Hannah Matro

Although for most Americans the term “slavery” brings to mind a form of race-based enslavement no longer practiced, slavery is still a reality in almost every country in the world, including the U.S.

Safely Home, a student organization at Grand Valley State University, is bringing awareness to human trafficking in the U.S. with a series of kick-off events on March 26, 27 and 28 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The event, “Hidden Shackles: What You Don’t Know About Human Trafficking,” will feature local nonprofit founders — such as Becky McDonald from Women at Risk International, Andy Soper from The Manasseh Project and a representative from Hope for the Voiceless — in addition to activities aimed to increase awareness while educating attendees about the issue.

“The event will attempt to create an awareness of the problem of human trafficking but also introduce organizations that are working on the front lines to solve the problem,” said Kim Somerville, the club’s co-founder.

According to United Nations estimates, about 2.5 million women and children are trafficked worldwide each year to feed the $7 billion industry. About 43 percent of these cases involve sex trafficking; 32 percent of victims are subjected to forced labor.

Somerville, a junior, and Andrew Moore, a senior, founded Safely Home after working with local nonprofits Women at Risk and Hope for the Vocieless, respectively. Women at Risk, based in Grand Rapids, has safe houses located around the world for trafficking victims, while Hope for the Voiceless focuses on sex trafficking, particularly within the porn industry.

“We realized that so many people have started to hear about human trafficking, which is great but, so few people realize it’s happening here in our backyard,” Somerville said.

GVSU sophomore Ashleigh Bowne agreed.

“People need to know that this is not something that just happens on the other side of the world,” Bowne said. “Sex trafficking is in America. It’s in Michigan. It’s in Grand Rapids.”

Bowne first heard about trafficking her freshman year and quickly hopped onboard when she heard of Somerville’s notion to start an awareness club.

“Young girls and boys are being stolen, coerced, bribed and threatened,” Bowne said. “They’re being forced to live a life that violates them in every single sense of the word. Their freedom is being stolen from them and their innocence in being shattered.”

In addition to its “Hidden Shackles event,” the club has been organizing other events to help spread awareness and raise money. On Wednesday, the group partnered with the Allendale Dairy Queen for a portion of proceeds and will do the same on Tuesday with Peppino’s.

Safely Home also organized a pool tournament to raise money.

The group meets every other week on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in the Student Organizations Center. More information is available at and through its Twitter handle, @safelyhomegv.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring awareness to human trafficking on campus and get people connected with front-line organizations that can help them get active on the field,” said GVSU student Remington Markham.

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