Baylor University Joins Move to Fight Human Trafficking

Feb. 4, 2010

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When President Barack Obama issued a call in January urging "all Americans to educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery and the signs and consequences of human trafficking," a dozen Baylor University students were already planning their effort to fight the crime.

In May, these students will see the first results of their efforts as they travel to Los Angeles, which is a hub for human trafficking, to join the campaign there, said Dr. Kim Kotrla, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Baylor. The students' journey on May 16-23 is the first anti-trafficking mission trip by Baylor.

Human trafficking, whether for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor, is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, after drug dealing. Human trafficking also is the fastest growing criminal industry, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Many of the students have taken a course in human trafficking that was first offered by Kotrla in spring 2009. The course, an elective, has attracted social work students, seminary students and students in international and church-state studies, she said.

"The coalition in the L.A. area is very organized and doing great work, so we think that it will be a great learning and serving opportunity for the students," Kotrla said

While in Los Angeles, the students will visit agencies and congregations fighting human trafficking, including Oasis USA, NightLight USA, the Dream Center, Saddleback Church and the Salvation Army, Kotrla said. They also will work with Baylor graduates Aaron and Stephanie Glenn, who are involved in anti-trafficking efforts.

"The Glenns have hosted student mission trips before, although not from Baylor - so they have some experience in this," Kotrla said.

"We've asked them to identify a service project for our team that will in some way benefit an agency or church involved in this issue. They are also trying to arrange for a human trafficking survivor to tell his or her story to our group."

The students will have Bible studies and daily reflection times on justice during their trip, she said. When they return, they will seek to apply what they learn in their local communities.

Such actions exemplify what Obama has called upon the nation's citizens to do.

"With improved victim identification, medical and social services, training for first responders, and increased public awareness, the men, women, and children who have suffered this scourge can overcome the bonds of modern slavery, receive protection and justice, and successfully reclaim their rightful independence," he said in a proclamation declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Jennifer Young, a Baylor University sophomore from Charlotte, Mich., said she will make the trip because "the Lord's just really broken my heart about this.

"When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I read a book about oppressed women, and that's where my interest (in human trafficking) started," said Young, who is majoring in social work.

At Baylor University, she met Kotrla and learned about the anti-trafficking course.

"I knew that was where I was supposed to be," Young said. "I just hit the ground running," she said.

She has not met survivors of human trafficking yet, she said, but she has talked to those who have counseled survivors.

"There are very few resources," she said. "It's an underground thing, the same as drug trafficking, only with humans."

Students worked as a team and individually to raise money for the trip, which will cost about $1,500 per person.

They raised awareness about human trafficking and sought support for the effort by distributing free purple armbands at a Nov. 14 football game. Purple is associated with violence against women, although victims also may be boys or men, Kotrla said.

Ironically, that weekend a North Carolina woman was charged with selling her 5-year-old daughter into sexual slavery. The girl was murdered, and her body was found the next week, CBS reported.

More than 27 million people worldwide are enslaved, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of State. Approximately 18,000 to 20,000 are brought into the United States yearly, but new research indicates that more American citizens are being trafficked internally than foreigners being brought in and trafficked, Kotrla said.

Youths -- especially runaways -- are most often the victims, she said.

"There are likely 300,000 American youths being exploited in prostitution, stripping, pornography and other ways," she said. "We used to see them as juvenile delinquents, but we're beginning to look at them differently, as children being victimized rather than 'bad kids.'"

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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