Keys to promote freedom from modern slavery

Susie Skowronek

The A21 Campaign encourages people to wear key necklaces as symbols of freedom on Thursday. The keys raise awareness of human trafficking, an issue that enslaves 27 million people worldwide.
The key necklaces become a launching point for conversations about human trafficking.
“It’s important to raise awareness for the subject because a lot of people do not know about it,” said sophomore Kaleigh Carlson, who brought the event to GVSU. “We speak for those people who cannot speak for themselves.”
Carlson will also give a presentation on her experiences with human trafficking in Ghana at 7 p.m. Thursday in Room 2263 of Kirkhof Center.
She will provide the basic definition of human trafficking and explain how slavery occurs globally.

Carlson said in a fishermen’s village in Ghana, she could instantly distinguish a trafficker’s child from a trafficked child, a child kidnapped from another village and forced to work at sea or in the shadows of the town.
“Kids came up to us smiling for the camera,” Carlson said. “We asked where are the trafficked kids? Those kids were hiding or being hidden.”
Unlike the smiling, bright faces of the traffickers’ children, the trafficked children wore vacant expressions – when Carlson could spot them.
“These kids were told that we were policemen that had come to get them,” she said. “As we went into the village, we saw the children hiding, and that’s how they lived – hidden in the background. When we came up to them, they started crying because they were so scared of us.”
Carlson said the helplessness of the trafficked children in Ghana motivated her to act on their behalf. But trafficking occurs in the United States, too.
On Thursday night, Amanda Chapman, the director of development for the Hope Project, the largest human trafficking rescue project in Michigan, will provide testimony on the domestic scale.
Key2Free campaigners will distribute info cards to raise awareness of human trafficking. The cards offer statistics such as an estimate by the U.N. Labor Organization that there are 1.39 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. Posters describe the average of a victim of sex trafficking: between 12 and 14.
“Key2Free has been designed so that students are empowered to share with fellow students about human trafficking, and the aim of the campaign is to not only make students aware of the issue, but to also decide to do something practical to stop it,” said a Key2Free press release. “It is our hope that Key2Free will be a positive experience that will promote social justice, bring awareness about human rights, and spark not only conversation and awareness, but promote education and practical action.”
Carlson said GVSU is the perfect place to advocate about human trafficking.
“It’s a college campus, and this is when people are about to go out into the world and make a difference,” she said. “We’re the people who know that it’s happening because it happens in the younger community.”
Carlson added raising awareness is the only way to discontinue the cycle of human trafficking because people who advocate encourage others to prevent modern slavery.
“It’s the people who speak up who are going to make the biggest difference,” she said.
She planned the Key2Free event to preview a speaker scheduled for Sustainability Week.
James Annan escaped slavery as a child and started Challenging Heights, a school that rescues and educates trafficked children. The school employs different programs to reintegrate into society the rescued children, who often have faced physical and mental abuse.
“He is the one who introduced me to this whole different world,” Carlson said. “When are you going to get another speaker who was a slave himself?”
Annan will present 7 p.m. on Oct. 25 in the Loosemore Auditorium.

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