By Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois
DUBOIS – Members of the Penn State DuBois Diversity Committee, in conjunction with the Student Life Office, organized programs in The Stackpole Hall Diversity Series this week to help inform the campus community of the global crisis surrounding human trafficking. According to the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of human trafficking.
The programs educated those who attended by featuring the film Not My Life, a documentary on human trafficking. Organizers also hosted an expert speaker on the subject, Jason Connell. The series was made possible by a grant from the Stackpole Hall Foundation, a St. Marys-based organization that supports the enhancement of social welfare and education.
Students, faculty members, and staff members met Thursday for a lunch-time discussion to wrap up the series, and summarize what they learned.
“The goal of our program is really to raise awareness, and inspire people to do their part to make a difference,” said campus assistant director of student affairs Marly Doty.
Doty explained that human trafficking is really modern day slavery, with victims being sold into the harshest of work conditions, or often being kidnapped and forced to work in sweatshops, or in prostitution. The majority of the victims are between the ages of 18 and 24, yet 1.2 million children also become victims each year.
Human trafficking is a dark reality that affects every continent on the planet, and countries with every type of economy. Doty cited cases of forced labor that were under investigation in cities as close as Pittsburgh. In one instance in Pittsburgh, people were trafficked from other countries because they were promised the opportunity to make money for themselves and their families. In reality, they were forced to work in a restaurant for long hours, for little or no pay, and held in apartments above the restaurant when they were allowed to rest. Doty said, “It’s shocking, it’s scary, and people don’t understand that it’s happening right outside their backdoor.”
Facts like this, some of which were highlighted in the film, hit close to home for some who attended the programs. Student Allyn Brown said, “The film really got me thinking about the people taken from their families, and what if that happened to me? What if it happened to my little niece, who is four? It almost made me cry.”
Doty also noted that Pennsylvania is one of few states in the country with no specific laws regulating human sex trafficking, which is also an issue of overwhelming proportions around the country. Often young women and their families are fraudulently convinced that they’re being offered opportunity for good employment, but are instead taken away from home and forced to work in prostitution.
“I never realized how much of this happens because people are not educated about what they’re being told,” said student Louise Whyte, highlighting why educational programs like this are so vital.
At other times, people make decisions to enter, or allow family members to enter forced labor because of dire circumstances like extreme poverty. Tharren Thompson, the campus’ international and multicultural student services coordinator shared an example of a personal brush with people in such despair that happened while he was on a mission trip.
“I had a woman at a train station in India ask me to take her child home with me. She knew nothing about me except that I had white skin and looked like an American. That’s how bad it can be for people. Imagine that; asking a total stranger to take your child, and you’d never see them again, because it’s so bad where you are that they can’t stay there.”
In the end, program organizers said each person can make a difference. They suggested buying American made products, which decreases the chances you’re buying something made in a sweat shop by children. They also told students that their voices could be heard by state legislators; that new laws against human sex trafficking would be an enormous step forward in the fight against these heinous acts.
“There are so many things you can do. You can make a difference,” Thompson said.