Nearly 200 people walked in silence around the campus of North Lake Community College (NLCC) to raise awareness and funds during the A21 Campaign’s Walk for Freedom on Saturday, Oct 20.
Most of the group’s members dressed in all black, as is tradition for the walk. They gathered in the parking lot of the NLCC in clusters talking and visiting tables to learn more about local organizations that provide services to the victims of human trafficking.
“There are a lot more people being trafficked here in the Dallas area than people know about,” event organizer Jessica Estrada said. “That’s why I’m so passionate. I want people to know about this and know that they can help and their voice makes a difference.”
Friends, families and church groups participated in the walk. Shelton Mono, youth pastor at Upendo Baptist Church, walked with friends and members of his youth group.
“Once I heard about [this] I knew I had to do something,” Mono said. “I found out a lot of girls that are involved in prostitution. The people on the missing boards at Walmart are being taken by people to use them in their business, and they’re being traded for money. That’s happening in Dallas, that’s happening in Houston. That’s happening all around us. I needed to educate myself and educate the people that I know about it.”
Local services New Friends New Life and Mosaic Family Services were present at the event to educate participants about the help they offer human trafficking and domestic violence victims. Representatives from both organizations had a positive outlook on the amount of awareness being raised for this issue, although they both noted there is plenty of work to be done.
“This is a social issue, and it needs to be brought to the forefront, so we can help the women in need,” said Denise Keefer, an intern at New Friends New Life.
“The complexity of the issue is the greatest challenge to raising awareness,” said Noel Mendoza, the human trafficking outreach coordinator at Mosaic Family Services. “Human trafficking is very complex and subtle in the way it manifests in our communities, so bringing real awareness to a community takes time. It takes effort.”
Keefer explained that certain stigmas are one such complexity of helping victims of sex trafficking.
“There’s this stigma out there that they’re being charged with prostitution and being the perpetrator, when they’re the victims themselves,” Keefer said. “There’s a lot of empathy for the younger women, the youth that are coming in, but other women aren’t [being viewed the same way] and they’re stigmatized because of it. It’s really [important to] start to look at them as victims and not as violating the law. [Laws] are starting to look at that in a new light.”
Mendoza said that due to the heightened levels of awareness surrounding this issue, he has seen progress recently on a federal and local level.
“People are becoming aware, and because of that you’re seeing more cases being solved by law enforcement agencies,” Mendoza said. “You’re seeing more people reporting themselves to social service providers, and you’re seeing more partners come together to tackle the issue comprehensively as a community.”
One example of local efforts to combat human trafficking is the Dallas Police Department’s High-Risk Victims Unit. Mendoza often sees people brought in through this unit, where they are treated as victims rather than perpetrators.
On a federal level, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which has been reauthorized multiple times, most recently in 2013, established programs, definitions and resources for prosecuting human traffickers, preventing human trafficking domestically and abroad, and protecting victims and survivors of trafficking. The most recent addition to the law was passed as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act and made it even easier to prosecute traffickers.
The A21 Campaign is a global, non-profit organization with the stated operational strategy of reducing vulnerability, identifying victims and empowering survivors.
Saturday’s Walk for Freedom was locally organized, and as of Oct. 22 had raised $6,819 for the A21 Campaign.