Human trafficking is a major international and local issue, with 2.5 million people involved in it at any given time, according to the United Nations. It is also very common in the United States. According to www.restoredindiana.org, 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of exploitation, and the average age of entry into commercial sex is 12 to 14 years old in the United States.
Nov. 3 to Nov. 7 was Human Trafficking Awareness Week at UIndy, organized by KEYS. KEYS is a registered student organization that works to bring awareness about human trafficking to students. The multiple events during this week, included a trafficking in Indianapolis panel, the stand for freedom booth, the fair trade expo and a documentary film. Sophomore psychology and pre-occupational therapy major Katie Mehrlich, a member of KEYS, was involved with many of the events.
“[I hope students will gain] at least a basic understanding of the problem because a lot of people know that it exists. . . . but think of it as another thing that happens in other countries,” Mehrlich said. “It’s important to know that [human trafficking] happens here, and it happens everywhere.”
The first of the events, the Trafficking in Indianapolis panel, was on Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. Three experts on human trafficking answered questions from both the host and the audience to help inform the public about this issue. They emphasized that no one is really safe from human trafficking and that it does happen on college campuses.
At the Stand for Freedom booth in the atrium on Nov. 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., KEYS members sold $5 bracelets for the cause, took pictures of students posing with human trafficking awareness signs and posted those pictures on Facebook to help raise awareness. Freshman nursing major Monica Randle attended some of the events during Human Trafficking Awareness Week.
“The fact that it actually happens in the United States really surprised me,” Randle said. “[This week] has inspired me to want to help spread the word of human trafficking.”
The Fair Trade Expo, featuring the band, Lasting Hope, took place on Nov. 6 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the atrium. There were many booths selling clothes and jewelry made by rescued girls from Cambodia and Thailand to help fund programs for victims of human trafficking. After the band played the first hour, there was a student speaker and a speaker from Destiny Rescue, an organization that works to save children from human trafficking. The speaker told stories of girls involved in sex trafficking. In one of the stories, a young girl who was asked her name said that she did not have one, that she was just called No. 9.
“The more people that are aware of it [human trafficking], the more people can have a passion to stop it,” Mehrlich said. “A lot of people think that it’s a choice for girls and that they choose it as a profession, but many times that’s not the case.”
The last of the events was on Nov. 7 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. KEYS showed the documentary “Very Young Girls.” This film follows the work of a woman named Rachel Lloyd, a sex trafficking survivor who is now an activist for the cause. She started the organization Girls Educational and Mentoring Services to help victims find a way out of their current situations. The film also takes the audience into the lives of several teenage girls who are sex trafficked.
KEYS members hope that Human Trafficking Awareness Week has raised awareness of this issue and that students can help support those in these situations. More information is available at www.destinyrescue.org or www.restoredindiana.org.