On March 12, 2016, members of the Guiding Circle of HOPE participated in an enlightening and informative symposium presented in concert with AAUW and NCNW. The symposium’s speakers provided a broad overview of human trafficking and represented each of their organization’s goals in the fight to end what is commonly referred to as modern slavery.
“A debasement of humanity”, as one presenter noted, this form of slavery involves both sex and labor trafficking and is defined as the use of force, fraud or coercion to control someone to work without payment or engage in sexual activity in exchange for anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, etc.). For Northern Virginia, the most common form of slavery is teen sex trafficking. Traffickers use staged encounters or social media to recruit their victims, then “groom” them to create a sense of family and belonging. The average age of victims is 12-14 years old and Northern Virginia has become one of the Top 10 teen trafficking areas in the nation.
The symposium’s first speaker, Jane Leibbrand, serves on the Crisis Response Team for NOVA HTI, an organization that has been instrumental in creating awareness and providing advocacy for victims in Northern Virginia. Along with government resources, law enforcement and other non-profits, NOVA HTI provides victim services to support survivors from mentoring to providing day-to-day needs to teaching life skills. Jane presented the tactics currently being used to identify and assist victims and the on-going strategies to address the demand portion of the equation.
Gail Hambleton, from the Global Peace Foundation, focused on prevention and engagement. She believes that public awareness is the key to abolishing this crime. She brought a worldwide view to the issue of human trafficking and noted the similarities between trafficking and genocide citing victim’s vulnerability at the heart. America is the top destination for trafficking. We also have American-born victims. One of the practices she advocated was for attendees to become Upstanders–a person who sees wrong and acts on it–versus Bystanders, further illustrating how everyone can become a catalyst.
Ashley Maaksestad, Assistant Director for Artemis House, spoke to attendees about what she called the ‘aftermath’ of the problem. Artemis House provides shelter and services to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. Ashley presented heart-breaking case studies and put a face to the issue, as well as, providing hope for brighter futures for these victims.
What was clear from all the presentations was the passion that each of these women felt for the cause, their dedication to eradicating this scourge on the human condition and that anyone can become involved, engaged and take action. From the questions posed by the audience, their presentations lit a fire in the hearts of many.