The human trafficking industry brings in approximately $32 billion per year by exploiting humans, mostly women and children, for labor, sex and war.
According to Jesse Eaves, child protection policy adviser for World Vision, this makes it the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world, and with 1.2 million children forced into the industry every year, it’s rapidly growing.
From April 4 through 8, Columbia served as home to the Human Wrong Campaign, a nationwide movement shedding light on the issue. The college’s student group InterVarsity Christian Fellowship led the campaign and hosted a series of events, including a documentary showing and gallery opening, focused around human trafficking and child slavery.
“We want to motivate people from just caring to actually doing something about it,” said Elspeth Ryan, senior theater major and president of Columbia’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “When we are confronted with these issues, all we can do is act.”
According to Eaves, what makes modern day slavery unique is that the children are rarely held captive by chains or physical force.
“The slaves today are kept in place by something much greater, and that is the fear of violence, fear of threats, fear of the unknown [and] the fear of becoming even more vulnerable,” Eaves said.
The Human Wrong Campaign is a way for college campuses to get involved in eliminating human trafficking. Eaves, whose organization focuses on building strength in impoverished areas of the world, spoke to Columbia students about the facts and severity of the issue on April 6 at Stage Two, in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building. Steve Sudworth, pastor at Church in the City, 2009 W. Schiller St., also spoke on the human trafficking problem.
“No matter the culture or the context, people, communities or governments try to solve problems they encounter by medicating the symptoms rather than dealing with the root cause,” Sudworth said. “But the root cause is common to man no matter where you are in the world.”
One of the week’s main events was the worldwide premiere of the “See It Our Way” exhibit, showing the artwork of children from Pakistan, Armenia and Lebanon on April 4. In these areas, children are at high risk for trafficking and exploitation. The photographs were provided by PhotoVoice, a charitable organization that gives disadvantaged communities cameras to express and capture their lives through photography.
“When you’re faced with social injustice, you think you may need to become a politician or policy maker to make a difference,” Ryan said. “The gallery is an example of how art can contribute to [improving] the entire process.”
The day also served as host to an eye-catching demonstration by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship where a member was chained to a desk in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave. The event was supposed to catch students off guard and create a conversation opportunity where students could be enlightened on the situation, Ryan said.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was initially passed in 2000 and needs to be updated every three years.
Eaves said making sure the act is renewed is critical to continuing the battle against human trafficking in the U.S. Convincing students to get involved in the political aspect was one of the main initiatives of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for the week, Ryan added.
He emphasized that although child slavery is a large topic to tackle, any small contribution brings the effort closer to solving it and reducing numbers.
He also urged students to take their voices to the government, namely the Illinois Senate.
“We hear the stories and we hear the numbers, and we just sit there and do nothing,” Eaves said. “It’s time to act.”