Trafficking Victims Share Stories
Kirstie Murr, Tower Staff
April 20, 2012
Filed under News
Amnesty International, College Republicans and College Democrats hosted four speakers who talked about human trafficking on April 11.
About 27 million people are victims of human trafficking. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year according to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2008. Somewhere between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year, according to the State Department Trafficking in Person Report 2004.
Of the four speakers who came on Wednesday, three were Ethiopian women who were victims of human trafficking. The forth speaker, Jamie Welch, works at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a resource and program specialist in the Anti-trafficking Services Program.
Welch said that human trafficking happens everywhere, giving an example of a person who decided to become a foster parent as a cover. He found girls in bus stops and in the streets and used them for prostitution and was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Welch said that the Catholic Church is involved in helping the victims of human trafficking because of its long history of working with the vulnerable and underprivileged populations and its mission to protect human dignity and human rights. The Church participated in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which combats this form of modern slavery. The Catholic Conference has been involved within parishes to figure out how the community can address human trafficking, change its behavior and know the signs beforehand.
“A lot of people compare human trafficking with the domestic violence movement,” Welch said. “Today it’s completely different. We are working on the red flags, the law enforcement responses, to know what questions to ask, what the signs to look for are. It is all about educating yourself, taking that piece of information and having your behavior change.”
Three Ethiopian victims of human trafficking shared their experiences.
The first woman, born in Addis Ababa, was forced to do military service for a year in Eritrea as part of a national service before she was imprisoned and deported. She was abused and subjected to sexual assaults from her supervisor and police officers. One day, as she fetched water outside, she managed to escape and traveled to Sudan.
Through illegal human trafficking, she moved to South Africa. For three years, she worked illegally in South Africa and then moved to South America, where she stayed in Ecuador and then travelled to Colombia for six days on foot, eventually crossing the border into Mexico in an effort to reach the United States. After finally arriving in the U.S., she was captured in Texas, held for 55 days and treated as a criminal. Seeking freedom motivated her to endure all these difficulties.
The second woman was imprisoned three times because of her father’s involvement in Ethiopian politics. She was forced to give documents to political opponents without knowing what the documents contained. The last month of her imprisonment, she was subject to sexual harassments, rape and was forced to do illegal work.
She escaped the first time from prison and tried to go to Sudan by bus, but she had a problem with her paperwork and was deported to Ethiopia where she was imprisoned again for five years. She came to the United States seeking freedom, but she was held captive in California for five days and handcuffed. Then she was sent to Arizona where she was assaulted and tortured.
The third woman has a similar story to the second one. She came to the U.S. through South America and when she arrived, she was imprisoned for 55 days and then sent to Arizona where she was imprisoned for five months.
“Their stories are very powerful,” said Patrick Seed, an exploratory student. “These women had to go through so much. I was completely immerged, and I don’t think I would have had the courage to talk about it.”
“If I were in their shoes, I would have tried to get out with every means,” said Mark Niedziela, politics major, who attended the event because his third cousins were kidnapped and victims of human trafficking for months in Eastern Europe. His cousins are now safe.
For Welch, it is not necessary to be a social worker to fight against human trafficking. Students can work in any government office such as Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor, and the Department of State in order to respond against human trafficking.
“It was amazing and powerful to see these young women. It is better than just looking at mass statistics or movies or documentaries. It actually personalizes the cause,” said Connor Duffy, 20, politics major. “I would have felt helpless and hopeless if I kept trying to get my freedom without success. But these women haven’t. They share their stories, and we should try to do something about it.”
The program also showed a movie trailer called “Call & Response,” first shown to the students. The trailer showed victims of human trafficking and how celebrities, such as Natasha Bedingfield, Matisyahu and Cold War Kids, to name a few, responded to the cause through their music and notoriety.