According to The National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 383 cases of human trafficking reported in 2018 in the state of Michigan alone. On Wednesday, Nov. 20, the auditorium of EMU’s Student Center slowly filled with EMU women seeking education about human trafficking. With sex trafficking’s prevalence and focus within the media and on social media platforms, two EMU groups came together to spread awareness and educate students.
The members of EMU’s Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority knew they wanted to hold an event focusing on empowering women. The sisters had heard of a 2017 Michigan-based documentary called ‘Break the Chain,’ which uncovers the reality of human trafficking in the midwest. They felt it was crucial to focus on trafficking as it is under-discussed.
“You hear of [human trafficking] happening in New York City or Los Angeles but it’s happening right here in our own backyard,” said EMU Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority member Araya Hutchison.
After making moves to purchase the film, the sisters of Sigma Sigma Sigma became aware that EMU’s physician’s assistant program had already purchased a copy and they were happy to share it.
After a discussion between the two groups, a collaboration was born. The groups created an event in which they would show the film, bring in experts to educate the audience and go into more detail regarding the issues faced by those who have been trafficked. They also discussed how to spot the signs of someone who is being trafficked and the signs of someone who may be attempting to traffick. Anyone who wanted to attend was asked to bring $3 and a non-perishable food item, both of which will be donated.
This year, the organizers contacted David Manville to speak following the showing of ‘Break the Chain.’ Manville is an EMU social work lecturer and the president of the Sparrow Freedom Project, an organization offering resources to survivors of human trafficking. As an EMU lecturer that offers a class on human trafficking, he finds education to be imperative in combating trafficking.
“People don’t know what to look for, and they have to,” said Manville. “They don’t know what [human trafficking] is and that it is in their own neighborhood.”
He highlights the prevalence of trafficking in Michigan, though he only estimates the to be ranked “somewhere around 22 or 24 in the nation.” Manville brought along fellow social worker and advocate Brigette Robarge to offer more insight. Robarge is a human trafficking program development consultant for Yanay Freedom Services, who was recently reappointed onto Michigan’s Human Trafficking Health Advisory Board by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The event began with a viewing of the documentary. Following the movie, the audience sat and listened to speakers David Manville and Brigette Robarge discuss their experiences with working with survivors of trafficking. Questions were encouraged with the emphasis on the event being education.
Ms. Robarge focuses on garnering awareness and putting a spotlight on the issue. She wants young women and those vulnerable to know what signs they need to be aware of and who to avoid.
“There are traffickers out there coming from your neighborhoods, but you wouldn’t know it,” Robarge said. “You’ll commonly hear from survivors of trafficking that it was their boyfriend or girlfriend.”
The women of Sigma Sigma Sigma and EMU’s physician’s assistance plan continuing this event for years to come. They will work on integrating new information and expanding their audience as time goes on to keep the event relevant. The goal of both groups is to keep people informed and safe through education and awareness.
If you or someone you know is in need of help or resources, call The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.