University of Montana Mansfield Center Conference on Human Trafficking: “Fight for Hope & Freedom – Human Trafficking, Montana and the World”
April 16th and 17th at the University Center – FREE ADMISSION
Human Trafficking is modern day slavery exploiting an estimated 30 million people worldwide. More people are living in slavery now than at any other given point in history! Human Trafficking is a high-profit, low-risk crime and the fastest growing industry in the world after the drug trade. Trafficking is no longer a crime that happens only in the brothels of Thailand and other South-East Asian countries. In fact, it has become one of the most serious human rights and social justice issues of our time, impacting foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike. However, many people believe that labor and sex trafficking doesn’t happen in North America and especially not in Montana – we only see what our eyes are trained to see, right? – and consequently, misinformation and missing information governs our laws, funding options, and services available to survivors. We call it “prostitution” and like to think that women voluntarily engage in sex for money; since prostitution is illegal, the girls and women are often arrested, while the “Johns” get a slap on the wrist, turn around, and find the next vulnerable woman on the internet.
We are seeing a rapidly increasing number of survivors of sex and labor trafficking in the United States, including the Big Sky country of Montana. In 2012, the Polaris Project, the leading Anti-Trafficking NGO in the US, reported a total of 20,652 calls on their crisis line – 34 of those calls came from Montana. Minor girls are being advertised on online sites like Backpage.com. We see examples like the “boyfriend- turned-pimp” who forces a runaway teen to engage in sexual acts in exchange for a roof over her head, food, and the “true love she has never known.” Cases like this point to another sad fact: the majority of both children and adult women that end up in the sex industry, were victims of child sexual abuse prior to “recruitment.” We are talking about an industry that targets people that have been victims of trauma; an industry that preys on the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.
As a society, a community, and as fellow humans, we have a responsibility to address this social injustice and ensure safety, support, proper resources and overall justice for the many women & girls, men & boys across the U.S. and worldwide who are being forced into slavery. This also means that we have to strive to be proactive and address the root causes and larger systemic issues behind the problem – gender-based violence, equal opportunities for all young people, the impact of racism in our society and much more. The first step of this process is raising awareness through education so we all have the tools to identify and respond when we see potential red flags of trafficking in our communities. This year’s Mansfield Center Conference promises to deliver just that, by convening leading international and national experts in Missoula to address this challenging topic. I hope to see many of you there so we can move forward and fight to end human trafficking together!
Full agenda and registration info here: http://www.umt.edu/mansfield/events/conference/
Posted by Kat Werner, YWCA Pathways Program Manager