Updated Wed, Oct 23, 2013 11:39 pm
Slavery and human trafficking is a problem that hits closer to home than many realize. And an Ohio University student group is striving to spread that message to the public and help those who may be trapped in such situations.
Megan Gallagher, president of the OU End Slavery Movement, said the group was formed during spring semester. The mission of the group is to create a slave-free Ohio and to help restore survivors of human trafficking.
Gallagher said that many people think of slavery as something that only happens in Third World countries, but in fact the problem has been documented in every state in the U.S., including Ohio.
Less than a month ago, two Athens County residents were arrested and charged in connection to an alleged prostitution and human trafficking operation involving a 16-year-old girl. The girl was allegedly being used as a prostitute in exchange for money and drugs.
According to Gallagher, law enforcement and Athens County Children Services began looking into the allegations after the Athens Child Advocacy Center hotline received a tip of suspicious activity. The OU End Slavery Movement partners with the center to provide the new hotline.
“It hits really close to home,” Gallagher said.
According to Gallagher, the OU group is working to become the 15th coalition in a network in Ohio to rescue and restore victims and has been recognized by the governor’s office. She said OU-ESM is the first coalition in the state to have the support of a university.
Gallagher said not only do the victims need rescued, but also “restored.” She said that victims may not have housing or a family to return to and that the victims need help to overcome the trauma of their situation. She said the Athens County Child Advocacy Center is supporting the 16-year-old throughout her ordeal.
The OU-ESM and Athens County Child Advocacy Center offer information for the public and resources for victims.
To help spread the message about human trafficking and slavery, the OU-ESM will host End Slavery Week Nov. 4-7 on the OU campus.
“This is an awesome opportunity to raise awareness about these issues,” Gallagher said.
The week will begin with an open session and panel discussion with human trafficking experts on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. in the Ping Lounge. One of the speakers will be
Clair Childers, legislative aide to Ohio Rep. Teresa Fedor. Fedor introduced the safe harbor bill, which would prevent a young person from being charged with prostitution if they were victims of human trafficking. Also speaking will be Elizabeth Janie Ranade, a representative from the governor’s office, and survivor Jillian Mourning, a model and human trafficking victim in Chillicothe.
On Nov. 5, the “A Day in the Life of a Slave” Expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the third floor Baker Atrium Lounge. Gallagher said students and the public will be able to walk through the five different types of human trafficking and slavery, which are: sex slavery, domestic servitude, bonded labor, child labor and domestic labor. She said people will also be able to take a quiz that will estimate how many slaves are working to provide the things they eat and use on a daily basis.
After taking the quiz herself, Gallagher said she found out that more than 50 slaves work to provide her with the items she uses. She said that people can take steps to choose items and foods that don’t use slave labor by educating themselves.
A documentary about the topic will be screened on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. in Baker University Center Room 240.
On Nov. 6, the OU-EDM will host a lunch and learn from 12-1 p.m. in Baker Room 231. At 7 p.m. the same day, a survivor of human trafficking will speak in Baker Room 231. A candlelight vigil will be held following the discussion.
On Nov. 7, there will be an OU student human trafficking and slavery art show with works depicting modern day slavery.
In addition to the scheduled events, opportunities will take place throughout the week to sign pledges, donate goods and write letters for slavery survivors. Dorms, businesses downtown and off-campus homes will be displaying a red X, the symbol from the End It Movement that signifies support to end human trafficking.
Gallagher said the OU-EDM holds weekly meetings and monthly marches on campus. For information about OU End Slavery Movement, find the Ohio University End Slavery Movement on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @OU_EndSlavery.