On Thursday, February 2, as part of the campus-wide events of Claiming Williams Day, the Williams Women of Color Coalition showed the documentary Not My Life, which discussed the issues of international sex trafficking and forced labor. Aubree Stevens ’12, Anyela Garcia ’14, and Jallicia Jolly ’14 led the event, which culminated in a lunchtime discussion open to the public.
Human trafficking is “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them,” usually for sex or forced labor, writes the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime website. There are 3.2 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and it is a $32 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone, making it the third most lucrative illicit industry behind drugs and weapons. “Human trafficking perpetrates a culture of violence and ruins family life,” said Garcia. Most of the victims of trafficking are children, especially young, impoverished girls from ethnic minorities; these children are often falsely promised a more secure lifestyle in return for their services.
The film gave a series of examples of human trafficking and of forced labor and prostitution from around the world. In one of the most poignant examples, Ugandan woman Grace Akallo described her years as a child soldier. Until the age of 15, Akallo attended St. Mary’s College, a school run by Italian nuns in Aboke, Uganda. One night in 1996, members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the rebel army during the country’s civil war, attacked the school dormitories and kidnapped her and other girls. She was given an AK-47 and forced to become a child soldier; the rebel soldiers starved her, denied her water, and regularly raped her. Some children were compelled to shoot their own parents; Akallo was made to beat a young girl to death as she watched the rebel soldiers torture and kill a pregnant woman. Many children chose to take their own lives rather than face the horrors of the military camp.
Akallo did finally escape, and some time later came to the United States to finish her schooling. She now has a Master’s Degree in International Development and Social Change, and “plans to start a foundation called Gift of Grace to help create educational opportunities for war affected children,” says the website of Not My Life.
Not My Life gave examples of human trafficking in a variety of other countries as well, including sex slavery in brothels in Vietnam, forced labor in elementary schools in Senegal, and especially forced prostitution in the U.S., which has only begun to be thoroughly investigated by the F.B.I.
The Women of Color Coalition concluded the film showing with a short clip describing the work of Her Equality, Rights, and Autonomy (HERA), a London-based organization that helps young female victims of trafficking to regain their confidence and build careers as entrepreneurs. HERA was co-founded by a Williams alumna, Lynel Long ’74, and another more recent Williams alumna, Ali Tozier, also spent her gap year after college working for the organization.
To find out more about human trafficking and how you can help, click here.
To visit HERA’s website, click here.