Students flock to STOP!
Chico State club shines a floodlight on the hidden crime of human trafficking
Michelle Anderson spent last semester studying abroad and teaching English in Thailand. In addition to eating Thai food and learning the Thai language, Anderson got educated on a subject far more horrifying than she could have imagined: human trafficking.
Anderson spent five months in Bangkok, where every day was a lesson about the human slave trade.
“I was living in one of the red-light districts that cater to Western men,” Anderson said. “People would come into what were called beer bars, but they really were functioning as brothels. There were girls as young as 3 years old being prostituted out.”
Anderson began reaching out to the girls who call the brothels home.
“I started teaching them English and just spending time with them,” she said. “There they weren’t thought of as people; they were seen as a commodity.”
Prostitution isn’t legal in Thailand. Neither is slavery. Yet it’s one of the countries where human trafficking ensnares the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
That’s why Anderson decided to join STOP!—a newly formed organization at Chico State. Founded this semester, the club was created after a group of students in a class taught by sociology professor Janja Lalich became aware of the horrors of the slave trade.
“Most of the students were energized and wanted to see some ongoing work done to address human trafficking,” Lalich said.
Thus the club, for which Lalich serves as faculty adviser.
“Most people think that slavery was abolished centuries ago,” club co-president Skye Raskin-Li said. “That’s not the case. There is modern-day slavery going on in our world today.”
STOP! members show movies on human trafficking and man informational tables around campus. The club has more than 50 members on its e-mail list, Raskin-Li said, and at its second meeting of the semester held a week ago (Feb 28), more than 20 people attended.
But more than finding members to join, Raskin-Li said the club is concerned with increasing awareness of global human trafficking.
While statistics are often estimates due to the hidden nature of the crime, several anti-trafficking groups, including Not For Sale, claim that 27 million people worldwide are currently in some sort of bondage, including forced labor or prostitution rings.
And while many individuals think this is a crime that happens on other countries’ soil, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 14,000 to 17,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the Land of the Free each year. At least one case of human trafficking has been reported in every state, according to the U.S. State Department.
Statistics like these, Raskin-Li said, make the club’s work so important.
“Most people know the words ‘human trafficking,’ but they never realize how prevalent it really is. By increasing awareness, we’re hoping that we can motivate people to take some action to stop inhumane actions against, often times, our own citizens. If we’re thinking this stuff is only happening outside of the U.S., we’re wrong. It is happening here.”
Trafficked individuals are often lured into slavery by promises of greater opportunities. They often are living in poverty and vulnerable to promises of money, security, and a better life in a different country.
After crossing international borders, they typically find a life tainted with abuse, neglect and even more debt. They find themselves forced into hard labor, working as non-documented domestic laborers—or, like those Anderson encountered in Thailand, forced into a life of prostitution.
Anderson was able to “buy” 98 girls for one night while in Thailand, treating them to a nice dinner and giving them a respite from performing sexual favors, even it was for only a few hours.
“Every perception I ever had about human trafficking was blown away after my time in Thailand,” Anderson said. “It’s now time for me to tell the stories of these girls and educate students just like me.”