Human trafficking has been a hot button issue for many OU students this school year, with several organizations and individuals organizing panel sessions and different strategies for raising awareness of the issue.

One of those students is Melissa Weiss, English writing senior, who organized an informational panel session in April about human trafficking for World Literature Today’s Puterbaugh Festival on campus.

Weiss said she hoped her panel would inform students about the issue of human trafficking and help them realize that it’s happening right here in the U.S. and there are things students can do to fight it.

“I really want students to know that we can help stop this, as well as help those who have been victims of human trafficking, by volunteering time, donating money, boycotting certain goods — or even spreading the word about human trafficking — and knowing how to spot someone who is being trafficked,” Weiss said.

Lucy Mahaffey, University College freshman and a moderator of Weiss’s panel session, received a $10,000 grant this semester to inform schoolchildren about human trafficking, according to Daily archives.

“Oklahoma is one of the top five worst states when it comes to human trafficking, and we have a big obligation as a state to be aware of the seriousness of the issue,” Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey said she’s already reached out to about 1,000 children so far. She’s spoken at Shawnee High School, Chandler High School and First Presbyterian Church, and she’s planning to speak to children at four more venues before the semester is over.

“By telling these children the reality of this issue, it decreases their vulnerability,” Mahaffey said. “Slavery today is an issue of vulnerability — we’re giving them resources and the ability to watch out for each other.”

Mahaffey said she’s going to create a curriculum for these schoolchildren and try to spread it nationally, and 80 volunteers already are involved.

“We need tons more [volunteers],” Mahaffey said. “Anyone with any kind of experience and background can get involved in our program.”

Members of OU’s Freedom Movement also worked to raise awareness and funding to help end human trafficking.

This semester, members of the movement helped raise $400,000 for the International Justice Mission, said John Putnam, public relations junior, who’s going to be the movement’s vice president in the fall.

The International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that rescues victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, according to its website.

The International Labor Organization — the United Nations agency that addresses labor standards, employment and social protection issues — estimates 12.3 million people are victims of modern day slavery in the world, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report. Approximately 800,000 are trafficked across international borders every year in 161 different countries, according to the the report.

Trafficking victims usually live in poverty with no education and no family ties, like children in the foster care system, Putnam said.

“Human trafficking is about people preying on the disadvantaged, and we are giving a voice to these children that can’t speak for themselves,” Putnam said. “It’s so sad to think about how badly one human being can treat another human being.”

Putnam said he also is going to get involved with other human rights groups on campus next semester, like Sooners for Fair Trade and OU's Mary’s Meals to continue the fight against human trafficking.

“There’s a biblical calling for me to serve the least of the people of our society, and trafficking victims are those people,” he said.

Margaret Basse, professional writing senior and member of the Freedom Movement, said next semester the movement’s events are going to be “bigger and better” to engage more students, because there are still many people on campus who don’t know about the issue.

“Hopefully with time, students will want to join up with Freedom Movement and we can elevate our demographic reach,” Basse said.

Basse said Freedom Movement members also would like to team up more with other student organizations and organizations in Norman and Oklahoma City that share similar goals and purposes.

Basse said the movement’s Freedom Week is partnered with OU’s Campus Activity Council’s Oklahoma Creativity Festival and scheduled for the fall.

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