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Learning about modern slavery and the sex trade

A small group of students gathered in Engineering 027 on Friday afternoon to learn about the issue of human trafficking. Not many people were in attendance, but those who came were engaged and interested in learning how to help.

Melissa Yao of the non-profit group The Samaritan Women gave a lecture on the human trafficking industry including methods that perpetrators use to groom women for the sex trade and the lasting emotional effects on the victims.

The Samaritan Women is a national Christian organization that provides restorative care to survivors of human trafficking. They also work hard toward raising awareness of the issue, preventing trafficking through legislation and advocating for victims.

Yao was obviously passionate about the subject, as she delivered facts which many people were not aware of. She mentioned that many people do not believe that slavery is still an issue today, but it is a $150 billion industry worldwide, second only to the drug industry. She also noted that there are more slaves around the world today than there were during the entirety of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The focus of Yao’s lecture was victims of the sex slave trade. While there is no one type of victim, predators emotionally strip them of their sense of self through coercion, torture, threats and other controlling measures. They also act as loving boyfriends and sometimes impregnate their victims in order to keep an emotional connection to the girls, causing them to be hesitant to leave.

Kia Ramarui, a junior biology major, and Abby Hart, a sophomore majoring in media communications and ancient studies, came to the event for their sorority, Phi Mu, as part of their required service hours. Both women knew that sex trafficking was an issue, but admitted much of the information they had came from television shows like Law and Order SVU.

Ramarui felt that the Phi Mu involvement could make a positive impact.

“It’s powerful to be able to come as our organization because I feel like one of the biggest things about Phi Mu is you are building yourself up and learning to empower each other,” Ramarui said. “It’s a great way to exponentially increase awareness of the issue.”

Hart was especially moved by the lecture because she is from Rhode Island, an area that has a high prostitution rate.

“It’s something everybody knew about and no one talked about or did anything about,” Hart said. “Someone should have said something.”

She emphasized the importance of spreading awareness of sex trafficking and talking about it. She said, “sex is such a taboo topic in America, if you can get over your personal issues of talking about it, it would destigmatize the conversation.”