Sara Pomeroy and I attended a Women Etc. conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on September 14, 2012. Richmond Justice Initiative was thrilled to be asked to host a table during the convention so that we might be able to make aware and educate those interested in learning more about the human trafficking issue. The Women Etc. conference is organized by Richmond, VA based RichTech’s Women in Technology Forum. RichTech “is designed to provide networking, mentoring and education opportunities for women involved at all levels of technology centric businesses or organizations.” The main goals of the inaugural conference “are to provide professional development, education, and collaboration amongst its participants”. They do this by “bringing premier speakers from across the nation in hopes of encouraging an exchange of ideas and solutions”. Two of the main speakers at the event were Ms. Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media and Dr. Kristina M. Johnson, CEO of Enduring Energy.
Over 800 women attended the event. In between each of the sessions, women were allowed to visit the tables of different organizations invited to the conference to educate those interested on what their organization was about. Sara and I were kept hopping with the numerous women who visited our table genuinely interested in hearing more about modern day slavery. Over and over again I watched as their eyes lit up at the shock of hearing just how prevalent human trafficking is not only nationally, but within the state of Virginia. Again we heard, as we often do, “I thought human trafficking happened, well – you know, in more third world countries. I had no idea it happened here.” Many took as much information on the subject as we had available wanting to either become further involved themselves, or to pass on the information to others they knew who would be interested. Some wanted to pass the information on to their children who were looking for internships within a local human rights organization. RJI is always thrilled to take on new hardworking interns.
There were a number of women who visited our table who were more intimately aware of the subject having personally witnessed for themselves its existence. There was one woman in particular who made a point of coming back to our table even though she should have been attending the next session. It was clear she wanted to talk to someone about her daughter. She spoke very low not risking that anyone would hear her, though everyone had moved on to the next session. Her lovely daughter had unfortunately been baited by a man with the promises of a lavish lifestyle if only she would come away with him. Sadly, the young woman believed him and ended up living a life of slavery to him – ending up with nothing of what he had promised. Her parents were fortunately able to rescue her in the end. The woman seemed genuinely relieved to finally talk to someone who would have some understanding of what she went through as a mother – an understanding that such things do happen to people’s children. That is one point that many people don’t seem to grasp either. You may understand that human trafficking doesn’t just occur in third world countries and that it’s even in your own backyard. But do you realize that human trafficking can happen to ANYONE? Including YOU? There are no barriers: not socio-economically, not racially, not by gender, nor by age. All barriers have been clearly crossed. Now, more than ever, let’s not wait for this ever increasing issue to become personal before we finally do something about modern day slavery. ~ Christina Nyczepir