On Nov 8., the public was invited to part one of the Saint Leo University’s interdisciplinary human trafficking seminar which addressed the criminal aspects of human trafficking. The second part is scheduled for the spring and will address the social/clinical aspect of human trafficking. The event took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Saint Leo University’s Marietta Education Center, 1395 S. Marietta Parkway, Building 300, Suite 104, Marietta, GA 30067.
The seminar was an interdisciplinary seminar headed by the criminal justice department in conjunction with two other social sciences departments: sociology and human services. Dr. Philip Neely (department chair of criminal justice), Michelle Allen (undergraduate criminal justice instructor and facilitator for the event), Dr. Margaret “Chris” Snead (assistant professor of sociology), and Dr. Felicia Wilson (associate professor of human services), hosted the seminar.
The event was open to any Saint Leo University student, faculty or staff member that wanted to attend since this seminar served as an event to engage in community awareness.
“The seminar was to inform the public on the current efforts to combat human trafficking, raise awareness of the crime, and advocate for victims. The purpose of the event was to know how to identify human trafficking to help curtail the activity, know how to report, followed by knowing what services are accessible to the victims,” explained Allen. “And also, the collaborative efforts among the local, state, and federal agencies on stopping this crime and how they help those who have been trafficked.”
While the event was free, those who attended Wednesday’s session were asked to donate personal hygiene items, which will be placed in “rescue bags” to be distributed to human trafficking victims. The donations collected will be handed over to the Dekalb County Police Department (Vice Unit). All items received will be put into rescue bags and distributed to the victims when they are recovered.
“Often the human trafficking victims have only the clothes that are on their person when recovered; these bags are a simple humanistic expression to let them know that they are important, and people really do acknowledge their worth,” said Allen. “We must remember they have previously been treated as a commodity, rather than human.”
And, unexpectedly, one of the donations included a hardback children’s bibles. Allen explained how the event was constructed to engage in community awareness, as well.
“There are still many that do not understand or know about the phenomena of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the number one crime globally, surpassing illegal drugs and firearms sales. Also, I wanted to give a voice to those that are affected by human trafficking by letting the public know that they are victims, not offenders,” Allen said. “Any of us can become victims of human trafficking; we are not immune. As an institution of higher learning, we shoulder some of the responsibility of informing and educating the public. Human trafficking doesn’t just encompass commercial sex, which is familiar to most, but it also involves forced labor, debt bondage and in some extreme cases organ removal. We must recognize the signs.”
Elizabeth Y. Keller, a junior, majoring in criminal justice at the Marietta Center mentioned she went to learn “first-hand knowledge on what really goes on in Human Trafficking,” and ways to be proactive to prevent, especially since it could have easily happened to her, her daughter, or the nieces that she raised. Keller also mentioned how informative the event was.
“It was very informative. [It] covered a lot and really hit home especially seeing the young victims being targeted,” said Keller. “I also find out that more boys are targeted than you hear about in the media. I found out just how women and children are targeted and how they single out certain people. Those with low self-esteem, loners, etc.”
She also mentioned ways she thinks that can help with the human trafficking problem.
“I think there should be harsher penalties for 1st-time offenders (Pimps). We’ve got to stop them. They’re running people’s lives just for street status and to get rich. It’s modern-day slavery,” said Keller. “I think the females and males forced into sex slavery should be afforded more rehabilitative services…not always jail sentences. If they are forced against their will and have no way out, they need help, not just punishment. It hits close to home. Anyone of us could easily have fallen victim to it had it not been for God’s grace.”
Along with criminal justice being one of the co-department sponsors, the seminar was relative to criminal justice courses, Criminal Justice Ethics and Evidence Collection and Preservation which addresses processing crime scenes and locating trace evidence that is often invisible at the scene.
Guest speakers were strategically chosen by Allen.
“I wanted to bring the very best to Saint Leo University because this is a very important issue. As you saw above, Dekalb County has been aggressive in their attempts to eradicate human tracking and have the success rate to boast,” said Allen. “Dekalb County Police Department has one of the best VICE Units in the Metro Atlanta Area that combats human trafficking. The Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office works progressively to prosecute offenders and educate the court system to distinguish between prostitution and human trafficking. Additionally, both entities work harmoniously with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) creating a beautiful crime-fighting relationship between local and federal government.”
Allen also mentioned the success of the event.
“The seminar was a tremendous success; the speakers were phenomenal; they kept the audience engaged, answered questions throughout the presentation, were very knowledgeable in their fields, and truly educated the attendee’s,” explained Allen. “During the breaks of the presentation, many attendees expressed their enjoyment, also the content from the seminar was discussed in class later that evening. I feel as though my mission was accomplished because attendees engaged in open dialogue about human trafficking. The turnout was great, we hosted almost 30 attendees, and they have expressed interest in attending Part II in January 2018.”
Keller is one of the attendees, who expressed enjoyment of the event. In fact, she spoke highly of the presenters.
“The Deputy DA was VERY real and broke things down to the lowest level. She spoke in terms that we could all understand and kept it most interesting. She gave real-life scenarios that made things seem even more real,” said Keller. “I really enjoyed the FBI spokesperson too. He interjected humor and was informative, kept it interesting. The entire from Dekalb county was great.”