Human Trafficking Awareness Week Kicks Off at Loyola

Emily MorgensternAngeles Ochoa-Raya, president of Free the Slaves Loyola, spoke at the kickoff event on Feb. 13.

Free the Slaves Loyola kicked off its annual week of Human Trafficking Awareness with an informational event in the Damen Den on Feb. 13.

Human trafficking is a common crime, affecting millions of people worldwide each year. Free the Slaves Loyola is an on-campus organization that works to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Members of the group shared stories of human trafficking survivors from Germany, Cambodia and Lithuania. The real-life stories highlighted the horrors that victims of human trafficking face.

Human trafficking is defined as recruiting, harbouring or transporting people for exploitation, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This can be done through means such as deception, abduction, bribery or abuse of power. Exploitation can include prostitution, forced labor, organ removal or other forms of oppression.

Free the Slaves Loyola recognizes eight types of human trafficking: sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, labor trafficking, child labor trafficking, debt bondage trafficking, domestic servitude trafficking, child soldier trafficking and human organ trafficking. Sex trafficking is the most common type, making up 79 percent of global human trafficking, as the UNODC reported.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry with 20.9 million victims worldwide, according to the UNODC. Chicago forms part of this international business with about 16,000-25,000 women sex trafficked annually. Many of these victims are transported nationally and internationally through O’Hare International Airport.

Angeles Ochoa-Raya, president of Free the Slaves Loyola, explained why Chicago is an active city in human trafficking.

“It just generally tends to happen in cities like Chicago because of the transportation,” said the sophomore social work and criminal justice double major. “With the CTA, you have access to anywhere in the city.”

Human trafficking is a hidden crime, which means it’s harder for authorities to detect and for victims to reach out for help, explained Stella Van Den Eeden, secretary of Free the Slaves Loyola.

Law enforcement officials are not often the first people to come in contact with human trafficking victims. Health care professionals including doctors and therapists are usually the first to assist victims, Van Den Eeden said.

Free the Slaves Loyola discussed multiple ways people can help raise awareness of human trafficking other than having a career that deals directly with trafficking victims.

Volunteering at and donating money to organizations that help end human trafficking, and lobbying government officials, are all effective ways individuals can help raise awareness of  human trafficking, according to Van Den Eeden.

People can also be attentive to signs of human trafficking, which can sometimes be quite obvious yet still go unnoticed.

“One of the [signs] is actually noticing how someone is when they are talking to you,” said Ochoa-Raya. “Sometimes a sign is [them] by themselves as if they look lost and they’re just wandering around … other times if they look very tired or worn out, or they aren’t able to tell you where they work or where they’re from.”

In the effort to end human trafficking, Free the Slaves Loyola wants people to listen to victims and their stories.

“Most importantly, we must not let survivors’ voices be silenced,” said Van Den Eeden. “At the heart of it all we are human, and any injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us.”