Sara Pomeroy recently spoke before 35 to 40 students from all parts of the state of Virginia, who were attending a Model UN event at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. She addressed the Human Rights Council section of the event concerning human trafficking. The title of her presentation: “Modern Day Slavery”. With the average age of those forced into sex trafficking falling between 12 and 14 years of age, Sara especially loves to speak before middle and high school aged students, because they are the ones most targeted by sex traffickers.
Sara began the presentation by quizzing the students on their knowledge of human trafficking. I was impressed to see that the students seem to know more about the issue than most adults. However, most of the students were amazed to learn just how active human trafficking is in this state. Sara shared how Virginia was historically the center of the slave trade here in the U.S. during the 1800’s. And, only until recently due to changes in legislation, was one of the Dirty Dozen states with regard to human trafficking. She briefly described the laws that have been passed over the last two years that have resulted in Virginia going from a red state to a green state. This year alone, Bills SB259 (training materials for educators), HB1200 (hotline to be posted in all strip clubs), and HB546 (adds human trafficking to gang predicate offenses) were passed. Sara said our new goal is to pursue changes in legislation that will go after the demand side of human trafficking.
Sara defined RJI’s mission which includes awareness, education, prevention, and advocacy. Our goal, she stated, is to grow a community of modern day abolitionists. She provided current statistics on human trafficking worldwide. But Sara wanted the students to understand that while educating oneself on the issue was important, she encouraged them into action by pursuing a more active roll in abolishing this heinous crime. She then had the students pull out their cell phones to add the National Human Trafficking Hotline to their contact list, and encouraged them to call the hotline if they saw something suspicious going on with kids they knew that could possibly be trafficking.
The next steps for RJI were then explained by Sara: to develop the Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking; launch the Prevention Project; to continue in our mission; and to duplicate the model for Justice Initiatives elsewhere. She then opened up the floor for questions, which the students were eager to participate in. Questions such as: “Why is Virginia such a hotspot for human trafficking?” to “Can criminal organizations be dismantled in order to stop them from engaging in human trafficking?” and “Why don’t the victims forced into human trafficking just simply walk away?” were asked. We ended by encouraging the students to get involved as abolitionists themselves, and that one simple way to do that, was to visit our web site and share some of the posts on their Facebook sites and through Twitter educating others on the issue of human trafficking. – Christina Nyczepir