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Students join battle against human trafficking

Eleanor Nwadinobi of Nigeria, president of the Widow Development Organisation, takes part in a human trafficking discussion at Lehigh that was broadcast live to the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Jillian Mourning could hardly contain her excitement. Nineteen years old, a straight-A student at the University of North Carolina and an aspiring model, she had landed her first talent agent and he was flying her to Arizona to pose for a large print campaign.

In her hotel room, however, Mourning was drugged and raped by her agent and two other men. Her agent told her to keep quiet, and to continue meeting with him, or he would sell video of the encounter to pornography websites.

For the next few months, Mourning met with her agent in cities across the United States until he was arrested on an unrelated charge. Later, she realized she had been the victim of human trafficking. Last October, she founded the nonprofit organization All We Want is L.O.V.E. (Liberation of Victims Everywhere) to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the U.S. and around the world and to support rescue and advocacy groups.

“People always picture something like this happening in a poor, Third World country,” Mourning said at Lehigh in March. “They don’t picture it in their backyard.”

Mourning’s visit was part of Lehigh’s effort to educate students about human trafficking, domestic and international. Free the Slaves, another nonprofit group, estimates there are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any point in history. Thousands are trafficked each year into the U.S. and forced to work without pay, in abhorrent conditions, under constant threat of violence. Many are lured under false pretenses and toil silently in plain sight—at nail salons and massage parlors, at restaurants and construction sites, and even in private homes.

“It’s horrifying,” said Kristina Eady, a graduate assistant in the Global Union. “It’s such a violation of human nature in every way, shape and form.”

Eady helped organize a program that brought together the U.S. Department of Justice, Free the Slaves, The Valley Against Sex Trafficking and the Center for Public Health of Nigeria for a discussion on human trafficking. The program was broadcast live from campus to the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as part of Lehigh’s status as a UN-accredited nongovernmental Organization. Two hundred people, including students, faculty and community residents, attended the event.

“We wanted to bring this program to the Lehigh Valley so people would realize that human trafficking isn’t something that only happens on the other side of the world,” Eady said.

Mary Grace Doyle ’13, a biology major who screened the documentary Very Young Girls for 100 of her classmates, is starting a club called Lehigh University Stop the Traffick.

“Our goal is to create knowledge of the subject among students and then continue to build from there,” said Doyle.

Consumers can help, said Eady, by buying goods that are labeled “fair trade.”

“You don’t realize how many of your purchasing decisions could be supporting human trafficking. It’s the clothing on your back, the coffee you drink, the chocolate you eat.”

Mourning stressed the importance of constant vigilance in everyday situations—which is why All We Want is L.O.V.E. educates hotel workers on common signs of trafficking.

She cautioned students to do exhaustive research on any promising opportunity that might come their way—a company offering to fly them across the country for an interview, for example.

“Traffickers prey on vulnerability,” she said. “And if you want something, you’re vulnerable.”

Story by Adrienne Wright

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2013

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