Austin Joins Cities Around the World in March Against Human Trafficking
By Michelle Lavergne
More than 500 marchers called for the end of human trafficking at the Texas State Capitol during this year’s Walk for Freedom rally Saturday.
“While human trafficking is destroying lives, we know that freedom will have the final word,” Lori Champion, pastor and co-founder of Austin’s Celebration Church, told the crowd before the walk began.
Organized by A21, an international nonprofit engaged in the fight against modern-day slavery, the Walk for Freedom is an annual demonstration that draws participants from hundreds of cities across the globe on the same day. This year, it sponsored 425 walks in 50 countries.
“Awareness is about moving people from looking at the statistics of human trafficking to actually seeing the people who are caught up in the cycle of exploitation,” A21 co-founder Christine Caine said in a statement, emphasizing the importance of social mobilization to fight this global issue. “When you truly see, you cannot unsee.”
The Austin rally kicked off with speakers who shared stories of two human trafficking survivors — both of which involved paying a middleman to take them to greener pastures only to find themselves trapped in a life of indentured servitude or sexual exploitation in other countries.
“There are 40.3 million women and children in bondage across the world, generating more than $150 billion every year,” said Ryan Brown, who is also from Celebration Church.
Brown told the crowd that trafficking occurs in all 50 states and 21 percent of cases involve sex trafficking.
According to Pastor Ken DeHart of Celebration Church, A21’s local partner organization in Austin hosting the rally, traffickers typically target foster youth because of their vulnerability.
The rally included representatives from Healed in Mercy, Red Oak Hope, Romans 12two Ministry, SAFE Alliance and Key2Free — nonprofits dedicated to rehabilitating human trafficking survivors in the Austin area.
“I know for a fact that there are over 79,000 youth who are being trafficked in Texas,” said Shirdelle Cummings of SAFE Alliance. “Just having one is too many, so having 79,000 speaks volumes to how common it is.”
Apart from providing support to survivors, SAFE Alliance often collaborates with the Austin Police Department to thwart human trafficking operations. It helps to train Austin police to spot victims.
Red Oak Hope’s assistance to survivors extends beyond the state and crosses international borders. It offers rent-free housing to survivors in Austin and emergency shelters outside the country.
“We are supporting cases of Ugandan women who have been trafficked to India,” said Jacq Bailey, Red Oak Hope’s director of international program. They are currently working to provide shelter for those women as they go through the repatriation process.
The organization also provides after-care programs, including vocational training and formal education. They also offer scholarships for survivor’s children.
“Poverty is a driving factor that causes vulnerability,” said Bailey, explaining that even after the internationally trafficked people have safely returned home, they remain vulnerable because they still need funds to take care of themselves and their families.
While the end to human trafficking is still a long journey ahead, everyone at the rally chose to remain focused on the destination one literal step at a time.
“Today, the steps we are about to take are going to carry a message that is not somber because it’s a message of hope that we are calling for slavery’s end and we’re raising awareness to take action,” DeHart said. “Today, we are stepping to bring hope to those who are enslaved.”