Friday, March 8, 2013

Lesson #1: Keep your eyes open to the realities around you.

On Wednesday evening, I had the opportunity to attend "Global, National, Regional, and Local Perspectives on Modern Day Slavery," a parallel session of the 57th CSW held at Lehigh University on the efforts to end human trafficking. This event was moderated by Dr. Rita Jones, the director of the Lehigh Women's Center and had panelists from Free The Slaves, The Department of Justice, the Valley Against Sex Trafficking, and the Center for Public Health of Nigeria. 

Each panelist presented their individual mission against forced labor, modern day slavery, and sex and human trafficking. Most interesting was the Regional Assistant District Attorney's (PA) discussion about the federal laws that protect victims of trafficking. In the United States, a person cannot consent to being trafficked, even if they agree to be brought or smuggled into this country. This protects the trafficked person and maintains them as a victim in the court's eyes. However, this is a recent change to the law.

Also very relevant to the Lehigh University community was the presentation by VAST (The Valley Against Sex Trafficking). VAST is a local NGO that works to helps victims of trafficking here in the Lehigh Valley and to raise awareness about trafficking locally. VAST devotes a lot of their time to raise awareness about local trafficking because many Lehigh Valleyians either haven't heard about this problem or they don't know or believe that is actually happening in their own backyard. 

For me, this was the most important message I took away from the presentation. Many Lehigh students and community members know about modern day slavery and sex trafficking, but tend to either think "it can't happen in my community" or just don't want to acknowledge that the horrors are so close to them. However, if we want to end this illicit, illegal industry, we must make the effort to see it in our own communities, to learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking, forced labor or modern day slavery, and to know who to contact when we see the signs. If we can learn what human trafficking looks like in our own communities and know who to contact when we see it, I think we can do a lot to 'traffic-proof' our communities and signal to traffickers that our communities know what evil they're practicing and it's not welcome here.

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