STORY BY BETH LEVALLEY
Human trafficking: multi-billion dollar industry that uses people for modern-day slaves.
The International Labour Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of human trafficking, with 5.5 million of them being children.
While these numbers may seem ambiguous and even irrelevant, sex trafficking in Des Moines is prevalent because of the interchange between Interstates 80 and 35.
Students in a Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) class are raising awareness about this local and global issue by putting on Shut Out Human Trafficking Week. On Thursday, “Not My Life” will be shown and a panel discussion will happen afterwards.
The panel discussion will feature Malea Otranto, who is an advisor to Drake from the U.S. Fund for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
“The panel is more of an open forum Q and A with Malea,” senior Jenna Koretz said. “UNICEF is facilitating that, and the goal is to dispel any myths about human trafficking.”
UNICEF partners with ten different universities across the nation in order to implement Shut Out Human Trafficking Week and raise awareness about human trafficking. Drake University bid to be one of the ten universities and was accepted for this fall.
While UNICEF has helped guide this event, students in the LEAD course have used the skills they learned in class and applied them to creating a real event.
Richie Serrano was one of the students involved in contributing to this event.
“You got to pick one of two event options based on preference,” Serrano. said “We’ve been working on this for about a month, and we’re using what we’ve learned in classes to help us with this event.”
Serrano was part of the team working toward the movie and panel discussion on Thursday.
“Not My Life” focuses on children involved in human trafficking, whether that’s through sex exploitation, forced labor or other means.
Serrano finds this topic extremely unsettling.
“Human trafficking doesn’t just involve one group of people,” said Serrano. “It’s men, women, children — and it’s not just sex work, either.”
Koretz agreed with him, saying that human trafficking is in every single state and not limited to a set of demographics.
“It’s happening right under our noses in Des Moines,” Koretz said. “Our goal is to get the word out even to one person, who spreads the word to another and could potentially save a life.”
In the past, Drake Intervarsity Christian Fellowship has put on a similar week-long event to raise awareness about human trafficking.
“It was pretty small with just some awareness events,” Serrano said. “They did things like handing out facts about human trafficking. They actually were not planning on doing it this year.”
Serrano said that the goal as students is to continue raising awareness and create events that can be sustainable for years to come at Drake.
In a written statement, Koretz said, “Our goal is to create awareness about human trafficking to the Drake University community through engaging activities that not only educate the student body but also to inspire advocacy. Our goal is sustainability.”