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Humanitarian speaks to raise awareness about human trafficking

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 7:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:05 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — Monie Okponobi, a native of Nigeria, left Christian Chapel's service Sunday morning in tears.

She said she had been inspired by the powerful messages of David Batstone and pastor John Battaglia, leaders of Not For Sale, an organization dedicated to ending slavery worldwide.

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Okponobi expressed the feelings of many in the audience when she said, "Each one of us must take a step to ending slavery."

Instead of taking a single step, Batstone — the founder and president of Not For Sale — is spending his life fighting human trafficking.

To create awareness, the organization has sponsored numerous events around the country. For the last four days, Batstone has spoken to several groups in Columbia as part of Human Trafficking Awareness Week.

The final event is scheduled to be held at 3 p.m. Friday in Peace Park, when local artists, musicians and activists will host a gathering called "Abolition in the Park."

To battle the invisibility of modern slavery, Not For Sale has come at the issue with both a grass roots and international approach, Batstone said.

On a broad scale "it's an awareness game," he said. "Once slavery comes into the light, it's hard to maintain a covert practice."

Around the world, 27 million people are victims of human trafficking, or modern enslavement, according to Not For Sale. Many of these individuals perform hard labor and many others are forced into prostitution. Not For Sale reports that about 50 percent of these slaves are children.

Among other humanitarian tasks, Not For Sale has created a safe village for freed children in northern Thailand and is in the process of executing similar projects in Peru and Ghana, Batstone said.

Not For Sale also works toward ending slavery by working with groups such as the International Justice Mission to protect freed slaves and push countries to enforce their anti-prostitution and anti-slavery laws.

Batstone said that one problem Not For Sale faces is the lack of attention human trafficking receives in mainstream media.

Slavery "is left out of the national conversation," he said, "I open the paper or watch TV and see nothing about it."

He said many Americans believe human trafficking is a foreign problem, but according to Not For Sale, the facts prove otherwise.

Roughly 200,000 slaves are living in the United States. "Slavery feels like it's ‘over there,' but we don't see its links back here in the U.S," Batstone said.

He also said that on Oct. 8 and 9, students will go to Washington, D.C., to promote human trafficking awareness among lawmakers and the public.

Not For Sale also has a feature movie, "Call and Response," coming out this fall. It features musicians such as The Cold War Kids and Matisyahu. Proceeds from this film will go directly to Not For Sale's humanitarian projects, Batstone said.

Slavery became visible to Batstone when he discovered that one of his favorite restaurants in California was a hub for human trafficking.

After researching the local ring, Batstone said he took a year off from his job as a media entrepreneur to study the scope of slavery in five continents, originally for a book.

The book, "Not For Sale," chronicles what he discovered in his travels, as well as what the common citizen can do to help end human trafficking.

Yet it took "coming back home and seeing how invisible it is here," for Batstone to realize that he needed to start an organization that would both bring awareness and action.

When Batstone began Not For Sale, he had the experience and contacts from a 10-year history of humanitarian work in Central America during the 1980s. Batstone posed as an economic developer when in fact he was using his U.S. citizenship to protect Central Americans from death squads. While undercover, he said, he learned first hand how the business world operates by pursuing economic stability in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

When he returned to the United States, Batstone utilized his newly found business skills to forge a career in business and humanitarian journalism.

He has authored books such as "Saving the Corporate Soul" and co-created several magazines such as Business 2.0.

Batstone said he believes it is part of Americans' responsibility as free citizens to aid others in their struggle toward freedom.

"Freedom and democracy are only viable to the extent that we extend it to others," he said. "We're always at risk of being captive if we don't ensure freedom for others."

 


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