MU student works to stop human trafficking

Thursday, March 20, 2008 | 6:29 p.m. CDT; updated 11:08 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Jennifer Kimball is the co-founder of Stop Traffic, an organization hosting the 2008 Anti-Human Trafficking Conference at MU's Memorial Union and Stewart Hall on Friday and Saturday. The conference features 13 different speakers, including some survivors of human trafficking.

This story has been updated to reflect the days that the conference is taking place.

COLUMBIA — When most people think of human trafficking, they imagine children and young women in far-flung, war-torn nations on the other side of the world. It’s a fuzzy picture, because the concept of human trafficking — the buying, selling or transporting of human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation without their consent — seems so removed from daily Midwestern life that it is difficult to grasp.

Not many would think about it happening right here in Columbia.

STOP TRAFFIC NOW: 2008 Anti-Trafficking Conference

WHAT: The two-day conference will feature 13 speakers, films, informational booths and workshops. WHEN: March 21-22 WHERE: Memorial Union and Stewart Hall, MU HOW MUCH: $25 for Friday, $40 for Saturday. Register online at

Free lectures

Andrea Powell, founder of FAIR Fund, will give a talk about human trafficking at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Mark Twain Ballroom in Memorial Union. Theresa Flores, a victim and survivor of human trafficking, will discuss her experiences at 9 a.m. in Stotler Lounge in Memorial Union.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is the illegal act of smuggling and trading in persons throughout countries. Victims are often tricked, stripped of all forms of identification and then sold and smuggled to another area. Victims are often young girls under the impression that they will be traveling to another country for marriage or a better job. In 2000, the U.S. Department of State initiated the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act,” which set up the tier system of ranking countries according to the levels of their offenses. There are more than 100 countries on the list, 16 of which are considered the worst offenders. Some of those countries include Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. According to Joe Hobbs, the chairman of MU’s geography department, the State Department has a worldwide staff associated with its embassies that monitor issues related to trafficking. However, one of the chief criticisms of the system is that it sometimes fails to demote obvious violators for political reasons. Source: U.S. Department of States, Joe Hobbs of MU’s geography department

Jennifer Kimball does.

Kimball, 21, is an MU junior majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is also the president and co-founder of Stop Traffic, MU’s anti-human-trafficking organization. Kimball and vice president and co-founder Paige Hendrix founded Stop Traffic one year ago with the idea to host a conference at MU. This dream will culminate Friday and Saturday on campus.

Kimball first became interested in human trafficking when she studied it in her Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class.

“I think trafficking is one of those things that you can’t study without wanting to do something about it,” Kimball said. “The more you learn about it, the more you see how horrific it really is.”

Kimball said there are victims of trafficking living right here. Often, they are women brought with the promise of work or marriage and end up being forced to work in the sex industry.

The goal of the Stop Traffic Now conference, Kimball said, is to help others take action.

“It’s such a massive problem that it can feel overwhelming, and you can feel powerless,” she said. “But because it’s such a massive problem, there’s a way for everyone to get involved, to do something.”

Some examples of different things people can do, Kimball said, would be writing letters to legislators, volunteering at a women’s shelter and raising awareness within one’s community.

On Wednesday night, Kimball and Hendrix sat together at a table in a nearly empty room in Memorial Union. They were supposed to be preparing information packets for the conference, but not all the materials were in, and the two found themselves with a break. This was a rarity in the jam-packed schedules both had been tackling in the past few weeks. They laughed about how both of their cell phones had died that day. Hendrix, who had borrowed a friend’s charged phone, was at work inserting her SIM card into it.

Kimball said that although the conference was so soon, much of the more grueling planning had been taken care of.

“It’s funny that all the work is done before the conference actually starts,” she said.

Kimball and Hendrix have been working together closely for the past year, Hendrix said, and they talk every day.

“Over time I’ve learned to listen better, and she’s learned to talk more,” Hendrix said.

Kimball’s special skill, Hendrix said, is her intuition.

“She reads people so well,” she said, recounting a story in which the two were at a meeting with other activists and a newcomer. Immediately recognizing the new member’s confusion, Kimball took her aside and patiently explained to her what she needed to know.

“Jennifer has very keen insight,” said Vicky Riback Wilson, the service-learning and fellowships coordinator in the MU Fellowships Office. “She sometimes notices things that need to be done that others might overlook.” Wilson has worked with Kimball in the classroom and on scholarship applications.

In addition to her work with Stop Traffic, Kimball is also the director of KOPN’s Reel-to-Reel Project, a restoration and reformatting effort to preserve the radio station’s past 30 years of programming. She is also president of Students as Neighbors and the Women’s and Gender Studies Undergraduate Group.

“She has contributed a lot more to this community beyond this conference,” said Wilson, noting that Kimball has also worked to assist families that relocated to Columbia after Hurricane Katrina.

Jessica Jennrich, director of undergraduate advising, curriculum and programming for the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, is Kimball’s academic advisor. Kimball is good at fusing her academic interests with her passion for service, she said.

“She might be taking a class where she’s reading dense feminist theory,” Jennrich said, “and she is able to apply it to the projects she’s working on in her personal life.”

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