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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Activists gather to combat modern-day slavery

Activists, students, professors and community members from across the country attended Tucson’s first-ever regional abolition conference on Saturday to network, learn and confront the issue of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is the “recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. A simpler definition is forcing someone, whether by physical force, manipulation, threats or other methods, to engage in any type of work against his or her will. Many of the activists at Saturday’s conference defined human trafficking as modern-day slavery.

Experts and anti-trafficking organizations estimate that 27 million men, women and children are enslaved worldwide. Human trafficking is a $31 billion industry, and two million children are exploited in the sex trade alone.

“It’s a really big problem that a lot of people in the United States know very little about, so our goal is to make more and more regular citizens aware that the problem exists right here in Southern Arizona and it exists around the entire globe,” said Karna Walter, director of nationally competitive scholarships at the Honors College and chair of Southern Arizona Against Slavery. “Then hopefully education and awareness lead to action and combating the problem.”

The Abolition Conference addressed human trafficking on a global, national and local level. Keynote speakers included Kaign Christy of International Justice Mission, Bradley Myles of the Polaris Project and Linda Smith of Shared Hope International.

Between each keynote address, the audience attended smaller sessions that featured speakers from Southern Arizona Against Slavery, Streetlight Tucson, the Phoenix police vice squad and the ASSET India Foundation, among many others.

Christy began the conference by addressing the importance of functioning public justice systems in fighting human trafficking. According to Christy, more than half the world’s population lives in a place where the legal system is corrupt, poorly structured or virtually nonexistent.

“Broken public justice systems are like hospitals that make people sick,” he said.

Fixing these systems is key to bringing security to victims of human trafficking, he added.

Myles, founder of the Polaris Project, an organization that combats human trafficking and operates a national trafficking hotline, outlined the challenges facing the anti-trafficking movement, including a lack of awareness among citizens and a lack of training among law enforcement. Widespread denial that slavery even exists, he said, is one of the largest obstacles.

The anti-trafficking movement started gaining momentum around the year 2000 with the advent of the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, or the Palermo Protocol.

Each year, the U.S. Department of State issues the Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks countries worldwide on their efforts to combat human trafficking. In the 2010 report, 22 countries improved their rankings. Nineteen countries, however, were downgraded due to “sparse victim protections, desultory implementation or inadequate legal structures.”

As the anti-trafficking movement grows, community organizations are joining the fight. One session at the conference featured representatives from three student groups at the UA that are addressing human trafficking: the UA chapter of International Justice Mission, the UA New Abolitionists and the Honors Civic Engagement Team with Southern Arizona Against Slavery.

These groups work to raise awareness among the student population, fundraise for the anti-trafficking organizations and host events to help connect students to the issue.

“Students hear about (human trafficking) but they don’t know what they can do,” said Morgan Van Stelle, a social services junior and member of the campus chapter of International Justice Mission.

Sarah Hutchison, an elementary education junior, said she attended the conference to learn more about how she can participate in the effort to combat human trafficking. The issue cannot be ignored, she said.

“People’s lives are at stake, ultimately,” Hutchison said. “But at the same time, our morals are at stake. This is an entire supply and demand industry … it’s flourishing because of the fact that people are wanting it, and that’s awful to think that that’s kind of where our culture is right now.”

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