Like most people, Chestnut Hill College (CHC) freshman Brittany Lee thought of human trafficking as something that occurred in other countries. She didn't realize that it was something that was happening in her own country and as close as her own state.
That is until last Thursday when she attended a program entitled "Trafficked in our backyard of Philly," which explored human trafficking through the viewing of the Girls Educational Mentoring Services film "Very Young Girls."
According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking includes sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced on someone under 18 years of age.
The film exposes the commercial sexual exploitation in New York City by following adolescent girls ranging from the ages of 12 and 16 and highlighting their struggles and triumphs as they seek to exit the sex industry. It also includes footage from a homemade video created by pimps giving a rare insight into the cycle of exploitation.
The internationally acclaimed film includes the story of Dominique who grew up in a household filled with domestic violence. Tired of the abuse, she ran away and walked right into what is being called modern-day slavery by getting into a stranger's car. She didn't know that he was a pimp and that he was in her neighborhood to recruit another girl. She was just 14 years old when she was introduced to the sex industry.
Watching the almost identical stories of how the girls met their pimps and how they were picked up was hard for Lee to watch because she recalls similar situations in her own life.
"I can remember someone trying to get me in their car and I think back and think who knows what that would have led to," said Lee. "It makes me just want to tell everyone be careful of the people you let into your surroundings."
Following the film, a panel discussion was conducted by Hugh Organ and Teresitia Hinnegan to help the audience resolve their emotions about the film and learn how they can help. During the discussion, audience members wanted to know whether they could truly help a trafficking victim if they couldn't personally relate to their experiences. Organ and Hinnegan agreed that the best way to help trafficking victims is to respect them for who they are without judgment.
Organ is the associate executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania. Hinnegan is the board president of Dawn's place, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the lives of sexually exploited women by providing housing, recovery and vocational services.
Organ also encouraged the audience to vote to have Pennsylvania state Senate bill 338 passed, which will require establishments such as hotels to post signs with information regarding the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline.
"A lot of these girls, especially when you are talking about US citizens of domestic trafficking, they are being trafficked in various hotels across the country," said Organ. "Having that hotline posted, is an avenue for them to possibly get help."
For more information, go to rescueandrestore.org or patcoalition.org