GVSU group hosts 27-hour vigil to help spread awareness about slavery, sexual exploitation

Becky Spaulding

From 10 a.m. on March 12 to 1 p.m. on March 13, Grand Valley State University’s chapter of the International Justice Mission held a “Stand for Freedom” event to raise awareness about slavery in the modern world.

The International Justice Mission is “a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression,” according to their website.

Stand for Freedom is “a 27-hour stand to make awareness of the 27 million slaves in the world,” Rachael Rutkowki, the group’s vice president, said. “We want to inform people and create awareness about slavery – that’s the main goal, because a lot of people don’t know that there is still slavery in the world today.”

Along with dedicating 27 hours to their cause, the group used posters, statistics and true life slavery stories to inform those who were interested about slavery.

The group hoped to inform people about the current state of slavery, and what types of slavery exist in the modern world, Rutkowski said. They also hope their stand will cause a ripple effect, allowing those who they informed to spread the word to others.

“There are three different types of slavery,” Rutkowski said. “There is human trafficking, which a lot of people know about, bonded labor, and forced labor.”

These types of slavery occur all around the world, she said.

“The most common is human trafficking, at least in America, but in other countries forced labor is very common, especially with men,” Rutkowski said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Services, “human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest international criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing.”

The GVSU IJM chapter, which formed last year, arranged the vigil beginning before spring break, Rutkowski said. The national IJM declared March 5 through 15 to be Stand for Freedom dates, and university chapters nationwide chose 27 hours within that time period to hold their own stands.

“We all did our different parts,” Rutkowski said. She made the informational posters and gathered stories, which she’d originally heard at Passion, a large anti-slavery conference in Georgia that she attended.
Along with IJM members, other “people, who went to Passion, or who have a passion for this” joined in the 27-hour event, Rutkowski said.

The group started at 10 a.m. Tuesday outside near the Cook Carillon clock tower on GVSU’s Allendale campus. When weather began to get bad, they moved inside the Kirkhof Center until it closed at midnight, then into Henry Hall when it opened in the morning.

This is the group’s first Stand for Change event, but Rutkowski said she believes it would be a good thing to do annually at GVSU.

The GVSU IJM group meets Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in Kirkhof 2228 and Thursdays at 8 p.m. in DeVos 302E.

“I think it’s a really good cause, and a lot of people don’t really know about it,” Rutkowski said. “It’s heartbreaking, but we can be that voice for them, and I think being a part of IJM is a really good way to be that voice.”

[email protected]