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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Students organize against human trafficking

Think back to what you were doing at 18 years old.

A report compiled in 2016 from the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline listed 18 as the average age of U.S. survivors’ forced introduction to the multi-billion dollar sex trafficking industry. According to the report, these numbers came from 1,164 cases in 2016 in which survivors chose to disclose age information.

Senior exchange student Toma Moran, who previously lived in Ireland and France, has been working with classmates to spread awareness as part of a Human Trafficking and Smuggling course. Taught by professor Babafemi Akinrinade, the class was offered for the first time this quarter to Fairhaven and International Studies students. Akinrinade said in an email that the students have taken off with their campus awareness campaign.

“Awareness is key,” Moran said. “That’s why this movie is so important, because if you raise the awareness of the people in an area, then they in turn will start to see [signs of trafficking], because it is more present than we actually realize.”

Students enrolled in the Human Trafficking and Smuggling class provided information on trafficking Tuesday, May 23, and Thursday, May 25, with signs and a booth set up in Red Square, and will be continuing next Thursday, June 1. That evening they will also hold a screening of Tim Matsui’s film “The Long Night.” Moran said the film is a documentary that follows the lives of several people affected by child sex trafficking in Seattle. He hopes this will help people understand how this problem hits close to home, which he and his classmates see as a first step in fighting trafficking.

“I learned this is a global issue that impacts every state in the U.S., that prostitution is not the only reason people are trafficked, and that nearly anyone can be vulnerable to trafficking.”

Katrina James, sophomore

Human trafficking is a global enterprise comprised of child and adult sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and child soldiers, according to the 2016 United States Advisory Council’s annual report on Human Trafficking. These individuals, whether children or adults, are coerced by financial, physical, psychological or other means into servitude, whether sexual or labor-related.

Moran’s father, Michael Moran, serves as assistant director of vulnerable communities for INTERPOL, an international policing agency made up of 190 countries, according to its website. He has worked extensively with anti-trafficking efforts, especially in regard to children, and is going to hold a meeting with the class on Wednesday via Skype. Despite his father’s background in the field, Moran said much of his knowledge on the subject of trafficking came from Akinrinade’s class.

Though there had already been a class on sex trafficking offered at Western, Akinrinade delves into all areas of trafficking in his course. He said they begin to understand the depth and complexity of the issue by examining situations in a wide array of countries, and by looking at strategies used by traffickers/smugglers, as well as those trying to craft policies and legislation to stop them.

Sophomore Katrina James, who helped organize the screening of “The Long Night,” said in an email that her knowledge on the subject of trafficking has grown immensely through taking Akinrinade’s class.

“I thought it was a bigger international problem, rather than a domestic one,” James said. “I learned this is a global issue that impacts every state in the U.S., that prostitution is not the only reason people are trafficked, and that nearly anyone can be vulnerable to trafficking.”

Akinrinade echoed the need for awareness, saying most victims don’t belong to the dominant power structure, so unless large amounts of people die in the public eye, it remains easy for more developed countries to ignore. In the U.S., he said the problem of trafficking is slightly different, and has much to do with class separation.

“As with every issue affecting those not identified as the middle-upper class, the issue is barely spoken about,” Akinrinade said. “If we manage to speak about it, it is in a patronizing way that makes it easy for society to ignore.”

He also described the challenges for those being victimized by sex and labor trafficking in reporting to officials. Forced laborers can be threatened with deportation by their traffickers or smugglers, and victims of sexual coercion are often afraid of being prosecuted themselves instead of their pimps or buyers, Akinrinade said. Washington is helping to lead the way with legislation prioritizing the prosecution of the handlers and buyers and providing rehab to survivors, but he said there is still much to be done.

The screening will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 1, in the Communications Facility room 115. Moran said students will hold a Q&A after the film about issues regarding trafficking. Everyone is encouraged to participate, no matter what questions or opinions they may have.

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