Event raises awareness for human rights issues

Olivia Mohr

For 27 hours from 8 a.m. Tuesday to 11 a.m. Wednesday, the WKU chapter of the International Justice Mission (IJM) held an event called Stand for Freedom in Centennial Mall. Posters painted with phrases like “slavery still exists,” stickers, candy and other items were set up for people who stopped to learn more.

Stand for Freedom’s goal is to stand for 27 hours for over 27 million men, women and children in the bonds of modern day slavery, including victims of human rights issues like violence and human trafficking. According to the WKU chapter of the IJM’s president senior Rachel Harris from Louisville, there are currently over 45 million victims of modern day slavery. The number includes victims from every major continent. At Stand for Freedom, people who stopped by had the option to sign a petition to collect signatures for the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI).

Harris discussed why she believes modern slavery is an important issue.

“This is an important issue because it affects all of us in more ways than we know,” she said. “Not only do we have the power to stand up for victims, but we can also play a big role in ending slavery once and for all.”

She said she hoped students would ask questions and become passionate about issues involving modern slavery.

“For the people walking by, we hope they take a few moments to ask questions,” she said. “It may be a conversation that really changes how they think or consume and what they are passionate about.”

Harris said, there have been cases of human trafficking in Bowling Green in the past few years, and there are hundreds of missing girls in Washington, D.C and to Harris, it is suspected the missing girls in D.C. were kidnapped and forced into prostitution. She also said I-65 is the most used highway in the nation for human trafficking.

Harris said she feels though the world has advanced, slavery is still a huge problem.

“Even though the world has made a lot of advances, there are still so many people who are not free,” she said. “That’s something we are really not okay with. These people are a part of our humanity even though we may never meet them. Because of violence and economic instability, they go through things that are unthinkable.”

Senior Brendan Bird from Elizabethtown stopped by at Stand for Freedom. She volunteers at Hope Harbor in Bowling Green, a sexual trauma recovery center. She does not feel many people are aware of how big of an issue human trafficking is, but she feels prevention and awareness will help resolve the issue and she believes events like Stand for Freedom help increase awareness and knowledge.

“It brings awareness and prevention,” she said. “That’s what we need.”

Bird said she feels it is important to intervene and know the signs when someone is being trafficked.

“No one really wants to talk about it, but it could be your friend,” she said. “It could be your family member. It could be your roommate in your dorm, and things like [Stand for Freedom] that let people know and signs to look for – I think that’s really important too because you can intervene.”

Junior Abby Blandford from Lebanon also stopped by at Stand for Freedom. She is friends with sophomore Marlee Barrett from Murray, the vice president of the WKU chapter of IJM. She heard Barrett talking about IJM and modern slavery.

Blandford described Stand for Freedom as a “noble” thing and a good way to get students involved in taking a stand against modern slavery.

“I know as a young woman, a lot of women college-age globally are impacted by human trafficking, so I think it’s just looking out for your fellow man, taking a stand for them because they can’t take a stand for themselves,” she said. 

Harris described why slavery still exists today and how she feels people can make a difference.

“It’s 2017,  and people are still making a profit by buying, selling and manipulating other human beings, which is crazy,” Harris said. “So much these people suffer is so that we can have things like cheaper clothing, faster food, or even pornography. However, our small sacrifices of time and energy can break the cycle and make justice a reality.”

Reporter Olivia Mohr can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]