COLUMBIA — When Hickman senior Claudia Sipakati first heard about human trafficking in Columbia three years ago, she didn’t know how that fit in her high school framework of life.
“I thought it was a little far-fetched,” she said. “First, I don’t think about (human trafficking in) the Midwest, definitely not Missouri and not Columbia.”
In 2009, her older sister was in student government at Hickman and talked to Sipakati about human trafficking as the school’s courtwarming king candidates raised money for the Not For Sale campaign.
This year Sipakati, who is also in student government, helped coordinate Hickman’s courtwarming fundraising for the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. It culminated in Sipakati presenting a $3,000 check to the coalition at the Speak Your Mind forum on ending modern slavery on Tuesday night.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as coercing an individual to participate in commercial sex or forced labor.
About 30 people showed up to hear the panelists’ experiences in dealing with human trafficking survivors and perpetrators. The panelists at the forum included:
- Nanette Ward — co-chair of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition
- John Battaglia — pastor of Christian Chapel and board member of F.R.E.E. International, an anti-trafficking organization looking to open a safe house for child survivors of human trafficking
- Frank Bowman — law professor at MU
- Paul Schlup — investigator specializing in human trafficking cases at the office of the prosecuting attorney in Cole County
This Speak Your Mind forum strayed from the norm, because most discussions have panelists who disagree on a topic, George Frissell, a language arts teacher and founder of the forums, said.
“The purpose is clearly to empower students to become aware of the issues and understand they can be part of the solution,” Frissell said.
For Sipakati, being part of the solution meant coordinating fundraising for the coalition. Outside of that, she wasn’t sure how to participate in ending human trafficking before attending the forum.
Hickman senior Daija Dean came to the forum having done research on rape and enslavement of women in South Africa, India and the U.S. — partially for a school paper and partially for her own knowledge.
Lexie Hendley, a senior at Hickman, said she came to get extra credit for her British literature class.
“We don’t really learn this in school. It’s mentioned here and there but mostly swept under the rug,” Hendley said. “I want to know what can be done.”
Battaglia started his presentation by telling a story about a 13-year-old boy he met in Ghana who said he was forced to work for a local fisherman. Battaglia said the boy said his uncle sold him for $90. Battaglia was shocked because in his own pocket was a phone that cost more than the fisherman paid the uncle for the boy.
Schlup was attending the MU student organization Stop Traffic’s conference a few years ago when it occurred to him that in his work as a federal agent, he had unknowingly been in contact with human trafficking victims. As the speakers identified common signs for trafficked victims, he recognized his current training had not included being alert to identifying them.
Yet, Bowman reminded the audience that human trafficking is a new name to an old problem. From the Atlantic slave trade and the immigrant indentured servants of the 1600s and 1700s to the Mann Act of 1910 to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human beings have been enslaving other human beings, he said.
There is not necessarily an increase in human trafficking in the U.S., Bowman said. There is an increase of awareness in the last decade however, he said.
Ward had the nine teens in the room stand to demonstrate the statistic that one in three teens will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of running away from home.
She said being part of the solution for survivors regaining their lives can be as simple as asking your dentist to provide one free cleaning for a survivor, donating money so a survivor can purchase a bus pass, or helping survivors find new places of worship for their religion.
This information pleasantly surprised Sipakati.
“There’s a world outside of Hickman we will be a part of,” she said. “It hits home when you can put a person to an organization.”