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Students stand in protest of human trafficking along I-5

Alumnus Jonathon Lytle and junior Natasha Bennett stand with a linked chain during "Stand4Freedom" Wednesday, April 13. // Photo by Connor Jalbert
Alumnus Jonathon Lytle and junior Natasha Bennett stand with a linked chain during “Stand4Freedom” Wednesday, April 13. // Photo by Connor Jalbert

Stand4Freedom, an event put on by Western’s chapter of the International Justice Mission, was part of a bigger picture in regards to demonstrating a commitment to fighting human trafficking — specifically labor and sex trafficking in Whatcom County.

When asked about trafficking in Whatcom county, club president and co-founder Natasha Bennett said the majority of those trafficked are minors who are homeless or runaways and the process is intentionally slow in order to dehumanize the victim.

Bennett said victims are often approached by the trafficker with empty promises of housing and other amenities. After trust is built they are forced to repay these debts by performing sexual favors. For this reason, Bennett said awareness and fearlessness in speaking out against trafficking is key in fighting it.

“Our purpose is to be the voice for those who can’t be heard,” Bennett said. “The best thing you can do is collaborate with people and to say that this isn’t OK.”

Senior Kesia Lee, the club’s co-founder and social media coordinator, said the dehumanization of people being trafficked makes this issue something people can actively protest and disagree with.

“Something that really appeals to me about this issue is that it’s very black and white,” Lee said. “Human trafficking is wrong. And it’s a global issue that I think everyone can agree with.”

Lee has been involved with IJM since she was 12 years old, and is studying visual journalism in hopes of doing public relations work for IJM or another human trafficking organization.

The issue of trafficked youth is prevalent throughout the United States according to the Youth & Shelter Services Inc.

Junior participant Kaiti Dewhirst said the issue of trafficking was important because it happens everywhere, and happened to know someone who was a victim for a short period of time.

“I think understanding a little of the pain that person had to go through makes it unimaginable to think of what it would be like on a long term basis,” Dewhirst said.

The event was part of IJM’s national campaign calling for students on college campuses around the world to stand for 24 hours to raise awareness for human trafficking.

In preparation for the event, the club had students volunteer for 30-minute shifts to hold signs reading “Ask me why I stand,” as well as “Where will you stand tomorrow?”

Students were also encouraged to write their own definitions of justice on strips of construction paper, which participants linked together to form a chain to represent the idea of bondage associated with human trafficking, Lee said.

Western’s event went for 28 hours starting at 12 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, and ending at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 14.

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