By Ally Tobler
Human trafficking is not just a foreign concept. It happens all over the country, and even in areas neighboring this university.
Students Ending Slavery (SES), UMD Oxfam America and UMD Athletics partnered to raise awareness about human trafficking and the global refugee crisis by hosting their annual 5K for Freedom April 6 on McKeldin Mall.
According to Ellie Lewis, a portion of the fundraising will go to human trafficking survivors who use resources provided by the Support, Advocacy, Freedom and Empowerment (SAFE) Center at this university. Oxfam’s portion of the money will go towards their national fund for the global refugee crisis.
“Trafficking in this area is affecting…men and women, and boys and girls in both arenas of trafficking: sex and labor,” said Lewis, a UMD graduate and SAFE Center staff member. “I think a lot of times, people just talk about young girls that are brought into prostitution. But this is something that’s also happening in family relationships where parents are involving their children and wives.”
Before enrolling in a criminology class centered around the subject (CCJS325), junior government and politics major Emily McGowan did not know much about local human trafficking.
“I heard a lot about it in Asian countries,” she said. “And that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge.”
Sydney Shiver, the co-president of SES, debunked the misconception that human trafficking occurs only outside of the United States.
““The DMV [Washington, D.C, Maryland and Virginia] actually sits right in the middle of Interstate 95, which is a popular route for transfer of victims,” said Shiver, a junior international business and English double major. “Victims come in all forms in P.G. County and the DMV at large; domestic servants, forced prostitution, and forced labor exist all over the area.”
It was sophomore finance major Kyle Deng’s second time participating in the 5K for Freedom. He ran not only “for the cardio,” but because he is passionate about the issue.
Over spring break, Deng took a trip to Washington, D.C., with this university’s Alternative Breaks program to learn more about human trafficking.
The run served to highlight difficulties faced by refugees as well. Students who signed up to participate in the 5K also took part in a simulation where they were given cards with a name and scenario. Based on the identities on the card, which included details about their socioeconomic statuses, they were told to step forward or backward. This symbolized the constant hardships refugees encounter day to day.
So far, the SAFE Center, which opened at the university in May 2016, has served more than 50 survivors of human trafficking. The center provides mental health counseling, as well as economic and educational empowerment to help survivors of human trafficking get back on their feet.
According to Lewis, the SAFE Center recently partnered with the College of Education to provide language programs to human trafficking survivors. They also just launched a crisis intervention program in partnership with the Prince George’s County Police Department, which will allow the center to get involved with investigations into potential victims of human trafficking.
“The need here is clearly pretty great,” said Lewis.