Nonprofits gather to increase trafficking awareness
Many people consider slavery to be a thing of the past and an unethical American institution that disappeared with the end of the Civil War. But not only does enslavement of all kinds remain among popular markets in the modern era; it is also happening in our home state unbeknownst to thousands of Arkansas residents.
Human trafficking is a contemporary version of slavery that forces individuals into black markets for purposes of prostitution, illegal employment or other forms of exploitation. According to statistics provided by the United Nations, an estimated 2.5 million people from hundreds of countries are forced into the industry at any given time, while a total of 27 million have been in slavery for years. 98 percent of those forced into the sex trade are women, and profits skyrocket into nearly $32 billion per year. Because of its scale, it is widely considered to be the most heinous of crimes against human rights.
In Arkansas, many young women are dragged from their homes and left at truck stops for sex, then continue to shipped along I-40 in the most deplorable and broken of conditions. Louise Allison, the founder of Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH), saw these horrors firsthand.
“We were drugged frequently without our knowledge,” Allison said in an interview with FOX16’s David Goins. “We were put in cars and taken places. We were often transferred from one group of men to another group.”
Allison is one of many anti-trafficking representatives making an appearance at “Stop Human Trafficking Night,” a first-time event being held at UALR on Oct. 18. Others joining her will be members of Rush Hour Traffic, a Conway-based nonprofit founded in 2010 that spreads awareness through public outreach and policy advocacy. According to RHT director Christina Branson, the organization also provides other services to those who have been affected directly by the sex trade.
“We work with legislators to present new legislation in 2013 to get some good laws in the books,” said director Christina Branson. “We [also] currently work with survivors and we provide housing, utilities and other resources they might need.”
In addition to appearances by these organizations, a documentary will be shown. The film, “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” was produced by Exodus Cry, a Christian ministry based in Grandview, Mo. that’s devoted to abolishing human trafficking around the world. “Nefarious” has received over 17 honors since its release in 2011, including Winner for a Feature Documentary Film in New York’s Moondance film festival. Director, producer and writer Benjamin Nolot is one of many crew members who believes the film has made a difference in both national and international arenas.
“Significant strides have been made in the way of awareness and coverage,” Nolot said. “Also, legislative changes have been made in many of the countries where we filmed.”
According to an annual report released in August by Washington, D.C.-based organization Polaris Project, Arkansas is one of the worst states when it comes to human trafficking laws. The state received a rating of 2 (out of 12) based on the strength and amount of laws that have been put into effect. Because of these disheartening numbers, state officials like Attorney General Dustin McDaniel have worked with local and regional nonprofits in an effort to raise awareness and increase prohibitive legislation.
However, outreach events are what prove to be the most helpful. Human trafficking awareness organizations have recruited thousands of volunteers from churches, communities and college campuses, and they help in many ways with donations, care packages and healthcare for victims.
Behind the UALR event is Rachel Hoskins, a student who’s not only interested in human trafficking but devoted to the cause of preventing it – so much that she planned the event.
“I want students to rise up with me and declare what is happening to these girls,” she said. “[To realize it is] evil and then to DO something about it!”
Hoskins is also encouraging people in Central Arkansas to get involved in the cause through a variety of means.
“That is why we invited them to come in the first place was for people to watch the movie and right after it fight out ways to get involved to stop this problem,” she said. “I know that there are internships either at these places or in other places all over America, donations are always needed to help support and bring in girls and lastly for the Christians in the area. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the world! You can change so much through just praying! But I really recommend people to come to the event to ask more specific ways they can get involved. Each organization will have a booth with more information about that.”
But the ultimate goal, according to Rush Hour Traffic, is simple: “Only together we can stop this injustice – one life at a time.”
UALR’s first “Stop Human Trafficking” event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Donaghey Student Center (Ledbetter Hall A) on Thursday, Oct. 18.