Joy, intrigue, surprise and concern. Those were some of the reactions from hundreds of youth who visited Women of the ELCA’s anti-sex trafficking exhibit in the Community Life area at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit last week.
The exhibit was a result of a memorial passed at the 2014 Women of the ELCA Ninth Triennial Convention to bring awareness to and prevent human trafficking.
Teens assembled 1,500-plus hygiene kits that included notes of encouragement handwritten by the youth and adults. The kits were distributed to seven organizations in Detroit that work with survivors, at-risk youth and victims of human sex trafficking. Women of the ELCA units and individual donors contributed to the exhibit by providing $9,973 toward a $10,000 goal to purchase the in-kind gift items. Some teens who went through the exhibit returned with a cash donation and a dedication to start working with anti-trafficking organizations when they return home.
“We just made care packages and cards for victims of human trafficking and we were really touched by this issue,” said Sarah from Trinity Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We want to get more involved because it’s an issue that not many people realize is so important. We want to urge everybody else to get involved too.”
In the exhibit space, posters included warning signs for sex-trafficked victims, such as having few personal possessions or no sense of time or space. The youth, however, were cautioned against making snap judgments on whether a person is being trafficked. They were encouraged instead to build relationships with possible victims and find out more about their lives. Wristbands from a local organization were distributed that shared the National Human Trafficking Resource Helpline phone number (888-373-7888).
Youth were informed through recent news stories that social media sites like Facebook is often a way that traffickers lure in victims. The youth learned that trafficking victims come from all socioeconomic levels and could be women, men, girls and boys in their own home towns—even among their friends and classmates.
Youth were offered information about how to fight trafficking in their communities. Suggestions included getting in touch with a local Women of the ELCA group that might already be involved in anti-sex trafficking or using Google to find organizations in their communities that work with trafficked victims. Many organizations could use financial aid, in-kind gifts or volunteers. Another way to get active in anti-trafficking activities is to reach out to local elected leaders.
One thing that I learned is that these kids are not going to wait for a committee meeting or another election before they work to end human trafficking. They want to fight trafficking now.
How will you or your women’s group support these young leaders as the rise up to the challenge of fighting human trafficking?
Elizabeth McBride had the privilege of playing a lead role in designing our presence at the ELCA Youth Gathering. She is continually inspired by her colleagues who worked tirelessly to make sure that thousands of Lutheran teens and adult leaders left our space energized and ready to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking.
For more information on human trafficking visit the Polaris Project and the National Human Resource Trafficking Resource Center.