On Saturday Oct. 7, Eastern’s Students Against Human Trafficking (SAHT) club took part in a 5K race called Walk Her Home. Walk Her Home is a nonprofit organization founded by Susan Ingram in response to the problem of human trafficking in Pennsylvania. This was the organization’s first event, and it raised over $40,000 from sponsorships and personal donations. There was a panel of professionals that spoke to the community about trafficking, particularly in Pennsylvania. The panel included a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) victims specialist, the District Attorney of Chester County, a member from homeland security, a representative from Dawn’s Place (a home for trafficking survivors), movie director Debbie Wright who is creating the documentary “From Liberty to Captivity,” and a representative from the Salvation Army’s New Day Drop-in Center. All of these professionals informed the public of the realities of trafficking, the dangers right here in Pennsylvania, and the progress being made to fight back.
Human trafficking is an umbrella term for an illegal economic market where the product is human beings. Adults and children are bought and sold as modern-day slaves for a variety of reasons, including forced labor, forced conscription (acting as soldiers), forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation. The defining factor in human trafficking is that it is forced; people are coerced, manipulated, or kidnapped into the trade. No person who has been trafficked chose this lifestyle or would continue in it if given a way out. Human trafficking exploits the vulnerability of the victims, whether it be because of age, economic status, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or location. It is an international, multi-billion dollar industry that is present in every country, including the United States. Labor trafficking and forced conscription are not usually seen in America, so in America human trafficking has come to be almost synonymous with the sex industry.
Trafficking in the United States is not limited to ‘risky areas,’ but is present in nearly every community, including Radnor Township. Recently, massage parlor Body of Zen in Radnor was shut down because it was a front for a human trafficking operation. King of Prussia mall is one of the largest human trafficking centers in the region, acting as both a hunting ground for victims and a rendezvous location for traffickers. The reality of trafficking rarely resembles how it is portrayed in movies; traffickers use social media and internet forums to find young, unsuspecting adolescents (usually girls) and trick them into a relationship that culminates in the trafficker selling the child on the black market. While people can be sold across country and state lines, a lot of the time victims are held in the same general area from where they are taken, so often they are slaves within a few dozen miles of home.
SAHT decided to get involved with Walk Her Home when Sally Kapner from student development and multiple students reached out about the event. Ingram and Kapner both attend Calvary Chapel of Delaware County, a sponsor for Walk Her Home. Through Kapner, SAHT was able to contact Ingram, and the co-presidents of SAHT, Marcy Andersen and Hannah Johnson, met with Kapner to discuss why human trafficking is relevant to the community. They decided SAHT would partner with Walk Her Home.
As of October, SAHT officially joined the International Justice Mission (IJM) and will be starting a chapter on Eastern University’s campus. This is a major step for the club because through IJM, SAHT will have sponsorship, access to accurate trafficking information, and the opportunity to take part in national events. Some of these events this year are the Freedom Fast, (Nov. 10-11) which is an IJM-sponsored 24-hour fast to raise awareness of domestic trafficking. SAHT/IJM will host more events throughout January, because it is human trafficking awareness month. SAHT will also work with the Salvation Army’s New Day Home, which works with survivors of trafficking while they transition back into daily life. At homecoming, SAHT sold the survivors’ artwork in order to raise funds for future events.
Human trafficking is a very real and scary reality, but it is preventable. It is not an often-talked about subject, and the first step towards addressing an industry that is kept in the shadows is bringing it into the light. Talk about it with friends and family members, and especially vulnerable populations. Notice if a location seems questionable, and look for the signs of a trafficking organization: covered windows, secretive employees, and frightened women. These are not always guarantees that trafficking is occurring, but being knowledgable about the subject and aware of the warning signs will help to keep yourself and others safe.
SAHT meets Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in the KAGE; follow them on Instagram @EUSAHT or email SAHT@eastern.edu.
Sources: Marcy Anderson, Hannah Johnson, Walkherhome.org, Personal experience