Wednesday, July 23, 2008

U.S. Teens Take a Stand Against Trafficking

From the Daily Planet:

By Martha Vickery
July 17th, 2008

MINNESOTA, USA- Two Woodbury High School students have taken on a project to organize both an educational conference for teens about human trafficking and a benefit concert for Twin Cities area organizations that help victims of the crime.

The project, dubbed End Slavery Now, is the creation of sisters Joan Park (15) and Grace Park (17), and now includes a planning group of about 24 teen girls who will hold an educational conference July 25 and 26, with an expected attendance of 50 to 60.

The participants in the conference will also be invited to participate in a fundraiser concert to benefit the organizations that work with victims.

Human trafficking is real in Minnesota, according to Yae Joon Kwon, an advocate for the anti-human trafficking program administered by the Korean Service Center in Minneapolis. Kwon has been raising awareness among youth, in community groups and in law enforcement in educating about this emerging crime since she took the job in January.

Minnesota has been named as one of the 13 states in which human trafficking incidents are the highest. The existence of an international border, and a large rural area, contribute to human trafficking here, according to information on the website of Civil Society, a local legal advocacy group that works directly with human trafficking victims.

The highest-profile law enforcement action on human trafficking in the recent past took place in December 2007, Kwon said “where there were 100 women, all of Chinese and Korean descent, all in uptown and the St. Louis Park area. The women slept in massage parlors and were not allowed to leave. Their visas and passports taken away. They were under video surveillance. They did not speak English – their clients were upper-middle-class men between age 35 and 55.”

Internationally-trafficked victims are often kept under control through “debt bondage,” Kwon said, where the captors tell the victims they have to work off their debts of flight tickets, visa fees, or other costs incurred by the trafficker to bring them to the U.S. The captors may tell the victims their family will be told and/or that children or other family members will be hurt if the victims do not cooperate. “They feel like they have no other options,” she said. “Oftentimes, they are physically abused or raped. They are in an environment where they are under threat.”

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