Student advocates help in the fight against trafficking.
Four students involved in human trafficking prevention groups make waves. | Photo Illustraton by Jessica Goddard / THE CHIMES
January 2018 was proclaimed as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. However, many Biolans started awareness campaigns and advocacy for human trafficking prevention prior to the new year and will continue to do so for the rest of the semester.
Last semester, one may have noticed female students wearing dresses for the whole month of December with a white button that said “Dressember.” Or, maybe a friend posted on social media about their Dressember campaign and how much money she raised to combat human trafficking. One of these advocates includes junior anthropology major and 2017-18 community engagement Dressember intern Alissa Shepardson.
Consequently, Shepardson spread awareness through the communities she is involved in, whether that was her floormates, classmates, co-workers or her communities in her hometown. Over winter break, she shared about human trafficking prevention with a local Kiwanis group and even had a Dressember team member published in her local newspaper.
“The goal is to spread awareness and raise funds to combat human trafficking, so it’s a more light-hearted way to engage such a dark truth of our world by being able to wear a dress and wave a flag for people who can’t,” Shepardson said. “Our ultimate goal is to hopefully end modern day slavery.”
The fundraising proceeds from over 3,000 Dressember advocates go to organizations like International Justice Mission and A21, who work with and for those who have been trafficked. Although the month of December has passed, Dressember’s campaign pages remain up, and the organization does sustainable fashion work year round.
A21: “Reach, Rescue and Restore”
Most know A21 through their annual Walk for Freedom, but that is only a small part of the organization’s awareness efforts. In fact, they do much more. A21’s mission is to reach, rescue and restore those who have been trafficked. This could look like education and advocacy, working with law enforcement to spot signs of trafficking and providing victims with medical assistance and jobs.
Senior sociology major Angel Gudeman volunteers for A21 working in supporter relations with fundraisers and believes in the importance of anti-human trafficking efforts like A21.
“Anti-trafficking efforts are really important, because it's such a huge problem that you need tons of people working towards it to create systems in society that will eventually make it so that we don’t have trafficking at all,” Gudeman said. “That’s what these organizations are trying to do is to eradicate slavery, but you need anti-trafficking initiatives and stuff like that to change culture and change the way our laws are made … They’re really important.”
Gudeman encourages people to get involved by donating to organizations or by educating themselves on the topic.
Getting involved by breaking chains
Another way to get involved is by joining or attending an event put on by Biola’s anti-human trafficking group, Breaking Chains. The club will host multiple events throughout the semester. Their first event on Feb. 3 includes going to the mall to spread awareness and observe possible red flags of human trafficking. After this first event, they will continue to cultivate awareness through other events such as a film panel and bringing back Awake My Soul, an art symposium that cultivates awareness.
“I think until all that's happening in the dark is brought to the light for more than a just a few people, real change can’t really happen. Everyone can do something, which sounds really cliche, but it’s true,” said Avarie Wilson, vice president of Breaking Chains and freshman psychology major.
Club president and junior music performance major Alyssa Miller believes that social justice such as human trafficking is part of the Christian mandate and mission statement of Biola.
“We claim to be a school that is equipping men and women to impact the world for Jesus Christ,” Miller said. “We need to be that and equip people to actually speak for the vulnerable and be a voice for the voiceless.”
The month of January now recognizes a great cause for advocacy and dark truth in America. However, prevention awareness will continue due to students and advocates who want to end modern day slavery.