit and to serve,” member Louis Zinc said. “The BSM supports our effort to do something that’s greater than ourselves.”
Worldwide, a goal of 1,000 signatures and $2,700 was set by IJM for its chapters during Stand for Freedom. While the university chapter did not meet the goals, sophomore and IJM President Jocelyn Moore said the group was more than happy with its progress, being a new, relatively unknown chapter.
Last year’s Stand for Freedom brought in 73,000 signatures and attracted a response from President Barack Obama. As of Thursday night, the IJM reported a total of 20,000 signatures, with many more being expected.
Moore founded the chapter after attending a conference about human trafficking in Atlanta last year, she said, where she decided she wanted to become more involved and began looking for an organization that combated human trafficking.
“[Stand for Freedom is] very easy to reach,” Moore said. “They’re based in D.C., so they’re close, and they provide a lot of resources.”
Human trafficking is most commonly divided into two categories, with numerous subcategories under each, political science and international relations professor Jennifer Lobasz said. The first is sex trafficking and includes prostitution, mail-order marriages and pornography. The second is labor trafficking and can include domestic servitude, agricultural work and factory work. Often, both groups face sexual abuse, she said.
Trafficking itself is hard to define, Lobasz said, with a lot of controversy surrounding its terminology. A minority of people in the field believe trafficking is carried out by transnational crime syndicates, while the majority believes the perpetrators are much smaller organizations, Lobasz said.
“Some trafficking is in ad hoc individual arrangements,” Lobasz said. “This is most prevalent on the Indian subcontinent and the slavery is much more personal. A slave owner could have a few generations enslaved.”
Though Lobasz said it is impossible to say whether anti-trafficking activism has had an impact, more energy has been devoted to the issue over the past 15 years.
Because of the public’s activity on the issue, there has been a recent wave of anti-trafficking legislation, with protocols and bills being passed in the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. In the United States, the Traffic Victims Protection Act recently passed as an add-on to the Violence Against Women Act.
A women and gender studies course called Gender and Human Trafficking, taught by Lobasz, focuses on trafficking as a global issue, she said. Additionally, Lobasz is the faculty advisor to the university chapter of IJM.
“I wish I knew why slavery was still a problem,” Lobasz said. “Humans have the amazing capacity to ignore the exploitation of others. But there is also the capacity for empathy and action on behalf of others, so we constantly see those two sides fighting.”
Even after the Civil War, slavery never really disappeared from the United States, Lobasz said. There were still instances of people being enslaved—a trend that continues today, she said.
The distinction between legitimate migrant workers and labor trafficking is a fuzzy one and can be one that is resisted entirely, Lobasz said. Trafficking also does not always involve transportation over borders, she said, as someone forced into prostitution in his or her hometown still counts as trafficked.
Freedom from human trafficking should be something guaranteed to everyone, Moore said. She was motivated to join the group so she could educate others on human trafficking, increase awareness and put forth an effort to get freedom to those who need it.
“For us to pretend trafficking isn’t happening is an injustice,” Moore said.
Sophomore Leah Vega, secretary of IJM, became involved in the group after meeting Moore last year. The statistics he shared alarmed her and gave her a reason to join, Moore said.
As an elementary education major, Vega said her time spent with children has caused her to be more emotionally invested in this movement. Because children are being raped and sold into slavery, Vega said she felt as though she had to take action.
“We hope that people realize trafficking is happening,” Vega said. “A lot of people thought slavery was abolished. Now we have the power to do something and use our power to fix this.”