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Local ties drawn to human trafficking

Kirsten Foot, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington discusses her efforts against human trafficking while visiting Western on Thursday, April 23. // Photo by Jake Tull
Human trafficking is prevalent around the world; and as a recent presentation on Western’s campus showed, it also exists in Washington state. Kirsten Foot, an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington visited Western on Thursday, April 23, to discuss her efforts on collaboration against human trafficking. Human trafficking is defined by Foot as the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of work or service against their will. “[Trafficking] is fundamentally a violation of human rights,” Foot explained. “The right to have agency, and to choose to be free to work, free to play, free to rest or free to sleep. It is a stripping away of those basic human rights.” In the Bellingham area, there are several groups focused on informing people about local human trafficking, including Hope4Justice, the Engedi Refuge and a new on-campus club, the International Justice Mission. The issue of human trafficking is a global problem, but there are not enough resources or money to help the victims in this situation. Aaron Newcomb of Engedi Refuge said his organization needs financial resources, and everyone is encouraged to help contribute. The Engedi refuge house is a safe house for former sex trafficking victims. It houses up to 6 women at a time, and provides a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to help women get their lives together. “Last year in 2014, we had to turn away 61 women,” Newcomb explained. “A majority of them were because we didn’t have enough beds available.” Engedi plans to expand its program to help more victims and include more people in their fight for safety and refuge. These plans include another house, more volunteers and workers and an improved capacity at their learning center. “Nobody was really watching, or cared about these women,” Newcomb said. “The police didn’t really care, it really wasn’t a priority for them to investigate these crimes and seemingly the rest of society was pretty unconcerned.” Foot explained that both women and men can spend days to years locked away somewhere, forced to do work that they have no control over. “Because it is an illegal activity, it is hidden,” Foot lectured. “Because it is so amazingly easy for one person to gain control over somebody else, it can stay hidden for a long time.” Hope4Justice is an anti-trafficking group out of Christ the King Church and works to raise awareness in the Bellingham and Whatcom County. Natasha Bennett, a sophomore at Western, got involved raising awareness in the community, and has been working to start up a new chapter of the International Justice Mission on campus. “My biggest hope, is just to raise awareness on campus and in Bellingham,” Bennett said. “I want to be a voice for those who can’t be heard.” Foot has collected her research into a book, “Collaboration Against Human Trafficking,” that will be available in September 2015.

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