A Vital Connection: Student Advocacy in the Anti-Trafficking Field
Beatrice, a student from Virginia, shares her experiences as a SOS chapter leader and her work with federal agencies to combat human trafficking.
On April 27, 2015, Students Opposing Slavery was invited to present its work at a forum regarding combating human trafficking in America’s schools, organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and the U.S. Department of Education. Five students representing three different SOS chapters, Flint Hill School, Lancaster Catholic High School, and T.C. Williams High School, my own high school, spoke about how the SOS Program prepared us to take action against human trafficking in our communities, and the tactics we’ve used to effectively do so.
The Blue Campaign is a program of the Department of Homeland Security focused on combating human trafficking. It works to unite law enforcement, government, non-governmental, and private organizations, creating a network committed to ensuring that our basic rights to freedom and justice are not ignored in human trafficking situations. The Blue Campaign offers invaluable print, multimedia, and in-person resources for training in awareness and action. Although they hold forums like these once or twice a year, this specific event was devoted to improving anti-human trafficking work in middle, high, and post-secondary schools. The morning session involved training and discussion regarding human trafficking issues in middle and high schools, and the afternoon was focused on the work being done by students and faculty at the college and university level, including awareness initiatives and academic research.
The Students Opposing Slavery presentations made up the bulk of the morning session. The Blue Campaign and the Department of Education recognize the importance of student-led groups like ours, and they and other stakeholders wanted to learn from our first-hand accounts as students learning and teaching about modern slavery. Each of the three groups touched on something different: Molly from Lancaster Catholic High about the importance of social media in reaching younger demographics, Nadine and Alex from Flint Hill about specific tactics they use to raise awareness and funds, and myself and Jessica from TC Williams, about our successes and challenges creating a lasting curriculum that can effectively get attention at a large public school like ours. We attempted to structure our presentation as strictly as the other two groups, but we ended up speaking from the heart about the challenges of running a club with regards to time and finances, encouraging a larger curricular and extracurricular focus on human trafficking, and how critical it was to have support from our adult mentors and our partnerships with more established organizations.
An incredible and unique quality of the SOS program is the intense empowerment it fosters in youth. Students Opposing Slavery is a vital connection between the energy and passion of youth and the experience and resources of NGOs and government organizations already established in the field. The SOS presentation at the Blue Campaign event was the perfect example of this. The annual Students Opposing Slavery International Summit and continuing mentorship of Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, gave us the information we needed to become active abolitionists and leaders in our communities; our subsequent experiences are what we used to inform the actions of the government as it strives to make schools a center of anti-human trafficking awareness and action. Students Opposing Slavery is why five high school students were able to talk about their passions to Senators, Secretaries, and CEOs. Jessica and I were able to meet organizations that wanted to present to our schools, and other schools that wanted us to speak to their students. We connected with organizations and government agencies, large and small, that will lead to partnerships for a united force against slavery on all fronts. We were able to reach that many more people, become that much stronger in our fight against modern slavery. My experience at the Department of Homeland Security reinforced that Students Opposing Slavery has changed my life- and not just in how I spend my Tuesday mornings or what clothes I wear. It has shaped the way I look at the world and my place in it. I’ll be starting my first year at college this fall, a point of transition and change that holds the opportunity for life-altering decisions. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do, what I want to focus on, but when I walked out of the Homeland Security Acquisitions Institute that Thursday afternoon, I knew. Students Opposing Slavery has shown me the path I want to travel, and I can’t wait to walk down it.