Students aim to end trafficking

Millions of people are estimated to be living in situations of forced slavery worldwide.

by Kathryn Nelson

The current re-emergence of slavery might seem unbelievable to some, but across the world millions of people are being forced into a life of both laborious and sexual servitude.

The University group Students Against Human Trafficking is all too aware of the terrifying world of modern-day slavery, and group members are aiming to change the practice of buying and selling human beings.

Human trafficking occurs in many forms, but usually includes forcing people into the sex industry, labor in factories or domestic servitude.

University graduate Vanna Chan saw the immediate effects of human trafficking last summer.

Through funding from the University Human Rights Center, Chan went to Cambodia to study the child sex industry and its link to tourism.

Chan said many Americans travel to Cambodia seeking sex with children and often face no legal repercussions.

With a couple of dollars, perpetrators are able to bribe witnesses to turn a blind eye to child abuse, she said.

“They’re really exploiting the poverty of the people,” she said.

One of Chan’s obligations while working in Cambodia was to educate local tourism employees about human trafficking.

Many citizens were well aware of the sex tourism industry and even witnessed Westerners bringing children into their hotel rooms, yet little action was taken to stop them, she said.

Chan said although money was very influential in Cambodia, it was important to stress the moral responsibility of working in the tourism industry to the people.

Chan also visited a shelter for children who escaped from slavery.

Along with a handful of students, Berglind Halldorsdottir and Meizani Irmadhiany began the group Students Against Human Trafficking last year.

In conjunction with an educational conference last April, the group began a movement to end human trafficking internationally and abroad.

The group focuses on the link between the tourism industry and sexual slavery, said Halldorsdottir, now a University graduate.

These issues don’t just happen outside the United States; many types of slavery are widespread, even in Minnesota.

Human Rights Center fellowship coordinator Kim Walsh said Minnesota ranks 13th in heavily trafficked states – in part due to the large immigrant population and close border with Canada.

People usually associate the highly organized trafficking industry with other crime rings such as illegal guns and drugs.

Like Chan, Walsh said it is common for Westerners to go to Southeast Asia seeking “child sex vacations,” making it important to work with tourism companies.

Compiling data about human trafficking is also a daunting task, since people are moving across borders and the industry is relatively secretive.

Irmadhiany, a global studies and political science senior, said the group is currently developing a survey about sex tourism to administer on airplanes traveling to high-risk locations.

Irmadhiany said the survey will include pre- and post-travel questions about sex trafficking, which she hopes will heighten travelers’ awareness of the issue.

Halldorsdottir said the main purpose of the campus trafficking group is to educate and although there are many injustices occurring, “human trafficking just seemed like the epitome of tragedy in the world.”