Fight for Freedom’s first speakers address human trafficking

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A new student group on campus hosted their first speakers on Friday, in hopes to raise awareness about a growing global epidemic, modern-day slavery.

The group, formed last fall as Fight for Freedom, brought in speakers Ethan Batstone, the campaign coordinator for the Not For Sale Campaign, (NFS) and Tianne Bataille, an expert on Illinois trafficking laws. “They have worked a lot with mobilizing communities, and that’s exactly what we were looking for,” said sophomore Judith Kim, creator and president of Fight for Freedom.

Batstone encouraged students to innovate in the non-profit world, just as he and his team have with NFS, which is now a leading non-profit targeting anti-trafficking.

In Romania, NFS prompted a local co-op of farms to provide employment for victims, in return for business from HEMA, a large retailer in need of the farms’ products. NFS has also built dormitories and health clinics in Thailand, and, to ensure that victims do not end up back in the hands of their captors, it has sponsored education and job training programs in Uganda, Cambodia and Peru.

Today, there are more than 30 million slaves worldwide, more than during the entire 300-year span of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Batstone said. He said most contemporary slaves are working off debts either incurred by themselves or dead relatives, and that sex trafficking is now the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Human trafficking is expected to soon surpass drug trafficking.

But slavery, he said, is not only a foreign issue. According to Batstone, there are an estimated 200,000 slaves in the United States today.

“I can guarantee that this is happening within five miles of where you are living now,” said Batstone.

Bataille, the events second speaker, is the chair of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative in Illinois. “If you want to combat trafficking, you have to understand what the policies are,” Bataille said.

Recent laws in Illinois have tried to combat with trafficking. There is now a lower burden of proof for cases involving the sex trafficking of minors, and victims who have been charged with prostitution can also have their permanent records cleared.

Bataille said the issue should be approached from two directions: in the “front,” by eradicating trafficking, and from the “back,” by mentoring survivors after they are rescued.

Batstone encouraged students to find out where the university gets food and apparel from and to offer administration alternatives if inhumane sources are found.

“Whatever you do, you can affect a world of change,” Bastone said. “We need more hands to make our impact even larger than it is today.”

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