By Kim Grizzard
Friday, November 22, 2013
As a crusader against human trafficking, Yvonne Williams is not bothered to find that some in her audience learned their first facts about sex trafficking through fiction.
“How many know about human trafficking?” she asked about 100 students at East Carolina University on Thursday. “How many heard about it through the movie, ‘Taken’?”
Williams, co-founder and executive director of Trafficking In America Task Force, was introduced to the cause through a made-up story as well. In 2004, as an aspiring screenwriter, she had created a story of young runaway who is forced to become a stripper.
When Williams took her screenplay to Hollywood, nobody was buying. But her last night in Los Angeles, she saw a television talk show that let her know that sex trafficking in America was more real than she had ever imagined.
“From that point on, my heart was ripped in two,” Williams said. “I knew I had to address it.”
She and her husband decided to produce the movie themselves and went on to release “A Dance For Bethany” as an independent feature film. Four years later, they began traveling the country, working to show the movie to illustrate the truth about sex trafficking.
“We actually had churches close their doors in our face, pastors hang up on us,” Williams said in an interview. “People would say, ‘No, it happens over there. It doesn’t happen over here.’ There was a ton of resistance to our education and our message.”
In 2011, Williams organized the first Trafficking In America Conference and began her nonprofit task force to address the issue of human trafficking. Today she shares her message across the country, particularly with college students.
“I love speaking at colleges because the youth are so, so important for this issue,” she said. “… They’re so passionate about the cultural issues that are happening, and they’re just gravitating to these issues, and they’re wanting to know where they fit in the scheme of making a better America and making a better world.”
Williams’ visit to ECU was hosted by the university’s Honors College and Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. Pam Strickland, founder of ENC Stop Human Trafficking Now, said members of the Honors College as well as other ECU students have become active in local anti-trafficking efforts in recent years.
“There’s a lot of interest in the topic just as a human rights issue,” Strickland said, adding that many students have seen the movie “Taken,” released in 2009. “‘Taken’ was made in Hollywood. It’s not a real-life story, but it provided a really valuable service in bringing the issue of human trafficking to the national consciousness.
“They (students) are hearing about it as an issue, and I think it’s touching them,” Strickland said. “It’s just a horrible wrong they want to do something about, so they reach out to my organization or to another anti-trafficking group trying to find out, ‘What can we do to address this?’”
ECU freshman Aenia Amin said that after she and fellow Honors College students volunteered at last month’s Stop Human Trafficking 5K fundraiser, they wanted to do more for the cause, so they began working to host an educational event on campus.
Amin first learned about human trafficking in high school, when she read the book “A Walk Across the Sun,” by Corban Addison. Though her family is originally from Pakistan (which had the third worst ranking among 162 countries rated in the recent “Global Slavery Index”), Amin found the novel’s references to child sex trafficking in North Carolina especially disturbing.
“I still remember that line in that book,” she said. “It really freaked me out that this is happening in North Carolina, close to where I live. I started doing more research.”
Williams said that local organizations including ENC Stop Human Trafficking Now and Restore One, a local ministry seeking to open a shelter for boys rescued from sex trafficking, have been instrumental in educating people in the region about the realities of human trafficking.
She urged students to take steps beyond awareness and to become involved in preventing human trafficking, which the United Nations estimates generates $9.5 billion a year in the United States.
“Unfortunately, the college kids are involved in the demand side of it,” Williams said in an interview. “Pornography is a driving factor of sex trafficking and human trafficking.
“Their generation (has) been infiltrated with 20 years of a hyper sexualized culture from mass media, Hollywood movies, commercials, you name it. … They have grown up in this mind set.”
Williams told students that some college fraternities have been known to participate in “sex tourism,” sometimes traveling internationally for commercial sex. She also showed a video of a college cheer that encourages underage sexual assault.
“We just need to really continue to address cultural changes,” she said, “and to get the information down to our 25 and under generation in hopes of them overcoming this.”
Williams, who addressed students at Elon University earlier this week, invites students to sign the “I Promise To Do My Part” pledge, “to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Williams believes the current generation of college students could be key to eradicating human trafficking.
“Now that we as people are armed with the knowledge, we can make changes,” she said. “Mass media and social media have negative uses but they also have a myriad of positive uses. We can incorporate those positive uses and stop this problem from happening.”
For more information about Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now, visit ncstophumantrafficking.org. Representatives from the organization will be available from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 7 at the open-air holiday market at the corner of Fifth and Evans streets. Fair Trade items will be available for sale. Proceeds go toward trafficking education, prevention and recovery programs.
via The Daily Reflector.